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King Charles I and the First Civil War

by the late Keith Farley

Little concern would probably have been shown about the accession of Charles 1 in 1625, but the new King was to visit Wolverhampton three times during his reign of twenty four years. For the majority of his reign the king and parliament were at loggerheads, and during the years 1629-1640 no parliament was summoned. As a result, the king needed to raise money by unusual means and introduced some measures which affected Wolverhampton. It had long been the custom for towns on the coast to provide the monarch with ships for the navy or money in place of the ships at times of need. Charles decided that this was a time of need but he extended the duty, known as Ship Money, to inland towns as well. During the years 1635-1639 the communities at Willenhall, Wednesfield and Wolverhampton each contributed a sum in ship money. The amount for Wolverhampton was £72 which was collected from the richer inhabitants with contributions varying from a shilling to about 6s 8d. A second source of revenue for Charles was 'knighthood fines'. This involved anyone who held freehold land to the value of £40 per year and should therefore undertake the duties of knighthood, or pay a fine of £10 if the duties were not to be undertaken. Charles managed to raise £120 from Wolverhampton's freeholders.

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The King on Horseback.

When the civil war broke out in 1642 the great families of the area were divided with the Levesons and the Giffards fighting for the King, and the Wrottesleys and the Lanes fighting for parliament. Most of the ordinary townsfolk were probably disinterested although some observers regard the town as having had royalist sympathies.

The district saw a good deal of marching armies, many Royalists armies, but little in the way of fighting. Although there were two garrisons at Wolverhampton, there were no battles or skirmishes in the town. There had been one unfortunate event prior to the outbreak of fighting when a number of "persons broke into the parish church and broke down the rail about the communion table standing in the chancel, and pulled up a mat there within the rail, and about the communion table, and did at the same time pull it to pieces, and did remove the communion table out of the chancel into the body of the church."

The first blow in the Civil War in Wolverhampton was struck when Thomas Leveson called on John Tanner a 'stinking rogue' and struck him about the head with a stick making "a great knob in the skin thereof". The reason for the attack was that Tanner, an armourer, refused to return armour to Leveson because he knew him to be a Catholic, and a Royalist sympathiser. The blow to John Tanner was not only the first but also the last show of force during the war in the town.

King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. Charles2.jpg (18840 bytes)

The King himself arrived in the town on Saturday October 15 1642. He had marched from Shrewsbury, by way of Bridgnorth, Trescote and Compton and took up residence at the house of a Madame St. Andrew which was situated in Cock Street (Victoria Street) on the site of the former Star and Garter. Prince Rupert, who was accompanying his uncle, stayed in a house in Lichfield Street. It was during this visit that a wealthy merchant of the town, Henry Gough, craved a personal interview and presented £l200 in gold to the King for the Royalist cause. On the advice of Thomas Bushell, the King took the opportunity of rewarding his men for their endeavours. He presented each colonel with a medal of a 20s piece in silver, all other officers received half a crown. Thomas Bushell's reasoning was probably, that, without reward, the King's soldiers could well desert. It proved wise advice since the Battle of Edgehill took place on Sunday, October 23rd 1942.

Prince Rupert made another visit to the town early in 1643 on his way to Lichfield. It was during this visit that the Prince used a very persuasive method of recruiting. He threatened to "hang, draw and quarter anyone between the ages of 16 and 60 who did not choose to fight for their King."

After the battle of Hopton Heath in March 1643 a Parliamentarian force led by Sir William Brereton entered the town at about three o'clock in the morning and "captured" it. The victors met with no resistance. Thomas Leveson, the Royalist Commander in the town, had left his family home at the Great Hall, later known as Old Hall Street, and took up residence at Dudley Castle. Leveson had not been too popular during his stay in Wolverhampton especially when his soldiers were lodged in St Peter's Church where they did a great deal of damage and showed very little reverence for their surroundings. The Parliamentarians took their revenge by seizing all of Leveson's property, in the area including Bilston where the steward Will Tomkys, came very close to being killed for refusing to give any information about his master to the Parliamentarians.

