Fighting for firewood: surviving in the English Civil War


While the siege continues in the teeth of a bitter winter, a Parliamentarian soldier is sent out to find firewood amidst the snow but must avoid enemy patrols and angry locals. During a winter siege, collecting ‘faggots’ of wood was an important task – but who knows what threats a soldier might stumble across?

With a name derived from the Old English ‘fagot’ and maybe the Latin ‘fascia’, ‘faggots’ are bundles of branches and twigs bound together, typically a foot in diameter and three feet or longer. Used to fire bread ovens, thanks to their quick-burning qualities they are often mentioned being employed to hasten the end for burning heretics in the 15th and 16th Century. But during the English Civil War, faggots provided both fuel and defence.

A fascine is a type of long faggot approximately 13 to 20 feet long and eight to nine inches in diameter and used to maintain earthworks such as trenches, while hazel branches could be made into woven fences called hurdles and cylindrical woven baskets filled with earth known as gabions, all of which provided artificial cover for besieging troops at major sieges such as those of Lathom House, Colchester, Basing House, and Chester. Faggots could also be used to overcome defences – during the Royalist attack on Bristol in 1643, ‘waines full of faggots’ were thrown into the ditches to help the soldiers cross and storm the earthworks.

Collecting firewood was usually seen as menial, low work, usually left to women and children – Parliament’s commander-in-chief for Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, Sir Richard Browne, was the son of a coal and timber merchant but was acutely sensitive to sneers about his social origin from Royalist propagandists, who called him ‘Faggot-Monger Browne’. But as a ready source of easily-found fuel, something as simple as fallen branches could be vital for soldiers, and the lands around besieged towns or hotly disputed areas  could become zones of constant flux, with competing armies vying for provisions and marshal advantage. As John Childs points out in his book on 17th Century warfare:

So undeveloped was state bureaucracy that it could shoulder only part of the burden of feeding soldiers in wartime. When marching through enemy lines, an army lived off the country … Provided that an army kept moving, sufficient victuals could usually be found. However, when it halted, in camp or at a siege, it rapidly devoured the locally available comestibles and had either to march or to draw supplies from magazines.*

The age of professional armies had yet to dawn and, with poor roads and lack of logistical support, armies in this period had to rely on land and local populace to sustain them. During the English Civil War this mostly involved ‘free quarter’ – forcing the local population to house and feed troops. Soldiers though were also expected to shoulder part of burden of their upkeep – the pay for an ordinary Parliamentarian soldier during the English Civil War was eight pence a day, but deductions were made for clothing, shoes, arms, food and lodging; soldiers serving in Dublin in 1641 received only one pence out of their four shillings and eight pence weekly pay after deductions.

Pillaging and theft were common occurrences, with local communities often bearing the brunt of an army’s hunger pangs at a time when poor harvests and harsh winters put extreme pressure on food supplies. Meanwhile, the sheer logistical feat of maintaining an army often meant soldiers could spend more time foraging than fighting. ‘Foraging’ literally means ‘gathering hay’, with green fodder for horses perhaps the most important item that had to be gathered, grand campaigns were restricted to the summer months and sometimes the entire fighting force could be involved in securing supplies.

So weary did some communities become of having their food, crops, and possessions appropriated without consent or recompense – and often at gunpoint – that associations of ‘clubmen’ formed to repel the armies of both sides involved in the civil war. Armed with clubs (from where they get their name), pitchforks and scythe blades, these motley collections of yeomen and farmers took issue with both sides. In Dorest in 1645, up to 4,000 clubmen became entrenched on Hambledon Hill beneath a banner proclaiming ‘If you offer to plunder or take our cattle, be assured we will bid you battle’ – they were then put to flight by a regiment of Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry, fresh from the siege of nearby Sherborne Castle.

During the upheaval of the English Civil War, even an act as simple as collecting firewood took on new meaning and danger, but it was already a contentious and political act that provides a handy metaphor for the social and economic changes affecting Britain, which helped contribute to the unrest that turned into all-out civil war – something we’ll examine in another blogpost soon!


* quoted from Warfare in the Seventeenth Century (2001) by John Childs



The ECW Q&A: did Cromwell ban mince pies?


Over on Twitter we asked if there were any questions people would like answered about history, politics, and society during the English Civil Wars. Meaghan Brown (@EpistolaryBrown) asked about the oft-repeated line about Oliver Cromwell banning mince pies as part of the Puritan ‘war on Christmas’ in the 1640s and ’50s.

Thanks for the great question, Meaghan!

This is one of those ‘facts’ that everyone knows – dour old Puritan Oliver Cromwell hated merriment and fun and laughing and dancing and so banned mince pies when he was Lord Protector because nothing is more guaranteed to bring pleasure and enrage a killjoy than a little pagan sweet pie dusted with icing sugar…

Except it’s just not true.

While there was an effort during the 1640s by Parliament to clamp down on the celebration of Christmas and other saints’ and holy days as part of a general de-Romanisation of the calendar, it wasn’t personally directed by Cromwell and he didn’t play a particularly large role in the various pieces of legislation which restricted the celebration of Christmas. We know that, as a Puritan, it is likely that he was sympathetic towards and supported such measures, and as Lord Protector from December 1653 until September 1658 he supported their enforcement.

But does that mean he banned mince pies?

