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John Thurloe
John Thurloe from NPG detail.jpg
Secretary of State to the Protectorate's Council of State
Personal details
Born1616 (1616)
Died1668 (1669)
Lincoln's Inn

John Thurloe[1] (June 1616 – 21 February 1668) of Great Milton in Oxfordshire and of Lincoln's Inn,[2] was a secretary to the council of state in Protectorate England and spymaster for Oliver Cromwell.


Thurloe was born in Essex in 1616 and was baptised on 12 June. His father was Rev. Thomas Thurloe, Rector of Abbess Roding.


He trained as a lawyer in Lincoln's Inn. He was first in the service of Oliver St John, solicitor–general to King Charles I and Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.[2] In January 1645, became a secretary to the parliamentary commissioners at the Treaty of Uxbridge. In 1647 Thurloe was admitted to Lincoln's Inn as a member. He remained on the sidelines during the English Civil War but after the accession of Oliver Cromwell, became part of his government. In March 1651, Thurloe accompanied Oliver St John as his secretary on his embassy to the United Provinces to propose a union between the Commonwealth and the Dutch.[3] In 1652 he was named a secretary for state.[4]

In 1653 he became head of intelligence and developed a widespread network of spies in England and on the continent. These included the Dutch diplomat and historian Lieuwe van Aitzema, the mathematician John Wallis, who established a code-breaking department, as well as diplomat and mathematician Samuel Morland, who served as Thurloe's assistant. Thurloe's service broke the Sealed Knot, a secret society of Royalists and uncovered various other plots against the Protectorate. In 1654 he was elected to Parliament as the member for Ely.[4] He supported the idea that Cromwell should adopt a royal title.

In 1655 Thurloe became Postmaster General, a post he held until he was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660.[5] His spies were able to intercept mail, and he exposed Edward Sexby's 1657 plot to assassinate Cromwell and captured would-be assassin Miles Sindercombe and his group. (Ironically, Thurloe's own department was also infiltrated: in 1659 Morland became a Royalist agent and alleged that Thurloe, Richard Cromwell and Sir Richard Willis - a Sealed Knot member turned Cromwell agent - were plotting to kill the future King Charles II.) About forty years after his death, a false ceiling was found in his rooms at Lincolns Inn, the space was full of letters seized during his occupation of the office of Postmaster-General. These letters are also now at the Bodleian.[6]

In 1657 Thurloe became a member of Cromwell's second council, as well as governor of the London Charterhouse school, and in 1658 he became chancellor of the University of Glasgow. After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, he supported his son Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector and, in 1659, represented Cambridge University in the Third Protectorate Parliament. Later that year various parties accused him of arbitrary decisions as head of intelligence, and he was deprived of his offices. Reinstated as a secretary of state on 27 February 1660, he resisted the return of Charles II.

After the Restoration, Thurloe was arrested for high treason on 15 May 1660 but was not tried. He was released on 29 June on the condition that he would assist the new government upon request. He retired from public life but served as a behind-the-scenes authority on foreign affairs and wrote informative papers for Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, but he did not become part of any new government.

Marriages and children

He married twice:

  • Firstly to a lady of the Peyton family, by whom he had two sons who died as infants;[7]
  • Secondly he married Anne Lytcott[8] 3rd daughter of Sir John Lytcott (died c.1645),[9] of East Molesey in Surrey, a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber who in 1633 had purchased the manor of East Molesey[10] from Ralph Freeman. He was buried in St Mary's Church, East Molesey, where survives his monument and several to members of the Clerk family, the children of his daughter Ursula, who became his heirs.[11] Anne Lytcott's mother was Mary Overbury, daughter of Nicholas Overbury of Bourton on the Hill in Gloucestershire and sister of the famous Sir Thomas Overbury.[7] By Anne Lytcott he had four sons and two daughters, including:[7]
    • John Thurloe, eldest son, admitted at Lincoln's–Inn in 1665, died at Amesbury in Wiltshire, where he was buried.
    • Oliver Thurloe, 2nd son, who married but died childless.
    • Thomas Thurloe, 3rd son, born in March 1650/1, in about January 1676/7 appointed Governor of James Island in the River Gambia, where he died.
    • Nicholas Thurloe, 4th son, "educated to the sea",[7] living in 1678.
    • Mary Thurloe, eldest daughter, married to Thomas Ligoe of Burcott in Buckinghamshire, by whom she had issue:
      • Thomas Ligoe, married to a sister of John Hamilton;
      • Eleanor Ligoe, married to the said John Hamilton.
    • Anne Thurloe, 2nd daughter, married to Francis Brace of Bedford, by whom she had issue:

Death and burial

John Thurloe died on 21 February 1668 in his chambers in Lincoln's Inn and was buried in the chapel. His monument is inscribed as follows:[7]

"Here lyeth the body of John Thurleo, Esq; Secretary of State to the Protector Oliver Cromwell, and a member of this honourable Society. He died Feb. 21, 1667. Here lyeth the body of Francis Brace, Esq; a member of this society. He was son of Francis Brace, esq; of the town of Bedford, by Anne, one of the daughters and co–heirs of the late John Thurleo. He died on the 6th day of April 1721, in the 34th year of his age."

His correspondence is kept in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and in the British Museum. Thomas Birch published part of it in 1742.[4]


He owned several manors including Whittlesey St Mary's and Whittlesey St Andrew's and an estate at Astwood in Buckinghamshire worth £400 per annum. He held the rectory of Whittlesey St Mary's, in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire. He purchased the Wisbech Castle, estate, sold off some of the land, demolished the bishop's palace and built and furnished a mansion (demolished c1816 by Joseph Medworth) just before the Restoration of the Monarchy, after which it was restored to the Bishop of Ely.[7] Thurloe Square, Thurloe Street and Thurloe Place in South Kensington, London, are all named after him. They were built in the 1820s on land he once owned.[12]


A portrait of Thurloe was presented to Wisbech & Fenland Museum by D.Gurney in 1847.[13] A photograph of this is held on the National Portrait Gallery website. [14] There is a Thurloe Close in Wisbech.[15]

Fictional portrayals


  1. ^ In his diary, Samuel Pepys spells Thurloe's name as Thurlow
  2. ^ a b The life of John Thurloe Esq., Secretary of State, published in: A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 1, 1638-1653, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1742), pp. xi-xx. [1]
  3. ^ Godwin, William (1827). History of the Commonwealth of England: Vol. 3. London: Henry Colburn. p. 376.
  4. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  5. ^ "John Thurloe, Secretary of State, 1616-68". 23 April 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  6. ^ Papworth, Dorothy (1990). "John Thurloe". Wisbech Society Report. 51: 14–16.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Birch, 1742
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Victoria County History, Vol.3, p.454
  11. ^ Baker, Rowland G. M., The Book of Molesey, 1986
  12. ^ Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher (1992). The London Encyclopaedia (reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 888.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Wisbech Museum". Norfolk News. 9 October 1847. p. 3.
  14. ^ "John Thurloe". Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  15. ^ "1 Thurloe Close". Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  16. ^ "Publication Order of Thomas Chaloner Books". Book Series in Order. 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  17. ^ "Q&A: Robert Wilton (author of Traitor's Field)". English Civil 17 December 2020.


Further reading

  • Aubrey, Philip; Mr Secretary Thurloe, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1989
  • Peacey, Jason T.; "Order and disorder in Europe: Parliamentary agents and royalist thugs 1649–1650"; The Historical Journal (1997), 40: 953-976 Cambridge University Press (Published online 1 December 1997)
  • Ellis, John; To walk in the dark; Military Intelligence during the English Civil War. The History Press. 2011.

External links

This page was last edited on 20 January 2021, at 18:58
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