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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.