The Stuarts, Civil War and Commonwealth

The Stuarts, Civil War and Commonwealth

The rule of the Stuart kings until the Civil War has been described by G M Trevelyan in English Social History as ‘… an uneventful prolongation of the Elizabethan era, under conditions of peace and safety instead of domestic danger and foreign war.’ We should not, however, forget the Gunpowder Plot of 5th November 1605, which could have had appalling effects. But let us begin at the beginning. When James I passed through Waltham on his way to enthronement in London he was welcomed by Sir Edward Denny, High Sheriff of Essex, who had assembled 140 of his men, specially kitted out in blue and white uniforms and mounted on horses with bright red saddles. So the new King had an early acquaintance with the loyal inhabitants of Essex, and by 1626 Sir Edward Denny got his reward – advancement from a peerage in 1604 to the dignity of the Earldom of Norwich in 1626.

The King saw more of the people of west Essex as he spent a lot of time hunting through the forests around Epping and Waltham and enjoying the hospitality of courtiers with country houses in the area. After the hunt there was considerable gaiety. Arthur Wilson, gentleman-in-waiting to Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, a keen observer and writer on the life of these times, recorded that the Scotsmen who came down with James ‘… not only crept into English lordships but also into the beds of English ladies.’

Many of those honours bestowed by James were a straightforward exchange for services rendered or for money loaned. Thus were members of the hunting fraternity rewarded. Francis Barrington of Hatfield Broad Oak, who married the daughter of Oliver Cromwell’s grandfather, was knighted at the forest mansion of Theobalds in 1603 and advanced to a baronetcy as soon as that order was introduced by James in 1611. Henry Maynard of Little Easton, first of the family to settle in Essex, where he built Easton Lodge, represented the county in Parliament. James knighted him in 1603 and elevated his son William as 1st Baron Maynard of Estaines Parva (Little Easton) in 1628. Sir John Petre became Baron Petre of Writtle in 1603, having been knighted by Elizabeth in 1575.

The Barringtons had lived for generations at Hatfield Broad Oak. There is a letter still in existence from Mr Francis Barrington’s tailor advising him on how to dress for his first royal audience with James:

‘… in black, without all cuttings … I have inquired concerning cloaks and can hear of but one rich cloak which is worn, but the most part be of black velvet or grogram or cloth.’

Dress was certainly not as sumptuous and fantastic as it had been in Elizabeth’s day. James’s queen, Anne, who was too ill to travel from Scotland at the time of his accession, came south later and was greeted at the border by a goodly number of ladies of the English aristocracy in a demonstration of loyalty. One of them was Penelope, Lady Rich, daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. A high-spirited lady, popular with Queen Elizabeth, she had parted from her husband, Lord Rich, later created 1st Earl of Warwick, not long after their marriage in 1580. She was the ‘Stella’ of sonnets by Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86). When he died she transferred her affections to Lord Mountjoy, 8th Baron Blount, created Earl of Devonshire by James in 1603. The new queen liked her enough to make her a Lady of the Bedchamber. When Lord Rich did at last divorce her, in 1605, she was able to marry Mountjoy. The Archbishop Laud, then starting on the ladder of fame, was Mountjoy’s private chaplain. He performed the ceremony reluctantly, because the marriage of a divorcee was against the law of the church. It lay so heavily on his conscience in later years that he always fasted on that particular day. As lovers they had been acceptable at court. Married illegally they were not. Shunned by all, they were both dead before the following year was out. Wanstead House saw their celebration, their degradation and decline.

It was to an Essex man, William Parker, Lord Monteagle of Great Hallingbury Hall, that the letter was sent which led to the discovery of the plot to blow up Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder on 5th November 1605. The letter advised ‘… I have a care of your preservation, therefore would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift off your attendance at the Parliament … retire yourself into your county, where you may expect the event in safety … they will receive a terrible blow this Parliament, and yet they will not see who hurts them …’ Lord Monteagle did not fly in fear; he led a party to the vaults of Parliament, and organised the watch which led to the apprehension of the plotters that night. He was rewarded with a pension of £700 a year for his loyalty and his bravery. At this time the county was represented in Parliament by two ‘Knights of the Shire’ – first called to conference with the king in 1290 and actually elected to that position by qualified freeholders from 1430 – together with two members of Parliament chosen for each of the chartered boroughs of Colchester, Harwich and Maldon. The elections were held in Chelmsford, the county town, where the population was swelled by the voters crowding in from all over the county.

