War and Turmoil, 1630-1710

War and Turmoil, 1630-1710


In the 1630s, life in Suffolk seemed increasingly precarious and turbulent. The woollen industry was still deeply depressed, civil ‘tumults’ were constantly feared by the authorities, and recurrent outbreaks of plague threatened both town and country. Meanwhile, Suffolk was increasingly torn by social, religious and political controversy. The policies of Charles I, for example his refusal to convene parliament and his desperate attempts to raise money, caused mounting resentment among the wealthier and more articulate sections of society. Ship money was demanded annually after 1635, and Suffolk showed notable reluc­tance to pay. By 1640 only £200 was raised out of an annual assessment of about £8,000, and the sheriff, facing ‘innumerable groans and sighs’, declared himself almost ruined. The war against Scotland, which broke out in 1639, was also very unpopular, and led to a soldiers’ mutiny at Bungay and a transport strike at Ipswich. When the king did at last reconvene parliament in 1640, strong parliamentarian candidates were swept into office like Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston of Kedington, Sir Simonds d’Ewes of Stowlangtoft and Sir Philip Parker of Arwarton.

At the same time, religious disputes increasingly threatened the unity of the Church of England. Puritan ministers, supported by growing numbers of the gentry and educated laity, expressed bitter dissatisfaction with normal Anglican compromises and with standards of personal and public morality. When William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, and tried to impose his ‘Popish’ ideas of ritual and discipline, the situation became explosive.

Bishop Matthew Wren of Norwich, appointed in 1635, was one of Laud’s strongest supporters. When staying at Ipswich in 1636, he found many defects in Suffolk and particularly objected to the influence of recalcitrant Puritan lecturers supported by town corporations and local gentlemen. He tried to impose a strong discipline and commanded, inter alia, the use of set prayers rather than informal ones, the railing in of communion tables ‘under the east wall of the chancel’, the use of surplices and hoods, the removal of hats during services, bowing at the name of Jesus and the licensing of private chaplains and tutors. Some clergy in the diocese were subsequently excommunicated, suspended or driven out, including Edmund Calamy, lecturer of Bury, and Samuel Ward, lecturer of Ipswich. In 1634 the latter was hauled before the court of High Commission where, among 43 charges, he was accused of praying informally and giving ‘scandalous and offensive speeches in the pulpit’.

The turmoil of this period is best illustrated by the emigration of about 650 people from Suffolk to New England, mainly during the years 1629-38.

Motivated by both dissatisfaction and hope they, and about 1,200 others from Norfolk and Essex, were prepared to sell their homes, goods, and sometimes estates, and to risk a voyage of 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. N.C.P. Tyack has shown that the emigrants included husbandmen, yeomen, craftsmen (such as carpenters and weavers), clergy and gentry; they came from villages like Groton, Assington and Fressingfield, and from market towns and industrial centres like Lavenham, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds.

One cause of disenchantment was certainly economic. Bishop Wren argued that ‘poor workmen’ were driven abroad by low wages, while John Winthrop, senior, a lawyer and landowner who became the first governor of Massachusetts, wrote about the effects of over-population, unemployment, poverty and petty crime. In an unforgettably sad phrase, he said that ‘This Land (England) growes weary of her Inhabitants’. But religious disputes were of even greater significance, especially in the later 1630s. Each side blamed the other. Puritan ministers, especially Samuel Ward, were accused of encouraging ‘this giddiness and desire to go to New England’, while Bishop Wren was castigated for driving out God-fearing people by his popish idolatry. Clearly the chance of setting up a new and purified church on the other side of the Atlantic was the supreme attraction. ‘I shall call that my country’, said the younger John Winthrop, ‘where I may most glorify God.’

