Tag Archives: Earl of Essex

Sir William Brooke, royal favourite and duelling victim

Lord Cobham.jpgSir William Brooke (1565-1597) was the son of William Brooke, 10th Lord Cobham Warden of the Kent Cinque Ports (1527 to 1597) pictured at the start of this post. He was of a similar vintage to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Elizabeth’s replacement for Dudley in the royal favourite stakes after his death in 1588. Like other Elizabethan gentlemen he did a stint in the continental religious wars being knighted by Essex in 1591 at Dieppe.  He was, in short, one of the new breed of men in Elizabeth’s court.

Having done his time abroad he was then returned to Parliament as MP for Rochester at the behest of his father.  Lord Cobham was not terribly amused that of the two MPS for Kent it was Sir Robert Sidney (brother of Sir Philip Sidney, nephew of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester) who was returned as the senior parliamentarian.  Elizabeth noted that it wasn’t very helpful that  both men were abroad at the time. The fact that Brooke was also outlawed was also an issue. Elizabeth had decreed that members could not take their place until they had settled with their creditors. The matter must ultimately have been settled to Elizabeth’s satisfaction because he is described by Margaret Cavendish as one of her favourites.  Certainly, in June 1597 William had been made Keeper of Eltham Great Park though whether it was because he was a royal favourite or because his family was an important one is something that probably bears further consideration.


The family links with Elizabeth are in themselves interesting. Clearly being a Kent family the Boleyn equation  and Kent gentry affinity comes into play. Anne Boleyn sent George Brooke 9th Lord Cobham (1497-1558) a letter telling him about the birth of Elizabeth in September 1533 but he was also one of the judges that tried the queen just three years later. The following year at the christening of young Prince Edward it was Lord Cobham – our William’s grandfather- who carried consecrated wafers for both the illegitimised Tudor princesses.


George’s story continued to be tied to that of Henry VIII’s children and it is evident that he was of the reforming persuasion in his beliefs and the way in which he had chosen to have his children educated. The reign of Mary Tudor was made difficult not only by his faith but by the fact that he was related to Sir Thomas Wyatt through marriage. Wyatt even wrote to him demonstrating the belief that Cobham would side with him against Mary to put Elizabeth on the throne. He and his sons were arrested and there can be no doubt that Thomas Brooke had sided with Wyatt until the end. After that Lord Cobham who spent some time in the Tower kept his head down. He entertained Cardinal Pole and he made enquiries about heritics.. He died just before Mary so never saw Elizabeth ascend to the throne but the new Lord Cobham, William who had also been imprisoned in the Tower for his suspected part in Wyatt’s rebellion was on hand to play his allotted part in Elizabeth’s court and the administration of Kent as well as the Cinque Ports.

Clearly our Brooke was a bit of an Elizabethan wild boy and this led to his untimely end when he insulted Elizabeth Leighton the slightly pregnant lover of Sir Thomas Lucas of Colchester. Lucas called him out and he was mortally wounded one cold December morning in Mile End at a rapier’s end.  He was carried home where friends and family visited him as he lay dying.

Brooke had made his will in June having gone on a sea voyage but on the morning of his death he had added an undated codicil to the will which left everything to his brother George:

‘Your jest and my haste would not suffer me to acquaint you with what I am gone about this morning, what hath called me out so early. I send you enclosed within these what I shall leave behind me. My will and meaning is you should have all lands, leases and prisoners which I desire you may as quietly enjoy as I sincerely mean…Wishing you the best fortune, your loving brother William Brooke

The will was proved on the 25 December 1597. For those of you who like to know these things, George Brooke was executed for plotting against James I in 1603.

One letter described William Brooke as “misfortunate.”  Two arrest warrants were issued for Lucas by the privy council – on on the 24th of December and a second on the 30th. This was was very unfortunate for Elizabeth Leighton who bore an illegitimate child also called Thomas who would not meet his father until he was six years old when James I pardoned Lucas and he was able to return home. He and Elizabeth went on to have seven more children of whom the youngest, Margaret would go on to serve Queen Henrietta Maria and marry the Marquis of Newcastle going down in history as Mad Madge.  She would also write her biography, just because she felt like it even though society disapproved of the idea of women writing books for publication and tell the story of her father’s duel.

Henry_Brooke,_11th_Baron_Cobham,_by_circle_of_Paul_van_Somer.jpgIt is perhaps not surprising that Lucas found himself at the wrong end of an arrest warrant, William Brooke’s father the 10th Lord Cobham (who had died on March 6 1597)  was a man with clout. Brooke’s sister Elizabeth was the wife of Sir Robert Cecil – the most important man in the kingdom. She had also died at the beginning of 1597 but there were still family and political ties that were wielded by the new Lord Cobham – Henry Brooke – pictured left. He had been invested as Warden of the Cinque Ports on the same month that his father died.

