389 Newsheets and Newbury


In July 1643 the propaganda war was in full swing, and newsheets opened up from both Oxford and London. London was rent by protests,  while the royalist cause was finely fettled – in control in the North and ready from the west to launch another assault to London. Only Gloucester stood in the way.

Download Podcast - 389 Newsheets and Newbury (Right Click and select Save Link As)


Last time, we heard how in 1643 the nature of the war changed away from the scenario of two big armies slugging it out over the jewel that was London – or dungheap depending on your world view. And instead talked about a series of regional conflicts. We heard how the Marquess of Newcastle drove south with the Queen and then returned to Yorkshire to deal parliament and the Fairfaxes a heavy, possibly knock-out blow at Adwalton Moor. In the South West, two old friends have come to blows, with first blood again to the Royalist army under Ralph Hopton that sent William back to London, conqueror no longer. The crucial port of Bristol fell into royal hands, to join Chester – Charles’ access by sea to Ireland was secure. If his ships could avoid Warwick and the no longer so Royal navy. Parliament’s fortress at Gloucester was threatened, and if that fell all western and northern Engand would be in the king’s hands. I mean he didn’t need to bother with Gloucester – he could simply bypass it and march on London. And meanwhile despite all this bad news for parliament, Essex sat dithering at Thame in Oxfordshire, wondering if he dared attack the king at his new capital of Oxford, and mourned the death of one of the early leaders of the Revolution, John Hampden.

The first six months of 1643 really were really something of a belter for Charles, he felt tickety boo, top of the world. He could not have been happier that he’d sent the peace delegation from London and Edinburgh packing, fleas buzzing in their ears. He was looking forward to dictating terms to those malignant rebels. I invite you to close your eyes, put Van Dyke’s image of Charles into you mind, put a massive grin on his face, and the add rubbing of hands, and Henrieta Maria photo bombing fist pumping behind and Prince Rupert stamping on the neck of a fallen peasant. In London, parliament had panicked, and from the Lords the leader of the emerging ‘peace Party’, Warwick’s brother the Earl of Holland, came forward with rather abject proposals for a new peace which the Commons, also mid wobble, agreed to consider.

This time we are going to hear… about how the world, which was beginning to look simple from Charles’ closet after this string of victories, becomes rather more nuanced. We are also going to hear about two absolutely pivotal events which will the tweak the nipple of peace so hard that finding a compromise will become almost impossible. I speak of the Cessation in Ireland, and the Solemn League and Covenant in England, Wales  and Scotland. I will explain, in due course. But before we get t that I am afraid I have a large digression to tell you about. Because the good people of England, but they are also going to get a load of this:

As discussed, Pamphlets and cheap print was running wild, censorship had completely broken down, and in Oxford it was decided a structured response was needed. The result was a new format, the Newsbook and it came with a clarion call

The world hath long enough beene abused with falshoods: And there’s a weekly cheat put out to nourish the abuse amongst the people, and make them pay for their seducement. And that the world may see that the Court is neither so barren of intelligence, as it is conceived; nor the affaires thereof in so unprosperous a condition, as these Pamphlets make then: it is thought fit to let them truly understand the estate of things that so they may no longer pretend ignorance, or be deceived with untruthes: which being premised once for all, we now go on unto the businesse; wherein we shall proceed with all truth and candor.”

I am talking, ladies and gentlemen, about nothing less but the invention of journalism. After January 1643, the world will forever be trying to rediscover Revolutionary England, and even the Sun will never quite manage it. The English public will be battered, good people, battered and rolled in newsprint until they do not know whether they are coming or going, what is up and what is down, north east south or west, they will have no hope of daily rest from the assault of propaganda, er sorry, news. Fake or otherwise.

The bit of text you have just heard was written in January 1643. It was announcing the all new Newssheet, the Mercurius Aulicus, the Court Mercury. It was probably written by a  Fellow of All Souls college Oxford John Birkenhead. So I know the image that conjures up in your mind – ivory towers, dusty monographs an earnest search for pearls of truth among the dungheap of existence. Well think again. John Aubrey, he of Brief Lives, the endlessly fertile ground of contemporary quotes, had a description of the Academic who will become a voracious journalist.

exceedingly confident, witty, not very gratefull to his benefactors, would lye damnably. He was of midling stature, great goggly eyes, not of a sweet aspect

John Birkenhead did not mind putting it out there. These days, academia is of course every bit as red in tooth and claw as it ever was, but the cut and thrust of said claws and teeth is often carefully hidden behind words like ‘problematic’ – such a thoroughly versatile word, that. Back in the day, in the violence we have lost they did not mess about so much. Just consider the arguments between those two saintly figures Martin Luther and Thomas More. Well one saintly figure. Potty mouthed does not even begin to describe the father of the English renaissance. Seriously, there is not enough soap in the world to wash out that mouth.

