The War in the West of England – Winchester to Exeter:
After bombarding and taking Winchester at the beginning of October 1645 Cromwell’s troops moved on to lay siege to Basing House, a royalist stronghold and garrison in the north of Hampshire, a centre of heroic resistance. It had already proved a major obstacle to parliamentarian progress throughout the first war, withstanding two sieges, the second lasting three months. The ‘Castle’ was … the seat and mansion of the Marquisse of Winchester, a Catholic, who described it in his own account of the siege as standing…
… on a rising ground, having its forme circular, encompassed with a brick rampart lyned with earth, and a very deep trench, but dry. The loftie Gate-house with foure turrets looking northwards, on the right whereof without the compasse of the ditch, a goodly building containing two faire courts, before them is the Graunge, severed by a wall and common roade…
Visitors to the site today can appreciate the scale of the fortifications which existed in the mid-seventeenth century from the massive earthworks that still survive. Short stretches of the wall and a single turret of the far weaker outer defensive circuit still stand to almost their original height. In places they retain the crude musket loops from which the defenders could fire on the besieging troops. The outer gate is also partially intact, with the arms of the ancestral Paulet family displayed above (as shown in the picture). Due to the excavations in the early years of this century, there is both archaeological as well as documentary evidence for the seventeenth century castle and the sieges of 1644 and 1645. Until Fairfax arrived the house had stood invincible:
They that have seen and viewed it say that it was a piece made as strong and defensible as nature and art could imagine.
Several earlier sieges, both blockades and frontal assaults, had failed to reduce the stronghold. An alternative strategy was therefore decided upon, the employment of scientific siege engineering. Colonel Dalbier had begun the siege on 20th August, and having very carefully prepared his positions, started his bombardment in late September. This succeeded in making a major breach in the structure before Cromwell arrived with the heaviest of the siege pieces on 8th October. Forts and sconces were then raised by the besiegers completely enclosing the garrison. When the heavy cannon opened fire from newly dug positions on 12th October two further great breaches were made. The marquis refused Cromwell’s summons to surrender, so he had to storm it. Dalbier had already prepared siegeworks, which had approached almost to the foot of the royalist defences. Therefore, by 6.00 a.m. on the 14th, the assault began. Dalbier was on the north side of the House next to the Grange, Pickering’s Regiment were on his left, then Hartrop’s, Sir Hardress Waller’s and Montague’s. The royalists immediately abandoned the outer defences, estimates of the garrison’s strength ranging between three and eight hundred, compared with a parliamentarian force of perhaps seven thousand. The defenders were simply too few to man the extensive outer defences against such a massive offensive force. The defenders retreated into two houses, the massive Medieval stone keep called the Old House and the later mansion known as the New House.
Dalbier’s artillery had been directed against the New House. The cannon fire had created a massive breach in the walls, which can be seen in the contemporary engraving above. While Montague’s and Waller’s assaulted the strongest walls, where Cromwell’s artillery had also breached the defences, Pickering’s troops stormed the New House, passing through the house into the bailey that separated it from the Old House. A parliamentarian reported:
They in the Old House hung out some black ensigns of defiance, and set a fire on a bridge over which our men were to pass, disputing the passage at swords’ point, and the rest in the house threw out granadoes amongst our men, wherby many of them were killed.
Above: Plan of Basing House siege, 1645.
Once Pickering’s had taken the gatehouse to the Old House, the defenders summoned a perley, which our men would not hear, according to a letter sent the same day. It can hardly be doubted that Cromwell’s uncharacteristic harshness (at least at this point in the war), sprang partly from Basing’s notoriety as “a nest of idolatrous papists”. But although Cromwell and his officers may have been spurred on by the well-known ‘papist’ sympathies of the household within, it was at least partly the great wealth also known to be within which encouraged the ordinary soldiers in the assault. The artillery bombardment continued as the attack on the Old House proceeded. Within three quarters of an hour, at about 7.30 a.m., all resistance was broken. Cromwell’s forces suffered little loss, estimated at the time as no more than forty, whilst the royalists lost up to three hundred men. They fought almost to the last, and Cromwell let his men slaughter many of them, including six priests, before granting quarter to the majority. Since terms had been refused after the essential breaches had been made, the defenders were not entitled to quarter, and a case could be made for punishing desperate as an example, for the sake of saving soldiers’ lives and shortening the war.
Above: A View of the New House at Basing, by John Dunstal, circa 1652, showing the breaches through which Pickering’s probably stormed the House.
