The Civil War

The Civil War

It is ironical that the only occasion during their history when Henry VIII’s castles at Deal, Walmer and Sandown were engaged in action was in the course of the Civil War. How astonished would that Tudor autocrat have been to find his defence works playing a part, albeit a minor one, in a war between a king and his insubordinate parliament!

The discontents which led up to the Civil War are part of the general history of the kingdom. One of the problems was that the business of governing the country was becoming increasingly expensive and the payment of taxes, in any form, has never been a popular activity, even where all the constitutional proprieties have been observed and parliament’s consent has been obtained. The attempts of King Charles I to raise money by means which were only dubiously legal, and certainly were novel, were therefore bound to meet with opposition. In 1626 the king required his loving subjects to grant him a ‘loan’, Kent’s share of which was fixed at £6,711 (Canterbury at £402 and Rochester at £120). Maximilian Dalison and Richard Parker were appointed to collect the money in Kent and found their task a difficult one. In truth, considering the size and wealth of the county, it was not a formidable sum; the poor escaped altogether and the well-to-do could have afforded to contribute, without hardship, the few pounds that each was called upon to lend. But they were naturally reluctant to part with their money and, besides, the principle of ‘forced loans’ was resented.

In 1635 the king made his first general demand for ‘ship-money’. It was true that the defence of the kingdom required a larger and better equipped Royal Navy and the maritime counties were accustomed to having to find ships, or money in lieu of ships, from time to time for the king’s service. It seemed no more than fair that this burden, instead of being limited to the maritime counties, should be spread over the whole country. However, the legality of imposing ship-money on the inland counties was doubtful, the money was certainly not all spent on the navy, and it became almost an annual tax. The amounts which Kent was called upon to pay were as follows:

First Assessment October 1635 £8,000
Second Assessment November 1636 £8,000
Third Assessment December 1637 £8,000
Fourth Assessment January 1639 £2,750
Fifth Assessment February 1640 £8,000

On this last occasion the Crown offered to accept £6,400 instead of £8,000 if payment was made promptly. The fact that the king was prepared to offer a 20 per cent discount for a speedy settlement indicates the delay which was being experienced in collecting ship-money, a delay which increased with every fresh assessment. It remains only to say that the Kentishmen did not earn the 20 per cent discount and large arrears were still outstanding months after the date for payment had passed.

Ship-money was by no means the only imposition that the county suffered. In March 1639 Kent was required to find 1,000 men, out of the trained bands, who were to assemble at Gravesend and embark there for service against the Scots. This was to be done at the charge of the county, a matter of £1,500. The names of those to go were drawn out of a hat. Some who were thus selected to go managed to find others to take their places, at a cost of about £7 a man-50s. for a new suit of clothes, 20s. to put in his purse, and £3 or so for equipment. They did not see action in the north because peace was patched up between the king and the Scots. In April of the following year Kent was required to find £1,750 to sustain the 1,000 men (700 from the county and 300 from the Cinque Ports) who were once again required to assemble at Gravesend for service in the north. But the money was slow in coming in, many of the men and their equipment were found to be unserviceable (deliberate inefficiency is hinted at) and the men were semi-mutinous.

In 1641 six of the traditional taxes called subsidies were levied between April and December, each of something like £6,000 for the whole county, but the later ones were not fully collected. In April 1642 another subsidy was levied, and the amount laid on Kent was no less than £20,281 15s. 7 1/2d. It is improbable that the whole amount was raised.

Taxation was by no means the only cause for discontent. On Church matters the country was deeply divided, and Archbishop Laud’s attempts to reform the Church on Anglo-Catholic principles caused grave offence in some quarters. In 1640 petitions were sent up to Parliament from various parts of Kent, including Canterbury and the Weald, protesting against Laud’s reforms. In 1641 Sir John Colepepper presented a petition from Kent in which the grievances set out were concerned partly with taxation and partly with eccicsiastical matters, and when in May 1642 a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons to abolish episcopacy root and branch’, its first reading was moved by Sir Edward Dering of Surrenden, one of the Knights of the Shire for Kent. At this time, therefore, it could be said that Kent, on the whole, supported Parliament rather than the Royalist cause, but the confusing series of petitions and counter-petitions which were sent up in the name of the county is an indication that opinion in Kent was far from being unanimous. However, the county had few extremists of either party and hoped generally for a moderate and reasonable settlement.

