Meyricke Serjeantson













1642 : A time for decisions

Why did Shrewsbury turn royalist?  What were the factors that were most important in deciding the town's future in 1642?  The simple fact that man seldom, if ever, acts logically, makes it almost impossible to provide an accurate answer for either of these questions, especially when the shortage of information is taken into consideration.  It is quite possible that the participants, themselves, did not fully understand the motives which made them join one side or the other.  Consequently, all that is possible is an outline of the circumstances in which the decisions were made, in the hope that a better understanding of those decisions will result.

The religious background is clearly one of divided loyalties. The town had both pro- and anti-Laudians.  Peter Studley, of St Chad's,  was, both by the evidence of his own writings and those of Sir William Brereton, a high church Anglican.  This fact was noted in London, and he was ordered to appear before the Commons as a delinquent in August 1642, 1 as was his brother John, the following month. 2 On the opposite side there was the strong influence of the Feoffees, who controlled St Alkmond's but without, it would seem, removing the incumbent.  James Betton, of St Mary's, who deserted the town on the arrival of the royalist army and who was later to become a member of the presbyterian classis, must have considered himself to be outside the bounds of the Laudian Church, even though he was twice stated to be conformable.  It is, however, impossible to say whether he was a true Presbyterian or merely a low church Anglican.  That there was a considerable amount of feeling against the Archbishop in the town can be deduced from the struggle which resulted from Peter Studley's resignation.  How much of this was due to a dislike of the central authorities in general and how much to deep doctrinal reasons, is open to question.

What effect did Laud's demands for the augmentation of clerical stipends have in the town?  Can any pattern be produced from the sides chosen by those who were financially affected by this policy?  Of the impropriators mentioned by name in the state papers, only Thomas Owen and John Studley are sufficiently well documented to enable any sort of conclusion to be reached.  Owen, town clerk and Short Parliament M.P, although opposed to Laud, was considered to be a royalist, and was removed from his office when the parliamentary forces captured the town.  Studley, brother of the minister, was declared a delinquent in 1642.  Thus, in these two cases and there is no reason to believe that they were exceptional, the machinations of the Archbishop made him unpopular but do not seem to have affected support for the King.

The opposition to ship-money was shared by most of the leading citizens, both those who were to side with the King and those who chose parliament.  The only individual petition that survives is one from John Weld, who was aggrieved by his assessment. 3  He was to become an ardent royalist, one of the men who led the attack on the parliamentary committee, as a result of which he was summoned to appear as a delinquent.  He was, in fact, impeached on September 17th but he ignored the summons. 4 The problem in trying to deduce anything from the reaction to ship-money is that all the recorded opposition was aimed at the level of the assessments rather than at the legality of the tax. Consequently, the only opposition that we know about is that which would have been made to all taxes.

On the economic side, not enough is known about the condition of the local gentry to allow any speculation about the relative merits of the varying theses on the prosperity or otherwise, of this class. Within the town itself, however, there are greater possibilities, particularly with regard to the much used theory about the inter-relation of capitalism and protestantism.  The most obvious example of this sort of connection is the town's M.P., William Spurstow.  He was a very prosperous merchant, an active member of one of the most strongly puritan churches in London and a convinced supporter of the parliamentary cause.  The same characteristics are apparent in the careers of many of the Shrewsbury drapers.  Thomas Nicholls, John Prowde and John Lloyde, all of them drapers, were amongst the thirteen members of the town corporation to be dismissed by the King after his visit to the town 5 and all three were considered fit to sit on the first presbyterian classis. 6  The same features can be seen in the career of Owen George, a mercer who was, in addition, up before High Commission in 1635, although he was eventually certified as being conformable.  William Rowley was similarly ejected by the King.  His religious convictions are not known but he was a draper and may have owned the large brewery described by Brereton.  This would further develop the link between the local 'capitalists' and the opposition.  There is a danger in using the declaration of fitness to sit on the classis as a guide to religion because, by 1647, the acceptance of presbyterianism was closely linked with the parliamentary cause as a whole.  Consequently, it is quite possible that leading parliamentarians were drafted onto the classis regardless of their true religious convictions.  A second source is, therefore, necessary in order to make a certain judgment.  

Hunt was, for instance, described by Baxter as

“a plain hearted, honest, godly man.” 7

In view of Baxter's own convictions, we can safely assume that Hunt was a non-conformist.  It is not possible to tell from the existing information why so many of the Shrewsbury drapers followed this pattern.  The history of the drapers does suggest that one of the main reasons for the frequent slumps in the industry was the King's foreign policy but the drapers did enjoy some prosperity in the period.8 It cannot be denied, however, that the Crown's intervention in the affairs of the cloth industry during the period brought little but trouble.