James I was constantly short of money. He sold honours to his courtiers, but the gentry of Essex did not look with favour on his call in 1604 for a loan unapproved by Parliament. Amongst these sturdily independent men were Samuel Ailine, Paul Bayning. Henry Baker of North Shoebury, John Barefoot of Lambourne, Edward Grimston, Sir Thomas Knightley, Humphrey Mildmay, Roger Gittens of South Weald and William Kemp of Finchingfield. They were not so foolish as to question the legality of the loan, but said they could not raise the sum required of them.

It was William Kemp who started a delightful folk-tale still related around his old home at Finchingfield. He was born at Spains Hall in 1555. In 1621, in a jealous rage, he accused his wife of being unfaithful. Then, realising how wrong be had been, he vowed not to utter another word for seven years, as a self-inflicted penance. Even after his wife died in 1623 he persisted in this terrible self-punishment. He marked the passing of each year by the excavation of a fish pond in his garden. It was said by Sir William Addison that, at the end of those seven years Kemp became so agitated that he more or less collapsed, and when he tried to call for help he could not utter a sound. The shock killed him. The long inscription on his tomb in Finchingfield church tells the story:

‘Here lies William Kemp. Esq., pious, just, hospitable, master of himself so much that what others scarce do by force and penalties, he did by a voluntary constancy hold his peace for seven years …’

His 400 year old house of ‘red brick, stone dressing and curious Dutch gables still stands, and south-east of it is it lake, an amalgamation of two of those fish ponds he commissioned without a word being uttered.

Another great house connected with James himself is Audley End, built to the order of Thomas Howard. 1st Earl of Suffolk (1561-1626). He had married Margaret Audley, daughter of the Lord Chancellor. It was 13 years in the building, from 1603. So much of it has been pulled clown since, that its true glory can hardly be appreciated. The Earl and his Countess stooped to every device to bring the great work to completion. When King James went to visit it, shortly after he had appointed Howard to the office of Lord Treasurer, he was so amazed by the scale of the building that he quipped, ‘By my troth, man, it is too much for a king, but may do for a Lord High Treasurer!’ Within two years, suspicion of bribery and corruption in their great building scheme brought the Earl and his wife before the Star Chamber court and commitment to the lower for ten days. The Earl lost all his offices and was fined £30,000. He lived for another six years, then died at the Great House, as he called it, which he no longer could afford to keep in repair. Now it is in the hands of the Department of the Environment and open to the public.

The Catholics incurred the King’s hostility through the Gunpowder Plot: but the rise of Puritan ideas for the reform of the English Church was equally unwelcome. Their habit of simple worship without the show of rich vestments, ‘graven images’ and precious metals for ornaments was winning converts who, largely unlettered, were much influenced by the powerful preaching which was such a feature of the new ministry. Take, for instance, the happening in Chelmsford on 5th November 1641, when the Gunpowder Plot was still within the memory of older inhabitants. A mob of Puritans, nonconformists, aroused by a ranting local leader telling of Parliament’s edict that all ‘scandalous’ pictures should be removed from churches, advanced on the churchyard of St Mary’s (now the Cathedral) with stones in their pockets to smash the beautiful coloured glass of the big east window. It was more than 200 years old, dating from the restoration of the church in 1424, and depicted in glowing colours the life of Christ, with coats of arms of the generous benefactors. The churchwardens had already removed the frames depicting the Virgin Mary and the Crucifixion, but that was not enough for the excited mob.

The Rector. Dr Michaelson, was abused and threatened with physical harm. Two weeks later a dissenter attacked him in church and tried to tear off his surplice because in the Puritan mind this simple garment was part of the panoply of Roman worship. The worthy Doctor was forced out of his living and he and his family, including eight children, had to live on the charity of friends in nearby Writtle until he was restored to his position and possessions upon the Restoration of Charles II. The leader of the ‘anabaptists’ in Chelmsford at the time of the riots was a man who called himself ‘Parson Oates’, father of the conspirator Titus Oates (1649-1705).

