Archbishops and the Civil War
It is hard to believe that Croydon, where tower blocks and traffic laden roads now dominate, was once the chosen site for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s summer palace. But here, where the clear, sparkling waters of the river Wandle bubbled out of the ground at the foot of the chalk downs and the air was clean and pure, was the ideal spot. And it was within easy reach of London. Croydon had belonged to the Archbishops since the Conquest but it was probably during the 12th century that it became a favourite residence. Despite the icy blasts of 1960s architects, who swept most of ancient Croydon away, much of the palace has survived.
The palace consists of two courtyards enclosed by an irregular group of buildings, some with a second floor. The great hail, situated on the ground floor, measures 56 ft by 38 ft and has some fine timber-framing. It was originally built by Archbishop Courtney in the late 14th century, but most of what survives today is the work of Archbishop Stafford in the mid-15th century. To the west of the hail, a 17th century staircase leads to the great parlour, also known as Arundel’s Hall as it was built by Archbishop Arundel in the early 15th century. Other features from the same century include the brick-built chapel and the library. There is also a fine 16th century long gallery, timber-framed with later brick facing. The palace is now a school.
As far as Surrey is concerned, Croydon Palace’s most famous resident was George Abbot, who was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1611 and 1633. Abbot was born at Guildford in 1562. His father, Maurice, was a staunchly Protestant clothworker of limited means, who had been persecuted during the reign of Queen Mary. The father’s views formed the basis of the son’s Christian outlook and right from his birth great things were expected of George. It is claimed that his mother had a dream foretelling fortune and fame for the child she was carrying. This story was retold over a hundred years later by John Aubrey, whose Natural History and Antiquities °1 the County of’ Surrey, written mainly in the late 1670s, was published in five volumes in 1718/19:
‘… his Mother, when she was with Child of him, dream’t, that if she could eat a Jack or Pike, her Son in her Womb would be a great Man, upon this she was indefatigable to satisfy her Longing, as well as her Dream: She first enquir’d out for this Fish; but accidently taking up some of the River Water (that runs close by the House) in a Pail, she took up the much desir’d Banquet, dress’d it, and devour’d it almost all: This odd Affair made no small Noise in the Neighbourhood, and the Curiosity of it made several People of Quality offer themselves to be Sponsors at the Baptismal Fount when she was deliver’d…’
George Abbot’s birthplace was adjacent to the Town Bridge in Guildford, opposite St Nicolas’ parish church. His mother’s dream can probably be put down to that desire for unusual foods often experienced by pregnant women! The Abbot home eventually became a pub under the sign of the Three Mariners and survived until 1864, when it was demolished. The sponsors mentioned by John Aubrey safely saw George through his education at Guildford Grammar School and then at Oxford University. He entered the church and in 1600 became Vice-Chancellor of his university. He was a very gifted scholar in classical languages and was responsible for translating into English parts of James I’s new ‘Authorised Version’ of the Bible. It is this classic translation which is still widely used throughout the English Church today. Thus George Abbot’s fame as foretold at his birth seemed destined to be in the field of scholarship. Therefore, it was something of a surprise when the king nominated him as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611.
Tensions within the Church of England were beginning to come to a head during the reign of James I. On the one hand, there were those with puritan beliefs, who hated anything in the Church and its services which they thought of as ‘popish’, and, on the other, there were those who at the extreme held views akin to the Catholics. Abbot, with his strong Protestant ideals, was not perhaps the best of choices as archbishop. A late-l9th century biographer pinpointed the problem when he wrote George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury that Abbot was ‘. . . “stiffly prin- 1611-1633, who was born in Guildford in cipled” in puritan doctrines, and his
views, cast in a dangerously narrow mould, took from his habitually gloomy and morose temperament a fanatical colouring.’ What was really wanted was an archbishop with the diplomatic skills to hold the rival factions within the Church together. George Abbot did not possess such skills. The leader of the ‘High Church’ faction or ‘Arminians’ as they were known, was William Laud, a man whom Abbot hated. Their clashes over many years highlighted the grave problems brewing within the Church. Thus were sown some of the seeds of the Civil War, which was to tear the country apart later in the century.
Whatever his failings as an archbishop, George Abbot often remembered the town of his birth and he returned the generosity which the inhabitants of Guildford had shown to him in his early days. In 1619 the building of his ‘Hospital of the Blessed Trinity’ began at the top of Guildford’s High Street. It was to be an almshouse for twelve ‘Brothers’ and eight ‘Sisters’, who were single elderly Guildfordians – a place of peace and comfort in the last years of their lives. Rooms for the residents were built round a courtyard, with a chapel and common rooms. An impressive gatehouse with domed octagonal towers faced out to the street as it does to this day. With extra accommodation provided recently by building over part of the garden at the rear, ‘Abbot’s Hospital’, as it is more popularly known, still provides for the elderly of the town.
