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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The English Civil War and the Restoration.......

are replete with fascinating tales of intrigue, valor, and unusual happenings. The below are some (but by no means all!) of my personal favorites collected over the years. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

   The British Isles were in a state of turmoil as they tore themselves apart trying to find a balance between king and parliament, mace and majesty, without creating a state of anarchy in the process. Wherever the Parliamentarian troops under Oliver Cromwell troops went, they left destruction in their path. At Glastonbury, one of the Puritan soldiers hacked down the hallowed Glastonbury Thorn, only to have its splinters fly in his face and blind him. Faithful Catholics in the vicinity collected the scattered pieces (which, according to legend, were said to be so fertile, they sprang up from the ground) and grafted new plants to carry on the tradition. St. Paul’s Cathedral was also desecrated during the war, when the building was used as a horse stable, the tombstones were turned into gaming tables, and the aisles transformed into nine-pin courts.
    Despite making many enemies, there were also those willing to help Cromwell when he got into a scrape, out of sheer compassion if nothing else. After being wounded at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, he sought refuge at Ripley Castle, 4 miles north of Harrogate. Since the owner of the castle, Sir William Ingilby was out at the time, his staunchly royalist wife begrudgingly granted shelter to the “traitor” because of his pathetic condition. However, she sat up all night with a pair of pistols trained on Cromwell as he slept to make herself feel more secure.

    In April of that same year, Queen Henrietta Maria gave birth to a healthy baby girl in Exeter Cathedral. While she was still bedridden with childbed fever and rheumatism from campaigning with her husband, Cromwell’s troops marched on Exeter to besiege the city. Leaving her newborn baby in the care of her governess, the queen, her confessor, and two servants fled several miles outside the city and took refuge in a common hut. They remained hidden there for two days, listening to the sounds of Cromwell’s soldiers tromping about outside, cursing the Catholic Queen, and commenting that her head would fetch a good price in London if they could find her. 

    At long last, the soldiers left and the royal party was able to escape to Falmouth in Cornwall where they were given shelter at Pendennis Castle under the command of the 80-year-old royalist, Sir John Arundel. Soon after, they took a ship to the Scilly Islands and from there to the queen’s native France. After Charles beloved wife left for France, he found himself more disconsolate then ever. Disappointments and defeats mounted, and he was forced to watch from Phoenix Tower in the city walls of Chester as his army was defeated by Cromwell at the mossy Rowton Moor just 3 miles away in 1645

     Two years after the queen's escape, Parliamentarians under Sir Thomas Fairfax marched on Pendennis Castle. Not surprisingly, when the besiegers ordered the defenders to capitulate, the plucky Arundel replied that he would rather bury himself than hand over royal property to the enemies of the king. The siege dragged on for a month, and Arundel was again asked to surrender. He again refused. The blockade around the castle was tightened, but the old man still held out until his men were almost starving and he felt oblige to save their lives by surrendering. His courage and tenacity had been such that the Cromwellians could not help but honor him by allowing him and the other defenders still strong enough to march out in a dignified parade, with colors flying and trumpets blaring.
     Meanwhile, Cromwell's secretary, James Thurloe, kept rooms in Lincoln’s Inn on Chancery Lane in London from 1646 to 1659. One evening, the two men met at the inn and discussed a plot to kidnap the king’s children and use them to manipulate their father. While they were talking, Cromwell suddenly noticed Thurloe’s clerk asleep in the corner. His suspicions were aroused, and he wondered if the clerk was perhaps pretending to sleep while overhearing to the secret plans. Thurloe assured him that the clerk was indeed asleep. Unconvinced, Cromwell drew a dagger and insisted with blunt brutality that the clerk should be killed. 

    The secretary, desperate to save his friend’s life, seized the dagger Cromwell was holding and drew it back and forth under the clerk’s nose to prove he was not awake. When the man did not stir, Cromwell was satisfied and put away the knife.  As it turned out, the secretly royalist clerk had been awake, and he immediately sent word to the king that his children were in danger. As a result, Cromwell’s kidnapping plot failed miserably. Nevertheless, sorry times visited the royal family, and Charles I and two of his children were eventually captured. Thanks to his own sneaky negotiations behind the back of parliament and contrary promises that were exposed during his captivity, his chances for surviving the war quickly plummeted. 