In addition to which Whitaker makes the salient point that Elizabeth was already tetchy with the Lucas family because Sir Thomas’s sister Anne had gone to court to serve as a lady in waiting but then married for love against the queen’s wishes.  Anne had defied the queen to marry Arthur Throckmorton who was the younger brother of Bess Throckmorton who, of course, irritated Elizabeth monumentally by marrying Sir Walter Raleigh demonstrating once again that everyone in the Tudor court is related somehow or another!


And who would have thought that in reading around the topic of Margaret Cavendish as part of the Stuarts in Derbyshire course I am currently delivering that I should encounter a tale of Tudor passion that correlates to Elizabeth I and her various favourites which happens to be  part of another course that I am currently teaching.

Whitaker, Katie. (2003) Mad Madge. London: Chatto and Windus







Filed under Sixteenth Century, surprising connections, The Tudors

English Civil War 1645

prince rupertAs with all civil wars some people change their minds.  Having described the Hothams (father and son) shutting the city gates of Hull in Charles I’s face in 1642 it comes as something of a surprise to discover that John Hotham (junior) was executed for treason on 1st January 1645 for conspiring to let the royalists in!  John Hotham senior was executed the next day.  Unfortunately  for them their coat turning tendencies had been proved by the capture of the Earl of Newcastle’s correspondence after the Battle of Marston Moor.

1645 followed the increasingly depressing routine of burning houses to deny the enemy cover and of being besieged not to mention taxation, parliamentary committees sending stiffly worded notes to their commanders and men on both sides having something of a wobble as the war became less and less chivalrous.  At the beginning of the year royalist Newark was in hot water and Prince Rupert was still charging around the countryside.  Poor old Abingdon seemed to change hands more often than anywhere else in the area around Oxford and in January, Rupert was busy attacking it.

Things were changing though.  The Parliamentarian army was becoming much more professional. On the 21st January, Parliament appointed Sir Thomas Fairfax to overall command.  And I would have to say Tom Fairfax is one of my heroes – who can’t like a man who retired to grow roses?  It should also be added that Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Rider on the White Horse may have something to do with my affiliation. In Scotland the Earl of Montrose was flitting around and Prince Maurice relieved Chester which had been besieged (who would have thought all those Roman walls would have come in so useful) not that it did much good because as soon as he left the area the siege was re-imposed.

Elsewhere things were getting really very nasty and unnecessary,  the earl of Essex hanged thirteen men simply because they were Irish – a modern warcrime if ever there was one.  Prince Rupert (pictured at the start of this post) retaliated by hanging thirteen parliamentarian soldiers based on the fact that they weren’t royalists.  The two gentlemen in question then exchanged letters on the subject – to modern eyes neither of them comes out of the exchange particularly well.

Meanwhile the Scots had managed to irritate the people of Westmorland and the Royalist Oxford Army set off on its summer campaign having been reorganised by the king who managed to irritate many of his commanding officers in the process.

I could say etc etc because much of the manoeuvring seems very similar to the previous eighteen months but then on 14th June 1645 the king’s army met with Fairfax’s army at the Battle of Naseby.  The royalists, quite frankly, were toast.  As usual Rupert’s cavalry were rifling through the baggage train whilst disaster struck. The women in the royalist baggage train were overrun by the victorious parliamentarians.  Unfortunately they didn’t know the difference between the sound of Welsh and Irish – the Irish being catholic and therefore much hated.  The brave parliamentarian soldiers proceeded to slaughter many of the women and those who weren’t slaughtered had their faces and noses slashed to mark them as whores – a more delightful group of puritans you couldn’t wish to meet!  The king fled int he direction of Ashby-de-la Zouche and from there to Lichfield with the parliamentarians in hot pursuit.   The king turned left (if he was facing north) into Wales and Fairfax who had other orders from Parliament took a detour into the West Country where he set about bringing various royalist garrisons to book.  Whilst all that was going on Archbishop Laud was finally executed on 10th July 1645.

For those of you of a Derbyshire turn of thought, Charles travelled down through the Welsh borders to Ludlow receiving assorted correspondence from Prince Rupert as he went.  Rupert was doing his usual Jack-in-the-box routine and would seem to have been collecting “horse miles” as averse to air miles. Fairfax, it would have to be said, was doing something similar.  On the 13th August the king arrived in Ashbourne and on the 14th he paid a visit to Chatsworth and from there went across to Welbeck Abbey, another Cavendish residence. By the 18th August Charles I was back in Yorkshire – in Doncaster raising men to continue his campaign.

This was unfortunate as the Scots arrived at Rotherham the next day.  Accounts suggest that the royalists had something of a panic before hurrying the king to Newark. Ten days later he was back in Oxford.