In 1621 Abbot was involved in an accident whilst hunting in Hampshire, when a gamekeeper was killed by an arrow accidentally fired from the Archbishop’s cross-bow. For a man of Abbot’s temperament this incident proved to be a tragic blow and, although King James forgave him, it provided opponents like William Laud with further means to bring the Archbishop down. It was now Laud who held the real power in the Church and the unfortunate George Abbot, whilst remaining Archbishop of Canterbury, went into virtual retirement. When James I died in 1625 Abbot’s main support had gone and, although he emerged to crown Charles I, it was Laud who had the ear of the new king. George Abbot lingered on until 1633, when his death gave Laud the mitre he had coveted so long.
Abbot was buried in the town of his birth, where his splendid tomb in Holy Trinity church has survived the rebuilding of the church itself in the 1750s. Abbot was a man of compassion and charity, especially to the people of his home town, and indeed a ‘great man’. His tomb has pillars supported on books beautifully carved in alabaster, showing to all where he truly found the greatness his mother’s dream foretold.
Laud set about searching out and eradicating those puritan elements in the Church which he despised so much. As a result, a split in the Church was inevitable and, for opposite reasons, he was no more the right man for the job than George Abbot had been. Charles I was not a Romanist but it was natural that those of that ilk would side with their monarch, whilst Parliament came to represent the voice of the strongly Protestant. Charles believed in the absolute power of the monarchy as a god given right and attempted to rule without Parliament. But without Parliament’s right to grant direct general taxation he had to find other, increasingly unpopular, means of raising money, to fill his exchequer. In Surrey, as in many other counties, he attempted to reimpose the laws of the forest, as all fines and fees from the forest courts went directly to him. The king had his way in this respect but great was his loss of support throughout the county. His arbitrary enclosure of land adjacent to Richmond Palace as a hunting ground in 1636, whilst being of outstanding benefit to succeeding generations, caused a great deal of anger and dissatisfaction at the time.
Furthermore, there was the imposition of ‘Ship Money’, ostensibly to pay for the navy. It was assessed on property and collected by the king’s shire representative, the county sheriff, and paid directly into the king’s exchequer. There is no reason to believe that, although as a tax it was unconstitutional, each town’s contribution was not fairly calculated.
Therefore, the Ship Money assessment of 1636 is of great interest for the evidence it gives of the comparative prosperity of Surrey’s towns at the time. For example, Farnham was assessed at £94, Godalming at £90 and Kingston at £88, but Guildford, where the cloth industry had recently collapsed, raised a mere £53. Dorking and Reigate were little better off than the county town at £58 and £60 respectively. It was an extremely unpopular tax, which Sir Nicholas Stoughton, the sheriff in 1637, had a great deal of trouble collecting. But Stoughton, a Puritan and, as H.E. Malden wrote, ‘. . . friend to the Dutch, against whose naval insolences ship money was needed, member for Guildford in . . . Parliament and active opponent of the king, was not very anxious that ship money should be collected if he could get out of it decently.’ Eventually, despite these various schemes to squeeze money from his subjects, Charles was forced to recall Parliament in 1640.
The return of Parliament brought about an upsurge of persecution, not only of Roman Catholics but also against any members of the Anglican clergy thought to have papist tendencies. It was a time to dubious evidence. The unfortunate parson of Compton, Myrth Waferer, whose life now ceased to live up to his name, became only the second incumbent in England to be ejected as a result of this latest inquisition. In 1643 Nicholas Andrewes, Vicar of Godalming, was also ejected when four members of his flock were prepared to accuse him of a variety of misdemeanours. They claimed that he was a ‘haunter and frequenter of tiplings in Innes and Tavernes’ and that he had numerous crucifixes and ‘Romish’ pictures hanging in his vicarage. Andrewes was further accused, in company with his already ejected colleague from nearby Compton, that they had gone together to Southampton to eat fish and had toasted the health of the Pope, calling him ‘that honest old man’. Andrewes was imprisoned and died as a result of the ill-treatment he received there.
