388 Runaway Down

Hopton, Walller and Hampden

By April it was clear Charles expected to reduce his kingdoms to obedience by war, and would not make peace. By July his cause would be tested at Chalgrove, Adwalton – and Roundway Down.

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Yorkshire in the Civil Wars: 2 maps



Last time there we were, girding our loins before the fighti-ness to come, this a phrase which raises disturbing images in my mind, but look – Preparing ourselves essentially. We heard about how Charles’ constant desire to get involved in secret plans and clever tricks had blown his chances of building a sympathetic party in both Scotland and England. The Scottish commissioners were messed about and finally abandoned Oxford in dudgeon higher than Scarfell Pike, and went home to look for other friends. They found Harry Vane from parliament waiting for them. They will start discussing a Covenant. The Waller plot further sullied any remaining trust in his good faith in England, the Oxford treaty has failed, so that in April 1643 Essex’s main army would finally leave London. Henrietta Maria is working her way south to Arrive in Oxford with arms for Charlie and into the welcoming arms of Charlie. So here we go – game on, pistols at dawn.

We are going to work our way round the country, but just a preliminary word. As I said last week, the story of the civil wars are of a vast number of local conflicts of a full range of sizes from a handful and all points north. To give you a couple of examples from my own ‘hood. Samuel Luke was the parliamentarian scout master in the south midlands, and we have still some of his journals. In 1643 he recorded that some royalist cavaliers appeared in the little village of Nettlebed just down the road from me and 2 men were shot in the conflict. In January 1643 a body of royalist soldiers appeared in the fair town of Henley on Thames from the then royalist garrison at Reading, and we have the glorious, and yet surprisingly poorly known story of the Battle of Duck Street – now Duke street, which has a very nice bakery that does fantastic bacon rolls. Henley was a parliamentary town, bossed by the local gentry Bulstrode Whitelocke and Bartholomew Hall. So there happened to be a contingent of parliamentary soldiers in town, and they quickly placed a canon at the top of Duke’s street, filled with something more deadly than bacon rolls, and opened fire. The Royalists decided there was lardy cake back at Reading and hastily retreated. There were about 8 or 9 dead; and their names appear with a note in the Henley church register of births, deaths and marriages for the year. I must stop warbling, but later in 1643 Prince Rupert was in town, and stayed the night – the place he reputedly stayed is now a Primary School called Rupert House. I do not know if the inmates of said school are also told that Rupy hung a man from a tree at Northfield End. – which as you might suspect from the name is a field at the northern end of the town. I know I should not be telling you all this, it’s only a spot of local history from where I live know, but my point is that violence is endemic, especially in the light of all these garrisons; Henley for a while in 1644 had two garrisons slugging it out. The civil war us local, it gets everywhere.

There are then a whole load of regional battles and like the young man of Devizes, they are of various sizes; Hopton’s victory at Stratton would have 3,500 Royalists and 6,000 parliamentarians for example; I promise I will not cover more than a fraction of these, but there will be some. And then there were 5 battles in the 4 years of the English Civil War with more than 25,000 men involved – Edgehill, Newbury times 2, Marston Moor and Naseby – 4 of these are in the Midlands by the way. By point of comparison, battles in the Thirty Years war routinely included over 40,000 men; the scale is very different, but the work of historians such as Charles Carlton has demonstrated that the scale is nonetheless very significant, and it’s worth remembering that there were 38 major extended sieges and several hundred lesser sieges, several hundred ladies and gentlemen. In each year there were around 150,000 men under military discipline, about 10% of the male population between 16 and 50; probably about 30% of adult males bore arms at some point. This is a big number. The civil war is local to you.[1]

One more word; if you love this sort of thing, if this is your meat and drink your daily bread, or your all major points of the compass, then you might like to consider Nick Lipscombe’s utterly beautiful military atlas, ‘The English Civil War’. Obviously young Nick knew he was going to get a pasting for not calling them the British Civil Wars, so he gave it a subtitle ‘An Atlas and Concise History of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms’. A token effort, not enough to save him from displeasure. It’s not cheap but worth every single ha’penny, farthing, and groat.

