Category Archives: Rebellious London

The Battle of Turnham Green (1642)

The battle of Turnham Green

Image courtesy of “Look and Learn” (www.lookandlearn.com)

The Battle of Turnham Green, in the English Civil War, took place on this day in 1642.

The site of the battle is marked by a series of informative plaques.  According to the plaques, after losing the Battle of Brentford on November 12th, 1642, the Parliamentarians took up a strategic defensive position at Turnham Green, with their left flank protected by the river, and their right by a series of enclosures.  It was here that the following day  they  essentially faced down the Royalists, who found themselves unable to manoeuvre past, in one of the largest-ever confrontations on English soil (albeit a substantially bloodless one), involving some 40000 troops.   This was a decisive moment in the history of the war, the country, and its  capital.

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The Battle of Brentford (1642)

The Battle of Brentford, in the English Civil War, took place on this day in 1642 …

Monument

Informative plaque

The site of the battle is marked by a granite memorial and by a series of informative plaques.

According to the plaques, what happened here was as follows:

“Parliamentarians had arrived in the prosperous market town on Friday 11 November.  The following day the royalists marched from Hampstead Heath and in the early afternoon broke through a parliamentary barricade at the bridge over the Brent.  Near this information panel, the royalists were delayed, fighting two or three hours until the parliamentarian soldiers fled.  This position was defended by about 480 of Lord Brooke’s regiment and survivors of the earlier fighting, with two small pieces of artillery. The royalists soon gained the upper hand.  There seem to have been no civilian dead despite the capture of the town.  About 20 royalists were killed, and perhaps 50 parliamentarians died in the fighting with more drowning in the Thames.  Parliamentary Captain John Lilburne was amongst those captured”.

And what happened next was as follows:

“Later that afternoon the royalists pressed on towards London.  There were more parliamentary troops in a large open area, probably Turnham Green and Chiswick’s Common Field.  These green-coated men of John Hampden’s regiment of foot charged five times, holding the royalists back.  But with night coming and the royalists exhausted from fighting both sides disengaged.  The royalist soldiers who had captured Brentford ransacked the town … The Battle of Turnham Green took place the following day”.

John Gwyn, a royalist soldier, wrote:

“We beat them from one Brainford to the other, and from thence to the open field, with … resolute and expeditious fighting, …  push of pike and the butt-end of muskets, which proved so fatal to Holles’ butchers and dyers that day”.

Map

The Gunpowder Plot (Sir Edward Hoby, 1605)

The Gunpowder Plotters, with Fawkes third from the right

On this day in 1605 was discovered “a most horrible conspiracy of the Papish against the King [James I]” to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster, for their roles in which Guy Fawkes and his fellows were cruelly put to death.   (The discoverer, one Thomas Knyvet(t), the Keeper of Whitehall Palace, was rewarded by the granting of  an extension of the lease on his house, in what was to become Downing Street).

Sir Edward Hoby (*) wrote of the event:

“On the 5th of November we began our Parliament, to which the King [James I] should have come in person, but refrained, through a practice but that morning discovered.  The plot was to have blown up the King at such time as he should have been set in his royal throne, accompanied by his children, Nobility and Commons and … Bishops, Judges and Doctors, at one instant and blast and to have ruined the whole estate and kingdom of England.  And for the effecting of this there was placed under the Parliament house [Palace of Westminster], where the king should sit, some 30 barrels of gunpowder … .

… In a vault under the parliament chamber before spoken of one Johnson [Guy Fawkes’s  assumed name] was found … who, after being brought into … the court, and there demanded if he were not sorry for his so foul and heinous a treason, answered he was sorry for nothing but that the act was not performed.  Being replied unto him that no doubt there had been a number in that place of his own [Catholic] religion, how in conscience he could do them hurt, he answered a few might well perish to have the rest taken away.  … When he was brought into the King’s presence, the King asked him how he could conspire so hideous a treason against his children and so many innocent souls which never offended him? He answered that … a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy”.

Sir Edward Hoby, as portrayed in 1583

(*) Hoby (1560-1617) was a scholar and a courtier during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.  He was the son-in-law of Elizabeth’s cousin Henry Carey, the First Baron Brunsdon, and the nephew of her chief advisor William Cecil, the First Baron  Burghley or Burleigh.

 

 

 

 

The Putney Debates (1647)

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On this day in 1647, in the midst of the Civil War, the so-called “Putney Debates” began in the church of St Mary The Virgin.

The debates, chaired by Cromwell and attended by officers and men of his New Model Army, many of whom were “Levellers”, addressed  nothing of less import than the post-Civil War future and constitution of England.

Among the issues discussed were not only whether power should be vested in the King and House of Lords or in the Commons, but also whether there should be universal – male – suffrage (“one man, one vote”).

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Colonel Thomas Rainsborough (*), personifying the radical contingent, famously argued that:

“ … [T]he poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee … ”.

Among the outcomes was a declaration of “native rights” for all Englishmen, including  freedom of conscience, and equality before the law.

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(*)   Rainsborough went on to be killed during the siege of Pontefract, and to be buried in the church of St John in Wapping on November 14th 1648.

For a fuller account of his extraordinary life, the reader is referred to “The Rainborowes” by Adrian Tinniswood.

“I went to see Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered” (Samuel Pepys, 1660)

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[I]n the morning … I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.  He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy.   It is said, that he said he was sure to come  shortly at the right hand of  Christ to judge them that now had judged him … .  Thus it was my chance to see … the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King [Charles I] at Charing Cross. Setting up shelves in my study”.

Harrison

Thomas Harrison was   one of a number of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I at the end of the Civil War in 1649 – otherwise known as “regicides” – to be  hunted down and executed by Charles II after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

The end of the First Barons’ War (1217)

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The First Barons’ War ended on this day in 1217.  The war had broken out in  1215, when it became clear that King  John  had no intention of abiding  by the terms of the Magna Carta.   When John died in 1216, the barons  refused to recognise his son Henry III as King, and instead supported  the rival claim to the title of the French King Philippe II’s son Louis, also known as the Dauphin (*).  The Dauphin and barons  then suffered a heavy military defeat at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217, after which they were forced to retreat to their power-base in London, there  to await reinforcements from France, which in the event never arrived, the transporting  fleet  being intercepted en route (**).  There, the  Dauphin   agreed to  relinquish  his claim to England and end the war, by signing the so-called Treaty of Lambeth, brokered by William Marshall, later in 1217.  In exchange, the barons and people were given back the liberties that had been taken away under John’s unjust rule.

(*) Henry III had actually already been crowned – in Gloucester – late the previous year.  He would go on to be crowned again  in Westminster in 1220.

(**) Incidentally, two prominent Londoners were captured at the battle, namely  the aforementioned Robert FitzWalter, formerly of Baynard’s Castle, and Richard de Montfichet, of Montfichet’s Tower, both of which  had been demolished on John’s orders after the baronial conspiracy of 1212, in which FitzWalter had been implicated.

The Battle of Flodden Field, and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head (1513)

St Michael Wood Street

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots, which took place in 1513.  According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598”, sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside (*). The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897. Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by a public house – called not the “King’s Head” but the  “Red Herring”!

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows:

“There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … ”.