An interesting possibility that must be considered is the influence of the royalist headmasters of the school.  John Meighan, headmaster until 1635, and Thomas Chaloner, his successor, were both ardent royalists. 9  When the King and his entourage arrived in the town, several of the notables, including Lord Keeper Littleton, were lodged at the school. 10 In addition, a large loan was given to the King.11 It is certain that many of the local gentry were educated at the school under these two headmasters.  Both Sir John Weld and Sir Paul Harris sent their sons to the school.  There was also. however, a large number of future parliamentarians at the school, Thomas and Humphrey Mackworth being the most eminent. 12  Consequently, Mr Beaumont's assertion that the school and its education was one of the main reasons for the strongly royalist sentiments of most of the local gentry does not necessarily fit the facts. 13 Almost all of the gentry, regardless of their future political views, were educated at the school.

To what extent did old family connections and feuds influence the choice of sides?  The great problem encountered when following this line is that all the leading families in a parochial society, such as was Stuart England, were almost inevitably connected in one way or another.  Consequently, it is difficult to prove anything from these relationships except that the war did, truly, divide the country.  Francis Ottley, leader of the royalists in the area, was a grandson of Roger Gifford, physician to Queen Elizabeth and a well known Roman Catholic. 14 This background would, surely, explain his reasons for joining the King's side.  On the other hand, Thomas Nicholls, the first parliamentarian governor of Shrewsbury, was related by marriage to Sir Orlando Bridgman, the royalist governor of Chester.  Similarly, Thomas Mytton's mother in law was Margaret Owen, one of the Owens of Condover, a strongly royalist family.  The Owen family had been amongst the leading objectors to the granting of a baronetcy to Thomas Harris and yet, Sir Paul Harris, Thomas'  son, was to be a royalist Commissioner of Array, alongside William Owen. 15 Thus, it can be seen that a close study of these relationships, whilst being of great interest, is of doubtful value in an analysis of the construction of the two sides.

It can be seen, therefore, that the individuals involved were influenced by a number of different factors. It is probable that a different combination of these factors was at work in each separate case.  Once the individuals had made their decisions, however, why did the town follow the lead of the royalists?  Of the twenty four aldermen appointed in 1638, almost half were drapers, 16 a group with a tendency to support parliament.  Five of them were named by the King, in 1642, as enemies of the crown. 17

There were others in this group who managed to escape notice.  Charles Benyon, mayor in 1644, was to become a J.P. under the parliamentary regime in 1646. 18 Whether he was a convinced supporter of parliament or whether he just changed his ideas to suit the times, is impossible to say.  Thomas Knight, draper and member of the parliamentary commission set up in 1643 to sequester royalist estates in the county, escaped in a similar way. 19 In spite of the influence of this powerful group, however, the royalists seized the initiative in 1642, with the gentry from outside the town aiding the royalist members of the corporation.  Thus, men such as Ottley, from Pitchford, Harris, from Boreatton, and Edward Cressett, from Upton Cressett, took an increasingly important part in the affairs of the town.  When, on July 20th 1642, Thomas Mytton learned in London that the royalist Commission of Array had already been sent to Shropshire, he was a month behind his opponents. 20

The royalists were, in fact, far better organised than their parliamentary counterparts.  It would be difficult to attribute all of this to Francis Ottley, as did Owen and Blakeway. 21 His lack of experience in government, he had never held a position in either local or central government, contrasts strongly with the obvious abilities and experience of men such as Nicholls and Hunt.  The vital factor was that the royalists controlled the county administration.  The sheriff was John Weld, an ardent royalist.  The parliamentarians had little to offer in this field.  When, in the early months of 1642, parliament had started to appoint its own Lords Lieutenant, as a counter to the royalists strength in this part of the local administration,  Shropshire had been neglected.  This was but a reflection of the situation in the county as a whole.

The parliamentarians, men of great ability and conviction though they may have been, did not have the resources, especially in the realms of local organisation, to mount an effective challenge to the royalists.

Finally, a question that must be answered is, why did the King decide to come to Shrewsbury?  Did he go to the town because he believed that it supported him or did the town decide for the King when it heard that his army was on its way?  Clarendon suggests the former, 22 but on what grounds?  The reception given to the parliamentary committee by the ordinary townsfolk seems to have been friendly, although the mayor and local gentry were very hostile. 23 The fact that many of the leading parliamentarians fled after this, however, indicates that they considered the town to be lost.  Even so, the King only seems to have taken the final decision after being contacted by one of the town's royalists. 24 Unfortunately, the identity of this ambassador is not recorded, so that further useful speculation is not possible.  It can only be said, therefore, that it is probable that the town was firmly controlled by the royalists before the advent of the King's army but it is impossible to be definite. Once the King had visited, all those who had previously wavered must have been forced to accept the inevitable.