English soldier and politician
Born 1608 Died 1680
John Desborough, son of James Desborough of Eltisley, Cambridgeshire, and of Elizabeth Hatley of Over, in the same county, was baptized on the 13th of November 1608. He was educated for the law. On the 23rd of June 1636 he married Eltisley Jane, daughter of Robert Cromwell of Huntingdon, and sister of the future Protector. He took an active part in the Civil War when it broke out, and showed considerable military ability. In 1645 he was present as major in the engagement at Langport on the 10th of July, at Hambleton Hill on the 4th of August, and on the 10th of September he commanded the horse at the storming of Bristol. Later he took part in the operations round Oxford. In 1648 as colonel he commanded the forces at Great Yarmouth. He avoided all participation in the trial of the king in June 1649, being employed in the settlement of the west of England. He fought at Worcester as major-general and nearly captured Charles II near Salisbury.
After the establishment of the Commonwealth he was chosen, on the 17th of January 1652, a member of the committee for legal reforms. In 1653 he became a member of the Protectorate Council of State, and a commissioner of the treasury, and was appointed one of the four generals at sea and a commissioner for the army and navy. In 1654 he was made constable of St Briavel's Castle in Gloucestershire. Next year he was appointed major-general over the west. He had been nominated a member of Barebones' parliament in 1653, and he was returned to the parliament of 1654 for Cambridgeshire, and to that of 1656 for Somersetshire. In July 1657 he became a member of the privy council, and in 1658 he accepted a seat in Cromwell's House of Lords.
In spite of his near relationship to the Protector's family, he was one of the most violent opponents of the assumption by Cromwell of the royal title, and after the Protector's death, instead of supporting the interests and government of his nephew Richard Cromwell, he was, with Fleetwood, the chief instigator and organizer of the hostility of the army towards his administration, and forced him by threats and menaces to dissolve his parliament in April 1659. He was chosen a member of the council of state by the restored Rump, and made colonel and governor of Plymouth, but presenting with other officers a seditious petition from the army council, on the 5th of October, was about a week later dismissed. After the expulsion of the Rump by Fleetwood on the 13th of October he was chosen by the officers a member of the new administration and commissary-general of the horse. The new military government, however, rested on no solid foundation, and its leaders quickly found themselves without any influence. Desborough himself became an object of ridicule, his regiment even revolted against him, and on the return of the Rump he was ordered to quit London.
At the Restoration he was excluded from the Act of Indemnity but not included in the clause of pains and penalties extending to life and goods, being therefore only incapacitated from public employment. Soon afterwards he was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to kill the king and queen, but was quickly liberated. Subsequently he escaped to Holland, where he engaged in republican intrigues. Accordingly he was ordered home, in April 1666, on pain of incurring the charge of treason, and obeying was imprisoned in the Tower till February 1667, when he was examined before the council and set free. Desborough died in 1680.
By his first wife, Cromwell's sister, he had one daughter and seven sons; he married a second wife in April 1658 whose name is unrecorded. Desborough was a good soldier and nothing more; and his only conception of government was by force and by the army. His rough person and manners are the constant theme of ridicule in the royalist ballads, and he is caricatured in Butler's Hudibras and in the Parable of the Lion and Fox.
Being the entry for DESBOROUGH, JOHN in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.