During 1642 Parliament and the Crown laid out their various pieces on the chess board that was England. Each side attempted to take control of places of strategic importance. Having passed the Militia Bill, Parliament thought that it had control of the Commissions of Array and the appointment to offices such as Lord Lieutenantry responsible for the raising of armed forces. They also assumed that they would have control of each county’s official magazine (by law each county was required to have a stockpile of arms). However, this didn’t stop the king sending his own commissions nor for that matter some Lord Lieutenants declaring for the king.
The Midlands became important when the Battle of Edgehill, fought on the 23rd October 1642, failed to have a clear outcome. It was at that point that the Royalists took control of Newark and Sir John Gell (pictured at the start of this post) became the military commander in the area for Parliament. In Nottingham, John Hutchinson of Owthorpe, who would be one of the signatories of Charles I’s death warrant, together with Gell took Nottingham for Parliament.
Control of key locations in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire became of central importance for communications and resources. The king was based in Oxford so it was essential that information could pass through the Midlands to the Royalist army in Yorkshire and that there was safe passage to Royalist Wales – to get to Chester and North Wales from Oxfordshire the main road passed through Staffordshire. It was also an area rich in resources important for war – from grazing for horses to the materials necessary to manufacture weapons and ammunition.
And yet there were no major battles in the North Midlands – consequently popular history does not tend to portray the four counties as being as heavily involved in the conflict as other regions. It’s almost as though sieges don’t count whereas large set piece battles such as Marston Moor do. Newark was essential and besieged on three occasions as was Lichfield. Local historians, as might be expected, are far more aware of the sieges of Ashby de La Zouche and Tutbury. In fact all the Royalist garrisons were besieged at least once. Even Tissington still has the remains of its own siege works built to defend the village from attack.
Parliament gradually seized control of the major towns to the south of the region so that they held Northamptonshire – its cobblers receiving vast orders for boots and shoes to fit the Parliamentarian army, Leicester, Derby which was unwalled and Nottingham as well as Stafford. The Royalist garrisons included Belvoir Castle, Newark, Bolsover Castle and Welbeck Abbey owned by the Marquis of Newcastle, Lincoln, Gainsborough, and Tutbury as well as many smaller manor houses including Wingfield Manor more famous for the incarceration of Mary Queen of Scots and, of course, Tissington. The fight for the Midlands was just as bitter as anywhere else but on a smaller scale with many local disputes. The problem for the Royalists was that gradually their forces were drawn into the conflicts to the North and the South. For instance, Prince Rupert took cavalry north to relieve the Siege of York. The Royalists did not have the manpower left to control the Midlands where they were under pressure from local Parliamentarians as well as Parliament’s “national” New Model Army. Their command chain was not as efficient as that of Parliament and relied more heavily on the local magnates.
For a more detailed appraisal of the role of the Midlands read Martyn Bennett’s article entitled “Holding the centre ground; the strategic importance of the North Midlands 1642-1646.” which can be found a www.eastmidlandshistoryorg.uk