Historical Portraits Picture Archive

John Hewit DD (1614-1658) 1650c.

 English School 

John Hewit DD (1614-1658),  English School
Oil on canvas
17th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5cm
John Hewitt D.D. son of Thomas Hewitt of Eccles in Lancashire he married theLady Mary Bertie daughter of the loyal and valiant Robert Earl of Lindsey was chaplain to K Charles I. and for his loyalty to his son Charles the Second was beheaded on Tower Hill the 8.day of June 1658. Inscription on the canvas.

The life of John Hewit proves that it some cases the most fascinating history is written between the lines. By the time that the biography was added to the bottom of the portrait Hewit had become an inspiring example of the Royalist martyr. Yet the briefest look at his career shows that the truth was far from being so straightforward. It is testimony both to Hewit's abilities and to a surprising tolerance in the Cromwellian regime that where other Royalist clergy retired into obscurity at the end of the Civil War, this former Royal chaplain not only held a living in London but acted as a celebrant at the wedding of Cromwell's daughter in 1657. That he could do this without considering it any compromise of his devotedly loyal sympathies is an intriguing paradox that suggests a certain complexity of character. This is born out by his remarkable rise from obscurity to a position of closeness to the prinicipal figures on either side of the conflict. That this career should end on the block is a less predictable conclusion than might first seem, and Hewit was condemned more by the company he kept than by any definite act.

Hewit was the son of a clothworker from Eccles, but little material survives relating to his early life, or to his time at Cambridge, when he must have been reading to enter the clergy, though he did not take his degree. At the outbreak of the Civil War he attached himself to the Royalist cause; by 1643 he was chaplain to King Charles I at Oxford, and had impressed the King to such an extent that the received the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Royal Mandate on 17th October of that year. Our portrait depicts him in the distinctive scarlet robes of that degree.

This startling promotion shows that he had some considerable persuasive gift. He was also considered to have a particular talent for proselytising in the Royal interest and he was sent to win converts in his home territory of Cheshire and Lancashire. Local and Royalist sympathies must have brought him into the orbit of the Bertie family, Earls of Lindsey. He was engaged as chaplain to the devotedly loyal Montague Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey, whose father had died of wounds at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. The second Lord Lindsey and Hewit were well-matched in their loyalty to the Stuarts: the Earl was one of the seven peers who offered themselves to Parliament in 1649 as proxy victims for the King. Most remarkably, however, during this period Hewit, a widower, married the Earl''s sister, Lady Mary Bertie as his second wife. For a clergyman of no background to marry the daughter of an Earl, even in the straightened times of the Civil War, remains an extraordinary circumstance, and like so many of the appointments of his life, testifies to some considerable character on Hewit's part - and, as other achievements, some great reserves of charm.

After the Civil War he was chosen as a minister of St Gregory's by St Paul's. This is remarkable, once again, not only for his previous support for the Crown, but for the fact that he continued in this appointment to use prescribed forms of service and even -after the execution of King Charles I- to take up collections for Charles II, urging the congregation to ''remember a distressed friend''. Extraordinarily this explicit refusal to follow the established form of worship in Cromwellian England did not at all deprive him of his living or of acquiring a position to the family of the Protector which seems very similar to that he exercised for the King at Oxford.

In November 1657 Cromwell's daughter Mary married Thomas Belasyse, Lord Fauconberg. Though he was later to support the Restoration, Lord Fauconberg was a trusted partisan of Cromwell, and was summoned to his reformed House of Lords in the following month. John Hewit officiated at this wedding, which was doubly celebrated, both at Hampton Court, the Protector's favourite residence, and at Whitehall. Why, one wonders, was Hewit chosen out of a mass of orthodox puritan clergy? It is impossible to know. Perhaps -as later events also suggest- he had some personal friendship with Cromwell's daughters. Perhaps it was even covertly recognised that he was a person who from his previous employment might impart a proper decorum -and legitimacy?- to the occasion.

This was not enough, however. In the following year he was accused of having harboured the royalist Marquess of Ormonde, who had returned to England from the Continent to reconnoitre before a possible royalist action. This he always denied, even from the scaffold, and he refused to plead before Cromwell's High Court of Justice, inssting on his right to a jury trial. That this was not allowed suggests that a jury might well have acquited him. He was condemned to death on June 2nd 1658, and though a further daughter of Cromwell, Mrs Claypoole, tried to intercede with her father on June 8th the sentence was carried out. Perhaps Cromwell recognised towards the end if his life, that the Protectorate was not secure enough to indulge even John Hewit's rather eccentric defiance any longer.

That there was general sympathy for Hewit is suggested by the text of his funeral oration. Nathaniel Hardy spoke at St Gregory's Church on Isaiah lvii 1 ''The righteous perisheth,'' which was a dangerous sentiment that he could not have expressed without the support of numbers.

As recognition of John Hewit''s loyalty, in 1661 King Charles II conferred an annuity of 100 on his eldest son. In that same year Lady Mary petitioned that the Act of Oblivion should not be extended to those who had condemned her husband. Hewit's reputation was sustained among the loyal not only by his deeds and martyrdom -''Herodes necuit Johannem'' read the mourning rings that were distributed to his friends after his execution- but by a number of published prayers and sermons, and by the verses attributed to him in Eikon Basilike.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.