Francis Towneley

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Francis Towneley
Towneley Hall 01.jpg
Towneley Hall in Towneley Park, Burnley
Born9 June 1709[1]
Died30 July 1746(1746-07-30) (aged 37)
Kennington Common, London
St Pancras, London and Burnley, Lancashire
Allegiance France
Years of service1728–1746
UnitManchester Regiment
Battles/warsWar of the Polish Succession
Jacobite Rising of 1745

Francis Towneley (1709–July 30, 1746) was an English army officer and Jacobite, or supporter of the exiled House of Stuart.

After several years' service in the French army, he returned to England and took part in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Captured after the Rising's failure, he was convicted of treason and executed at Kennington Common, London.

Early life[edit]

Francis was the fifth son of Ursula, daughter of Phillip Fermor of Tusmore, Oxfordshire, and Charles Towneley of Towneley Hall, Burnley, Lancashire.

Francis Towneley's older brother John, who was also involved in the 1745 rising.

The Towneleys were members of the substantial minority of Roman Catholics in Lancashire, and were Stuart loyalists over several generations. Francis' father and grandfather had been implicated in a plot to return King James II to the throne during the Williamite War in Ireland.[2] His eldest brother, Richard (1689-1735), joined the Jacobite Rising of 1715, serving under Thomas Forster and being taken prisoner after the Battle of Preston. Richard was tried, and after an expensive defence the jury found him not guilty.[2] Another brother, John (1696-1782) was associated with the exiled Jacobite court and served for part of the 1745 campaign with the Irish Brigade's Regiment Roth.

Towneley went to France in 1728, where Jacobite sympathisers found him a commission in the royal service. He served in the French army until 1736, distinguishing himself under the command of the Duke of Berwick in 1734 at the siege of Philippsburg, part of the War of the Polish Succession.


Towneley later returned to Britain, living quietly in Wales, though probably acting as a Jacobite agent. In 1744 Louis XV of France, who was considering plans for an invasion of Britain, renewed Towneley's commission; this suggests he had already been identified for a senior role in any invasion. On news of Charles Edward Stuart's landing in north-west Scotland in August 1745 Towneley made rapid preparations to join the rising. Travelling to the Manchester area, he liaised with other Jacobite sympathisers at an inn in Didsbury; the poet John Byrom, who met him there, described him as a "gallant soldier" devoted to Charles's cause but was shocked by his "profane swearing".[3] Along with two Jacobites from the Welsh borders, David Morgan and William Vaughan, Towneley met the advancing Jacobite army at Manchester on 28 November.

Vaughan, like Towneley, was a Catholic but unlike in 1715 most were wary of getting involved, for a number of reasons. By the time the Jacobites advanced into England the government was taking steps to tabulate Catholics and monitor those of doubtful loyalty.[4] The recusant gentry of Lancashire had suffered particularly heavy penalties after 1715; the Jacobites were conscious of this and in 1745 made little effort to raise them.[5] Above all, most well-informed Catholics believed that due to the need to placate majority opinion, even a restored Stuart monarch would not be in a position to improve the status of Catholicism, so the Rising offered little gain for an enormous risk.[6]

The French and Franco-Irish advisors who accompanied Charles had a high opinion of the abilities of Towneley and his brother John;[7] cavalry 'Inspector-General' Sir John MacDonald described Francis as a "brave and honest man".[8] French envoy D'Éguilles was responsible for Towneley receiving the colonelcy of the Manchester Regiment, formed from the 200 or so volunteers recruited in northern England. The new regiment's officers were drawn from among the town's professional classes: some found Towneley to be a short-tempered and domineering commanding officer and one, James Bradshaw, transferred to another unit rather than continue serving under him.[9]

The regiment was issued with weapons and ammunition at Macclesfield on 1 December but morale was already poor. There were further attempts to attract recruits at Leek and elsewhere along the route. These were largely unsuccessful and while a few enlisted on the return from Derby, they were not enough to make up for an increasing number of desertions.[10]

The Scots had agreed to the invasion when Charles told them he had confirmation of military support from the French and that the English Jacobites would join them on the march, but there was no sign of either of these. Many had wanted to stop first at Preston, then Manchester; at a meeting held in Derby on 5 December, the Jacobite 'Council of War' resolved to return to Scotland. Charles considered this treason, while the admission he had not heard from either the French or his English supporters since leaving France in July meant he lied when previously claiming otherwise. In a period when oaths and promises were taken extremely seriously, this irretrievably damaged his relationship with the Scots.[11]

On 19 December, the Jacobites reached Carlisle, which they had captured in November after a brief siege. Charles ordered a garrison be left in place as a statement of his intention to return. Some troops were already in Carlisle under the Jacobite governor John Hamilton of Sandistoun, an officer of the Duke of Perth's Regiment, but Towneley volunteered himself and the Manchester Regiment, now reduced to around 115 men, to join them.[10]

