The Age of Revolution

VIII The Age of Revolution

The Civil Wars
16. The Civil Wars

The part played by Lincolnshire in the civil wars of the 1640s was determined more by geographical location than by political adherence, for there was no stronghold in the county decisively committed to one side or the other. Lincolnshire lay within a sphere of parliamentary influence, surrounded by supporters of parliament in East Anglia, south Yorkshire and Nottingham. But at the heart of this region was the royalist fortress of Newark: so strongly partisan were the men of Newark that they even rejected an order from the king himself to surrender. Controlling the crossing of the Trent, it kept the road to London open for the king’s army and barred the movement of parliamentary troops from East Anglia into the north.

The nature of the wars was less one of set battles than of minor skirmishes focussed on the estates of gentry who raised money and troops for one side or the other and fortified their houses against the bands of soldiers who tried to enforce obedience to king or parliament. Newark’s role was to rally the pockets of king’s supporters in the region and to harass the enemy; it was the nerve centre of loyalist resistance at Belvoir (the earl of Rutland), at Welbeck, Shelford and Wiverton in Nottinghamshire and the Brownlow residence at Belton by Grantham.

Within the county, opinions were divided. More people seem to have adhered to parliament than to the king, but the men of Lincolnshire were more concerned with local issues, and the king could count on support from those who felt they had most to gain in their local controversies from the royalists. There were a few stable allegiances; even in the Fens where parliament’s chief strength lay, Crowland persistently supported the king.

The first civil war

When trouble broke out in 1642, rival emergency administrations were appointed in the county. The king chose Robert Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby (from 1627 first earl of Lindsey) as lord lieutenant for Lincolnshire, while parliament turned to Lord Willoughby of Par­ham. Commissioners were sent to control the militia and raise troops – M.P.s for parliament and loyal J.P.s for the king. On the whole parlia­ment won this first round. There was some opposition; one man pinned up a bill from the king forbidding the muster of troops on the door of the inn where Lord Willoughby was staying. But although the king paid a visit to Lincoln in July 1642 amid scenes of enthusiasm, Lindsey’s authority was ineffective, and few troops were raised for the crown (one Boston woman sent to the earl one of her husband’s toes, deliberately cut off so that he should not be drafted into the king’s army). Parliamentary supporters continued to recruit and train soldiers in the county.

When war broke out, parliament fortified Lincoln city and castle and held the county against the king. Resistance to parliament was seen early in 1643 at Crowland where the inhabitants, armed with ‘fennish weapons’ of scythes and pitchforks and led by their vicar, held out for four months behind specially made defences. Crowland lay on one of the main routes across the Fens especially important to the parliamen­tary forces, and it took an army under Oliver Cromwell to suppress this royalist revolt.

Cromwell went on to attack Newark. An attempt to capture this town in February 1643 had merely resulted in a series of counter-attacks from Newark which had strengthened Crowland’s resistance and increased the king’s influence in places like Grantham and Stamford. Royalist troops rode freely throughout south Lincolnshire and won skirmishes against Lord Willoughby’s forces on the heath between Ancaster and Grantham. To meet this menace, Cromwell marched north in April 1643 with his New Model Army; but he had little more success and his withdrawal led to further raids from the fortress, this time towards Lincoln and Louth.

Cromwell’s failure enabled -the royalists to defeat Sir Thomas Fairfax, parliament’s commander in Yorkshire. This was the king’s opportunity; with Cromwell falling back into East Anglia, the road to London lay open. The earl of Newcastle led the king’s army into the county. He stopped to take Gainsborough, a crucial crossing point on the Trent which still held out for parliament. Cromwell saw a chance of forcing the king’s army into battle, but although he won an engagement at Lea, he was unable to drive off the royalist forces and the town fell to Newcastle. This severe setback to parliament’s interests caused Wil­loughby to withdraw from Lincoln to Boston, Cromwell from Stamford to Peterborough. A new front line was drawn across Lincolnshire. King’s Lynn declared for the king and had to be captured by the earl of Manchester at the head of parliament’s Eastern Association troops.

All was thus poised for a final confrontation in September 1643. But the royalists delayed, too unsure of their position to make a decisive move. Like the parliamentary forces, they had made themselves unpopular by plundering Gainsborough, Lincoln and other centres. More important they feared to leave the unconquered stronghold of Hull behind them, even though Grimsby was loyalist. Cromwell and Willoughby managed to get some troops out of Hull by sea and concentrate them at Lynn, and from there Manchester advanced to Boston, Bolingbroke castle which he captured and Horncastle; at Winceby the battle which the parliamentary army was seeking was fought (11 October 1643) and the royalists were defeated. Newcastle withdrew into Yorkshire and the county reverted to parliamentary control. As a contemporary writer put it, the parliamentary gentry driven from their lands by the king’s army were ‘relincolnshired again’. With their troops reorganised, their finances once more healthy and their new allies the Scots on the march, parlia­ment hoped for a swift and final victory. The king sought help from the Danes, but parliament controlled the sea and prevented the Danish forces from landing in Lincolnshire.

