After Edgehill, the road to London lay open for the king. By November 13th, Charles’ army faced the Londoners on the common ground west of London at Turnham Green
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The London Lines of Communication
Last time, we heard that things had finally come to blows; against all the odds, Charles’ clever and articulate appeals to rally to the cause of king church and social order had begun to work. His powerful magnates had brought an army together. On 23rd October 1642 Charles and Earl of Essex had come to blows in the first major encounter of the English civil war at Edgehill, normally accounted score draw, and therefore worth 3 points in the Civil War pools, but Charles had held the battlefield at the end of the day, the Carloean Cock was left at the top of the dungheap of war. Most importantly the road to London lay open. We are going to see in this episode what Charles makes of his opportunity.
Before we proceed, I have something to say. Now I realise that many of you have had your fill of names, and feel a bit overwhelmed by them and I am sorry for that. Almost inevitably I am now going to infuriate you yet further because there’s going to be lots and lots of geography and place names, and for those of you not born and bred in the place where Blake had hoped to build Jerusalem among the dark satanic mills, this could be a challenge. So I will spend some time trying to locate you, in hopefully a more helpful way than saying Kineton, you know between Warwick and Banbury just off the Fosse Way. Not sure how I’m going to do that but you can mark me at the end of the episode.
However, in the interests of being a good and helpful citizen of the podosphere, I have also placed a couple of maps on ti’internet at the History of England.co.uk. There’s a smorgasbord of maps actually through the ages if you go to https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/blog/type/maps. Like you are ever going to remember that – I’ll put a link in the podcast post. Also there is a stonking interactive map and timeline at a site called History-maps.com – wildly good, you can go in out and even shake it all about. I’ll put the link in the maps page for the civil wars.
Enough, onward. As Essex left the battlefield near Kineton between Warwick and Banbury just off the Fosse way, here’s the topological overview. We are in the English Midlands, and about 100 miles to the South East lay the beating heart of Parliamentary power, London. By retreating north to Warwick, Essex wasn’t that much further away, but he was behind. If Charles set off like a greyhound, he’d be there first, probably and some, since Essex’s army was feeling a bit battered; Essex himself seems to have been a bit shell shocked. And Charles’ plan with his council of war since leaving Shrewsbury had been to head towards London, so there’s not much doubt where he’d be going at some point.
The first thing to arrive in London, though, was news. As is common with these things, the news was not entirely accurate, and in this case the story was that Essex had been given a kicking, and there was concern I think it’s fair to say, or possibly panic might be closer to the vibe. As we have seen, London had become highly politicised; no longer were the middling sort prepared to leave politics to their social betters, the flood of print and the propaganda of the Junto had seen to that, and on balance the town was heavily Parliamentarian. But like everywhere else, there were passionate adherents of the king’s cause as well; there’s one theory which has it that a common profile was an alliance between the super noble and the poorest members of society, that it was the middling sort that had become most radicalised; and as fear and panic spread, in London a Stepney widow Sara Linge was reported for saying
If some of her neighbours would join with her, she would cut the throats of a thousand Roundheads
Which was probably an exaggeration but you never can be too sure. And on the other end of the scale, many of the Aldermen were suspect too; the London Mayor had been carted off to the Tower, and now the search was out for reds under the beds – quite literally actually, since the Venetian ambassador reported that Royalists were suddenly more numerous and vocal after the news of the battle arrived, and many even went round wearing rose coloured hatbands. 50 of London’s most eminent citizens were targeted, ‘rich men who are so cold in their affections to the cause’ as the news-sheet had it. They found themselves hauled from their supper tables and beds and put into jail; and where there’s smoke and all that; the Grocer Alice Benyon was caught with a trunkful of gold for the king, and we are not talking speedos.
Nor was it simply the king London had to worry about. Regional commanders and associations were beginning to emerge throughout the country, and Charles’ man in the north as you know was William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle, enormously wealthy and prepared to put his wealth at the king’s disposal; by the end of the war he’d claim to have spent £1m fighting for his king. Even if that was an exaggeration of 100%, it would have been an unthinkable about of money for the time and you have to say it seems a little unfair for someone to be quite that rich for no good reason. Discuss. Anyway, be that as it may, his enormous wealth gave the royalists a massive advantage, even though he was a bit of a dilettante, so much so that HM would mock him for not getting out of bed until 11 o’clock in the middle of a warzone. Despite the resistance of the Fairfaxes, as we have heard, Newcastle and his famous Whitecoats had secured the city of Newcastle for the king. Now you all know I think now, that Newcastle although a long way from London was very important to it. Because London’s coal came from there. Now it wouldn’t.
