A Royalist who lost his Estates and turned Highwayman. Executed 1652
THIS unhappy person was a gentleman born and bred. He came to an estate in Gloucestershire, of fourteen hundred pounds per annum, just about the breaking out of the Civil War in 1641, his father dying that year. A sincere love of loyalty and allegiance inspiring him with the gallantry of fighting for his King and country, he soon mortgaged his estate for twenty thousand pounds, with which he raised a troop of horse for the service of King Charles I., who gave him the command of them. He remained in the army till the republican party became sole conqueror, and triumphed over religion and monarchy, when he, with many other Cavaliers, was obliged to retire into exile, for fear of the prevailing power.
It was not long that he continued abroad before he returned to England with King Charles II., on whom he attended at Worcester fight, where he performed wonders to the honour of the Royal army, and more especially to his own glory and praise; for he was even taken notice of and applauded by his Majesty himself, who also that day showed himself worthy of the crown he fought for, by his uncommon courage. Everyone knows that the Parliamentarians carried the field in this engagement, and that his Majesty escaped with much difficulty, by hiding himself in an oak in Warwickshire, whence, after six weeks' wandering up and down, he at length found a passage into France. We need not add that he continued twelve years in foreign countries, and that he was afterwards restored to the throne of his ancestors by the general consent of the nation. Zachary Howard, in the meantime, remained in England, and having lost his estate, and being out of all employment, he could find no other way of supporting himself than by robbing on the highway —- a very indifferent method indeed, but what a great many gentlemen in those days were either obliged to take to, or to want bread.
It is said of Howard that when he resolved on this course of life, he did like Hind, and some others of his contemporaries, in swearing he would be revenged, as far as lay in his power, on all persons who were against the interest of his Royal master. Accordingly we are told that he attacked all whom he met and knew to be of that party. It appears too by the following accounts that he succeeded in hunting out those regicides.
The first whom he assaulted on the road was the Earl of Essex, who had been general-in-chief of all the Parliament's forces. His lordship was riding over Bagshot Heath, with five or six in retinue; nevertheless Zachary rode boldly up to the coach door, commanded the driver to stand, and my lord to deliver, adding, that if he did not comply with his demand without words, neither he nor any of his servants should have any quarter. It was unaccountable how a general, who had been always used to success, with so many attendants, should be terrified at the menaces of a single highwayman. But so it was, that his Honour gave him twelve hundred pounds which he had in the coach, and which had been squeezed out of forfeited estates, church lands and sequestrations, not being willing to venture his life for such a trifle at a time when the party had such a plentiful harvest to reap. Zachary was so well contented with his booty that he let the rebellious nobleman pass without punishing him any further for his disloyalty, only desiring him to get such another sum together against meeting him again in some other convenient place. Another time he overtook, on Newmarket Heath, the factious Earl of P —- —--, so famous for his comical speeches in the House of Commons. Only one footman attended his Honour, and Zachary, going in company with them, held his lordship in discourse for about half-a-mile, when, coming to a place proper for his design, he pulled out a pistol, and spoke the terrifying precept, with the addition of a whole volley of oaths, what he would do to him if he did not surrender that minute. "You seem," says the earl, "by your swearing, to be a ranting Cavalier. Have you taken a lease of your life, sir, that you dare venture it thus against two men?" Howard answered: "I would venture it against two more, with your idol Cromwell at the head of you, notwithstanding the great noise he has made." "Oh," says P —- —--, "he's a precious man, and has fought the Lord's battles with success." Zachary replied with calling Oliver and all his crew a company of dastardly cowards; and putting his lordship in mind that talking bred delays, and delays are dangerous. "Therefore," says he, "out with your purse this moment, or I shall out with your soul, if you have any."
The earl still delaying, Howard dismounted him, by shooting his horse, and then took from him a purse full of broad-pieces of gold, and a rich diamond ring; then making him mount behind his man, he tied them back to back, and in that condition left them. My lord rode swearing, cursing and damning to the next town, with his face towards the horse's tail, when a great multitude of people gathered about him; some laughing, others wondering at his riding in that preposterous manner, till he declared the occasion, and the people very civilly released him.