OK so let us, in the words of Olivia, let’s get physical. I am going to start in the west and South West of England, and I give you fair warning we are going to challenge your knowledge of English geography here. Let me start with Ralph Hopton, in his mid forties in 1643 happily married to Elizabeth Capel though they were childless, an MP for his home town of Wells near Bath. He had military experience, fighting in the Thiry Years war, at one stage rescuing Elizabeth the Winter Queen, who at one stage clung to him on the back of his horse. He’d shared that experience with Wiliam Waller, and they had become firm friends, though Hopton had returned to the war again later and fought again for the Protestant powers. At the short parliament he had demanded reform of the Laudian church as had most MPs, but that was as far as it went; he’d argued against the Remonstrance, and defended Charles’ actions in trying to arrest the Five Members. So, when the shooting started he had quickly come to the Royalist side.

‘a man of great honour, integrity, and piety, of great courage and industry, and an excellent officer for any command but the supreme, to which he was not equal’

This was Clarendon’s judgement of him; In Charles’ cabinet on military leaders, he was in the top drawers. He was deeply religious in a puritanical line, carefully allowing time for soldiers to complete their devotions before battle, and one of those commanders who punished vice and transgressions severely; a team player, unlike the vast majority of his royalist compatriot commanders; he was popular amongst the others, and worked well in joint commands.  I give you Ralph Hopton ladies and Gentlemen.

He had successfully secured one of the most staunchly royalist areas in Cornwall, and sent parliament packing, but was repulsed more than once when trying the break out into Devon, to move eastwards towards Bath and Bristol; but in May 1643 he won a stunning victory over the parliamentarian Earl of Stamford at Stratton, aforementioned, a victory clinched by his Cornish footmen carrying an assault on entrenched artillery positions up the appropriately named Stamford Hill, which nine the less didn’t save his namesake. Over 1,700 were taken prisoner. Hopton was free, and marched eastwards past Exeter and on to Somerset towards Bath, linking up with royalist commanders Maurice of the Palatinate, Prince Rupert’s little bro.

This was to bring him into conflict with his friend William Waller. After their shared Prague adventure, Waller though had not returned to war; his path lead to the good life in Hampshire in the South, with his second wife Anne Finch, of whom Waller wrote

‘I may say we were but as one soul, in two bodies’

Happy together with a growing family, Waller and Anne seemed to have found their possibly unextraordinary destiny, and were due to stay firmly out of the history books.

I desired no greater preferment than to be mine own man.

He wrote, which is a worthy ambition, but possibly his namesake Billy the Conq, would have been unimpressed. But when the crisis came, both William and Anne had no trouble choosing sides; on both constitutional and religious grounds they were enthusiastic supporters of parliament form first light. Anne in particular was strongly puritan and accompanied William on campaign preaching to the troops, which I am forced to admit they did not always appreciate as much as they should, but William was happy enough; my ‘his pretty portable Armie’ he called her.

Anyway enough of that, as I think we have mentioned, Waller raised his own regiment of horse, and quickly rose through the ranks and earned a string of early victories that earned him that nickname William the Conqueror.

In early 1643 Essex appointed him Major General in the west, and he fought in the Severn Valley winning a couple of victories against royalist armies in south Wales and the South west, which meant that by June he faced the prospect of meeting his old friend in battle, Ralph Hopton, coming towards him from the west.

Which is where we come to another of those famous moments in the civil Wars history. As the hideous prospect of violence between them became not just possible but probable, Hopton wrote to his old friend from his HQ at Wells, and asked if they could meet, and Waller’s reply has survived.


The experience I have of your worth and the happiness I have enjoyed in your friendship are wounding considerations when I look at this present distance between us. Certainly, my affection to you is so unchangeable that hostility itself cannot violate my friendship, but I must be true wherein the cause I serve. That great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go about this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy; but I look upon it as the Lord’s work and that is enough to silence all passion in me. The God of peace in his good time will send us peace. In the meantime, we are upon the stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do so in a way of honour and without personal animosities.

Whatever the outcome I will never willingly relinquish the title of Your most affectionate friend.

