Troubles in a ‘Quiet Commonwealth’
Insulated as it was in many ways from the rest of the country, fifteenth-century Sussex developed institutions which dominated its life until the eighteenth century brought other forms of change. Not that this made the county unique, for Tudor and Stuart England was essentially a federation of strongly developed provincial societies in which county patterns of life and social and political allegiances were often far stronger than the tenuous links with a central monarchy in Westminster. It is in that light that the notorious tales about Sussex’s impenetrability must be seen. The road system built up since the Romans had come to serve a much heavier traffic load in the later Middle Ages as the county became wealthier. Heavy Wealden clay made wet-weather travel an unenviable. experience, but it was often little worse than much of the rest of England. Although responsibility for road maintenance lay with local parishes, they rarely carried out this duty with any degree of efficiency, let alone enthusiasm. Reluctant farmers filled the winter’s potholes in with any available earth; despite repeated demands by the justices of the peace, hardcore was rarely used. It was far easier to travel east to west rather than north to south in Sussex, except where the roads crossed the rivers, for the bridges were usually in as poor a state of repair as the highways. Tudor and Stuart travellers wrote their well-known complaints about the Sussex mud, and the late Caroline and Jacobean judges refused to travel south of Horsham for the winter assizes. But one ought to remember too that outsiders and the representatives of central authority were usually scathing about any county other than their own, and locals invariably took a perverse pride in any peculiarities. Although the centre of gravity in Tudor and Stuart England stayed in the more open Midlands and East Anglia, the fringe counties produced strong variations to the general stability and prosperity of these two centuries. Despite its roads Sussex prospered, both as an almost self-sufficient country, and in its contacts with the outside world.
Given the apparent turbulence of much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with religious Reformations, agricultural riots and the Civil Wars that stability and prosperity may seem elusive to the historian but they were very apparent to many contemporaries, at least among the higher ranks. The accession of the Tudors was fairly smooth in Sussex, and the sixteenth century saw a reasonable degree of internal political order under the powerful influence of the great local noble families – the Arundels, Montagues, Sackvilles, Lumleys and de la Warrs – whose dependent gentry kept the peace at parish level. Only as Elizabeth’s reign ended did their influence wane, to be continued by those lesser gentry, the key figures of Stuart Sussex. It was the latter’s religious and political disaffection which took most of the county over to Parliament in the Civil Wars. Immediately, under the early Tudors, there were more pressing problems. While Henry VII had kept the peace and filled his treasury, Henry VIII had grandiose European ambitions and a passion for war. This eventually fostered the birth of Sussex gun-making but it meant an inevitable increase in local tension and a continued vulnerability to French attacks. Sussex provided both ships and men as well as money for Henry’s disastrous ventures, weakening the already frail economic health of its ports. Strong as it was, the Tudor monarchy had a healthy regard for the risk of European retaliation, and Henry VIII continued the intermittent policy of his predecessors in using the Sussex coastal belt for a system of depth-defence. To the decaying line of older castles and fortified manor houses he added one new prestige building, Camber Castle. This was part of a new chain of coastal castles from Cornwall to Kent, and stands proud in its military symmetry against the flat marshland of the Rother estuary. Built initially around 1511, it was extended to its present shape in the early 1540S when Henry’s religious policies had given added risk to the policy of a invasion based on claims to the English throne. Admirable as it was architecturally, it was a vast white elephant; the £23,000 spent on its rebuilding was wasted, partly because the river it was designed to protect shifted its channel in the later sixteenth century leaving Camber perched well inland. When the French came, it was in the usual late medieval pattern, for summer plundering expeditions rather than invasion. They burnt Brighton in 1544, forcing the settlement to grow finally upon the cliffs rather than down on the beach, threatened by the French and ‘Neptune’s insatiate womb’.
These incursions were, however, small-scale and localised corn-pared with the first major upheaval in the life of Tudor Sussex, the Reformation. This complex mixture of reforming zeal, high politics and unrestrained greed affected the whole of England, but with considerable local variations. The late medieval church had become, with exceptions, rich, arrogant and lax; increasingly divorced in attitudes and practices from the leaders of lay society who were both more literate and self-assertive as the values of the European Renaissance spread to England. The first and most obvious targets for this new spirit were the religious houses, estimated to own a sixth of the land in England, which were losing vocations as the sterility of many of their practices became increasingly apparent. Although they had had several centuries to grow into the landscape, they still represented a foreign intrusion for many increasingly xenophobic Englishmen, and the growing attack on their position made little real attempt to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ houses. The first onslaught came with the ambitious attempts of Cardinal Wolsey to found his new Oxford college, financed from the seizure of the property of smaller monasteries and convents. Among those closed and appropriated was the Premonstratensian house at Bayham in Sussex. It was already deep in debt, after repeated maladministration and corruption amongst its earlier inmates, and Wolsey seized it in 1525. Surprisingly, it seems to have been the only instance of monastic dissolution in the county which was resisted by the locals. The people of the district rose up in arms and reinstated the abbot, but their triumph was short-lived. Government forces put the riot down, the ringleaders were-imprisoned and the dissolution went ahead. If Sussex people were greatly upset by the closure of the monasteries, they did not show it openly thereafter, and the county avoided the troubles of 1536 which affected the north of England. Bayham left what is perhaps the best preserved monastic ruin in the country.
Wolsey’s attack was partial, disguised as a ‘reform’ of those houses which were beyond redemption. The same justification was used by Thomas Cromwell in the mid-1530s when he began the dissolution of all those bodies with an income of less than £200 a year. If this policy was genuine, it soon gave way to a much wider attack which meant that no religious order survived in England after 1540. The smaller Sussex houses were investigated by commissioners in 1534, and the closures began. The initial proposal for transferring the religious to the larger houses to ensure a strengthened reformed monasticism was short-lived and the great houses began to surrender in 1537, as an insurance policy against wholesale deprivation. The prior of Lewes surrendered his house on 16 November 1537, Robertsbridge went in April 1538 and Battle the following month. The friars followed suit. We know remarkably little about the process of dissolution in Sussex, but it seems to have gone fairly peaceably. The monks and nuns, virtually pensioned-off gentry, could see little future except death in resisting the royal will and threw in their lot with a change that would guarantee them reasonable security. A few went abroad to Catholic countries but most merged fairly easily into the new order. Contrary to the old view that monks and nuns were brutally discarded into the roads to swell a growing army of miserable vagrants, most of them did remarkably well, with posts in the new Church of England or pensions. The scale of these rewards varied with the importance of the house they left. The Abbot of Battle, John Hammond, took an annual pension of £100, worth possibly £10,000 in our currency, almost tax-free to boot, and settled in the town where he died in the later 1540s. Other monks of the house became parish clergy. The Prior of Lewes, Robert Peterson, collected a number of cathedral offices around England to keep him in comfort. Most of the friars became parish priests, and nuns received pensions, although they were probably more vulnerable to the change in fortune than their male counterparts and there were no church posts for them. Some of the displaced religious married, although they had to separate during Mary’s reign.