One time Fairfax, who was also general of the Parliament army after Essex, being with some forces in the county of Northumberland, took up his own quarters at Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the same time that Howard chanced to be in the same town. It came to the captain's ear that Fairfax was about to send a man to his lady with some plate which had been presented to him by the mayor and aldermen of that corporation, so that when the day came that the fellow set out with the prize, our highwayman also took leave of Newcastle, and rode after the Roundhead servant. He overtook him on the road, and fell into deep discourse with him about the present times, which Howard seemed as well pleased with as the other, who took him really for an honest fellow, as he seemed, and offered still to bear him Company. They baited, dined, supped and lay together, and so continued in this friendly manner till the messenger came within a day's journey of the seat where his lady resided. Next morning being the last day they were to be together, Howard thought it was now high time to execute his design, which he did with a great deal of difficulty. Being come to a place proper to act his part in, Zachary pulled out his commission, and commanded the fellow to deliver the portmanteau, in which was the plate, to the value of two hundred and fifty pounds. The other, being as resolute to preserve as Howard was to take it from him, refused to comply; whereupon a sharp combat ensued between them, in which the captain had his horse shot under him, after a discharge of two or three pistols on either side. The encounter still listed, for our highwayman continued to fire on foot, till he shot his adversary through the head, which occasioned him to fall, and breathe his last in a moment.
When Howard saw the man dead, he thought it his best way to get off the ground as fast as he could; so nimbly mounting the remaining horse, which carried the treasure, he rode about five miles from the place where the fact was committed, and then deposited the portmanteau in a hollow tree, and went to dinner at the next town. From thence he made the best of his way to Faringdon in Berkshire, where Madam Fairfax was, and whither the fellow he had killed was bound. He reached thither that evening, and delivered the following letter to the lady, which he had found in the pockets of the deceased.
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, Aug. 12, 1650.
MY DEAR, Hoping that you and my daughter Elizabeth, are in good health, this comes to acquaint you that my presence is so agreeable to the inhabitants of this place, that the mayor and aldermen have presented me with a large quantity of plate, which I have sent to you by my man Thomas, a new servant; whom I would have you treat very kindly, he being recommended to me by several gentlemen as a very honest, worthy man. The Lord be praised, I am very well, and earnestly long for the happiness of enjoying your company, which I hope to do within this month or five weeks at farthest. In the meantime, I subscribe myself, your loving husband, till death, FAIRFAX.
The lady, learning by the contents that a parcel of plate was sent by the bearer, inquired of him where it was. Her supposed man readily told her that he was in danger of being robbed of it on such a heath by some suspicious persons, and that therefore, lest he should meet with the same men again, or others like them, he had lodged his charge in the hands of a substantial innkeeper at such a town; from whence he could fetch it in two days. This pretence of his carefulness pleased his new mistress very much, and confirmed the character which her husband had sent; so that she made very much of him, and desired him to go to bed betimes, that he might rest from the fatigues of his journey.
The whole family at this time consisted only of the lady, her daughter, two maids, and two men-servants. No sooner were all these gone to their repose than Howard arose, dressed himself, and with sword and pistol in hand went into the servants' apartments, whom he threatened with present death if they made the least noise. All four of these he tied with the bed-cords, and gagged them. Having secured these, whom he most feared, he went into Mrs Fairfax's chamber, and served her and her daughter as he had done the servants: then he ravished them both, beginning with the daughter, and next proceeded to make a strict scrutiny into the trunks, boxes and chests of drawers finding in all two thousand broad-pieces of gold and some silver, with which he departed to his portmanteau in the tree, which he also carried off.
After he had committed this robbery and murder there was a proclamation issued out by the Commonwealth, promising five hundred pounds to anyone who should apprehend him; whereupon, to avoid being taken, he fled into Ireland, where he continued his former courses till, being grown as notorious there as in England, he thought it advisable to return. He landed at Highlake, and came to the city of Chester at the same time that Oliver Cromwell lay there with a party of horse, putting up in the same inn where that arch-traitor had taken up his quarters. Here he passed for a gentleman who was going to travel into foreign countries for his improvement, and behaved himself agreeably to such a character, spending his money with a great deal of profuseness.
