Meyricke Serjeantson













The Final climax

When the King was forced by the needs of the Scottish war to summon parliament, a new era began. The opposition, which had manifested itself in several illegal ways, was given back its legal identity. The time had come for the final showdown between the King and his people, the time when sides would have to be chosen. Dramatic though this language may be, it does indicate the importance of the events that were to take place in the subsequent two years, culminating in the declaration of hostilities in August 1642. It is one thing to oppose taxation, it is another to depose the King's ministers and to repeal the laws on which his power had formerly been based, with a declaration of war being the ultimate result. This, briefly, is what took place in the two years between April 1640 and August 1642. How then did Shrewsbury face up to the changing situation and how did it prepare itself for the outbreak of hostilities?

The two elections of 1640 provided the opportunity for a demonstration of political feelings, the first such opportunity since 1628. The different political ideals of the three men elected to the town's two seats serve but to emphasise the divisions within the town. The man who represented the town in both parliaments was Francis Newport, a young man of only twenty-three, and one of the select band who voted for the acquittal of Strafford. He was soon expelled from parliament as a malignant and took up arms on the royalist side. He was captured when Oswestry was taken by the parliamentarian forces and was compounded at the end of the war for the sum of £5,284. After the war, he opposed both Charles II and James II. James, in fact, dismissed him from his position as Lord Lieutenant and excluded him from his general pardon. 1 Newport's colleague in the Short Parliament was the town clerk, Thomas Owen. Both of these were royalist, in great contrast to the man who was to assume Owen's seat in the long Parliament, William Spurstow.

Spurstow was a leading London merchant who had strong links with Shrewsbury. His father had been a local shearman, but William, who became a freeman in 1597, settled in London, where he was made a member of the Mercers' Company and then a director of the East India Company. 2 In 1606 he had been largely responsible for the passage of a Bill through parliament which freed the Welsh cloth from the necessity of having a seal of content 3 but he was soon to be considered as a London merchant. 4 Spurstow did have a lot in common with the members for the city. In 1626 he had been imprisoned for refusing to pay the forced loan. He was also a member of two bodies which acted as breeding grounds for the opposition in the years between 1629 and 1640. The congregation of St Stephen's, Coleman St, 5 and the Massachusetts Bay Company. 6 During the Long Parliament he showed a great interest in religion, serving on the committees for 'Scandalous Ministers', and 'Plundered Ministers’.7 At his death in 1644 his fortune, in cash alone, amounted to over £5,000. 8

There are no surviving records of the two elections of 1640 so that it is impossible to tell what were the main points of contention or how fiercely the elections were fought. It would be interesting to know if Owen resigned his seat voluntarily or if he was defeated by Spurstow. The very fact that a man such as Spurstow was returned in the later election suggests either a pronounced movement in favour of the parliamentary side or an increased interest in the election by the Drapers' Company. Any more detailed conclusions would involve too much guesswork to be of value.

From after the elections in November 1640 until the summer of 1642, the town seems to have been remarkably united. The divisions of the previous years, which were to become apparent again when the King set up his standard, were either expressed in ways that have not survived in material form or were allowed to lapse in the face of a great threat to the town as a whole. It is quite possible that, in the flurry of-business caused by the reforming activity in parliament, minor internal problems in a town such as Shrewsbury would be put to one side by the central authorities. It is also noticeable that the number of state papers in existence from the years 1640 to 1642 is considerably smaller than for previous years. The petitions that were sent to London tended to go to parliament rather than to the central administration and the journals of both houses show relatively little detail. Consequently, it is possible that the apparent change of attitudes within the town is seen because of a change in the nature of the source material, rather than because of any change at the time.

