The Extraordinary Life of Colonel Leonard Lytcott By Brian Green
Why is is the name Lytcott familiar you might ponder, And then it will dawn on you that you have passed by the little road off Melbourne Grove when taking a short cut towards Lordship Lane when the traffic in East Dulwich Grove was snarled up. And then you might remember hearing of the tragic bombing which took place there in January 1943 during a peaceful interlude between the Blitz and the Doodlebugs when Hitler ordered a retaliation raid for the RAF bombing of Berlin and the following night German bombers dropped landmines willy-nilly on London. And then you will recall that in 2013 the Dulwich Society placed a memorial there to the air-raid victims. You might even ponder why the road was named Lytcott Grove.
While a few facts are known, it is odd that apparently no research has ever been carried out on the life and importance of Leonard Lytcott. All we know is that he was a colonel in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War and that in 1662 he and his family took the lease on a farm in Dulwich. And they had a tragic death soon after. No portrait of him exists.
We do not know the date of Lytcott’s birth, nor does a portrait of him exist. We do know that he was the eldest surviving son of Sir John Lytcott, a professional soldier who served in Ireland and was knighted for his service and became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber of James 1st and died in 1641 at the age of 65. His mother was Mary Overbury, the sister of Sir Thomas Overbury who was poisoned in the power struggles of the Jacobean court. Leonard Lytcott was also the nephew of John Thurloe, a key figure in Oliver Cromwell’s inner circle. In 1652 Thurloe was named a secretary for state.
A year later, Thurloe became head of Parliamentarian intelligence and developed a widespread network of spies in England and on the continent. One of his great successes was the infiltration of the Sealed Knot, the Royalist secret society and he foiled several Royalist plots to assassinate Cromwell. He was the appointed postmaster-general and used this office to intercept mail and was almost certainly in correspondence with his nephew who by this time was one of General Monck’s most trusted officers.
It would appear that like his father, Leonard Lytcott also became a professional soldier. In 1643 he was listed as serving as a captain in Antrim in Sir John Clotworthy’s Regiment of Foot which had been raised the previous year. He seems to have had rapid promotion because he next appears in September 1645 as a colonel commanding a regiment under General Poyntz during the battle of Rowton Heath when Charles 1st Royalist army was defeated when it attempted to relieve the siege of Chester. In the following year he was commanding a Northamptonshire regiment which included its own chaplain.
Lytcott then seems to have been posted back to Ireland where, in October 1649, he is placed in command of his old regiment named after Sir John Clotworthy. Clotworthy himself had been impeached for betraying the Parliamentary cause and with embezzlement. The command of the regiment had first passed to Clotworthy’s brother and then to Owen O’Connoly who was subsequently killed in a skirmish.
Lytcott’s command of the Irish foot regiment was relatively brief. General Monck had just brokered a truce with the Irish when news came of unrest in Scotland and the rallying of the Scottish Covenanters under Charles 11nds banner. The English Army assembled at Berwick under the command of Oliver Cromwell in readiness for the subjugation of Scotland. Lytcott was summoned to Scotland in July 1650 and may have been present at the ensuing battle at Dunbar in September 1650. We do know that he had orders to raise a regiment of horse at Leith. It was known as Colonel Leonard Lytcott’s Horse. In February 1651 Lycott wrote a letter to Parliament which was read out in the House.
Lytcott’s Horse was in action later that year when General John Lambert led a sea-borne invasion, landing at Fife to get around the Covenanter stronghold of Stirling with a view to cutting Scotland in half and deny the southern Scottish troops reinforcements from the north. Early in 1651 the Council of State, the executive authority of the Commonwealth, had ordered the construction of special flat bottomed boats, which arrived in Leith in April. While this would enable men and horses to be ferried in close to the northern shore, it would take time for the army to land in sufficient strength to fight off a counter-attack.
