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The Cavendish Connection part two – the earls of Devonshire.

bessofhardwickBess of Hardwick disowned her eldest son Henry but he had still inherited Chatsworth despite the fact that Bess entailed what she could to William and his heirs.  Due to his debts Henry sold Chatsworth to his brother William.

William was not what might be called dynamic.  He was still living at home  in Hardwick with his mum when he was a middle aged man with a family.  Nor was he interested in a London based career as a courtier.  Instead he concentrated on the role of administration traditionally allotted to the gentry.  He was for example the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire.

William_Cavendish,_1st_Earl_of_DevonshireIn 1605 thanks to the auspices of his niece Arbella Stuart he became a baronet.  In 1618 with the aid of £10,000 paid to James I he became an earl.  In addition to his land holdings in Derbyshire he was also investing in foreign trade – the East India Company, the Muscovy Company, the Bermuda Company and also in the settlements in Virginia.

The first earl was Anne Keithley of Yorkshire with whom he had three children.  Two of them died young.  His daughter Frances married the first baron Maynard.  His second wife was also from Yorkshire and this marriage produced one son, John, who was knighted in 1618 when Prince Charles became Prince of Wales.  He died soon afterwards.

William’s eldest son was another William, called Wylkyn within the family.  It was intended that he should marry Christian Bruce of Kinross when he was eighteen.  She was only twelve but the matter had been arranged to King James’ approval.  The dowry was a very lucrative £10,000.  The problem was that young William didn’t want a wealthy bride of the kind that his father and grandmother Bess might have approved nor was he unduly concerned about the first earl’s political aspirations.  No, what William wanted was his mistress Margaret Chatterton who had been one of Bess’s ladies.  It didn’t help that Christian was still a child to William’s eighteen years. Despite Wylkyn’s dislike of the marriage he was wed to Christian Bruce.  The Devonshires would not be known for their love matches.

Lord-Cavendish-Later-Second-Earl-of-Devonshire-and-His-Son-G_58_4_1-827x1024By the time he was in his twenties young William was a polished courtier (pictured left).  He also had a reputation of brawling, drinking and womanising.  He also spent money as though it was water.  This Cavendish was behaving as though he was a member of the aristocracy.

Perhaps in a bid to curtail his son’s rather un-Cavendish habits William senior appointed him a new tutor in the form of Thomas Hobbes.  The reason for this was that married men could not attend university and William senior saw that his son required a layer of culture to add to his fashionable persona.  The pair were sent on a tour of Europe.  These days we tend to think of the Grand Tour as an eighteenth century phenomenon but despite the on-going religious wars the English were keen to visit foreign climes – especially when Prince Charles (to be Charles I) made it a fashionable thing to do.

In addition to all the gallivanting he found time to become the MP for Derbyshire and on account of the Cavendish investments was also Governor of the Bermuda Company.  However he had managed to get himself into a huge amount of debt and ultimately an act of parliament would have to be sought to break Bess’s entail on part of the estate so that land could be sold to save the rest of the estate.

The second earl died in 1628 in London of “excessive indulgence.”  His heir, another William, was a minor so for a while at least the Cavendish lands were in the hands of Christian Bruce who was by now thirty-two-years old and a canny woman managing to secure full wardship for her son.  An economy drive was instituted and Thomas Hobbes was given the boot, only returning when finances recovered and there was further need for a tutor.  William was knighted at Charles I’s coronation in 1625.  His royalist credentials are evidenced by the fact that he spoke against the attainder on the Earl of Strafford in 1641. The network of family ties was strengthened with a marriage to Elizabeth Cecil, daughter of the Earl of Salisbury in 1639.

William_Cavendish,_3rd_Earl_of_Devonshire.jpgWhich brings us to the English Civil War.  Christian Bruce was a friend of Henrietta Maria.  The Cavendishs were Royalists.  In 1642 the 3rd Earl presented himself in York with his younger brother Charles who joined with Prince Rupert and his cavalry, took part in the Battle of Edgehill and ultimately became the Royalist commander for Derbyshire and Lincolnshire prior to his death at the Battle of Gainsborough.  Meanwhile the earl, no doubt on his mother’s advice, took himself off to Europe until 1645 when he compounded for his Royalist sympathies – paid a fine of £5000 and returned to live in England at Leicester Abbey where his mother had her residence (it had been purchased by the first earl in 1613) and from there he went to Latimer Place in Buckinghamshire until the Restoration when he returned to Chatsworth.

The third earl laid the foundations for Chatsworth’s library, was a fellow of the Royal Society and a friend of the diarist John Evelyn.  He does not seem much like his father, or indeed his son.


(c) National Trust, Hardwick Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationBorn in 1641, yet another William became the fourth earl upon his father’s death in 1684.  There had been an older brother but he died in his infancy. The third earl had preserved the Cavendish estates largely by keeping his head down and letting his cousin (William Earl, Marquis and the Duke of Newcastle) of and younger brother get on with Royalist soldiering.  The fourth earl was described by Bishop Burnet as being of “nice honour in everything except the paying of his tradesmen.”  Like his father he had been sent on the Grand Tour and like his Uncle William (Newcastle) he fancied himself as  a bit of a poet. It is easy to see how this particular Cavendish fitted into the court of King Charles II who was also known for his late payments.  Like his monarch Cavendish also had a reputation for womanising. He had several children by a mistress called Mrs Heneage. Apparently Charles II had told Nell Gwynn not to have anything to do with him – re-arrange the words pot, kettle and black into a sentence of your choice.  It could be that Charles took against William Cavendish because he publicly snubbed the Duke of York (James) at Newmarket on account of his catholicism.  Aside from seduction the fourth earl also seems to have spent a lot of time picking fights and duelling.

In 1661 the fourth earl entered Parliament and the following year married Lady Mary Butler the daughter of the Duke of Ormonde.  Ormonde had been at the forefront of the Irish campaign against Oliver Cromwell and had been with Charles II in exile. Upon the Restoration he became a key political figure.  In this instance the Cavendish alliance was for political advancement.

Somehow or other the brawling, womanising, verse-writing earl became a serious politician.  By the 1670s he was using his position to wage war on behalf of Parliament against James III.  This particular Cavendish was not a die-hard royalist like his father or uncles).  The Fourth earl was a Whig – he was anti-court and anti-Catholic and, of course alongside that, he was first and foremost a Cavendish.


Part of the reason for his being involved in the Glorious Revolution, to depose James III in favour of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, was because of a dispute over land.  Colonel Culpepper, a supporter of James III, had made a claim to some Devonshire lands stating that they should have come to him as part of his wife’s dowry.  The pair had a brawl when Culpepper called Cavendish’s loyalty to the Crown into question and Cavendish called Culpepper a liar.Culpepper ended up in the Marshalsea Prison was released and the pair met again.  Culpepper having been imprisoned  for fighting refused a further confrontation so the earl grabbed him by the nose and dragged him from the room before beating him about the head with his cane. It was the earl’s turn to be imprisoned unless he paid a £30,000 fine.  The earl had no intention of paying so he simply walked out of the prison gates and headed for Derbyshire. A warrant for his arrest was issued but in the short term everything was smoothed out with a letter of apology and an I.O.U. – which the earl clearly had no intention of paying.

It was a short step from that event to conspiracy in Whittington and a letter inviting William of Orange to come to England – William Cavendish was able to stand up for Protestantism and get one over on Colonel Culpepper. It also made him one of the so-called “Immortal Seven” having signed the letter inviting William to come and take the crown. The new king was very grateful to the fourth earl who would shortly become the First Duke of Devonshire.  The two times great grandson of Bess of Hardwick had moved the family further up the social hierarchy.