What we cannot know is how deeply they felt the break-up of their communal life and the removal of the prestige attached to the greater foundations. Even more obscure is the fate of the indeterminate number of lay officials and servants the communities had employed. Apart from the household staffs,. many of them must have stayed on since it was the houses themselves that were dissolved, not their economic base, the estates. These passed into royal administration, through the Court of Augmentations, and steadily thereafter into the hands of the nobility and gentry, greedy for land and status. Many were sold to raise funds for Henry’s wars, but * some went as gifts to royal favourites, to strengthen the bond between monarch and greater subjects which was so important a part of the Tudor mystique and popularity. Perhaps the best-known Sussex case of this was Sir Anthony Browne, Henry’s Master of the Horse. Apart from estates elsewhere, he was given the lands of Battle, Easebourne and Bayham in 1538. The first of these was converted from the abbey to great house in a very short time, a transaction made easier by Browne’s use of the abbot’s lodging as the centre of his new house. In the process of dissolution, the royal officials had stripped the church, as all others, of its valuable ornaments; Browne completed the process with the help of the townspeople, by using the church and many of the conventual buildings as a convenient quarry. Henry gave Lewes Priory to the minister responsible for the dissolution, Thomas Cromwell, who used what remained of his life before his execution for treason in 1540 to pull down as much of the buildings as possible. This was done ruthlessly by an Italian engineer, John Portinari, who burnt everything, leaving only a few stumps of walls. Boxgrove Priory, with its de la Warr chantry, survived as a noble parish church, but many lesser buildings in Sussex either became manor houses, as at Michelham, or storehouses, as in Rye. Robertsbridge, the great Cistercian house, disappeared entirely, torn down by the local people. What the dissolution meant, beyond a new fund of building material, it is difficult to gauge, impossible as it is to quantify the impact upon religious feeling, charitable works and education the monasteries and nunneries had had. For the tenants and farmworkers, it probably meant little change, since the religious were rarely benevolent landlords. The payments of rents and services went on as before, only to new masters. Only one certainty remains: in future the great buildings of Sussex would be secular, and a new form of patronage would appear for local artists and craftsmen.
Henry’s Reformation had a far wider and deeper significance in Sussex than the original legal moves and seizure of estates had implied. The king’s original intention, goaded by the Pope’s refusal to grant him a divorce, had been to effect a greater lay control of an uncertain church. In this respect, it was only another, if rather drastic step in the long medieval controversy between the spiritual and temporal authorities. But the king’s cause attracted a motley crew of discontents and zealots, and placed many moderate men in a dilemma over their allegiance to state or church which dominated politics for the next 150 years. It was an issue particularly acute in Sussex, filled as it was with supporters of the new order, and very open to a new type of continental invasion, that of the Protestant ideas of the European Reformation. When Sussex gentlemen and townsmen began to question the practices of the church, they found new allies in the Flemings and Frenchmen who fled for asylum in the 15405 from persecution by Catholic monarchs abroad. These weavers and craftsmen brought new skills to the country but they also imported radical ideas about the role of the church in society and its organisation. They settled principally in the towns of East Sussex, particularly Rye and Lewes, where their new gospels found a welcome reception among men who misinterpreted the speed with which Henry VIII was prepared to change the church.
The story of the 1540s is a confused one. The conservative Bishop Day of Chichester was unable to extend his authority because of the weakness of the episcopal machinery and the relative isolation of his palace outside Chichester. With the overtly Protestant policies of Edward VI’s ministers, the new groups were given a much freer rein, casting out images, decorations and the old vestments where they could, damaging many churches in the process. Day was removed by the government in 1551, to be replaced by Bishop Scory, a man of more Protestant tastes. But the extent of change at parish level depended on how far the local partnership of parson and squire was prepared to go, and how much the people would tolerate. When the labourers around Arundel rioted in 1549, although their main grievances were economic, they also protested at the changes in the familiar rituals. There were considerable differences within the country at all social levels about the new religious practices; aristocrats like the Montagues tried to compromise but it became increasingly difficult.
The religious divisions in Sussex came to a head when Mary Tudor’s brief reign brought a return to hard-line Catholicism. Bishop Day, a vengeful man, was reinstated and the more conservative clergy and gentry were given a chance to reassert the old authority. As an estimate of the drift of religious change and of what was acceptable to local people, the tactics they adopted proved a hideous disaster whose memories have scarred the country to the present day. Mary, backed by her new husband, the hated Philip of Spain, and the draconian Bishop Bonner of London, embarked on a series of persecutions across England which drove far more people to the Protestant cause than they removed from it. To the executions for heresy, Sussex made a gory contribution, twenty-seven men and women being burnt between 1555 and 1558. One, perhaps, the best known, was the Flemish brewer, Derryk Carver of Brighton who was burnt in Lewes in July 1555. The greatest holocaust took place at Lewes in June 1557 when ten Protestants, five men and five women, were burnt together in the market place. Although the most prominent of these was Richard Woodman, a Warbleton ironfounder, most of the Lewes martyrs were fairly ordinary people. If it did anything this mass burning ensured that Lewes remained a stronghold of Protestantism, and the people of Cliffe still celebrate Bonfire Night at the Martyr’s Memorial with a sectarian fervour far exceeding the mild anti-Popery of other marchers. The Lewes victims were matched by others in Chichester, Brighton, Steyning, East Grinstead and Mayfield.
Mary’s death and Elizabeth’s accession brought the Protestant extremists out into the open again, and the new breach with Rome was to prove permanent. Protestant rioters desecrated Hailsham parish church in 1559, and the old practices were driven steadily underground. Although a sixth of the clergy of the diocese’s 272 parishes were deprived because they refused to take the oath of allegiance to Elizabeth’s church, the remainder stayed on, modifying their public practices if not their private beliefs. In this they were probably supported by the majority of their parishioners, insofar as the latter cared very much at all. As long as they conformed outwardly, they were fairly safe, for Elizabeth and her ministers had to tread carefully to repair the breaches of confidence in the Tudor monarchy that Mary’s policies had opened. They relied heavily on the readiness of the local aristocracy and gentry to go along with them. At first this was forthcoming, social stability mattering for more than religious principle, but the next forty years saw a growing split in the ranks of the Sussex leaders as Puritanism spread and the remaining Catholics came under suspicion for their dual allegiances.