Without going too much into the ‘Puritan War on Christmas’, measures to reduce the importance of Christmas as a festival began before Cromwell rose to national prominence – a 1631 pamphlet called The Complaint of Christmas urged the enthusiastic observance of the mid-winter feast in reaction to perceived Puritan interference and The Long Parliament met as usual on 25 December 1643. Rather than aiming to ban foodstuffs, anti-Christmas legislation of the 1640s and ’50s took aim at ending special Christmas church services and ensuring shops remained open. In January 1645, Parliament issued its new Directory for the Public Worship of God, their radical alternative to the Book of Common Prayer, which made no reference to Christmas at all.

The only Christmas Day on which eating mince pies was technically illegal was in 1644, when 25 December fell on the same day as a legally-mandated national fast, about which MPs issued an ordinance specifically reminding people:

The Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled doe order and ordaine that publique notice be given that the Fast appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every moneth ought to be observed untill it be otherwise ordered by both Houses of Parliament: And that this day in particular is to be kept with the more solemne humiliation, because it may call to remembrance our sinnes, and the sinnes of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ into an extreame forgetfulnesse of him, by giving liberty to carnall and sensuall delights.

In June 1647, this was reinforced by another ordinance cracking down on the celebration of feast days in general, including Easter and Whitsun, and there were numerous legal attempts to stop celebrations and force businesses and markets to remain open on Christmas Day.

None of these ordinances mention mince pies or, indeed, pies of any kind. Pies themselves were a fundamental part of the cuisine of 17th Century England, as recipe books of the time attest, including one filled with recipes by Leticia Cromwell (any relation?). there was nothing ‘Popish’ or ‘Pagan’ about a pie…

When Christmas Day fell on a fast day you shouldn’t have been eating at all, but mince pies – or pastries of any kind – were never singled out. In any case, although mince pies were and are associated with Christmas, they were probably eaten at other times of the year and contemporary recipes do not insist they are meant only for Christmas. A captive Charles I was apparently denied the chance to eat ‘plum pudding’ on his last Christmas Day in 1642 – though this had more to do with the general petty austerity imposed by his gaolers throughout his terminally final stay in London.

That’s not to say people at the time were complicit or weren’t concerned about these proposed changes. Pamphlets such as The Vindication of Christmas were published in the 1650s and as early as December 1643, apprentice boys in London rose up in violent protest against shop-keepers who had opened on Christmas Day and the same happened in 1646 in Bury St Edmunds. After Parliament declared the celebration of Christmas to be a punishable offence in 1647, there was trouble at Bury, while pro-Christmas riots also took place at Norwich and Ipswich, with the worst disturbances taking place in Canterbury where a crowd of protesters seized control of the entire city. However, most people were more concerned about the end of traditions such as free ‘Christmas ale’ provided by their local church on 25 December than about sweet pies.

So why does this ‘fact’ about Cromwell banning mince pies persist?

Its roots may be a good deal more recent than the Civil War: Mercurius Politicus mentions various references in 18th Century texts that link refusal to eat mince pies with Puritanism but the popular myth doesn’t seem to to really gain traction until the mid-to-late 20th Century when it is repeated ad nauseum. Like so many myths, it may well have originated from satirical pamphlets either being taken at face value or treated in a ‘no smoke without fire’ manner – Royalists loved to lampoon their opponents and portray them in the most extreme manner possible, so poet John Taylor’s reference to mince pies in his Christmas In and Out (1652) – Plumb-Pottage was meer Popery, that a Coller of Brawn was an obhomination, that Roast Beef was Antichristian, that Mince-Pies were Reliques of the Whore of Babylon, and a Goose, aTurkey, or a Capon, were marks of the Beast – has to be taken with a pince of salt.

It could be that mince pies and their proscription is meant to represent the wider attack on Christmas as a secular holiday separate to Christian practices. The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ still celebrated in song, if not in practice, was a long-established period of feasting and celebration that had little connected to Christian practice. It was despised by Puritans for several reasons, not least because of the associated wantonness and debauchery but also because of their mission to do away with anything not ordained or permitted by biblical scripture. At the Restoration in 1660, all legislation passed during the period of 1642 to 1660 was declared null and void, so both the religious and the secular elements of the full Twelve Days of Christmas could once again be celebrated openly. As a potent symbol of non-religious Christmas feasting, ‘banning’ mince pies is a simple shorthand way of explaining a much broader attack on Christmas tradition by religion zealots – a symbol that, over time, became fact – and, as the arch-Puritan, regicide and king-in-all-but-name, of course it must have been Cromwell himself who did away with them.

This popular conception about Puritans, and the ‘dour Roundhead vs dashing Cavaliers’ myth so beloved of children’s textbooks, has its own roots in Victorian monochromatic attitudes towards British history as well as towards non-conformist denominations such as Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers, who have their roots in the Civil War and who were often portrayed as dour killjoys thanks to their focus on sobriety and eschewing of alcohol and public frivolity. There is also the popularly perceived sharp contrast with the subsequent reign of the ‘Merry Monarch’ Charles II and the supposed riot of colour, happiness, and devil-may-care frolicking of the Restoration after the religious zealotry and suppression of the Interregnum.

The myth does, perhaps, also tap into the way we think about history and its appearance on endless ‘crazy laws that have never been repealed’ listicles confirms that we often want the past to be archaic, odd, senseless, and irrational.

So no, Cromwell had nothing against pastry.

What’s in a name – why is the term ‘The English Civil War’ wrong?