Hattersley, Roy. (2014) The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation. London:Vintage Books

Pearson, John. (1984) The Serpent and the Stag. New York: Holt Reinhart




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Sir William Brereton (1604-1661) – Parliamentarian Commander of Cheshire

sir william brereton

Sir William Brereton from Cheshire has cropped up several times in my reading during the last couple of weeks. Initially it appears that Cheshire tried to sit on the fence. It sent no petitions to the king in the summer of 1642 whilst he was at York. Sir William Brereton, who had been an MP for Cheshire until Charles I dissolved Parliament, was a Deputy Lieutenant for the county and was in receipt of a memorandum from Parliament with regard to the recruitment of soldiers for the Earl of Essex’s army. He turned up at Lichfield, Nantwich and most importantly in Denbigh in 1645 when he was responsible for the defeat of the Royalists there, so who exactly was he?


He was born shortly after James I succeeded to the throne and by the time Charles I was king he had become a baronet. He seems to have travelled in the Low Countries and France. He was married to the daughter of Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey. Booth was well known for his puritanism. It is also apparent from William’s diaries that he leant towards puritanism and that as a JP in Cheshire he closed taverns and fined Catholics. It is perhaps not surprising to discover that by the end of 1642 he had been appointed to the position of commanding officer for the Parliamentarian troops in Cheshire.


An article in History Today reveals why history knows so much about the man. He was an inveterate letter writer. He wrote, it turns out, rather often with requests for assistance and cash in turning Cheshire into a godly Royalist-free county not that his ideal was realised during the 1643 summer of Royalist victories.


Sir_John_Gell_originalInitially Brereton tried to take hold of Chester for Parliament but was unable to capture it. Instead having taken Nantwich for the Parliamentarian cause in 1642 he made that his headquarters.  From there he ranged along the Welsh marches on Parliament’s behalf and down through Cheshire to Stafford. He came with Sir John Gell of Hopton in Derbyshire to the siege of Lichfield and was concerned at the later siege of Tutbury that his colleague was far too lenient on the Royalist defenders. Across the region Brereton was only defeated once at the Battle of Middlewich on December 26 1643 but he swiftly recovered from this as he had to return with Sir Thomas Fairfax to Nantwich when Sir George Booth managed to get himself besieged by Lord Byron and Cheshire was more or less completely in the hands of the Royalists not that this stopped Brereton from establishing an impressive network of spies loyal to Parliament.


thomas fairfaxIn January 1644 Sir Thomas Fairfax crossed the Pennines with men from the Eastern Association Army. On the 25th January his men were met by a Royalist army headed by Byron who was defeated. The place where the two armies collided was Necton but the disaster for the royalists has become known in history as the Battle of Nantwich. It meant that the king could not hold the NorthWest. Even worse Royalist artillery and senior commanders were captured along with the baggage train. None of this did any harm to Sir Thomas Fairfax’s reputation nor to Brereton who had command of the Parliamentarian vanguard.


It should be noted that one of his relations, another William Brereton was a Royalist. William Brereton of Brereton Hall at Holmes Chapel was married to the royalist general Goring’s daughter Elizabeth. Parliamentarian William did not hesitate to besiege his own relations who happened to disagree with him. Brereton Hall found itself under siege after the Battle of Nantwich.


In March 1644 Parliament granted him the right to “take subscriptions” in Cheshire to maintain his army not only against the Royalists but most especially against the hated Irish Forces for the “timely prevention of further mischiefs.”


Lord John ByronFrom there Brereton became involved in the siege of Chester – at Nantwich Byron had been outside the town whilst at Chester he was inside the walls.   In September 1645 Bristol in the command of Prince Rupert surrendered. The only remaining safe harbour to land troops loyal to the king was Chester. Lord Byron had withdrawn there following his defeat at Nantwich and Brereton had followed him. Byron held the river crossing and in so doing was denying the Parliamentarians a way into North Wales which was Royalist.


Bereton began by trying to scale the walls. When that strategy failed he set up blockades and tried to starve them out. In March the slimline Royalists and disgruntled townsfolk were given some respite by the arrival of Prince Maurice but in April Brereton returned and Chester’s rather lean diet continued. It didn’t help that Maurice had removed more than half of Byron’s men leaving only six hundred soldiers to defend the walls. By September the parliamentarians had pressed forward and were shelling Chester’s inner walls. The king himself set out to relieve the siege and possibly to break out from the Midlands and Wales.


Charles and his men were able to enter the city over the River Dee from the Welsh side of the city as that was still in Royalist hands. The idea was that Chalres and his cavalry would nip around the back of the besiegers and at the appropriate time Byron and his men would come bursting out of Chester squashing Brereton like a slice of meat between two Royalist slices of bread. King Charles took his place in Chester’s Pheonix Tower to watch the action. Unfortunately the Battle of Rowton Heath on 24 September 1645 did not go according to plan. Charles left Chester the following day with rather fewer men than he arrived, returning to the safety of Denbigh.   From there he would go to Newark and on 5th May 1546 surrender himself into the custody of the Scots at Southwell.


Meanwhile Byron absolutely refused to surrender so Brereton’s men started mining beneath Chester’s walls, kept up a constant artillery barrage and ultimately encircled the city. It was the mayor of Chester who persuaded Byron that enough was enough. After Chester surrendered in January 1646, Brereton mopped up what royalists there still were in his region and in the course of his endeavours travelled as far south as Stow-on-the-Wold becoming the parliamentarian commander to take the surrender of the last royalist army in the field in 1646. It is perhaps not surprising given his capabilities that like Oliver Cromwell he was excluded from the Self Denying Ordinance that prevented members of Parliament from holding military commissions.


Interestingly after the end of the second, short lived, English Civil War he took no real part in the politics of the period. For instance he refused to sit as one of Charles I’s judges. It is perhaps for this reason that upon the Restoration in 1660 that he was allowed to continue to live in Croydon Palace which had been the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury but which a grateful Parliament had given to Brereton.  Brereton had expressed his puritan views about Archbishop Laud, Charles I’s arminian archbishop by having his private chapel turned into a kitchen.


Brereton died the following year and managed with his death to add to the folklore of Cheshire.  He died at Croydon Palace on the 7th April 1661 but he wished to be buried in Cheshire at Handforth Chapel near Cheadle where several of the family were buried including Sir Urien Brereton.  Unfortunately it would seem that his coffin didn’t get there being swept away by a river in full spate as the funeral cortège was crossing it which is unfortunate to put it mildly although having said that he appears, according to findagrave.com to be safely buried in the church of St John the Baptist, Croydon also known as Croydon Minster.


For reference, and I don’t think I can describe it as a surprising connection given that the name is the same,  the family was related to the earlier Sir William Brereton who had a bit of a reputation as a womaniser in Henry VIII’s court which was unfortunate because having delivered jewels to Anne Boleyn from the king and also given her a hound (which she named after Urien Brereton- the one buried At Handforth Chapel) he found himself in the rather unfortunate position of going from one of the king’s most trusted men (even being present at the wedding between Henry and Anne Boleyn) to being accused of being one of Anne Boleyn’s lovers in 1536.  He was tried for treason on the 12 May 1536 and was beheaded on the 17th May.