    On January 20, 1649, the trial of King Charles I began. John Bradshaw, the Puritan judge in charge of the proceedings, took the liberty of wearing a bullet-proof hat, just in case any royalist assassins happened to be lurking in the vicinity. Nevertheless, this did not prevent royalist hecklers from having a field day. As Bradshaw recited the charges against Charles, and announced that he was know being tried by the people of England, Lady Anna de Lille, the Scottish wife of a French nobleman who had served King Charles, piped up: “It is not the people who are condemning their monarch, but traitors!”  In response, the court gave orders for her to be branded on the head and the shoulders with hot irons.
    But the jabbing remarks were far from over. Only 68 of the 135 men summoned to serve on the most unorthodox jury appeared. When the judge inquired if Lord Fairfax, the commander of the Parliamentary army, was present, his wife, Lady Anne Fairfax, replied “He is not, nor never will be. He has too much wit to appear.” As the trial progressed, and in was again announced that Charles was being tried by “the people”, she exploded: “It is a lie! Not a half or a quarter of them!” No one seemed to have the courage to brand her.
     In spite of the interruptions, the trial proceeded with King Charles seated in a crimson velvet chair, refusing to remove his tall black hat in front of the court, which he continued to maintain was an unlawful body that had no right to try the lawful sovereign of the land. All the same and in spite of his refusal to plead, he was condemned as a “traitor, tyrant, murderer, and public enemy” and sentenced to death on January 27. The king’s guards contemptuously blew tobacco smoke into his face and shouted, “Execution! Execution!”
     “For sixpence they would say the same of their own commanders,” Charles remarked. Outside in the streets, the people moaned when the news of the verdict was announced. Such things had never been before; the world was turning upside down far too fast for their liking. But for all the unpopularity of it, Charles faced the axeman bravely on January 30, 1649, going to his death wearing an extra shirt so that he would not shiver from the cold and be accused of fearing his fate. His last words were: "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown." 
    In Paris, upon hearing the news that King Charles I had been executed, Queen Henrietta Maria could neither weep nor speak nor move from her chair from many hours. The 18 year old Prince Charles burst into tears when first addressed as “Your Majesty.” The Earle of Montrose, exiled in The Hague, fainted and then refused to leave his chamber for two days. As a symbol of his black mood, he had himself painted in black armor and wrote commemorative verses for the slain sovereign he had once fought against and fought wholeheartedly for. For the rest of his days, he acted as if he were caught between two worlds.

    In 1652, Oliver Cromwell’s troops besieged Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Scotland, knowing that Scottish crown, scepter, and sword of state were kept inside. Nevertheless, Margaret Ogilvy, the constable of the castle’s wife, was allowed certain liberties, such as receiving visits from her old school friend, Mary Grainger, the wife of a local minister at Kinneff Church. During one such visit, Mrs. Grainger and her maid came to the castle carrying two bundles of flax to give Mrs. Ogilvy so she could spin away the tedious hours of siege warfare. After sticking their pikes through the flax to make sure there were no weapons or food, the Parliamentarians agreed to let her pass.

    Several days later, she and her maid were back, asking for Mrs. Ogilvy to give her back any excess flax she had not already spun. Although this may have sounded slightly odd, the guards didn’t make a fuss, especially since they were now fairly smitten by the two pretty young women. Even the commander of the besieging army behaved with gallantry, assisting Mrs. Grainger to mount her horse when the time came to leave. As it turned out, the scepter and sword of Scotland were actually buried in the flax, and the crown was stuffed inside the lady’s skirts. After making good her escape, Mrs. Grainger had the regalia hidden beneath the pulpit at Kinneff Church where it remained for the next eight years until the Restoration of the monarchy.

   Young Charles Stuart made a bid for the thrones of British Isles when he was in his 20’s, but the restoration attempt was thoroughly defeated at the Battle of Worcester, after which he became a refugee in the English countryside, finding shelter with loyal subjects of all persuasions. He was especially impressed by the kindness shown to him by the suppressed English Catholic Recusants who risked their lives to give him shelter. Once, he even hid in a priest-hole at the home of the Catholic Whitgreave family alongside Fr. John Huddleston, the family chaplain, who humbly washed the prince’s bleeding feet while Cromwell’s troops searched the house for their hiding place.

   In 1660, due to an unexpectedly sudden change of fortune, was offered the throne of his father and invited to return to England. In addition to having Cromwell’s corpse dug up and his skull stuck on a pike, Charles II also had his hated old mentor from the restoration attempt, Archibald Campbell, Marquis and 8th Earl of Argyll, accused of high treason and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. When he heard that he had been sentenced to death, Argyll reflected on how he had first placed the crown on the King’s head at Scone and concluded, “Now he hastens me to a better crown than his own.”
   But Lady Argyll determined to rescue her husband. Carried into his cell in her sedan chair, she insisted that he could escape in the very same chair if he would put on her gown and wear her veil over his face. She got so far as dressing him accordingly when he backed out, fearing the repercussions she would face when she was implicated in the escape. Hence, he gallantly went to his execution, in spite of his wife’s devastation.
     21 years later, Argyll’s son was imprisoned in the same dungeon awaiting execution for his outspoken support of Presbyterianism. This time, it was his daughter-in-law, Lady Sophia Lindsay, who came to the rescue. Accompanied by her page, she came to bid him farewell the night before his scheduled beheading. Later she emerged with her father-in-law, disguised as the page, carrying her skirts and being sure to keep his head low. No one suspected anything until they reached the last gate. Overcome with nervousness, the “page” dropped his lady’s train.
    “Thou loon!” Lady Sophia shrieked, flinging her muddied skirts into the page’s face so it would be splattered beyond recognition. The guards approved of the rebuke and let them both pass unhindered. Argyll then took off his page costume and eventually fled to Holland. 

    There's so much more to talk about regarding this fascinating period in British history. But for tonight, my sweeties, it's beddy-bye time...stay tuned for upcoming tales of Roundheads and Cavaliers in the future...

The Trial of King Charles I


  1. Other interesting facts about the English Civil War:

    -Roughly 41% of the population of Ireland died during the English Civil War (

    -During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell's forces were given a pamphlet version of the Bible containing only verses about war (

  2. Thanks for the fascinating additions, Byrnwiga!

    It does sound par for the course for Oliver Cromwell to make sure Irish-hacking army were supplied with Puritanical militant Bible verses when marching out! Yikes!