The English Civil Wars, The British Civil Wars, The English Revolution, The Puritan Revolution, The Great Rebellion, The Wars of the Three Kingdoms… one thing pretty much all historians of the period agree on is that the term ‘The English Civil War’ isn’t accurate (the old joke goes that it’s incorrect in three ways – it wasn’t English, it wasn’t just one war, and it wasn’t particularly civil)

But why is it inaccurate?

Firstly, it describes a series of conflicts that spanned the entire British Isles, involving Scotland and Ireland, as well as England and Wales.

Secondly, it wasn’t one war but many – historians tend to chart the period to encompass the Irish Rebellion and Confederate Wars in Ireland between 1641 and 1653 (including the Cromwellian invasion), The Bishops’ Wars between England and Scotland in 1639 and 1640, as well as THREE separate wars (1642-6, 1648-49, and 1650-51) that took place in England, Scotland, and Wales.battle image.jpg

So what’s in a name? And why do historians use different terms to describe the same conflict?

The term someone uses to describe the wars of mid-17th Century England usually tells you more about them than the conflicts themselves. The posthumously-published history of the English conflict by Edward Hyde 1st Earl of Clarendon was titled ‘The History of the Rebellion’ (reflecting the fact he fought on the Royalist side), the great Victorian historian SR Gardiner used both ‘The Great Civil War’ and ‘The Puritan Revolution’ in his landmark series on the period (although his account was remarkably unbiased, the wars were seen as the foundations of Britain’s constitutional monarchy), Blair Worden called his 2009 book ‘The English Civil Wars 1640-1660’, while the Marxist historian Christopher Hill favoured the term ‘English Revolution’.

The choice of name suggests when the conflicts started and when they ended – for instance, the term ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’ views the wars starting in Scotland in 1637 and ending with the Anglo-Scottish conflicts in 1651. These wars involved a pan-British and Irish dimension, each of the Stuart states experienced its own domestic civil wars and the terms we use to describe it continue and exacerbate the Anglo-centric views of the time. Indeed, the way England viewed and treated Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were often a major reason for conflict – it was the ‘plantation’ of Catholic Ireland with Protestant settlers (and the economic imbalances it created and reinforced) that helped spark conflict in 1641; it was the attempt to impose the English church’s Book of Common Prayer of the Presbyterian Scottish that led to the National Covenant and the Bishop’s Wars; the Scottish were used by a duplicitous King Charles I to spark the second Civil War, while his son would again use Scottish forces to invade England in 1651; meanwhile Parliament’s policies treated Scotland (an independent kingdom connected to England only through Charles’ crown) and Wales as wayward children requiring correction, while the Irish were considered brutal savages.

So why use a term like ‘English Civil War’ if it’s not accurate?

Whatever the accuracy (or otherwise) of the term, it is nonetheless used ubiquitously in mainstream culture and comment to refer to the interconnected series of conflicts of the 1630s, ’40s, and ’50s. One of the aims of our group and the Sealed Knot of which it is part is to educate the general public about the period, its causes, and its consequences – for us, that begins with engaging with the misnomers and myths about the period, not to reinforce them but to use them as a starting point for dispelling them. If your first point is to chastise the public for not using the right term, rather than drawing them in to explain how and why it is inaccurate, then you are already beginning the process of losing your audience.

For example, one of the most popular and helpful parts of our displays is when we ask an audience the nicknames of the two sides that fought the English Civil War – “Cavaliers and Roundheads” is always the standard response. We then stand a pikeman and a musketeer in front of them and ask them to identify when is which; naturally, the musketeer we use has a large-brimmed felt hat and long hair, the pikeman with short hair beneath his steel helmet. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the musketeer will be identified as the ‘Cavalier’, the pikeman as the ‘Roundhead’. The answer, of course, is that they could be either – clothes were no indication of which side you were on. This opens up opportunities to challenge myths about the era and about the causes of the war.

You take a myth, pick it apart, explain why it is wrong, educate, and move on…

We’re fortunate to have the Twitter handle @englishcivilwar because it gives us a unique opportunity to challenge people’s notions about the period: we start with a term they know and use that as a gateway to broaden understanding of this critical juncture in the history of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, when political, social, and cultural norms were overthrown and a king executed by his own people.

We would be the first to acknowledge that we can always do more to combat the Anglo-centric viewpoint that has dominated this history for so long, but for the time being at least we use ‘English Civil War’ as a way of drawing people in so that we can begin a process.

We’ll be doing more blog posts looking into the ways we can shift perceptions and broaden knowledge of the period in the future, but in the meantime what’s your favoured term for describing the conflicts of the mid-17th Century in Britain and Ireland? Let us know in the poll below…


ECW Q&A: Did any of the regicides escape the vengeance of Charles II?


Over on Twitter we asked if there were any questions people would like answered about history, politics, and society during the English Civil Wars. Cassandra Clark asked whether anyone who signed Charles I’s death warrant in 1649 escaped the vengeance of his son after the Restoration in 1660?

Thanks for the great question, Cassandra!

On Monday 15 October 1660, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that “this morning Mr Carew [the regicide] was hanged and quartered at Charing Cross; but his quarters, by a great favour, are not to be hanged up.” Five days later he wrote, “I saw the limbs of some of our new traitors set upon Aldersgate, which was a sad sight to see; and a bloody week this and the last have been, there being ten hanged, drawn, and quartered”.