Porter, Stephen. http://www.historytoday.com/stephen-porter/letter-books-sir-william-brereton




‘March 1644: An Ordinance to enable Sir William Brereton Baronet, one of the Members of the House of Commons, to execute the several Ordinances of Parliament for advance of money within the County of Chester, and County and City of Chester, and to take Subscriptions for the better supply and maintenance of the Forces under his Command, for the security of the said places, and for prevention of the access of the Irish Forces into those parts.’, in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, ed. C H Firth and R S Rait (London, 1911), pp. 409-413. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinances-interregnum/pp409-413 [accessed 24 February 2018].



Filed under English Civil War, folklore, Seventeenth Century, The Tudors

Charles Cavendish – cavalier (1620-1643)

Colonel_Lord_Charles_Cavendish_(1620-1643)_by_Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck,_1637_-_Oak_Room,_Chatsworth_House_-_Derbyshire,_England_-_DSC03062Let us return today to the Royalist summer of victories in 1643. It was really only in the east of the country that events did not go all Charles I’s way. On 20 July 1643, Lord Willoughby captured Gainsborough in Lincolnshire for Parliament. This meant that the Earl of Newcastle could not now communicate so easily with the royalists at Newark and he could not simply march south expanding royalist territory.  The Committee of Safety scratched their various heads and then sent Oliver Cromwell and Sir John Meldrum from the Eastern Association Army to back up Lord Willoughby as he was being threatened by the Royalist military commander – Colonel Charles Cavendish – who was the nephew of the Earl of Newcastle.

Charles, born in 1620, was the younger brother of William Cavendish the third Earl of Chatsworth and the epitome of a Hollywood cavalier unlike his brother who appears to have been much more retiring. Apparently Charles had travelled as far as Greece and Cairo in happier times as well as the more usual Italy and France. As you might expect of a nephew of the Earl of Newcastle he was ferociously Royalist. He had gone to York in 1642 to offer his services to the king; been part of Prince Rupert’s cavalry charge at the Battle of Edgehill on the 23 October 1642 and had then been offered command of the Duke of York’s troop (a sudden vacancy had arisen).   From there he persuaded his family to raise sufficient funds for him to form his own body of men making him a colonel and the royalist military commander for Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. It was Charles Cavendish who took Grantham for the king on 23 March 1643 and sent the Parliamentarians packing at Ancaster the following month.  In the space of a year he had changed from being a volunteer guards officer to a Colonel in charge of an entire region. Possibly, the gift of £1000 into the king’s war chest may have expedited matters.


Anyway, the Parliamentarians came across Cavendish’s dragoons south of Gainsborough on the morning of 28th July 1643. The Royalists had the advantage of high ground which they lost during a Parliamentarian cavalry charge. The Royalists ultimately fled on account of the fact that the Parliamentarians were learning a thing or three about tactics but Charles had kept his own men in reserve and was very sensibly planning to nip around the back of the Parliamentarians to attack their rear. Unfortunately a certain Colonel Cromwell spotted the manoevre and attacked the Royalist rear instead. Cavendish fell from his horse during the fighting and was killed by Captain Berry with a sword in the small ribs. Ultimately the Parliamentarians, who definitely won the battle, were unable to hold out against Newcastle.

Years later when Charles’ mother, Christian Bruce, was buried in All Saints Church, Derby on 16 February 1675 the bones of her long dead son were interred with her as she had asked. The funeral sermon by William Nailor described Charles as a “princely person,” “the soldiers’ favourite and his majesty’s darling.” It also described Charles as being like Abner and related to the Stuarts through the Bruce connection. The full text can be found in the snappily entitled  A commemoration sermon preached at Darby, Feb. 18, 1674, for the Honourable Colonel Charles Cavendish, slain in the service of King Charles the First, before Gainsborough in the year 1643.

Colonel, Lord Charles Cavendish (1620-1643)by British (English) School

The picture at the start of the post is by Van Dyck and is at Chatsworth whilst the picture above is at Hardwick Hall (I think).

Bickley, F. (1911) The Cavendish family  https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Cavendish_Family.html?id=1G8Al5RutVAC&redir_esc=y

Dick, Oliver Lawson (ed) (1987)  Aubrey’s Brief Lives.  London:Penguin




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English Civil War 1644

Oliver_Cromwell_by_Samuel_Cooper.jpg1644 was a year where no one gained the upper hand and the casualties of war grew.  The arrival of the Scots in the Civil War ultimately tipped the balance of power in Parliament’s favour but as a result of amateur approaches to warfare the Second Battle of Newbury failed to end matters once and for all.  This had the knock on effect of ensuring the rise of the New Model Army and Cromwell’s Ironsides.

January 1644 started with the usual petitions and recruitment.  Pay remained an issue.  For example Hopton who led the rather successful Western Army for the king in 1643 found himself dealing with mutineering.  Five hundred of his men simply marched off with their weapons to join the Parliamentarians in Poole.  In the midlands as armies ebbed and flowed Nottingham fell once more into Parliamentarian hands and Newstead Abbey, the home of Lord Byron, was looted whilst he was besieging Nantwich on behalf of the king.  This resulted in the necessity of Fairfax crossing the Pennines to Manchester with a view to relieving the siege.  The result is the Battle of Nantwich on 26th January 1644 which Parliament won despite the bad weather and prevailing soggy conditions.  He went on to besiege Latham House near Ormskirk on 28th February where the Countess of Derby held out for the king.  Her husband was on the Isle of Man.  Rather than a direction confrontation she played for time which worked to a degree although Fairfax ordered his men to build earthworks around the house.

At the beginning of February, Newcastle was back in Newcastle to stop the Scots from occupying it on Parliament’s behalf and the royalist garrison at Newark started to feel a bit uncomfortable as well they should because by the end of February, which was a leap year, Sir John Meldrum had besieged the town.  He had 5,000 men and rather a lot of ordinance but the royalists held out. Prince Rupert marched his men from Wolverhampton to Newark to relieve the siege on the 21st of March.

earl of manchester.pngMeanwhile two of the Parliamentarian generals were at loggerheads with one another.  Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex felt that Edward Montagu, Earl of Manchester  (pictured above) was getting the better part of the deal from Parliament.  Montagu, married to a cousin of George Villiers in the first instance married for a second time to Ann Rich, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick – the Parliamentarian Lord Admiral.  He turned from Court towards a more Puritan way of thinking and did not support the king in the Bishop’s War.  He was also the peer who supported John Pym at the opening of the Long Parliament  and was the one member of the House of Lords who Charles I wanted to arrest at the same time as the five members of the House of Commons.  In 1642 he was on his third wife (another member of the Rich family) and had become the Earl of Manchester upon his father’s death.  Manchester had been at the Battle of Edgehill but his was one of the regiments that had fled the battlefield.  After that he was eventually appointed to the command of the Eastern Association Army – regiments covering Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridge.  By the end of 1643 East Anglia was very firmly in Parliamentarian hands and Manchester’s men had broken out into Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.  This should be contrasted with Essex and the Western Association Army performance.  It is perhaps not surprising that Parliament effectively allowed Manchester to by pass Essex and to liaise with the Scots and with the Fairfaxs.


By April Selby was back in Parliamentarian hands as Lord Fairfax retrieved the ground that had been lost the previous year.  Newcastle also returned to Yorkshire and occupied York. The Earl of Manchester was ordered to York at the same time as Parliament realised that Prince Rupert and his men were also heading in that direction.  Inevitably York now found itself besieged with the royalists inside and Lord Fairfax outside.  It would have to be said that before that point had been reached Newcastle had got most of his cavalry out of the city.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Pennines Sir Thomas Fairfax was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at Latham House.  On the 23rd April he asked the Countess of Derby to surrender.  She declined. At the other end of the country parliamentarian Lyme Regis also declined to surrender.  The townsfolk were hoping that the Earl of Warwick and his navy were going to come to their rescue.  Oxford prepares to be besieged by the Earl of Essex who took nearby Abingdon which the Royalists had abandoned.  Charles I had to leave the city for fear of capture.

