Some Curiosities from the English Civil War & Commonwealth
Many people at this time had interesting names. At the Battle of Edgehill, a man called Faithful Fortesque changed sides.
And a colonel in charge of the King’s execution was called Hercules Hunks.
It is thought (especially by us Brummies) that ‘sending someone to Coventry’ refers to the people of Birmingham capturing Royalists and sending them for security to Coventry; the rebel Brummies hated cavaliers so much, they refused even to speak to their prisoners.
Many people think the two sides could be told apart by how they dressed. At the Battle of Marston Moor, the Parliamentarian general, Sir Thomas Fairfax, was mistaken for the Royalist Prince Rupert because they both wore a similar red hat.
On the eve of the Battle of Naseby, Fairfax, as Commander of the New Model Army, went out surveying terrain; one of his own sentries challenged him. The preoccupied Fairfax had forgotten the password so the sentry made him stand there while an officer was fetched. Fairfax rewarded the sentry for his diligence.
The civilian population suffered horribly, but the soldiers didn’t always have it their own way. After Naseby, a Royalist fugitive burst in on a startled laundry-maid; she jumped up and killed him with the dollystick she had been using to pound clothes clean.
The nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty’ may refer to a Royalist cannon at the top of a tower at Colchester which was eventually shot down by parliamentary forces (along with its gunner ‘One-Eyed Thompson’).
One of the daft ideas for helping King Charles escape from Carisbrooke Castle was bringing nitric acid (‘aqua fortis’) to dissolve the window bars in his room…
… eventually they bent the bars but his escape failed because he had rehearsed by sticking his head out; when the time came, his body was too large to go through the bars.
John Bradshaw, the judge at the King’s trial, was so frightened of being assassinated, he commissioned a bullet-proof hat lined with iron plates. (It’s in the Ashmolean Museum).
The identity of the King’s executioner was kept secret and he supposedly remained unknown… Or did he? Read my book and find out!
After the Battle of Worcester, the young Prince Charles really did hide up an oak tree overnight at Boscobel while the Parliamentarians searched for him below…
… with help from loyal followers he travelled around trying to escape, sometimes disguised as a servant; at one point he had to take a horse to a blacksmith, and as they chatted, Charles later told Samuel Pepys: ‘I told him that if that rogue were taken, he deserved to be hanged more than all the rest, for bringing in the Scots. Upon which he said I spoke like an honest man; and so we parted’
After the Battle of Dunbar a medal was struck for every soldier who had fought with Cromwell; it was the first national medal for British armed forces.
While he was Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell so much hated Whitehall, he invented going away for the weekend. (His ‘country cottage’ was Hampton Court Palace).
After the Restoration, Charles II had the surviving regicides who had signed his father’s death warrant put on trial and executed; those who had escaped by dying previously, including Cromwell, were dug up and their decayed corpses hung then decapitated…
… Oliver Cromwell’s head was displayed on top of Westminster Hall for 20 years, then sold to various owners before the Master and Fellows of his old university college, Sidney Sussex at Cambridge had it reburied in an unmarked spot where it could remain undisturbed.
The famous statue of Cromwell outside the Houses of Parliament was erected in 1899 to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. But it aroused fierce opposition from Irish MPs because of Cromwell’s harsh treatment of their country, and had to be installed in secret then unveiled without ceremony.