Local loyalties

This was nearly the end of the war in the county. An attempt to capture Newark in March 1644 was foiled by Prince Rupert and royalist interests in the county revived; the parliamentary fortifications at Gainsborough and Lincoln were dismantled and their garrisons at Sleaford and Crowland were thrown out. But Manchester and Cromwell advanced through the area again, plundering and destroying religious monuments; at Lincoln where Manchester’s siege in June 1645 provoked a good deal of resistance, the cathedral suffered damage, and at Crowland the town and monastic ruins were enthusiastically sacked, the last of the medieval glass being destroyed. The parliamentary troops passed into Yorkshire, crossing the Trent at Gainsborough, and at Marston Moor the royalists were heavily beaten. From there, the war passed into the west.

Cromwell was prevented from besieging Newark by disputes between the commanders. During 1645, raids from the castle continued. Torksey House and Hougham House, held by parliamentary garrisons, were attacked, and the small pockets of royalists at Stamford and Crowland encouraged. But early in 1646 the Scots invested Newark and in May the king surrendered; further resistance to parliament in the name of the king was useless.

But the parliamentarians in Lincolnshire were divided amongst them­selves. Colonel Edward King of Ashby de la Launde, supported by Manchester, ousted Lord Willoughby of Parham from his leadership of parliament’s interests; King was made governor of Holland and Boston and later of Lincoln, but his exercise of power made him unpopular. Deprived of office he became the focus of opposition to the parliamentary committee headed by Thomas Hatcher of Careby in 1646. The royalists under Monckton tried to build on this disagreement when the second civil war broke out, but apart from a few skirmishes around Belvoir. in 1648, Lincolnshire took no action to aid the king.

But equally there was not much support for the army. The men of Lincolnshire were more interested in local issues. The inhabitants of Sleaford, for instance, took the opportunity to pay off old scores against Sir Robert Carr, and Crowland waged war against Spalding and other fenland settlements. Some, like John Becke, mayor of Lincoln, defended local interests against both sides; the men of Axholme flooded the Isle against the king’s army, but they also resisted Cromwell’s parliament when it ordered them to return the lands they had re-appropriated.

At the heart of these struggles lay hostility to central control over the county. Sir John Wray of Glentworth and Ashby, M.P. had led opposition to Westminster’s increasing interference since at least 1627 on issues such as ship money, the county militia and drainage. He supported the House of Commons and those ‘numerous godly precious people’ the commoners, in their resistance to royal schemes to drain the Isle of Axholme, but the violence which accompanied this and other protests against enclosure made many gentry look to the king to provide strong government. By 1648 parliament turned against the commoners, and thus, when Col. Rossiter came to raise troops for parliament, he found his task more difficult than in earlier years.

It was the riots in 1649-50 which led the Levellers Lilburne and Wildman to move into Axholme in an attempt to take over the leadership of a promising revolutionary movement. But they failed – perhaps because they bought freehold land for themselves, perhaps because they were outsiders, or perhaps because in the end Lincolnshire was not a centre of radicalism. The arguments and ideologies of the Levellers did not match the burning questions of the inhabitants of Axholme. For the men of Lincolnshire, ‘their war was with enclosure, loss of common rights and enforced change rather than with King or Parliament’; ‘they would never have taken Arms for the Parliament, but that they intended thereby to have power in their hands to destroy the Draining and Improvements and lay all waste again to their Common’.

Religious persuasions

Religion seems to have played relatively little part in the conflict in Lincolnshire. Popular Catholicism had largely died out except amongst a few gentry and landed families. Puritanism was mostly within the established church, particularly in the towns where preachers like John Cotton at Boston and John Vicars at Stamford held sway. No less than 14 puritan ‘lecturers’ preached in Grantham church, and they led the vocal opposition when the vicar of Grantham moved the altar from the centre of the chancel to the east end of his church. Separatist congrega­tions were rare; an Anabaptist group existed in Axholme in 1626-34, and two preachers ‘led out’ congregations, John Smith from Lincoln to Gainsborough and John Robinson to Scrooby in Nottinghamshire nearby. Both of these groups soon left for Holland, some of them who had followed Robinson proceeding to America as the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’.