During the rest of the day, the ordinary soldiers proceeded to plunder the mansion, the wealth of which was supposed to be of greater value than any single garrison could be imagined. They would not only have considered this as just desserts for the day’s action, but also as part righteous remuneration for in lieu of pay not received from within the New Model Army. The sack of the house was comprehensive, and its inmates, including the ladies, were even stripped of their clothes by the soldiers. Amonst those taken prisoner were Hollar, the engraver, the Marquis of Winchester himself (heir of Mary Tudor’s Lord Treasurer who had built the mansion), and Inigo Jones, the famous architect and creator of the court masques, who got away wrapped only in a blanket to protect him from naked indignity. Paintings and books were taken to London to be burned in a great public bonfire, and whatever was left of the furniture or jewels found in the mansion was the soldiers’ to sell. During this period of plundering, the House was set on fire unintentionally. Cromwell’s troops put to the sword everyone they could find in the burning ruins, civilians as well as soldiers, women as well if they offered resistance. What was not destroyed by the fire was then demolished to stop Basing ever again being used as a royalist garrison.
While Cromwell was mopping up the royalist strongholds and garrisons in Hampshire and Wiltshire, Fairfax embarked on a reconquest of the far south-west. He took Tiverton after storming its castle on 19 October, but his campaign petered out becausean increasingly wet autumn made the roads impassable for his baggage train and artillery. There was a good deal of sickness in his cold and hungry army, and even he himself fell ill. He suffered from kidney stones, rheumatism and (as he wrote to his father), a benumbing coldness in my head and arms, especially on that side that I had any hurts. He had been wounded four times before becoming Lord General. Cromwell and his part of the army rejoined him in late October, having taken the surrender of Longford House on the way, clearing its garrison of a hundred men. The House belonged to the Earl of Coleraine, and was four miles from Salisbury. Known as Longford Castle today, it was a fortified house built in the 1590s.
Lieutenant Colonel Hewson (pictured above), second-in-command of Pickering’s regiment, and Major Kelsey were sent to treat with the governor, Lieutenant General Pell. In the face of superior forces, and with no hope of relief, Pell surrendered without a shot being fired. When six of the parliamentarian soldiers, deprived of their loot by the generous terms of the surrender, tried to rob Pell’s officers, they were court-martialled. Since they had done the same at Winchester, their sentence was severe: they were made to draw lots for their lives, the loser was hanged and the others were dispatched to the governor of Oxford to deal with as he thought fit. He ‘repaid the courtesy’ by setting them free. The contrast with the treatment of Basing House clearly demonstrated the value of surrendering. The house wasn’t slighted, but was later deserted and fell into ruins. It was sympathetically restored in the nineteent century, as shown in the picture above.
Almost the only substantial royalist garrison now left between London and Exeter was at Corfe Castle in Dorset. By 20th October, at the request of the Western Association, Fairfax sent troops to assist in the siege there, which had been begun by Colonel Bingham, the governor of Poole. The massive Medieval castle lay in a strong defensive position and was very well fortified. It could not be so easily reduced as many other strongholds had been in 1645. The besieging force set up gun batteries facing the castle. The earthworks of a Medieval siege castle, a quarter of a mile to the south west of the main castle, were reused for one of the parliamentarian gun batteries. This turned out to be a long siege: Corfe did not surrender, nor did it succumb to a quick assault. This was because, not being in a key strategic position, it did not warrant the troops and/ or artillery necessary for a major storming. Those forces were, instead, deployed around Exeter, a far more significant garrison. However, on 16th December, Fairfax did send further troops to Corfe, comprising one regiment of horse and two regiments of foot. The castle did not finally fall to Bingham until early March 1646. It was then comprehensively slighted by the parliamentarians, but the destruction was not total (the picture below showing the romanticism ruins of the castle in the early nineteenth century).
While the siege of Corfe continued, the reunited New Model Army spent the rest of 1645 in widely scattered winter quarters in Devon. It no longer had to contend with Goring, who had given up his fight for the west and took a ship for France in late November. Hopton, whom he had supplanted as commander-in-chief of the king’s western troops by his intrigues, now had the thankless task of taking over the demoralised remnants of the royalist army. The parliamentary soldiers were mostly quartered in villages around the City of Exeter, the army headquarters being at Ottery St. Mary, a small market town ten miles east of Exeter. Though his regiment was at the siege of Corfe, Colonel John Pickering himself was, by 12th November, at Ottery, involved once again in discussions with representatives of a royalist garrison. Together with Ireton and the Judge-Advocate, he was attempting to negotiate the surrender of Exeter.
Northern England, the Scots and the Irish:
Meanwhile, at Newark Charles was having to bear not only bad news from all points, including West, but he also had troubles at court. They were partly of his own making, for he had dismissed Will Legge, the governor of Oxford, for no better reason than that he was a friend of Rupert, and Digby wanted him out of the way. He then did the same to Sir Richard Willys, the governor of Newark and commander of its large garrison. This led to a disgraceful scene in which Rupert, Maurice, Willys, Lord Gerrard, and a dozen more of their friends burst unbidden into the king’s presence and demanded an explanation. Willys may have remembered his treatment when he had betrayed the secrets of the Sealed Knot, the royalist spy network, years later. Such quarrels did nothing to improve Charles’s authority, but the passions simmered down, and on 5 November he returned to Oxford to face a cheerless winter. After cashiering Rupert he had appointed his archenemy Digby as Lieutenant-General of all his forces north of Trent, and then in mid-October sent with him fifteen hundred men, including what was left of Langdale’s northern horse, to try and make a junction with Montrose on the Scottish border.