Meanwhile the Royalists in York could look over the city walls and watch as the Earl of Manchester and his men arrived. Its best to think at this point of Prince Rupert haring around the countryside relieving Parliamentarian sieges and helping Royalist besiegers to storm their targets.  He did not cover himself in glory at Bolton where the defenders were slaughtered.  The war was beginning to take a decidedly less gallant turn.  Essentially large houses across the country swapped hands – some with the modicum of upset, others after much ammunition had been used.  Meanwhile the king arrived in Worcester and the Parliamentarian armies of Waller and Essex chased after him although somehow Waller managed to lose the king and end up in Gloucester.

The movements of the armies and key figures seem to be very much like a game of strategy where nobody is quite sure of the rules.  The king, for instance, next surfaces in Buckingham, whilst Prince Rupert rocks up  in Knaresborough.  His job is to relieve the siege of York.

With so many men and armies in the vicinity it is perhaps no surprise that July 2nd saw the Battle of Marston Moor.  The Parliamentarians on hearing the news that Rupert was int he area had withdrawn from around York and taken up a position to bar Rupert’s approach to the city. Rupert did not take the bait, he crossed around behind the Parliamentarians at Poppleton and wrote a note to Newcastle telling him to get himself and his lambs into position.  Newcastle wasn’t terribly happy with these orders.  All he wanted was for the Parliamentarians to march off and leave York in peace.

Fairfax and Manchester,along with the Scots under the command of Leven were at Tadcaster when Rupert assumed the correct position for battle on the morning of the 2nd.  A messenger carried the news to the Parliamentarians to the effect that Rupert was “up for it.” Consequently the parliaments had to turn around and go back.  The Royalists had the moor and the Parliamentarians had farmland.  There was a ditch between the two sides. By four in the afternoon there had been no move to battle and by seven the royalists had settled down by their campfires.  At which point the Parliamentarians made their move – which though not particularly gallant was militarily rather sensible.

Lord John Byron.jpgFairfax opposed Goring on the right wing: Goring 1 – Fairfax O.  Goring and his men got side tracked by the baggage wagons.  Crowell was on the left wing facing Lord John Byron (pictured right): Ironsides 1 – Royalists 0.  Prince Rupert turned the fleeing royalists round and sent them back into battle.  Rupert and his men were evenly matched with the Ironsides.  Essentially they hacked one another to a standstill at which point the Scottish cavalry charged in on the Royalist flank and scattered them.

Fairfax needing to communicate with Cromwell took off his sash and his field sign and rode across the battlefield, paling through Royalist lines as he did so, to provide Cromwell with accurate information about what was happening.  Cromwell, and his men circled the field and came up behind Goring and his men who were busily looting Fairfax’s baggage train.

Meanwhile Newcastle’s lambs at the centre had fought doggedly through the whole encounter.  Now they were forced back and rather than leave the field they died to a man. William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle was the last royalist commander left on the battlefield. As his men were slaughtered he ultimately made his way back to York and from there to Scarborough.  At Scarborough he sailed for Hamburg.  The North was lost to the Royalists.  More than 4,000 of their number died at Marston Moor.

In the Midlands, Welbeck Abbey, one of William Cavendish’s homes, fell to the Parliamentarians – who helped themselves to tapestries and silver plate.  Royalist Newark began to feel the pinch once more and Rupert made his way back to the SouthWest where Essex wasn’t having such a victorious feeling as his counterparts in the North.  Ultimately he had to make an undignified escape from Lostwithiel.  Basing House in Hampshire was still being pummelled.

The king seems to have spent much of the second half of the year popping up all over the country being pursued by various parliamentarians. He had planned to relieve Basing House but that went awry so he decided, instead, to relieve Donnington Castle – bearing in mind there was no such thing as a motorway network the various armies marched huge distances a the drop of a hat.  This meant that they were required to live off the land – which was not good news for anyone who happened to be in the path of any army and its destination.  On the 22nd October Charles was in Berkshire, near Newbury.  Cromwell, Manchester and Waller took to the field but the king escaped under cover of darkness and scarpered in the direction of Bath. From there he returned to Oxford – as clearly the Parliamentarians had cleared off by that time.

As the year drew to the close Parliamentarian generals were still writing to London politely suggesting that their men should be paid, Rupert was still popping up like a jack in the box and Basing House was still under siege.  Lord Fairfax was quietly sitting outside the castles of Pontefract and Knaresborough but had been given orders to sort out the royalists in Newark as well.  Knaresborough did surrender by the end of the year, not that it was much consolation to Lord Fairfax who felt that he was being over-stretched with insufficient men or money to do Parliament’s bidding.

In London, Parliament was pointing fingers about who was responsible for the failure to administer a crushing defeat on the king at the Second Battle of Newbury  and the Self-Denying Ordinance is proposed which would prevent members of Parliament (Lords or Commons) from holding military command.  Whilst the Commons agreed to the idea the Lords were less keen but would pass a revised version of the ordinance in 1645.

All in all – a very depressing year and that’s without considering Scotland, the Covenanters and the Earl of Montrose.

Emberton, Wilfred. The Civil War Day by Day.




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The Siege of Gloucester

Colonel Massie.jpgGloucester 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].






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The Earl of Essex

essex3.jpgRobert Devereux was the son of the Queen Elizabeth’s favourite – the dashing one that managed to get himself executed for treason in 1601.  Grandpapa on his mother’s side was Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster.  Obviously having been attainted for treason the entire Devereux family, including young Robert who was ten at the time of his father’s misdeeds, were tainted as being of bad blood and all property returned to the Crown.

Things changed in 1604 when James I restored titles and lands to Robert and arranged his marriage to a wealthy Howard heiress. Perhaps this was because young Robert was close to the ill-fated Prince of Wales, Henry Stuart.  Unfortunately young Robert wasn’t old enough to actually marry his bride, Frances, so was sent abroad on his own version of Frances-Howard.jpgthe grand tour.  Whilst he was securing a gentleman’s education Frances Howard took up with the king’s favourite  Robert Carr and married him instead having divorced Robert for impotency in 1613 (and I should imagine that no 20 year-old wants that particular label)- France’s marriage would end in murder, a visit to the Tower and a Jacobean scandal that historians are still writing about but that’s beside the point.  The marriage ended amidst much hilarity and popular balladry.  Robert insisted that even if he was impotent so far as Frances was concerned he was more than capable with other ladies of his acquaintance.  To add insult to injury, Frances who had been carrying on with Robert Carr, was declared to be a maiden – the mirth this enjoindered can only be imagined.

Robert, the third earl, undertook a military career in continental Europe perhaps to escape the ribaldry.  The thirty years war was well under way by this time. He served in the Low Countries and or the Palatinate of which James’ daughter Elizabeth was the queen. In 1625 he was part of the Duke of Buckingham’s disastrous Cadiz Campaign.