The emigration got underway properly in 1630, when 112 men, women and children left Suffolk. They included John Winthrop, senior, of Groton, then aged 43, who went in the Arbella from Southampton with three members of his family and eight servants. His wife and three other children followed in 1631. In spite of the government’s attempts to regulate and dissuade, the outflow continued throughout the 1630s. Within a few years the new plantations, their names often redolent of Suffolk and East Anglia, were claimed as highly successful. In the words of another Puritan squire who stayed behind, Sir Simonds d’Ewes, the emigrants had ‘beyond the hopes of their friends, and to the astonish­ment of their enemies, raised such forts, built so many towns, brought into culture so much ground, and so dispersed and enriched themselves … that the very finger of God hath hitherto gone with them and guided them’.

The Civil Wars

In 1642 the king raised his standard at Nottingham, and the first Civil War began. Almost immediately, parliament ordered a group of Suffolk gentlemen to seize the county magazine at Bury St Edmunds, and a protestant mob from the area around Colchester and Sudbury attacked Catholic homes. They began with the house of Countess Rivers at St Osyth and, when she escaped to her other mansion at Long Melford, ransacked that too. The Countess managed to escape with her life, but had allegedly lost goods to the value of £50,000. Other Catholic families to suffer from this violence included the Martins at Melford Place and the Mannocks of Stoke by Nayland.

In Suffolk, the only significant military event in the first war was the so-called siege of Lowestoft in March 1643, which showed how quickly and decisively Oliver Cromwell could act. Hearing that Lowestoft had been occupied by Royalist gentry, he rode from Cambridge with 1,000 horse, surprised the opposition completely, and took the town without a fight. In the absence, therefore, of serious fighting on Suffolk soil, the main interest of the war was administrative and financial. The country had been so alienated by the high­handed and insensitive policies of Charles I that its ruling class had little difficulty in declaring for parliament, and in organising the county’s consider­able resources for that cause.

Not that Suffolk was without Royalists. At least 50 gentry families sup­ported the king, many actually joining his army, and Royalist sentiment was always likely to erupt in certain places. For example, the newly established races at Newmarket were said to be a cover for Royalist disaffection, and the Jermyn family at Rushbrooke provided a focus in the Bury area. In 1646 a Puritan attempt to suppress the celebration of Christmas in Bury led to a popular riot which was seen as a ‘horrible plot and bloody conspiracy’. Although not numerous, the Royalists of Suffolk paid large sums of money in fines. Between 1643 and 1649, their sequestered estates yielded £40,917—more than was got from any other English county. Many Suffolk people must have been reluctant to take sides, and hated the spectre of civil war, but they never organised themselves as a middle party. So, with the Royalists driven underground, the rule of the parliamentary party was virtually unchallenged.

During the war, Suffolk was controlled by an unpaid county committee which met regularly at Bury. Its membership, remarkably stable from 1642 to the Restoration in 1660, included members of principal families who were already used to governing as magistrates and deputy lieutenants, such as Sir William Spring of Pakenham, Sir John Wentworth of Somerleyton and Sir John Rous of Henham. Whether they attended regularly or not, members were under the firm leadership of Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston of Kedington who was the wealthiest man in the county (illus. 91). (Incidentally, a Barnardiston was said to have been the original ‘Roundhead’.) In the words of Alan Everitt, ‘the Committee of Suffolk was in fact a kind of exclusive county club comprising most of the brains and much of the wealth of the shire’. Such people were economically experienced as landowners and businessmen, and they were already deeply imbued with Puritan ideas. As Robert Reyce wrote, about 40 years before the Civil War, Suffolk gentlemen thought of themselves as ‘crowned with the purity of true religion and godly life’.

The primary function of the committee was to raise troops, horses and money for the parliamentary cause. During the period 1642-48 they efficiently collected an average of over £56,000 a year. In February 1643 Suffolk joined the Eastern Association of five, later seven, counties. At first this alliance was purely defensive and each county jealously guarded its independence, but from August 1643 the Earl of Manchester exerted a much firmer discipline. Never theless, it was not until January 1644 that offensive warfare became a real possibility. Then, after originally rejecting the idea, the eastern counties accepted the concept of a New Model Army. This reorganisation led, within two years, to the decisive victory of Naseby. In the estimation of Alan Everitt, ‘it would be but a slight rhetorical exaggeration to say that London and the Eastern Association had conquered England’.