Brings tears to the eyes. Waller’s letter survives as a really rather beautiful example of the kind of feelings many families, friends and communities must have experienced through the war. This ‘war without an enemy’ must surely be the expression of the English civil war; it’s not that it wasn’t brutal – it was; it’s not that many would die, atrocities be committed and hatreds worked out in violence. But from the start I’ve been keen to make the point that this was not a society that had any concept 10 years before that it would come to this; the stream of peace proposals is already extensive and will stretch on. This is a revolution without a road map as I have said before, without the concept of creating a new society or tearing down the old. They just had to make it up as they were pulled into it by an engine whose nature bemused most of them. Why could not this be sorted out with a bit of good sense and goodwill?

Anyway, we’ll leave Ralph and William approaching their unlooked-for show down, for a moment and move our attention to the Thames Valley and the Midlands. We’ve already heard a bit about this, about Prince Ruperts raids into the midlands to link up with HM moving southwards, so I won’t do too much more on the midlands, except I think to mention a death and a walk. 1643 will see the death of three giants of the early Revolution, and the first of them was Robert Greville, the 36 year old Lord Brooke. He has been a firebrand in the Junto, urging it on. He came from the independent’s stable in religious terms, arguing in his 1640 book The Nature of Truth, that protestants should be able to find their own way to worship rather than follow a uniform established church, whether that be Presbyterian or episcopalian or whatever. Like Cromwell, he argued in parliament against hiring mercenaries or professionals as Charles was currently doing, in favour of those who “fought for the sake of the cause”. Brooke was shot dead by a sniper in Lichfield in March.

Brooke had also fought at Edgehill, and recruited one John Lilburne, who as we heard had been captured there. Edgehill focussed the minds on a few fundamentals about the rules of war and I have a couple of background notes if you wouldn’t mind, relevant to the way the war is fought. The main underpinning set of rules had been adopted by 1640, in the Bishops Wars. The Scots had started when Alistair Leslie adapted Swedish articles of war, and in 1640 Arundel on the English side implemented something called the Laws and Ordinances of War; on these documents were the royalist and parliamentary articles of war based, and they are very similar between the sides. Blaspheming was first on the list, the death penalty was prescribed for soldiers for over 40 offences, including rape; drunkenness was also punishable, with penalties more severe for officers; only the royalist code included a clause stipulating that no soldier was to consider himself above working on building fortifications, a clause apparently not required for parliamentary folk who probably wouldn’t have thought it surprising in the first place.

As to the impact of all of these; well, they were as honoured in the breach as much in compliance, but all armies made strenuous efforts to enforce them, traditionally more firmly in parliamentary armies, and the Godly New Model Army after 1645. There are frequent examples of armies being marched past the bodies of hanged plunderers to make the point. In 1642 though, talking of John Lilburne, the English parliament passed the lex Talionis to deal with the problem of how captured prisoners were treated; because after the sack of Brentford before Turnham Green, parliamentary soldiers including Honest John were threatened with execution for treason. The act ordinance owed a lot to Elizabeth Lilburne, whose marriage to John resulted in a life of, and I quote, ‘tireless lobbying, shared prisons, and much hardship’. Conscious of her husband’s incarceration in Oxford, that the royalists planned to turn Honest John into Hanged John, she raised a petition to parliament.  The lex talionis was the result; it basically, proposed a quid pro quo – we’ll treat prisoners the same as you. Elizabeth Lilburne was at the time pregnant, but nothing daunted, once the act was passed she took a printed version of the ordinance all the way from London to Oxford to make sure the Royalists were aware of the ordinance. As a result John remained honest rather than Hanged, and was released in an exchange of prisoners. He seems to have appreciated his wife’s determination

The gravest, wisest finest messenger I could think of, and though a feminine, yet of a true and gallant masculine spirit[2]

I am going to leave the question of whether or not praising his wife as being a true man is the right approach or not, and simply assume that John meant it kindly.

He returned to London, and they sold their brewing business at a loss, and Lilburne went to join his friend Oliver Cromwell at the Eastern association; which for Elizabeth meant a relatively quiet period at Boston in Lincolnshire for a while. It would not last.

Thames valley though, we should talk about that. Finally, finally parliament realised that Charles was just messing with them over the Treaty of Oxford, and the war was back on, and parliament’s overall military commander reluctantly set off from London for war. Now, given that Oxford and London were, in effect, the Two Towers – and I will leave it to you to decide which is Barad Dur and which Minas Tirith – South Oxfordshire could be considered the plains of Osgilath, and, as I warm to my theme, Old Father Thames be considered the mighty river Anduin. Which means that the town of Reading would be the famously beautiful but war torn Osgilath itself. Not sure the analogy is working any more. But anyway, control of the Thames between Oxford and London was critical – it was a major route of commerce, and was peppered with garrisons – Reading, Henley, Wallingford. Essex wanted to clear them all, and parked himself at Caversham north of Reading.

