Sir John Corbet – and the Five Knights Case

King-Charles-ICharles I dismissed Parliament in 1626 because it was rather keen on the idea of impeaching the Duke of Buckingham for his incompetence in the handling of foreign policy not to mention his influence over Charles I.  The king, on the other hand, wished to preserve his favourite so dissolved Parliament and its radically minded members.  Unfortunately Buckingham had dragged Charles into a war against both the Spanish and the French which was a costly exercise and which Charles could not afford – hence the need to call Parliament to raise the cash.

Charles dealt with his problem by raising Forced Loans.  Essentially wealthy folk were required to dip into their pockets and “lend” the king money.  It was generally accepted that loan was an euphemism for taxation.  The king could not have managed this himself. He used the administrative system that had been in place since before the Norman Conquest i.e. the county administrative system based on sheriffs and justices of the peace.  During the first year of the loan in excess of £250,000 was raised.  It is perhaps unnecessary to say that the loan and the commissioners who raised the money were not terribly popular.

Seventy-six gentlemen across the country refused to pay and were carted off to their local jails as an example to the rest of their peers.   Sir John Corbet, a moderate sort of Puritan who represented Great Yarmouth in Parliament, took exception to the forced loans and was rather vocal in his objections.  He also refused to pay the £20.00 that his rateable value suggested that he could afford. This may have caused some familiar difficulty as his cousin Sir Andrew Corbet of Moreton Corbet was the commissioner in Shropshire collecting the taxes on behalf of the Earl of Northampton who was President of the Council for the Welsh Marches.

Sir John found himself in prison without any charges being drawn up against him.  This was strategic in that the king wanted some examples of what would happen if you weren’t loyal to the Crown but he was also bothered by the idea that if one of the gentlemen ended up in a courtroom that the judge might side with the accused. Thus the gentlemen sat in their cells at the king’s convenience.

Five of the imprisoned men – the five knights of the title brought a writ of habeas corpus.  One of them was Sir John Corbet. Essentially, habeas corpus is the writ which requires someone under arrest to be brought before a judge to demonstrate that their arrest is legal. Magna Carta was used as the precedent amongst other things during the trial to prove that the five knights detention was illegal.  The case did not go in the knights’ favour although the judges were sympathetic and refused to rule conclusively saying that the law required further clarification but that they could do no more because both James I and Elizabeth I were prone to arresting people without charges being drawn.  (Interestingly they were also prone to chopping off various bits of their prisoners’ anatomies but History does not record them as tyrants whilst Charles did none of the above and got labelled a tyrant – just a thought.)

Corbet was released at the beginning of January 1628 but died three weeks later from small pox contracted whilst in prison. As for Sir Andrew, he would vote for the  Petition of Rights when Parliament sat in 1628 and he would eventually lose faith in the Crown. In died in 1637.

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.