Such antipathy towards the established church was demonstrated all over Essex. In 1640 soldiers encamped at Radwinter tramped unceremoniously into the church (another St Mary’s) and smashed down a recently erected screen between chancel and nave. It was of’ wood, beautifully carved with cherubim floating from on high. They took all those figures in a waggon to Saffron Walden, and burned them in the market place as a protest against the separation of the priest from the congregation. According to an eye-witness:

 

‘William Voyle, pretending authority to be the lecturer of the aforesaid parish … coming into the church in the time of divine service with a great cudgel in his hand, came directly to the reading desk where the aforesaid Richard Drake was performing his duty; and in a violent manner … laid both his hands upon the said Richard Drake, endeavouring to thrust him out of the desk …’

 

Drake was knocked down but got up again and clutched the pulpit door, only to be felled again by Voyle and four others who dragged him the length of the church on his back, and threw him out of the door. If the congregation had not come to his rescue, they would have murdered him.

In 1642 an enraged crowd gathered outside the rectory at Ardleigh, shouted obscenities, broke down the door and looted everything of any value. The rector was chased down the road in a hail of mud and stones. The only place where he could escape their violence was in the village ‘cage’, the tiny temporary village jail. When one stands in the beautiful St Mary’s church at Thaxted, enjoying peace of the place, it is hard to imagine the cursing and swearing, the struggling and fighting which went on there on Friday, 24th September, 1647. The vicar, Newman Leader, had been replaced by the more puritan Mr Hall, the people’s choice; but Lady Maynard should have been consulted, for she had the power of appointment of the vicar of this parish. A very independent lady, she chose Edmund Croxon, even though he had a reputation as a drunken blackguard. She would not give in, so a great crowd of Thaxted parishioners gathered to escort their man Mr Hall to the church to preach the sermon. When they tried again in the afternoon the churchwardens barred his way to the pulpit, on Lady Maynard’s instructions. The crowd become violent, grabbed the church officials, beat them and it is said, ‘tore out their hair in handfuls’, making them flee for their lives. The ringleaders were apprehended and taken for trial before the House of Lords that same day, proof of the importance the government attached to this continuing religious unrest in Essex. A London bookseller had a pamphlet printed on the ‘… Great Fight in the Church at Thaxted.’

From the beginning of the 17th century, when the Puritans saw that they could not effect the reforms they wanted within the Church, they formed their own separate circles of worshippers, meeting in each other’s houses. But they were prosecuted so relentlessly that many in Essex emigrated to the New World, to practice their faith in total freedom.

Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, whose family home was Leez priory, had been Member of Parliament for Maldon before succeeding his father as Earl in 1619. He was a great adventurer in the Puritan cause, helping to set up the colonies of New Plymouth. Massachusetts. Connecticut and Rhode Island. He returned to Essex to lead the Puritan faction, raising an arm to support the cause of Parliament in the Civil War. Eventually, in 1643, he was appointed Lord High Admiral of the Fleet, much to his pleasure, for he was a sailor through and through. He was also appointed head of the Commission for the government of the colonies in 1643. ‘Warwick, with all his faults,’ says Sir William Addison. ‘was one of the greatest men the county has known.’ Others included in this great American adventure included John Winthrop, first Governor of Massachusetts, who lived at Great Stambridge after marrying a local heiress. Mary Forth. She died when he was only 28: within 18 months he was married and widowed again. His third wife shared both the hardship and happiness when he settled finally at Charlestown and was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1631.

Christopher Martin, a Billericay miller, was treasurer to another expedition of Puritans to the New World. They arrived off the American coast in 1620 during a terrible winter and most of the emigrants died of disease on board before they could put a foot ashore. Christopher Martin was one of them.

Meanwhile, back in England, King James died on 27th March, 1625, at his favourite palace, Theobalds. His son succeeded him as Charles I, a ruler whose machinations greatly affected Essex. He needed money, and would get it without Parliament’s approval if necessary. He summoned and dissolved Parliament no less than three times in the first four years of his reign, then for eleven years ruled without it, using subservient judges and the fearful courts of Star Chamber and High Commission.

In that same year of 1623 the Chelmsford Churchwardens accounts shed a strange sidelight on Essex. They show that the terrible plague rampaging through London and Essex at that time resulted in great expenditure by the church – on wine. It happened in this way: once the plague manifested itself in the filth’ alleys of the London slums, the gentry and merchants headed out of the city for the healthier air of Essex and further north. Chelmsford was the stopping place for the first night. With their families and servants they increased the risk of plague being spread as the crowded into the close confines of the towns inns. As it spread, the townsfolk and the refugees were so desperate that, Puritan or no, they trooped into the church to pray for deliverance and took the bread and wine of holy communion. In an ordinarv year the churchwardens reckoned to spend 38 shillings on breach and wine. In 1625 the record shows that they had to find £8, more than four times the usual cost. The plague passed on north with the fleeing Londoners. When it came again to Colchester in 1665-6, 4,731 inhabitants died from it, according to D W Coller.

In the first summer of Charles I’s reign, Spain was assembling a fleet of ships at Dunkirk, so it was thought prudent to improve the defences of Harwich and Colchester, which were most likely to be attacked. In the autumn that fleet was seen sailing off Harwich, causing William Lynne of Bradfield Hall to call on Colchester for help because Harwich, he said, was ‘weakly provided to defend itself, and the countrie soldiers destitute of powder, bullets, and many other necessaries …’ Fortunately it was a false alarm – the Spaniards sailed on by. The dissatisfaction in the army with the lack of preparedness, and the lack of cash to improve it, was reflected in a minor mutiny when the King attempted to raise a military force to be transported across the north sea to support the King of Denmark in 1627. Just a few months later a tax was levied on the county to kit out and transport 150 impressed Essex men coerced to join an expedition against France at the whim of the King.

These were minor irritations. As Sir William Addison wrote, ‘Most of the troubles of the 17th century had their roots in religion. What are thought of as parsons’ quarrels now were people’s quarrels then. Politics hung upon theology, and theology seems to have been the most vital thing in life after the permanent biological interests had been provided for.’ In 1634 there was further resistance from Essex and Suffolk to the King’s demand for ‘Ship Money’ from the Boroughs of Harwich, Colchester and Maldon; a tax which they were to collect from their inhabitants towards the building and fitting out of a 700-ton warship at a projected cost of £6,615. It was but a ghost-ship, the King’s excuse for raising another large contribution to his dwindling coffers. Another £8,000 was demanded from the county in the following year. The King was attacking the people of Essex where it hurt them most – in their pockets.

Yet the religious persecution went on. A last example of the determination of the King, as head of the Church, to stamp out Puritanism was the case of John Bastwick. He was born in Writtle in 1593, educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, wandered around Europe for nine years, took a degree in medicine at Padua, and came back to Colchester to practice. In pamphlets printed in Holland from 1633 he expressed his belief in the new simple way of worship, attacking the flagrant abuses of their trust by the bishops and priests of the established church. His authorship proved, he was taken before the infamous Star Chamber court which handled cases concerning, such offences for which the existing law made no provision. He was fined £1,000, excommunicated and sent to prison until he withdrew those written accusations. He was ‘struck off’ as we would say today and all copies of his books were ordered to be burnt.

Bastwick was made of stern stuff. He did not recant: instead he wrote more tracts while he was in prison, inveighing against the tyranny of the court which had wrongly imprisoned him. That court punished him further: he was put in the pillory. Then it was ordered that both his ears should be cut off, and lie was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment in the most distant jail in the country, at that time on the Scilly Isles. Even in the courtroom John Bastwick stood up to his persecutors, crying out, ‘What will cut off a true and loyal subjects ears for doing his duty to his king and country? Will you cut off a scholar’s cars? Will you cut off a doctor of physic’s ears, able to cure lords, peers, kings and emperors. Will you cut off a christian’s ears? … what an age we live in, that we must thus he exposed to the merciless fury of every malignant spirit!’ To no avail, his ears were hacked off and he was sent to his island jail.

The story did have a happy ending, though the poor doctor had to endure seven years’ imprisonment until, in 1640. Parliament, now in the ascendant, had that vicious court verdict set aside and awarded Bastwick compensation of £5,000 from the estates of the Church. It was not until 1644 that he actually received enough of that sum to be able to maintain his wife and himself. It must have been an exciting moment when the carriage bringing him back reached London, for there a great crowd turned out to welcome him in triumphal fashion, waving green boughs and casting flowers before him.

The church, becoming increasingly Protestant, turned many an Essex parson out of his living, regardless of the distress and poverty it caused them and their families. Lawrence Washington, the great-greatgrandfather of George Washington, was ejected from Purleigh rectory on the grounds that he was’… a common frequenter of alehouses, not only himself sitting daily tippling there, but also encouraging others in the beastly vice.’ The fact that Washington had royalist leanings was not mentioned.

Most royalist sympathy came from places well away from the wicked influence of London; places where the spicy contents of the bubbling cauldron of Elizabethan court life and trading entrepreneurism had never been tasted. Essex, running as it did up to the very gates of the City of London, had tasted that heady diet of greater freedom of worship, of opportunities in trade and politics and of a steadily advancing system of rule by a Parliament which by the standards of the day could be said to have been democratically elected. So it threw in its lot with the ‘Roundheads’ by joining the Eastern Association, which had been set up in 1642 to represent the interests of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and the Isle of Ely. Essex members of this Parliamentary committee included Sir Thomas Barrington, Sir Richard Everard, Sir Harbottle Grimston, Sir Thomas Honeywood, Sir William Masham, Sir Henry Mildmay, Sir Martin Lumley, Henry Holcroft, William Martin and Joseph Sayer. Membership changed between 1642 and 1645 and in 1655.

It appointed a committee to raise large sums of money on a weekly basis for the maintenance of the armed forces under Parliamentary command, by an assessment upon each county. The Essex Committee called on 1,919 gentlemen for contributions. Those who would not pay had their estates sequestered, retaining a fifth which provided a means of maintenance of their families. Later they were allowed to recover that property on the payment of huge fines. Over 50 important estates were thus recovered. The largest sum paid as a contribution was £4,706 by the Right Hon Lord Capel, but the Lucases, well-known royalists, had to find £4,779 among the three of them. They suffered grievously for their loyalty to the King. Sir John ‘experienced the ungovernable insolence of a licentious band’. Sir Charles lost his life.

As the Civil War loomed, religious stances were taken up. The Anglican or High Church group in the established church, under Archbishop William Laud, a former rector of West Tilbury, supported the King. The Puritans favoured Parliament, including among their number famous preachers like Stephen Marshall, vicar of Finchingfield. When the rift between King and Commons widened, Sir Thomas Barrington headed the committee for the administration of the county set up by Parliament upon the outbreak of hostilities in 1642. He worked tirelessly to integrate Essex in the war effort, until his untimely death in 1644. The ancient system of county government through the Quarter Sessions and the Justices of the Peace was suspended in 1643, but all matters of county administration were dealt with in that year by Sir Thomas and his fellow justices, so the situation was what we might call today, ‘the same difference.’

In the Civil War from 1642 to 1646 most Essex men rallied to Parliament behind their leaders, the Earl of Warwick and Sir Thomas Barrington. The Lucases, Lord Petre and Lord Maynard clung to the royalist cause. Cromwell’s New Model Army eventually won that war. To provide for it the county had to supply on a monthly basis payments of cash far in excess of the hated Ship Money, but in this cause they were happy so to do. In August 1642 news had reached Colchester that the Royal Standard had been raised at Nottingham, which was the signal for ordinary Essex folk to go on the attack. One of the few outspoken royalists in Colchester was Sir John Lucas. In his house and grounds he had gathered some 200 armed horsemen – ‘Cavaliers’. He judged this was the time to take his little army to join the King’s troops. He thought it wisest to leave by the back entrance to his park, but Captain John Langley, grocer, leader of the Colchester trained band, had anticipated this. He led his soldiers at the head of some 2,000 anti-royalist working men from the town and from as far away as Coggeshall. Braintree. Bocking and Halstead, who caught the Cavaliers and forced them to surrender. They had already taken the parson of Holy Trinity prisoner and threw him into jail along with some members of the Lucas family. Then the mob took over, looting the house of all its contents. They even broke into the Lucas family vaults at St Giles and smashed open the coffins to fling about the remains of long dead Lucas ancestors. Sir John Lucas and the parson were taken the next day to London, in Sir Thomas Barrington’s own coach, accompanied by his friend Sir- Harbottle Grimston. The news of this first incident in the war in Essex spread so rapidly that as they passed along the highway through Chelmsford and Romford people poured out of their houses to cheer them on their way. The Colchester mob went on its avenging way to Long Melford where they robbed and wrecked the house of Lady Rivers, a Roman Catholic and royalist of wide repute.