But how did the Civil War affect the ordinary parish and its inhabitants? From miscellaneous records, we get occasional glimpses of local activities: parishes raising troops, offering volunteers, sending soldiers for training, buying and repairing arms and armour, and relieving sick and injured soldiers. In March 1643, the small village of Shimpling provided five volunteers for the Eastern Association, and collected money, seven muskets, a sword and an old helmet.

Undoubtedly, the lives of some individuals were completely changed by the war. Ralph Margery of Waisham-le-Willows was a substantial local yeoman or, at best, a minor gentleman. Being a convinced Puritan, he volunteered to fight against the king, collected horses locally, raised his own troop, and rose to be captain. It was of Margery that Cromwell wrote those famous words, ‘I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than any gentleman’. His men became the 13th Troop of Ironsides and fought at Naseby. Margery went on to serve as a professional soldier in Scotland and the Channel Isles, but died back home at Waisham in 1653.

Unlike Essex which witnessed the bloody siege of Colchester, Suffolk was little affected by the second Civil War of 1648-49. The so-called Royalist rebellion at Bury in 1648, when over 600 people are said to have danced around a maypole, was a spontaneous eruption of Royalist and anti-Puritan sentiment, but it was never a serious military threat. With little bloodshed, the Parliamentary army regained the town within two days.

Church and chapel

The Long Parliament, which first met in November 1640, introduced major changes in religion. Bishops were summarily abolished and the Book of Com­mon Prayer proscribed. In March 1644, two committees were appointed to remove anti-Puritan clergy in west and east Suffolk. Local parishioners, whose social standing varied, gave evidence showing that ministers were either ‘scan­dalous’ (Laudian or ritualistic), ‘malignant’ (Royalist) or simply immoral. As a result, about 100 Suffolk incumbents were ejected and had to seek an alter­native way of life, ranging precariously from teaching to beggary. Many of the charges against them were gossipy and malicious, but they make fascinating reading—witness Lionel Playters, rector of Uggeshall, who was accused of ‘eating custard after a scandalous manner’ and of offering his crop of hemp ‘to hang up the Roundheads’.

In 1641 parliament had ordered that all superstitious pictures and inscrip­tions in churches be removed and defaced. The effect was not felt in Suffolk until 1644 when William Dowsing, who came from a Laxfield family, was appointed Parliamentary Visitor. In less than 50 days, accompanied by troopers, he personally swept through more than 150 Suffolk churches, while his deputies tackled the rest. In a few months, they destroyed countless religious objects which had escaped earlier purges. At Hacheston alone, Dowsing himself attacked 21 winged cherubim, 16 ‘superstitious pictures and popish saints’, a double cross, a carving of the Holy Trinity on the font, emblems of the Passion, three stone crosses, and several stained-glass windows and steps in the chancel.

Contemporary superstitions and fear of magic were seen at their worst in the treatment of so-called witches. Although persecution was never as great and sustained as on the continent, it appeared sporadically in England throughout Elizabethan and Stuart times. The worst period for Suffolk was undoubtedly during the first Civil War when Matthew Hopkins, a native of the county, assumed the title of Witchfinder General. He toured the eastern counties, extort­ing confessions from suspects, or discovering witches by searching and torture. At Aldeburgh, financial accounts show that Hopkins persuaded the corporation to pay ‘search women’ for giving evidence, and to erect a special gallows. Seven witches were hanged, and the witchfinder was paid £2 for his trouble. In Suffolk as a whole, over 100 individuals were accused, and at least 60 of them were executed.