Many considered their mission to be suicidal. Towneley later claimed he was well aware of this but volunteered because it was his duty to do so; he may also have been concerned that increasing desertions would otherwise lead to his regiment being broken up.[10] He possibly hoped his French commission and the presence of several Franco-Irish regulars meant in the event of capture they would be treated as prisoners of war, rather than rebels subject to immediate execution.[12]

Government forces under the Duke of Cumberland reached Carlisle on 22 December and commenced a siege of the castle. Towneley played an energetic part directing the defence and advanced £80 (equivalent to £12,227 in 2018) from his own pocket to cover his men's arrears of pay, but morale was otherwise low, as were supplies. Jacobite adjutant-general O'Sullivan later recorded that Towneley and several of the experienced Franco-Irish regulars believed the castle to be easily defensible, enabling them to hold out for good terms.[13] Most of Hamilton's officers were less confident and wanted to surrender: at Towneley's trial, a witness claimed he furiously told Hamilton that it was "better to die by the sword than fall into the hands of those damned Hanoverians," but he was overruled by the other officers present.[10] The garrison surrendered on 30 December 'at discretion', which meant they accepted whatever treatment the King imposed.

Trial and execution[edit]

Along with Hamilton and several other senior Jacobites, Towneley was taken to London and held in Newgate Prison. He was reported to have largely kept himself apart from the other prisoners; he also continued his quarrel with Hamilton, referring to him as a "Traitor on both Sides [...] to be despised by both Parties".[14]

"Squire Ketch in Horrors", a pro-Jacobite satirical print of 1750. Executioner John Thrift is confronted by his Jacobite victims, including Lovat (front), Kilmarnock and Balmerino (immediately behind Lovat) and Towneley and Fletcher, their heads on spikes at the rear.

At his trial in London on 13 July 1746, Towneley's defence that as a French officer he should be treated as a prisoner of war was disallowed. He was found guilty of high treason and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Towneley's execution took place at Kennington Common on 30 July, alongside eight colleagues from the Manchester Regiment: George Fletcher, David Morgan, Thomas Chadwick, Andrew Blood, John Berwick, Thomas Deacon, Thomas Syddall and James Dawson. He was said to have been calm and dignified, wearing a suit of black velvet that he had specially tailored for the occasion. Towneley's body was buried in an unmarked grave on 31 July either in the church or churchyard of St. Pancras, London; his head was placed on a pike on Temple Bar along with that of Fletcher. It was later, according to the author John Taylor, removed by a group of friends of Francis' nephew Charles Townley,[15] and was for many years in the possession of the Towneley family, latterly being stored at Drummonds Bank in London, before being interred at St Peter's Church, Burnley in the 1940s.[16]

Legacy in popular culture[edit]

Jacobites of the time used Towneley's name in a number of ballads, most notably 'Towneley's Ghost'. The 2007 children’s book How The Hangman Lost His Heart, although a work of fiction, uses the execution as a backdrop to the story.


  • "Towneley, Francis" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  1. ^ Baptism date; Miscellanea II, Catholic Record Society (1906) p.307
  2. ^ a b Tracing the Towneleys 2004
  3. ^ Espinasse, Francis (1877) Lancashire Worthies, Simpkin, Marshall & Co, p.248
  4. ^ Oates, Jonathan (2006). The Jacobite Invasion of 1745 in the North West, Centre for North West Regional Studies, p.23
  5. ^ Monod, Paul (1993) Jacobitism and the English People, 1688-1788, Cambridge UP, p.330
  6. ^ McCann, Jean E (1963) The Organisation of the Jacobite Army (PHD thesis) University of Edinburgh, OCLC 646764870, pp 139-143
  7. ^ Riding, Jacqueline (2016). Jacobites; A New History of the 45 Rebellion. Bloomsbury. p. 251. ISBN 1408819120.
  8. ^ Tayler, Henrietta. A Jacobite Miscellany. Roxburghe Club. p. 75.
  9. ^ Oates, J. "The Manchester Regiment of 1745" in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 88, No. 354 (Summer 2010), p.134
  10. ^ a b c d Oates (2010) pp.143
  11. ^ Riding, pp. 299–300
  12. ^ Riding, pp. 326–327
  13. ^ "Besides there wou'd be no body sacrefised, if they had not surrendered as they did, for it was Mr Brown's & Maxfield's oppinion (who served both of them twenty years in France) as well as Geohagans & Townly's, yt Cumberland cou'd not take the Castle with the Cannon he had, & the season we were in, in a Country where his Cavalry cou'd not subsist eight days". Sullivan in Tayler (ed) (1938) 1745 and After, Nelson, p.110
  14. ^ Wilkinson, W. (1746) A Compleat History of the Trials of the Rebel Lords in Westminster-Hall, p.123, 253
  15. ^ Taylor, John. (1833) Records of my Life, J & J Harper, p.104
  16. ^ Katharine Grant (25 January 2014). "Uncle Frank's severed head". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 May 2019.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Towneley, Francis". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.