This was the fate that awaited regicides – the men who killed their king in 1649.

The head of Cromwell’s corpse on a pike after his posthumous execution.

Following the Restoration of King Charles II, the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion granted a free pardon to those who had supported the English Commonwealth and Protectorate, but exceptions were made for 104 named individuals who had directly participated in the trial and execution of Charles I. Twenty-four had already died and Cromwell, John Bradshaw (who was president of the court) and Henry Ireton (Cromwell’s son-in-law) were posthumously executed – their remains were exhumed, hanged, and beheaded, their bodies cast into a pit below the gallows and their heads placed on spikes at the end of Westminster Hall. Several others were hanged, drawn and quartered, while 19 were imprisoned for life.

Twenty-one of them fled England for Netherlands, Germany, or Switzerland. While most of them died natural deaths amongst sympathetic Protestant communities, the King’s vengeance followed all the regicides and made life on the run a difficult one. Gregory Clement went into hiding but was captured and executed and after fleeing to Brussels, Thomas Scot returned to England to meet a similar fate. One of the commissioners who sat in judgement but did not sign the death warrant, Sir John Lisle, escaped to Switzerland but was killed by the Irish Royalist James Fitz Edmond Cotter in August 1664, while Dr Isaac Dorislaus, who had been Assistant to the Solicitor-General, had already been murdered in the Netherlands by Royalist refugees in 1649.

Meanwhile, as English Ambassador to the Netherlands Sir George Downing was instrumental in organising the spy-rings that hunted down many of his former comrades. Downing (after whom Downing Street in London is named) had been scoutmaster-general of Cromwell’s forces in Scotland and served the English republic as an ambassador, but when the Protectorate fell he quickly switched allegiance to Charles II saying he now “saw the error” in his ways. He engineered the arrest in Holland of regicides John Barkstead, Miles Corbet and John Okey, his former commander. Samuel Pepys, who characterised his conduct as odious although useful to the king, called him a “perfidious rogue” and said “all the world took notice of him for a most ungrateful villain for his pains”.

Three regicides – John Dixwell, William Goffe, and Edward Whalley – fled and settled amongst the Puritan communities in New England, on the east coast of what is now the United States of America. Though they would never see their families or country again, it did not mean they were beyond the reach of the English Crown.

Dixwell died in 1689 under an assumed name but Goffe and Whalley lead remarkable lives as fugitives, as detailed in the excellent The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe: Smuggled Through Connecticut by Christopher Pagliuco.

Goffe was Whalley’s father-in-law and the two were of the Puritan “middling sort” who had risen to remarkable prominence during the English Civil War. Both army officers and extremely radical in their religion – to the point of zealotry – they escaped to America aboard the ship Prudent Mary, landed in Boston, and settled in Cambridge, later moving on to New Haven in Connecticut, where Dixwell also lived, and where they sought refuge with the Rev. John Davenport.

This was an ideal place for them to hide. The colonies of New England were populated by Puritans who had fled what they saw as religious persecution under Charles I, so there was little loyalty to the crown of his son within these communities of radicals and non-conformists. Despite a reward being offered for their arrest, no-one gave the pair up and when the royal order for their arrest reached Boston, the Governor of New Haven himself delayed the King’s messengers, allowing Goffe and Whalley to disappear.

They spent much of the summer in Judges’ Cave at West Rock, remaining invisible to the King’s agents under assumed names and sustained by the local community. Eventually abandoning the cave when it was uncovered by hostile Native Americans, they travelled a hundred miles to Hadley in Massachusetts, moving only at night, where they remained undiscovered for fifteen years, receiving money from their wives in England and presents from a handful of supporters who knew where they were.

Every attempt by the English government to find and arrest Whalley and Goffe failed. Whalley was alive but in poor health in 1674, though he probably did not live long afterwards, 

One of the most fascinating parts of the story comes while Goffe was sheltering in the home of Rev. John Russell at Hadley, Massachusetts. In 1675, the brutal King Philip’s War between English settlers and various groups of Native Americans raged throughout the New England colonies, mostly because of the continuing encroachment of settlers on native lands. Villages like Hadley were on the very fringe of settlement and were easy targets for attack.

According to legend, just such an attack in September 1675 took place while the inhabitants were worshipping. Men rushed out to meet the attack but, completely disorganised, afraid, and mostly unarmed, the annihilation of the town seemed certain.

Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos appeared a stranger elderly man carrying an old sword. With a bearing that was distinctly military, he coolly placed himself in command, rallied the settlers, and quickly organised a defence of the village. The attack was repulsed but as soon the fighting ended, the mysterious stranger disappeared. This became known as the miracle of ‘The Angel of Hadley’.


This stranger was first identified as the fugitive Goffe by Thomas Hutchinson, then Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, in his 1764 History of Massachusetts, but there is a lot of debate about whether this incident ever happened and, even if it did, whether Goffe was even alive at the time to take part. This blog post sums up the difficult and probably apocryphal nature of the story.

To answer Cassandra’s original question – yes, a number of the regicides and those who assisted in Charles I’s execution escaped their fate and evaded his son’s agents.

And whether ‘The Angel of Hadley’ was real or not, it is intriguing to think that a captain who fought on the battlefields of England and helped kill his own King somehow ended his days in the wilds of the new American frontier…

Easter: The Devil’s Holiday


Much like their more famous ‘war on Christmas’, the Puritans of the early 17th Century also had Easter in their sights.