The sense I have of 1645 is a nation on the move.  David Leslie was in charge of the Scots at Rotherham for example but by the 13th September he is in Scotland decimating the Earl of Montrose who was coming south to join with the king who by that stage of the game had made a personal visit to Worcester and Hereford.  Meanwhile Bristol had finally fallen into Parliamentary hands and the king held his nephew Rupert personally responsible.  Chester was still holding out against Sir William Brereton so the king decided to show Rupert how to relieve a siege and set off from Hereford.  The result was the Battle of Rowton Heath – the king  having watched the loss of  his army from the city walls headed back to Wales where they had plenty of large castles to hide in – he selected Denbigh.

On October 14th the symbol of royalist loyalty in Hampshire was finally taken and destroyed.  Basing House was stormed by Cromwell and his fellow commanding officers. The defenders made a call for a parley and were ignored after two hours of vicious hand to hand fighting. Between one hundred and two hundred people including civilians were killed inside Basing House and then the Parliamentarians looted £200,000 of goods.  Catholic items were destroyed in a public fire in London.  Meanwhile Basing House burned and what remained standing was torn to the ground – by which point of reading I must admit to having gone right off Cromwell but can see that in order to bring the civil war to an end Parliament was stamping out royalist nests whenever and wherever it could and Basing had been a particular thorn in Parliamentary sides for the last two years.

It probably didn’t help that the fall of Bristol on the 10th September when Rupert handed it over to Thomas Fairfax after a ten day siege caused bad blood between uncle and nephew.  Rupert turned up at Newark despite orders to the contrary demanding that he should be court marshalled so that the slur upon his honour could be erased.  The resulting factions lead to division within the royalist chain of command.  By November things were so bad that Charles wrote to Rupert telling him to leave the country.  Unsurprisingly Parliament was more than happy to issue Rupert with a fourteen day pass to leave the kingdom without interference.

By the 7th of December King Charles was writing to his son urging him to make his escape from the kingdom without delay as castles across the country found themselves making terms with their parliamentarian besiegers and the king himself sent a series of letters to parliament trying to agree terms.  On the 26th of December following an exchange of correspondence between the king and parliament, Charles proposed a personal treaty.  On the 5th May the following year Charles surrendered to the Scottish army at Southwell.  He had been totally defeated and his kingdom was in tatters.  Of course, things did not go well from thence but for the time being I shall leave the unfortunate and self-deluded Stuart stewing.


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Filed under English Civil War, Seventeenth Century, Uncategorized

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.




Filed under English Civil War, Seventeenth Century

The Civil War in Yorkshire

thomas fairfaxEssentially we have covered the fact that during 1643 the Earl of Essex’s parliamentarian Western Association army did not have a great deal to shout about.  Meanwhile in Yorkshire the same Commissions of Array were delivered and like their counterparts in the SouthWest the gentlemen of Yorkshire and the Midlands were forced to decide where their loyalties lay.  Hull and Leeds were important towns.  Both declared for Parliament, Hull rather noticeably by refusing to let the king into the town in 1642.

Initially the Earl of Cumberland was in charge of the Northern army.  Henry Clifford (the fifth earl) was given the job because he was deemed to be the senior aristocrat in the region.   He was not a warrior so it wasn’t too long before parliamentarian garrisons began giving him the runaround and he was forced to summon help in the form of William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle.

Fernanindo_fairfax.jpgBy contrast the Parliamentarians had men whose names reverberate through history. Sir John Hotham was the governor of Hull; Sir Hugh Cholmley led the garrison at Scarborough and then in the West Riding there was Ferdinando Fairfax  (pictured right) and his son Thomas (pictured at the start of this post).  The only difficulty was that Hotham didn’t appreciate Fairfax being the senior commander. The Fairfaxes controlled the West Riding and extended their hold from there to Tadcaster.  Their main opponent in the West Riding was Sir William Savile.

When Newcastle crossed the Tees with his army it became apparent that the trained bands of men from Richmondshire and Cleveland would refuse to fight the Royalists. Sir John Hotham’s son called on troops stationed further south in the East Riding to help him repel the royalists but on 1 December 1642 there was a coming together at Piercebridge.  Newcastle had 8,000 men.  Hotham had considerably fewer.  Unsurprisingly Newcastle won and was in York by 3rd December.

Tadcaster looked a bit precarious so far as the Parliamentarians were concerned.  The Fairfaxs were outmanned and it did not help that although Ferdinando had received Parliamentary  orders to the effect that he was in charge neither the Hotham’s nor Sir Hugh Cholmley appeared to believe them.  Cholmley was told to move his men into position so that the West Riding was protected from Newcastle’s military designs.  Sir Hugh returned with the majority of his men to Scarborough.  There may have been some scratching of heads about this particularly manoeuvre as back in London, John Pym described Scarborough as being “not very useful.”  Not that it would have made a great deal of difference to Newcastle’s superior numbers and it was perhaps more of an indicator that Cholmley was thinking of swapping sides – something that he did in spring 1643 having been sweetalked by Queen Henrietta Maria.