In a rare and brief moment of co-operation in the king’s cause, Aboyne had lately joined Montrose with fifteen hundred foot and five hundred horse. Two days out of Newark, Digby surprised Poyntz’s northern army at Sherburne in Yorkshire and captured most of it, but in an ensuing cavalry action, a misunderstanding between him and Langdale turned victory into defeat, and they and their disorganised cavaliers fled all the way to Skipton Castle. From Skipton, they resumed their circuituous journey north, and though their forces took another beating from the Scottish forces based at Carlisle, they pressed on as far as Dumfries. The news that they received there concerning Montrose and the forces opposed to him was so discouraging that they returned to England hastily. Their few remaining troops melted away in the Cumbrian fells, and with a small band of officers they found a small boat in Ravenglass to take them to the Isle of Man. From there, Digby sailed to Ireland, where he busied himself with a plan to bring over the Prince of Wales in order to make the country a base for royalist resurgence.
Charles’ thoughts had also been turning increasingly towards Ireland. Charles’ envoy there, Edward Somerset, Earl of Glamorgan, a catholic, had begun to interpret his brief very liberally after the Naseby defeat. He did not, therefore, deal directly with the General Assembly in Kilkenny, but with the Confederate delegates who were treating with Ormond in Dublin. On 25 August, Glamorgan concluded an agreement with them whereby in return for an army of ten thousand Irishmen he conceded, on the king’s behalf, not only the repeal of the anti-catholic penal laws but also the reinstatement of public catholic worship in all the churches in Confederate-held territory and the sole jurisdiction of catholic priests over Irish catholics. But the agreement was to be kept secret until the Irish army was on English soil, and Glamorgan went beyond his instructions, and he was probably unsure as to how far his discretion stretched.
Glamorgan’s treaty never stood much chance of Being implemented, and it was doomed by the end of the year. In October, the pope sent the Archbishop of Fermo to Ireland as his nuncio. His overriding aims were to restore public catholic worship and the power of the cat church in Ireland. He called Glamorgan to Kilkenny for discussions, and reached an agreement with him on 20th December which added further concessions to those of the August treaty. The church was to regain most of its lands, catholic bishops were to sit in the Irish House of Lords, and the next Lord Lieutenant was to be a catholic. The Archbishop’s position had been further strengthened by two letters written by Charles in October to the pope and his cardinal secretary of state, expressing his full confidence in Glamorgan and promising to ratify any agreement that he made.
Unfortunately for Charles, the Archbishop of Tuam had been killed in a skirmish near Sligo and a copy of Glamorgan’s August treaty was found on him. It was sent to London and published on parliament’s orders; consequently, when Glamorgan returned to Dublin on 26 December, Ormond had him arrested and charged with treason. A month later, the king publicly disavowed Glamorgan’s treaty, and denied that the earl had had any authority to make concessions regarding religion, or to negotiate anything apart from the raising of forces, without Ormond’s ‘privity and directions’. That put paid to the possibility of raising forces in Ireland, but Ormond released Glamorgan under pressure from the Confederates. By then, the papal nuncio had lost interest in him, because Henrietta Maria had concluded a separate treaty with the pope on Charles’ behalf, through her envoy Sir Kenelm Digby, granting the Irish catholics even more than Glamorgan had promised.
The Siege of Exeter, the ‘Plague’ & the Death of Pickering:
During the first Civil War, there were probably more soldiers who died of disease than died on the battlefield, or of their wounds. The winter of 1645-6 at the siege of Exeter was no exception. Plague had been rife in and around Bristol at the time of its capture by pariamentarian forces, but those forces had apparently escaped infection. However, by early November the New Model Army was beset by a new outbreak of disease that was claiming many lives. Presumably the plague had been brought from Bristol, but had taken a month or more to take hold and spread in the army, possibly through Fairfax’s troops who had fallen ill before the siege of Tiverton in mid-October. The infantry reported sick in a number of places, but at Ottery St Mary, the army headquarters where many of them were quartered, between seven and nine soldiers were dying every day for several weeks, insomuch that it was not held safe for the headquarter to be continued there any longer. Many soldiers probably succumbed easily to illness because they were so poorly supplied. As the chaplain Hugh Peters reported from the army in October:
It is most certain that of twenty-one weeks the horse are twelve weeks behind, and the foot have likewise their proportion of sorrow through want of pay. I know three score in one company lying sick by eating of raw roots and green apples through want of money to buy proper food.
The officers lived in far greater comfort and had a much better diet, so one may expect they had greater resistance to illnesses. They were not, however, immune to the diseased that camp life engendered, so Colonel Pickering fell ill while at the army headquarters at Ottery. Like so many of the common soldiers, he did not recover, and on 24th November 1645, just before his fortieth birthday, …
… that pious, active Gentleman, that lived so much to God, and his Country, and divers other Officers, dyed of the New disease in that place; Six of the general’s own family were sick of it at one time, and throughout the foot regiments half the Souldiers. …
The victims of the ‘plague’ were not recorded in the parish register, and there is a claim that they were buried in a communal grave in Bury Meadow. John Pickering was given a funeral and a burial place appropriate to his rank. It must have taken some time for the news to reach his family in Northamptonshire, so the arrangements for the funeral were not made until more than two weeks of after John had died. On 10th December, Cromwell wrote from Tiverton to Colonel Ceely:
Its the desier of Sir Gilbert Pickeringe, that his deceased Brother, Col. Pickeringe should bee interred in your guarrison; and that to the end his funeral may bee solemnized with as much honour as his memorie calls for, you are desired to give all possible assistance therein: the particulars will be offered to you by his Major, Major Gubbs, with whom I desier you to concurr herein, and believe it. … Whereof rests assured your humble servant,
In 1644 and 1645, including October, Colonel Ceely was in charge of the nearest parliamentarian garrison to Ottery St. Mary and and governor of Lyme Regis in Dorset. It lay fifteen miles to the east and had remained stauncly parliamentarian throughout the war. Unfortunately, the burial register for 1645 does not survive for the town, nor is there a monument Colonel John in the parish church. There can be little doubt that that Sir Gilbert’s wishes were carried out, and that his younger brother was buried at Lyme Regis with due ceremony in December 1645. The high esteem in which Pickering was held by many parliamentarians, both soldiers and MPs, can be seen in the various reports of his death in the newsheets of the time. The article in the Moderate Intelligencer was accompanied by an elegy:
Now that Bethel* and he are gone; For reward, garlands, or crowns for all their faithfull services, and valiant sections for their country, let England mourn them, lest the War outlive the Worthies: And it shall melt us into teares, to think, that these should not live to see the fruit of their service and share in the benefit upon earth, but the will of the Lord be done.
(*Major Bethell, one of the heroes of the Battle of Langport, had been killed at the siege of Bristol.)
Another newsheet, The Kingdom’s Scout, 2nd-9th December 1945, recorded:
The Souldiers are overwhelmed with grief, deare, gallant, Pickering is dead, the Champions, nor Oracles can cease to mourne since glorious Pickering is gone; the heaviest blow that England received this winter…
Pickering’s standing in the army cannot be overestimated, for Sprigge devoted a whole page to a poem on his death:
But whosoever would have me proceed in my story, must give me leave first to weep a while this sorrowfull verse, over deer Colonel Pickerings Hearse. …
Vain all our profer’d Ransoms are,
There’s no discharge in the Graves war;
Well they may shew; yet they cannot,
What a brave Captive death hath got.
In military terms, Pickering bequethed a regiment that would continue to have a significant impact on the events of the Civil Wars and the Interregnum. The success of Pickering’s regiment, now to become known as Hewson’s, including the advancement of its senior officers, was a clear reflection of the success of the Independents. As a close associate of Cromwell, Pickering had been in an ideal position to establish a regiment, in the teeth of Presbyterian opposition, that mirrored Cromwell’s own political and religious views. Of all the regiments in the New Model Army, it had been Pickering’s regiment alone which the presbyterians had wanted to be struck out en bloc. His deep religious conviction, in the eyes of enemies his fanatical Independency, was his strength in the first Civil War. His beliefs, shared with his troops, gave him and his regiment the deep commitment to succeed that was essential in winning such a war. Pickering’s close colleagues, Montague and Hardress Waller, saw great advancement under Cromwell. Edward Montague (pictured below) became a Councillor of State and then, following the Restoration, Admiral of the Fleet. Waller became a Major General, and two of the regiment’s senior officers, John Hewson and Daniel Axtell, were willing partners with Gilbert Pickering in the actions of the Commonwealth and Interregnum. As allies and supporters of Oliver Cromwell, right through to the installation of a military dictatorship, they remained close to the centre of power, and Axtell was executed as a regicide. Colonel John Pickering was typical of the puritan gentry behind the Cromwellian revolution, and his regiment provided the military power base which enabled the ‘Lord Protector’ to establish, albeit accidentally, the British Republic.
Winter into Spring 1646 – Charles’ Surrender & Survival:
But first, in the winter and spring of 1645-6, there was still a civil war to be won decisively. On 5 December, King Charles proposed that parliament should send commissioners to discuss peace terms and asked for safe-conducts for commissioners of his own. These overtures were rightly seen by parliament as a bid to buy time, and were ignored. He met Montreuil on 2nd January and encouraged a plan for the Scottish army to join with the English presbyterians in fighting for him, with armed assistance from France. The Scottish commissioners in London were interested, but he would not pay their price; He was prepared to tolerate Presbyterianism, but not to make it the established religion of England. Henrietta Maria, who had persuaded Mazarin to send Montreuil, was impatient at such scruples, for she could see the little to choose between one form of heresy and another. In January, Charles was setting his hopes more on direct military aid from France, and was urging his wife to hasten the landing of five thousand troops at Hastings.
But there was no help to be had now from outside the realm, and nothing to stave off defeat within it. Early in January, Fairfax set off on icy roads in Devon to clear the south-west, leaving enough troops to keep Exeter under siege. He took Dartmouth by assault on the 19th, then struck north-westwards to engage Hopton. The crucial action was the storming of Torrington on the night of 16th February, for the ensuing pursuit left Hopton with only the tattered remnants of an army. Hopton went on resisting against hopeless odds for as long as the Prince of Wales and his council remained in the south-west, but the king was now writing to his son repeatedly, urging him to escape overseas. Really in danger of capture, on 2 March, just as Fairfax was occupying Bodmin, Prince Charles sailed for the Scilly Isles. Soon afterwards, Fairfax invited Hopton to treat on honourable terms, and Hopton capitulated. On 12th March, the remainder of Hopton’s troops surrendered, and on the disbandment of the king’s army of the west, such as it still was, began on 20th March. The next day three thousand men who were left of the royalist main army under the command of Lord Astley, were utterly defeated and scattered at Stow-on-the-Wold. After that, only a few garrisons remained under arms for him, Exeter being the most important after Oxford and Newark. On 9 April, Fairfax took its surrender on generous terms, not only granting its defenders all the honours of war, but guaranteeing its cathedral and all its churches against defacement.
The chivalry with which Fairfax treated his enemies in their defeat and the discipline that he kept in the army helped to bring an end to resistance without pointless loss of life; so did the wide publicity given to the Glamorgan treaty and to the correspondence between the king and queen over military intervention by France. Damaging letters from Henrietta Maria (pictured below) were intercepted when a French sea captain put into Dartmouth, believing the port, recently captured by Fairfax, to still be in royalist hands. Once he was unopposed in the field, Fairfax set about preparing to besiege Oxford. Anxious at all costs to avoid capture, Charles slipped out of the city at 3 a.m. on 27 April, disguised as a servant, with only his friend Jack Ashburnham and his chaplain Michael Hudson for company. He had cut his hair, was wearing a false beard and was dressed without any of the trappings of a gentleman, much less those of a king.
His intentions are still something of a mystery, and he was probably not clear about them himself. He had told his council that he was going to London, that he had received an assurance that he would be well received at Westminster, but this may have been a feint on his part. He halted for three hours at Hillingdon, as if waiting for a message, and then rode on to Harrow, within sight of London’s towers. After a night at Wheathampstead, however, he turned north-eastward to Downham Market in Norfolk. He was heading towards the Scottish presbyterian army, which was besieging Newark and had its headquarters at Southwell. Montreuil was there, and Charles sent Hudson forward to seek his assurances that the Scots would support him. But since Montreuil had been negotiating with the Scots for over seven months, and Charles had been in personal contact with with him since early January, it is strange that there was such uncertainty about his reception. Moreover, the way that Charles awaited Hudson’s return so close to King’s Lynn suggests that he was keeping open the option of fleeing abroad, if the negotiations failed. For a while, the King continued to hide in Norfolk, hoping that he might yet escape by sea and join the queen in France. But the county was mainly in the control of parliament, and all the ports were being watched. His better chance lay with the Scots, even the Covenanters, for he knew that, Presbyterian though they were, their vision for the future assumed the continuing presence of a king of both Scotland and England. Exactly what sort of king was evidently open to dispute.
Hudson could not obtain the written assurance of Scottish armed support that Charles (pictured above) had urged Montreuil to procure for him. The Scots commissioners did, however, assent verbally to four engagements that Montreuil set down on paper. One of these was that they would not press the king to do anything against his conscience, and another was that if parliament refused to retore him to his rights and prerogatives they would declare for him. With those stipulations Charles had to be content, and he road into Southwell on 5th May, surrendering himself to the Scots army besieging Newark. From the moment he he put himself into the Scots’ hands he was treated as a prisoner, and he remained one for the rest of his life. They insisted that he should order Newark to surrender, and he did so. The surrender of Oxford followed, though only after lengthy negotiation. His remaining garrisons capitulated under assault, including Cardiff and Carlisle. But though the last royalist garrison in England to surrender did so in August 1646, the last to hold out in Wales was Harlech (below) which flew the royal standard until 13th March 1647, a full year after Hopton’s surrender in the west. By then, to all intents and purposes, the first Civil War was long since over, since the last of Leven’s army had left England on 3rd February, but the hauling down of the banner at Harlech was its last act. After that, the problems of the peace settlement could be tackled in earnest. But though the King himself was now a captive at Holmby House in Northants, his wife, eldest son and many of his supporters had escaped to Europe. The situation was one of armistice, a truce which might easily be broken.
Britain was deeply war-weary when the fighting ended, but the prospects of its finding relief in a generally acceptable peace settlement were heavily clouded. On the face of it, a settlement might not have been too difficult, since the war had not been a clash between irreconcilable ideologies, as on the continent. Both sides had professed to take up arms for much the same things: the rights and privileges of parliament the just powers and prerogatives of the monarch, the true protestant religion, the fundamental laws of the land, and the liberties of the subject. That went for the Scots too, though their conception of the true protestant religion was very different from that of most Englishmen. Charles had hoped to be able to exploit the differences between the Scots and the Westminster Parliament to the extent of gaining military support from the former. The cost of such support, however, was the adoption of Presbyterianism in England and to this, Charles would not at first agree. Just what the ‘new England’ and the ‘new Britain’ was supposed to look like, what the prize was for which so many had laid down their lives, remained unresolved. So many of the principles for which the parliament had gone to war for in 1642 had been made redundant by the transforming brutality of the conflict. The one thing that had not changed, shared by a majority in parliament, was that they needed some sort of king, chastened, emasculated, restrained and reformed, but a king none the less, as an indispensible element in the constitution.
The Aftermath & the Legacy of Loss in the War:
Between the last battle of the first civil war, at the end of March 1646, and the first military action in the second, just over two years elapsed in which the British peoples licked their wounds and counted the cost of civil strife. Their experience naturally coloured their quest for a peace settlement and, when that quest failed, their wrath against those whom they counted responsible for the renewal of war. The first civil war had had taken a heavy toll in human lives and livelihoods, leaving physical and mental scars on the survivors, and in the lasting material damage that it had inflicted. As the main theatres of war, the peoples of England and Wales had taken the heaviest casualties. Ireland’s agony still lay mainly in the future and, together with further significant battles in Scotland, needs to be considered in separate contexts on future anniversaries. Scottish casualties in England were not very heavy in the first Civil War, because Leven’s army did little serious fighting after the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. They would be heavier when the Scots fought for the Stuart kings at Preston and Worcester in 1648 and 1651, which brought the estimated total of those killed to 6,120. In Scotland itself, Montrose’s campaigns were small in scale but took a severe toll in men killed – an estimated 2,400 of his men and as many as 12,300 Covenenters. In southern mainland Britain, it is very hard to quantify the scale of fatal casualties, because contemporary estmates often varied wildly and tended to exaggerate.
The tally of dead left on battlefields might be more or less accurately counted, but not the numbers of those who died later from their wounds, or who were cut down in pursuits. Major battles accounted for only fifteen per cent of of fatalities; more than three times as many died in skirmishes or other minor engagements, and sieges were responsible for nearly a quarter. Most of the rest are attributable to exploding powder-barrels, bursting pistols and fatal accidents with artillery and muskets. A painstaking recent estimate by Charles Carlton (1991, ’92) suggests that between 1642 and 1651, the total number of those who died by these various means amounted to over eighty-four thousand, over sixty-two thousand of whom perished in the first war. In the seventeenth century, however, war-related diseases, especially typhus and dysentry, together with the ravages of plague in besieged cities which allowed no escape, regularly took a heavier toll than actual combat, and probably carried off at least a hundred thousand. If these figures are anything like correct, they may mean that in proportion to the whole population of England and Wales, the civil wars carried off more dead than the First World War, and certainly many more than died in combat in World War Two.
Infantrymen suffered far higher casualties than cavalrymen, though it depended very much on whether they served in garrison or field armies. Those in the latter who survived the heavy slaughter in major battles, the gruelling marches with poor footwear and meagre rations, the epidemics of the camp and the nights in the open, often in wet clothes, were fortunate, though many lost limbs or bore other scars of war. Common soldiers who were wounded in the field were lucky if they received the services of a services of a surgeon, and if they did so there was no anaesthetic to relieve the agony of an amputation and no effective amputation and no effective antiseptics to stave off gangrene. Those who were made prisoners of war would expect to be plundered of any possessions and stripped of any clothes worth taking, and were liking to be crammed suffocatingly into churches and other buildings and half starved before further before further arrangements were made for them. Sometimes a triumphant enemy subjected them to collective public humiliation. The luckiest were exchanged, or set free under promise not to fight again; the unluckiest were sold as indentured servants to planters in Barbados and worked to death, though this happened mainly to those taken from 1648 to 1651. Many on both sides promptly enlisted in their captors’ army, for war had become a way of life to them; they knew no other trade, and peace must have brought them problems.
The experience of garrison troops varied very greatly, from relative comfort and idleness if they never came under attack from to sheer horror if they succumbed to a direct assault after a long siege. But with regard to sieges, one cannot draw a hard line between the experiences of soldiers and civilians, or indeed between those of men and women. All shared, if unequally, the blight of hunger and hardship and disease that a long siege imposed. Women often worked alongside men in building fortifications, putting out fires, taking their turn at guard duty, bringing food and drinkto the soldiers under fire, reloading their muskets, and even sniping with them at the besiegers. There were defences in which women took full command, notably the Countess of Derbyin Latholm House on the king’s side and Lady Brilliana Harley in Brampton Bryan Castle on the parliament’s. But the worst civilian suffering occurred in populous towns which withstood long sieges, for the attacking commanders seldom allowed women and children to leave since their departure would allow resistance to be prolonged. The squalor and stench when water was scarce can only be imagined, when people were unable to wash themselves or their clothes, when hunger made them too weak to bury their dead, and when sewage had no escape from a surrounding ditch or a sluggish mid-town river.
If the defending commander refused terms of surrender and the town was taken by storm and it was generally reckoned on both sides that the ordinary soldiery were entitled to take what they could by looting. Soldiers who had been through the extreme danger of assaulting manned fortifications were apt to engage in indiscriminate slaughter and wanton destruction, wrecking what they could not take with them and sell. Yet in comparison with the continental wars there was generally some restraint, and there seems to have been very little rape. England experienced nothing similar to the atrocities on the continent during the Thirty Years’ War in the 1630s and ’40s. Army discipline was improving due to the advent of the New Model Army: Before Fairfax (pictured below) stormed Bristol he promised his men two weeks’ pay in lieu of sack, and a grateful corporation was glad to help him find the money. The New Model’s discipline after Naseby and Fairfax’s willingness to grant honourable terms to garrisons in the West saved many lives and spared much property, shortening a war that might have been prolonged by desperate resistance.
Material damage in England was generally greater in the towns than in the countryside, though the destruction of crops and orchards and timber caused hardship enough at the time. At least a hundred and fifty towns sustained significant destruction of property, though actual war damage was very unequally distributed, since in the first Civil War there was no serious military action east of a line drawn through King’s Lynn, Cambridge, London and Arundel. The Midlands and the Welsh borders were the worst affected areas, though parts of the Welsh interior and the West Country suffered considerably. Posterity has tended to focus on the ruination of churches and castles and mansions, but in terms of human suffering the destruction of ordinary dwellings took a far heavier toll. It has been reckoned that ten thousand houses were demolished or burnt down in towns and at least one thousand in villages, which would suggest that about one in ten inhabitants of provincial towns and villages was made homeless, many more in the main theatres of war.
It was not only in war-torn regions that people lost their homes, because many were deliberately demolished before an enemy came near. Few towns still had their medieval defences intact since they had not been needed after the ‘Wars of the Roses’ in the fifteenth century. Newer ‘Tudor’ towns had never had any. Where defensible walls survived, many buildings had gone up alongside them, providing cover for attacking troops and miners, or denied the defending artillery and musketeers the clear field of fire that they needed. Many suburban dwellings were pulled down when war broke out, sometimes by order of the corporation, but more often on the insistence of the local military commander. And in most defended towns existing fortifications needed to be extended or new ones created; bastions were built out of from old walls and sconces erected outside them. Usually this necessitated the demolition of houses and their re-erection elsewhere. Damage by direct military action took many forms. Bombardment was only one, and the slow rate of seventeenth-century cannon-fire and the limited effectiveness of solid shot fired at low velocity made it less destructive than modern artillery fire. Fires were a greater menace, especially where thatched roofs were the norm, and considerable use was made on red-hot shot to start them.
Even more effective, and more damaging to civilian morale, were the hollow iron grenades filled with gunpowder or quick-burning material that were fired over walls by large mortars with a high trajectory. But these were scarce and very expensive weapons; the New Model had only one mortar when it first took the field, though by the end of the war he was able to deploy six at sieges. Considering how combustible most houses were when timber, lath-and-plaster and thatch were the commonest building materials, serious firestorms were were surprisingly rare and most fires were less more or less successfully contained. Town corporations were well aware of the danger and made serious provision against it. In the most heavily war-damaged towns it might be thirty years or more before their stricken suburbs were fully rebuilt. Gloucester’s population had not recovered its pre-war level by the end of the century, and York’s was about the same in 1760 as it had been in 1640, but this was partly because the tide of economic expansion was passing these cities by. Elsewhere there was a great deal of reconstruction in the 1650s and 1660s, and most of the material ravages of war were repaired within a generation.