In February 1642 Sir Michael Livesey of Eastchurcb organised a petition in the name of ‘the Knights, Gentry and Commonalty of the County of Kent’ which expressed moderate support for the reforming party. The county gentlemen who met at Maidstone for the Assizes in March took the opportunity of getting up another petition, again quite moderate in tone, which first explained that previous petitions had not, like the present one, come from an assembled body of the county, and then went on to make a number of reasonable requests such as that ‘a good understanding be come to between King and Parliament’ and that a law be framed ‘for the regulating of the Militia of this Kingdom so that the subjects may know how at once to obey both His Majesty and the Houses of Parliament’. For the king and parliament had been issuing conflicting orders about the Militia and so placing in a dilemma the many law-abiding subjects, forming the vast majority, who wished to disobey neither king nor parliament. Moderate as was the petition, by no means all of the 19 gentlemen present were prepared to support it, for they knew that it would give offence to parliament; indeed, it seems to have been carried by a majority of only one vote. The intention was that signatures to the petition should be collected in various parts of the county and that it should then be carried up to Westminster. However, parliament heard about the petition from some of its supporters at Maidstone, and on 30 March Sir George Strode, Sir Edward Dering, Richard Spencer and Sir Roger Twysden, four of those who had been associated with it, were ordered by the two Houses to be arrested. Nevertheless, men continued to sign the petition, which was brought up to London on 29 April by 200 Kentish gentlemen and presented to parliament by Richard Lovelace. He was promptly committed to the Gate-house, and it was while he was incarcerated there that he wrote the charming lyric ‘Stone walls do not a prison make’.

In the same month Edward Blunt got up a counter-petition in support of parliament. At the July Assizes at Maidstone parliament sent a group of gentlemen to sit, without any lawful warrant, on the Bench and join with the Judge in doing justice; the true reason for their presence was to ensure that the Grand Jury did not draw up any more petitions. Parliament’s action in sending a commission to over-awe the Grand Jury so incensed some of the more extreme Royalists (including Sir John Manny of Linton Place, Sir John Tufton of The Mote, Sir Edward Filmer of East Sutton, Sir Anthony St Leger of Wierton and Mr. Rycaut of the Friars, Aylesford) that they drew up a direction to Augustine Skinner, one of the two Knights of the Shire, to protest to Par­liament in the name of the Commons of Kent. Skinner seems to have been too cautious and moderate a man to present the petition of Manny and his friends.

By the summer of 1642 the situation had become too serious for petitions and counter-petitions to be of any use. In August the king set up his standard at Nottingham, and the Civil War had begun. Amongst the quite small number of Kentish gentlemen who sent the king support were Lord Lovelace, the Earl of Thanet, Sir Edward Dering, Sir William Clark of Hollingbourne, Richard Thornhill of Olantigh, near Wye, and Colonel Spence of Orpington. Sir Jacob Astley of the Old Palace, Maidstone, and Sir John Colepepper of Leeds Castle, both moderate men, were members of the King’s Council of War.

Three days before the king raised his standard at Nottingham parliamentarian soldiers made an expedition into Kent, visiting the houses of known Royalist sympathisers and removing not only arms and armour but also money and other goods. At Rochester the castle was taken over without resistance because the garrison were out harvesting and the captain was playing bowls. Divine Service in the Cathedral was interrupted by the soldiers who destroyed the altar-rails and other furniture that they considered to be ungodly. Canterbury-Cathedral suffered similarly three days later, and some of the medieval window-glass there was smashed. As usually happens when violence replaces argument and reason, the extremists began to take the lead, and Sir Michael Livesey was obliged to apologise to the Dean and Chapter for the behaviour of his men.