Fairfax realised that he needed a bigger army and began a recruitment campaign.  Tadcaster and Selby remained in Parliamentary hands for the time being.  In November Thomas Fairfax occupied Wetherby.  They held important river crossings and if they could get enough men together they could threaten York but they still did not have an army that could match Newcastle’s.

On 6th December 1642 the Earl of Newcastle attacked Tadcaster and from there captured Pontefract.  Fairfax withdrew to Selby where he realised that the West Riding had been cut off from the East Coast Parliamentary garrisons.

Whilst the Fairfaxes had their hands full Sir William Savile made his move in the West Riding.  He occupied first Wakefield and then Leeds. From there he marched on Bradford which was expected to put up a fight.  The weavers were inclined to non-conformity, were in financial difficulties because of the collapsing cloth trade and were troubled by the fact that Bradford which had once been a royal manor had been sold to pay Charles’ debts and as a consequences tenants in that manor had suffered a considerable rent hike.  All things considered they were not going to hand the town over to the king’s man without a fight even if it didn’t have a wall.   On 18th December 1642 Savile was beaten back.  In addition to the trained bands Savile found himself confronted by clubmen – these men were paid by no army.  They were armed with whatever they could find that could be turned into weapons.


On 23rd December Sir Thomas Fairfax left Selby and spurred through royalist held Yorkshire with his men to reinforce Bradford.  It was the one remaining pinpoint of Parliamentarianism in the West Riding although of little strategic value and almost impossible to defend long term.


On the 23  January  1643 Fairfax took the war back to the Royalists.  He and his men marched from Bradford to Leeds with six troops of horse, dragoons, musketeers and 1,000 of the irregular clubmen.  They took 500 prisoners whilst Sir William was forced to flee.

In March Ferdinando decided to withdraw from Selby – exposed as it now was.  On the 30 March he feinted towards Tadcaster, where the Royalist garrison seemed to have had a bit of a panic attack because they promptly fled to York.  This enabled Fairfax to dismantle the town’s defences.  Meanwhile Newcastle sent George Goring to prevent Fairfax from taking Tadcaster – by the time Goring and his men arrived Fairfax’s men were at Bramham Moor.  Goring attacked them at Seacroft on the outskirts of Leeds.  Goring’s men were mounted and Fairfax was outflanked.  800 men were taken prisoner in the chaos that followed but the majority of Fairfax’s army had already made it too Leeds when the attack took place.

On the 20 May 1643 the second Battle of Wakefield was fought.  Fairfax was under pressure to get his men back.  The idea was that either they could be freed or if enough royalists could be captured an exchange of men could be negotiated.  In a bizarre twist of events a small band of parliamentarians led by Sir Thomas Fairfax captured a garrison of more than 3,000 royalists.  Poor old George Goring had been tucked up in his bed at the time the raid started and although he had got himself sorted out enough to lead a counter-attack against Fairfax he had found himself facing some of his own artillery that had been captured and turned on the royalists.  He was taken prisoner along with more than 1,000 other men and sent down to London where he remained in The Tower until 1644, no doubt having some difficult conversations about the fact that in 1642 before the outbreak of war parliament had paid him to secure Portsmouth against the king.  He had actually secured the port for Charles and there had been a month long siege before Portsmouth was handed over to Parliament and Goring fled to the Netherlands only returning when Henrietta Maria raised men and munitions to help her husband.

By the summer of 1643 the Earl of Newcastle controlled most of Yorkshire and his men had gained something of a reputation for looting.  Only Bradford held out.  In part Newcastle couldn’t really do much between March and June because Henrietta Maria was in Yorkshire.  She’d landed in Bridlington on 22 February 1643 and had been waiting for a safe route to be opened so that she could join her husband once more in Oxford – it was, in part, for this reason that Newark was captured by the Royalists and remained a royalist stronghold throughout the rest of the first English Civil War.  The queen journeyed south on the 4th June freeing Newcastle from his royal protection duties.

Newcastle having waved farewell to the queen gathered his army and set off in the direction of the West Riding.   There was no wall at Bradford.   Fairfax had no choice but to stand and fight.  Fernando and Thomas marched out of Bradford and met Newcastle on the 30 June 1643.

It looked for a while as though Fairfax would win the Battle of Adwalton Moor but it was Newcastle who won the day.  On the night of 1st July Ferdinando and the Parliamentarians broke out from Bradford and made for Hull giving the order that Leeds should be evacuated as well – for the timbering the West Riding was in Royalist hands. Thomas was left behind to cover their escape. On the 3rd of July he made a similar escape along with his wife and daughter.  Bradford was down to its last barrel of gunpowder.  It was at this stage in proceedings that Ann Fairfax became separated from her husband and was captured.  In between times her husband and father-in-law had an exciting interlude at Selby when the royalists tried to intercept them as they were crossing the river there.

Newcastle who wrote scurrilous verse about serving maids in his youth showed every gallantry on this particular occasion by sending Ann to her husband in Hull  (the Fairfax’s arrived there on the 4th July) in his own carriage with a military escort to ensure her safety.