It would have to be said that his relationship with Charles was not good.  He absolutely refused to pay Charles’ forced loans.  And things can’t have been much worse when in 1639 having been appointed as second in command of the the king’s armies in Scotland in the run up to the First Bishop’s War he was demoted so that the role could be given to one of the queen’s favourites.  Charles then became a bit sniffy about the fact that the Scots approached the earl to try and prevent the english army from marching north.  There was nothing machiavellian in the earl of Essex’s actions that warranted the king’s distrust as evidenced by the fact that Essex handed the letters he’d received from the Scots to Charles unopened.  In 1640 he wasn’t offered any role at all in the Second Bishop’s War which must have galled.

In 1640 when the king finally ran out of money and the Long Parliament sat Essex emerged as the principal speaker for the opposition to the king in the House of Lords.  He and John Pym worked together to prosecute the Earl of Strafford.  Charles, perhaps realising that insulting the earl of Essex in terms of military leadership hadn’t been one of his better ideas offered him a place on the Privy Council in 1641 and by July he was in control of the king’s army south of the River Trent and Lord Chamberlain.

It was Essex who received the news from his cousin Lady Carlisle in January 1641 that Charles intended to arrest five members of the House of Commons and one peer. After that Charles left London for Hampton Court, then Windsor.  From there he went north to York.  Once in York he ordered the earl to join him but Essex refused and was promptly removed from the post of Lord Chamberlain.  Parliament had come to regard him as a potential leader for some time and Charles as evidenced above had never really trusted him.  Essex was a bit prickly about his honour having had his father executed for treason so its perhaps not surprising that he chose to side with Parliament rather than the king.

In 1642 Essex was appointed to the Parliamentary Committee of Safety.  He also became one of Parliament’s key military figures during the early years of the English Civil War.  He wanted to negotiate a peace but from a position of military superiority – his was the middle way if you wish when Parliament was increasingly split between the War Party and the Peace Party.

He commanded the parliamentary forces at Edgehill and as with his continental campaigns he shared the experiences of his ordinary soldiers to the extent that he was actually seen at push of pike.  Edgehill was technically a draw but since Essex failed in his objective to prevent the king from marching on London it is usually deemed that he lost the battle.  But it was Essex who petitioned Londoners to send as many men as they could to Chiswick on 13 November at Turnham Green and thus ensured that the king withdrew from London rather than be responsible for untold bloodshed.

In 1643 Essex captured Reading but was unable to advance and capture Oxford where the king’s court was based.  He became embittered by his armies lack of pay whilst Parliament grew testy about his lack of success.  Despite this he raised the siege on Gloucester and won a victory at Newbury.

The king was not alone in mistrusting Essex’s military capacities.  When John Pym died in 1643 he was replaced by Sir Henry Vane who was not one of Essex’s fans. A point which seems to have been proved when, in 1644, Essex lost the Parliamentary army in Cornwall and had to escape in a fishing boat. Lostwithiel was the end of Essex’s military career. In addition to the Cornish disaster he had been militarily overshadowed by men like Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell.  He resigned his commission in 1645. Whilst he wasn’t a hugely successful military figure on account of his lack of imagination and flair he was respected by his men because ehe shared their hardships.

The earl of Essex wasn’t hugely successful as a husband either.  Having been divorced by Frances Howard he went on to marry Elizabeth Paulet in 1630 having returned from his soldiering in Europe to take up his other career as a politician – and an earl needs a wife.  The marriage lasted a year, after that it was a marriage in name only.  Six years after they married Elizabeth gave birth to an illegitimate baby which Robert accepted as his own after some hesitation, mainly because he didn’t need the embarrassment of a second errant wife and he did need an heir.  The child, a boy named Robert, died when it was little over a moth old and the earl was left without an heir.

walterdevereux.jpgThere are three earls of Essex during the Tudor/Stuart period – the title was not used after the third earl’s death in 1646 until the Restoration. The First Earl of Essex was Walter Devereux – he is associated with Tudor rule in Ireland and is more famously Lettice Knollys’ husband.  Lettice was the daughter of Catherine Carey – making her the grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn.  Historians speculate whether Catherine was the daughter of Henry VIII  – Lettice certainly looked rather a lot like her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.  In fact Lettice managed to get into rather a lot of trouble with her cousin after the first earl of Essex’s death when she secretly married Elizabeth’s long time squeeze, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

2nd earl of essex.jpgThe second Earl of Essex was Robert Devereux.  He was Walter and Lettice’s fifth child and after Robert Dudley’s death became a favourite with the aging Elizabeth I.  Like his father he was associated with Ireland.  His campaign was not a rip-roaring success from Elizabeth’s point of view.  Handsome but petulant the earl rebelled in 1600 having already sailed pretty close to the wind when he returned from Ireland and burst in on Elizabeth having been expressly forbidden from crossing the Irish Sea and winning no friends when he saw the queen without all her finery.  He was executed for treason on 25th February 1601 – leaving a young son, also called Robert, who would eventually become the third earl.


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Road to War – from Parliament to Edge hill.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36I am currently feeling slightly out of kilter time wise as I have classes running on topics ranging from Kathryn Swynford to the English Civil War with a side interest in the names on my local war memorial – the research for which in the hundredth anniversary is proving fascinating.  I almost feel that I should do more blogs to give every area of History an airing!

So with that in mind – I shall post today about 1642.  1641 had not been a tremendously good year for King Charles I.  He had to call Parliament when he managed to mislay Northumberland and Durham into the hands of the Scots.  In August he was required to go to Edinburgh and give the Covenanters virtually everything they demanded which in turn contributed to the Irish Rebellion which like a domino toppling over onto its neighbour resulted in John Pym taking the opportunity of attacking the king and also his queen.

By January 1642 Charles I was prepared for an extremely ill-advised move against Pym and his associates.  His plan to arrest them in Parliament on the 4th January was leaked, as I’ve posted before, by Lady Carlisle who was one of Henrietta Maria’s favourites.  Charles famously discovered that the birds had flown and that most of London was up in arms about the king’s abuse of his rights.  Charles probably wasn’t terribly mused when the five men – Pym, Holles, Hampden, Haselrig and Strode returned to Westminster on the 11th of January to a heroes welcome.

The following day Charles and his family left Hampton Court for Windsor. Across the country petitions were drawn up and rumours began to circulate. One rumour said that  the Danes were going to invade whilst a more local rumour in Norwich stated that those pesky Puritans were going to destroy Norwich Cathedral’s organ.  The result of the clergy setting a guard over their prized musical instrument was a riot whilst, during August,  in Kidderminster a group of Puritans really did attempt to make the church less catholic in its ornament – and yes there was another riot.  The situation across the country was unsettled to put it mildly.  Neighbours began to look askance at one another. The threat of violence and sectarianism wasn’t far from the surface although at this stage in proceedings allegiances had not been firmly settled upon.

Meanwhile at Windsor the Stuarts had come up with a cunning plan.  Henrietta Maria was going to accompany her daughter, ten-year-old Mary to Holland – ostensibly the princess royal was going to join her spouse and Henrietta Maria was going as a doting mother. More practically the queen was going to buy munitions and mercenaries.  The family made their farewells at Dover in February 1642.  Charles’ nephew Prince Rupert turned up to thank his uncle for helping him gain his freedom.  In private he offered Uncle Charles his support which was a bit rich as his elder brother was in Whitehall at the time assuring anyone who would listen that the European Stuarts would stay neutral.

Charles collected his eldest son and headed north where he believed he would receive more support.  He entered York on the 19th March.  The king and Parliament spent several weeks firing missives and ordinances at one another which both sides rejected.  Parliament also became concerned that the arsenal at Hull was a bit too close to Charles for comfort so petition that it should be removed to The Tower.  Charles is confident that the Governor of Hull, Sir John Hotham is a good and upstanding royalist unfortunately although young Prince James receives a warm welcome on 22 April his father finds the gates of the town shut against him  on the 23rd.  Hull is promptly besieged.

