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The Field Detectives are a group of historians who have been investigating historic landscapes since 1999.  We have a saying that ‘Every Field Tells a Story’, but the field surveys are just the beginning of those stories. Field-walking, metal detecting and, where feasible, limited geophysical surveys, are just a small part of the broad-ranging collaboration we have with our heritage sector colleagues. My off-the-field research has been described as forensic and as the group’s researcher, and family historian, I can’t rest until I’ve filled in as many gaps in family trees as feasibly possible and delved into their past lives. I’m equally at home working independently or in collaboration with our colleagues. When I’m not writing reports on our research findings, in my spare time I can be found writing historical fiction, often inspired by people or events that have been discovered along the paths of our research projects.

This blog is an example of that dedication.


He was a parliamentarian soldier during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) and one of Oliver Cromwell’s most trusted soldiers and confidants. His reputation on the battlefield earned him great respect as a fearsome fighter so much so that King Charles offered him a cavalry regiment when he tried to persuade Francis to change sides during the first Civil War. Not surprisingly, Francis chose imprisonment, rather than disloyalty.

A man of principle, devoted to his family and a follower of the Puritan faith, he was also flawed and often made mistakes. As a soldier, yes, he followed the orders of Oliver Cromwell, but he should not be accused of doing this blindly or fanatically. He was a man in his own right, born from a wealthy and powerful family in Nottinghamshire, and one that was divided during the brutal Civil War. His two brothers, Rowland and Thomas, and their father, Francis, remained loyal to the king.

Following the parliamentary victory in 1648, Francis was ordered to guard the king leading up to his execution on 30th January 1649.


Men standing on a raised platform in front of a crows.
Charles I escorted to block on raised platform in front of Banqueting House, spectators massed behind rank of cavalry. Engraving, © The Trustees of the British Museum
Francis Hacker is standing far right on the platform
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs British Museum



Rumours began at the Red Lion public house in Stathern, Leicestershire, telling a tale that Colonel Hacker signed the death warrant for Charles I within its walls. Francis did indeed make his home in Stathern, and there is often a grain of truth in a story. Although the warrant was signed in London, Francis did have it in his possession.

An important fact to note is that although Francis did not sign the Death Warrant for Charles I, his name did appear on it as an addressee. Although Francis had not signed the death warrant, he did keep it safe for eleven years from 1649 until it was returned to parliament following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. That Oliver Cromwell entrusted a document of such magnitude and importance to Francis, shows the closeness of trust and confidence in their friendship. However, it was signing the execution order for Charles I that ultimately led to Francis’s own execution on 19th October 1660 at Tyburn.

handwritten document with red seals next to signatures
Death Warrant of King Charles I,
26 Jan 1648/1649, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/297A



Until now, it was always claimed that he was born in about 1618, the son of Francis Hacker and Margaret Rossell née Whalley, and this was based on their known marriage in 1617 and the assumption that Francis was born a year later. This belief would have made him fourteen years old when he married Isabel Brunts in 1632. However, extensive research by The Field Detectives has uncovered that his baptism took place on 16th  March 1605, at All Hallows Church, Gedling, Nottinghamshire, and that his mother was Anne, therefore, making him twenty-seven years old at the time of his marriage. There were twelve siblings, a few of whom did not survive childhood. Anne died in 1616, and it was following her death that Francis married Margaret Rossell née Whalley in 1617, the daughter of Walter Whalley of Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire.



Lucy Hutchinson in her memoirs mentions Colonel Hacker’s father ‘having married my Lady Biron’s mother, was made a trustee for the estate of her son, which she had by Strelley her first husband.’  The ‘Lady Byron’s mother’ in question was in fact her grandmother; Margaret Rossell née Whalley, the second wife of Colonel Hacker’s father, Francis. Her first husband was George Rossell of Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, with whom she had three children, Gervase, Elizabeth and George. Gervase married his step-sister, Elizabeth Hacker; nothing more is known about George; Elizabeth first married Nicholas Strelley and her second husband was Sir Richard Byron, the second Lord Byron.



Another story passed down the passage of time is that following Francis’s execution, Stathern Hall was demolished to wipe out any memory of a regicide having lived in the village. Yes, his properties and estates in East Bridgford, Colston Bassett, and other Nottinghamshire villages, were seized by Charles II and given to his brother James the Duke of York, however, none of these properties or those forfeited by the other regicides were demolished, so why would Stathern Hall have been? As yet, no documentary evidence has been found to substantiate this claim, and when the survey was carried out of Francis’s property at Colston Bassett in 1662, two years after his execution, there was a note added by the surveyor: But as far as any lands of Tenements or Farmes in Statherne I can finde none, The Lease there held of the Earle of Rutland being Expired. Notts History

The ancestral home of the Rutland family is Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, and the castle that stood during the time of the English Civil War was demolished in c.1649. The rebuild started in 1654 and was not completed until 1668. The Field Detectives hypothesis is that Stathern Hall was not pulled down to erase Francis’s memory from the village, but to recycle building materials for the new castle.



