The English Civil War and Leighton Buzzard by Matt Carroll

A Very Local Civil War: The English Civil War and Leighton Buzzard

By Matt Carrol, of this parish



The English Civil War, now more accurately now known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, affected

Leighton Buzzard greatly. While the large, pitched battles that happened elsewhere in the country did not

occur in Bedfordshire or Buckinghamshire, these two counties did not escape the conflict unscathed.


By and large, the inland counties of England were opposed to King Charles I due to his Ship Tax, and

Bedfordshire was no exception. Traditionally only levied on coastal counties to pay for ships in times of

war, the king had begun to also apply it in peacetime to counties which had never paid it before. This

caused much resentment, including from the famous John Hampden of Aylesbury who was prosecuted by

the king for his refusal to pay the new tax[1]


Discontent with King Charles I was so widespread within Bedfordshire immediately prior to the outbreak

of war that his advisor, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon noted that the king had no visible supporters

or safe quarters in the county.[2] In addition, the king was associated with ‘dangerous’ religious

innovations, which were considered to be anti-protestant. This further reduced his popularity locally,

where anti-catholicism was already high. So firmly and vocally against anything considered un-protestant

were the people of Leighton Buzzard that in 1642, shortly before the war began, they ceased to attend

services at All Saints church, complaining that their vicar was promoting dangerous superstitions. Due to

this, the people of Leighton Buzzard hired their own more suitable private preacher, a Mr. Fisher[3]


Later in 1642, once the battle lines were drawn and armed conflict erupted in England, a regiment of

dragoons was raised in Bedfordshire[4] (dragoons being mounted infantry, intended to act as scouts,

skirmishers and rapidly moving reinforcements to plug gaps on the battlefield). Recruits to this regiment

were ordered to muster in Leighton Buzzard.[5] They were led by Sir Samuel Luke of Cople, the MP for

Bedford and a man noted as being short of stature as well as a devout puritan – referred to during the war as

“Great spirited little Sir Samuel Luke” by the Earl of Essex. He became Scoutmaster-General for Parliament,

and commander of the large garrison at nearby Newport Pagnell.[6]

Sir Samuel Luke by Gilbert Soest.

At the outbreak of the war Bedfordshire provided 500 trained militia and a further 500 volunteers to fight

against the king. These are impressive figures considering that Bedfordshire had a pre-war population of

roughly 40,000 people.[7] This enthusiasm to fight the royalists did not last; just a year later in 1643

Sir Samuel Luke called for more men to volunteer from Bedfordshire. The response was so lacklustre that

he threatened to travel the county and conscript men at sword point, but by the war’s end over 2,000 men

from Bedfordshire had served in Parliament’s armies and had earned a reputation for desertion. For example, 150 Bedfordshire men were mustered in Leighton Buzzard in 1645 to be marched to Newport Pagnell garrison, but only 70 arrived there, the rest having slipped back home.[8]


The Brickhills, just outside Leighton Buzzard, were the site of several Parliamentary encampments. Most

notably, from early July in 1643, the Parliamentary general Thomas Fairfax occupied Great Brickhill, with

outposts in Little Brickhill, Bow Brickhill and Stoke Hammond. Royalist cavalry repeatedly intercepted

supplies meant for the troops at the Brickhills[9], causing Fairfax to write to London in late July 1643 stating

that he believed peace should be sought with the king due to his soldiers being ravaged by disease, lack

of pay and even clothes[10].