In London trained bands of militia go through their drills and Parliament reserves the right to call on the militia – which is a bit difficult as Charles refuses to agree to that particular idea.  This ultimately means that every county receives two versions of a commission of array demanding armed men to take the field – one commission is for parliament whilst the other is for the king.  By June both Parliament and the King are recruiting men.  Not only that but suddenly there is a bit of a contest over fortified locations, magazines and strong points.  There is also a drive for financial aid. Charles expedited matters somewhat in York by setting up a mint.

The gentry from across the country meet to write petitions and gather signatures.  The petitions that are favourable to Charles, he kept – the rest he ignored. Derby sent two – the first asked him very politely to return to his Parliament. The most famous presentation of a petition occurred on June 3rd when Charles rode out to Heyworth Moor to receive a demonstration of loyalty from the gentlemen of Yorkshire. Thomas Fairfax who will go on to become a parliamentary general tries to present a petition to the king and is almost ridden down for his pains.  Petitions and letters continue to be swapped in a bid to avert civil strife but at the end of June Charles attempts to take control of the fleet by writing personalised letters to each of his captains.  The fleet declares for Parliament and the earl of Warwick is appointed as High Admiral.

Meanwhile Hull is still under siege and on July 12 the king leaves York and goes to Newark.  He also visits Lincoln before returning to Beverley.  He then travels down through the Midlands.

The time for the war of paper is almost over.  Parliament start appointing committees of public safety and in August passes an ordinance stating that the customs fees that have previously been paid to the king must now be paid to Parliament.  Regiments muster in different counties and batteries are raised.  Dover Castle is taken by surprise on the 21st of August by forces loyal to Parliament.  Despite this momentous event the metaphorical trail of gunpowder does not reach the powderkeg until the following day – and at the time, its something of a damp squib.

On August 22nd 1642, King Charles I raises the royal standard at Nottingham.  There is no fanfare.  England is officially at war with itself. Even now war could have been averted. The Privy Council insist that the king sends a conciliatory letter to both of the houses of parliament.  The Earl of Southampton takes the letter to the Lords where he is jeered at.  Sir John Culpeper who takes the other letter to the House of Commons is not permitted to give it to the house.  Part of the reason for this was that Parliament was much more organised in terms of recruiting and arming men for its cause.

There is rather a lot of marching around on both sides and some manoeuvring in Manchester which I’m going to ignore for the time being.  Prince Rupert turns up at Leicester and writes the mayor a very forthright letter threatening to raze the place to the ground unless a large sum of money is handed over.  This makes excellent propaganda for Parliament so Charles makes Rupert write a second letter to the mayor apologising for the content of the first one.  It should be noted that the money remained in the king’s hands.

On the 13th September King Charles marches from Nottingham to Derby.  He advances on Shrewsbury whilst Prince Rupert goes to visit Worcester which he finds indefensible.  It is at the point that he encounters some Parliamentarians  at Powick Bridge.  There is fisticuffs and it usually described as the first major encounter of the war – which in truth is a bit of an overstatement but  since Rupert won, it gave the royalists a boost and they insisted on going on about it at length-hence its place in the History books.

On the 12th October Charles left Shrewsbury to march on London. The royalist army has grown during this time but Charles is now reduced to selling titles in order to refuel his piggybank. By the 17th he is in Birmingham and on the 21st the king is in Edgcote.

The 23 October 1642 – The Battle of Edgehill.  The reasons for the battle are fairly straightforward, Charles wanted to get to London whilst the parliamentary general – in the shape of the Earl of Essex, needed to stop him from pursuing that idea.  Essex had been all over the country at this point and even on the 22nd he didn’t have an exact notion as to where Charles was because of ineffective communications. Somehow or the other both armies managed to end up in reasonable proximity to one another.  The king held the ridge at Edgehill but it couldn’t be said that the royalist army got into position quickly.  Prince Rupert was in place with his cavalry at daybreak but by the time the two armies actually got into striking distance of one another it was 2pm.  In part this was because Essex simply refused to attack up a steep hill – so the royalists had to march down.  The battle took the form of an hour long cannonade, a fight over the hedges and a cavalry charge or two. Prince Rupert demonstrated for the first time his tendency to ride straight through the battle and go for the backlines.  On this occasion he came across some fresh parliamentarian forces at the village of Kniveton, had a brief skirmish then turned his men around and headed back to the main battle rather than continuing to do his own thing which usually involved getting to grips with the baggage train.  In two hours each army fought the other to a standstill.  By then it was getting dark and the chaos of battle was confused by the the darkness of night.  Military historians describe it as a draw but practically it left the way open to London so the Earl of Essex  failed in his purpose meaning that by default the victory at Edgehill went to the king.

Essex retired to Warwick.

If Charles had marched on London he would have retaken his capital.  In medieval terms the person who controlled the capital was usually the person who ultimately won the war.  In 1642 Charles would have probably been able to take control of the fleet and he would definitely have had a larger population to tax so that he could have continued to fight Parliament.  Rupert advised his uncle to ride for London immediately but Charles was concerned about the fact that London was hostile to him.  There were also the trained bands of London militia to consider.

In November Rupert reached Brentford which he fired and plundered.  Londoners fearful of suffering a similar fate put 6,000 trained apprentices in the field and a further 24,000 Londoners took up arms. The Londoners led by the earl of Essex and the king’s army stood face to face at Turnham Green in Chiswick.  Charles eventually withdrew not wishing to be responsible for the loss of so much life.

Whilst John Pym spent the rest of the year working out how to tax people so that Parliament could pay its army, a party for peace would propose a settlement in February 1643.  The proposed Treaty of Oxford would have seen parliament called every three years, the abolition of bishops with everything else remaining in the king’s power – though he would have had to have consulted with parliament.

I suspect that I ought to post about the Earl of Essex next.


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1641 – religious ferment and Lady Carlisle

Lady Carlisle
August 1641- a step back from the Grand Remonstrance.

At this point where London was up in arms and Parliament demanding to see changes, Charles I took himself off to his other kingdom – I’m not quite sure how he marketed his visit to Scotland given that he had made war on his own Scottish subjects not once but twice and that they had ended up being paid a large amount of money each day whilst occupying Northumberland and Durham – but there you go, such was the way of the world in 1641.  On the 25th August 1641 Charles I was in Edinburgh signing over the the Covenanters virtually everything that they had demanded.  Perhaps as Leander de Lisle suggests Charles had awoken to the fact that the puritans in England’s parliament  were stirring up ferment and wanted to settle things down.

The religious situation across the country was deteriorating with different factions demanding that their voices be heard.   In Kidderminster it was the mob who saw the puritan faction off when they threatened the church’s ornaments.   But changes were afoot none the less.

Parliament ordered Catholic priests out of the country recognising that without a priesthood the mass could not be said.  William Ward, a Catholic priest was the first to suffer a traitor’s death that year – I’m not sure how much of a danger he was – he was eighty-one at the time.  By the time Charles returned to London seven more men awaited execution.