Hull now found itself under siege for a second time – though not necessarily particularly wholeheartedly. Newcastle meanwhile turned his attention from the West Riding to Sheffield where the iron masters were turned to making armaments for the king. He went on to capture Gainsborough and Lincoln.  Lincolnshire was in the hands of Parliament’s East Association Army.

Of course, whilst the cat is away…the Fairfaxs will take advantage of the opportunities provided.  By August Fairfax was back in Beverley and was raiding ever closer to York.

Newcastle stopped rattling the Eastern Association Army and went back to Yorkshire to squelch heavily upon those dratted Fairfaxs.  The Second Siege of Hull began in all earnestness on 2nd September 1643.  Newcastle set to work creating a series of earthworks for his artillery.  A fortnight later the Parliamentarians opened the sluice gates and flooded the royalists out just as they had done during the first siege.  Even more irritatingly for Newcastle, the town was being provisioned from the sea by the navy which was in Parliament’s hands.

On 22 September a certain Colonel Cromwell crossed from Lincolnshire to Yorkshire where he offered muskets and gunpowder to the Fairfaxs.  On the 26th Thomas and his men left Hull to join the soldiers of the Eastern Association Army.  Ferdinando Fairfax remained in Hull until the 12 October when newcastle lifted the siege following some violent military encounters.  Meanwhile the Eastern Association came to blows with the Royalists at Winceby and won.

All in all 1643, apart from the bright spot of Essex’s victory at Newbury had been a dismal one for Parliament but in Lincolnshire a certain Oliver Cromwell was beginning to make his mark.  The summer of Royalist victories was over and in the north men like Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax and his son are being recognised as men who could turn the tables on the Royalists.


Binns, Jack. Yorkshire in The Civil Wars.  Blackthorn Press




Filed under English Civil War, Seventeenth Century

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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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.


Filed under English Civil War, Seventeenth Century, Uncategorized

Westminster Hall


It’s all looking very festive around here – and dangerous.  The road hasn’t been gritted so it currently looks and feels just like an ice rink.  On the plus side I have finished some writing today.  On the minus side not only am I not going out for a Christmas meal tonight but I shalln’t be following Buckingham’s rebellion tomorrow or killing off the Princes in the Tower – nor for that matter shall I be allowing either one of them to turn into a conspiracy theory.  All of which is very irritating and I can only extend my apologies to any of my students who may be reading this.

Halls – right at the start of December I mentioned the fact that halls were where their owners dispensed justice.  And of course, there’s a hall with a rather long pedigree that has done exactly that over the last nine hundred years or so.  Westminster Hall was built in 1097 by William Rufus – it was the largest hall in Europe at the time, or so Historians think.  Richard II had the hall rebuilt because it was looking somewhat battered by the time he came to the throne. The medieval hammer beam roof was one of his modifications. The hall gradually evolved into the administrative seat for the kingdom. It was here that Henry II crowned his eldest son Henry in Westminster Hall in June 1170.  There was a second coronation in Winchester.


It is as a law court though that Westminster Hall echoes down the pages of history. William Wallace was tried here and by the time of the Tudors the hall is knee deep in well-known names from the duke of Buckingham tried for treason in 1522 based on his Plantagenet blood and probably having irritated Cardinal Wolsey. Sir Thomas More was tried here in 1535, so were Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers the following year. Protector Somerset had judgement passed down here and so did the father of Lady Jane Grey for his part in Wyatt’s Rebellion. Jesuits faced english law here during the reign of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex was tried in Westminster Hall following his rebellion. A few years later Guy Fawkes stood in his place.  Later Charles I was tried for crimes against his own people and following the Restoration the regicides were also tried here.

The only man who successful escaped the headsman or the noose following a trial for treason during Henry VIII’s reign was also tried at Westminster Hall.  Lord Dacre of the North was found innocent in July 1535. His accusers were described as “mean and provoked Scottish men” – Sir Ralph Fiennes and his co-accuser a man named William Musgrave were not particularly Scottish but there’s nothing like being damned by association.  Dacre’s wife tried to intercede on her husband’s behalf but was told by the monarch to button it until after her husband’s trial.  Apparently Dacre refuted his accusers in a “manly”  and “witty” sort of way for seven hours before being declared innocent.

William Dacre (a.k.a. Baron Greystoke) was married to the earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter and held down a number of responsible border posts such as Deputy Warden of the West March.  This led to a falling out with the earl of Cumberland (Clifford family) who was given a role in 1525 that Dacre believed to be his by right of blood.  Unsurprisingly there was some border high jinks resulting in Cumberland only being able to rule with Dacre at his side. To make matters worse when Dacre did get his hands on the job his counterpart in the East March was given a pay rise whilst he was given the old rate. Its easy to see that hostilities and resentments were not particularly veiled.  Unfortunately for Dacre he did what Border Wardens do – i.e. talk to the Scots. This was in 1534.  He was accused of treason because this conversation took place during a time of hostility. He was hauled off to London where he was put on trial for treason. The chief witness against him was his former servant – William Musgrave.