Obviously it was of importance to parliament to secure Dover Castle, the foremost military stronghold in the county. It was captured on the night of 21 August by a dozen townsmen who scaled the walls, surprised the guard and got possession of the whole castle. The garrison consisted of only 20 men, who put up no resistance. Indeed the Governor, Sir Edward Boys, probably connived at the capture of the castle; certainly he is to be found a few months later serving on the Parliamentarian County Committee of Kent. At Deal, Walmer and Sandown Castles there was no resistance. The towns, for the most part, received the soldiers amicably, and so speedily did they go about their work that, by 3 September, they were back in London, all possibility of serious trouble in Kent removed. Several prominent Royalists were safely under lock and key, some of them in Upnor Castle. More than fifty of them suffered sequestration, that is, their estates were taken into parliament’s hands and the owners recovered them only by paying a lump sum of money which, in the case of Sir William Boteler of Teston and Sir George Sondes of Throwley, exceeded £3,000. No doubt sequestration was intended, in part, as a punishment of those who adhered to the king’s cause, but it was devised also as a means of raising money so that parliament could meet its military expenses.

During the early part of the Civil War conditions in Kent remained quiet. The major campaigns took place in the Midlands and the only fighting in Kent was a rising in July 1643. It began at Ightham, where the minister refused to comply with parliament’s ordinance that all clergy should impose upon their parishioners the oath of assistance to the parliamentary forces. Quickly the disturbance spread to Sevenoaks where 2,000 men assembled. Sir Henry Vane, M.P., of Hadlow, was sent down by parliament to reason with them, but they would not give him a hearing. The insurgents met the parliamentary troops between Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, and apparently gave as good as they received, but the final issue could not be in doubt. Thomas Stanley, the Mayor of Maidstone, a man with moderate leanings, tried to persuade the insurgents to lay down their arms, but by now they had got out of hand. Many of them had joined only for the sake of those opportunities for plunder that every insurrection affords. Thomas Weller, who held Tonbridge Castle for parliament, overheard this conversation between two of the men who had broken into his house:

Parry: We have sped well here. Let us go to Hadlow and Peckham and plunder there, for they are rich rogues, and so will we go away into the woods.

Smale: But we must plunder none but Roundheads.

Parry: We will make every man a Roundhead that hath anything to lose. This is the time we look for.

But within a week a parliamentary force despatched from London defeated the insurgents in a three-hour engagement at Tonbridge and brought the rising to an end. It was an affair of little real importance, unlike the rising which took place five years later, in 1648, when a large part of the county was up in arms.

That a county which, on the whole, was well disposed towards the parliamentary side and always inclined towards moderate courses should be driven within five years from a well-behaved, mannerly attitude into insurrection needs explanation. Much of the blame must be laid at the door of the County Committee by which Kent was governed. The County Committee was evolved from the Deputy Lieutenants for the county and was never formally constituted under an ordinance of parliament. There were sub-committees for each of the Lathes and separate sub-committees for Thanet and Canterbury. In 1643 the County Committee fixed its headquarters at Knole, the sequestrated estate of the earl of Dorset. Towards the end of 1644 it moved to the Friars at Aylesford, perhaps because it was more centrally situated than Knole, and in 1646 it moved again, into Maidstone. At first the members of the Committee were country gentlemen who, as Deputy Lieutenants and Justices of the Peace, had been the rulers of the county before the war began. They included such men as Sir Edward Boys of Nonington, Sir William Mann of Canterbury, Sir Thomas Walsingham of Rochester, Sir Edward Scott of Scott’s Hall, Sir John Honywood of Elmstead, Sir James Oxinden of Deane, Sir Edward Monins of Waldershare, Sir Edward Hales of Tenterden and Sir Thomas Godfrey of Heppington, none of whom could possibly be accused of being fanatical. However, the chairman of the Committee, Sir Anthony Weldon of Swanscombe, and owner of Rochester Castle, was a man of different stamp, vain and ambitious, indulgent to his friends and merciless to those whom he conceived to be his enemies. Unfortunately his overbearing behaviour estranged him from many of his Kentish neighbours and now he took the frequent opportunities that were offered him, with his new power, of paying off old scores. He was supported by men like Sir Michael Livesey, known as ‘the plunder-master of Kent’, and Sir William Springate who was so violent in his Puritan principles that even his fellow committee-men looked upon him as mad. Gradually this group of extremists gained control of the Committee, the moderate men were excluded, and their places were taken by men who indeed belonged to the gentry but not to important county families. They were men whose names were scarcely known outside their own neighbourhood.

