RICHARD RUMBOLD OF RYE HOUSE

By Ron Dale


Richard Rumbold was probably one of the most famous residents of Stanstead Abbotts in its history, or should we say infamous, as he ended his life by being hanged, drawn and quartered. Although a keen Republican, he came from a very Royalist family. Not so famous perhaps today except to historians and history students, but there is a Rumbold Road in nearby Hoddesdon on the opposite river bank to remind us of his life. Many people believe Rye House Castle (now only the Gatehouse remains) is in Hoddesdon, but it is actually on the Stanstead Abbotts side of the river Lea, and in Domesday Book was recorded as a separate manor, simply named as Eia, with no residents, but with a small income from its mill and the eels caught in its weir (now Feilde’s Weir).  On the Hoddesdon side of the river the Rye Park estate is certainly in Hoddesdon, of course, which can be confusing. Hoddesdon also appears to claim Rye House Gatehouse, but we do not mind and will never go to war about it.

    The date of birth of Richard Rumbold is uncertain, but is given as 1622 in the Dictionary of National Biography and his place of birth is similarly uncertain. Strangely my own research has uncovered several babies born around this time with the name of Richard Rumbold which somewhat clouds the research, but the only town where Rumbolds are recorded in Hertfordshire in records is Royston.

     Rumbold’s name is known across the world for two reasons. Firstly he was accused in 1683 of being the main instigator of a plot to kill the King, Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, in an attempt to assassinate the royal couple as they passed by Rye House on their return from Newmarket Races. Full details of the plot are to be found elsewhere on this web-site. Actually he was a minor character in a very widespread plot, involving many leading Republican (Whig) members of the British aristocracy. In fact, there are historians who believe the plot was fabricated by King Charles in order to execute his opponents in the Whig party, which he did, and although some were no doubt guilty of conspiring, several innocent men were put to death. I personally feel that there are facts to show a conspiracy to commit regicide did exist, but the extent of this was exaggerated by the royal brothers.

    During the Civil War, Richard Rumbold was an officer in Fairfax’s Republican army and as a young man in 1649 he was a guard on the scaffold when Charles I was beheaded.  In 1659 he became a Lieutenant in Colonel Parker’s Regiment of Horse. He was fiercely Republican and by the end of the war he had become a Captain. At this stage, he married the widow of a maltster and they leased the15th century castle known as Rye House on the banks of the river Lea, which had its own malt-house. Having only one good eye and being somewhat aggressive, he was nicknamed ‘Hannibal’ Rumbold after the Carthaginian general, who had similar problems.

    There was a branch of the Rumbold family based at Burbage in Leicestershire but I suspect Richard may have been born of the Royston branch.   He may not have been christened as there is no record of his birth. In 1629 when Richard was just a child, a William Rumbold was Clerk of the Wardrobe to the King and his brother Henry was Secretary to the King’s Council. This branch of the Rumbold family had been resident in Burbage for three generations, but Richard was part of the Hertfordshire branch.


(Notes on the Rumbold Family in the 17th Century, Sir Horace Rumbold, TRAS new ser., 6/1893, pp. 145-65).    

Sir Thomas Rumbold, Governor of Bengal


    Henry Rumbold (1617-1690) of the Leicestershire branch of the family and brother of William, was later a wine merchant at Puerto Santa Maria in Madeira with a business partner named Anthony Upton. This man, Upton, is on record as being the tenant of Rye House circa 1685 for reasons unknown, but possibly as guarantor for Richard’s widow as an act of charity. After the King’s Restoration Henry became Consul of Cadiz and Puerto Santa Maria for 3 years and was then appointed Gentleman of the Privy Chamber in Extraordinary to Charles II.  Henry had a son by his second wife who became in time the grandfather of Sir Thomas Rumbold (1736-1791), aide-de-camp to Clive of India and later Governor of Bengal. This particular Rumbold became somewhat infamous himself for the stealthy way he acquired his riches in India. His portrait was featured in The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1782, p. 319.      

    In 1682 Richard Rumbold’s malting business appears to have been in trouble as in that year he took legal advice about an outstanding debt of £10, contracted in 1651. By this time also he was regularly making payments to a woman named Jane Suner.  It may be that he was obliged to pay her for some unknown service, or it could have been charitable or even maintenance payment or blackmail. He once threatened to ‘knock the head off’ a fellow conspirator who Rumbold suspected of disloyalty.  He was not nicknamed ‘Hannibal’ without reason. He was strongly Baptist and on the scaffold awaiting execution he denounced both Roman Catholicism and Episcopacy as ‘superstitious and pernicious,’ a sentiment more widespread today, but at that time regarded as heresy.  Although Rumbold was an early and enthusiastic plotter, it is believed that by 1683 he had lost some of his fervour for the planned regicide, mainly because John Wildman, an experienced plotter, had pointed out that it had little chance of success. When the plot was revealed by Keeling, the government delayed making any arrest warrants which allowed Rumbold and others to flee to Holland. There, in 1685 and with James now on the throne, Rumbold joined the Duke of Argyll, who promoted him to Colonel. Argyll ordered Rumbold to raise a regiment in Scotland, but he found this difficult and recruitment was disappointing.

    When Richard Rumbold fought his final battle under the Duke of Argyll in Scotland against King James’ army, it was badly managed and they were both captured.  Rumbold was seriously wounded and was the first to be executed to prevent him dying a natural death from his wounds.  He was taken quickly to Edinburgh where he was tried, found guilty and then hanged, drawn and quartered.  Some reports state that his quarters were displayed in Edinburgh, but a more reliable source recorded that James II personally ordered that his quarters were to be sent for display near Rye House and in Kent where he still had family connections.    

    On the scaffold he made a brilliant speech of historic importance which features in the list of the world’s great orations. (See File on Rye House Plot elsewhere on this web-site). This speech is the second reason for Richard Rumbold’s fame. While awaiting his own execution, Argyll thought only of Rumbold and said, ‘Poor Rumbold was a loyal supporter to me and a brave man who died Christianly.’  To be hanged, drawn and quartered cannot be called a Christian death, but our Richard Rumbold, whatever his faults, was without doubt a brave and an eloquent man.


Ron Dale, May, 2017