The royalist governor incidentally was one Arthur Aston, who was ill and had to leave to become the deeply unpopular and irascible governor of Oxford. That career came to an end when he had an accident and fell off his horse. He was forced to amputate a leg, which he replaced with a wooden one; he will re-enter our story at the siege of Drogheda in Ireland in 1649, and the wooden leg will play a role.

Essex captured Reading after 11 days, though Rupert tried and failed to relieve it, and but then then he dithers about attacking Oxford or not. What he does is in the end is march northwards around the East of Oxford, through south Oxfordshire along the bottom of the scarp of the Chiltern hills, until in June he occupied the town of Thame about 40 miles from Oxford, and dispersed his forces for foraging. I don’t really know what he was doing; dithering essentially since he didn’t have the men attack Oxford. Dispersing his men would make them vulnerable on which more in a moment, but what I wanted to mention at this point is camp fever.

I read this paper from a local history group called oxensiensis or some such, by  man called John Bell. And he’d looked at all the population records from Caversham near reading, where Essex was based, and then all long the route of the march northwards to Thame. What his study shows is a trail of destruction. Not from  looting or plunder or any such – but from disease. I extended it a little bit, and even in pretty remote parishes with 2 old ladies a dog called Bert and buttercup the milking cow you can see raised mortality rates around the dates of the march, and in Thame where the army camps, it goes wild, off the charts. I also had a more extended look at Henley, where in 1644 a parliamentarian garrison is established; and the presences of such great densities of people in basically unsanitary conditions was disastrous for the health of the town in which they were placed. It is a fascinating little glimpse into one of the many horrors civil war inflicted on the people, with none of the headline of plunder or active violence or whatever. It’s not just soldiers who die from disease and camp fever; the communities they move through get it too, and die.

Anyway. There is then a small skirmish, given the grandiose title of a battle, at Chalgrove. And I am going to tell you a bit of a story about that, if you will forgive me, and probably post a selfie of the monument there. I was talking of three giants of the early Revolution who met their fate. You might remember than John Hampden had raised a regiment to fight for parliament, a contingent of about 1000 foot, called the Greencoats. I’m not telling you why. Hampen had been at the siege of Reading, and under Essex’s command; while around Thame he was at the little town of Watlington under the Chiltern Hills, inspecting defences and he stayed there for the night.

There was, however, a traitor in Essex’s army, a Scotsman of Aberdeenshire called John Urry. John was a professional soldier, and John was also miffed, because he had not been allocated the level of command he felt he deserved. Now career and promotion wise, John was a man in an ‘urry, and thought he could get on a bit quicker by a bit of light treachery. So he got in touch with Prince Rupes in Oxford and gave him the low down on the dispositions of Essex’s army. Which was very low of him. Urry is an interesting example, he is not alone, of a man who will follow the money; he was knighted for his treachery by the King in Oxford, but after the royal defeat at Marston Moor decided he didn’t like the direction the royal cause was going in and was in no urry to be involved in defeat – I’m gonna stop the weak urry pun now by the way – and jumped ship again. He ended up in Scotland fighting against the royalist Montrose, and when Montrose swept the Covenanters before him like chaff, he though hmm, that’s interesting, and blow me down if he didn’t swap sides again. This time events caught up with him and he was beheaded in Edinburgh. There are many men and women of great principled commitment in the civil wars, there are many who wanted nothing to do with it, there are many for whom it provided interesting job opportunities and the chance to take an all expenses paid tour of the North Atlantic Archipelago in search of gold and glory.

Anway, our Palatine Rupert made hay, and dashed out, fair locks flowing free and with 1700 men charged through Postcome and Tetsworth, dashingly, and fell on the sleepy village of Chinnor, where it was reported a huge cart of cash, pay for Essex’s army, was waiting. Well the cart managed to slip away in the chaos – hauled up into the wooded Chiltern Hills which had for centuries been the hiding ground for bandits and the desperate – nowadays also, being generally stockbrokers. However, he did catch some soldiers unaware at Chinnor and managed to kill about 100 of them. Dashingly.