It was a tactical mistake to alienate, on political or personal grounds, so many of the county gentry, for only through them could the county be effectively and quietly governed. The rising of 1648 was the price that the County Committee paid for its clumsiness.

The rising can be said to have had its origin in Canterbury on Christmas Day, 1647. In June parliament had ordained that Christmas festivities were illegal, and a week before Christmas the mayor issued a warning to the citizens reminding them that no church services were to be held on 25 December, that there must be no festivities, no making of ‘plum pottage or nativity pies’, no hanging of holly, rosemary or bay at the street-door, and that the shops must open. The ordinance was disobeyed; a service was held at St Andrew’s church and some shopkeepers refused to open their shops for trade. The mayor went about the city trying to persuade the tradesmen to obey the ordinance, but fair words gave place to invective, invective to blows, and soon there was a riot, with the mayor flung into the gutter. In the confusion a Puritan fanatic shot and killed one of the opposing party. The mayor took himself off and for some weeks the mob was in control of the city. Like all mobs, it behaved with violence, houses were broken into, and no doubt many old grudges were re­paid. That no more serious damage was done was largely due to the restraining influence of Sir William Mann and Francis Lovelace (both of whom were afterwards imprisoned in Leeds Castle for their pains). Towards the end of January a force of some 3,000 Parliamentarians recaptured the town, breaking down the city gates and demolishing part of the walls.

In May 1648 a special court sat at Canterbury to try the rioters. The Grand Jury had been carefully selected, but even so, to the keen displeasure of the judges, it refused to find a true bill, so that the prosecution could not proceed, although the accused men continued, illegally, to be detained in prison. The country gentlemen who formed the Grand Jury, Parliamentarians though they were, resolved to use this opportunity to organise a petition. In content and in style it was moderate, its main request being that people should ‘for the future be governed and judged by (the English subjects’ undoubted birth-right) the known and established laws of this Kingdom’. The framers of the petition intended to collect signatures to it and carry it up to parliament at the end of the month. When this news came to the ears of the County Committee, as it quickly did, the Committee expressed its ‘utter detestation of such seditious practices’ and forbade the petitioners to proceed with their plan.

This, for the ‘Knights, Clergy and Freeholders of the County of Kent’ was the last straw. A general rising took place and in their manifesto issued on 23 May the insurgents complained especially of the County Committee who ‘shew their endeavour, in any cause whatever which suit not with their temper, to overrule the judgements of other persons; and meeting with opposition think they have sufficient reason to destroy the lives and fortunes (or both) of their opposers’. In truth the insurgents were not so much pro-Charles or even anti-Parliament as anti-Committee.

There were simultaneous risings in different parts of the county. The castles at Upnor, Walmer, Deal, Sandown and Sandgate were taken, and the insurgents seized the magazines of arms at Rochester, Sittingbourne, Faversham and Sandwich. Canterbury and Ashford declared for the king. Men were enlisted at Gravesend, Rochester, Ashford and Wye. Bands of men assembled under their leaders on Coxheath and on Barham Downs. Some of the leaders met to concert their plans in the house of young Edward Hales, at Tunstall, but from the beginning to the end the rising showed on the Royalist side lack of generalship and of anything in the shape of a master-plan. The fleet lying in the Downs off Deal revolted and if the seamen had had a leader capable of co-operating with the Kentish insurgents the rising might have taken a different turn. There was some talk of rescuing the king from captivity in Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight, but it came to nothing and the fleet withdrew to Holland.