By the time of Andrewes’ death the disagreements between Parliament and King Charles had reached the point of open conflict. Even before Charles had raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642, thus declaring his intention to fight Parliament, Peter Quennell of Lythe Hill, Haslemere, had gathered a small force in support of the king. Quennell was apparently a captain in the local militia but he was also an iron-master at one of the local ironworks at Imbhams, where he ‘made gunns and shotte for his Majestie’s stores’. He must have realised the importance of holding such facilities for the king and raised a force of 74 men, who came mainly from the tithings of the Godalming Hundred, to defend the ironworks and its stores. But the poorly armed force was quickly overpowered by the county authorities who, even at this early stage, were firmly on the Parliamentary side. There were rumours of a Royalist plot to seize Kingston but this also came to nothing. Kingston was important for the strategic value of its bridge over the Thames and for the fact that it also housed the county’s magazine of guns and ammunition. The town was hurriedly occupied for Parliament by a force under Sir Richard Onslow.
Most of the fighting in Surrey during the Civil War centred around the Bishop of Winchester’s castle at Farnham. In October 1642 Parliament appointed George Wither, who was a famous poet in his time, as governor of the castle. Following the first major battle of the war at Edgehill on 23rd October 1642, Royalist forces swept down on Surrey from the north-west and took the castle at Farnham without a fight. The small number of poorly armed defenders had already made good their escape before the king’s forces arrived. Sir John Denham of Egham, the newly appointed High Sheriff was now the Royalist governor.
By 9th November Prince Rupert’s Royalist cavalry had crossed the Thames and were encamped at Oatlands, but the following day they withdrew to Egham and then recrossed the river by way of Staines Bridge. Later, following a confrontation with the enemy at Turnham Green in Middlesex, King Charles briefly occupied Kingston and for a short time was also at Oatlands.
Farnham was of immense strategic value to both sides in the conflict. From the Royalist point of view it guarded important roads, which could lead them from their strongholds in the west, not only to London but also across south Surrey and Sussex. From there they could link up with the strong band of their supporters in Kent. Therefore, it was imperative for the Parliamentary cause that Farnham Castle be retaken.
A Parliamentary force led by Sir William Waller was at the gates of Farnham Castle a fortnight after Wither’s evacuation. Sir John Denham had little more success than Wither in defending the place. On 26th November Wailer blew up the gates and, after a brief fight, in which there were casualties on both sides, the Royalists surrendered. On 29th December Wailer ordered the blowing up of the north-eastern wall of the shell-keep of the castle. Despite the damage, Wailer continued to use the castle as a base for the crucial conflicts in the area during the following two years. These were centred around Winchester and Basing House, near Basingstoke, in adjacent Hampshire, and also in Sussex, where Arundel Castle and Chichester, having been lost to the Royalists in 1643, were recaptured during the early days of 1644.
Two events at Farnham stand out from the many occurring in the area during these troubled times. In the autumn of 1643 Wailer was given a new commission to form the Southern Association Army, mainly made up of men drawn from Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. At the time, to the west of Farnham, a Royalist army led by Sir Ralph Hopton was gathering strength. Therefore, Wailer’s new army was ordered to muster at Farnham and by the end of October the town was full to bursting with over 7,000 troops. They were billeted in Farnham and the surrounding villages as far east as Godaiming.
On 1st November 1643 the Southern Association Army mustered in Farnham Park, where they were reviewed by Sir William Wailer. Here, no doubt, they received a pep talk from their commander and also registered for the purposes of receiving pay. Most importantly, they would also have received training in how to recognise the standards and colours of the various units which made up the army – a most crucial matter if friend were to be separated from foe during battlefield charges and close hand-to-hand fighting. At the review, a soldier described as a ‘clerk’ from Wailer’s own regiment of foot was court-martialled. He may well have been caught with his hand in the pay-chest, but, for whatever reason, he was found guilty before the assembled army and sentenced to death. The execution took place in Farnham Park the following day, when the unfortunate man was hanged from a tree.
At dawn on 27th November Hopton’s Royalist army of 8,000 or so troops appeared through the mist ‘. . . upon a hill two miles from Farnham … between Crundle and Farnham’. On receiving news of the enemy’s approach, those Parliamentary troops billeted in town formed up in Farnham Park with ‘the ordnance placed about a mile and a half from their [Royalist] body of horse’. Another eye-witness described the Royalists as being ‘. . . in a great body upon a hill, in the heath above the Parke, about a mile from us’. Looking down on Farnham, Sir Ralph Hopton later wrote that he ‘. . . drew out all his horse and foote, . . . presented himself in battell upon the nearest part of the heath towards Farnham’.
