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Which Side Are You On?
Civil War often forces people to make difficult choices. Within previously close and happy communities individuals have to take sides. The 1630s had been a decade of relative stability and prosperity. But during the spring of 1642 the breach between King and Parliament continued to widen and a resort to arms seemed inevitable.
The governors of King’s Lynn (brewers, lawyers, ship-owning merchants with large establishments and warehouses) were doubtless wanting peace. However, now they found themselves wondering about which side of the Royalist-Parliamentary fence they and their town might sit on.
Although there was uncertainty about whether or not it would come to fighting, and about who the enemy might be, there was general agreement that it would be wise to strengthen the King’s Lynn’s defences.
On 24 October 1642 Thomas Toll MP arrived from Parliament with orders that King’s Lynn was to be put in a state of military efficiency. Timber from the Arundel Estates at Castle Rising and South Wootton were used for strengthening defences. The town’s leaders discussed possible tactics with the Parliamentarian Eastern Association (co-ordinating events across Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire). Letters were sent to Parliament requesting funds for the work. The Association recognised the importance of Lynn and on 8 November seventy-two soldiers were sent to the town from Norwich. A few days later the Town’s Corporation selected officers and began a thorough reorganisation of the borough forces “soe that they might be fitted for the defence of the kinge and kingdome upon one howers warnynge”.
As money in support of Parliament was being gathered throughout the region it is significant that a Knight of the County from Hunstanton, Sir Hamon L’Estrange, offered only a single horse, and in all the recorded gifts of plate, L’Estrange’s name is conspicuously absent. In comparison an MP and farmer from Huntington, Oliver Cromwell, donated £500. On 15 December 1642 the chief constables of the Smithdon hundred were ordered to remove all the arms, horse-furniture, and ammunition from the L’Estrange’s at Hunstanton Hall and take them to Lynn. However, they were to told to be fair and respectful and were to leave enough weaponry so that the L’Estranges could defend themselves against “rude or pilfering people”. As Ketton-Cremer remarks, “Although the sense of conflict was growing fast, there were still courtesies to be observed.”
At the beginning of 1643 the Council ordered barrels of gunpowder to be stored at the Market Cross, at St Ann’s Fort, at Trinity Guildhall, and at St Margaret’s Mount (Red Mount Chapel). One can sense the threat becoming more real and personal with the announcement that every citizen might purchase 2 or 3 lbs of gunpowder to keep at home ready for defence. Alehouse-keepers were also instructed to let the aldermen know if any stranger took up lodgings for longer than a single night.
Initially there was more support amongst the town governors for the Parliamentary cause against the Charles I. This is not surprising as the south eastern part of the country was largely in Parliamentary hands. On 29 August 1642 some Royalists assumed that the cargo landed by a ship in a creek near Skegness had contained arms. They seized the cargo and the vessel and threatened to invade Boston. Lynn immediately sent “1000 volunteers and five pieces of ordnance” to help the distressed Bostonians.
After the outbreak of national hostilities in August 1642 Lynn’s two MPs (John Percival and Thomas Toll) were active in getting Parliamentary support and money (£400) for increasing the fortifications, for mustering and training bands of men, and for arresting anyone who had sent ammunition, money, or plate to the King. The Council also ordered £100 to be sent to Parliament. Indeed Alderman William Doughty was so concerned about the accusation of possibly having Royalist sympathies that when accused of being “a great opposer of the orders of Parliament” he protests his innocence and has it recorded in the town’s Hall Book that he was “more than ordinary forward in his obedyence to orders of Parlyament”. Interestingly both Doughty and Thomas Gurlin (see below) had been returned as MPs for the 1640 May Parliament, but under the influence of Lord Arundel, they were replaced for the Long Parliament in November by Percival and Toll who were both merchants with strong Puritan convictions.
However, support for the Parliamentarians was not without limits or universal. Behind the meetings and correspondence between the town governors and the Eastern Association about money, one senses an unhappiness about the burden of the financial contribution (the Parliament rate) the town was having to make. And at the same time as £100 was being sent to the Parliamentary cause, the equivalent value in money, munitions, and plate was being sent by the townsmen to the Charles I in Oxford, and there may have been some support from some governors for this action.
The strategic, thriving port of Lynn would certainly have been an attractive town for the Royalists. Queen Henrietta, Charles I’s wife, had gone to Holland in an attempt to find arms and men to support the King’s cause. Lynn would provide an ideal landing port. And if the Royalists were able to capture and hold the town it would open up a way south to London.