Separatist congregations spread quickly during the Commonwealth and Protectorate, mainly in Axholme, the Marsh and the Fens. Thomas Grantham founded a Baptist church in Boston in the 1640s, and the Quakers led by John Whitehead flourished in several centres, notably Gainsborough and Brant Broughton. More extreme sects like the Man­ifestarians made their appearance in the Fens. But they were still few, no more than three per cent of the population and even at their densest probably still only some six per cent. The majority of laity and clergy remained faithful to the Elizabethan settlement, like Robert Sanderson of Boothby Pagnell, imprisoned for his loyalty to the Prayer Book and later rewarded by becoming bishop of Lincoln. Parliament ejected more than 90 Lincolnshire clergy from their livings during the Interregnum – all the incumbents of Stamford were removed between 1645 and 1649; and at the Restoration in 1660, some 60 puritan clergy were in their turn ejected.

Economic pressures

Life was perhaps less affected by the ‘troubles’ than by plagues (as in 1603) and famine (1623) which afflicted Lincolnshire in the early 17th :entury. The trends set at the end of the previous century continued. Population increased, especially in the Fens and in the towns. The number of urban centres in the county continued to grow, and places ike Pinchbeck in the Fens flourished for a time. The results of the garrisoning and besieging of the towns have not yet been worked out in detail but places like Stamford and Gainsborough clearly suffered. There were other short-term effects of the disturbances: Parliament confiscated the property of royalists and imposed heavy fines for their recovery. The pre-civil war drainage schemes were abandoned and the commoners reoccupied the land. But the growth of population and continuation of inflation in pressure on the wasteland. Enclosure and drainage schemes were now intended more to accommodate new people than to dispossess common right holders. In some places, scat­tered strips were consolidated into farms, and increasingly land was let out on long leases. The gentry now drew more of their wealth from the profits of farming and reinvested it not just in more land but in industrial and exploitative enterprises outside the county. A new elite of tenant fàrmers was being created, men who exercised leadership in their com­munities, serving as parish officers in the new pattern of local government levised and directed by central government.

County and court

The growth of central control over the political and administrative Life of the regions was the main focus of political life at the end of the entury. Up to about 1660, M.P.s for the county and towns reflected local opinion in the councils of the nation. Such opinion could on occasion be divided: on the death of Cromwell, three Lincolnshire M.P.s represented different views of the way to be taken. John Weaver of Stamford urged a return to a republic, William Ellis of Grantham sought a renewal of the Protectorate and Col Edward Rossiter of Somerby, a county M.P. argued for a restoration of Charles II, despite his former parliamentary allegiance. On the whole Lincolnshire supported the restoration of the monarchy; indeed a plot was laid for a rising in the county on behalf of Charles, but it never materialised.

Perhaps this is the reason why Lincolnshire was treated relatively moderately after 1660. Persecution of dissenting groups was on the whole light; there was more interest in the public quarrel between the Baptists and the Quakers in Axholme. But here as elsewhere, the towns lost their charters to the crown, and the civil courts waged war against the church courts. As central control over the regions grew, the role of the king’s justices and officials changed. They were chosen more to represent central government’s interests in the shire than to reflect the county’s concerns to central government. And for this purpose the court sought to secure amenable M.P.s

And it was this which accounts for the contests that the shires saw in the late 17th century. Sir Robert Carr of Sleaford and Sir Christopher Hussey in the 1660s successfully resisted the reinstatement of courtiers in the drainage schemes in Lindsey, despite royal support. From 1676, Robert Bertie third earl of Lindsey led the ‘court’ party, opposed by Carr, Sir Thomas Meres of Scotton and Sir John Monson of Canton. Gradually Carr emerged as the leader of the ‘county’ faction and from 1679, after the Popish plot of Titus Oates, began to build up a party for himself. Initially both Carr and the earl of Lindsey were opposed to the radical tendencies of the ‘whigs’, but later Carr’s hostility to Lindsey at parliamentary elections and by-elections led him to be seen as the leader of the whigs in the county.

Carr died in 1682 and the ‘tories’ under Lindsey dominated Lincoln­shire. In 1685 when the Monmouth rebellion broke out, there was no support for the rising in the county, but Lindsey took the opportunity to imprison some of his opponents. But in 1688 when William of Orange invaded, Lindsey’s heir Lord Willoughby seized York for William while Lindsey did nothing despite the riots which broke out in several places, notably Axholme. Some old tories were never reconciled to the change of dynasty – the Monsons, Bolles and Oldfields, for example – and party rivalry remained intense; but the majority of the Lincolnshire establishment supported the Orange and later the Hanoverian court and thus helped to undermine the county’s regional identity and inde­pendence.