The Other Axtells – A Matter of Interpretation

Daniel Axtell lost his life on Tyburn Hill for the crime of regicide. In Massachusetts the many descendants of Daniel’s brother Thomas believe Daniel was fighting against the theory of the Divine Right of Kings and for the “inalienable right of man to self-government… the right of government by and for the people.” (Axtell, Silas B., The Axtell Heritage, 1947). This concept was later embodied in the American Bill of Rights.

One wonders whether young Daniel Axtell when he joined Cromwell’s army and his cause was really fighting against the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, or did he feel that the excitement of battle was preferable to his apprenticeship as a grocer?  Perhaps, as Birtchnell says (in A Short History of Berkhamsted), Daniel fell under the spell of preachers and politicians and gave up his trade and joined Cromwell’s army mainly on religious grounds.

The execution of Charles I sent a shiver of revulsion throughout the land. Anne Murray, a staunch Royalist, described it as “that execrable murder never to be mentioned without horror and detestation”, according to Birtchnell. Most of Hertfordshire firmly supported the Parliamentary cause, but many were shocked by the King’s execution.

Other Axtells

The trial of the twenty-nine regicides was reported in detail in a 1660 publication in London: “an exact and most impartial accompt”. At Tyburn, Daniel stood on a cart with the rope round his neck ready for the cart to be drawn away and leave him swinging from the gallows. Bible in hand, Axtell told the crowd that the cause he had followed was the cause of the Lord; “I ventured my life freely for it, and now I die for it.” There is no doubt he was a devout man, who believed in the justice of his cause. The verdict on his life is a matter of interpretation.

Jenny Sherwood, Chronicle, v.XIV, pp.3-7