The commander of the Newport Pagnell garrison, Sir Samuel Luke was a prolific letter writer, and his

letters are a goldmine of information for our local area, mentioning deserters from the Royal Navy in

Leighton Buzzard, as well as Royalist plots to raid Leighton Buzzard during its faire and Prince Rupert

ordering that no citizens were allowed to sell goods to Aylesbury or Leighton in the summer of 1643,

under threat of their homes being plundered. One prominent journal entry mentions Royalist cavalry

confiscating 500 head of cattle from Leighton Buzzard on market day and driving them away. These

Royalist horsemen then attacked Swanbourne, burning it to the ground and confiscating weapons from

the residents.[11]

The only surviving non-stone building from the 1644 or 1645 fire in Leighton Buzzard

Parliamentary records state that they had “Threescore musketeers” garrisoning Aylesbury in November

1643, with similar numbers in the settlements of Wing, Bierton, Waddesdon, Missenden, Wendover,

Chesham and Leighton Buzzard.[12] Unfortunately, this small garrison at Leighton Buzzard did not prevent

several houses from being plundered by the Royalists in December of 1643[13].


However, Parliament’s control of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire did not extend to the hinterlands

between their garrisons – in 1644 Parliament’s Major-General Richard Browne noted that 10,000 Royalists

roamed the countryside between Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable.[14] These numbers are almost certainly

a vast exaggeration but do point to significant quantities of Royalists in the vicinity. Soon after these

numbers were noted, the Royalists occupied Leighton Buzzard and reportedly treated the locals poorly

due to their support for Parliament.[15] During the Royalist occupation Sir Samuel Luke mentions that the

garrison of Aylesbury stood at around 600 or so men of doubtful loyalty and that Royalists were

plundering the local area between Buckingham and Leighton Buzzard at will. One Royalist commander

was reportedly quoted as saying that his men would steal so much food that the locals would be forced to

eat each other.[16]


In March 1645 the centre of Leighton Buzzard was severely damaged by fire,[17] with only All Saints

church and a building on Hockliffe Street, now Martini’s restaurant, surviving the flames. Some local

stories indicate that Parliamentary troops caused this fire 18 whilst plundering the town, however other

references point to the Royalists being the cause[18]. If the Royalist occupation coincides with the fire, then

it is perhaps more likely to have been caused by them, or during a clash between them and Parliamentary

troops. Unfortunately, I am unable to find any records of when or how the Royalist occupation of Leighton

Buzzard ended, so for now the exact details remain unknown. What is known is that the residents of

Leighton Buzzard requested Parliament pay for repairs to their town due to their loyalty throughout the



It is worth noting however that in June 1644 Royalist soldiers from the Leighton Buzzard garrison were

noted to have attacked the church in Dunstable, breaking down the doors and firing at both the minister

and his congregation in the church before murdering the landlord of the Red Lion pub[19].  This may point

towards a pattern of willful aggression from the Royalists locally.






[1] Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660 by Trevor Royle

[2] The History of the Rebellion by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon

[3] Law and Local Society in the Time of Charles I: Bedfordshire and the Civil War by Ross Lee

[4] Journal of Samuel Luke published by the Oxfordshire Record Society

[5] Bedfordshire and the First Civil War by H.G Tibbutt

[6] Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 Volume 34 / Luke, Samuel,_1885-1900/Luke,_Samuel

[7] Bedfordshire and the First Civil War by H.G Tibbutt

[8] Bedfordshire and the First Civil War by H.G Tibbutt

[9] Wanton Troopers: Buckinghamshire in the Civil Wars 1640-1660 by Ian F W Beckett

[10] History – History of Little Brickhill by Cedric Hoptroff, published at

[11] Journal of Samuel Luke published by the Oxfordshire Record Society

[12] The Civil War and Buckinghamshire, by Geoff & Shirley Sherlock, published at

The Civil War and Bucks

[13] Journal of Samuel Luke published by the Oxfordshire Record Society

[14] Parishes: Leighton Buzzard, published at

[15] Parishes: Leighton Buzzard, published at

[16] Journal of Samuel Luke published by the Oxfordshire Record Society

[17] Parishes: Leighton Buzzard, published at

[18] Leighton Buzzard After the Middle Ages, published at

[19] The Hundred Years of Living Dangerously, Reformation and Extremism in South Bedfordshire (1550-1650),

published at


Photo Credits:

1 Samuel Luke, Scoutmaster-General for Parliament and Commander of the Newport Pagnell Garrison Photo credit: Moot Hall Museum, Elstow

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