The Costs and Benefits of Civil War
England had paid a huge cost for this parliamentary victory, in lives and property. In 1640 the Shropshire village of Myddle had a population of less than 600, possibly much less. If Myddle was typical in age and sex ratios then there would have been no more than 175 adult men in the village, 55 aged between 15 and 24 and 120 between 25 and 59. It is therefore quite startling to learn that 21 of the young men of the village went to war: 40 per cent of the men under 25, 12 per cent of the men under 60. This was a rich recruiting ground for the royalist armies and, unsurprisingly, all but one of them went to fight for the King. Thirteen did not return. One died at Edgehill and two others, Reece Vaughan and John Arthur, died at the siege of Hopton Castle, where the parliamentary defenders were eventually butchered and dumped in a ditch. Three Preece brothers died, two of them in fighting at Ercall and one hanged for horse theft. Nat Owen met his end at the siege of Bridgewater in 1645. He had been wounded earlier, in a fight with a comrade over plunder, and was unable to move, his comrades unable to help him. He died in the flames. The only parliamentarian, Thomas Mould, was shot in the leg while fighting in the parliamentarian cavalry. A neighbour recalled that his leg healed ‘but was very crooked so long as he lived’.1
Villages all over England must have had similar tales to tell and similar wounds to heal. The most systematic estimates of war deaths put the total at 62,000 between 1642 and 1646, probably the equivalent to the population of the four largest cities in the country, London aside. Nearly 80,000 more were taken prisoner.2 These deaths were widely spread across the country, although East Anglia and Wales saw many fewer than the regions where field armies were frequently in action. On the other hand, these figures are derived from incidents large enough to have been reported, but there were probably many other deaths which went unrecorded. Richard Gough recalled seeing, as a schoolboy in Myddle during the war, a clash between parliamentary and royalist garrison soldiers happening upon each other in the village. A man was badly wounded. Gough had gone with the minister to pray for him and saw the man lying on a bed ‘with much blood running along the floor’. He died the next day.3 Such memories lasted a lifetime, but they were not the stuff of press reports. Between April 1644 and December 1645 Guy Carleton, vicar of Bucklesbury, Berkshire, buried four soldiers, all of whom died individually and probably not in any recorded incident.4
Others died accidentally. Ralph Hopton was severely wounded when a casually placed tobacco pipe ignited barrels of gunpowder and two other soldiers in his army died from the accidental discharge of muskets. Edward Morton was blown up, along with his four children and his house, while mixing gunpowder for the royal army. His wife’s escape was said to be providential, since she had tried to dissuade him from doing this work for the royalists.5 Another judgement was visited on Captain Starker, inspecting the loot taken from the capture of Houghton Tower in Lancashire. One of the company lit a pipe, which ignited the powder, killing himself, his captain and sixty of his comrades.6 The consequent burn and shatter wounds were horrifying. Richard Wiseman, a surgeon in the royal army, reported such an accident at the battle of Worcester in 1651: ‘A soldier… hastily fetched his bonnet full of gunpowder, and whilst he was filling his Bandoliers, another soldier carelessly bestrides it to make a shot at one of the enemies… In firing his musket, a spark flew out of the pan and gave fire to the powder underneath him’. The man filling the bandoliers was ‘grievously burned in the hands, arms, breast, neck and face’, but the careless soldier suffered more fearfully. He was ‘burned and scorched in all the upper part of his thighs, scrotum, muscles of the abdomen and the coats of the testicles… And indeed it was to be feared, that when the Escar should cast off from his belly, his bowels would have tumbled out’. In this case the outcome was happier. After the town fell Wiseman’s assistant saw the former soldier escape and the latter was ‘cured’.7
Not all were so lucky: many of the fallen died of their wounds, often in pain and some time after the battle. John Hampden took six days to die of wounds received at the battle of Chalgrove Field, six agonizing days. Care of the wounded was taken seriously but was limited by both resources and expertise. Wiseman, seeking to learn from his battlefield experiences, seems to have made a diagnostic distinction between those who died howling like dogs and those who died screaming. His later Treatise of Wounds reflected a serious and hopeful attempt to save more lives, but it is also a catalogue of horrors. Wounds tended to be burns, slashing cuts, the effects of fragmentation agents or gunshots. For the latter there was little in civilian life to prepare a surgeon for his battlefield experience, and Wiseman devoted considerable space to trying to pass on what he had learned about them. Shattered bones and the threat of infection were the principal dangers. As Wiseman noted, an undressed wound was within days full of maggots. Amputation was often done immediately, while the wounded men were still in shock, since their courage might fail them later, but Wiseman was keen to try to save limbs as well. Those who survived initially had a good chance of surviving in the long term, however. The maimed could expect some care following their initial treatment, either in hospitals or quartered with people willing to care for them in return for payment.8