The first real test came in 1570, with the appointment of Richard Curteys as Bishop of Chichester, succeeding the elderly Bishop Barlow. Curteys was a new type, learned, reforming and zealous, a man with a consummate lack of tact. He had been Dean of Chichester since 1567, during which time he had succeeded in alienating almost the entire chapter by his forthright attacks on venality, pluralism and spiritual laxity. As bishop he widened his onslaught to the practices of the parochial clergy. Much of what he attempted was undoubtedly justified, since he came to a diocese in a state of confusion after the upheavals of the previous twenty years, with many of its churches staffed by ignorant time-servers. As such Curteys represented the new voice of Elizabethan England, combining a zeal for spiritual regeneration inspired by the Swiss Calvinists with the new theological learning of Cambridge. Unfortunately for his cause he succeeded in alienating many of the gentry who might otherwise have supported him and in tying himself up in the increasingly convoluted legal knots with which the later Tudors sought to define their rights. The support he found amongst gentry and townsmen in eastern Sussex was not yet strong enough to guarantee victory. To circumvent an entrenched clergy and arouse the spirituality of those whose livings were Iso poor that they combined their priesthood with farming, shoemaking or fishing, he brought in ‘lecturers’, unbeneficed clergy who provided a new preaching tradition, and organised sympathetic clergy into ‘classes’ or ‘prophesyings’ where the tenets of the new faith were discussed. These were particularly strong in the Lewes area, with its European links. In the long term this was to have a marked effect, but the immediate result was to be Curteys’s deposition in 1580, after the infuriated gentry had appealed to the Privy Council to stop his assaults on what they regarded as their own just rights. He had summoned all the county gentry to two consistories in the Cathedral in March 1577, accusing those who did not wish to attend of Popish disloyalty. As if this were not bad enough, he used his powers on the Commission of the Peace to attack their secular rights, in the name of social justice. One man in particular bore the brunt of this assault, Thomas Lewkenor of Selsey, a key figure in the life of the Rape and City of Chichester. Undoubtedly much of Lewkenor’s commercial activities verged on the illegal, but few of the Sussex coastal gentry were probably uninvolved in the piracy and smuggling which flourished in the troubled international scene and which, in the guise of ‘sea-dogs’, has long been acknowledged as one of the great Elizabethan attributes. When Curteys hit at Lewkenor’s and his associates’ involvement in corn speculation he acted in the tradition to which we shall return, of the magnate’s dispensing reasonable justice, but it was a politically fatal manoeuvre. The bishop compounded his felony by supporting his brother Edmund, vicar of Cuckfield, in a protracted struggle with a local ironmaster and squire. It was too much, and the central government, worried about the gentry’s identifying Curteys with royal intentions had no choice but to first suspend and then remove him. His Elizabethan successors were weak men; it was a victory for local gentry which was eventually to have profound results when the royal interests of the Stuarts were seen as no longer theirs.’
There were other forces at work in the later Elizabethan experience which asserted the growing political importance of the Protestant gentry. At the Queen’s accession authority in the county centred on the peerage as represented by the Earl of Arundel and Viscount Montague, both of whom were Catholics. The former, who had succeeded to his title in 1543, had maintained a strong feudal authority at the service of three Tudor monarchs with divergent religious attitudes. When economic distress forced a widespread unrest among the lower agricultural ranks at the height of Edward’s Protestant reforms in 1549, Arundel had coped with it without overt force, using his traditional authority, with ‘the people, having no small experience of his honor, and bearing dutiful affection unto him, as their ancient and chiefest lord of that country’.
Hearing the complaints of labourers and gentry in the Great Hall at Arundel he has dispensed summary justice, accepted by all, but dependant on his authority as feudal lord, not that of monarchy. It was probably the last example of its type in Sussex. With the growing pressure of the gentry and the increasing anti-Catholicism of Elizabeth’s ministers, the power of the old nobility declined steadily. Lord Montague, the master of Cowdray and Battle, succeeded Sir Thomas Browne, his father, who had profited so much from the dissolution. Unlike Arundel and the Howard family, his essential loyalty to the Tudor cause was never doubted but he remained a Catholic and had to face a compromise which lessened his personal authority. Initially he was supported by at least two-fifths of the county gentry, but the growing threats of trouble from Spain and Catholic plotting forced them into a position of defensive decline. After 1577, the central authorities mounted a growing attack on these recusants, forcing them to abandon apparent conformity at greater cost. The fines on non-attendance at church were increased from 12d a week to £20 a month, although it would have been a courageous churchwarden who presented the local landlord to account for Popish practices. Nonetheless, leading Sussex Catholics, including John Gage of Firle and Richard Shelley of Warninghurst were imprisoned in 1580 for recusancy; they still continued to pay the heavy taxes and fines demanded of them.
The leading Sussex Catholic families became a centre for a religious underground, harbouring the seminary priests who slipped into England from the Continent. It could be dangerous – Edward Shelley of Warninghurst died at Tyburn in 1588 for hiding a priest – but by and large the penalties were not too heavily enforced. Even the more Puritan gentry found it hard to bring themselves to prosecute their neighbours and relatives, for at this stage the sense of solidarity among the gentry was usually greater than their religious differences. Two Catholic priests, Ralph Crockett and Edward James, were executed on Broyle Heath outside Chichester in 1588 but most others escaped. Although the leading Sussex nobles flirted with treason in 1569, it was a short-lived romance. When the Armada came in 1588, all supported the English cause, not least Lord Buckhurst who protested against a Privy Council enquiry into the loyalty of Sussex Catholic gentry on the grounds that it was distasteful. Catholics and Protestants united to raise over 4000 troops for the English defence, although in the event they were not needed. Meanwhile, Catholic worship continued in many great houses; Sir Thomas Leedes at Thorne House, Steyning, was only one of a number who kept a priest’s hole against the chance of being given away by an informer. But such was the strength of their local authority that most of the larger Catholic households were able to maintain their liturgical tradition, although in a way that was increasingly isolated from the mainstream of local life. With the exception of the towns, to whose special case we shall return, most ordinary people seem to have followed the lead of their local squire, where one existed. Caesar was probably far nearer than God for most of them.
Through all the religious and political troubles in Tudor and early Stuart Sussex the county’s upper classes as a whole experienced a prosperity and an increasingly self-assertive sense of authority. We have already seen some of the fortunes of the Browne/Montague family; as the aristocracy waned later in the sixteenth century, it was the gentry who grew in strength, particularly in the eastern half of the county. These were not great landowners, and less than half had more than four manors, even fewer parks around their houses. Historians have long argued about the ‘rise’ of this group, but basically it was the collective experience of nearly fifty individual families who became the pacesetters of Elizabethan Sussex,’ Among the most significant were the Lewkenors of West Dean, the Pelhams of Laughton and the Palmers of Parham, men whose estates grew steadily as they bought in a good market and judiciously married their, sons and daughters. While many had been in the county for several generations the group as a whole showed remarkable resilience and a powerful capacity for accepting newcomers, men who replaced declining families. The Palmers were city merchants, who bought respectability with the Wiston estates; the Bowyers of North Mundham began as ‘grocers’, though on a rather greater scale than a corner shop. Others, including Sir Richard Lewkenor of West Dean, came in by that most profitable entrance in a chronically litigious society, the practice of law. One powerful source of fresh blood came from new men to whom we shall return, the Sussex ironmasters, like the Bowyers of Cuckfield who disputed so effectively with Bishop Curteys. Although the new men frequently brought considerable skills to the management of their estates by no means all the gentry prospered. Within the group as a whole and within individual families, there were considerable fluctuations in fortune. Too many daughters needing dowries or annuities if they remained unmarried could spell disaster, as could an attempt to emulate a life style they could not really afford. The Shirleys built Wiston in the 1570s, worked effectively in raising money to support the Armada and then went broke, as did one branch of the Pelhams at Buckstepe. As Richard Whalley wrote to his sister in 1624, many quite wealthy localgentlemen: ‘had opposed their parents… consumed their whole estates, even to one foot of ground, five of them with much ado to get winding sheets; some died under hedges’.