A bridgehead was secured with difficulty and the ensuing battle of Inverkeithing, fought in July 1651 was decisive in securing Scotland for Cromwell and Parliament. Because of their inexperience, Lytcott’s men performed poorly in the battle and the regiment was later disbanded, probably because of the firm grip the English army had by this time over Scotland.
With his regiment disbanded, Leonard Lytcott was appointed governor of the burgh of Linlithgow and occupied Linlithgow Palace as his headquarters. The battle of Inverkeithing had been financially disastrous for the burgh. The council report of 27 December 1651 showed that it reckoned its losses, due to the English invasion, to come to the vast sum of £25,500 sterling. The Linlithgow council appealed to Colonel Lytcott and Colonel Kid, another officer, making them aware of the burgh's desperate financial position and to try to get a reduction in the town’s cess payments (the cess was money levied on the local inhabitants to maintain the occupying English army). Lytcott `acceptit favorablie and hes promised to befriend us being sensible and sure knowledge of our extrieorinarie Iossice'.
The good relationship struck up between Lytcott and the Linlithgow council worked well for the burgh throughout the Interregnum and, in general, Lytcott’s sympathetic attitude
towards them made the case for the burgh's petitions to the authorities in Edinburgh
considerably stronger. In particular, he helped the council when they petitioned the central authorities for money for the rebuilding of the tollbooth later in the decade.
In February 1659 Parliament appointed Lytcott, and two other colonels, Commissioners of Excise at Leith. The winning of Scottish hearts and minds by Lytcott would pay dividends at Christmas 1659, when it allowed General Monck to leave a reduced garrison behind when he prepared to march on London.
Oliver Cromwell had died in September 1658 and was succeeded by his son Richard as Lord Protector. Richard’s alienation of the army led to a military putsch by a group of army grandees and Richard was forced to dissolve Parliament in April 1659 . For the next three weeks power was in the hands of the General Council of Officers headed by General Fleetwood. There was much debate as to whether England should be a Protectorate or a Republic. It seems that the senior officers in the army favoured the former and the junior officers and rank and file, the latter. However, the general mood of the population was for Parliament to take possession again. Acknowledging this, Parliament was recalled by the Speaker William Lenthall at the command of the army council. Lenthall had been in secret correspondence with General Monck for some time and Colonel Lytcott was later included in this interchange of letters, indeed acting as a clearing house of information and intelligence.
Lytcott had also been recalled from his other duties in Leith to take command of Colonel Ralph Cobbett’s regiment of Foot after Cobbett, who was a religious radical, appears to have plotted to get some of his men to revolt and seize command of Monck’s army and possibly Monck himself. Monck who had heard of this plot through an informant had him arrested and imprisoned. The regiment would continue to be commanded by Lytcott until the entire army was disbanded in October 1660, with the exception of Monck’s regiment which became the Coldstream Guards.
Relations between the army council in London and Parliament deteriorated through the summer of 1659 and by the autumn elements of the army were being deployed in the City. The army intimidated Parliament in October when General John Lambert placed soldiers around the House and prevented the members from assembling. The mace was seized and Lenthall’s coach was stopped as he was entering Old Palace Yard.
The army council next ordered General Lambert to Newcastle to contain Monck’s forces which had declared its support for Parliament and was stationed at Berwick. A new civil war therefore appeared imminent. Monck’s skill in diplomacy, augmented by intelligence from London sent by John Thurloe to his nephew Lytcott, succeeded in maintaining an uneasy truce with Lambert, to whom he sent several letters offering friendship. The letters were signed by all his officers, including Lytcott.
In early December 1659 matters took an even greater turn for the worse with ugly confrontations in London between the army and City apprentices when the latter were denied their right to petition the Lord Mayor. The apprentices threw roof tiles from the houses and “great pieces of ice from the gutters” at the troopers. Shops were shut and there were several fatalities and others wounded. In spite of this the apprentices delivered a petition to the Lord Mayor in support of Parliament, “and the preservation of Magistracy and Ministry.”