News of the raid reached Hampden at Watlington. He gathered his men, sent off urgent messages to Essex and set off to hunt Rupert down as fast as he could. Although Rupert’s force was probably mainly mounted, the prisoners they’d taken slowed them down, so the Prince of Darkness decided to turn and prepare an ambush for Hampden behind the locally named Great hedge. But Hampden and the Greencoats were on them too fast…and all looked good – until they became uncomfortably aware that there were far more royalists than them – maybe twice as many. Rupert spotted this interesting wrinkle too, and counter charged repeatedly, driving off the Greencoats and dashingly dashing back to Oxford, where there was much rejoicing and knighting of traitors of the right sort.

Hampden meanwhile had taken a shot in the shoulder and was slumped over his horse. The wound didn’t look serious, and they took him back to the Greyhound Inn on the Cornmarket in Thame – I believe it’s a Waitrose now. Anyway, the wound festered, as wounds were wont to do those days, and despite Charles sending his own physician to attend him – or so the legend goes, within four days John Hampden the Patriot, was dead. He is supposedly buried at his home Church of Great Hampden, though the specific spot is unknown, and left his wife Letitia Knollys and five Children. Letitia was the sister of Francis Knollys, a Gentry family at Greys Court near Henley, so would have had plenty of support, hopefully.

So another leader of the Revolution was gone. Not a revolutionary, but a solid and steady man of principle who wanted to restore what he believed to be the ancient and tested constitution of his country. His friend wrote sadly

Never Kingdom received a greater loss in one subject, never a man a truer and more faithful friend

He gets a good write up by his opponent Clarendon as well as it ‘appens, who reckoned his skills to be of the unshowy type of good management and command on committees in the background, but he did make a number of influential speeches in the Commons; he basically retained a good reputation as an honest and principled patriot, financially comfortable but with nothing like the grand background of Junto members like Warwick, Bedford, Saye and Sele. I am told that Benjamin Franklin and John Adams used Hampden as an example to throw in the faces of the British that hey, rebellion could be patriotic, and even Conrad Russell seems to conclude he was a good egg. Sic transit and all that sort of thing; his mum, Elizabeth Cromwell had written way back

I am ambitious of my son’s honour

And I hope she was satisfied that at least in that way her hopes had been realised, though I doubt it was compensation. And yes, Elizabeth Cromwell as in that Cromwell – Oliver was John Hampden’s cousin.

Now when times are tough, it is always a good idea to head north, where the hills are glorious, the air is fresh and the people friendly. If undeniably blunt. And that is what we are going to go to join Newcastle and the Fairfaxes, but let us make a little shimmy via the eastern association first. This is the association in which Cromwell had a hand in forming, putting together a small contingent of horse initially; he was 44, and had absolutely zero military experience, and he was a glorified farmer after all, without the resources to fund a large contingent. But it grew, because Cromwell was fiercely active; and his recruitment methods continued on a line widely remarked on. Bulstrode Whitelocke made the same observation as the Earl of Manchester that Cromwell mainly recruited freeholders, and as Cromwell himself claimed

Such men as had the fear of God before them and made some conscience of what they did.

And it’s time to roll out another of the much loved quotes of the civil wars which came this time when an earl objected to the oiks that Cromwell was recruiting, and received the blunt rely that

I had rather have the plain russet coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed

It’s a good line and one of Cromwell’s finer attributes. He is also gathering around him people with whom he will have a long association and fellowship; John Desborough who had married Cromwell’s sister Jane for example. By May 1643, Cromwell’s contingent had grown to a full regiment; for future reference, in theory – and it is often only theory, a troop of horse was 100 men, and 14 troops made a regiment, 1,400 at full strength. It’s in the transcript on the web-a-doodle should you wish to check these things.

People were beginning to notice a few things about his regiment; firstly Cromwell seems to have made strenuous efforts not to live off the land in the sense that he often borrowed on his own credit to buy provisions locally, expecting to be recompensed by parliament; and he was unusually strict in maintaining discipline.