Most of the victims were elderly women of strange appearance and quirky habits who had fallen out with their neighbours. Susan Marchant of Hintlesham confessed to making a neighbour’s cow lame, to having consorted with the devil, and to possessing three ‘familiars’ or ‘imps’. The worst case was the rare per­secution of a local clergyman, John Lowes, the 80-year-old vicar of Brandeston. Unfortunately he had antagonised his parishioners who were persuaded by the malevolent Hopkins to regard him as a witch. The old man was kept awake for several nights, forced to run until he was breathless and then ‘swum’ in a pond. He finally confessed to having two imps and was duly hanged.

In 1647 Hopkins’ cruel methods were exposed, and he himself was put to death. Nevertheless, the killing of witches continued. Two widows from Lowes­toft were tried at Bury in 1664. Their trial, which is well recorded, was an extraordinary farrago of witnesses struck dumb, witness physically attacking defendant, a lame child miraculously restored to health, and tales of exploding toads and children coughing up pins and nails. The accused were eventually found guilty and hanged. After the reign of Charles II, witches were no longer put to death, but they were still feared and occasionally punished. At Wickham Skeith, a local ‘wizard’ was dragged through the village pond as late as 1825.

The Puritan victory of the early 1640s led to a restructuring of the church on Presbyterian lines. In 1645 Suffolk was divided into 14 ‘classical presbyteries’ presided over by committees of ministers and laymen, in place of former dean­eries and archdeaconries. The imposition of this new hierarchy, loosely based on the Scottish model, was largely a paper exercise. The victory of parliament over the king generated a ferment of new religious and political ideas, as the more extreme Protestants, in spite of Presbyterian persecution, broke away from the national church and successfully established their own meetings. This is
excellently illustrated by the extraordinary career of Laurence Clarkson who frequently preached in Suffolk: between 1640 and 1658 he moved in and out of seven different ‘churches’ including Anglican, Baptist and Ranter, and finished up as a Muggletonian believing that mankind was divided into the seed of Adam who are saved and the seed of Cain who are automatically damned.
By far the most important of the new groups were the Independents (or Congregationalists) who, as descendants of the Elizabethan Brownists, believed that each congregation should be entirely self governing. They established groups in many parts of Suffolk, meeting mainly in private houses and outbuildings. worship. Walpole chapel, converted from a private house is claimed to be the oldest surviving nonconformist meeting-place in England, perhaps in use from the early 1640s (illus. 95). In 1646 a new Independent church in Bury was set up with the help of London missionaries called Katherine and Samuel Chidley: eight members signed a binding covenant. Of less importance numerically were the Baptists who rejected infant baptism and the Quakers who denied any form of ministry between God and man. All these sects were treated harshly by the Presbyterian majority, particularly the Quakers who seemed to present both a religious and social threat. In 1657 George Whitehead, a Quaker preacher from Westmorland, was ordered to be whipped at Nayland ’till his body be bloody’. Two years later, George Fox of Charsfield called the Younger to distinguish him from the founder of Quakerism, faced a drawn sword and gun at Tunstall, was ejected and imprisoned for preaching in the market at Aldeburgh, preached four days later in the church (‘steeple house’) of Southwold, and was duly beaten by a mob and again imprisoned.

The permanent cleavage between ‘church’ and ‘chapel’ came later. In 1660 the Church of England, with its characteristic liturgy and government by bishops, was fully restored. In Suffolk about 25 clergy were ejected, either because they would not submit to discipline, or to restore men who had been dispossessed in the 1640s and were still alive. John King was deposed as vicar of Debenham; he took to farming, and gathered an Independent congregation around him (in spite of being imprisoned for a time). Similarly, Henry Sampson lost his posts as rector of Framlingham and Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He went to Padua to study medicine and subsequently became a notable dissenter in London.

Licences granted during a brief period of toleration in 1672 illustrate the distribution of nonconformity. Most of the 39 licences to Presbyterians were in the south and west of the county, with a noticeable concentration in the Gipping valley, while most of the 31 licences to Congregationalists were in the north­east from Debenham across to Lowestoft. Bungay appears to have been an early centre for Baptists, though they did not achieve their greatest influence until the 19th century.