The 1647 order banning the celebration of Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and “all other Festivall dayes”

It has been said that the transformation of Easter into a secular festival second only to Christmas has accelerated in recent years. With the long weekend affording many families the chance to come together, commerce has not been slow in sensing an opportunity to capitalise and the profusion of Easter-related paraphernalia – gifts, cards, and confections – only seems to grow. “Easter”, one commentator wryly noted, “is the new Christmas”.

This would have been no surprise in late medieval England, where Easter outranked Christmas as the key festival of the Christian year and was surrounded by a schedule of feast days, public events, and rituals.

But the English Reformation saw much of the Roman Catholic ceremony associated with Easter striped away, in favour of the more austere – and, to the Puritan mind, more fitting – fasting, contemplation, and prayer.

Historian Ronald Hutton traces the downgrading of Easter to the lead-up to the English Reformation led by its chief architect, Archbishop Sir Thomas Cranmer, who energetically pursued a policy of destruction of many of the medieval rituals associated with the festival, such as the dressing of special ‘Easter sepulchres’ – an arched recess generally in a church’s chancel which, from Good Friday to Easter day, would have had a crucifix and sacred elements placed within it – a long standing English tradition that was effectively snuffed out as early as 1548.

As the effects of the break with Rome continued to spread throughout the kingdom, so too did the efforts to transform Easter from a time of celebration akin to the Twelve Days of Christmas into a strict religious affair. As the 17th Century dawned, Puritans mostly objected to what they saw as the immoral behaviour and Popish ceremony that surrounded these ‘festival days’, from mid-fast feasting, to a special ‘Easter-ale’ given to the labourers in Northamptonshire, and even a demand for free victuals in 1623 in Storrington, Sussex: “our parishioners claim of our parson by ancient custom to have bread and cheese and a barrel of beer in the church on Easter day immediately after evening prayer; which custom in regard of the place and day our parson admonished them to be unlawful, yet delivered the accustomed on Easter Monday; and most of the parishioners had into the churchyard without our approbation or consent.” (quoted from The Post‑Reformation: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain by John Spurr)

Sunday was to be the only day of rest, and it was to be spent in prayer and quiet worship, not carousing and drinking. In the 1640s, along with their efforts against Christmas, they demanded a stricter observance of Sundays along with banning the ‘immoral’ celebration of Easter, Whitsun and saints’ days.

Easter itself posed a problem because of its anchoring to a Sunday in the calendar – it is always the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month that falls on or after the vernal equinox on or around 21 March. Whereas Parliament could order churches closed and shops open on a normal weekday Christmas, they couldn’t do the same with a Sunday. In The Quest for Purity: Dynamics of Puritan Movements, Walter, E. a Van Beek says “Because Easter invariably fell on a Sunday, this was a problem for Puritan preachers who were consistent with their repudiation of of the traditional calendar. The usual solution was to preach a sermon that had no direct connection with Easter.”

As the First English Civil War reached its climax in 1645, The Long Parliament issued the Directory for the Public Worship of God, which replaced the hated Book of Common Prayer (which had helped spark the Civil Wars in the first place). It stated that the only holy day, according to biblical scripture, was the Lord’s Day and other ‘festival days’ were not to be continued. The diktat was widely ignored.

King Charles was quite keen on Easter and even when Parliament’s prisoner, tried to challenge its relegation. In the pamphlet “Certaine queries, proposed by the King, to the Lords and Commons Commisssioners from the Honourable Houses of Parliament, attending his Majesty at Holdenby, touching the celebration of the feast of Easter”, issued on 24 April 1647, he said:

“I desire to be resolved of this question why the new Reformers discharges the keeping of Easter? I conceive the celebration of this feast was instituted by the same authority which changed the Jewish Sabbath into the Lords Day or Sunday, for it will not be found in scripture where Saturday is discharged to be kept, or turned into the Sunday, wherefore it must be the Churches authority that changed the one and instituted the other; therefore my opinion is that those who will not keep this feast, may as well return to the observation of Saturday and refuse the weekely Sunday; when any bodie can shew me that herein I am in an error I shall not be ashamed to confesse and amend it.”

The reply, presented by Parliamentary commissioner Sir James Harrington, dismissed Charles’ argument, fired numerous ecclesiastical justifications back at him, and arrogantly stated that since God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh it follows that it is the Jews who were wrong and Christians correct, concluding “But for the observation of Easter to be an annuall festivall to Christians I finde nothing in the holy Scriptures.”. In a patronising postscript, the pamphlet ends by quoting Francis Waldack, the German Lutheran Prince-Bishop who brutally suppressed the Anabaptist revolt of Munster in 1534: “O Lord! What have we done that thou shouldst suffer us to stray thus? And in knowing times to be so strangely deluded?”


London apprentices are chased off after protesting the loss of religious feast days

Moves to ban feast days prompted London apprentices to march in protest from Covent Garden to Westminster on 20 April 1647 and petition Parliament. Committed to their Puritan duty but distracted by their negotiations with the captive King and fearing further riots, Parliament only partially caved in and gave labourers a day off once a month in compensation: “all scholars, apprentices, and other servants, with the leave and approbation of their masters, should have such relaxation from labour on the second Tuesday in every month as they used to have from such festivals and holy days”.

In June of that year, Parliament formally passed legislation abolishing Christmas and other holidays:

“Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise not withstanding.”