The prudent escaped this fate, and their possessions showed it, not least in the wide range of glorious Elizabethan and Jacobean tombs scattered through local parish churches. In Isfield, Sir John Shurley and his two wives lie side by side on a mighty tomb of alabaster with their children carved kneeling around the base. Of the gentry, only. the Catholics -who were cut off from public office and subjected to heavy fines retreated entirely into their localities and found difficulty in profiting as much as the others, yet their authority as squires remained largely untouched. The new men extended their authority far beyond their own estates. As justices of the peace they were burdened by central government with a growing number of responsibilities; the more prosperous also intruded into the market towns, maintaining houses in Chichester or Lewes as well as the lesser centres, and replacing townsmen-as Members of Parliament as the costs of the job became more onerous and the social distinction of election more desirable. Having bought West Dean with their profits from the law, the Lewkenors built up a considerable wealth from the corn trade around Chichester and then took over as M.P.s for the city.
Whatever their spheres of extended influence the gentry’s power was based on the land they owned, and they formed the cap of a local social pyramid down which prosperity spread. Below the gentry another group made a particular mark on the developing Sussex landscape, the ‘husbandmen’ and ‘yeomen’. They were the descendants of the ambitious late medieval farmers, such as we have seen in Wadhurst, who had expanded their holdings as the older hierarchies broke down. One estimate has put their numbers at almost 4000 in the reign of Henry VIII, with property worth on the average between £5 and £19.6 These were frequently tenant farmers but many came to own their own land, especially in the Weald. On the whole they had a much more restricted influence than the gentry but they occasionally emerged, as during the troubles of 1549 and the Clubmen’s riots of the 1640s, as a powerful conservative and stabilising force in county politics. Their farms were usually small, often less than a hundred acres, and we know much less about them than about the gentry. Apart from their occasional appearances in taxation records and as ironfounders their two best-known memorials are their houses and their wills. The latter reveal a general growth in prosperity, with more solid goods to be left after death. John Coibround of Bodle Street, in Hurstmonceux, a husbandman, left in 1540, 144 to his parish church and the cathedral, 4 kine, a mare and a third of his household goods to his wife, 40 to each of his three sons and two daughters, a heifer, ewe and two lambs between them and 20d to the poor.’ Men like him became lynchpins in Sussex rural society, serving not only as tenant farmers but also as parish churchwardens and constables, helping to maintain a semblance of order and to interpret the gentry’s will in their communities. They also paid a substantial proportion of the increasingly heavy taxation the Elizabethan and Stuart campaigns on the Continent demanded.
Below this group came by far the largest and the least known group, the common people of Sussex. For them the extent of the new prosperity may be doubted, although their relationships with their masters had come to be based on the basis of cash rather than service. The rampant inflation that followed Henry Viii’s currency speculations and which his successors could hardly limit hit them most of all. Rioting in 1549, they remained a troublesome and mysterious element in the eyes of their superiors: little more than working machines, violent and expendable. Those away from the greater estates scraped a living in the Weald, combining small crofts in the extensive waste lands with casual labour for the more established farmers or iron masters. The presence of such a large and migrant casual labour force remained a major social problem in Sussex until the 1850s, adding considerably to the county’s general reputation for isolation and wildness. There is little to suggest to us that the housing or goods of Sussex labourers varied much from those of their late medieval predecessors.
The Great Rebuilding
It was in the homes of the more prosperous that Tudor and Stuart Sussex saw the greatest physical and social changes. The ‘great rebuilding’ which affected most of England between 1540 and 1640 saw some of its finest manifestations in the county, as a wealthy and more educated secular leadership diverted funds and investment from religious ends to their own grandeur. Although buildings such as Hurstmonceux had already marked a shift from the primarily military dwellings of the middle ages, the later sixteenth century saw in Sussex a flowering in great house-building which has never been equalled since. There are so many fine examples in the county that selecting typical instances is invidious. Although they represented a new wealth and social authority, they were far from extravagant, representing instead a restrained order, often at odds with some of their more flamboyant inhabitants. Parham, begun in 1577 for the Palmers, incorporated part of the monastic grange of Westminster they had bought after the dissolution but set a totally different style. E-shaped, as was the fashion, it centred round its Great Hall, a reminder still of the public life lived by many Tudor leaders. Just as plainly effective were Danny and Wiston; different though they were in minor detail and execution, they all shared that plain symmetry and order which the Tudor gentry sought to give to a turbulent society. By far the greatest of the new houses was Cow-dray, built over several generations by the Earl of Southampton, Sir Anthony Browne and Viscount Montague. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner has called it ‘an absolutely consistent epitome of Tudor architecture at its plainest and most sober, very English in its understatement ‘.8 Although long deserted, it still gives a superb picture of the power and ambition of these Tudor ‘new men’.
More nobly ornamented and furnished then the castles they replaced, these houses still shared the abysmal sanitation of the latter, with poor privies and rush-strewn floors. Although their long galleries and multitude of rooms provided a greater degree of privacy for the gentry families, the homes were still very much public places, the more so according to the rank of the owner. Lord Dacre kept twenty-eight indoor servants at Hurstmonceux who, with a constant stream of visitors, needed prodigious quantities of food both from the estates and from farther-flung markets. The hospitality of the religious houses had become the responsibility of the gentry. At Hurstmonceux, it has been calculated that every one of the forty inmates and servants, man, women and child, consumed eight gallons of beer each every week. It had to be brewed, kept and served, together with the accompanying mass of food, on a regular basis. In one week in the 164os Hurstmonceux had nineteen visitors in residence, apart from others engaged in repair and building works.