The story is that the Mercurius Aulicus was the brainchild of George Digby. Now George doesn’t get a good press in these pages; he’s the bloke that cooked up pretty much the worst plan in the history of political coups in the arrest of the Five Members – oh it’ll  be fine, king, there’ll be no problem they’ll lap it up. I mean there’s a perennial discussion in life, outside of moral questions obviously, about whether it’s best to do the right thing or do the thing right, and Charles didn’t do the thing right, but it almost certainly wasn’t the right thing. Am I making any sense? All I’m saying is that George Digby earns idiot badges like a good ‘un, but when he suggested that what was needed now was a newssheet that communicated the news to the world with a royalist spin – both king’s supporters and not king’s supporters – he was on fire. And it was so, and so Mercurius Aulicus was born.

Now look, England in the civil wars doesn’t invent journalism, I know that; I know we English like to pretend we invented everything, even the sandwich for crying aloud, and I know that we did not; that rather you might trace it back to Venice – the Italians are the real European geniuses; there had been single sheet corrantos for quite a while. But if I am not mistaken, they seem to have a different quality – mainly international news, delivered straight.

The newssheets that will flower in England like a desert blooming in the spring rain are by no means always peddling fake news, not always sensationalist, but they are partial, they have a point of view, they are out to persuade, they are vibrant; and people lap them up and the old guard are outraged at said lapping of the people, and chins wobble. Simmonds D’Ewes the puritan diarist of parliament, embued with the historic significance and solemnity of the great institution of parliament will be horrified as the idea which spread from royalist Oxford will explode in London as well.

There are now abiding in and about London certain loose beggarly scholars who did in alehouses invent…speeches of members of the house and other passages supposed to be handed in or presented in this house

As a result, Simmonds will stop writing. The writers and printers who followed the star launched by the Mercurius Aulicus often came from a different background to the authors who had filled the world with academic debate books and pamphlets. They were more of the background of the new order, the likes of Katherine Chidley. But unlike Katherine, they would be in it now not just for the discovery of truth, they were in it for the game as well. Birkenhead’s main writer on Aulicus was Peter Heylyn, a minor country gentleman, but an entire culture of writers will emerge; the greatest of them all, Marchamont Nedham, who name he said, rhymed with Freedom, was a publican’s son from the George in Burford; he managed to get to Oxford, probably as a scholarship chorister, then  got himself a job as a lawyer’s clerk – which gave him a bit of an edge.

Well the good folks in London – and indeed parliament weren’t prepared to let the word of the King go unchallenged, and so Newssheets spring up like mushrooms. First Mercurius Civicus, the City Mercury,

Londons Intelligencer, or, Truth impartially related from thence to the whole Kingdome to prevent mis-information

Started up in June 1643, and then this is where Marchamont Nedham decided being a lawyer’s clerk was a mugs game and he’d team up with Thomas Audley and move into Grub street, and the Mercurius Britannicus was born. Britannicus took it all a step further, these newsbooks are personal; Nedham was more vicious than the aatirical Aulicus which he accused as

So full of lying and railing, that I think he is afflicted by all the pimp

Don’t quite know what that means, but it’s not a compliment. Marchmont will have quite a career ahead of him, inventing and re-inventing himself, ending up in goal. And then, in 1647 he’ll swap sides and get a job for the King, setting up Mercurius Pragmaticus, enthusiastically smearing and mocking parliament, with an openly Laudian and royalist viewpoint, as it said

Communicating intelligence from all parts of the kingdom, especially from Westminster, and the head-quarters

They were printed in Oxford, came out every week and sold for a penny a pop; if trouble got in the way and they missed a week, well then never mind they just missed a number and people assumed they’d just got lost on the road when they got the next one. They were smuggled into London, often carried by women who were less likely to be suspected, and if they couldn’t get through, local printers would just copy them and print them themselves – obviously no one was worrying about copyright. And if the parliament men turned up, well printers would just say it was a commission, and it’s not up to them to make a judgement about what they were printing.

:Later then he’ll write for Cromwell. But always unwaveringly hostile to Presbyterianism, and apart from his royal period be distinctly unsympathetic and irreverent towards the king in a way which was more than a bit shocking at a time when the King was afterall supposed to be in direct communication with God & all. Nedham knew that the serious heavy tomes of tightly argued prose would never do the job. So his Newsbooks were quarto sheets folded down to make a pamphlet, and he knew that each must be written in a

jocular way, or else it will never be cried up: for those truths which the multitude regard not in a serious dress, being represented in pleasing popular airs, make music to the common sense, and charm the fancy, which ever sways the sceptre in vulgar judgement, much more than reason

The civil war now had a new dimension, a new arm, a propaganda war to go alongside the physical one , and Grub Street spread like camp fever on the march, offering an opportunity for anybody with a gift for the written word; such as Alexander Aspinwall, for example, a very poor ex-soldier who explained that he

Had nothing but my pen to subsist on[1]

And accepted pretty much any commission to write on any subject adjacent or otherwise to what might have a nodding acquaintance with the truth.