Parliament much preferred the population participate in monthly fasts, which everyone – by law and regardless of the season – was meant to abide by. It seems, based on Parliament’s increasing frustrated demands for adherence in the 1650s, that few did.

In 1657, the second Parliament of the Protectorate further legislated to stop the continued ‘profanation’ of the Lord’s Day and, as described in Hutton’s The Rise and Fall of Merry Old England, it carefully defined the offence as “dancing, secular songs, music, wakes, revels, feasts, church ales, maypoles, `or any other sports and pastimes’. The act was to be read in every parish church by the minister on the first Sunday of each March. Anybody who published arguments against it was to be fined 4s or sent to the local House of Correction”.

Mimicking Christ’s actions at the Last Supper, Holy Communion has always been at the centre of the Easter ritual. But even that did not escape the period unscathed. The Puritans’ campaign against aspects of ‘Popish innovation’ re-introduced by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud succeeded in many places with the breaking of alter rails, the reduction of alters, and celebrants taking communion at their seats. So successful was this pressure that – for some – even communion itself began to have the whiff of Popery. In The Post‑Reformation: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain, Spurr details how the number of services featuring Holy Communion fell drastically over the 1640s and 1650s, and even those that took place would be poorly attended.

Hutton, however, cites the work of influential historian John Morrill to suggest that although occurrences of communion generally fell over the 1640s, in many parishes it remained key to marking Easter, even in the face of Puritan distaste:

“He was the first Stuart historian to make extensive use of churchwardens’ accounts, assembling a sample from 150 parishes in East Anglia and western England. He noted … that before 1643 the general pattern was for communions to be held upon great feasts such as Easter, Christmas, and Whitson. What surprised and impressed historians most was that 85 per cent of his parishes still did so in 1646, and 43 per cent still held an Easter communion in 1650. After this, the proportion rose, and did so still faster after 1657, until by Easter 1660 just over half were doing so.”

After the fall of the Puritan domination of English politics following the Restoration in 1660, the nationwide celebration of Christmas returned to normal. Easter, however, never truly recovered. Although Easter and the celebration of communion remained at the heart of the liturgical calendar, Cranmer had done his work – the rich tapestry of pre-Reformation ritual and festival was gone.

What remains – Palm Crosses, Hot Cross Buns, Easter Eggs, “Pancake Day” – is but a faint echo of what was one of the most important festivals of the year.

ECW Q&A: Women, know your place – did anyone fight for votes for women during the English Civil Wars?


Over on Twitter we asked if there were any questions people would like answered about history, politics, and society during the English Civil Wars. First up was Mat, who asked “Was the question of “the poorest She” – female suffrage – ever raised by any of the revolutionary groups during the English Civil War?”

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Thanks for the great question, Mat!

It is almost an understatement to say that the 1640s and ‘50s saw some of the most radical political movements in British history.

From the Levellers to the Diggers, from Quakers to Muggletonians, a massive proliferation of radical ideas erupted as the old institutions of government broke down. In the chaos of war and political strife, previously unthinkable notions bubbled to the surface and called into question every assumption society had about itself: the war had created what poet John Milton called the “womb of teeming birth”.

In a series of debates between the New Model Army and the Parliamentarian grandees at Putney in 1647, the radical notion of universal male suffrage put forward by the Levellers was treated with barely concealed horror by Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton. Meanwhile, groups such as the Ranters claimed they could not sin as sin itself was immaterial and the Diggers, led by Gerrard Winstanley, attempted to establish a religious form of proto-communism that eschewed the private ownership of land – an idea that would not be seen again in western civilisation for another century and a half. These groups have long been portrayed as early modern progressives, claimed by modern political movements as their antecedents. In the political tumult of the age it seemed any idea was on the table, so surely it makes sense that these radical movements would be fighting for equality between the sexes?

But they did not.

Although women became a much more visible part of public life during the period, in her brilliant best-selling account of the lives of women in seventeenth century England, The Weaker Vessel, Antonia Fraser shoots down any suggestion of 17th Century Suffragettes: “Hindsight – and only hindsight – has shown the importance of female suffrage in the elevation of women’s condition; this importance was certainly not appreciated in the seventeenth century”.

That is not, however, to say that women were invisible during the English Civil Wars – quite the opposite. If anything, their voices begin to be heard at levels never seen before in British history. From the Leveller “lusty lasses” demanding the release of arch-pamphleteer John Lilburne who laid siege to Parliament for three days in April 1649 before rioting when told to “look after their own business, and meddle with their huswifery”, to the forthright language of their Women’s Petition, which demanded that:

“…since we are assured of our creation in the image of God, and of an interest in Christ equal unto men, as also of a proportional share in the freedoms of this Commonwealth, we cannot but wonder and grieve that we should appear so despicable in your eyes, as to be thought unworthy to petition or represent our grievances to this honourable House.

“Have we not an equal interest with the men of this Nation, in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and the other good laws of the land? Are any of our lives, limbs, liberties or goods to be taken from us more than from men, but by due process of law and conviction of twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood?”

Elsewhere, The Quakers were regarded as particularly radical because they allowed women to preach, which showed that within radical sects those who previously enjoyed little autonomy or opportunity for self-expression could find positions of leadership. Indeed, this seemed to be part of such sects’ appeal.