Dacre was acquitted but as with all things Tudor there is a sting in the tale.  Henry VIII fined him none-the-less. It is perhaps surprising therefore that in 1536 Dacre demonstrated his loyalty to Henry VIII throughout the Pilgrimage of Grace.  His feud with the Musgrave family was not so easily settled and it is known to have continued into the 1550s.

 William Cobbett, David Jardine (1809) Cobbett’s complete collection of state trials and proceedings for high treason and other crimes and misdemeanors from the earliest period to the present time  accessed from https://archive.org/details/acompletecollec03cobbgoog


Westminster Hall 1097


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Sir John Gell – Parliamentarian

Sir_John_Gell_original.jpgOne of the things I like about the summer is the opportunity to get sidetracked, which is exactly what I’ve done in this post. I mentioned in my last post that Sir John Gell besieged Royalists holed up in Lichfield Cathedral in March 1643. John Gell was born at Hopton Hall, near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. Hopton Hall today is known for its snowdrops, its roses and its undulating crinklecrankle garden walls.

The Gells were a wealthy family with their flocks of sheep and lead mines. John was born in 1593. Shortly after John’s birth his father died and his mother Millicent, pregnant with John’s brother Thomas, married John Curzon of Kedleston Hall. In addition to John’s younger brother Millicent also provided a half-brother rather confusingly also called John. Gell raised at Kedleston followed the career path of a young gentleman of his era. He went to university but did not take a degree. He married into the local gentry and then proceeded to create a family and get a reputation for womanizing. He is recorded as saying that he never meddled with women unless they were handsome! No one thought to ask his wife her opinion on the subject nor did it seem to interfere with Gell’s Presbyterianism.


Our story really starts in 1635 when Gell was appointed sheriff of Derbyshire and given the unpleasant task of collecting Charles I’s ship money. This tax was usually raised in coastal locations to build, outfit and crew ships to fend off pirates….there isn’t much call for sea-going vessels in Derbyshire which rather explains why Charles I’s little wheeze to raise taxes without having to call a Parliament caused consternation across the country. Gell collected the money in Derbyshire rather enthusiastically. It caused huge resentment not least when Sir John Stanhope was charged twenty-four pounds ship money which he refused to pay. Stanhope happened to be the brother of the Earl of Chesterfield. This together with some earlier cause for dislike resulted in a long-standing feud between Gell with Sir John Stanhope and his brother the earl of Chesterfield.


Gell became a baronet in January 1642 presumably for his efficient way with the collection of taxes but supported Parliament on the outbreak of civil war when the king raised his standard in Nottingham that same year. It might be possible that it wasn’t religion that caused Gell to side with Parliament, or his connection with Parliamentarian inclined Derby (as a general rule of thumb, to which there are exceptions, towns tended to be more Parliamentarian in outlook whilst the countryside was more Royalist). What else could it be? Well, it could have been concern that Parliament might have wanted a word about those pesky ship taxes or it could have been the fact that the Stanhopes declared for the king – and Gell, if you recall, did not like the Stanhopes one little bit.


Gell threw himself into his new role when he was commissioned by the Earl of Essex to secure Derbyshire for Parliament. He went to Hull where he took charge of a company of London volunteers. They returned with Gell to Derby which became a center for infantry and cavalry regiments. Unfortunately, Derby had no castle or walls. It was Gell who ordered the construction of defensive earthworks.


One of the first things that Gell did was to order the siege of Bretbey House – it was owned by Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield. More famously he also besieged Wingfield Manor but by then he had settled his squabble with Stanhope. Lord Chesterfield took Lichfield for the king in 1643. Gell and his men joined Lord Brooke there in March. Brooke was killed early in the siege so Gell took over command and when the Royalists surrendered a few days later, the rank and file were permitted to leave without their weapons but Philip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield was dispatched to London in chains where he remained in captivity until his death in 1656.


Many of the Royalists who were allowed to march away from Lichfield sought a new army to join. They made for Stafford which was at that time in Royalist hands under the command of the earl of Northampton.  Gell joined forces with Sir William Bereton of Cheshire. The resulting battle at Hopton Heath near Stafford which has nothing to do with Hopton in Derbyshire was indecisive but the Earl of Northampton was killed.


Gell now did something that would earn him the lasting enmity of Charles I. Gell asked for the artillery that he had lost at Hopton Heath to be returned. He also asked the earl’s son for the money that Gell had laid out to have the earl embalmed. Both requests were declined. In response, Gell who had removed the earl’s body from the battlefield had Northampton’s body paraded through the streets of Derby before it was buried.


The following year, and after the death of his first wife in October 1644, he married Mary Stanhope, the widow Sir John Stanhope. The marriage was swiftly dissolved. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether that was a match made in Heaven.


