Bravebenbow Admiral John Benbow, biography, mutiny, script, screen play, art, documentary

March 5, 2010


Filed under: — W.A.Benbow @ 6:12 pm


Colonel John Benbow, from the The Loyall Martyrology 1665

John Benbow was born around 1610, son of Roger Benbow and Margaret Leckyn of the Newport Benbow line. During the English Civil War, he served in the Roundhead or Parliamentary army, and later crossed over to the Royalist Army. He was captured at the battle of Worcester, 1651, court martialled and executed.

John Campbell, the Admiral’s first biographer, was told by the Admiral’s daughter and son-in-law, Paul Calton, that Colonel John Benbow was the Admiral’s father. Campbell relates that there were two Colonel Benbow’s, of the ancient and honourable family of the Benbows in Salop, with Colonel Thomas Benbow being the Admiral’s uncle. Both served in the Royalist forces during the English Civil War. According to Campbell, they were both captured at Worcester in 1651; Colonel Thomas was court martialled as a traitor at Chester, along with Sir Timothy Fetherstonhough and the Earl of Derby. All were condemned, and Colonel Thomas was shot at Shrewsbury in the garden under the Castle Mount. Colonel John escaped and after the Restoration of 1660, found work in the Tower. Here he was discovered by Charles II who wished to reward him for his loyalty, but, sadly, the Admiral’s father transpired soon thereafter. Lives of the British Admirals, 1742, (1817 edition, vol.iv, p.204).

Samuel Pepys in his diary entry for November 8, 1664 gives an account of an unusual surprise visit by the King to the Tower which may well have been this very occasion mentioned by Campbell. Pepys was attending a meeting of the office of the Ordnance with Sir J. Minnes and Lord Barkeley. Following the meeting

Thence to dinner, all of us to the Lieutenant’s of the Tower; where a good dinner, but disturbed in the middle of it by the King’s coming into the Tower; and so we broke up, and to him.

However, Owen and Blakeway, in their History of Shrewsbury, of 1825,take exception with Campbell’s account. They point out that Campbell erred in the name of the Colonel who was executed. Clearly it was John Benbow who was shot and buried at Shrewsbury, as evidenced by the gravestone at St. Chad’s, parish and historical records. They add that Campbell also erred in terms of the executed officer’s rank, which on the grave stone is given as Captain. They place great store on these supposed inaccuracies and on the question of the Admiral’s Augmentation of Arms. All of this is used to buttress their own speculation that the Admiral was descended from the Cotton Hill line, with his father being the tanner, William Benbow. They accept that John Benbow, the Civil War officer was the Admiral’s uncle, but based on their own theories, erroneously place him in the Cotton Hill line, where there is a John Benbow baptised at St. Julian’s August 20, 1623. This makes for a very young officer.

Based on what they view as Paul Calton’s untruths they suggest that Campbell’s information “is little to be depended on.”(Owen and Blakeway, p.390)

They are reluctant to accuse the Admiral himself of misrepresenting his heritage, and suggest that:

If there has been any intentional misrepresentation in the case, (and it is really not easy to avoid such a suspicion,) one would rather impute it to the weakness of his descendants, than suppose a sturdy seaman capable of being ashamed of his humble origin.

(Owen and Blakeway, p.391)

However, Callender and Britton point out that John Benbow could have received a promotion from his Parliamentary rank of Captain, when he changed sides and joined the Royalists forces just before the battle of Worcester. They also add the information that John Benbow of the Newport line was baptised 15 April, 1610, so would be an acceptable age of 41 for the rank of Colonel. (Callender and Britton, Admiral Benbow, Fact and Fiction p. 133.)

In addition, I point out in Brave Benbow that Katherine may well have been confused by her recallection that the two Colonels were brothers. They would not likely have the same name, and she knew more certainly that her grandfather was named John. Therefore she may have assumed that her Uncle was Thomas, one of the other sons of Roger and Margaret Benbow of the Newport Benbow line. Unbeknownst to Katherine, the two Colonels may have been cousins, rather than brothers. Thus, they could well both have been named John, a common occurrence in my own family. (Brave Benbow, p.24)

In fact, historical records indicate that John Benbow was indeed a Colonel at the time of his death:

1. A pamphlet by Sir Robert Stapylton in 1651, immediately after the battle, titled A more full Relation of the great Victory Obtained by our Forces near Worcester, contained an exact list of the Prisoners taken, and listed Colonel Benbow as one of the captured Colonels of Horse.