Of course, the impact of the war depended only in part on the quantity of the suffering – it was enough to see the effects of one gunshot in the face for the price of victory to be clear. Following battles many commentators noted the horror of corpses strewn widely and uncared for. After Naseby hastily dug graves proved to be too shallow, so ‘that the bodies, in a short time became very offensive’. In general both sides sought to provide decent burial, at least for their own fallen, but bodies were often stripped and looted despite these attempts to preserve Christian decency. Mutual humanity survived these traumas, but many people saw shocking sights all the same.9
Although narratives of the war follow the movements of the field armies, it was the presence of garrisons and the ubiquity of skirmishing which characterized the experience of war most of the time. In June 1645 Charles had 40,000 troops at his command. One quarter of them were at Naseby, slightly more in the western army, but nearly half in garrisons in Wales, the west and the Midlands. Most of the recorded deaths in combat took place in minor skirmishes and sieges, in fact, not in the largest battles that dominate the military narrative.10 Garrisons gave access to wealth and resources, control of trade networks and the economic hinterlands of the towns in which they were situated. Mansions and castles also gave control of agricultural hinterlands, and since almost every locality was of divided and questionable loyalty it was essential to maintain a military presence in order to maintain political and economic control. Sieges were also of political significance – both sides making great play of fortitude, loyalty and courage in the face of hardship, or of the triumphant seizure of strongpoints.11
This form of warfare made immense demands on the civilian population. Fortifications were mammoth construction projects which involved widespread destruction of suburban property. Buildings were cleared to make way for earthworks, to deny the enemy cover and to provide clear lines of fire. Besieging forces also destroyed buildings in order to protect themselves, or for the materials.12 Work on London’s fortifications had started in the autumn of 1642, but the real initiative came in the spring of 1643 in a massive programme of public works. By April 1643 there were twenty-eight ‘works’ (forts or sconces), along with two outworks covering the Mile End Road. The Venetian ambassador reported the following month that they were impressive, and that earthworks linking them would be complete within weeks. These earthworks, which marked the ‘lines of communication’, were ramparts fronted by a ditch three yards wide. From the bottom of the ditch to the top of the rampart may have been as much as six yards. Eleven miles of wall along with the forts, sconces and outworks (designed with the advice of Dutch expertise) seem to have been built in less than a year, much of it in not much more than three months. Nonetheless, the apparent enthusiasm for this work was remarkable. One contemporary observer claimed that 100,000 citizens set their hands to the work; the Venetian ambassador estimated more modestly that 20,000 worked without pay each day, even on Sunday, normally ‘so strictly observed by the Puritans’. The great and the good joined ‘all sorts of Londoners’, marching to the works ‘with all alacrity’. One reason may have been that the very fact of fortification increased anxiety in the City, of course. If much of the work was voluntary, however, this was still a huge financial commitment, paid for by the City, some of it remitted from the tax bill, but some raised by special extra taxes. This was clearly a pay day, albeit one made much in arrears, for victuallers, bricklayers, masons and carpenters as well as for the soldiers and military suppliers.13
One of the twenty-eight ‘works’ around London’s civil war fortifications
Much smaller places had to find the resources for large-scale works too: particularly well-studied are those at Exeter, where £4,400 was spent between November 1642 and August 1643, and to good effect too. Oxford and Newark (and Colchester in 1648) were made defensible in the face of increasingly heavy artillery bombardment.14 Fortified country houses and castles became the focus for protracted sieges too: Basing House resisted parliamentary sieges repeatedly before its bloody fall in 1645. Lathom House was similarly celebrated for the heroism of its defenders, and tied up significant numbers of parliamentary troops in the north-west.15
Garrison towns were fortified and defended, or seized, at massive cost to the local population. Bombardment and the storming of defended towns could be extremely destructive. Estimating the extent of property destruction is no less fraught with difficulty than arriving at estimates of casualties, but it seems that at least 150 towns and fifty villages sustained some damage. Reliable sources for estimating the scale of this damage are available for a sample of these places – twenty-seven towns and seven villages. If the loss in these places is representative of the experience more generally, then across the whole country 10,000 town houses, 1,000 houses in villages and 200 mansions or country houses were lost. This suggests that the war might have made 55,000 people homeless – 2 per cent of the population; that is the equivalent of the entire population of Norwich, Bristol and York combined.16 Obviously such a figure is only indicative of a general order of destruction, but in market towns sieges and associated property destruction were common, and much of it seems to have been concentrated in 1643.