Gell seems to have become a steadily more  loose canon after 1644. He appointed his friends and family to important positions; allowed his troops to plunder and ignored Fairfax’s order that his troops should join with Fairfax at Naseby. His actions were so suspicious that Parliament believed that Gell was thinking of changing his allegiance. This thought was probably also voiced the following year at the siege of Tutbury Castle when Gell offered different, and rather more lenient, surrender terms than those offered by his fellow commander – Bereton who you will recall had been with Gell at the Battle of Hopton Heath.


Rather bizarrely Gell tried to gain a pardon for his role in the war from Charles I during his imprisonment at Carisbrooke Castle by offering to lend him £900 in gold.  In 1650, he was found guilty of plotting against the Commonwealth. Charles II planned to return to his kingdom via Scotland but wanted to be sure of having an army to command.  His council wanted to ensure that parliament didn’t know where the king was going to pop up.   Blank commissions were sent secretly to England with a view to raising divisions of men but the Commonwealth tracked many of these commissions and in so doing unearthed more than one royalist sympathiser. Gell was lucky not to be hanged like the unfortunate Dr Lewen who was found with several of these commissions. Instead, Gell was imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1652 when he was freed. He lived in London rather than returning to Derbyshire.


Charles II pardoned him for his role in the civil war and granted him a position at court, where he remained until his death in October 1671. His body was returned to Derbyshire. He is buried in Wirksworth.



Brighton, Trevor (2004) Sir John Gell. Oxford DNB.

Stone, Brian (1992) Derbyshire in the Civil War. Cromford: Scarthin Books

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Lichfield Cathedral: a prince and duchess and rather a lot of gunpowder

DSC_0049Lichfield Cathedral was besieged not once, not twice but thrice during the English Civil War.

On the first occasion in March 1643 the Royalists found themselves holed up in the cathedral surrounded by a parliamentarian force. Lord Brooke, Parliamentarian in charge of dislodging them went to take a look at the close and was shot and killed by a sniper firing from the central spire of the cathedral – a remarkable feat of marksmanship by John “Dumb” Dyott – so called because he was deaf and dumb. It was remarkably unlucky for Brooke who had only recently arrived in Lichfield.  Depending on your viewpoint Brooke died, shot through the eye,  either at the hands of a thoroughly bad lot or expired still spouting hatred with his last breath.  The event is recorded on a plaque on Dam Street.


The Parliamentarians were reinforced by Derbyshire men led by Sir John Gell of Hopton Hall near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. In addition artillery arrived and in a decidedly dastardly gesture the Parliamentarians used the relations of the Royalists as a human shield. The first siege came to a close when the royalists negotiated surrender. Their leader the Earl of Chesterfield found himself in the Tower whilst his men, although disarmed, were free to go and find themselves another army.


It was at this point that the Parliamentarians demonstrated their thuggish tendencies by destroying much of DSCF2382.jpgthe stained glass, defacing the sculpture and destroying much Lichfield Cathedral’s library. Together with the destruction of the third siege in 1646 the only text that remains of the original cathedral library is one volume of the eighth century Lichfield Gospels which was either found or given into the care of Frances, Duchess of Somerset who owned property in the area (her father was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and former favourite of Elizabeth I executed for treason in 1601. Her mother was Frances Walsingham daughter of Francis Walsingham.) She returned the gospels along with a further thousand books from her husband’s collection.  Today the gospels are on display in the Chapter House together with the Lichfield Angel, a wonderful piece of eighth century carving.


If I had been describing a football match I would describe the lull after the first siege as a half time interval with a change of ends. The Parliamentarians made the most of their time when not breaking glass and sharpening their swords on centuries old grotesques to strengthen their defences and make good some of the holes in cathedral’s medieval close walls.


The match resumed on 7 April 1643 with the arrival of Prince Rupert of the Rhine. The Parliamentarians withdrew from the town of Lichfield to the cathedral and the close. Rupert and his men bounced cannonballs from the cathedral, attempted to scale the walls with ladders and then mined the fortified close. The cannon weren’t really up to the job and it can’t have helped Rupert’s temper when the commander of the Parliamentarians offered to lend him a barrel of powder. Rupert is described as “bellowing at the defenders like a lion” (Gaunt: 138). The prince turned to his mining tactics and the Parliamentarians counter-mined.  A tower in the wall collapsed.  The defenders ultimately negotiated terms and marched off into the sunset leaving a rather sadly battered Lichfield Cathedral in the hands of the royalists for the next three years.


In March 1646 that all changed. The war wasn’t going well for the royalists who prepared for a siege. The parliamentarians duly arrived along with their artillery and duly blew up the central spire that fell into the nave and the choir. The garrison didn’t surrender until July when they received a letter from the king telling them to make what terms they could.