On 18th July 1642 a number of Essex gentlemen signed a declaration of loyalty to the King, in the hope that he would recall Parliament and take note of the wishes of the people at large. Sir Thomas Bendish of Steeple Bumpstead was behind this ‘Grand Remonstrance’ designed to reconcile King and Parliament. This resulted in two years’ imprisonment in the Tower of London and the sequestration of his estates. On his release he still tried to be a loyal servant of his country as demonstrated by this little bit of folklore: in 1647 he was sent from Essex to be Ambassador at the court of the Grand Vizier of Turkey, a man who was determined to show that he was not impressed by Britain’s reputation. He ordered every chair except his own throne to be removed from the hall of reception so that Sir Thomas would be forced to stand in his presence throughout the interview. But our Ambassador was quick-witted. He whispered to one of his staff, who went down on hands and knees – and Sir Thomas sat on the seat provided. He also stood up to Cromwell. In 1653 he was recalled and a replacement was sent out, but Sir Thomas refused to leave. He stayed on until he was recalled by his King after the Restoration. Then he came back to Bower Hall, Steeple Bumpstead where he died in 1672.

The story of the Civil War has been detailed fully in the national histories. In Essex, the united front of the Eastern Association and its geographical position well away from royalist enclaves preserved it from battle and bloodshed. By the spring of 1648 Essex, leaders and labourers, was tired of the conflict, its ever-escalating cost and the damage it was doing to trade. At the Chelmsford assizes that spring a petition was raised and sent to Parliament, asking it to treat with the King for peace and to disband its army. Parliament rejected it, and when 2,000 men marched to Westminster to add vocal support to the petition, claiming that they represented the 30,000 inhabitants of the county, the Parliamentary leaders gave the Earl of Warwick a stiff warning of the consequences of further protest.

The army was as tired of the stalemate and the discomfort of daily living as were the civilians, but a new development was to alarm them. A union of Kent and Essex Royalists was effected at Shenfield on 8th June, with Sir Charles Lucas heading the Essex contingent. By the following day the Royalists had passed through Chelmsford to rendezvous with their Hertfordshire brethren at New Hall, Boreham. Next day, hearing that the Roundheads were following, they pushed on to Braintree, via the Earl of Warwick’s own home – Leez Priory at Little Leighs. Despite the fact that he was their arch enemy, and he was not there to protect his wife, she reported, ’ … there was not anything touched; and they stayed only a dinnering time with me, and so marched on to Colchester.’ They did take the arms they found about the place, but most weapons had been carefully hidden as soon as the servants heard of their approach. When they got to Braintree the Royalists heard that Fairfax and his army were at Billericav, so they decided to try to capture Colchester for the King. They reached the town during the afternoon of Monday 12th June – only just in time, for Fairfax was very soon within a mile of the town. There was a scuffle on the Lexden side before the Royalists could close and bar the gates. The Parliamentarians tried various ploys to effect an early entry, but after eight hours they had made no progress, and 1,000 of their men were killed.

The inhabitants, mostly Protestants and supporters of Parliament, endured a long siege. The Royalists knew they were virtually hostages who could be traded as a last resort, but in the end it was the Roundhead leader who deserted them, as we know from the diary of a Royalist which tells a moving story of the plight of the townsfolk as the siege dragged on into August:

1648 Aug. 2. The town was now in a miserable condition: the soldiers search’d and rifled the houses of the Inhabitants for victuals: they had lived on Horse Flesh several weeks. & most of that also as lean as Carrion, wch, not being well salted bred wens: this want of Diet made the Soldiers sickley & many Died of Fluxes yet they boldly rejected all offers of surrender unless with safety of their Officers …

Aug. 7. The Townspeople became very uneasy to the Soldiers. & the Mayor of the Town with the Aldermen, waited upon the General desiring leave to send to the Ld. Fairfax, for leave to all the Inhabitants to come out of the town that they might not perish … Ld. Fairfax refused ym.

  1. The Rabble got together in a vast Crowd about the Ld. Goring’s Quarters clamouring for a surrender: and they did this every evening; bringing women and children, who lay howling and crying on the Ground for Bread; the souldiers beat off the men, but the Women & Children would not stir bidding the Soldiers to kill them, saying they would rather be shot than be starved.’

A week later, after the few remaining horses had been given the thatch of houses to eat and the last clog had been stewed for the women and children, the Mayor, with the agreement of the Royalists’ commander, begged the besiegers to allow the townsfolk, their supporters, to pass out of the town as refugees. Fairfax said they could do so if the prisoners-of-war came with them. The Royalists refused to give up their last card in this terrible war of attrition. So it was that the Royalists had to surrender unconditionally on 27th August.