Alison Plowden’s Women All On Fire also details just a few of the women – both Parliamentarian and Royalist – who found themselves organising the defence of castles, campaigning to secure the release of their husbands, printing pamphlets, defending their homes, and dealing with the depredations of war. That we can hear their voices 400 years later demonstrates just how much more weight those voices carried at the time.

But, simply put, no-one was pushing for women to have the vote.

In a country where men not only had complete control over the nation’s economic structure but were also simply seen as better and more worthy human beings than women, the suggestion alone would have been considered ludicrous.

Most importantly, it would have been considered so by women themselves.

A century after the incredible advances won by the Suffragettes, it seems antithetical to us that anyone would not want political agency and a greater say in affairs of state – but this was the prevailing structure of English society at the time.

872eb096c58d1d4598c2b2d7039bf824Fraser points out that there were occasions when women did try to vote. The political position of widows of “freeholders” (i.e. landowners) was ambiguous in Stuart England: since the qualification for voting was owning property, as owners of their late husbands’ estates some women did try to vote in elections in the early 1640s. More often than not these votes were annulled after complaints, and when barrister and politician Sir Edward Coke published another of his legal treatises, The Institutes of the Lawes of England (which formed the backbone of English common law), in 1644 it starkly disenfranchised even these small numbers, stating that people without “freehold” could not vote and nor could “all women having freehold or no freehold”.

Several years later, extending suffrage to men who did not possess property or land was considered so dangerously radical that it had to be suppressed – the Leveller ‘agitators’ were purged from the New Model Army, the Diggers were harassed until they gave up, and other non-conformist movements were suppressed by the post-Restoration Act of Uniformity. Even in an age when it seems like no idea would have been too far fetched, votes for women was never one of them.

Mat’s question references Colonel Thomas Rainsborough’s famous quote from the Putney debates:

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under…”

It was a noble and far-reaching defence of the rights of the common man to political expression. But even the most extreme Levellers never suggested they were fighting for anything other than the rights of men.

That is not to say that women were kept out of the political process, indeed as this blog post points out, during the English Civil War women were not meek bystanders who took no part in the conflict but actively participated in political life and demanded that their voice be heard. As mentioned, the radicalism of the Levellers in the late 1640s extended to empowering women, with the leader of Leveller women, Katherine Chidley, spearheading their efforts. In 1649, the English Council of State sent Leveller leaders John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, and Thomas Prince to prison – igniting the movement’s female adherents to action in numbers. On 23 April, Bulstrode Whitelocke observed:

Some hundreds of women attended the house with a petition on the behalf of Lilburn and the rest ; it was reproachful, and almost scolding, and much to the same effect with former petitions for them.

Not even being driven off by pistol-wielding troops could stop them and they returned the next day, although they were roundly ignored. On 25 April, after they returned a third time, Parliament finally sent a patronising reply that “the matter they petitioned about was of an higher concernment than they understood; that the house gave an answer to their husbands, and therefore desired them to go home, and look after their own business, and meddle with their housewifery”. This provoked a further petition – the Humble Petitition of divers well-affected women of the Cities of London and Westminster – on 5 May, which may well have been written by Chidley herself. When Lilburne found himself on trial again in 1653, Chidley rallied to his defence, organizing a 6,000-name petition to Barebone’s Parliament. The eponymous Barebone himself was sent to meet and dissuade the women but they refused to accept either his or his colleague’s requests to desist.


Parliament’s patronising attitude towards the Leveller women was nothing new. Earlier activism produced an almost-inevitable backlash, which mocked politically-active women in satires such as the anonymously authored The Parliament of Women: With the metric Lawes by them newly Enacted…that they might have superiority and domineere over their husbands, the first of its type appearing in August 1646 with a double-entendre—laden text set in Ancient Roman but clearly referring to contemporary events. In Mary Beth Norton’s Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World, she notes that this opened the flood gates:

Eight months later, building on the trope but not limited by it, a young political satirist named Henry Neville published a pamphlet that inspired numerous imitations and additional editions. The Parliament of Ladies, Or Divers remarkable passages of Ladies in Spring-Garden, in Parliament Assembled, which probably appeared in April 1647, did what the Parliament of Women had not: it placed the women’s politico-sexual discussions squarely in the contemporary Civil War context. Instead of giving the participants names like Tabitha Tire-man, it identified real women, and it focused not on tradesmen’s wives but on women of the nobility and gentry. Although no numbers survive to suggest how many copies it sold, later in 1647 Neville produced both a “second edition corrected” and a sequel.

However serious or heartfelt women’s political concerns were, they clearly remained a source of great humour to men.

We’ll end with Fraser’s conclusion that, despite this age of incredible social and political upheaval, it did not extend as far as the enfranchisement of women. She notes it is highly significant that “throughout a period of unparalleled radicalism – and radical debate – in English history, when so many revolutionary political ideas were discussed that to contemporaries it must have seemed that Pandora’s Box had been opened, the series question of giving a vote to Pandora herself was never even mooted”.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Why was King Charles executed 368 years ago?


charles_executionToday marks 368 years since the execution of Charles Stuart, king of England, Scotland and Ireland, on a scaffold built next to the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall in London.

Surrounded by large numbers of soldiers, who faced the crowd rather than the scaffold, he addressed his last speech, uttered in a quiet voice, to Colonel Tomlinson and Bishop Juxon who reported his words after the execution:

“All the world knows that I never did begin a war with the two Houses of Parliament. ….for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed. I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death……For the people; And truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you, that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government; those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government that is pertaining to them; A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves. Sir, it was for this that I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here, and therefore I tell you….that I am the martyr of the people. I have a good cause and a gracious God on my side.” 

