by Joe Earp
Attached to the shadow of Attenborough’s St Marys Church is a picturesque unpretentious white house. Very little visitors who pass by on their way to the Nature Reserve know that there is great historical interest connected to the house. It was in this house that the famous Parliamentary General, Henery Ireton was born. He was the eldest son of German Ireton of Attenborough and was baptized in St. Mary’s Church on 3 November 1611.
Owing to the archaic practice of ultimogeniture, or inheritance by the youngest son, that was prevalent in parts of 17th century Nottinghamshire, Henry did not inherit the family estate when his father died in 1626. Ireton would go on to marry Oliver Cromwell’s daughter Bridget. Oliver Cromwell, England’s Lord Protectorate himself is said to have visited Attenborough and the house on a number of occasions.
When Ireton become old enough he left Attenborough and at the age of 15 he attended Trinity College Oxford. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts on 10th June 1629. After his BA he read law in the Middle Temple, but was not called to the Bar. Although he was not called to the bar, Ireton probably practised as a lawyer during the 1630s. As tensions between King Charles and the Long Parliament grew, he became prominent among the Puritans of Nottinghamshire by organising the Root and Branch petition against Episcopacy in the county. As war clouds gathered, Ireton joined his kinsman John Hutchinson in recruiting a company to protect the magazine of the Nottingham militia from the King’s men.
As the English Civil War began he raised a troop of cavalry and fought for the Parliamentarians at the battles of Edgehill (1642) and Gainsborough (1643). He then served as quartermaster-general to the Earl of Manchester in Yorkshire in the Marston Moor campaign of summer 1644, and at Newbury in October. Ireton was at the siege of Bristol in September 1645 and took part in the subsequent campaign that succeeded in overthrowing the royal cause. On 30 October 1645 Ireton entered parliament as member for Appleby.
In the year 1646, King Charles I surrendered to the Parliamentarians, this was also the same year when Ireton married 22 year old Bridget Cromwell. The victorious army then became involved in arguments with parliament, in part about lack of pay. Ireton emerged as one of the ablest politicians among the army leadership. He played an important part in upholding his men’s interests, but declined to support their more extreme political ideas, proposing a constitutional monarchy. He was involved with negotiations with the king, but after Charles fled to the Isle of Wight, Ireton became convinced that there was no point negotiating further.
The second civil war, in which he served at the siege of Colchester, persuaded him that no deal with Charles was possible. It was Ireton who set in motion the train of events that led to the trial and execution of King Charles. Ireton drafted the Army Remonstrance, which demanded that the King should be brought to account for causing unnecessary bloodshed among his subjects. Ireton was closely involved in the organisation of the King’s trial, and was one of 59 who signed the King’s death warrant. King Charles I was beheaded on January 30, 1649 at the Palace of Whitehall in London.
Ireton accompanied Cromwell on his campaign in Ireland in 1649 – taking part in the storming of Drogheda and Wexford – and assumed command when Cromwell returned to England in May 1650. Whilst directing the Siege of Limerick in 1651, Ireton died and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After his death the government settled a pension of £2,000 for his widow and five children.
As a result of the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Ireton’s body was disinterred from Westminster Abbey along with his Father-In-Law Oliver Cromwell, and was hung from the gallows at Tyburn. His corpse was mutilated in a posthumous execution in retribution for signing the King’s death warrant. Posthumous execution involved hanging the bodies “from morning till four in the afternoon”. Ireton’s body along with Oliver Cromwell’s were cut down and the heads placed on a 20-foot (6.1 m) spike above Westminster Hall. This was quite ironic in a way as this was the location of the trial of King Charles I.