The size of individual congregations is revealed by the Compton Census of 1676, which survives for western Suffolk. Wattisfield, still a nonconformist centre, already had 49 Independents who lived under the protection of a local squire, Samuel Baker. The fact that a neighbouring parish, Hepworth, had another 37 dissenters shows how such congregations were ‘gathered’ from several places. At the same time, nonconformity appeared particularly strong in towns: Mildenhall had 66 dissenters, Sudbury about 100, Bury 167 and Clare as many as three hundred. At Lawshall one man bravely declared himself an atheist. In certain places like Stanningfield, Melford and Wetherden, the census also identified small groups of recusants, usually built around the households of known Catholic gentry—such as the Rokewoods, Martins and Sulyards.

Permanent toleration did not come about until 1689. Thereafter, noncon­formity became an established and respectable element in Suffolk society, and many permanent chapels were built. Travellers in the early 18th century often commented on nonconformist enthusiasm, particularly in the larger towns. At Southwold in 1722, Daniel Defoe described a service in the church with only 27 worshippers, while the nearby Congregational chapel was ‘full to the very doors’ with over 600 people.

After James II was deposed by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, yet another group of the clergy was ousted—the so-called Non-jurors. Having already given allegiance to James, they felt unable to swear a new oath to William III. William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, was the most distinguished vic­tim. He was ejected, and spent the last two years of his life in pious retirement in his native village of Fressingfield, where he was buried in 1693. Over twenty Suffolk clergy lost their livings at this time.

The Restoration

The restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought important changes of emphasis to Suffolk life. The high, unbending morality of Puritanism was relaxed at all levels of society. At the same time, much more interest was shown in secular subjects such as the improvement of agriculture, estate-management, com­merce and transport. Political and religious debate was revived by the policies of the later Stuart kings, and quickly led to the emergence of new political parties.

Broadly speaking, the Whigs represented moneyed interests and favoured low-church Anglicanism, toleration for nonconformists and constitutional king­ship; the Tories represented landed interests, tended to be high-church Angli­cans and believed in the Divine Right of Kings. However, the political situ­ation was always complicated and highly volatile, and depended as much on personalities as on policies. At first the Whigs of Suffolk seemed to have the upper hand, and they owed much to the influence of Sir Samuel Barnardiston of Brightwell. By Queen Anne’s reign, however, the political pendulum had swung the other way. Under the leadership of Sir Robert Davers of Rushbrooke, the third Earl of Dysart of Helmingham, and Sir Thomas Hanmer of Mildenhall, the Tories won control of the two county seats, which were always the most prestigious, and substantially retained that control for much of the 18th cen­tury. Already the majority of the county’s 5,000 or more voters, who greatly outnumbered the voters of the boroughs, were showing the Toryism which has remained a dominant factor in Suffolk’s political life to the present day.

The life of Stuart Suffolk was dominated by a numerous upper-class, of aristocracy and gentry. Alan Everitt calculates that, at the outbreak of the Civil Wars, Suffolk had 800-1,000 gentry; they included professionals such as doc­tors, lawyers and clergy, as well as the younger sons of landed families—in fact, anyone who called himself ‘Esquire’, ‘Mister’ or simply ‘Gentleman’. In 1673 Richard Blome listed 342 nobility and gentry who probably represented the cream of county society, and certainly most of the landed interest.

The Hearth Tax returns of 1674 revealed 18 very large houses in Suffolk, each with 30 or more hearths. Top of the list came Hengrave Hall, home of the Gages, with 51 hearths, followed by Melford Hall where the Cordells had 49 hearths and Brome Hall (now gone) where the Cornwallises had 45 hearths. Ninety-five other houses owned by nobility or gentry had between 15 and 30 hearths. Most of these mansions had grown out of earlier manor houses. Indeed, architecturally most of them were medieval or Tudor houses which had been expanded or altered to suit changing tastes and rising status. Even Lord Arlington’s great ‘palace’ at Euston was, in fact, an elaborate refacing and reorganising of the Elizabethan manor house built by the Rokewoods.

