I now rejoice to die since God hath let me see the overthrow of this perfidious enemy: I could not lose my life in a better cause and I have the favour from God to see my blood avenged.

These are the final words of Colonel Francis Thornagh, 18th July 1648 as he died during the Second English Civil War at the Battle for Preston against the Royalist Scottish Army near Chorley. He was originally buried at the battle field but later his body was recovered and  now lays under the Chancel of Sturton le Steeple Church.

Portrait of Lady Mary Thornagh of Fenton, the mother of Col. Francis Thornagh. Portrait by William Larkin

He was born in 1617 and educated at the free school in Lincoln along with his future companion in arms, John Hutchinson. He matriculated at Magdalen College, Cambridge, May 8th, 1635 (aged 17), and was admitted a member of the Inner Temple, November, 1636.  After training in the use of arms, Francis was inspired to fight the Spaniards, when his education was finished he crossed to the Netherlands and campaigned for some time under the future parliamentarian general, the Earl of Essex. At the end of 1640, he married Elizabeth, second daughter and joint heiress of John St. Andrew, of Gotham. They lived in a house on St. Mary’s Hill, Nottingham, and at Rushcliffe Hall, Gotham (his wife’s property), for even when his father died his mother retained Fenton Hall and lived there until her death in January, 1661. He was made a Justice of the Peace in 1642, and he was, along with Henry Ireton of Attenborough, one of the first in Nottinghamshire to actively to support the cause of parliament as the country drifted into civil war. After the outbreak of war Thornhagh was placed on the parliamentary committee for the county along with his father and when the latter raised a regiment of horse his son was appointed to be its lieutenant-colonel. A few weeks later the older man died, and the young Francis succeeded to the family estates in Fenton, Sturton Le Steeple, Littleborough and elsewhere, and to his father’s rank as colonel. He was thus launched upon his brief career in which he was to prove that he had in him the mettle as a great soldier, and he became one of Cromwell’s leaders, and that he needed only a wider field and a longer life to have established an enduring fame. There is a full length portrait of Thornagh in Armour which survives at Osberton  Hall this shows him to have been a tall man with tawny hair and a long face.


Grave of Colonel Francis Thornagh

Thornagh fought the Royalists led by Charles Cavendish on the 28th July 1643 just to the north of Lea on the Gainsborough road in Lincolnshire. Here Thornagh was badly injured and taken prisoner but managed to escape largely because of his familiarity with the area where he stayed in one of his tenants houses. However 300 Royalists were slaughtered and Cavendish was killed by sword in the marsh near Lea, this has been known as Cavendish Bog from that day. Probably the turning point of the war was the battle at Gainsborough for whoever held Gainsborough and the river crossing point at Littleborough could control the major roads between Lincoln and York. After recovering from his wounds Thornagh was involved in the siege of Newark where he was wounded yet again. On 24th September 1645 Thornagh and his cavalry played a major role in the Battle of Rowton Heath near Chester, here Thornagh was granted £1000.00 for his gallantry. He was killed near Chorley during the Battle of Preston.

Further information is available at Nottingham history: