Gloucester is one of the key locations for Parliamentarian and Royalist confrontation. It is the victory that Parliament desperately needed in 1643 and it is perhaps also written about by historians as much as it is on account of the fact that there’s so much primary source material to support the story. The Earl of Stamford arrived in Gloucester in about November 1642 and left a regiment there for its defence.
The Earl of Stamford is one of those historical surprises that turn up from time to time- his name is Henry Grey and he would acquire the title Baron Grey of Groby on his father’s death – so yes, for those of you who like your Wars of the Roses, he is part of that family. And for those of you who like a good Tudor link he is often known as Henry Grey of Bradgate (childhood home of Lady Jane Grey whose father was also a Henry Grey). Essentially our Henry was descended from a younger brother of Lady Jane Grey’s father. You may be asking where our Henry acquired the title Earl of Stamford. Put simply – by marrying Ann Cecil he gained the manor of Stamford – and so yes, his wife was descended from Elizabeth I’s trusted adviser.
Henry had fought on the king’s side during the Bishop’s War of 1639 but had got into hot water when he admitted to rather admiring the Scottish clergy. This probably wasn’t the most sensible thing to tell King Charles I but it does prove Henry’s Puritan credentials. It is perhaps not surprising then, that he supported Parliament in the build up to the civil war. Because he supported Parliament his neighbour, Henry Hastings, the earl of Huntingdon supported the king – evidently, one of those feuding sort of relationships.
Anyway, back to Gloucester. Edward Massie (pictured at the start of this post) was appointed governor. He arrived on the 8th December 1642. A trained band of local men were commanded, in part, by men that accompanied Massie to the city. In addition there were some Scots. In total there were two bands of foot and since there were so many soldiers in the city they had to be billeted on the local population. There are also problems with regard to pay – parliament was short of cash and the unpaid soldiers threatened a mutiny of sorts.
In February 1643 Prince Rupert captured Cirencester and Bristol was captured on 26 July. Gloucester was an isolated pinpoint of parliamentarianism. Corn prices started to rise. Citizens loyal to the Crown decamped from Gloucester and those of a nervous disposition also left if possible.
The king paid Bristol a visit in August. In my imagination he did a quick royal walk around, glad-handed a few dignitaries and then went on his way. The reality was somewhat different. He was met by cheering crowds – who probably knew better than appear anything else! But the main reason for his visit was to settle the acrimonious arguments that had burst out between his own commanders and to plan what to do next. Lord Hopton’s Western Army were not happy with the number of casualties they had sustained. It was also evident that the Cornish weren’t keen on leaving their region.
Charles placed his nephew, Prince Maurice (Prince Rupert’s brother) in charge of the Western Army and sent him off to vanquish Parliamentarian hotspots in Devon such as Plymouth. Ralph Hopton, who was still recovering from injuries caused by an exploding munitions waggon was made deputy governor of Bristol under Prince Rupert. Charles arranged for the army he had fetched with him from Oxford to be divided into a garrison for Bristol and a force to attack Gloucester which was headed up by the king – though he very sensibly took Prince Rupert and Patrick Ruthven (the Scottish Earl of Forth) with him.
By that time Bristol was the only Parliamentarian stronghold between Bristol and Lancaster. In short it was the fly in the proverbial ointment. It was a Parliamentarian stronghold that allowed them to interfere with royalist communications across the Severn. Things did not look good for the Parliamentarians. It was admittedly a walled city with a castle but the former, Roman in origin, didn’t go all the way round and the latter was in the process of being dismantled. There was also a serious shortage of powder despite the fact that Massie had written to Parliament asking for money, weapons and reinforcements. As elsewhere in the country Gloucester’s population found themselves shovelling soil as fast as they could to create earthworks to strengthen their city’s defences. It is not recorded how they felt when Massie started burning the suburbs beyond the city wall so that the Royalists wouldn’t have any cover.
The king and his army asked or “summoned” the city to surrender on the 10th August 1643. He settled down for a siege despite the fact that Rupert advocated storming the city, recognising that it wasn’t equipped for that eventuality. Charles, as at Turnham Green, was worried about the casualties.
By the end of August the Earl of Essex was on the road from London to lift the seige. Charles who had been shelling Gloucester could not risk being caught between Gloucester’s garrison and Essex’s army so raised the siege and let Essex occupy the city. The next eighteen months were somewhat tense for the inhabitants of Gloucester. They had already sold off their plate to pay for provisions prior to the siege but now they had to deal with the fact that over two hundred houses had been destroyed by the Parliamentarians to prevent the royalists from finding cover close to the walls, the town ditches were flooded and the shelling had done rather a lot of damage. The church of St Nicholas has a decided lean even today because of the royalist shelling.
We know that Massie would have had to surrender if Essex had not arrived when he did at Gloucester. He was running extremely short of gunpowder. Gloucester Civic Trust have a helpful article on the siege. In 1645 Massie’s loyalty to Parliament came under question and by 1659 he was actively plotting for the town’s take over by Royalists. By that time the town which had always been largely Presbyterian in sympathy and organisation looked rather more divided in its loyalties.
More significantly, the fact that the king had to march away from Gloucester brought the Royalist summer of victories to a close and set the scene for the Battle of Newbury which took place on 20 September 1643. Essex and his army were returning to London. Charles chased after Essex and overtook the Parliamentarian army at Newbury. If Essex wanted to get back to London he had to get by the Royalists. Later Essex would be accused of lacking in military flare but on this particular occasion he made a surprise dawn attack on Charles’ army. It was touch and go for Essex who was almost encircled at one point in the battle. Despite that he saw off Prince Rupert and his cavalry and when battle broke off it was the royalists who had to give way because they did not have sufficient ammunition to continue the encounter. The Scots would soon officially enter the war and from that point forwards the tide would shift in favour of Parliament.
‘Gloucester, 1640-60: The English Revolution’, in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, ed. N M Herbert (London, 1988), pp. 92-95. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol4/pp92-95 [accessed 13 February 2018].