Some losses were of course irreperable, and the destruction wrought in some cathedrals, whether by military action as in Lichfield or bigoted iconoclasm as in Ely, was tragic. Churches in defended towns quite often suffered because their towers were manned by gunners and snipers, or because they became a last refuge for a desperate garrison. Not all were rebuilt, and one reason why some survive in ruins is that many towns had become overprovided for in churches by the 1640s. It is always worth checking whether the smashing of medieval glass and and statuary can really be blamed on Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers, as most of these assertions are only justified by folk memory. Iconoclasm, such as much of that at Ely, often turns out to have taken place in the Protestant Reformation of a century earlier, under the orders of Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners. Most of the deliberate iconoclastic acts of the civil war period were carried out on the authority of a parliamentary ordinance of August 1643, almost ten years before Cromwell became Lord Protector. It commanded the general demolition of altars and defacement of paintings and sculptures. In addition, all candlesticks were to be removed, and these were taken in payment for the services rendered. One of the parliamentary ‘visitors’ who executed this order, William Dowsing, destroyed more ecclesiastical treasures in the two counties of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk than all the soldiery on both sides in the entire period of the Civil Wars.
Dowsing had risen from obscurity from Laxfield in Suffolk and returned to it after a brief blaze of what he thought of as glory. He had immediately came forward as one prepared for the zeal of the Lord to undertake this task and was appointed Parliamentary Visitor by the General of the Eastern Association. After creating havoc in Cambridgeshire, Dowsing turned to his own county of Suffolk. Between January and October 1644 he toured Suffolk with a company of soldiers, smashing stained glass windows and defacing carved bench ends and fonts, breaking down crucifixes, tearing up brasses and obliterating inscriptions. In his disastrous rampage he visited 150 churches and carefully recorded his handiwork in a journal. At Clare, for example:
We broke down one thousand pictures superstitious. I broke down two hundred; three of God the Father and three of Christ and the Holy Lamb, and three of the Holy Ghost like a dove with wings; and the twelve apostles were carved in wood, on the top of the roof, which we gave order to take down; and twenty cherubims to be taken down; and the sun and moon in the east window, by the King’s arms to be taken down.
Some parishes, it is only fair to say, welcomed Dowsing and co-operated with him but others, such as Ufford, put up a show of resistance, locked the church and tried to keep the desecrators at bay. Many churchwardens, even if sympathetic to Dowsing, resented to having to pay the standard charge of 6s. 8d. for his visitation. The more general vandalism of some parliamentarian troops was also the product of preaching that encouraged them to believe that cathedrals, in particular, were centres of idolatry. They did considerable damage to a dozen of them, but parish churches suffered much less by them; of more than nine thousand in England and Wales, they are known to have despoiled fewer than thirty. It was one thing to purify religion of the popish vestments of prelates and relics; it was quite another to show a total disrespect for the things of God, as did soldiers who used churches for stables and fired their muskets at ancient windows and monuments for target practice.
Castles and country houses suffered heavily during the wars, usually because they were garrisoned. Most castles underwent the greatest damage after the fighting ceased, when they were deliberately made indefensible. Some, like Banbury, Tickhill and Pontefract were in large part demolished, but more often they were ‘slighted’, which generally meant having their outer walls destroyed while their living quarters were left relatively intact. That was the fate of Kenilworth, Sudely, Dudley, Denbigh, Pembroke and Raglan, among others. From 1642, soldiers on both sides ransacked the houses of the gentry for arms and plate. A visit of one Eastern Association troop at Somerleyton House near Lowestoft cost Sir John Wentworth forty-four pounds in various appropriations and plus a hundred and sixty pounds of gold. Many country houses were also garrisoned. The more important defended towns were commonly surrounded by a ring of satellite garrisons, often in suitably sited mansions strengthened by defensive works, and if the central stronghold had to be abandoned the satellites were sometimes demolished so as to deny the enemy the use of them. Between a hundred and fifty and two hundred country houses are thought to have been destroyed, including gems like Sir Baptist Hick’s mansion in Chipping Campden. In the later stages of the Naseby campaign parliament made a conscious attempt to limit the damage. Countermanding a county committee’s instructions to burn a great hose in order to prevent it from being occupied and defended by royalists, the Committee of Both Kingdoms stated in April 1646 that it did not…
… think it fit that all houses whose situation or strength render them capable of being made garrisons should be pulled down. There would then be too many sad marks left of the calamity of this war.
There were sad marks enough, but many country houses were rebuilt as England entered its most glorious age of domestic architecture. The loss was not as great as in the case of medieval cathedrals and castles, nor was the resultant distress to be compared with that of the poor and homeless.
( … to be continued… part one of three. )
Austin Woolrych (2002), Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660. Oxford: OUP.
Glenn Foard (1994),
Whitstable: Pryor Publications.