By the end of May the insurgents were believed to have 10,000 men under arms. Negotiations took place between them and parliament, with the Earl of Thanet as intermediary. Again the Royalists expressed their fear of the County Committee whom they accused of an ‘enraged design of engaging this County in blood and ruin, when they find never so small a diminution of their arbitrary power, so long exercised over us’. But the negotiation failed, for neither side felt able to trust the other, and parliament gave the Lord General, Fairfax, authority to ‘manage the business in Kent’.

Fairfax advanced from London to Blackheath, with 7,000 trained soldiers of the New Model Army, on 30 May. He divided his force into three columns, one of which marched off through the Weald to relieve Dover Castle which was besieged by some of the Royalists who had assembled at Barham Downs under their leaders Colonel Hammon and Colonel Hatton. A second column, after a sharp skirmish at Northfleet, advanced towards Rochester but, hearing that the city was stoutly defended, turned aside to Malling to rejoin the third column under Fairfax himself.

Meanwhile, on 1 June, the main Royalist forces assembled at Penenden Heath with the jovial but not noticeably competent, earl of Norwich as their general. Norwich seems to have had no idea that Fairfax was anywhere in the neighbourhood until someone with a telescope spied the Parliamentarian army. He promptly sent 1,000 men to guard the river crossing at Aylesford and threw 3,000 men into Maidstone to defend the town and the bridge. The rest of his men be withdrew to the high ground at Kits Coty. Fairfax, however, did not attempt to cross the river either at Aylesford or at Maidstone, but moved across Barming Heath from Mailing, took Farleigh Bridge without much fighting and pressed on towards Maidstone through Tovil. The nearer he got to the town the stiffer the resistance became. His soldiers fought their way up Gabriel’s Hill, which was barricaded at several points, and defended by a battery of four guns mounted at the cross-roads at the top of the hill. ‘Every object in the town was got by inches’ as a Parliamentarian afterwards reported. Slowly the Royalists were forced to give ground, until at midnight the last of them surrendered in St Faith’s churchyard.

Norwich retreated from Kits Coty to Rochester and then pressed on to Greenwich, where he expected to meet men from Surrey and Essex who, it was understood, would rise in support of the Kentishmen. However, none joined them from the other counties and Norwich led his thousand or so men (the others by this time having deserted) across the river into Essex, where they were later to be found forming part of the garrison of the beleagured town of Colchester.

In east Kent the insurgents under Sir Richard Hardres gave up the siege of Dover Castle when the Parliamentary army appeared, and Hardres and Colonel Barkstead, the Parliamentary leader, quickly agreed upon the terms on which the insurgents should surrender. Walmer, Deal and Sandown Castles, all occupied by the Royalists, held out for some weeks. None was heavily garrisoned—Walmer, for example, was defended by 60 men. From time to time attempts were made to relieve them from the sea and several Royalist landings were made, but every time they were defeated by Fairfax’s soldiers. Finally, Walmer Castle surrendered on 12 July, Deal on 25 August, and Sandown on 5 September. So ended the Kentish rising of 1648, a rising which, with good generalship and co-ordination with the fleet and with other counties, might have compelled parliament to mitigate the intolerance and the harshness of the methods of its government.

Inevitably sequestrations followed the unsuccessful rising. Men were encouraged to inform against their neighbours and again there were opportunities for working off old spites and grudges. The execution of the king in January 1649 (in which two Maidstone men were concerned, Andrew Broughton, an attorney of Earl Street, who acted as Clerk of the Court which sentenced the king, and Thomas Trapham, a surgeon, who embalmed the body after the execution) and the fanatical excesses of Cromwell’s Parliament, were little calculated to win over the affection and support of the country. For the last 12 years of the Interregnum Kent had no individual history, but this was not an occasion on which it was possible to say ‘Happy is the county that has no history’. For most men they were years to be endured with patience and a vague hope of better days to come. When, on 25 May 1660, Charles II landed at Dover his return was almost universally welcomed; however this, the third Stuart to sit on the throne of England, might govern his country, things could scarcely be as bad in Church or State, so it seemed, as they had been under Parliament, Cromwell and the Major-generals.