By comparison, and much more numerous, were the new-style houses of the middling men of Tudor and Stuart Sussex, the yeomen and husbandmen. While Parham or even Cowdray have almost exact equivalents elsewhere in England, the houses of these lesser persons developed a regional vernacular style which is a unique heritage of the country. Although, as we have seen, they emerged in the latter half of the fifteenth century it was under the Tudors that they reached a peak of development. The relatively simple early house, with its common hail and few private rooms in a single storey, gave way to a more complicated pattern of two-storeyed dwellings with a number of much more specialised rooms. The impetus came with the appearance in the market towns of the ‘Continuous Jetty’ house, an intermediate stage of development. It yielded in turn to the peak or vernacular building, with a whole range of housing types carefully adapted to the varied needs and ambitions of their builders Probably for the first time, minor differentiations in social rank had a lasting impact on architectural development in Sussex. In these new houses the open hall with its central hearth and hole in the roof was replaced with specialised fire-places, and most distinct of all, chimneys. Some of the buildings were entirely new, others were adaptations of older ones as their occupants rose in prestige; the High Street in East Grinstead shows clear examples of this pattern at work. Common to most of the new houses was their careful use of local materials, particularly in timber-framing. Around the frames were hung walls of lath and plaster, with the upper storeys occasionally protected by hung tiles, and the roofs covered in the same materials or, in some cases, with Horsham Slate.
What all pointed to was the growth of a considerable Wealden timber and brick industry, another attraction for the casual labour for which the area was becoming notorious. Most of the houses outside towns might justly be described as ‘peasant’ accommodation, for Sussex is one of the few English counties where the term had a real and continued significance. The Wealden mixed agriculture encouraged both owners and tenants of farms of modest size, often combining the hard work of farming on clay with other occupations. One parish in particular shows to perfection the careful status differences in these ‘vernacular’ houses. Northiam, on the Kent border, has three important examples of prosperous timber-frame building. Over on its west, the modest yeoman’s house of Strawberry Hole nestles in an undulating pastoral farmscape; further inwards, the timber-framed fifteenth-century manor house of Great Dixter hides behind an Edwardian rebuilding, and, not far from the parish church, stands Brickwall. The latter was begun in 1617 for William and Mary White, but rebuilt in 1633; when the iron-founding and gentry family of Freeman acquired it in 1666, they refashioned the interior with some of the finest stucco work in Sussex, masking the simpler tastes of its earlier owners. The new styles marked a major change of direction at the time of the Civil Wars; although they often impinged only indirectly on local farming life, the upheavals of the 1640s were enough to halt the great rebuilding almost entirely.
The century’s economic expansion reflected perhaps more than anything else the rapid growth and partial diffusion of wealth through the upper reaches of the Tudor and Stuart social pyramid. This was the result of a combination both of increased farming skill, a growing sophistication in the demand for agricultural products and galloping inflation which pushed up both prices and profits. In one much-quoted case a holding of 30 acres in the manor of Plump-ton, increased in scale value by nearly three hundred per cent in the first half of the seventeenth century. Inevitably, with inflation, only a small group profited but they were the men who directed some important changes in the country’s agricultural and industrial patterns, and whose conspicuous consumption we have already seen. For the most part, the activities they followed confirmed the earlier divisions, and what the Tudor and early Stuart gentry and yeomen did was to exploit much of the local potential more fully. For the Downland, sheep remained dominant; it was in the coastal plain and Weald that a new impetus was given. Over a century and half after the break-up of the great ecclesiastical estates, the coastal plain was subjected to a steady process of ‘enclosure’, the larger ‘open’ or ‘common’ fields being replaced by the hedged and ditched rectangles we still see today. Usually enclosure was forced through at the instigation and will of the greater landowners. Where a similar pattern occurred in the parishes north of the Downland scarp there was some resistance from the local interests of lesser men, displaced as they often were from what they had come to regard as their ‘customary’ rights, particularly grazing on the extensive wastes. In Laughton, Hoathly and other places there were riots, the precursors of repeated Wealden troubles over the next three centuries when local magnates moved against what was seen as local backwardness. They did not halt the process of change, and the riots only assumed major proportions in times of wider crisis, such as in 1549 and during the Civil Wars. The other main area for an attack by the new economic order occurred in Ashdown Forest. This vast stretch of woodland, heath and scrub of uncertain ownership and disputed use saw repeated social and economic conflict until the very end of the seventeenth century, Officially or not, the inhabitants of surrounding, or even quite distant, communities had established grazing and foraging rights in the forest over several centuries. But they stood in the way of ‘improvers’, usually great landowners like the Earl of Bristol in the 166os who were greedy for the easy expansion of their estates which forest enclosures could offer. It took violent protest by the commoners, Parliamentary Commissions and repeated royal intervention before a compromise was reached in the decree of 1693 which fixed substantial areas for grazing free from intrusion by land-hungry magnates.
On a lesser scale the clearance of the Weald continued much as before, with the slow, back-breaking burning of scrub and grubbing-up of tree stumps the task entailed. Rather than plant new hedgerows, these rural pioneers continued to leave extensive ‘shaws’, banks of trees and shrubs between the small fields. It was a cheap, ready-made form of hedging, but it took up almost an eighth of the cleared land and remained an unfortunate legacy for succeeding farmers. The cleared land, a broken and undulating mix of heavy clay and difficult sands, was by no means rich. Those who could read may have taken advantage of some of the ideas of a local Elizabethan agricultural writer, Leonard Mascall of Plumpton, who wrote three textbooks on the arts of husbandry; most farmers probably continued much as their forbears had done, producing a growing farming surplus more by accident than by conscious design. Yet, the bad years apart, there was undoubtedly a general increase in yields. On the coastal plain, the boost in corn harvests eventually encouraged the development of a major sea-borne exporting trade which made a new fortune for many Chichester merchants in the later seventeenth century. The other great development was a noticeable and gradual spread in the breeding of cattle, particularly the red Sussex cow, augmenting extensive sheep farming. On one extensive gentry estate in the 156os, that of Sir John Gage at Firle, there were 181 cattle and 1940 sheep. While only a few farmers could cope on this scale, there was a growing body of men whose individual holdings might have been small but whose collected wealth in terms of stock was vast, although sadly beyond accurate calculation by later historians. With the manure provided by so many beasts, there was some hope of success in making productive the marginal soils of the Weald, particularly where natural fertiliser was augmented by a wide variety of other fertilisers, lime, meat and even scraps from the villages. But it was a hard, uphill struggle which the very tenacity of the Wealden clay and sand defeated and contained.
Apart from the rich variety of new housing the most plentiful evidence of this economic explosion in Tudor Sussex is the number of triangular ‘hammer-ponds’ and small slag mounds which dot the Weald. These were the product of the expansion in an already established local industry, ironmaking. As we have seen, this had occurred on a small but steady scale since pre-Roman times but new pressures forced a rapid growth in the sixteenth century. The increasing sophistication of urban demands for consumer goods such as pots and ironwork for house-building, the problems brought about by the steady withdrawal from continental sources of supply and the need for stronger defences, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of many local landlords and the increased flow of capital from farming and trading profits to encourage a very rapid development indeed. An idea of the complexity of this process can be gauged from the events which led to the first successful casting of iron cannon in Sussex, at Buxted in 1543. The works were owned by the local rector, William Levett, tenanted by Raiphe Hogge and worked by an exiled French specialist, Peter Baude. For the first time the new cannon offered relative ease of production, and a greater degree of safety in use, unlike the former practice of building up the guns from iron bands held together with loops. It needed not only a revolution in organisation but in technology too. Until the sixteenth century most iron had been produced in ‘bloomeries’, rough hearths where the iron ore was melted in what amounted to puddles; it could only produce the metal in lumps in small quantities. Gradually, these inefficient hearths were replaced by primitive blast furnaces from which the molten iron flowed into moulded sand ‘pigs’. The iron ore came from local surface working, the fuel was charcoal from the local woodlands, and the cooling water was provided by the many small but quite fast-flowing streams of the broken Wealden landscape. The ponds provided by damming these streams were used to build up pressure to drive heavy tilt-hammers through wooden water-wheels. The early skills were brought by French exiles, lured by high rates of pay or driven out by religious persecution; labour was provided by the considerable fund of casual workers who dragged a living from squatting in the woods and heaths. Despite the importance of the industry as a whole, it was essentially a combination of small, scattered units merging very closely into local life. In many cases the foundries and forges were widely separated, even where commonly owned; the sites were often little more than a combination of untidy wooden huts with the occasional brick emplacement. It cost nearly £8o to erect the furnace at Worth in 1547 – in the early days at least there was plenty of free money to be put into the new ventures.
Growth in iron founding was not without problems although the history of many individual sites can never be written. Expansion itself caused troubles, not least in terms of fuel. The furnaces were far from economical in their use of charcoal and it soon became necessary to replace the heavy drain on established woodlands with the careful use of coppiced underwood. Arguments raged then, and have done so ever since, whether or not the industry was responsible for the long-term destruction of much of the Weald’s best timber. Certainly, prices of fuel doubled in the later sixteenth century although this may have been only part of the general inflation. At the least, the ironworks contributed to the steady clearance of the scrubbier parts of the local woodland; by the later seventeenth century like the much more wasteful and mobile glass industry of Tudor and Stuart Sussex, they had exhausted much of their best local fuel, and the increased use of coke took the industry elsewhere. After reaching its early peak the Sussex iron industry went into a very long decline, which only finished when the Ashburnham forge closed in 1810, at the height of the Napoleonic wars.11
Throughout its existence, however, it made a rich and varied contribution to local life. The more successful ironmasters built houses like Batemans at Burwash, constructed about 1634. While the larger estates like Ashburnham or Sheffield controlled almost all aspects of local production and distribution, the pattern elsewhere was one of a widespread use of individuals, contracting as suppliers, carters and labour. Not least among the contributions was the continual damage done to the terrible local roads by the movement of heavy carts carrying ore and finished products. Most went by road to distribution ports on the local rivers, including the Ouse and Rother, for the long voyage to London or other selling points. Guns were only a small part of the Sussex output, and much better known were the ornamental cast-iron firebacks much in demand for the more sophisticated housing of the middling and upper ranks. Although both sides in the Civil Wars provided custom for the various works the decline could not be halted. A petition of the 166os referred to the entire dependence of many local people on the trade, particularly ‘ye constant imployment of at least 50,000 lusty able workman ready for defence of your Majesty and ye Nacion in case of general needs’.12 Like most such documents it was probably an exaggeration but it marked the approaching end of a peculiarly rich period of vitthty in the county.
Fluctuations in agriculture and rural industries were matched inevitably by those of the towns. The hub of such localised society was the small market centre, grouped in a hierarchy of towns within the county. For much of the Tudor and Stuart period there were twenty-one of these. Some, such as Chichester, Arundel and Lewes are still familiar as centres of rural life, but others such as Ditchling, Cuckfield and West Tarring have since lost most of their importance. The fortunes of individual towns varied considerably over the sixteenth and seventeenth century but many still bear considerable marks of their former prosperity. The rebuilt m-erchants’ houses in East Grinstead have already been noted, but there were similar examples to be found in Petworth; North Street in that town served as the principal thoroughfare and the more prosperous tradesmen expanded their accommodation when individual and urban fortunes allowed. As a study of their wills has shown, over eighty percent of these middling townsmen lived in houses with five to ten rooms, no small sign of prosperity. The actual pattern varied from town to town and decade to decade but there is abundant evidence of a modest and continued prosperity in the smaller centres such as Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning where a large number of the houses have survived. Although some of the Wealden towns may have been regional centres for craft specialisation, such as Battle with its leather working and shoemaking, most of them provided a wide range of services which allowed a high degree of virtual self-sufficiency to their surrounding areas. Glovers, shoemakers, tailors, chandlers, masons and others provided a firm nucleus of skilled trades. Few were large enough to support the very specialised and restrictive craft gilds of the greater regional centres. Among the most important figures in. this complex but small-scale economic set-up were the inn-keepers. These men and the general merchants needed capital to keep going; as borrowers and lenders they formed a powerful nucleus in the life of the small provincial town. An inn-keeper like H. Goble of Petworth was worth £561 when his will was proved in 1670; the local glover, N. Warner, died in 1645 worth £1539, most of which was held in mortgages on other men’s property. They were usually a long way from the London merchants who set up as gentry, but this group represented nonetheless a significant local urban aristocracy.
Petworth, with about 900 peoplein the 16405, was a middle-rank town in Sussex. The two largest, Lewes and Chichester, both with over two thousand inhabitants, had very contrasting fortunes under Tudor and Stuart rule. The former has the longest and most consistent record of prosperity. With a port virtually within the town and well-placed for access to the coastal plain, Downs and Weald it had become a significant trading centre. Imported wine and European luxury goods were treaded for wool, wood and iron; local farmers came in to sell their sheep, cattle and horses at the annual fairs. At sessions time it attracted the gentry and London professionals for what was both a legal highlight and an important focal point of social intercourse. At no time in the Tudor and Stuart period was its prosperity really threatened, a fact clearly visible in the steady physical redevelopment of the town. Its three parts, Lewes, Cliffe and Southover grew closer together along their respective high streets, with a complex number, of minor streets and ‘twittens’, or narrow lanes, filling the spaces between.