I’ll stop now, but all these newssheets and wood cuts are a rich, rich resource for lovers of the history of English Revolution. All digitised now, but to a podcaster who is not part of a university library, frustratingly difficult to get  your hands on. People of the time loved them and were obsessed and beguiled by them – and repelled and horrified by them too. But there were deeply informed and engaged people all over the country in what was going on – in the war, at Court – and who was in and who was out in Parliament – the Junto, king Pym, the Presbyterians, the friends of the Scots, the enemies of the Scots, the Independents, war party, peace party – blah. Popular politics has ridden into town, and here was a new culture where MPs were analysed, judged, and held to account by a public voice. Thomas Peyton was horrified that ordinary citizens had grown

So wise…having received a diffusive knowledge from the dispersed house.

Oh dear, what have I done, gone off on one. Fun though. But let’s get back to the story, and pick up where we left off; parliamentary panic, a string of defeats, a peace proposal from the Lords, passed to the Commons for consideration.

Most firm royalists had left London by now; but many longed for the traditional centre of the kingdom, the court; Whitehall was bereft of life and deserted

A palace without presence! … here are miseries and miseries, and miseries

Cried one pamphlet. Anyone could wander in and see the grass growing between the cobble stones and look at the departed glory, a palace without a court. A ballad hit the streets which rather echos those Anglo Saxon poems about the deserted Roman towns back in the 9th century of desertd glory

We see Whitehall with cobwebs hanging on the wall

Instead of silk and silver brave

Which it formerly used to have

With rich perfume in every room

Delightful to that princely train[2]

Parliament were not alone in their panic; there were plenty in London who now demanded peace. Trade was hurting, this division in society was hurting, all these newssheets with their acid and snark and snipe, were hurting, taxes, gosh they stung. Faultlines in parliament had not been resolved by the flight of the royalist MPs to Oxford new ones had appeared; there were precious few believers in absolutism any more in London, but there was a party that said the fighting must stop now and peace be achieved, almost at any cost, and it was gaining strength. At their head was Denzil Holles in the Commons, a man who wore the scars of the rebellion, and he was supported by the more moderate peers in the Lords – such the earl of Holland, younger brother of the Junto leader Warwick. Even the Earl of Essex was showing signs of the pressure – which is inconvenient, him being the General of all Parliament’s armies & all.

Inside the Commons in August they could hear what London thought outside; but the message was mixed. On Monday 7th the London Common Council debated and organised a petition to help them inside make the right choice – a petition for war. The London Common Council was already up in arms as it happens; they were deeply unhappy with Essex and his command of the army, and there was rabble rousing going on – a Committee of General Rising had moves afoot to raise a separate army; Pym and parliament tried to reconcile this radical group by giving Waller command of the London militia. One of the Committee of general Rising was Henry Marten, also an MP, who spoke the language of radicalism, but also the language of Commonwealth to convince the Common Council they could work together with parliament again now Waller was in command

If there shall be a general an unanimous rising of the people both in this city and in other parts of the kingdom it will take down the partition wall betwixt the well-affected and ill-affected…certainly I am of the opinion that either you must go forth all and meet the enemy as vassals with ropes around your necks or like men with swords in your hand

But the next day was not one for this warlike vibe of the Common Council. Instead, Westminster was crowded with hundreds of women, wearing white silk ribbons in their hats, as symbols of peace, many carrying babies to, as they wrote, ‘soften the hardest heart’. The next day, there were no longer hundreds – there were thousands, and this time they demanded to be heard. They knew what was going on in the house, they knew who their allies were, possibly they’d worked with them – so their petition was addressed to the Earl of Holland,

The physician that can restore this languishing nation

They banged on the gates, they demanded Pym and Strode be thrown into the Thames, some shouted

‘give us that dog Pym!’