In May, Cromwell was blooded for the first time, in a pretty low key campaign where a couple of other attributes might be noticed. Cromwell was no shrinking violet; in his first engagement he seems to have charged and put to flight two experienced and aggressive Royalist commanders; might also be noted that he then kept charging. In contrast  behind him the younger nobleman John Hotham, failed to charge at all, and the engagement turned into a  score draw.

Cromwell expected the same attack and energy he had in the cause from everyone, and he saw in the younger John Hotham the same arrogance and lack of commitment as others were noticing in his father, the Governor of Hull. In Cromwell’s reports to parliament, the reason for his success is attributed, frequently and repetitively I have to say, to God; but he also would join with fellow officer John Hutchinson, husband of the puritan diarist we have heard from before, Lucy Hutchinson, in accusing the younger Hotham of Treason through inaction. Hotham meanwhile resented this low born bloke, just as his father was horrified at having to take orders from  the Fairfaxes. According to one report, Cromwell and Hotham were

Ready to cut each other’s throats.

Well, there followed a story. Essex sent someone to investigate, and threw the younger Hotham in jail; wild accusations were thrown around by said Hotham, which rather leant weight to suspicions about his Dad, Governor of Hull, parliamentary hero of the early months of 1642.The Elder Hotham was again, rather backward in coming forward to engage in battle with the royalist commander Newcastle. Also he seems to have been a bit of a letter writer to him. And as we heard last time, chatty with Henrietta Maria. Someone mentioned that – hey, these people are on the away team. Suspicions aroused, another of Hotham’s Parliamentarian commanders was ordered to take control of Hull before the elder Hotham could execute what was beginning to look like a plan B. A change of team strip. The suspicion was later confirmed by his son’s papers.

Into the town hurried new man, and raised the local militia against their nominal commander to arrest him; it seems the good citizens of Hull had similar suspicions of their Governor’s mettle, and were not impressed; a local writer recorded that Hotham

found nott soe much as one man to lift a hand on his behalf”

Treason had been averted; Hotham was imprisoned, and later in 1644 he was tried under court martial by Waller and executed.

In June 1643, the younger Hotham had received an urgent request from Thomas Fairfax, begging for help from the parliamentary forces under the Eastern Association; one of Hotham’s acts of treachery was to write to Parliament to say that the help was not needed, that Newcastle’s forces were completely incapable of the task of defeating the Fairfaxes in Yorkshire. Nothing to see her, it’s fine, fine, really. In fact, Newcastle’s forces were among the most powerful anywhere, and the royalist cause in the north so far in the ascendant that Charles had already written to Newcastle

The business of Yorkshire I account almost done[3]

The fact that the Fairfaxes still had a position to defend in the north to defend against the Newcastle behemoth was due to a spirit of populism stronger in the clothing towns of West Yorkshire than anywhere in England outside of London. In December, Bradford had looked set to fall to the royalists; one observer recalled that all the wealthier parishioners had fled leaving

Not a gentleman to command us

So the inhabitants

Blocked every avenue leading into the town, sent out spies and watched every move of the enemy

Inhabitants were armed with

Clubs, scythes, spits, flails, halberds, sickles laid on long poles and such like rustic weapons

Their defiance drew in people from surrounding towns, Halifax, Bingley and other townships

The attempts of the royalists to take the town got bloody; one officer was unhorsed and cried for quarter; the locals supposedly cried

Aye they would quarter him

Before clubbing him to death. Anything for a good gag, but that’s probably stretching it.

But Bradford became a national symbol of defiance against royalism in London. There were some that told Thomas Fairfax not to associate himself with such club law, such populist agency; elsewhere in places such as Lewes in Sussex, the parliamentarian gentry had deliberately stood aside, horrified by the level of social independence that club law manifested.  But Thomas Fairfax saw these people as his own, his constituency, and felt he had a moral responsibility to defend their interests; so on 29th December he rode to Bradford with 120 men to join them.