The end was swift: the townspeople were already mixing with the Roundheads as Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were brought before Henry Ireton, son-in-law of Cromwell, and implacable enemy of the King, who told them they were to be shot. A third Royalist, Sir Bernard Gascoigne, claimed to be of Italian nationality and thus escaped death. The two men were taken immediately to the north side of the castle and placed close under the wall, facing the musketeers. Sir Charles Lucas simply said, ‘I have often looked death in the face in the field of battle, and you shall now see I dare die.’ He knelt in prayer for a moment, then got up, opened his doublet to bare his chest, and cried out, ‘See I am ready for you. And now rebels, do your worst.’ Sir George Lisle was then placed beside the corpse; he knelt and kissed it, rose, and called to the crowd of Parliamentarians standing all about, ‘Oh, how many of your lives, who are now present here have I saved in hot blood, and must now myself be most barbarously murdered in cold. But what wicked act dare they not do, who do willingly cut the throat of my dear king, whom they have already imprisoned: for whose deliverance and the peace of this miserable and unhappy nation I shall dedicate these my last prayers to heaven.’ He called the musketeers closer and when one of them assured him they would hit him, he replied, ‘I have been nearer when you have missed me.’ Then, after a prayer, his last words were, ‘I am ready. Traitors, do your worst.’ The spot where these executions took place is still marked in Castle Park.

Whilst the House of Commons argued with its army over the way in which to deal with the King, whose trial began on 20th January, 1649, the ordinary people of Essex talked of the strange and wicked things that were happening in their own parishes, where witchcraft was in the ascendancy.

Actually it was not witchcraft but accusations of witchcraft which caused the death of so many innocent men and women. At this time, belief in the Devil working his evil through witches was implicit. Even Dr Plume, the 17th century theologian, recorded in his notebook that ‘The Devil appeared to John White of Dorchester at Lambeth in the form of an hog. White upbraided him with what he had been and what he was and he never disturbed him no more’ – this from a well-educated man who left to Maldon the valuable and interesting library which can still be used today.

The 17th century saw the greatest number of trials for witchcraft in England, and Essex and Suffolk had the highest number of convictions, thanks to Matthew Hopkins. He styled himself Witchfinder-General, declaring that he had a commission from Parliament to go on a witch-hunting circuit for three years, to be paid 20 shillings by each town he visited and a further sum based on results. He formed his own team of men to comb the Tendring area, moving on to St Osyth and so on into neighbouring counties. Soon he had 30 people under arrest of whom 19 were hanged in one day. He reached a peak of 200 in jail and 68 hanged.

He used all kinds of torture to wring false confessions from bewildered, ignorant countrywomen.

The shame of the proceedings at last came to the ears of Parliament and Hopkins found it necessary to publish a pamphlet, The Discovery of Witches in defence of his actions. In it he stated that he had

‘… some seven or eight of that horrible sect of Witches living in the Towne where he lived, a Towne in Essex called Manningtree, with diverse other adjacent Witches of other towns, who every six weeks, in the night … had their meetings close to his house, and had their severall solemn sacrifices there offered to the Devil.’

The Parliamentary commission which enquired into his methods condemned them, but it did not condemn the witchcraft trials themselves. The tragedy of Hopkins’ circuit was not that he sought out witches for money, but that he and many others, even the educated justices in court, so believed in witchcraft that they blamed it for causing all kinds of local calamities. Thankfully, by the end of the century the belief in witches had declined.

The Civil War and the execution of the King in 1649, was followed by the Commonwealth Period and then the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell.

Oliver Cromwell had a close connection with Essex. In 1620 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Bourchier of Little Stambridge and Feisted. Their four sons attended Feisted School and their daughter Frances married Robert Rich, grandson of the far-famed 2nd Earl of Warwick who was buried at Felsted in 1658. Robert unfortunately died within four months of his marriage and was buried by the south porch of Felsted church. Cromwell’s progress is summed up by Chambers’s Encyclopaedia: ‘The victory of Naseby (1645) confirmed Cromwell’s reputation as a cavalry officer and thereafter he stood out as the leader in the struggle against Charles I, though it is not certain at what date he determined to cease negotiation and bring the King to trial and execution.’

Cromwell did introduce an excellent new scheme for local government in 1655 but this scheme and his authority could be maintained only with continuing military support. Part of the scheme concerned the better regulation of alehouses, sinks of iniquity and idleness from the Puritans’ point of view. Paragraph six of the Recommendation issued by the justices of Chelmsford in 1656, to be put into operation by the local justices in the divisions of the county declared:

‘That the justices of the peace in their several divisions do reduce the number of alehouses to as few as may be. And that they do ascertain the number in every town and parish and certify the same to the next general sessions of the peace together with the several recognizances of the said alehouses, to the end the same may be read by the clerk of the peace to a full court at the beginning of the sessions. And that the said court may have a full view of all the alehouse-keepers in every division. And that no addition to the number so ascertained be made but in open sessions, and that to be first certified by the justices of the division.’