Soldiers were deployed, the butts of muskets were used, at least one shot was fired, a seamstress was killed and many more injured. There was outrage that women should have the nerve to petition and march, again, and the newssheets had a field day of misogyny

These women were for the most part whores, bawds, oyster-women, kitchenstuffe women beggar women and the very scum of the suburbs, besides abundance of Irish women

There we go, oyster-women again. huh. The Venetian Ambassador’s chin wobbled too, picking at one of them

A most deformed Medusa, or Hecuba, with an old rusty sword by her side

A classical education does so help improve the quality of insults. In fact, all the insults simply reflected another example of outrage at the world turned upside down. The petitioners came from a whole range, and without doubt traders, artisans and merchants families figured highly, and consciously used their status as women to allow protest with a minimum of violence.[3]

While there was indeed a peace party inside the house, there was a war party too. For Pym, the outbreak of the civil war represented the failure of the strategy he had followed since the start – a peaceful settlement to which the king was forced to accept. Nonetheless, now that it was war, neither he nor any of the Junto were prepared to contemplate such an abject defeat. And behind Pym the war party was hardening; Warwick, Manchester and Saye and Sele in the Lords, Harry Vane the Younger and Arthur Haselrig in the Commons. The debate was hard, the debate was long, and the debate was close – but the proposal for peace was rejected, But by just 7 votes.

There was a casualty along the way; the man Charles had contemptuously dismissed as ‘Whoremaster and ugly rascal’, Henry Marten. To the outrage of the Mercurius Aulicus in Oxford, it was reported that Marten had declared in the Commons that

‘it were better one family be destroyed than many’

Well there was a sucking of teeth, let me tell you, and sharp intake of breath that sucked the oxygen from the commons. Marten was notorious for his flamboyant wit in debates which won him a lot of fans, but this time he’d gone too far – he was challenged by another MP – who? Which family? The king said Marten. The king and his family should be destroyed. No one was ready for that, no one. Marten was immediately imprisoned and banned from the house of Commons. He’d be released in a couple of weeks, but it would be 3 years before he’d return to the house, spending them fighting for parliament in the Midlands until he returned in 1646.

It was too much for the Earl of Holland. He gathered his belongings and his dignity around him, forsook London and took himself over the Chiltern hills to Oxford and presented himself to Hyde at the court. Hyde was ecstatic – this was exactly what they were looking for, the defection of massively influential and high profile rebel leaders. So what did Charles do? Well, he royally botched it. Now it must be said that only Hyde had the good sense to see what a golden opportunity this was – the rest of the court, confident now of victory, closed ranks against this former rebel – no way this guy was coming back, no way he was being reinstated in the household, he’d have to do his porridge and earn it. Charles got himself embroiled in a tangle of protocol about who said what to whom first, By November Holland had slunk back to London, and the chance was missed. If this was the way the king welcomed defectors well then – better not defect.

So the war must go on. As war resumed, both sides were looking for allies; the King to finish what he had started and bring these malignant rebels to justice, Parliament to survive. Pym and Vane were deep in discussions with the Scots Covenanters about an alliance, as Charles and Hamilton tried to derail the Scottish convention, and Argyll and the Covenanters just kept right on going in frank defiance. Charles was now looking more hopefully to Ireland. In January he had authorised Ormonde to discuss terms with the Irish Confederate Association, but there was a problem. Amongst the Confederates, the hardline faction stood in the way. The leading general, Owen Roe O’Neil fighting in Ulster was a child of the Counter Reformation, deeply allied to Spain and supported by Papal representatives who had come to Ireland to make sure the Pope was reinstated in full authority over the heretics. But now into our story comes a town called Clones. Clones, I might say was the home of the most exciting boxer I have even seen – not that I have seen that many it must be said but still, leave your traditional heroes of Boxing history, and give me the Clones Cyclone, Barry McGuigan. Just a personal thing. Anyway in June, O’Neil was caught and scattered by the Laggan Army, an army of Protestant colonists under Robert Stewart. O’Neil would recover, but the defeat damaged his authority and an agreement began to look on.

So, where are we in England then in the fightiness stakes? Well the North is royalist, Newcastle is the boss, and up in Yorkshire there only Hull really holds out and not only is that besieged, with the Fairfaxes bottled up, but now Charles’ great pal Newcastle looks set fair to advance down the eastern side of the country and start cutting up the Eastern association. We’ll talk about how that goes next time; for the moment Pym and the Committee of Public safety have spotted it, and are planning to raise a new army if they can do in time. Can you hold your breath until next week? Good on ya.

Right, west and Midlands then, that’s where the big play was in 1643. Hopton had destroyed Waller, and enabled the capture of Bristol. So as you can imagine, the lad was promoted and everyone lauded and magnified his glorious name. Well, no as it happens, Well done old chap, said Charles. Now command of you ‘hood of Devon is actually going to be given to Prince Maurice of the Rhine, Rupert’s little brother because he’s a Prince and all, and you’re – well you’re not. So, you look after Bristol there’s a good chap, Rupert and I are off to defeat parliament, okally dokally?