Henrietta Maria, Charles’ french Catholic queen, still in London whilst her husband visited his Scottish capital found herself the target of Puritan hostility.  Aside from her frenchness and Catholicism she was now accused of conducting an affair with  Henry Jermyn.  She was also ill in 1641 – in part it must have been the stress of the English political situation.  She asked to go to Holland to visit a spa for her health.  Parliament refused.  Maybe they realised she would use the opportunity to raise funds and soldiery for her husband.  Nor did it help, in all probability, that she was receiving letters from Charles three times a week.  He relied upon her utterly and she in her turn was telling him to be more forceful – in modern parlance to “man-up” and give the Puritans what for.

On the 23rd October the Irish revolted.  They wanted the same kind of rights as the Scottish Presbyterians had just acquired – but given the current situation with the Puritans headed up by John Pym  in the English Parliament that wasn’t going to happen any time soon – and we know the consequences of the Irish Rebellion- countless deaths and a faction in Parliament attempting to break Charles’ power by cataloguing all his abuses since he took the throne detailed in the Grand Remonstrance.  It was passed by a slim margin but Pym’s act of genius was to circulate the information and the arguments for change more widely through printed material.

Prior to the Grand Remonstrance whilst Charles was still in Scotland, Henrietta Maria was blamed for encouraging the Irish to revolt, her own priest was arrested and questioned with regard to his alleged involvement in the rebellion and attempting to convert young Prince Charles to catholicism.  The Irish uprising, in short, was an opportunity, to “have a go” at England’s most influential catholics.  Every other Catholic in the country  was required to lay their identity before Parliament.  It was 24th of November before the king arrived back in his English capital.  Parliament had passed the Grand Remonstrance two days previously.

It’s probably time to introduce another of the key players into this increasingly hostile morass – Lucy Hay, Lady Carlisle.  She was a daughter of the 9th Earl of Northumberland (a Percy) and  her mother was the daughter of the first Earl of Essex (Dorothy Devereux – meaning that her grand-mother was Lettice Knollys, her great-grandmother was Catherine Carey and her two times great-grandmother was Mary Boleyn).  In other words she was part of the establishment, knew all the key political players of the time and was related to most of them.  She married James Hay and became the Countess of Carlisle, although her father had offered her £20,000 not to marry him.  She became George Villiers’ mistress which meant that initially Henrietta Maria wanted nothing to do with her but by the time that George, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, somehow or other all that had changed and she had become one of the Queen’s favourites.

Lord Carlisle clearly had nothing against his wife furthering his own ends by whatever means necessary because he sent her off to win  Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford over in 1635 when he became responsible for the running of Ireland.  Lucy became Wentworth’s mistress which probably wasn’t a bad thing in 1636 when Lord Carlisle died and left Lucy his Irish property.  Of course, at the start of 1641 Wentworth found himself in the position of official scapegoat for the Bishop’s War and was executed in May.

Lucy’s reaction after Wentworth’s death is somewhat unexpected.  She remained friends with Henrietta Maria but she now drew close to John Pym – yes, the Puritan.  She seems to have undergone a bit of a sea change when she became Pym’s mistress, even taking notes during church sermons.  It was Lucy who alerted Parliament via her cousin, the earl of Essex, to the king’s plans to arrest John Pym and four others in January 1642.    Her shifting allegiances are a microcosm of what was happening at court as men and women decided which side to support based on personal preference, political consideration and economic practicality.

The fact remains though that if Lady Carlisle loved Wentworth and wanted to punish the king for allowing him to be executed why was she sleeping with the man who forced Charles to have Wentworth executed in the first place?  What did she hope to gain?  Some men felt that they weren’t getting the kind of rewards that they deserved from the king – so switched to Parliament, others were anti-Catholic – so drew towards the anti-Catholic parliamentary faction. Some of Lucy’s actions are a matter for speculation.  Most historians regard her as an intriguer but most also admit that there is no clarity as to who exactly she was spying for.  Lucy became associated with a moderate Presbyterian faction but during the second civil war she raised money for the royalists as well as offering a conduit of information between royalists and the queen.  She even ended up in the Tower for her pains – demonstrating another about face.  May be she just liked being a conspirator or having an impact on the political situation.

Meanwhile to conclude with 1641 and lead into 1642  Pym was able to convince enough people through their own needs, through printed pamphlets and through the king’s own rather high-handed actions during the years of personal rule that England was facing its own Catholic threat and that the source of that threat lay close to the king.  This in its turn was regarded by Charles as a personal attack on the wife to whom he was devoted.

In the house of Lords where Charles could have relied on the Bishops for support there were also problems – not least the difficulty of getting through the London mob to actually take their seats on account of all the printed pamphlets and rioting – that looked remarkably like the start of sectarian violence when seen from a distance.  Elsewhere Pym and his associates were regarded as dangerous radicals – remember that the grand Remonstrance passed by very few votes.  London was a ferment of rumour and gossip.

Charles must have thought long and hard over the Christmas season.  He recognised John Pym as a threat to his power and the safety of Henrietta Maria.  He sought, in the New Year of 1642 to have Pym and leading members of his faction arrested but thanks to Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle-  who may or may not have been acting out of anger at the way in which Sir Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford had been treated by his monarch- his plans were known and Charles found himself in even more hot water than before because even though not everyone agreed with Pym for Charles to enter Parliament with an armed body of men ran contrary to parliamentary rights and privileges….who needs fiction when reality has so many twists and turns?


de Lisle, Leander (2018).  White King: Chalres I.  Traintor, Murderer, Martyr. London: Chatto and Windus

Purkiss. Diane. (2007). The English Civil War. London:Harper Essentials

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Filed under Seventeenth Century, The Stuarts

Sir John Coke of Melbourne

220px-Johncoke.jpgJohn Coke was born in 1563.  He held office in the reign of James I and Charles I.  He is sometimes described as “the last Tudor.”  He was from a Derbyshire family.  His father Richard Coke of Trusley married a Sacheverel heiress.  He ensured that John was well educated first at Westminster and then at Cambridge. From there in 1593 he travelled in Europe – ostensibly on a sort of early Grand Tour, in practice it would appear that he had gained the patronage of Sir Fulke Greville who was in turn part of the 2nd earl of Essex’s affinity – demonstrating not only was it a question of what you knew but who you knew to make progress in Tudor and Stuart times – and was merrily admiring views and recruiting agents.

Obviously there could have been a rather tricky moment when the earl of Essex tumbled from power and Greville’s position and thus Coke’s weakened still further with the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 but Coke knew the way that the navy operated.  Coke with his book keeping acumen had made himself indispensable  as a navy secretary (think of him as a fore-runner to Samuel Pepys without the wit), or so he thought!  The problem with having a patron though was that if they fell you fell as well – and this was what happened to Coke when Greville lost office at the start of James’ reign thanks to the machinations of the duke of Suffolk.

By 1614 Greville was back – this time as Chancellor of the Exchequer.  By this time Coke was married to the daughter of another member of the Greville affinity but he felt unable to trust the political shilly-shallying between Greville and Suffolk.  It was, therefore, only in 1618 that he returned to public life when another friend invited him to accept a job in the royal household – and that meant he came under the sway of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Greville and Villiers were looking at strategies to save money and Coke was returned to the navy office. Finally he began to climb the administrative ladder.  He had the right education and the right social background.  It helped that he was appointed to a board of enquiry for the navy which became a board of governors – at its own recommendation- it helped also that Coke was so good with figures because like Greville before him Villiers came to rely on him for information.