Without a formal system of taxation to finance the high Cost of’ the military regime, funds were found by fining landed Royalists and then by relieving them of their estates altogether. Over the country as a whole a new county aristocracy sprang up with the sale of these estates, though Essex was not as disturbed as other counties in this respect. Cromwell saw many of the gentlemen of Essex during his brief sojourn at New Hall, Boreham, visited in their time by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Before the Civil War the old house had seen new glory in the hands of the Duke of’ Buckingham, but all his estates were confiscated. Though he was returned to favour and to his estates at the Restoration he was not able to recover New Hall. That was bought by Cromwell himself, by what might be called compulsory purchase, for the nominal sum of five shillings, from the commissioners appointed to sell such confiscated estates. Oliver Cromwell found that he was unable to stay there often enough to justify the huge expenses required to keep it in constant readiness. He told his son in 1653, ‘… in these four years last past it bath yielded very little or no profit at all.’ He exchanged it for Hampton Court.

The next owner of New Hall, Boreham, was another man famous in our national history. George Monck (or Monk) had proved himself a good officer in the Earl of Oxford’s regiment, moved on to the Earl of Newport’s regiment, distinguished himself in action and went on to command his own 1.200 strong infantry regiment on behalf of the Earl of Leicester, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, where he was a great success, . . , the most beloved by the soldiers of any officer in the Army.’ He declared himself for the King in the Civil War, was taken prisoner, charged with high treason and imprisoned in the Tower for two years in dreadful conditions.

He promised to serve in Ireland if Parliament would release him and he stayed faithful to their cause. So successful was he in Ireland that Parliament voted him a special gratuity of £500. In 1650 he supported Cromwell in the invasion of Scotland. A new regiment was assembled for him to lead. At the Restoration it continued as the Coldstream Guards. Left as Commander-in-Chief in Scotland by Cromwell, he completed its subjection in 1652. Then appointed one of three ‘Generals’ of the Fleet, he outwitted the great Dutch admiral Tromp in actions in 1652 and 1653 and came back to the formal thanks of the House of Commons on 1st October 1653. Cromwell called him, ‘Your honest General George Monck, who is a simple-hearted man.’

In 1659, just before the Restoration, the Royalists approached him for help in effecting the return of the monarch to the throne. He entered London at the head of his men on 3rd February 1660 and was solemnly thanked by Speaker Lenthall on behalf of Parliament. The Restoration was voted on 1st May 1660, after Monck disclosed his negotiations with Charles, whom he met on the shore at Dover on 25th May. Next day the King knighted him at Canterbury, and on 7th July gave him other titles, including Duke of Albemarle. He was granted a pension of £700 a year and the estate of New Hall, Boreham. When the rest of the army was disbanded his own regiment was retained as the King’s personal guard. He devised the government which followed, ‘Moderate, not rigid, presbyterian government, with a sufficient liberty for consciences truly tender.’

One Essex man suffered a very unusual and frightening penalty for his treason as a Parliamentarian once the King was again on the throne. He was Sir Henry Mildmay of the wide-spreading Essex family, of which an ancestor had described himself in his will, dated 1547, as a yeoman and merchant, and referred to the stall behind which he made his money in Chelmsford market. Sir Henry, knighted in 1617, bought the fabulous Wanstead House from George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham two years later. He was MP for Maldon for most of the years from 1625 to 1660 and espoused the Parliamentarian cause from 1641. As Master of the Jewel Office he was involved in some deceit concerning the crown jewels. At the Restoration he tried to escape abroad but was captured at Dover, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment with the added humiliation that, as one of Charles I’s judges he should, every year on 27th January (the date of Charles’ death sentence), be tied to a hurdle, with a hangman’s noose around his neck, dragged by a horse to the place of execution, then dragged back again to prison in the Tower. It did not last for long as an annual spectacle; Mildmay produced a doctor’s certificate declaring that he was ruptured and should not be subjected to such inhumane treatment. So he was banished to Tangier, though he actually died in Antwerp, in 1664.