I’m being harsh actually; Hopton was given a grander title, and would get a command in the south as a Field Marshal. But at this point it was pretty cack handed; the king had preferred family over achievement and it caused bad blood – though not with Hopton. He was way too nice – didn’t cut up rough, just did his duty.

London or Gloucester, London or Gloucester. Viscount Falkland joined forces with Rupert on this one; the key to this war now was to have, hold and tax territory. Take Gloucester they urged, take it quickly, and be utterly dominant in the west. It’s only take couple of days, then on to London.

Whether or not this was the right choice who knows – plenty of historians have said it was a disaster, Essex and parliament were squabbling, Pym was struggling to raise money there was disarray and confusion in the camp. So maybe a big strike with Newcastle coming from the north would have been the thing but look, ifs buts and maybes. Falkland and Rupert seem to have had in mind charging up, taking Gloucester by storm, no quarter, plunder move on. Bish bash bosh, all sorted by 10th August then London in time for the Harvest Moon. What actually happened was that Charles, quite rightly went through the forms of demanding surrender, the local commander said nope, not going to do that, and everyone settled down to a siege. That had not been the plan.

Turns out 2 weeks later they were still sitting there. True enough the besieged weren’t well supplied and were getting desperate, but still. And at last by 19th August Pym had worked the problems through, and Essex was ready to leave with an army. He took with him as the core of his army the London Trained Bands. The problem with the trained Bands is that they believe their job is defending their bit of the country, and as soon as they go outside their patch, they want to go back home. But nonetheless they are off. And while we are at it, Essex had half-inched Phillip Skippon, and Skippon has form. Everything seems a little safer when Skippon was on your side. We have a few contemporary snippets from the campaign including one Seargeant Harry Foster, one of the Red regiment of the London Trained Bands. Things seem to start pretty well

Great shouting and triumph as Essex passed by to take a view of our regiments ….it was a goodly and glorious sight to see the whole army of horse and foot together

In Gloucester things are desperate, morale is rock bottom, last barrel of gunpowder, everyone’s eating cake because the bread has run out, on the verge of surrender when on 5th September they heard the booming of artillery, and saw the royalist army was pulling back from the siegeworks – Essex had made it, Gloucester was relieved. What a relief. Doom and Gloom in the royal team.

But Charles was determined to get something out of this, and further west Maurice was sending back great news – Exeter had fallen. So, plan B version 2 – trap Essex in the West country, block his route to London, give him a thrashing – then London will be ours! And there’s a nifty bit of manoeuvring, feints and blinds, and the long and short of this is that when Essex wants to cross the river Kennet at Newbury, he finds that his supply lines are cut and his way back to London is blocked – because Charles has got to Newbury before him.

By all accounts, Essex was in a bad way by this stage though.  It had been raining constantly, Essex’s men had been on the move since 19th August, the London Trained Bands were missing their morning Danish and skinny lattes with an extra shot away from London life. Here’s our Harry again

Our regiment stood in the open field all night, having nether bread and water to refresh ourselves having also marched the day before without sustenance, neither durst we light any fire  though it was a very cold night

Essex gets a bad rap often as an over cautious pudding like commander; but on the evening of 19th September he conceives a bit of action to relight the warrior fires in their collective bellies so at 3am the following morning there’s a silent reveille, they all surge forward, Harry remembering them

Marching towards the enemy with the most cheerful and courageous spirits

and when morning breaks and John Byron, the guy who messed up at Edgehill and had a habit of sacking South Oxfordshire towns, looks out from camp he sees Round Hill ahead of him. Then chokes because there are soldiers on it. Essex’s soldiers were up there, looking a bit bushed but happy crying ‘hey for Robin’, just as they had done at Turnham Greem. So that’s annoying. He knew they’d messed up by allowing this as he wrote later in the PM

here another error was committed and that a most gross and absurd one

he wrote. They should have been up there already. That hill would have to be retaken then.

That night there was a worried group of friends around Lucius Carey, Viscount Falkland. Falkland was in a bad way; he was a sensitive and rather artistic soul, son of the Poet Elizabeth Carey; he’d carried on that tradition, setting up a literary group with his wife Lettice, called the Great Tew Circle – in his manor of Great Tew, a pretty place with a good pub by the way. He held himself rather responsible for the situation they were in; after all he’d argued for the siege of Gloucester, maybe they could now be negotiating with parliament outside London had they not done so. Still, his low spirits were not new; his friends had seen a change in Falkland for some weeks now. Although one of those who had argued that Strafford must die, he was an ardent supporter of the old Church of England, could not bear the Presbyterian rhetoric, and had chosen to side with the king. But he’d constantly supported efforts for peaceful resolution throughout 1641 and 2. But still here they were.