The next visit to Wolverhampton by the King happened in May 1645 when he and Prince Rupert were on their way to the last great battle of the first Civil War, at Naseby. While the Prince slept in the town, the King stayed at "a private sweet village where Squire Grosvenor lives" (the King's own words). The village was Bushbury.

After the Royalist defeat at Naseby the King made his last visit to the town when he stayed overnight at the home of a Mrs. Barnford in Cock Street (Victoria Street).

In February 1646 Sir William Brereton and Colonel Sanderson assembled a Parliamentary force of three thousand men (1800 infantry and 1200 cavalry) in the town. The intention was to use the force against Lichfield and other local fortresses.

Charles4.jpg (16423 bytes) King Charles at his trial.

The execution of King Charles I happened on January 30, 1649 and two years later his eldest son, Charles Stuart, returned from exile determined to regain his father's throne. However the army of the Stuarts was defeated at Worcester on Wednesday, September 3 1651 and the Prince became a fugitive. It was after the battle that the area around Wolverhampton once again played a part in national history. On the evening of the battle Prince Charles and a few friends left the city of Worcester and rode north. When he arrived at Kinver he rested for a few minutes and then continued his journey north. He planned to try and get to Wales and raise another army there. He rode on to Stourbridge and through Himley and then he cut across country by way of Wombourne and Pattingham, finally arriving at White Ladies Priory near Tong at about 3 o'clock in the morning.

George Penderel, a servant at White Ladies, let Charles' party into the Priory and then sent for two of his brothers, Richard and William. The Prince was then disguised and made to look like a Country fellow. His name was to be William Jones and his job a woodcutter. He was then taken by Richard into Spring Coppice, a wood nearby, where he spent the day. Less than one hour after the Prince left While Ladies, a group of Parliamentary soldiers arrived. After a search, they left without finding any trace of Charles.

That evening Charles, escorted by Richard, George and Humphrey Penderel, was taken to Richard's home, Hobbat Grange. There, Jane Penderel. the mother of the five brothers, gave Charles a meal. Still disguised as the woodcutter, he set out with Richard as his guide to walk to Madeley. He hoped to cross the Severn and escape into Wales.

At Evelith Mill the miller called after them and wanted to know who they were but they did not stop to answer questions. Having reached Madeley Charles discovered that the river was too heavily guarded to make a crossing. The Prince hid all day in the barn adjoining Upper House, Madeley. Then Charles disguised himself again and after a meal returned with Richard towards Boscobel. The two men avoided Evelith Mill and crossed the Warfe a little further down, arriving at Boscobel in the early hours of Saturday September 6, 1651. It was at Boscobel that Charles met Major Careless. According to popular belief Charles and Major Careless spent most of the day in an oak tree whilst Parliamentarian soldiers searched the surrounding area for any sign of the "tall man above two yards high, with dark brown hair". The oak tree was probably a secure hiding place since Boscobel was surrounded by woods and it would have been extremely difficult to find anyone in those woods. That night Charles learned that a reward of £1000 had been placed on his head and a penalty of death for anyone who aided or abetted him in his escape.

During the Sunday evening Charles, once again accompanied by the Penderels, travelled to Moseley Old Hall. The Hall belonged to the Whitgreve family and it was their family priest, Father John Huddleston, who led the Prince to the back door of the Hall. As a Catholic family the Whitgreves were prepared for any searches of the house, and so the Prince was hidden in one of the priest's holes in the house. He stayed at Moseley for two days. On the evening of Tuesday September 7th Charles and a Colonel Lane left Moseley and travelled to Bentley Hall. The Prince only stayed long enough for a brief rest at Bentley before he left for Bristol, where he hoped to get a ship to France. He dressed himself up as the servant of a Miss Jane Lane and gave himself the name of Will Jackson.

Six days later Charles was in France, not to return until May 1660 when he was restored to the throne of England.

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