Local society was, of course, never Static. Admittedly, some families such as the Playters of Sotterley and the Poleys of Boxted, had been resident gentry since the Middle Ages, and seemed to jog along happily on their ancestral estates. Others, however, by misfortune or miscalculation declined or failed. Good examples are the Gosnolds of Otley and the Glemhams of Little Glemham who, as royalists, never recovered from the punishments and financial penalties suffered in the period 1640-60. Alternatively, as in the 16th century, many genteel families were new arrivals who had been successful in marriage, trade and politics, the law or military service—thanks often to the ability and drive of a single individual. A few instances will serve: the Cullums of Hawstead and Blois family of Grundisburgh and Yoxford had been merchants in London and abroad; William Crofts of Little Saxham was rewarded with a baronetcy for political services to the Crown; and Thomas Allin, a merchant and shipowner of Lowestoft ended his career as an admiral and naval hero, with a seat at Somerleyton.

Suffolk’s most important focus of social and political life, after the Restoration of Charles II, was undoubtedly Euston Hall. Between 1666 and 1670 the house was expensively remodelled by its new owner, Sir Henry Bennett, later Earl of Arlington. He fought for Charles I in the Civil War, then joined the exiled court of Charles II in Paris and later acted as his representative in Madrid. After the king’s restoration in 1660, he became Secretary of State, one of the so-called ‘Cabal’ of leading politicians. Fortunately, John Evelyn visited Euston in Arlington’s day, and recorded the experience in his diary. In October 1671, Charles II paid a visit with the Duke of York (later James II) and a large train of followers. ‘Came all the greate men from Newmarket and other parts both of Suffolk and Norfolk, to make their court, the whole house filled from one end to the other with lords, ladies and gallants.’ With the help of about 100 servants, Arlington lavishly entertained at least 200 guests for 15 days.

Many facets of Restoration life are revealed by Evelyn’s account: for instance, the new sexual morality, including the seduction of an un-named young lady, and the concern for field sports like hawking and stag hunting, card playing, gambling and horse rid­ing. Like so many successful men, Arlington had ‘gotten vastly but spent it hastily’, running himself into considerable debt. Not only did be remodel the Hall, employing Antonio Verrio to paint the ceilings of the state rooms, but he laid out formal pleasure gardens with walks, ponds and a canal, designed a huge park of 2,000 acres, dominated by a great avenue of trees aligned on the house, remodelled the parish church, consolidated the village on its present site, provided a new rectory and inn, and repaired the farms of his tenants. His only daughter Isabella was married to one of the king’s illegitimate children, Henry Fitzroy, first Duke of Grafton. On Arlington’s death in 1685 the estate passed to Isabella and Henry, and their descendants still live there today.

International Warfare

In the late 17th century, England and Holland came into increasing conflict over trade and fisheries, and this led to three separate wars between 1651 and 1674. The Suffolk coast and adjoining waters were the scenes of several major en­gagements. In June 1665, a fierce naval battle was fought off Lowestoft, when an English fleet commanded by the Duke of York sank or captured 32 Dutch ships for the loss of two English ships. In July 1667, over 1,000 Dutch soldiers and seamen landed at Felixstowe—the last time an enemy force invaded Eng­lish soil. While some of them engaged the Suffolk militia on Felixstowe cliffs, others attacked Landguard Fort. They were twice repelled, and the whole force had to withdraw during the night. In May 1672 the Battle of Sole Bay was fought off Southwold between the English and French fleets on the one side and the Dutch on the other. The noise of the guns was heard well inland and smoke drifted as far as the Essex coast, but the result was indecisive. After this and other battles in the North Sea, hundreds of wounded men and prisoners were brought ashore, particularly to Ipswich.