This was the making of the Fairfaxes, son and father. In the successes they achieved in holding West Yorkshire against the overwhelming forces of Newcastle and the powerful Yorkshire gentry, they relied a lot on this popular support; in January, Thomas Fairfax stormed Leeds, and the London Newsbooks sang of the

Bradford men with their clubs and forks

Club law also rose in Rotherham, where a royalist contingent was ejected by poorly armed locals in defence of their church against plunder; and it led to something of a local storm. With the estates of royalist gentry being surrounded and attacked by local clubmen, similar to the Stour Valley riots against Laudian Landowners like the Lucases which had occurred in Essex. The reliance of the Fairfaxes on popular support drove their strategy in defending towns like Selby and Sheffield. I hope you are all looking at your atlases of Yorkshire, I’ll try to post one. In May, Fairfax called local men from the clothing manufacturing districts of Leeds, Bradford and Halifax to assemble at Howley Hall, and set off to attack Wakefield with 1500 men, Dragoons and foot, believing that the royalist garrison there was only 900 strong.

He was wrong as it happens. Geroge Goring may have had 5,000 men under his command. But even they were not enough. Thomas Fairfaxes’ resulting capture of Wakefield in close-fought street fighting has been described by historian Andrew Hopper as

Among the most astounding actions of the entire civil war.

The times though, they were a changing. The Gorilla was on his way. In June, freed of the task of escorting HM back to Oxford, Newcastle made a sharp strategic choice of marching his main force of 12,000 men right into the middle of the Clothing towns district, slap bang in a circle of Wakefield, Halifax, Bradford, Leeds. The Fairfaxes, had no choice but to block his way or lose Yorkshire, and they offered open battle. And at Adwalton Moor 1643 that is what they did, on a well-chosen ground with multiple hedges to slow down the royalist cavalry. They were 4,000 soldiers – and a number of clubmen, we know not how many. On 30th June the two armies faced each other.

Thomas Fairfax had his wife Anne Fairfax at his side; I believe I have introduced Anne to you, but a reminder never hurts; she’d been brought up in the Netherlands and was therefore fiercely radical in her Protestantism. She was a powerful character, so much so that in the sexual politics of the time, royalist newsbooks often attacked her for it, and mocked Fairfax as being a traitor to his sex, and a pawn under a woman’s command. In return Fairfax stoutly defended them both; she was, he wrote, his ‘matchless creature’.

Well, Fairfax and his wildly outnumbered forces had the best of it; by 11am they were pushing Newcastle back and back. But they began to tire; numbers began to tell. Newcastle launched a bold counter attack with a regiment of Pikemen; it created a gap in Farfaxe’s line, enough for Newcastle’s cavalry to exploit. Adwalton Moor was not to be a parliamentary triumph; but a a crushing victory for Newcastle and the royalists.

Thomas and Anne fled the battlefield together initially to Bradford; then as the royalist forces closed in they made a daring escape attempt, riding through the royalist lines at night. In his memoirs when all was finished in his old age, Thomas Fairfax looked back

I must not forget to mention my wife, who ran as great hazards with us in this retreat, as many others and with little expression of fear

However, Thomas and Anne were separated, and Anne captured while riding behind one of Fairfax’s officers, and taken to Newcastle’s headquarters.  By the time of her release the following month, Anne Fairfax was the popular first lady of the North for the parliamentary cause, a bone fide heroine. She rather liked that, she revelled in it, played up to it; she gave one of Cromwell’s captains a motto in a lady’s favour with the words

Rather die than truth deny

But none of that could hide the truth; all those precious West Riding Yorkshire clothing towns were taken by Newcastle. If Hotham’s treachery had not been discovered and so Hull retained for parliament, it would have been over in the north outside of Lancashire to the west. As it was, parliaments cause in the North was on its knees.

Which brings us back to t’other end of the country, to the South west, where on 4th July, Waller was defending Bath, from the deliciously beautiful heights of Landsowne Hill. The next day, Hopton attacked up the steep hill, and yet again carried the day through a heroic assault by the Cormish infantry men despite hideous losses on the way. Waller was forced to withdraw overnight and took up a commanding defensive position on Roundway Down.

Well, on 13th July, part of Hopton’s army approached, about 1,800 initially under a bloke called Wilmot; who confidently attacked Waller’s 5,000, all snugly buggly on top of a hill; Wilmott went for it because he confidently expected Hopton to attack from the opposite side of the hill with his 3,000. But his timing was all wrong and he was soon in deep do dos. But they held on. Willmot’s soldiers and their absolute tenacity against superior numbers, gave Hopton’s and his cavalry commanders time to then outflank and panic Waller’s army; until at last Hopton arrived and it turned into a rout.