He moreover counterfeited himself a Roundhead, and frequently spoke against the Royal family, applauding the murder of King Charles I. up to the skies. By this means he got familiar with Cromwell, who was so taken with his conversation that he would seldom dine or sup without him, or hardly suffer him to be ever out of his company. About a fortnight after this acquaintance between them was confirmed, Howard went one morning very early to pay old Nol a visit in his bedchamber, which was on the same floor with his own. He found an easy admittance, and the hypocritical villain desired, that as he had come before he had been at prayers, would he please to join with him in that exercise. Zachary consented; but no sooner was Cromwell down upon his marrow-bones than he knocked him down with the butt-end of a pistol, presenting it afterwards to his breast, and swearing that if he did but attempt to make the least noise he would shoot him through the heart, though he were sure to be hanged for it the next minute on the sign-post before the door. These terrifying words struck the republican hero with such a panic fear that he permitted the assaulter to do what he pleased, who thereupon gagged him, and bound him hand and foot. After this he rifled a couple of trunks, out of which he took about eleven hundred jacobuses, and then taking the pan out of a close-stool that stood in the room, which happened to be pretty well filled, he clapped it on the head of the rebel, crowning him in such a manner as he deserved. Having finished what he designed, he went hastily downstairs and mounted his horse, which he had before ordered to be ready, under pretence of some urgent business a few miles out of town.
By this means he got clear off before Oliver, who fell to knocking as soon as he thought the enemy safe, could make anybody hear him.
At last several of the family went upstairs, and were guided by their noses to where the poor general sat, in the miserable pickle we have described, unable to move out of the place. Some of them, at first sight, thought he had put his headpiece on, till the nauseous filth, which ran down his face and shoulders convinced them of their mistake, and made them speedily unbind him.
As soon as he was loose, and pretty well wiped, he fell upon his knees to give thanks for so signal a deliverance from the fury of a wicked Cavalier, for such he now believed Howard to be.
Within a week after this, Howard sent Oliver a letter, wherein he signified that he was in good health, and that what he had done was only to make him reflect that, notwithstanding his great successes, his life was still in the power of any single man who would be bold enough to execute justice. Then he made very merry with the old villain about the condition he had left him in, adding that he would have him for the future be more cautious how he entered into friendship with a man before he knew him. "For," says he, "the cruelties of you and your party have made us like yourselves; so that the bravest gentlemen in the kingdom are glad to turn hypocrites, either to secure themselves, or be nobly revenged, as I have been."
Our captain enjoyed his liberty but a very little time after this exploit, for venturing one day to attack half-a- dozen republican officers together, as they were riding over Blackheath, he was overpowered by their number; and though he vigorously defended himself, so as to kill one and wound two more of them, he was at last taken by the remaining three. These were soon assisted by several passengers who came by, and joined in carrying this bold robber before a magistrate, who forthwith committed him to Maidstone jail. Thither Oliver went to see him, and insulted him with a great many reproaches. To all which Howard replied with his usual bravery and wit, to the utter confusion of poor Nol.
When he came on his trial at the ensuing assizes he had evidences enough appear against him to have convicted him if he had had twenty lives to have lost. Not only the officers who took him, but even Cromwell himself, and General Fairfax's wife and daughter gave in their depositions, besides a vast number of others whom he had robbed at several times. So that he was sentenced for two rapes, two murders, and as many robberies, to be hanged till he was dead.
When he came to the place of execution, apparelled all in white, he confessed himself guilty of everything he stood charged with; but declared he was sorry for nothing but the murders he had committed. Yet even these, he said, appeared to him the less criminal when he considered the persons on whom they were acted. He professed further, that if he were pardoned, and at liberty again, he would never leave off robbing the Roundheads, so long as there were any of them left in England.
What was most remarkable at Howard's death was his smiling on Oliver, who came into the country on purpose to see the last of him, with an air of scorn and contempt, telling him that if he had had his reward he had been in the same circumstances as he himself was now in several years ago.
He ended his life in 1652, being thirty-two years of age.