2. The Loyall Martyrology, by William Winstanley, published in 1665, just five years after the Restoration, shows a portrait wood cut of Col. Benbow, with the epitaph:

Colonel Benbow, who for his Loyalty and superlative Valour, was by those blookthirsty Regicides, much about the same time shot to death at Shrewsbury.

(The Loyall Martyrology, p.34)

3. The actual court martial record indicates that Captain Benbow was promoted to the rank of Colonel when he joined the Royalist forces in the summer of 1651. (The Stanley Papers, Cheltham Society, 1867)

Parliament decided to court martial him at his former rank in their army, rather than acknowledge his higher Royalist rank. This was a part of his punishment.

Clearly, Owen and Blakeway erred in their critique of Campbell and in the aspersions they cast on Paul Calton’s accuracy and honesty. They compound the errors they made on the Benbow Coat of Arms. Callender and Britton add that they even mistook the artist who painted the Admiral’s famous portrait which hung at the time in the Painted Hall of Greenwich; attributing the source of the engraving they commissioned by James Basire to Wageman rather than Godfrey Kneller.

Many historians have erroneously followed Owen and Blakeway’s mistakes and disparaged and discarded Campbell’s data on Admiral Benbow’s origins, including John Laughton in the Dictionary of National Biography.

We do know a little about Colonel Benbow’s earlier history.

He was active in the taking of Shrewsbury by the Parliamentary forces in February 1644/5. Letters sent by the Parliamentary army to the House of Commons:

upon the 22d of this Month we drew out of our Garrison of Wem, Moreton, and Stoke, 250 Horse and the like Number of Foot, Sir William Brereton having sent us 250 Foot and 350 Horse, which Party, by our Order was Commanded by Lieut. Coll. Rincking (in the Marshalling of the design he deserves much Honour) and Captain Wyllier and Master Huson a Minister led on the Firelocks, with Troopers dismounted, under the Command of Lieut. Bendebue; they led on their men with undaunted Resolutions after whom followed 350 Foot, which by Severn Side Stormed the Town, near unto the Castle Wall and marched into the Market House, and then Surprised the main Guard, and then sent a Party to Secure the Castle foregate Gate, which was Effected without much Difficulty, and after a quarter of an Hour, the Draw Bridge was let down, and the Gate opened, where Coll Mitton Coll Bowyer and all the Gentlemen of this Committee, with the Horse entered, and imediately became Masters of the Town.

(The Ottley Papers Relating to the Civil War, ed. William Phillips, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 2nd series, vol.viii, 1896, p. 277.

Lieutenant Benbow was immediately promoted to Captain, as a result of his valiant service in the taking of Shrewsbury. St. Mary’s register has an entry dated just two weeks later, on March 10, 1645, which records the burial of Stephen Gould, “a souldier of Capt Benbo”.

He was mentioned again for his efforts in the battle of Beaumaris Bay and the taking of Beaumaris castle on the Isle of Anglesey in 1648. A Royalist uprising had attempted to throw off the yoke of the Parliamentary army. The account is told after the Restoration by the Rev. Mr. Williams, school-master of Beaumaris in a 1669 manuscript.

Colonel Bulkeley his own troop, consisting of gentlemen, made a valiant charge upon Brickes Fields, encountering with Captain Benbow, but being overpowered by far greater numbers, were forced to retreat to the barricades near Mary Ned’s house, and there another charge happened, where on the round head party, Captain Benbow, and Vavasor Powell (a Military preacher) were wounded.

(Beaumaris Bay, a poem, by Richard Llwyd, 1800, Appendix, p. 52).

