Blog

Image for the news item 'Thomas Scot, the ‘Grand Infamous Traytor’: an Emmanuel graduate?' on 13 Jul 2021
Left: Thomas Scot; centre: detail of Charles I’s death warrant, showing Scot’s signature third from bottom; right: Oliver Cromwell’s cabinet, including Thomas Scot (D), consorting with the Devil

John Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, the multi-volume printed index of Cambridge students and dons compiled in the early twentieth century, contains biographical entries for all known pre-1901 members of the University. Such a monumental work of scholarship inevitably contains some errors and omissions, but a record of corrections is maintained at the University Archives. It may be that another amendment is required in the case of Thomas Scot(t), Parliamentarian and regicide, one of the 59 Commissioners who signed and sealed the death warrant of King Charles I in January 1649.

Venn’s entry for the Scot the regicide gives no dates for his matriculation or graduation, nor does it assign any collegiate membership to him, simply recording that he was ‘Said to have been educated at Cambridge’. Venn also contains the following, inconspicuous, entry:

Scott, Thomas. Adm. Pens. at EMMANUEL, Apr. 6 1619. Matric. 1619; B.A. 1622-23; M.A. 1626. One of these names R[ector] of St Clement, Ipswich, Suffolk, 1638-40.

Venn’s tentative suggestion that Emmanuel’s Scott may have gone on to be a provincial clergyman appears to have had the effect of forestalling any speculation that he might have been the regicide, but evidence suggesting that indeed he was, has recently come to the college’s notice.

Thomas Scot’s early life is scantily documented, and he only really enters the public sphere in the 1640s. A staunch Parliamentarian, he was elected MP for Aylesbury in 1645 and became a prominent member of the Council of State during the Commonwealth, where he was given particular responsibility for setting up a government intelligence agency. He opposed the establishment of the Protectorate, regarding it as a sell-out, but after its collapse in the spring of 1659 he again wielded considerable political influence.

The evidence connecting Scot with Emmanuel is to be found in a letter written on 5 September 1659 by William Mewe, rector of Eastington in Gloucestershire, to his friend Richard Baxter. Both were Puritan clerics who had achieved a degree of prominence during the Civil War and its aftermath, but neither of them had supported the regicides. Mewe was an Emma man, who matriculated in 1618 and graduated MA in 1626, the same year as Emmanuel’s Thomas Scott. In his letter to Baxter, Mewe refers to various ‘Triobulary’ (literally, three ha’pence, i.e. worthless) politicians then governing the country, first mentioning Sir Henry Vane, before continuing: ‘Mr Scott was my Chamberfellow & wee Comenc’d M of Arts together, & many Letters wee have [ex]Chang’d’.

The context of Mewe’s remark makes it clear that he is referring to Thomas Scot the regicide, who worked closely with Sir Henry Vane on intelligence matters. A recent edition of Richard Baxter’s voluminous correspondence includes Mewe’s letter, and the significance of his comment about Scot had been noted by the editors, who in a footnote gave the substance of the two Venn entries for Thomas Scot(t), leaving readers to draw for themselves the ineluctable conclusion that they must relate to the same individual.

In April 1660, with the return of the King in Exile, Charles II, becoming increasingly inevitable, Scot fled to Brussels, where he was soon recognised and apprehended (or, some sources state, gave himself up following a false promise of mercy). During his imprisonment in the Tower of London he wrote a detailed confession about his time as an intelligencer, but it was not enough to save him. On 17th October 1660, having been found guilty of treason, Scot suffered execution by hanging, drawing and quartering, having first made an uncompromising speech in which he declared that he died ‘in a Cause, not to be Repented of, I Say, Not to be Repented of’.

Thomas Scot was a man of intelligence, ability and influence, and the importance of his contribution to Interregnum politics is not in question. Whether his connection with Emmanuel should be considered a credit to the college, though, or a blot upon its escutcheon, must be a matter of opinion.

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

Back to All Blog Posts