It wasn’t just the lack of a warm open fire that gave parliament cold feet. On 2nd November, the House of Lords proposed to make an offer of peace to the king, along with an immediate cessation of fighting, and the Commons were so spooked that they agreed. An embassy was sent to the king; when they arrived, all they received was a flea, given to them in the ear. Charles snubbed the delegation and turned away one of them because he’d been declared a traitor. Charles was feeling mighty, back in control, at the head of the army of righteousness.
So London was in a bit of a panic, but rather than running around in small circles, the people of London resolved to do something about it. As previously discussed, most of the towns and cities of England were poorly prepared for war. Throughout Europe since the French invasion of the Italian peninsular in the late 15th century, accompanied by gunpowder weapons and artillery, the old high and thin castle walls of the medieval world were being abandoned for the star fortress with thick thick walls designed to absorb the impact of large iron or stone balls hitting them with some aggression. It won’t be long before the famous French architect Vauban will take the art to its highest form for Louis XIV, if art be the word. Not to put too fine a point on it, London was as defensible and the first little piggie’s house of straw, and the wolf was on his way to blow it down.
London’s defence was being bossed by the Earl of Warwick, and indeed I am told he’d brought some warships up the Thames to sit outside the houses of parliament; they must have been titchy to get them past London bridge but what do I know. But walls were the thing. And there was so little time – even now Charles and his army could be approaching to visit vengeance on his rebellious capital.
The answer was an absolutely huge public effort, the application, essentially, of elbow grease. The plans were ambitious; the old walls around the square mile, the City of London were based on the lines of the old Roman and medieval wall, but London was now effectively not just that. It was now Southwark over the bridge, it was Westminster at the end of the Strand. So the new wall would need to be enormous, much much larger than the old medieval walls – from Vauxhall in the west to Wapping in the East. In short order, the people of London must built a ditch and earthworks all around that vast area. 11 miles of wall.
Warwick’s younger brother, the Earl of Holland, told the Aldermen of London that
Your city is the strength of the kingdom indeed; it is not only the life, but the soul of it. If they can destroy you here, the rest of the kingdom all must submit and yield
Just to make sure everyone was aware that this was important, the stakes were high, Viscount Saye and Sele turned the amp up another notch to 11, with an apocalyptic vision of what would happen if the king’s army should get inside the city
Your lives would satisfy their malice, your wives, your daughters their lust
Okay, Okay fine we get it. So London mobilised. The institutions of London, the Trained brands, and the livery companies organised shifts for as many as 20,000 people over the next 2 months to labour night and day on the new ramparts, and fortified bulwarks at points along it, all known together, rather prosaically as the London Lines of Communication. There’s a map on the website, the history of I needn’t tell you the rest. Down to their nearest sections of the walls went whole families, to dig and hack, lug rocks and earth in baskets, to feed the growing earth works, to ferry food and drink from the city to the working parties. The trade guilds often organised the whole of their guild to down the tools of their trade for a day and go en masse to a part of the wall; often on the Sabbath, ironically enough, despite the strength of Sabbatarianism on behalf of the puritans. But kept them away from the evils of bowling I suppose.
The corporation of London and the parishes of Southwark and Westminster all paid out for material, but every householder inside the walls was taxed tuppence towards the cost also. The Venetian ambassador watched it all happening, and wrote home
“at the approaches to London, they are putting up trenches and small forts of earthwork, at which a great numbers of people are at work, including the women and … children
Within two months a rudimentary defence had been built;, 11 miles long, completely ignoring the medieval walls. The following March an ordinance was issued by parliament to improve the earth works with stone, star shaped strong points at 23 places around the walls, and once again, the majority of the work was done by volunteers and the citizens of London.