Royalists Start To Assert Themselves
Although sympathies within the town were divided, the north-western area of Norfolk was more Royalist in outlook than any other in the County. Outside of Lynn there was support for the King from the Royalist gentry – from the L’Estranges of Hunstanton, the Mordaunts of Massingham, the Hovells of Hillington, the Spelmans of Congham, the Yelvertons of Rougham, and the Pastons of Appleton. During the early spring of 1643 it seems that Sir Hamon L’Estrange used his personal popularity, plus an offer of £1000 towards strengthening defences, to activate Royalist support in the town. And between March and August it made its presence increasingly felt.
On 20 March 1643 Colonel Oliver Cromwell was forced to rush to Lynn from Lowestoft to nip trouble in the bud “because the Malevolents [Royalists] began to raise combustions and declare against Parliament”. Cromwell disarmed the “malignant” burgesses, secured the town, and seized a small vessel carrying arms that had arrived from Dunkirk and was anchored in the harbour. (Mayor Thomas Gurlin was later to receive £5 from the Town Corporation to help defray the costs of entertaining Cromwell.)
In the events of April and May one can sense both the divided loyalty within the town, and the growth of the Royalist faction. Because of the possible approach of the Royalist army it was agreed to strenghten the forces and on April 2 (Easter Sunday) 100 dragoons marched to Lynn from Norwich under Sergeant-major Livewell Sherwood. The next day they arrived at the East Gate, but the Royalist, Sir Hamon L’Estrange, who had, in the meantime been chosen as governor of the borough, refused to raise the drawbridge and unfasten the gate and let them in. “Captain” Sherwood promised to report Mayor Gurlin and the people of the town to the Eastern Association before turning round and departing back to Norwich.
The mood of the town remained unsettled and on 5 May worried councillors asked for Parliamentary authority to examine and arrest “strangers who are now in the town which may be supposed to be Malignants [Royalists]”. Parliament responded to the above request quickly, but this seems to prompt a turning point for the town and ultimately leads to the Corporation coming off the fence. On 8 May the Mayor and Justices of Lynn are given orders to arrest Sir Hamon L’Estrange, two of his sons, his grandson, and his brother-in-law Sir Charles Mordaunt, and to either send them up to Parliament or to Wisbech Castle for imprisonment. Their arms, horses, ammunition, plate and money are to be impounded. A further eight gentlemen were named, some of whom had travelled some distance to lend their support to a Royalist rebellion. Sir Hamon L’Estrange goes into hiding, and we know from his wife’s accounts that he spent £5. 5s of his £2,500 annual expenditure in avoiding capture.
For reasons we can only guess at, Gurlin doesn’t carry out the orders. The Royalist faction inevitably continues to grow. In July the news-sheets report a riot involving over 200 Royalists. Perhaps the Corporation lacked the ability to capture the Royalists or feared the unrest that would follow if it did. It is likely that they sensed the growing mood in the town in support of the Royalists and in all probability had some support for the cause themselves. Hillen takes the view that the order to arrest Sir Hamon, and Gurlin’s and the town’s loyalty to the L’Estranges, are what eventually leads to the decision in favour of the King.
A Bloodless Coup
Pressure both inside and outside the town continued to mount. Royalist forces under the Earl of Newcastle were fast approaching the eastern counties from the north and succeeded in taking Gainsborough (20 July) and most of Lincolnshire, and this may have further stimulated a desire to change sides. In Lynn the loyalty to the Parliamentary cause of the trained bands of men could no longer be relied on. A Royalist attorney, Walter Kirby (who was specifically named by Cromwell in March as one of the “malcontents”) had managed to get himself appointed as one of their captains. The governors were anxiously reporting a large number of strangers that had come into the town.
On 13 August 1643 Mayor Gurlin resolved the crisis when he acts for the Royalists. He ordered the house arrest of pro-Parliamentarian councillors and the two MPs (Percival and Toll) and declared Sir Hamon L’Estrange Governor of King’s Lynn in the King’s name.
- Flintham, D. (2018) Richard Clampe, Fortress Engineer, c1617-1696, FORT vol.46, pp.3-14
- Hillen, H.J. (1907) History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, Vol.1, EP Publishing Ltd.
- Holmes, C. (1974) The Eastern Association in the English Civil War, Cambridge University Press
- ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 4: 5 May 1646’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 4, 1644-1646 (London, 1802), pp. 534-535. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol4/pp534-535 (accessed April 2021)
- Ketton-Cremer, R.W. (1985) Norfolk in the Civil War: A Portrait of a Society in Conflict, Gliddon Books.
- Kyle, C. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/lestrange-sir-hamon-1583-1654 (accessed April 2021)
- Yaxley, S. ed. (1993) ‘A briefe and true Relation of the Siege and Surrendering of Kings Lynn to the Earle of Manchester’. In Yaxley, S. (1993) The Siege of King’s Lynn 1643, The Larks Press
© James Rye 2021