On 16th December Leonard Lytcott wrote from Monck’s HQ at Coldstream, a newsletter to Lenthall and Parliament saying that he had heard that “The rotation of the wheels of state begin to run right. The apprentice boys of London drive the cart in the right channel”. In many ways it’s an odd letter, Lytcott asks the readers to pardon his mirth for example. Presumably the stress and strain of the previous months have been released. Good news was received from London on 22nd December 1659, when the Speaker and six members of Parliament wrote to Lytcott informing him that army regiments in Portsmouth and Taunton as well as elements of the navy had defected to Parliament, and that other regiments were being raised in its support in Kent and asking Lytcott to convey this intelligence to General Monck. Two days later another letter from Lenthall says “Wee are neere the end of our troubles; all parts are up for Parliament” and sends news that all the army regiments in London had declared for Parliament as well as the garrison at the Tower.
On January 1st 1660 Monck finally decided to march on London and as he slowly and carefully advanced south, Lambert’s army gradually melted away or deserted to Monck. The army in Ireland declared for Parliament and Fairfax took up arms again to secure Yorkshire on behalf of Monck. We do not hear any more of Leonard Lytcott for over a year. We must assume that he commanded his regiment on its entry into London on 3rd February and remained as its Colonel while order was restored, the army grandees and other unreliables rounded up and Parliament recalled and until the regiment was disbanded in October 1660. We might guess that he then settled with his family in the parish of St George’s, Southwark. We do not know, if, with his connections he had any part of Monck’s invitation to Charles 11 to return from Breda to the throne of England.
What we do know for certain is that records next show him incarcerated in the Gatehouse Prison of Westminster Abbey where he is being held in close confinement, together with a number of other former colonels, majors and captains. All had been arrested in their homes early in 1661, either because they were considered anti-Royalist, republicans or capable of subversion. Lytcott and some of the officers twice petitioned the Lord Chief Justice for information of the charges against them and the names of their accusers. After confinement for 4 months their lawyers successfully obtained a writ of habeas corpus but it was ignored by the prison governor, Sir Edward Broughton. After 12 weeks of their husbands’ imprisonment, their wives, headed by Lytcott’s wife Susanna had also petitioned the King and the House of Lords for their husbands’ release or to be brought to trial. They were allowed to visit and found conditions in the Gatehouse Prison harsh. They found their husbands also had to pay for their imprisonment: 20/- for ‘turning the key’, 5/- for use of a pair of sheets, £5 ‘iron fees’. One officer, Major Henry Wansley, an anti-Royalist was held in even in worse conditions which were such that “he could not stand upright on account of the lowliness of the ceiling, not lie down for the filth and nastiness of the place”.
Leonard Lytcott served at least 4 months, and possibly as long as six months or more in prison. We next hear of him as living at St George’s, Southwark and negotiating a lease for a farm in Dulwich in May 1662. He acquired the lease of a farm house and lands called Little Lordship, Addington, Butchers fields, Blanch Downes and the hill field in Dulwich, in the following November. The Lytcott family then moved into their substantial Dulwich farmhouse with its surrounding fields which are thought to have lain along Lordship Lane from around Dulwich Library as far as Dulwich Common. Their tenure in Dulwich was short; on 26th August 1665 Colonel Leonard Lytcott died of the plague. On the 11th September his wife Susanna died, two days later his son Thomas, on 2nd October his son Benjamin, on 28th October his son Leonard, on 2nd November his son Temple. In addition two of his household servants also succumbed to the plague. Colonel Lytcott was buried at St Giles, Camberwell, the remainder of the family may have been buried there also, or at St George’s, Southwark.
Sources: The Clarke Papers of Sir William Clarke secretary to General Monck for twelve years and bequeathed to Worcester College Oxford
House of Commons Journal
Dulwich College archives
Edinburgh Research archive