The conflict tore at all his instincts. His normal good temper had failed him, he had become morose; sleep deserted him and Clarendon remembered that he

would passionately profess that the very agony of the war, and the view of the calamities and desolation the kingdom did and must endure, took his sleep from him

That morning before the coming fight he called for a clean shirt; seemed odd, his friends asked why. Well, he replied,

“he was weary of the times and foresaw much misery to his own Country and did believe he should be out of it ere night.

Not a good answer. They told him not to be an idiot – he was an administrator and artistic type, not a warrior, he should stay away from the battlefield.

Next they heard, Falkland had volunteered for a regiment in the front line. ah.

So here we are at the first battle of Newbury, 20th September 1643 date check. Second of the big set piece battle of the English civil war, and the stakes were high; if Essex loses, 1643 would have been a crashingly poor year and possibly a terminally poor year. The two armies were similar in size, 12-13,000, nothing much to choose between them, parliament smidge bigger.

So, Prince Rupert came forward with 900 Lifeguards to survey the scene ahead of him, and there would probably have been some superstitious muttering as he did so amongst the parliament lines.  Because Rupert had a dog with him. Quite possibly a Devil Dog.

Boye, for such was his name, was a rather unique white Hunting Poodle given to the boy Rupert by one Lord Arundel when he had been incarcerated in the Fortress at Linz in the 30 Years War. That boy took that Boye around with him wherever he went, even into battle, though carefully kept on a leash. He had become famous – so much so that apparently the Sultan of Istanbul had asked if someone could please find one for him, it was the ultimate warrior fashion accessory essentially, and you can see that a Devil Dog could come in handy. Royalists had real fun with Boye, and make no mistake. Panicky Roundheads muttered that he was invulnerable to attack, could catch bullets fired at Rupert in his mouth; apparently he could sneak into camp, sniff around at the dispositions and numbers and go back and tell the tail – arf – by I don’t know, woofing in code or something. Royalist soldiers adopted Boye – he was set on the military career ladder,  made mascot at the rank of Sergeant-Major-General. Meanwhile Boye had also been carefully trained to cock his leg whenever anyone said John Pym, and you have to say that must have been fun. Boy – John Pym – good boy. John Pym.

Anyway what Ruper saw that morning was as a landscape liberally covered with hedges, and the parliamentary foot had taken full advantage of these thick healthy thick hedges.

We had lined the hedges with musketeers, which they perceiving did not move towards our body, but only stood and faced us

The two armies faced each other, string each in a line roughly north to south, Essex’s arm was to the West, Charles to the east. Charles would have the main attack from the royal left in the south while the royalist centre and right held firm. The idea was that Wilmot in the south would lead a massively strong group of 3,000 horse supported with Infantry brigades, they’d smash in Essex’s right win on the Newbury Wash Common, set them to flight and then roll up the parliament forces along the line from the south to north and truth and justice would prevail over the rebels.

It was hard work as the infantry attacked the parliament’s positions with musket fire; Byron remembered

Upon this a confusion was heard among the foot calling Horse! Horse! I went to view the ground which I found to be enclosed by a high thick quick hedge and no passage into but by a narrow gap through which but one horse at a time could go and that not without difficulty

Over the next few hours there was charge and counter charge in the south, while battle was then joined in the centre and by midday Essex was under pressure. Skippon and Harry Foster’s Red Band had been in reserve and were called forward to re-inforce the line to prevent a collapse which threatened and they came under fire

The enemy cannon did play against the red regiment of the trained bands and they did some execution amongst us at first  and were somewhat dreadful when men’s bowels and brains flew in our faces. But blessed be. God gave us courage

The two lines then came very close, without coming quite coming to push of pike and yet each presented good targets for musket fire despite the hedges, and Harry recalls a

Very hot fight with the enemy and did good execution and stood to it as bravely as ever men did

Red and Blue bands then joined together to meet the next assault and gained the advantage of a small hill and the royalists brought up guns again to batter them, followed by

Two regiments of the enemy’s foot fought against us to gain this hill, but could not. Then two regiments of the enemy’s horse…came fiercely upon us  and so surrounded us that we were forced to charge upon them in the front and rear and in the flanks…insomuch as we made a great slaughter among them and forced them to retreat

None the less, at this point Rupert intervened with 500 horse and forced the squares of the bands off the hill, and got among Parliaments guns. Still the London Bands held firm and Rupert’s troopers began to be cut down with musket fire. Clarenden wrote of the bands with admiration – a militia that proved not so soft after all

They behaved themselves with wonder and were in truth the preservation of the army that day

