The Top Ten Real-Life Characters from the Mercia Blakewood Novels: 7. Edward Whalley & William Goffe

Next in my series touching on the real-life characters from the Mercia Blakewood novels we look at two men, the father-in-law and son-in-law regicides who fled England to escape death, only to end up living in hiding on the frontier of the American wilds.

7: Edward Whalley (c.1600 – 1674) & William Goffe (c. 1610 – c.1680)

‘You are one of us,’ smiled Goffe. ‘Despite everything, there is a hope that sustains you. Hope is precious, Mercia Blakewood. Be mindful always of that.’

William Goffe, Puritan, Chapter Twenty Two

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I ascended the steps of a wooden platform outside Whitehall Palace. After some short last words, he laid his head on a simple block, and in one stroke the executioner sliced the head from the King who had taken his country to civil war, setting Royalist against Parliamentarian over a decade of bloody conflict.

Cover of Puritan by David Hingley

The men who had signed his death warrant would become known as the regicides – the King-killers. Oliver Cromwell, the most famous of their number, led the country into a Puritan republic, but his death brought the threat of renewed instability, and soon Charles’s son was restored as King Charles II. Unsurprisingly, the regicides became his public enemy number one, the only persons excluded from the general amnesty he otherwise granted a scarred and tired nation.

Of the 59 signatories of the death warrant, as many as a third had already died by the time of the Restoration. Of those still alive, an unlucky few were given the most heinous punishment and were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered, while others were imprisoned for life. Many more fled into exile, mostly to Europe, but some three went to the New World, all of whom appear in Mercia Blakewood’s transatlantic adventures: Edward Whalley, William Goffe and John Dixwell.

Puritans and Major Generals

Dixwell will feature later in this series, but I’ve grouped Whalley and Goffe together as they went into exile together and spent the rest of their lives in hiding together. The reason for such closeness was not mere expediency but also that they were related by marriage, Whalley’s daughter being Goffe’s wife. Both were ardent Puritans, renowned leaders in the civil wars, and both served as Major Generals during the only direct period of military rule in England’s history, when Cromwell divided the country into a number of regions overseen by his most trusted supporters. Whalley governed the eastern part of the Midlands and Lincolnshire; Goffe was entrusted with Hampshire, Berkshire and Sussex.

Mast of a seventeenth century ship
Setting sail for the New World!

The strict rule of the Major Generals was by and large detested by the public, but Whalley and Goffe were godly men who believed in the justness of their Puritan cause. Naturally Charles II disagreed. And so in May 1660, as he was waiting to cross the Channel from his own exile to reclaim his throne, Whalley and Goffe were already crossing the Atlantic, hoping to get far beyond his reach.

A Brazen Hustler

Their flight is a tale worthy of fiction, full of narrow escapes and twists. As they arrived in Boston they were upbeat, welcomed as heroes by the overwhelmingly sympathetic population for whom Goffe and Whalley were nothing short of living legends. Perhaps the adulation went to their heads, for they lived openly and often brazenly among the Bostonians. There is a story that when a swordfighter appeared in town, challenging anyone who cared to try their luck to a duel, Goffe proceeded to dress in rags, took a mop for a sword and a cheese wheel for a shield, and successfully hustled the unsuspecting swordsman to the delight of the cheering crowd. But this carefree mood was soon to end.

When orders from the King finally arrived demanding the regicides be given up, the men realised they were jeopardising not only their own lives but those of the people around them. Moreover, there were enough Royalist supporters (such as Richard Thorpe in Puritan) who would be glad to get the credit for turning them in, and still more ordinary folk who feared for the consequences if their communities were caught harbouring such dangerous fugitives.

In Constant Hiding

Image of William Goffe
William Goffe, by Robert Cooper, early 19th century (National Portrait Gallery)

Boston, once so welcoming, became too hot. The men took to the road, heading for New Haven far to the south west, the most anti-monarchist of the original colonies. Here they hid away, little to know they would never enjoy real freedom again, while even in New Haven the colonists began to squabble about the merits of keeping the regicides safe.

It was not long before a close brush with discovery at the hands of two Royalist agents led to a further move down the road to Milford, via a cave known today as Judges’ Cave after their role in the trial of Charles I. Then in 1664, news came that the King had dispatched a fleet to America, its commander Richard Nicolls (see number nine in this series) tasked with seizing the colony of New Amsterdam from the Dutch – and also to root out Goffe and Whalley to bring them home for judgment.

With an army of soldiers on the way, it was decided the regicides would have to move again, this time to the very frontier of British settlement, deep in the American wilderness. It is at this point in their story that they appear in Puritan, meeting Mercia Blakewood on their long journey north, as her new acquaintance Percy Lavington strives to fulfil his charge to protect them. Percy is a fictional character, and in reality others undertook this task, but in both fiction and fact, in October 1664 Whalley and Goffe began their new lives in a tiny settlement called Hadley, confined to an attic room to live out their days. Ailing and pining for home, Whalley persisted for ten more years until he died in 1674, having eluded his pursuers to the last. The younger Goffe lingered on longer, with one last incident to play in the annals of time.

The Angel of Hadley

Around 1676, Hadley was attacked by the local Native American tribe as part of a wider conflict known as King Philip’s War. Stories tell of a soldier who appears from nowhere, taking up arms and rallying the panicking townsfolk to a successful defence. The legend goes that this man, the so-called Angel of Hadley, was none other than Goffe himself, emerging from hiding to save those who had saved him.

Whether wholly true or embellished, it seems shortly after the Angel incident Goffe was forced to leave town for quite some time, abandoning his safe house of over a decade to lie low in Hartford, Connecticut – until yet another Royalist sympathiser attempted to uncover him there. He moved one last time, most likely back to the remoteness of Hadley to end his days. He never saw his wife or homeland again, never having known true liberty since those heady days in Boston. Enough punishment, perhaps, for having signed that death warrant, even though he and his father-in-law outwitted their many hunters with the help of their many friends in their adopted home, the American wilds.

Next: James, Duke of York, an inflexible bigot whose reign as King was cut dramatically short

Photographs by David Hingley / Matthew Jackson

Image of William Goffe is licensed from the National Portrait Gallery under the Creative Commons licence scheme

Share this post