He must have retired due to his wounds, for we hear nothing more until in 1651 Charles II led an invading Scots army south into England and called for all those still loyal to rally to him as he entered the northern counties. Many who had once served in the Parliamentary army had become disenchanted following the murder of Charles I, and Cromwell’s ensuing dictatorship. The more prudent bided their time to see how Charles would be received. The more valiant rallied to the King.

Yet the Earl of Derby, the Lord Talbott and many Gentlemen did come in to him; and some that had been Souldiers for the Parliament, (as Capt. Benbow from Shrewsbury, with Cornet Kinnersly and a Party of Horse, and some few more.)

(The Life of the Reverend Mr. Richard Baxter, London, 1696, p. 68.

Owen and Blakeway suggest that it was probably Benbow who suggested to Charles that he send a summons to Colonel Mackworth, the Governor of Shrewsbury, to come over to the Royalist side. Mackworth declined, with some venom directed to his former colleagues who like Benbow had deserted the Commonwealth cause. (p.476)

Unfortunately Charles army was no match for Cromwell who soundly routed the Cavaliers at Worcester on September 3, 1651. Charles fled into hiding. Cromwell determined to repress any hope of future uprisings by an example of terror. He summoned a court martial for the Earl of Derby and several other commanders of distinction, among whom was Colonel Benbow.

the Earl of Derby was taken, and Capt. Benbow of Shrewsbury, and were both put to Death; the Sentence of Coll. Mackworth dispatched Benbow, because he had been a Souldier under him.

(Baxter, p. 69).

1651 List of prisoners taken at Worcester

Colonel Benbow in list of prisoners taken at Worcester


Callender and Britton detail the few weeks following Benbow’s capture as recorded in the State Papers:

Sept.10th. Council of State. Day’s Proceedings. That Capt. Bendbow be tried at Chester.

Sept.11th. Orders in Parliament. That Capt. Bendbow and Sir Timothy Fetherstonehaugh are fit persons to be brought to trial and made examples of justice.

Sept. 13th. Council of State to Col. Duckenfield. The Lord General has renewed the commission for a court martial, which we enclose, as also the orders of Parliament concerning some to begin with, to be made examples of justice, among which are…Capt. Bendbow.

Sept. 16th. Council of State. The Lord General to be desired to send Captain Bendbow to Chester, there to be kept until his trial by court martial.

Sept. 30th. Council of State. (Item) 24: To return, in answer to the petition of Capt. Jno Bendbow that Parliament having ordered his trial, Council do not think fit to interpose.

Sept. 30th. Council of State to Col. Mackworth and the rest of the Commissioners for the trial of prisoners by court martial at Chester. Capt. John Bendbow, who was a prisoner at Chester, has been ordered to be made an example of by Parliament; try him by virtue of your commission from the Lord General, and proceed as speedily and effectually as you can.

(Calendar of State Papers, Domestic for 1651, published 1877, p. 422,424,427,432,455,457; Callender and Britton p.132)

1651 pamphlet of trial of Derby and Benbow

1651 pamphlet of trial of Derby and Benbow

Benbow sentenced to be shot Oct.15, 1651 at Shrewsbury


The Berrys provide this from the Stanley Papers:


The Shropshire Parish Registers have this entry:

1651, Oct. 16. John Benbow, captaine, was shot at the Castle, bur(ied)

(Callender and Britton, p.132)

Owen in his 1808 Some Account of the Ancient and Present State of Shrewsbury describes the event thus:

He was shot on the green before the castle, on the 15th of Oct. 1651, and suffered with great intrepidity.



John Benbow: Colonel in the Royalist Army - Captain in the Roundhead Army


Dec.3, 1651 a Grant of Probate was issued by the Prerogative Court of Cantibury (No. 187 Admons. 1651) . It would be interesting to know more of this kinsman who was also named John Benbow.

Benbow - the third day of December issued forth unto John Benbow, the kinsman and principal creditor of John Benbow late of Shrewsbury in the county of Salop, bachelor, deceased, having goods to administer and goods harboring, first sworn faithfully to...

(The Two John Benbows 2002, Dorothy and William Berry)

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