Roundway Down was a massive victory for the Crown. Parliament’s army in the west was destroyed and any remnants melted away. Waller fled, and recalled it as

‘the most heavy stroke of any that did ever befall me’

It had

‘pleased the Lord to turn my victory into mourning, and my glory into shame

William the Conqueror was Conqueror no more – although oddly he was received in London with glowing praise on 25th July for his former victories. This drove Essex so potty with fury, since he appeared to get the blame for Roundway Down as the overall parliamentary commander, when it wasn’t his fault. He was so cross he offered to resign. Mercurius Aulicus, the newssheet in Oxford had a hoot, glorying in the abject destruction of parliament’s hopes, and celebrating that William the Conquerer had fallen and the battle of Roundway Down was rechristened the battle of Runaway Down. Which you have to accept is a zinger.

Even more of a zinger, the South West was now cleared of parliamentary armies, and the crucial port city of Bristol lay open to attack. Charles dispatched Rupert with an additional force to link up with Hopton, and by 24th July Bristol was surrounded by overwhelming force. The Parliamentarian Governor was Nathaniel Fiennes, a younger son of Saye and Sele. Although one of the most important centres outside London because of it sport trade and industry, Bristol was almost impossible to defend. Within three days, with no hope of relief by Essex, despite very public pleading by women petitioners of the City, Fiennes and his council of war decided that saving the lives of their men to fight another day was the only sensible option and they surrendered.

When he arrived back in London, Fiennes was not received with any of the generous support Waller had received. He was briskly given a court martial and condemned to death. Only the influence of his father and the generous attitude of the Earl of Essex saw his sentence reprieved.

By the end of July 1643, Parliament’s position had collapsed; they were left with Essex’s army and the relatively small numbers of the Eastern Association. Charles now had a choice; was this the moment to go for the big one, advance on London and end this; or take the more cautious approach and take the City of Gloucester. If that city fell, parliament would have no major strongholds left in the west, Charles would hold a solid phalanx connecting South west England with all of Wales. So deep was the panic that right at the start of August, the house of Lords agreed a set of peace proposals that were pretty much a complete surrender; and when they received it, the Commons did not kick it straight back with contempt, they agreed instead to consider it.

Charles appeared to stand on the edge of victory.

[1] Kenyon, J: ‘The Civil Wars: A Military History’, p32

[2] Robertson, G: ‘The Levellers’, pXXV

[3] Hopper, A: ‘Black Tom’, p37


5 thoughts on “388 Runaway Down

  1. Loin-girding is less unsavory than it sounds. If you standard article of clothing was a kind of full-length robe (as in the ancient middle east), it was kind of dangerous to get fighty wearing it in the normal way. You’d trip over your own robe at a horrible time.* So before a fight, they’d lift the bottom up to kind of waist high or so, pass the material through the legs, and tie it back around the waist. Now everything is out of the way and you get on knocking seven bells out of anyone whose loins are not so-girded.

    So it sounds like it might be dirty or at least eyebrow-raising, but it’s mostly just mundane.

    * I am refraining from noting that the Scottish kilt does not go so far down and speculating on what that implies about their desire to be ready to fight in a moment sans garment adjustment.

    1. I appreciate the noble attempt to scotch a personal phobia (pun intended!) that has haunted my dreams. It does seem a critical activity from what you say, in certain circumstances.

  2. Iv been listening to the History of England for a few years now and thoroughly enjoy it, 5*.

    I must say tho the last few episodes have…shall we say confused me.

    In the reviews of the Civil wars and the theatres of action.

    We seem to go South,South East, East, Yorkshire, Scotland, (occasionally) Ireland…alot of time is spent talking about some place called London.

    But there is no mention of Lancashire or Cumbria !?

    How can this be? Lancashire the mighty power of the north left off the list while the west riding is endlessly trotted out.

    I say all this in good jest, the last few episodes have been great and the show as a whole is fantastic.

    Some information on what the two regions were up to would be nice however.

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Well, therein lies a story and I confidently expect to get to Lancashire in the next few. Because Lancashire was dominated by the mighty Stanleys, as I understand it; and yet he’s going to hop off to the Isle of Man, leaving his French wife Christine to hold Lathon house, of which I think she doies a halk decent job.
      Cumnbria though – good point – I will get on it!

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