The day had been long by now, getting on for 12 hours and on a new assault from Royalist foot, the Bands finally broke and searched for cover among the hedges. This could have been it, the moment when Essex’s army broke, ran and were slaughtered. But it was too late. Charles’ army was exhausted and close to the end of their gunpowder. It was 6 pm, getting dark, and Charles reluctantly called off the attack, though sporadic firing continued for a few hours more.[4]

Harry Foster was a godly man, and had scruples about singing the praises of Philip Skippon and the trained bands

If I should speak of anything in the praise and high commendations of these two regiments of the trained bands I should rather obscure and darken the glory of that courage and valour God gave unto them that day

Nonetheless, he forces himself

They stood like so many stakes against the shot of the cannon quitting themselves like men of undaunted spirits even our enemies themselves being our judges

That night Charles withdrew back towards Newbury. The general view is that Charles had acquitted himself pretty well in the warrior stakes in the campaign, turning Essex round and making good decisive tactical decisions in the battle itself. But in this now drawing back maybe he missed a chance; but it was felt there was simply insufficient gunpowder and will and how are we to argue. Don’t answer that.

Harry meanwhile was on the scene of carnage as the armies withdrew to their own

The next day I viewed the dead bodies. There lay about a hundred stripped naked in the field where our two regiments stood in battle. This night the enemy conveyed away about thirty cartloads of maimed and dead men

Out in the field was a servant, searching for his master. The man he sought had been in Byron’s cavalry, facing one of those thick hedges. He’d seen a narrow gap lined on both sides with parliamentarian musketeers, through which bullets spat in a hail. To attack such a gap would be suicide, and so that is exactly what the man did. The result was predictable – a fatal bullet wound to the lower abdomen. The man was Lucius Carey, Viscount Falkland.

The servant found his man; mangled beyond recognition but with a birth mark on his neck he’d seen many times in life. He retrieved Falklands remains, and he was taken to be buried at thelace he had loved in life, at Great Tew.

When Bulstrode Whitelocke heard the news of the death of his enemy he mourned

A gentleman of great parts, ingenuity, and honour, courteous and just to all, a passionate promoter of all endeavours of peace betwixt the king and parliament.

Anyway, the path to London was clear for Essex. It wasn’t an easy journey, Rupert’s cavalry snapping at the army all the way with skirmishes. Years later a cobbler George Robinson who had fought there filed a petition for a pension. He’d been shot in the leg, spent 6 months in hospital in Smithfield, having as he wrote

‘threescore splinters of the bone of the leg at several times taken out to his great pains’

George as a result was permanently disabled and his petition concludes

Continually in intolerable pain…which he cannot hope to remedy during his life

Meanwhile around Newbury the passage of the armies had wrought chaos from which it would take year to recover

The soldiers having almost starved the people where they quarter and are half starved themselves

Still, the army got home, to a hero’s welcome and celebration as they marched through the streets of London and the newssheets made hay

Many men were killed on both sides, but God be praised we won the field of them.

Actually, a bit like Edgehill, it was no better than a score draw, but that’s no reason not to declare a victory. And if it had ever really been there, certainly the chance for a knockout blow had now been missed by Charles. Still, the game of 1643 is not yet played. Next week we’ll hear about the battle in the North and east as Newcastle tries to drive parliament from its last stronghold in Yorkshire and take the fight to the Eastern Association and clear another route to London. We’ll hear how both Charles and Parliament find some friends in the Irish and Scots, both of which will come with a heavy price tag attached in the form of commitments. Next time we will hear about a new Covenant, the Solemn League and Covenant to be precise, and lose another leading figure of the Revolution.

[1] Peacey, J: ‘Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution’, p249

[2] Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil War’, p78

[3] If you are into a bit of comparative history storytelling, this is one of those incidents that gets told by everyone, and it’s quite interesting to see how the story is presented. So references: Healy, J: The Blazing World pp186-7; Woolrych: Britain in Revolution’, p265; Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil War’, pp280-1; Lincoln, M: ‘London and the 17th century’, pp112-3; History today: https://www.historytoday.com/women%E2%80%99s-revolt

[4] The story of the Battle of Newbury mainly from Purkiss, D: The English Civil War: A People’s History’, pp252-265; Lipscombe, N: ‘The English Civil War: An Atlas and concise history of he wars of three kingdoms’, pp133-142; & Smith, ODNB Lucius Carey.





16 thoughts on “389 Newsheets and Newbury

  1. Another great episode, as always. The focus on the first battle of Newbury really kept the narrative flowing.
    You are doing an excellent job of clarifying the civil war campaigns: the lack of single focus is always a challenge to narrative historians. I’ve read one book describing the wars as more like the Vietnam war than a traditional early modern war, and I think that’s a good way of thinking about it: lots of small vicious actions between patrols, sieges conducted by less than a hundred men, occasionally converging into a single battle that doesn’t really solve anything.
    Both Trevor Royle in his book on the civil wars and Mike Duncan in his Revolutions podcast chose to focus on each geographical area in turn, with a final sweep through at the end to wrap it up at Naseby. It’s interesting to note you seem to be leaning towards that structure as well. Have I got that right?