Hopton sent forward about 1,000 musketeers and some cavalry into the park. It seems that the opposing forces then faced each other in stalemate. Wailer remained in a defensive position on the east side of’ the castle, with some of his cavalry and dragoons hidden from the Royalists behind a small hill. He had had insufficient warning to bring in all his troops billeted in outlying areas and was thus heavily outnumbered. However, he had the advantage that the forward troops of the enemy were well within range of his cannon. The stalemate continued throughout the day – Hopton not daring to expose his main force to the Parliamentary guns and Wailer not wishing to move his smaller force from its defensive position. Eventually, three of Wailer’s guns boomed out and the Royalist’s advance party drew back, leaving a number of casualties. Wailer followed up with some of his cavalry and there followed a series of bloody skirmishes. Running fights continued into the night as Hopton’s forces withdrew. This serious incident might have developed into one of the major battles of the Civil War. In the event, this battle took place at Cheriton, near Alresford in Hampshire, on 29th March 1644, when Hopton’s army was destroyed.
By 1648 all organised Royalist resistance had collapsed and King Charles was a prisoner in the Isle of Wight. But there was festering dissatisfaction amongst the ordinary folk of England, tired of war and, in particular, of the crippling imposition of billeted troops and the levies to pay the soldiers’ wages. The army was far from popular and open revolt lay just beneath the surface. In May, following a meeting of protestors at Dorking attended by a large number of Surrey inhabitants, matters came to a head. After gathering further support for their petition from throughout the county, a large group of Surrey men marched on Westminster. They, ‘being all true Protestants’, prayed ‘that the king, their only lawful sovereign, might be restored to his due honour, and come to the parliament for a personal treaty; that unnatural wars may be prevented from beginning again; that the ordinances against the unsupportable burthen of free-quarter for the soldiers may be executed, and the army disbanded, their pay being discharged.’
Unfortunately, those ‘unnatural wars’ did begin again for, even as the petition was being presented to Parliament, ‘a tumult took place in the passages to the House, and in Westminster Hall; and on the soldiers on guard being reinforced to suppress it, a few of the petitioners were seized and committed to prison, and others dispersed and fled; some lives having been lost on both sides.’ Open insurrection now began in Kent, Essex and other counties. In Surrey a small Royalist army of about five or six hundred troop’s, led by the weak and indecisive Earl of Holland, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham and his brother, Lord Francis Villiers, raised its standard at Kingston.
As a precaution, the order went out for the destruction of castles such as Farnham and Reigate. The authorities were mindful, no doubt, of the earlier problems there had been, when Royalists had succeeded in holding out for long periods of time behind fortifications like those at Basing House in Hampshire. The keep at Farnham, already damaged in 1642, was apparently blown up, although it appears to have survived into the 18th century in remarkably good condition.
Holland’s force gathered on Banstead Downs on the pretext of attending a horse race, but Parliament already had intelligence of these plans and dispatched a force under Major Audeley. He arrived too late to intercept the Royalists at Banstead for they had already moved on to Reigate. Here Audeley’s force attacked a guard which Holland had stationed on Red Hill and successfully drove them off. But when Holland’s main force appeared, Audeley held back for reinforcements, whereupon, instead of attacking, the Royalists turned round and marched to Dorking. The following morning Holland had his troops back in Reigate again, where they arrived just in time to confront the troops led by Colonel Livesey sent to augment Major Audeley’s force. Indecision turned to ignoble flight as the Royalists now turned towards Ewell, hotly pursued by Livesey’s force. Skirmishes took place at Ewell and in Nonsuch Park, where Livesey took several prisoners. Finally, on a hill at Surbiton, the Royalists turned and stood their ground but, as Audeley reported afterwards, Holland’s men ‘after a gallant defence, and as sharp a charge as ever I saw in these unhappy wars, were routed’. However, many of the Royalist forces managed to escape to Kingston where, under cover of darkness, they dispersed.
Amongst those who died at the ‘Battle of Surbiton Common’ was the youthful Lord Francis Villiers, whose heroic end was later described by John Aubrey, ‘. . . in the Lane between Kyngston and Sathbyton Common, was slain the beautiful Francis Viliers, at an Elm in the Hedge of the East Side of the Lane, where, his Horse being killed under him, he turned his back to the Elm, and fought most valiantly with half a dozen’. Unfortunately for Lord Francis, one of the Roundheads most unsportingly climbed through the hedge further down the lane and crept up behind him and ‘coming on the other Side of the Hedge, push’d off his Helmet, and killed him.’ Lord Francis Villiers had perished in the last battle to be fought in Surrey.
The Earl of Holland was captured shortly after this debacle and sentenced to suffer the same fate as his king. On 19th December 1648 King Charles crossed from the Isle of Wight under heavy guard en route to his trial and execution. On the night of 20th December he was lodged in the house of Henry Vernon in West Street, Farnham. Vernon House has survived to this day and is now part of the Farnham Public Library. Many local people crowded into the room where Charles took his supper, just for the chance to look at him, despite the threatening presence of his guards. When he departed for Bagshot the following morning, Charles presented the Vernons with a morning cap as a keepsake. Five weeks later he was dead.