The sixteenth century saw a significant shift in authority in Lewes. The de Warrenes had died out in the later middle ages, the priory was pulled down in 1538, and with the disappearance of traditional authorities attention turned to the lesser but more numerous town houses of prosperous local merchants and the gentry who needed homes for the legal and social seasons. Behind the impressive Georgian facades of much of the present High Street lie substantial Tudor timber frames. Sir Nicholas Pelham lived in what is now the White Hart, the Gorings of Danny built ‘Pelham’ House in 1579; even now it hides one of the finest Elizabethan pannelled rooms in the county. The priory was plundered of its stones for Southover Grange, built for William Newton in 1572, and South-over Manor was constructed for the Earl of Dorset’s steward to live in suitable style. These two new houses were paralleled by the lesser houses of local merchants, men who formed a powerful, self-elected oligarchy after the older authorities had been removed. As ‘the council of twelve’, selected from the ‘council of twenty-four’, they formed an exclusive survivor of the traditional merchants gilds, even to the extent of their livened cloaks. They imposed a new regularity on Lewes life, meeting in the now-vanished Town House they built in 1564, set apart with style from the lesser people. Their decisions have lasted in the shape of the Lewes Town Book which has survived from its inception in 1542, unlike the older records which have vanished. Their corporate possessions in the year of the Armada, 1588, included, among many others:
The Town seal and the vacabond seal…
Item two statute Books…
Item one Antient and two drums with the sticks.. . Item two Towne hookes of Iron with there staves [for pulling down burning buildings] two Towne Bookes of Recorde.. . Twelve Shovelles.
The civic pride survived the crisis of the Armada and was reinforced in the seventeenth century by the acceptance of divine predestination given by the popularity Of Puritanism in the town. Its roots were both theological and caused by the revulsion of the burnings in Mary’s reign. As we shall see, it was important in the Civil Wars, but the spirit was kept alive by the annual bonfires to celebrate Elizabeth’s accession and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The latter became increasingly ritualised, with processions and effigies of the unpopular to be burnt. Encouraged by the pride of the town authorities, the Guy Fawkes celebrations provided an annual explosion for the town’s poor: deprived as they had been of saints’ days with the advent of Puritanism, they came from the miserable hovels cramped in the town’s back alleys to protest not only against the symbols of oppression but also, in bad years, against the local oligarchy.
By comparison with this vitality, Chichester made a comparatively poor showing. The troubles which surrounded the bishop’s authority in the 1570S were matched by growing economic uncertainty for the next eighty years or so. The earliest known map, of 1595, shows a scatter of houses but much empty land, although the east and west suburbs huddled poorly outside the walls. The dissolution of the religious houses had removed patronage, and the authority of the close was much diminished by the venality and interference of the successive incumbents. Although the port prospered in part, particularly as a base for privateering depradations on foreign ships, the dues which might have increased the town’s wealth were hard to collect, and attempts to extend port rights over much of the coastal plain met with little success. Fairs were held regularly with the markets but they were by no means profitable. A complaint of 1596 painted a gloomy picture:
the city of Chichester doth so fast decay and run to ruine, and the multitude inhabiting there so fast growe too beggary that except for remedy thereof some speedy order bee taken it is very likely the multitude of poor in the liberty of that city increasing will cause the better sorte (being few that can contribute towards the releefe of the poore) by reason of charges to wex weery of inhabiting the city.
The poor were a growing problem in Tudor society, violence was never far from the surface and wealth, it would seem, could only be decreased. The squalor remained through the troubles of the Civil Wars until a new prosperity was built on the growing export of corn in the later seventeenth century.
Chichester was not the only Sussex town to feel the pinch of economic decay. Slipping episcopal grandeur was matched by a wholesale decline in the ports. Seaford, Hastings, Winchelsea and Rye suffered from the old Sussex enemy, the longshore drift that silted up their harbours relentlessly. Seaford was virtually dead as a trading centre by the time Henry VIII granted it a charter in 1544. Winchelsea had ceased to function and, although Rye carried away some of the iron from the Weald, the trade went increasingly in ships from other ports. Its troubled inhabitants turned to Puritanism. One new port appeared when a new cut was made to by-pass the shifted mouth of the Ouse in 1539: the little village of Meeching emerged as Newhaven. Brighthelmstone, without a natural or even man-made harbour, became the principal fishing town of the central Sussex area. With fifty deep-sea fishing boats and a growing trade in sea-coal, this small town on the cliffs grew steadily in prosperity. By the mid-seventeenth century, Sussex’s heyday as a major maritime county was well past; importance had shifted eastwards and westwards, with a new continental and world focus.
Against this background there emerged in the 162os a new series of troubles in this ‘quiet commonwealth’, the religious and social disagreements which culminated in the Civil Wars of the 16405. One major contribution, if not the most important, was the growing disagreement which raged around the loose Elizabethan compromises of religious conscience, which could no longer work when the personalities involved changed. Charles I and his new Archbishop, Laud, were as anxious to reform ecclesiastical society as the growing numbers of Puritans, but their remedies were diametrically opposed. The two ‘Arminian’ bishops of Chichester in the 16205 and 163os, Richard Montague and Brian Duppa, clashed as surely with the local squires as had Bishop Curteys fifty years before, but this time the enraged Sussex gentry found no support in their appeals to the king; not surprisingly, a substantial number of them saw Charles’s pretensions as a growing threat to their own social position and local prestige. Montagu and Duppa attacked ‘error’ in all its forms, whether as birds nesting inside the neglected parish church of Lancing, or too much ‘popularising in the pulpit’, the hour-long sermons by Puritan clergy unwilling to toe the episcopal line. This latter group had an increasingly strong lay support, particularly in those strongholds of a very fundamental Purtanism, Rye and Lewes. Perhaps few of the inhabitants went quite so far as the parents of Fly-Fornication Richardson of Waldron or Small-hope Biggs of Rye in their statements of religious principle, but a dominant number of the eastern rural and urban elite found their religious and political sympathies increasingly divorced from the fumbling attempts of the Stuarts to impose their image of the monarchy. Essentially the disputes which led local men to side predominantly with Parliament in the 1640s grew from their ideas of social control. The lower orders eventually expressed their political preferences rather differently.
A number of incidents in the early 16405 were crucial in determining the pattern of local allegiances. Not least was the king’s promotion to colonel of one of the most notoriously renegade local gentry, Thomas Lansford of East Hoathly, who had been fined £9000 and obliged to flee abroad after shooting firstly at the deer and then at the person of Sir Thomas Pelham. In the closely knit ranks of the Sussex gentry such a royal action could only further enhance growing doubts of Stuart intentions. Another phenomenon which took many of the gentry by surprise and swept some of them along with it, albeit protesting, was an outbreak of Puritan fanaticism in eastern Sussex in 1642; it encouraged paradoxically a tendency to religious broadness of mind seen as quite distinct from the narrow views of Archbishop Laud. The king’s declaration of war in 1642 came as no surprise, but forced splits in local communities which many of the leaders had been anxious to conceal. John Ashburnham and Christopher Lewkenor declared for Charles, Sir Thomas Pelham, Anthony Stapley and Herbert Morley of Glynde for Parliament. Individual families found themselves divided; the most troublesome and devious of the Sussex Royalists, Sir Edward Ford, was the brother-in-law of the Parliamentary General Ireton. The relationship protected Ford from some of the more severe consequences of his own activities and allowed him to prolong his plotting long after the king’s cause was effectively lost.
