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Cromwell's Spy Master

From the American Colonies to the English Civil War: The Life of George Downing

One of history's most remarkable ciphers is brought to life—from his wartime intrigue to his hand in shaping two world capitals.  

Downing Street is synonymous with political power, perhaps only second to Pennsylvania Avenue.  But for the builder behind one of the world's most famous streets—George Downing—it was a mere retirement project.

Throughout his storied life, Downing would be a soldier, a politician, a diplomat, and a spy. He came of age as a pioneer in colonial Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard, crossed the Atlantic to sign up for the English Civil War and fast became Oliver Cromwell’s chief of military intelligence. He was one of a close group of now-forgotten Americans in Cromwell’s circle who exerted enormous influence upon English political life during their Civil War.

Throughout his life, Downing was always at the center of events, engaging with the most illustrious men and women of his times. His uncle was the governor of Massachusetts; his cousin the governor of Connecticut. In England, his patrons were Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II. The famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, was his clerk; the great poet, John Milton, prepared his letters and dispatches. William of Orange was godfather to his son; his next-door neighbor was Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia; and when Downing finally built his street, his surveyor was Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St Paul’s Cathedral.

He would leave his mark on American soil as well.  He played a key role in the foudning of New York by helping to wrest Manhattan and Long Island from the Dutch. Yet he remains one of the most elusive figures of his age. In Dennis Sewell's rich and vivid Cromwell's Spymaster, Downing emerges as the extraordinary, enigmatic, and endlessly fascinating anti-hero of his own life story.

Dennis Sewell is a writer and broadcaster and a Contributing Editor of the Spectator. For more than twenty years he was on the staff of BBC News, where he was a presenter of Radio 4’s Talking Politics and BBC World Service’s Politics UK, and a reporter for BBC2’s Newsnight. He is the author of Catholics – Britain’s Largest Minority and The Political Gene. He lives in London.