Wharton Letters: 7 September 1642

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:00 am, 7 September 2012]

This post is part of a series of letters from parliamentary soldier Nehemiah Wharton during the English Civil War, which will be posted on the anniversary of the day they were written. For more information see the introduction. To find the rest of the series, use the “wharton letters” tag. The original of this letter is held by the UK National Archives, reference SP 16/492/5, f. 9. The text of the letter is out of copyright. Images are available for non-commercial use only at Flickr (click on folio numbers for individual page images).

Today, another mutiny.

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Wharton Letters: 3 September 1642

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:00 am, 3 September 2012]

This post is part of a series of letters from parliamentary soldier Nehemiah Wharton during the English Civil War, which will be posted on the anniversary of the day they were written. For more information see the introduction. To find the rest of the series, use the “wharton letters” tag. The original of this letter is held by the UK National Archives, reference SP 16/492/2, ff. 3-4. The text of the letter is out of copyright. Images are available for non-commercial use only at Flickr (click on folio numbers for individual page images).

This week, Wharton moves from Coventry to Northampton, witnesses carnivalesque mockery of authority figures, suffers illness, and drinks strong beer, plus the usual pillaging and poaching.

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Cavalry Tactics: Prince Rupert

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 9:55 am, 28 August 2012]

Prince Rupert of the Rhine was, and still is, a controversial figure in the English Civil War. In 1643 he burnt down Birmingham, but he also did some bad things (see what I did there?). He’s often associated with the cavalier stereotype, in both positive and negative ways. Although he became famous as a cavalry commander, he was also an administrator who helped to build a new army for the King in 1643-44, governor of Bristol when it surrendered in 1645, and later an admiral. This post investigates what we do and don’t know about Rupert’s cavalry tactics. (more…)

Wharton Letters: 26 August 1642

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:00 am, 26 August 2012]

This post is part of a series of letters from parliamentary soldier Nehemiah Wharton during the English Civil War, which will be posted on the anniversary of the day they were written. For more information see the introduction. To find the rest of the series, use the “wharton letters” tag. The original of this letter is held by the UK National Archives, reference SP 16/491/133, ff. 309-10. The text of the letter is out of copyright. Images are available for non-commercial use only at Flickr (click on folio numbers for individual page images).

This week, Wharton takes part in a mutiny, poaches a deer, goes into battle for the first time, and meets an old friend.

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Winter in Windsor part 3: what the papers didn’t say

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 4:24 pm, 13 February 2012]

In part 1 of this series I tried to find out what disparaging things Henry Marten said about the Earl of Essex on 5 December 1642. In part 2 I showed how criticism of Essex was probably unfair. Now in the final part I’m going to look at what the London press were saying. (Working on these posts always earworms me with ‘A Woman in Winter’ by The Skids: good thing or bad thing?)

Although Marten had spoken in front of lots of MPs in the House of Commons, and some of them noted it in their diaries, news of the controversy wasn’t published outside Parliament. It was an established tradition that what went on in Parliament wasn’t to be revealed to the general public, even though members claimed to be looking after the public interest, and this was still more or less holding up despite all the crazy things that happened in 1642. In 1643 leaks became much more common, and different factions in Parliament used the press to attack each other and advance their own agendas (see Peacey, Politicians & Pamphleteers for lots of examples). The weekly newsbooks covering 5 December 1642 mentioned that news had been received from Yorkshire and Devon but there seems to be no consensus about whether the news was good or bad. They didn’t criticize Essex, and some claimed that he was about to attack the enemy, or that he already had.

A continuation of certaine speciall and remarkable passages from both houses of Parliament (E.244[5]) reported news from Yorkshire and Devon but put a positive spin on it rather than treating it as a disaster. It also claimed that Essex had defeated the royalists at Reading. Near the end it said ‘This night the Earle of Holland, the Earle of Pembroke, the Earle of Northumberland, the Lord Say and the Lord Wharton that went down to Windsor are expected to return again to Parliament’ but didn’t say anything about why they had gone there.

England’s memorable accidents (E.244[9]) wrote under 6 December (p. 107), ‘The Lord Generall being furnished with money and other necessaries, is advancing now towards the Enemie’ but for 9 December (p. 111) admitted ‘The Lord Generall with his Foot and Ordnance continue still at Windsor, because they cannot march this winter; but all his horse and Dragoneers are sent out in severall Parts to intrap the Cavalliers and to restraine their pillaging’.

A perfect diurnall of the passages in Parliament (E.244[7]) reported that contradictory letters had come to Parliament from Yorkshire, one saying that the Earl of Newcastle had relieved York unopposed and the other that Sir John Hotham had defeated him.

Speciall passages and certain informations (E.129[5]) mentions news from Yorkshire and Devon, and says that ‘The Lord Generall marcheth to morrow from Windsor, the greatest part of his Army being a dayes march before him’.

There were some even bigger claims about Essex’s exploits in one-off pamphlets.

Another famous victorie obtained by his Excellencie the Earle of Essex (E.129[6]) claimed that Essex had inflicted heavy casualties on the royalists and captured Henley and Marlow on 2 December.

A true relation of the proceedings of His Excellence the Earle of Essex, with his army, since his departure from these parts, in pursutie of the cavaliers (E.129[12]), collected by Thomason on 8 December, told an unlikely story of John Hampden having besieged and captured Reading (which wasn’t actually recaptured by Parliament until April 1643).

The title of Exceeding joyfull newes from the Earl of Essex being a true and reall relation of his incompassing the Kings army neare the citty of Oxford, Decemb. 7. and the great skirmish which they had at the same time… (E.129[25]) says it all. This pamphlet claims that Essex had left Windsor on 5 December and had managed to surround the King’s army at Oxford within two days!

Some of these stories are blatantly false, and others must at least be exaggerated. It looks like there was huge demand in London for news of victories, and if there wasn’t any then pamphlet writers were willing and able to make it up. It seems like the writers and their audiences still want to believe that Essex is doing great things. He hasn’t become unpopular yet, and no-one is openly criticizing him in public.