They marched out together in their thousands; 3,000 porters for example, all pushing their wheel barrows out to the walls. One observer wrote of a thousand Oyster women
All alone, with drums and flying colours…their goddess Bellona leading them in a martial way
Samuel Butler as you may know was a satirical poet, who lived from 1613 to 1680 and started his most famous work after the Restoration in 1662; although he doesn’t seem to have been particularly keen on Charles II; he did rather wittily and cynically remark
No man can oblige a Prince more than he that kills his father
Anyway, Butler was probably extracting the Michael from on high when he wrote about this great people’s community effort when he wrote the following verse, but nonetheless it adds a little colour
March’d rank and file, with drum and ensign,
T’entrench the city for defence in;
Rais’d rampires with their own soft hands,
To put the enemy to stands;
From ladies down to oyster-wenches
Labour’d like pioneers in trenches,
Fell to their pick-axes and tools,
And help’d the men to dig like moles
This is the second time, incidentally we’ve heard reference to Ouster women, and generally they don’t get a good press, not usually held up as a shining example of virtue. I asked about this one day, curiously, and Elizabeth of this parish did suggest that since Oyster women lifted their skirts to avoid getting them wet in the buckets of water containing said oysters, they had a bad reputation, because this is the sort of lifting that ladies of the night who hung around places called Grape Lane and worse, did. I cannot attest to the idea’s veracity, but it sounds quite compelling.
Meanwhile, this was the Artillery company’s big moment, what they had trained for. They signed people up for the Trained Bands, which were organised into regiments of 1,200, each with their own colour, and each with an order of status, according to their colonel – here’s the list, and believe me I am tempted, very tempted to go into each of their insignia, but I promise I’ll spare you. They were, in order of rank the Red, White, Yellow, Blue, Green and Orange, and each represented a ward or group of wards of the city.
I said I’d spare you the insignia, but I did note the Yellow regiment of the Farringdon Within, Castle Baynard and Aldersgate wards, had what is described as Black mullets with a yellow background and I was interested by that because I’d only come across mullets in the context of fish, but worse of course in the hairstyle of the 1980s as styled by Ian Botham, a style which, to my appalled horror, is making a comeback. I mean once was unfortunate but to repeat the error is surely not just careless but unforgiveable and living proof that as a species our time has surely come.. So I am ashamed to say I allowed myself to be distracted from the important business of describing this crisis of English affairs, and looked it up. It comes from the French mollette – yet another indignity visited on us by the French I might say – and it’s the star bit of a cavalier’s spur. So Both’s haircut comes not from that I figure but apparently is another imperial indignity visited on the English this time by the U.S. hip-hop group the Beastie Boys who seem to have started the haircut. Not the moment to cry Harry.
Anyway where were we? Oh yes, Trained bands. So as danger loomed, there they were, the good citizens of London, mustering and training with muskets and pike outside the City walls, whence the danger was expected to come. When the balloon went up, the trained bands were expected to assemble on a wide front centred on a place called Turnham Green about 7 miles from the City, now an unremarkable suburb – with apologies for local Turners or however they style themselves. Though there was a broadside ballad from the place which ran
“One night by Turnham Green I robbed a revenue collector,
and what I took from him I gave to a widow to protect her”
So there you go. Just a little local colour, and snaps for the fine folk of Turnham Green.
Anyway back to Charles. On the day after the battle of Edgehill, there was some wound licking to be done of course, and Charles convened a council of war, and engaged in a full and frank exchange of views over what to do next, presumably with beer, but not necessarily with sandwiches since those won’t be invented until 1762. Rupert and the swordsmen were all for seizing the initiative; Rupert asked that he be given an advance force of 3,000 cavalry and musketeers and he would march on Westminster – well trot on Westminster, and with all his people finish this Right here Right now, before Essex could recover his breath. Courage mes braves!
Others though were now much more concerned not with victory – that seemed a gimme now – but with the manner of victory. Many were afraid of how peace and harmony could return, should
His majesty return by conquest
And instead appealed to him to negotiate, now from a position of strength. The Earl of Bristol seems to have clinched it by warning that Rupert
Being a young man and naturally passionate, might be urged in the heat of blood to fire the town
This was a pretty accurate assessment of Prince Rupert’s character, since Rupert will more than once indeed fire a town in the heat of blood, and indeed in a welter of blood. But on this occasion, the carpe diem approach would seem to have been much more sensible.
Ah well. Charles thought about it, and decided that once more he wanted the best of both worlds, and so often this marks Charles’ military and indeed political failings – he tended to want it all ways. He would indeed not negotiate. He would indeed march on London. But he’d do a few important jobbies on the way – capture the fair town of Banbury and occupy Oxford – his army and court needed a base he explained. Then he’d reduce London to obedience by force of arms as was good and proper. So. No Greyhound from the slips then.