By and large, Sussex escaped a very direct involvement in the war since the main battles were fought elsewhere. Apart from odd skirmishes between small reconnoitring groups in the west during the early months of the war, there were three main incidents in the county. In November 1642 Ford led a small force of hastily impressed locals on a rapid march to attack Lewes. He was routed at Haywards Heath by a local Parliamentary contingent, and the bulk of the soldiery melted away to their homes. About the same time, a group of Royalist gentry seized Chichester from its more Puritan aldermen and Ford retired there to lead a force quickly besieged in the city by the Parliamentary troops commanded by Sir William Wailer. The latter set up his artillery in the Broyle and bombarded the defendants for eight days before resistance collapsed. Considerable damage was done both by the defenders, who had burned the suburbs before retreating within the walls, and by the Parliamentary troops who wreaked vengeance on the houses of Royalist gentry and upon the hated cathedral. As the Dean, Bruno Reeves, put it:
The Commanders having in person executed the covetous part of Sacrilege, they leave the destructive and spoiling part to be finished by the common soldiers; [who] broke down the organs and dashing the pipes with their pole-axes, scoffingly said ‘hark how the organs go’.
A garrison was kept there until it was felt that peace was restored in 1646. A year after the capture of Chichester the Royalists, helped by the irrepressible Ford from his house at Up Park, seized Arundel. Waller returned, captured the town on 20 December 1643 and laid siege to the Royalists in the castle with 6000 Parliamentary troops. It was a civilised affair, conducted according to the rules of aristocratic war, a form of extended duel. The Royalist ladies were allowed out to dine with Waller and offered alternative accommodation or be escorted safely back. The male defenders were rather less fortunate and the thousand or so Royalists were starved out after eleven days; half joined Wailer immediately. The castle was badly damaged during the exchange of fire, and the outcome meant the end of Sussex’s importance in military terms.
It did not, however, mean the end of local troubles directly related to the wider conflict. Until the formation of the highly disciplined Cromwellian New Model Army in 1645 both sides relied essentially on impressing unwilling locals as troops, usually the tenants and labourers of the participating gentry. Both also operated as armies had done for many previous centuries by finding their supplies from the land as they moved about. In the eyes of many yeomen and labourers, the principles of either side were far less important than their economic menace. The ever-present potential lawlessness of the Weald was married to the strongly expressed parochialism of small farmers to resist both King and Parliament. A Parliamentary recruiting officer was beaten up during a riot at West Hoathly fair in 1643, and the spate of troubles increased. As Colonel Morley, a Parliament man put it, the wider conflict ‘may raise a storm in Sussex, which county is full of neuters and malignants; and I have ever observed neuters to turn malignants upon such occasions’. Inchoate anger seethed on in the Weald until it exploded in the autumn of 1645 when the ‘Clubmen’ appeared, basically a ‘confederacy with the vulgar multitude’ of tenant farmers. They were easily dispersed by the small bands of Parliamentary troops led by Colonel Morton. More serious was the outbreak of protest from the ‘stout rustics’ in Horsham and Pulborough in 1648, a response to the government’s five percent excise tax on food which, linked with bad harvests and low agricultural wages, increased desperation at the base of the social pyramid. Although the troubles were as easily put down as their precursors they formed part of a traditional pattern of protest which only disappeared some two hundred years later.
The Civil Wars remained a matter of conflict among the gentry and clergy. Royalists were often heavily fined or, like John Ashburnham, had their entire estates sequestered, but the concern of the gentry for its own solidarity modified much of the bitterness which might otherwise have damaged the county further. Some of the clergy were less fortunate, becoming victims of persecution by Puritan divines with few wider sympathies; predominant among the latter was Francis Cheynell, a man instrumental in depriving a number of the cathedral and rural clergy. Not surprisingly, many gentry and clergy modified their public pronouncements accordingly, surviving both Parliamentary rule and the Restoration. Under Cromwell’s Interregnum Sussex remained fairly peaceable, the only real intrusion being the Dutch attacks on coastal towns during the wars of the 1650s, and this was nothing new. Rye stood out from most other towns in that it became for a while a Puritan ‘Common Wealth’, a centre of social experiment and rigorous public morality under its two vicars, Joseph Beeton and his successor John Allen. The strict sabbatarianism enforced by the constables seems to have been more ignored than conformed with by the populace in general, particularly where ‘immoderate drinking’ was concerned. Elsewhere in the county Quakerism emerged in the 160s to be fairly firmly suppressed by a gentry worried about its revolutionary tendencies; Thomas Haycock of Horsham went to gaol in 1656 as its first Sussex victim. The violence of the early Quakers contrasted noticeably with the reputation for gentle nonconformity they acquired in the market towns over the next century or so.
Ten Sussex gentry served among the king’s judges in 1649, led by Herbert Morley and Anthony Stapley, but they abstained from signing the death warrant. When Charles II fled across the country after his defeat at Worcester in 1651, it caused a minor flurry but no more. Generally, the Sussex men were more concerned with good government and the maintenance of reasonable religion than major social change. With some exceptions, the gentry and clergy readily accepted the Restoration in 166o; few went as far as the Reverend Dr William Oughtred who, at the age of 86, ‘died of excess of joy when he heard of the restoration of the monarchy’. Inevitably some retribution followed for the county’s Parliamentarianism but it was modified by the need to maintain good government and social order. The ‘regicides’ either went to prison or, like Goffe and Whalley, settled safely in America. While the Sussex gentry who had gone to war for religion had to adjust to the need to maintain stability, many of the Puritan clergy could and would not. Precisely how many were ejected in 1662 is unknown but possibly a third of the ministers became ‘Nonconformists’ or ‘Dissenters’. Some may have left the area but many found continued support among dissident laymen and a strong, if scattered, Dissenting tradition grow in Sussex, particularly in the eastern half. A rough survey of 1669 listed 49 ‘conventicles’ in the county, ii of them Anabaptist; 38 were licensed by the crown ten years later.18 The strength of religious deviation can never be precisely established, and one problem is the unknown number of people who used no church or conventicle. When Bishop Compton of Lichfield carried out a national survey in 1676, it was estimated that five percent of the county’s population were ‘sectaries”9 Such a figure may seem insignificant but it represented a strength of purpose and feeling which made the small groups men and women of courage. There were estimated to be 260 in Brighthelmstone (Brighton), 173 in Lewes and 300 in Rye, held together by their own sense of righteousness. Life must have been rather harder for the one Dissenter in Walberton. For meeting places they had private houses such as that of Richard Key at Eastden; pride and strength in their chapels came later. The ejected ministers continued to teach and preach; men like Christopher Snell, formerly vicar of East Grinstead or Matthew Woodman of Slinfold, grandson of a Marian martyr, who ‘preached gratis’ in Horsham and kept a faith alive. Their congregations of ‘Independents’ were justly named in a society settling down to a long period of outward conformity and growing indifference to religion.