    1. That’s a very interesting question! Ahem. I haven’t read Royle; I have listened to Mike. I think he is prioritising clarity of narrative. amd he does it beautifully. It means he’s not going into a load of stuff though;none of the sieges for example, which is where a lot of that local action takes place. So I have sprinkled Brilliana Harvey, will do the same with Lathom House, and Basing House. I might nip of to the Isle of Man for a brief vist…. But yes, sitting above that focus on the major theatres, north, West, midlands, East; and Naseby is where it all ends.
      It’s very kind indeed of you to suggest the narrative is flowing OK. I constantly worry about that. I want to do the detail and communicate that this is not some distant thing it tore up peoples’ lives; but don’t wanr t lose peple. I think I am losing peopl actually, hence the At A Gallop thing. But thank you!

      1. I suspect the reason some listeners are confused is the same one that affects academic historians trying to popularise the topic: the civil wars are damn confusing! Plus everyone keeps invoking God all the time, often in very long sentences!
        Those two reasons are probably why the civil wars don’t feature so much in the popular imagination.

        The AAG episodes are a really good idea to remedy this problem.

  2. I’m going to be greedy and post another comment…

    It seems to me that a lot of bloodshed could have been avoided if both sides listened more carefully to Clarendon. I am really warming to the man: a practical politician with a good deal of sense.

    1. Hi Sam, and in response to the Clarenden point – you are quite right, and there is a long tradition of regret that if the moderate constitutionalists had managed to talk Charles round, and the likes of Pym down, this could have just been one more peaceful step on the way.

      1. I’ve always been quite protective of Cromwell’s reputation as surprisingly moderate, and I’m now finding myself equally keen on Clarendon! It’s odd how he’s been mostly forgotten by popular history, despite his crucial role in the Restoration which I’m only just discovering now. Maybe he’s too much of a pragmatist.
        I wonder if I’ll have the same reaction to Monck.

        1. I’m interested byMonck, about whom I know little. When I was on the Twitter verse, a historian made an off hand comment about what an unpleasant bloke he was, but did no say why. There was a sack of dundeed it has t be said….but I shall investigate!

  3. Good episode, as always. A Suggestion; might it not be time for a brief discussion/description on military matters. A bit on the weapons, organisation and daily lives of the recruited men plus perhaps something on the evolution of these as the war progress. Just a thought.

  4. I find the discussion of 17th Century news sheets and their role in channeling public opinion on both sides of the divide very entertaining. I agree that modern “journalism” wasn’t invented in England. Erasmus (in Latin) and Luther (in German and various translations) had large audiences and tremendous influence. But these 17th century news sheets definitely seem to serve as predecessors of what became known as the popular press. And Marchamont Needham in particular seems a precursor of the modern pen for hire.

    1. I’d really like to take some time and do a shedcast on this. There is (as often, I have to say), a good Wikipedia entry. I rather doubt the breadth of popularity of Erasmus and Luther, if you’ll forgive me, given the nature of their content. Especially Erasmus; you don’t read out Latin in the pub. Maybe Luther, if he wrote in German. Plus it’s a bit early for widespread,literacy which is maybe why people point to Italy. It’s the essentially popular and scurrilous nature of journalism – though as I said, Luther was certaiblky potty mouthed, so maybeit’s him! Anyway, watch this space.

  5. Dear Mr Crowther –
    At your suggestion, I purchased Mr. Lipscombe’s atlas of the English Civil War. With the plethora of books available, your recommendation of this stunning work is much appreciated!
    I will now be slightly less geographically challenged as the action swirls around the three kingdoms in the coming months.

  6. I have to confess, while I usually look forward to savoring each episode of The History of England, I’ve been reluctant to hit play with the build up to this war. Not because it’s not excellently told and delightfully informative as always — it is — but it’s just so hard to see the disaster coming slowly with so many chances to have swerved away. I recently read Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” and this is like that build-up.

    1. Yes! Exactly that. I mean that is precisely the thing about the English Revolution and why so many historians don’t want to call it thus. It’s basically a tragey, not a drama. They don’t want any of this, they want their old society back whatever we might think of it looking back with a different perspective; the old place worked for them, even with all its inequalitiues. And come 1660 they turn the clock back and most of the folks like Wildman & levellers settle down! It’s 18th century capitalism that causes all the social mischief. I do, want that to be part of the story though, to set against the Whiggish ‘bold steo on the way to political freedom & perfect constitution’ thing

Leave a Reply