And that is how it went. Southwards to Banbury they marched and while they were there for the four days it took for it to surrender, they also captured Broughton castle which held out for a while but caved in when the heavy artillery arrived; Sale and Sele., it’s owner, was not at home, having raised a regiment of 1,200 all nicely decked out in Blue coats, with the Orange sash of parliament. I expect Charles was rather happy to hear about Broughton castle being captured. Saye and Sele had been a tricky and devious opponent as you all know of course, so tricky Charles had nicknamed him ‘old subtlety’. It is at Broughton that much of the scheming and plotting had been carried out by the Junto, in a strangely blank room on the roof, called the ‘room that hath no ears’. I suspect when he heard about Broughton’s fall at a council meeting, Charles asked to be excused, went into the back and did that football I’ve just scored a goal in the final minute thing, shirt over his head, fist pumping air screaming noiselessly at an imaginary crowd. Then set himself straight and returned decorously to the council room. Even kings and ruthful tyrants are allowed a corner flag celebration from time to time.
Anyway, then it was to Oxford – that caused a local ruckus because just a month before John Byron the king’s man had been there on his way to Shrewsbury and all the University dons, royalist to a man, had done the strutt and celebration, and then Saye and Sele had ridden into town, and all the townspeople, parliamentarian to a man woman and child had done the same thing. On 29th October the boot returned to the Royalist foot, where it would remain for moons without number.
5 days were spent messing and discussing while, as a personal note, John Byron took a little excursion to Henley on Thames, as many do on a summers weekend these days. What they don’t normally do, though, is go there specifically to visit the house of an opponent, in this case the lawyer Bulstrode Whitelocke who had led in Strafford’s trial, and trash it. Bulstrode was very upset, as his diary explains – at some length.
Onward then south to the fair town of Reading, which they occupied without resistance, and where another peace delegation from parliament caught up with them. It is here that Hyde would later write that Charles missed his best opportunity for victory; this is where he turned down the best proposals from parliament for a peace. For Hyde, this was Charles’ best chance from a position of strength, to agree a peace and return to London not at the head of an army of conquest, but nevertheless in total control. Charles though, was confident he had victory in his grasp. Off down the Thames they went, heading East to London, and by 11th November Rupert was in front of Windsor castle trying to secure Charles’ home.
But, now we need to go to Essex, who after a couple of days of TLC, set off – and he did not dilly, nor dally nor lose his way and forget where to roam. East to Northampton where he arrived on 31st October, along Watling Street south to St Albans, and then on the evening of 7th of November, London went wild – as Essex and his army arrived back in London. People flocked to greet them, and Essex was given a hero’s welcome; frequently short of military dash, Essex was long on the affection of his troops and crowd; ‘Hey for old Robin’ came the cry as he passed by. His army it has to be said was seriously depleted; casualties and injuries at Edgehill were partly to blame, but desertion along the way was the big bugbear of armies throughout the civil Wars. They left in droves. Historian Ian Gentles used the memorable phrase
‘the armies of both sides were like mushrooms, shooting up almost overnight, then disappearing even more quickly’. 
So from 14,000 men on the eve of Edgehill, maybe he had 7,000 now, and by the end of the year maybe just 5,000.
For the moment though there was work to be done; there was news of the king. For a day, Rupert had bombarded Windsor castle but to no effect, until after gathering supplies, Charles was ready to resume and now on 11th November 1642 they approached to the west of London. Ahead of them lay the fair village of Brentford.
Brentford was 10 miles west of London, and just west of London on Hounslow Heath was where Essex now sent his advance guard to hold up the royalist advance, with detachments under the stalwart Denzil Holles, who had fought bravely ay Edgehill of course, and John Hampden and his Greencoats.
Honest John Lilburne was also there; now he’d asked for command of a troop of horse, but Warwick begged him to stay with him in his regiment until this business was played out. Lilburne agreed and promised
To fight as resolutely tomorrow as your lordship will
Brothers in arm. The call then went out for all the trained bands to assemble at Chelsea Fields to the west of London near the gateway to the west as it is no longer called – the village of Turnham Green.
That same day, in dense fog, Prince Rupert happened to Brentford. Sent on ahead by the king they attacked Holles’ regiment which was forced back, while Lilburne went into speech mode, stirring up his regiment to be ready to spill blood for their country. Sadly cannon and musket fire trumped fiery words, and Lilburne’s regiment was overwhelmed, Lilburne captured, and he was hauled off to Oxford. John Gwynne, a Royalist from Wales proudly recalled not only his military prowess, but implied that the parliamentary soldiers could hardly have been up to it anyway, given they were NQOCD, when Gwynne’s men went
…to advance to push of pikes and the butt-end of muskets, which proved fatal to Holles, his butchers and Dyers that day…
Since they had the field, and the main body of Charles’ army was yet to come up, Rupert and his men gathered some of the fruits of victory and ransacked Brentford.