Once again, the story tells that Francis and his family lived at Stathern Hall situated on Mill Hill overlooking the lush fields of the Vale of Belvoir.

colour photo of field
Photo credit: Sarah Bedford, Senior Reserve Officer - East, Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust

One document held at the National Archives - E178/6285 - Inquisition as to the possessions of Henry Smith and Francis Hacker, attainted 12 January 1661, holds the key to another version of the story.

Handwritten document
Inquisition as to the possessions of Henry Smith and Francis Hacker, attainted 12 January 1661, E178/6285, The National Archives

The translation from Latin reads:

‘Francis Hacker Esquire on 25 March 1646 was seised of and in one messuage and two acres of land with appurtenances in Stathern in his demesne as of fee, of the clear annual value of 20 shillings, and also possessed of and in one messuage and eighty acres of land meadow and pasture with appurtenances in Stathern for the term of several years thereafter to come, now or late in the tenure or occupation of Edward Shephardson Esquire of the clear annual value of forty pounds. Francis Hacker was also after the 11th February 1659 namely on 1 May 1660 at Stathern possessed of 350 sheep worth £175, some of which were sold to John Rynill of London, butcher, others were sold to Edward Gardner of Burton in Leicestershire gent, and the money arising was paid to Isabella Hacker wife of Francis Hacker, and the rest of the sheep to the number of ninety were seized by William Hartopp of Dalby parva Leicestershire for rent due in arrears from Francis to William. Also, Francis Hacker on 1st May last past at Stathern was possessed of one gelding worth 80 shillings which was seized by William Hartopp for rent due. Also, Francis Hacker on 1st May last at Stathern was possessed of nine heifers worth each forty shillings, which were afterwards sold by Francis Hacker to William Hande of Oakham in Rutland and the money arising paid to Isabella Hacker wife of Francis Hacker.’

To summarise, it seems that Francis had two properties in Stathern, one a freehold property with two acres of land belonging to it, worth 20 shillings a year. The house might have been within a two-acre plot of land, or the two acres may have been separate, and was most probably the house in which he lived. The other was a leasehold property with 80 acres of land, meadow and pasture, worth forty pounds a year. So, probably a large farmhouse, not a grand hall, and would have been the property situated on Mill Hill. The freehold property was known as the Hall House and was charged for three chimneys in the 1664 Hearth Tax. At present it’s not known where this particular house stood in Stathern.



Francis and his wife, Isabel, had seven, children; they were Francis 1633-1693, Anne 1634- unknown, Elizabeth 1637-1666, Isabel 1638-1646, Mary 1639-unknown, Barbara 1641-1646 and Samuel c.1648-1723.

There is a belief that Colonel Hacker’s eldest son, Francis, went to America after his father was executed, however, this is not true. By 1661, he is recorded in the Stathern Churchwardens’ Accounts as paying one of the largest levies for land, beast and sheep in the village, and by 1662 this has doubled, becoming the largest levy. He was a physician and later moved to London where he died in 1693.



Unknown man engraved as Francis Hacker
by Unknown engraver
line engraving, 18th century
NPG D20296
© National Portrait Gallery, Londonbl
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs National Portrait Gallery

The true face of Colonel Francis Hacker was revealed at the National Civil War Centre, Newark, Nottinghamshire, on 25th May 2024. Until this day, the only known images of Francis are held by the National Portrait Gallery, see above, and the British Museum, see below.

Frontispiece to 'Rebels no Saints; or, A Collection of the Speeches, Private Passages, Letters, and Prayers of those persons lately executed' (London, 1661); ten bust portraits in ovals of the regicides, with a bust portrait of Oliver Cromwell in the centre. Engraving
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike British Museum

It has now been established that neither of these images portray the true likeness of Francis Hacker, and this is thanks to Charles Malcolm Brown who purchased an oil painting from an antique dealer in Norfolk, that was said to be a portrait of Francis. Charles’s diligent research determined the painting’s authenticity, and it was learned that it was one of two known copies, the other had been sold at an auction in the USA which had Col. Hacker written on it. Charles has generously donating his painting to the National Civil War Centre where it is on display next to Francis Hacker’s buff coat.

Portrait of Francis Hacker from Charles Malcolm Brown

Further research by the Field Detectives revealed that these two copies were most probably made from the portrait owned by Lord Cathcart and is featured in the book Memoirs of a Martyr King by Allan Fea, page 141 - Memoirs of the Martyr King - Google Books. This painting was still in the possession of the Cathcart family in 1936, but its whereabouts are now unknown.

Our research into Francis Hacker began in June 2020 and almost four years later the Field Detectives are immensely proud of their achievement in bringing to light these new and exciting findings. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Charles Malcolm Brown and to all our colleagues who have helped us along the way.

Francis Hacker’s involvement in the Civil War and his demise as a regicide is reasonably well documented, but he is relatively unknown as a man. I hope this blog has kindled some further interest in this fascinating and complex character.

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