Charles was brought forward to the anonymous executioner’s block – which was too low, the normal block having been lost – wearing two shirts, since he feared the cold might make him shiver and people would think him afraid. His hair wrapped up in the small cap he was wearing, he said a prayer, placed his head on the block, and signalled the executioner when he was ready by thrusting out his arms.

He was beheaded with one clean stroke.

It was common practice for the head of a traitor to be held up and shown to the crowd with the words “Behold the head of a traitor!”. Although Charles’ head was held up, it is unclear whether the words were used, various sources disagree. But in a highly unusual move after a traitor’s death, the King’s head was sewn back onto his body for burial. Charles was buried in private on 7 February 1649, inside the Henry VIII vault in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

So how did the English come to try and then execute their own monarch?

When Parliament went to war against its own monarch in 1642, it did not claim that it was for Parliament against the king – the cry was “for King and Parliament”. Medieval attitudes about the supremacy of a divinely-appointed monarch still maintained a strong grip on the public consciousness so those who had risen against Charles Stuart were careful to blame the discord not on him but on ‘evil advisers’ who, they claimed, deliberately misinformed him – either for personal gain or for a foreign, Roman Catholic, agenda. The king, they contended, had been led astray.

The frustrations that had led both sides to this point and numerous and complex – Tim Harris’ Rebellion: Britain’s First Stuart Kings, 1567-1642 sets out an argument for both economic and social problems made worse by a flawed transition from the Tudors to the Stuarts, with Charles’ actions exacerbating existing tensions, and a religious settlement that only increased instability. None of these can be laid at any one person’s feet, least of all Charles’, but it was his way of ruling – blind, obstinate, uncompromising, loyal to a fault but easily swayed – that pushed the country over the edge. This personality flaw would certainly contribute most particularly to his own fate. However, in The Noble Revolt, John Adamson sets out in microscopic detail the events leading up to the breakdown in the relationship between crown and Parliament, arguing that a ‘junta’ development amongst Puritan-leaning peers and MPs – when their attempts to clip the King’s wings met his stubborn obstinacy, events boiled over into all-out war.

Either way, as the first Civil War dragged on and the tide ebbed and flowed back and forth across the country, voices within Parliament began to become frustrated with the lack of a decisive victory that would bring the king to a settlement of their liking.

The night before the Battle of Marston Moor, outside the city of York, in July 1664 the commanders of the three Parliamentarian armies that faced Prince Rupert’s Royalists – the Earl of Manchester, Lord Fairfax, and the commander of the Scottish forces, Lord Leven – met with an envoy from their political masters in London, Sir Henry Vane. It was during these discussions that Vane first proposed the idea of a government without the king. The idea was roundly rejected by the generals, who believed Charles could still be accommodated – especially the Earl of Manchester who had been a boyhood friend of Charles’. But there was one man present at that meeting who would give a sympathetic ear – Manchester’s colonel of horse, Oliver Cromwell. With the seed of an idea planted, it quickly took root, especially within the increasingly radicalised ranks of the New Model Army, England’s first professional army which had been raised and trained to act as the decisive instrument in Charles’ downfall.

For the men of Parliament it became increasingly clear that the king would not compromise and was merely playing for time so that he could attempt to drive the factions of Parliament apart. When Charles provoked a second Civil War in 1648 by arranging a Scottish invasion of England while negotiating with Parliament in what appeared to be good faith, it sealed his fate in his opponent’s eyes – he could not be trusted and there would be no peace so long as Charles Stuart, “the man of blood”, lived.

Men such as Cromwell, ‘common’ men who had risen on merit rather than position, had come to prominence since the end of the first Civil War and he, amongst many others, suspected that their Parliamentary comrades would be only too willing to join with the king to combat a rise in religious sectarianism within the army, which Parliament tried to disband without settlement of its arrears or grievances. Parliament was quickly losing control of the army it had created, an army fired up by a sense of betrayal and of what many of them saw as a divinely-appointed mission. The tyrant had been brought to his knees and freedom – of religion, of trade, of conscience, of speech – was the prize at stake.

In December 1648, during ‘Pride’s Purge, the army marched on London, forcibly removed or scared off moderate voices, and allowed only a minority of extremists to remain – creating the Rump Parliament, which would not only sanction the trial of the king but sit in judgement upon him.

trialThe case against Charles was a complex and, quite literally, a revolutionary one – not only did it insist that the monarch must abide by the law like everyone else (opponents argued that since all authority flowed from the crown, therefore the monarch was above that authority) but Parliament argued that since the king is charged with the welfare of his own people when he wages war against them he is guilty of treason. Whatever the merits of the case, the judgement was a foregone conclusion – death.

With a swing of the executioner’s axe, more than 10 years of war and almost 50 years of Stuart rule of England, came to an end. England was a republic, for the first and last time.

But it did not mark an end of the country’s woes, for greater conflict – and the bloody and costly invasions of Scotland and Ireland – beckoned.

We re-enact this period to keep these memories alive, to ensure that people don’t forget the bloody and divisive period which helped form our nation, and the people whose lives and deaths bought us our freedoms and privileges.

We are a Parliamentarian regiment, but it’s not about claiming one side was right and the other was wrong, and the anniversary of Charles’ death is a good time to remember that.