But the sound of musket fire had reached London, and news of a defeat followed right behind it.
The alarm came to London with the same dire yell as if the army were entered into their gates
Wrote Hyde later, and if further motivation had been needed for action amongst Londoners, no more was required now, and there was panic at the imminent arrival of the King and his army. By the morning of 13th, Chiswick common and Turnham Green were swarming with people. Back in the city those left behind shut all the shops, strung chains across narrow streets to foil any horses or cavalry, and built barricades. John Milton was in the city, and very scared that his little house would be ransacked so he went to the trouble of writing a sonnet pleading for any bad ‘uns to pass him by. Who says poetry doesn’t have practical application?
At Turnham Green it was a carnival, with the common land between Chiswick and Acton stuffed with Essex’s experienced soldiers, the militia of the London Trained bands, militia men who had come from the surrounding counties, Hertfordshire, Essex and Surrey, and a mass of green un-trained Apprentices who had signed up in the previous few days; 20,000 or so, of various flavours of readiness and resolution. Essex and the Major General of the Trained bands, the experienced and hard bitten Phillip Skippon, deployed the men along the multiple hedgerows and enclosures. You wouldn’t know it now, but the landscape then was a kind of bocage, small field, multiple hedgerows and small woods – ideal infantry country, not ideal for cavalry
In front of their eyes, the Royal veterans of Charle’s army appeared and started to deploy, maybe 12,000 of them, with artillery all rattling and groaning into place. As the Londoners watched, their commander Essex rode the lines, and Skippon called to his men
Come my boys my brave boys! Let us pray heartily and fight heartily. I will run the same fortunes and hazards with you. Rember the cause is for God and for the defence of yourselves, your wives and children. Come my honest brave boys, pray heartily and fight heartily and God will bless us
How confident was Skippon of his men as she said this? It seems Hyde had heard that if the king charged he had
So great a party in each regiment that they would have made no resistance
The royalist lines deployed and shifted, the odd volley of cannon fire roared out, the parliamentary lines waited; it was clear that if anyone was to start this, it would be Charles. It came to lunch and over a hundred wagons had arrived from the city laden with drink and hot food. Bulstrode Whitelocke recalled
The city goodwives and others, mindful of their husbands and friends, sent many cartloads of provisions, and wines, and good things to Turnham Green, with which soldiers were refreshed, and made merry
A crowd of spectators had gathered behind the Apprentice boys, two or three hundred of them. Every time any part of the royalist army advanced or deployed, they panicked, and
Would gallop away towards London as fast as they could ride to the discouragement of the parliament’s army, and divers of men would steal away from their colours towards their home and city
Almost a carnival atmosphere then; while the Royalist soldiers were experienced and ready for the fight; but also far from home, short on provisions, and outnumbered. At one point, a royalist messenger appeared left his lines and cantered towards the parliament troops – he bore a message. He was ushered to Essex, but as Essex opened the letter from his king, the royalist artillery chose that moment to open fire, and as one person wrote
The hope and harmony of peace was lost in the loud voice of a cannon
And the two sides looked at each other. And then, as the day wore on, there was movement. Charles and his council had decided that the odds were too great. They faced an army of variable experience, but well fed, rested, close to home, behind difficult, broken countryside, twice their size – and, classically, defending their homes and families. The opportunity for Charles had seemed so bright. But the people of London had won. And Charles had bottled it. Regiment by regiment, covered by detachments of musketeers, Charles’ army started to withdraw. It was now a thoroughly dangerous time for them – Around Essex the debate was whether this now was an opportunity to attack, but Essex, ever cautious and unsure of the fighting quality of his troops, chose to let them go.
Within a few days Charles and his army were back in Oxford, which would now be their base. Charles had been faced down by a popular army, London had stood firmly shoulder to shoulder for the cause of parliament. And as Charles turned aside from the challenge and back to Oxford, the chance for a quick start to this war went with him. It would now be a mass of regional struggles that would cover vast areas of England with violence and dislocation, disease, dearth and death.
 Lincoln, M: London and the 17th Century’, p106
 Kenyon, J: ‘The Civil Wars’, p 104
 Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil Ware: A Peoples’ History’, p192
 Childs, J: ‘The Siege of Loyalty House’, p54
 Purkiss, D: ‘The Civil Watrs’, p193
 Hunt, T: ‘The English Civil War at first Hand’, p110
 Healey, J: ‘The Blazing World’, p175