The corporation did realise that the national situation was fraught with danger and that the town was not in a position to defend itself. The mayor's accounts reveal that a considerable amount was spent on repairs to the Welsh Bridge during the summer of 1641. On October 1st the corporation

“Agreed that its three gates, and that at the water loade head, shall forthwith be repayred, and a cage builded at the Welsh Bridge.” 9

On the 15th of January, the following year, it was resolved that

“The townes ordinance shall be tryed; and if they prove sounde, then to be stocked anewe; also four new cast iron ordinances to be boughte, and £20 to be paid for that purpose.” 10

On January 24th a petition was delivered to the House of Commons from the inhabitants of the county, expressing fear about the actions of the soldiers passing through the county on their way to Ireland. This petition was signed by men who were to become bitter opponents a few months later. Thomas Eyton, Richard Newport, and William Owen, all future royalists, joined with Thomas Mytton and Thomas Nicholls, two parliamentarians, in signing the document. 11 Clearly, the county was determined to defend itself against this invasion by outsiders.

On March 7th, after the Militia Ordinance had irrevocably split the parliament, another petition was sent to the Commons, this one begging that the county be put into a posture of defence. 12

Continuing along the same path, the corporation, on May 20th, announced plans for the protection of the town, guards being placed at the gates both night and day. All the gates were to be further repaired, another £50 was to be spent on repairing the walls and all men of ability were to arm themselves. Finally, on August 30th, an association was set up to look after the safety of the town. Its aims were recorded in the corporation order book.

“This assembly, considering the greate distractions that nowe are in this Kingdom, and the greater feares the inhabitants of this corporation are in, have by one unanimous consent agreed to joyn together for preservation of the peace of this towne and liberties against all unlawfull force.” 13

The picture given so far is one of solidarity against outsiders. In reality, however, the town was deeply divided at this time. Parliament was worried about the security of the town and ordered its supporters to safeguard the magazine. 14  In the middle of June, unknown to the parliamentarians, the royalist Commission of Array had been set in action in the county. 15  Only on July 19th did the Commons issue a warrant, giving official recognition to Thomas Hunt who had, for some time previously, been drilling the local militia.16  A parliamentary committee, comprised of Mr Pierpoint, Sir John Corbet and Mr More, was sent to inform the county of the illegality of the Commission of Array, and to organise the supply of arms and money within the county. 17

When the committee arrived in the town, on July 29th, it was only to find that the royalists had arrived first, and that the Commission of Array had been put into operation on the 26th. The royalists planned to commence training on August 2nd and, in order to forestall this, the committee organised a meeting of the trained bands, to take place in the town on the 1st. The meeting was well attended and the committee proceeded to read out the instructions that had been sent by parliament. Then, however, the royalist commissioners arrived, with the aim of disrupting the meeting. The details of the resulting fracas can be found in a letter written by the committee to Parliament on the 3rd. The royalists, led by Sir John Weld, Sir Paul Harris, Francis Ottley, Richard Gibbons and Edward Cressett, forced the M.P.s to withdraw and threatened all those who did not depart within the hour with arrest. The crowd dispersed but many went to the M.P.s' inn that evening, where they heard another attack on the Commission of Array. The following day, the royalist forces began their exercises. Sir Vincent Corbett and Mr Richard Lloyd drilled troops at villages just outside the town. Francis Ottley with Weld, the sheriff, and Gibbons, the mayor, actually marched a force through the town. As a gesture of defiance Hunt drilled the small parliamentary force. 18

From this time onward there can have been no hope of compromise in the town. Two organised parties were in existence, and there was no chance of forming a united force to protect the town's interests. Parliament responded to the above events by ordering the five leading royalists to answer charges of delinquency. 19 Needless to say, this summons was ignored. For their part, the royalists drew up a protestation which declared unanimous support for the King, and

“Their resolution to adventure their lives and fortunes in defence of his royal person.” 20

The grand jury which signed this document was packed with all the county's leading royalists, so that it cannot be seen as a true reflection of the aspirations of the county as a whole. On August 24th, a similar declaration was made by a group of the county's clergy. 21 The stage was thus set for the events of early September when, on the 15th, the corporation

“Agreed that if the King's majesty come to this town, He shall have free access into it, and the town will make the best enterteynment these troublesome times aforde.” 22

Five days later the King entered Shrewsbury, thus claiming the town for his own. 23 It was to remain a royalist stronghold until its capture by Colonel Mytton in 1644.