The Royalists marched out with their heads held high but the cathedral was in, what can only be described as, a right state.  The local Roundheads decided that the best use for the building was as a pigpen, a calf was baptised and Parliament decided that the best thing to do was to demolish the cathedral given that it was so badly damaged.  It was suggested that if the lead was removed from the roof it wouldn’t take long for the whole structure to collapse (Spraggon: 197).  It was the eighteenth century before the cathedral was restored.


Gaunt, Peter. (2014) The English Civil War: A Military History. London: Tauris & Co

Spraggon, Julie. (2003) Puritan Iconoclasm During the English Civil War. Woodbridge: Boydell Press

Double click on the picture below for a new window and a much more detail insight to the three sieges of Lichfield Cathedral as well as the people who were involved with events.






Filed under Seventeenth Century, The Stuarts

Matilda Fitzwalter a.k.a. Maid Marian

57457680_1404498519This effigy can be seen in Little Dunmow Church – It is said to be the effigy of Matilda Fitzwalter.

Robert Fitzwalter, holder of Castle Baynard and Lord of Little Dunmow was a revolting baron during the reign of King John and little wonder if the stories are anything to go by.

Robert’s daughter Matilda was a bit of a stunner– men threw themselves at her feet, jousted for her favours etc and dear old King John fell head over heels in lust. Matilda, being a good girl and not having heard that when a medieval king does his best Lesley Philips impersonation that all the usual rules are out of the window told him to be on his way.

John did not take personal rejection well – his penchant for white satin, large collections of jewels and regular bathing, not to mention him being a king, should have made him a hit with the ladies but at no more than five foot five inches, having an inclination to fat as he got older, and an interest in the wives and daughters of his barons was not always as well received by the aforementioned ladies as he might have hoped. Rather than chalk Matilda’s refusal up to experience he tried to cajole Robert Fitzwalter into handing his daughter over: Robert refused. Perhaps John should have had a word with Matilda’s husband rather than her father but more about him shortly. In the stories John sets about destroying Fitzwalter and his property. Fitzwalter was indeed banished in 1212 but was later reconciled to John only to revolt in 1215 as a leader of the ‘Army of God’ that massed against the king. Fitzwalter is one of the Magna Carta barons and Matilda’s sad story is often given as part of the rationale for Fitzwalter’s rebellion.

Presumably because he could, John imprisoned Matilda in The Tower before sending her a message reminding her that all she need to do was to look upon him more favourably. When Matilda persisted in rejecting his advances John sent Matilda a poisoned egg, in some versions of the story a poisoned bracelet, which she promptly ate/put on and expired as a result presumably because she was a) hungry or b) it was a very nice bracelet. The corpse of Fair Matilda was then sent home for burial (very considerate). Elizabeth Norton’s book addressing the life of Isabella of Angouleme says that John forced Matilda to become his mistress – and you would have to say why go to all the bother of locking her up in the Tower to force compliance? Norton uses Matilda as but one example of John’s rapacious tendencies.  What is clear is that by 1212 Matilda was dead.

Matilda Fitzwalter’s story is told by Mathew Paris and the Anonymous Chronicler of Bethune. The criticism of John made by the chroniclers was not that he didn’t know how to take no for an answer but that he had dishonoured the fathers and husbands of the women concerned in the tales of lust that they recounted. Anonymous makes the point that John was devoted to good food and to pleasure – if he’d taken an interest in serving wenches then no one would have batted an eyelid.

From the threads of truth, of which very little actually remains to history, the tale of Matilda becomes steadily more romantic. According to lore Matilda Fitzwalter spurned King John’s advances because she was actually smitten with another – a chap called Robert, Earl of Huntingdon a.k.a. Robin Hood who was at that time away on crusade – making Matilda the fair Maid Marian. The chronicler Mathew Paris called her “Maud the Fair” or “Maid Marian.”  It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later though that Matilda Fitzwalter escaped to the Greenwood to live happily ever after…making Maid Marian an Essex girl.

In this case, however, truth is even stranger than legend. Matilda had actually been married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex. After her death de Mandeville married, at vast expense, Isabella of Gloucester – none other than King John’s first wife.

John was able to get his marriage to Isabella annulled because they were half-second cousins which was well within the prohibited degree of consanguinity. At the time of his marriage the Pope had been furious and Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury had placed John and all his lands under an interdict until an ecclesiastical council reversed the decision. At no point in time did John apply for a papal dispensation and it soon became clear that he was looking for a better placed wife with plans afoot fir him to marry Alice, sister of Philip Augustus – rejected fiancée of brother Richard and if stories are true mistress of Henry II and mother of his child. The divorce occurred almost as soon as John became king. Isabella led a half-life for many years neither a captive nor free until John, desperate for cash for a continental war effectively sold Isabella to the highest bidder – Geoffrey de Mandeville. It will perhaps come as no surprise to find out that Geoffrey and Isabella revolted against King John as well.

Norton, Elizabeth. She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England

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Filed under Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Thirteenth Century