16th March 1659
Coup leader released from Elizabeth Castle
While Guernsey sided with the Parliamentarians, Jersey remained broadly loyal to the Crown during the English Civil War. Indeed, Charles II even sought refuge on the island and was declared king in St Helier’s Royal Square upon the execution of his father.
It’s therefore perhaps unsurprising that, following the restoration of the monarchy, some of those who had been implicated in the king’s execution should find themselves imprisoned in Jersey. Having demonstrated their fidelity, it was fair to assume that its locals would make sure such “criminals” were closely watched.
A committed Parliamentarian
Robert Overton, who some sources say was with Oliver Cromwell when Charles I was taken to the Isle of Wight and was certainly a strong supporter of the idea that the king should be put on trial, was not among them, since he had been incarcerated in Elizabeth Castle far earlier.
Overton had proved himself a committed Parliamentarian many times over and, initially, was a strong supporter of Cromwell. Although he had originally proclaimed that he didn’t want to see the king executed – only dethroned – this view apparently change following the king’s death, when Overton interpreted a passage from the Old Testament to justify the killing on the grounds that it fulfilled a prophesy.
A changed outlook
Yet, as Cromwell’s power grew, Overton began to see the revolutionary leader as perhaps as great a problem as the king himself. He became critical of Cromwell and planned a coup d’etat, which Cromwell discovered before Overton was able to put his plans into action.
Overton was thus imprisoned in the Tower of London and his considerable land holdings, many of which had been awarded to him in gratitude to his work for the parliamentary cause, were confiscated. In 1658, four years after his original arrest, he was transferred to Elizabeth Castle in Jersey where, being out of sight and, Cromwell hoped, out of mind, he was less likely to be an inspiration to anyone who might have been sympathetic to his points of view.
An appeal to Parliament
When Cromwell died, Overton’s wife appealed to Parliament for her husband’s release and, having heard her reasoning, it granted her request. On 16 March, Elizabeth Castle’s gates were unlocked and he walked free.
Initially, all seemed to be going well for Overton, who was given back many of his former titles. However, he disagreed with the return of the monarchy and became disobedient in his command of parts of the army. By the end of 1660 he was back in the Tower of London and, four years later, was returned to Jersey, this time to Mont Orgueil Castle. He was released in 1671, returned to the mainland, and died six and a half years later without returning to power.
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