In 1621 Coke was elected MP for Warwick. He had became associated with the duke of Buckingham who was also at the admiralty at that point in proceedings.  His career thus far matches to any other member of the gentry but by 1624 he had been knighted and in 1625 he had officiated as Master of Requests and from there became secretary of state – he held a number of other offices as well. He continued as an MP for various locations until Charles I decided that he did not require parliament any more.  In his role as secretary of State, he was the man responsible for trotting along to Parliament and asking them for the money that King Charles I wanted.  He was also responsible for defending Charles I’s and the duke of Buckingham’s disastrous foreign policy. It is perhaps not surprising that he wasn’t wildly popular with his colleagues in Parliament and his speeches did nothing to help the king’s position – he was an adamant royalist who believed in absolute monarchy and was fiercely anti-papist.  He appears to have been a capable administrator – certainly he left the administration of the navy in a better shape than he found it and he could also be described as loyal to his two royal masters even when he wrote about the fact that there were insufficient funds to pay the sailors that Charles’ wanted to wage war on the Spanish.  The volume of his correspondence also demonstrates how industrious he was.

Melbourne_Hall.jpgBy 1629 Sir John, industriousness and loyalty aside, had accrued sufficient funds to purchase Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire which had formerly, and somewhat bizarrely, been in the ownership of the Bishops of Carlisle according to Burke. Initially he leased the property but this expired during his tenure so was able to purchase Melbourne Hall through act of Parliament.  He set about renovating it at vast expense but rather than the more modern European style favoured by his royal master he adhered to a more Elizabethan looking interior. In order to ensure that he got exactly what he wanted he sent very detailed instructions to his builder – 32 pages of instructions.

By 1639 the country or rather countries were on the verge of war. Charles insisted on imposing the English Prayer Book on Scotland.  Suffice it to say the reforms imposed by Archbishop William Laud and the king did not go down well in either England or Scotland – for many of a more Puritan persuasion the changes looked remarkably like a return to Catholicism.


Coke retained his role as secretary of State during Charles I’s twelve years of personal rule without parliament.  It was only in 1640 that it was decided that he needed to leave. Some historians say that he was the scapegoat for Charles I’s rather unfortunate Scottish War  which resulted in Parliament being recalled but Coke himself always insisted that he had retired.  He was replaced by Sir Henry Vane.

Somewhat unexpectedly John’s eldest son also named John was a Parliamentarian whilst it was his younger son Thomas who was a royalist.

Aside from shouldering some of the burden of Charles I’s not inconsiderable unpopularity History knows rather a lot about Sir John Coke because he kept his correspondence.  He died in 1644 at his home in Tottenham.

Burke, John. (1838) A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland

Moody, T. (1939). The Last Elizabethan: Sir John Coke, 1563-1644. By Coke Dorothea . pp. xvi, 322. London: Murray. 1937. 15s. Irish Historical Studies, 1(4), 438-439. doi:10.1017/S002112140003193X






Filed under Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century, The Stuarts

Witchcraft, scandal and the Duke of Buckingham

george villiers.jpgGeorge Villiers, pictured left, was not the scion of a powerful family but he had received the kind of education, at his mother’s insistence, that a courtier required. His good looks had attracted James I’s attention. This was enough to ensure that the enemies of Robert Carr, the king’s then favourite, paid to raise George to the post of the King’s cup bearer. The rest as they say, is history.


By 1619 George was the Marquis of Buckingham and in search of a wife. Families looked at their unmarried daughters and wondered if the investment of a bride would improve their own fortunes. However, Buckingham and his mother Mary Beaumont already had a bride in mind.

Lady Katherine Manners was the daughter of the 6th Earl of Rutland. She was the earl’s sole heir. Her older brothers, Henry and Francis, had died in mysterious circumstances. The whole family fell ill in 1613 after dismissing a woman and her two daughters from their service.   Henry died. Three years later nine women were hanged in Leicestershire having been found guilty of bewitching a child. Then in 1618 Francis also died and the Manners family sought the arrest of the three women and the monument to the two boys makes it clear that the earl held witchcraft responsible for the death of the boys, “Two sons – both died in infancy by wicked practice and sorcery”.


The three women became known as the Belvoir Witches. Joan Flower, the mother protested her innocence from her arrest and during her imprisonment in Lincoln but her daughter Margaret confessed that Joan was a witch and her other daughter Philippa said that they were all witches. Joan died in prison and was buried at a crossroads, Margaret was hanged and in some versions of the story Philippa escaped from jail.


Tracey Borman offers a different theory. She records that the Flower women were employed as servants prior to a visit by King James I but that they were unpopular with Belvoir’s other servants and accused of pilfering. Borman goes on to note that the women had a reputation for herbal cures and late night entertaining – of males. They, she argues, were convenient scapegoats.  In fact the boys had been murdered on the orders of George Villiers.

There is some evidence to suggest that by 1618 George Villiers, a Lincolnshire landowner, had his eyes set on a wealthy prize – which if she became a sole heiress would become even wealthy. Most historians consider that on the death of her brothers Katherine Manners became the wealthiest heiress in the country with estates in Yorkshire and Northamptonshire as well as her mother’s dower estates that came from the Knyvet family.


Katherine was considered a plain woman but more alarming so far as King James I was concerned, she was a Catholic. Both those factors aside Katherine’s father was against the proposed match. He knew about George Villiers. He had seen the king’s favourite at court and seen the way that the king and George fondled one another in public. Nor was Rutland terribly amused by the fact that George wanted a hefty dowry along with the plain heiress. For the time being the wedding was off.
But then in March 1620 Mary Beaumont, George’s mother visited the Countess of Rutland when the earl was away from home. She invited Katherine to dine with her, promising to bring her back home that evening. The countess of Rutland, Katherine’s step-mother, agreed.


Mary entertained Katherine in her lodgings in Whitehall but did not send the girl home. She claimed that Katherine was ill and could not return home. To make matters worse, George who had also been invited to dine, failed to return to his own lodgings which were within walking distance. Poor Katherine was ruined. She had stayed over night in the home of an unmarried man who had slept under the same roof. The earl of Rutland was furious. He refused to allow Katherine to return home and now found himself insisting that Villiers marry his daughter because her reputation was so badly tarnished. The scandal was so great that the lavish wedding that you might expect never happened. It was a private occasion witnessed only by the earl and the King on the 16 May 1620.


It is difficult to know whether Katherine connived with Villiers and his mother in her own ruin. She certainly appeared to dote on her husband even if he did not love her in return.  Nor did she lead a very happy life with George. She hated the way he lived his life at court, his relationship with the king and the fact that George didn’t stop having mistresses just because he was married. Come to think of it much of Europe was scandalised by George’s behaviour, especially when he travelled to France in 1625 and became besotted with the French queen Anne of Austria – as in Dumas’s story of The Three Musketeers.


Katherine had converted to Protestantism before the marriage but returned to Catholicism during the course of her married life and if her letters are anything to go by she did not simply accept George’s infidelities, sometimes using her health and emotions as a way of trying to control her husband’s behaviour.


Life cannot have become any easier for Katherine when George, a Duke since 1623, became the target of national hostility because of Charles I’s foreign policy. George was widely assumed to be responsible for the assorted disasters that beset the English. Parliament attempted to arrest him in 1626. It was only his friendship with the king that saved him. Two years later George was killed by John Felton in Portsmouth.


During the next seven years Katherine could only watch as her four children with George were adopted into the royal family to be raised with Charles I’s children. In 1635, much to the king’s fury she married the 2nd earl of Antrim, Randall McDonnell, a man six years her junior. Eventually Katherine convinced Charles that she had married for love and that Randall had no intention of disinheriting her children.


She died in 1649.







Filed under Literary connections, Seventeenth Century, The Stuarts