As with the battlefield deaths it is perhaps better to talk of specific experiences than aggregated statistics. The siege of Gloucester was said to have resulted in the loss of properties worth £22,400, of personal goods worth £4,500 and another £2,000 through the deliberate flooding of surrounding fields for defensive purposes. The city had been assessed at £500 for the much-reviled ship money levies, although in 1638 that had been reduced to £180.17 Exeter may have lost one fifth of its houses. Leicester, stormed by royalists on 31 May 1645 and retaken by Parliament only a few weeks later, was said to have lost 120 houses, besides other property damage and plunder.18 It was not just the cities, of course: smaller communities, with fewer resources, might suffer too. Holt and Farndon, small towns either side of the Dee a few miles south of Chester, also suffered substantial damage. The castle at Holt commanded an important bridge over the Dee but the town itself was indefensible. Much property was destroyed, particularly, it was said, by the garrison as a preventive measure. After the Restoration it was claimed that 103 houses had been lost. In Farndon, similarly, houses were destroyed when Brereton forced a crossing of the river in November 1643, and then again in February 1645, following a parliamentary withdrawal when the garrison at Holt carried out further preventive destruction.19 Repair of the damage in many places did not begin until the 1650s, and lasted in some places into the 1670s and beyond. The repair of communal resources – hospitals, schools and almshouses – could take much longer and the damage inflicted on churches and other monuments might be irreparable. The memory of sufferings often lasted longer than the physical loss.20
Prolonged sieges also bred disease. All civil war armies were prey to typhus, dysentery, plague and fevers, and these were frequently passed on to the civilian population too. The royalist occupation of Exeter in 1643 was followed by the worst outbreak of plague since the great plague of 1625. In the last weeks of the preceding siege the mortality rate had risen steadily. In June 31 burials are recorded. That figure rose to 45 in July and 60 in August but the peak came following the occupation: 95 in October. This was almost certainly ‘war typhus’, a disease which had killed one fifth of the population of Oxford earlier in the year. Under siege once more in late 1645, this time by Fairfax’s triumphant New Model, it was again threatened by disease. Fairfax’s army had already lost men ‘killed by laying out’ and now was ravaged by a mysterious sickness that convinced him of the need to find them healthy quarters. Nonetheless, common soldiers continued to rest in cramped quarters where the ‘New Disease’ claimed dozens of lives each week. During the siege of Plymouth 2,845 people died from disease.21
Overall, it has been estimated, 100,000 deaths from disease can be added to the tally of casualties in battle, and numerous local examples confirm the general point. According to one calculation 11,817 people died in Devon between 1643 and 1645, 4,193 of them as a result of the war: that is, the war contributed more than one third of the deaths in the county. It seems that only 1,634 of those deaths can be attributed to battle, so that the lion’s share of these ‘war deaths’ arose from indirect causes.22 Nationally burials during 1643/4 were 29 per cent above average, serious enough, but below the level of years of ‘natural crisis’ in 1558/9, 1597/8 or 1625/6. This was, nonetheless, one of the worst years of crisis mortality in the period 1641–1871. In Berkshire, however, the picture was almost unimaginably worse: burials rose 120 per cent higher than their average level. This mortality was concentrated in areas close to garrisons and concentrations of soldiers. Essex’s army, hanging around near Reading for much of 1643, was a grievance in Westminster, but apparently a major health hazard too. The army was grievously afflicted with disease throughout the year, and in parishes across Berkshire there is widespread evidence of the presence of ‘war typhus’, plague, dysentery and other fevers.23
Despite the scale of the operations, and these horrors, England did not endure the horrors of the Thirty Years War and ‘turn Germany’: codes of conduct on the battlefield and in sieges were adhered to, and atrocities were limited. There were, of course, well-attested exceptions – at Barthomley Church, Milford Haven, Naseby and Lostwithiel, for example. Once again, it was not necessarily the engagements of greatest national significance which bred the most shocking behaviour. At Hopton Castle a parliamentary force which had recently taken control was summoned to surrender by a party of royalists early in 1644. The summons was refused and an assault was repulsed, as was another two weeks later, but on 13 March a mine destroyed much of the walls and made the castle indefensible. The defenders now offered to surrender, on condition that they could march away with their arms and ammunition. This was rejected and they asked for quarter, which was also refused. When the castle was taken all the defenders except the governor and his second-in-command were stripped and hog-tied back to back before having their throats cut. Their bodies were thrown into a ditch. Two maidservants were forced to watch this murder before they too were beaten. An old man of eighty, emerging from the cellars after the slaughter of the others, was tied to a chair before his throat too was slashed and his corpse tossed into the ditch with the others. One of the maidservants was said to have lost her wits as a result of this trauma. This fell within the codes of conduct, since the defenders had initially refused a summons and so were expected to pay the price, but it was an unusually brutal interpretation of the rules of war. Elsewhere, it seems, the codes kept behaviour within the bounds of recognized decency, although it was sometimes touch and go.24 Rape, for example, does not seem to have been used systematically as a means of fighting the war, and when terms of surrender were granted they were almost always honoured. England did not turn Germany, but it saw plenty of horrors, and restraint was not always secure.25
Levels of formal taxation were by pre-war standards extraordinarily high. The proportion of national wealth taxed and spent by the government seems to have doubled. Many of the means by which governments had tapped wealth before the war had now gone, or went uncollected (wardship, monopolies, forest fines, impositions, ship money and so on), and so formal taxation loomed particularly large. By the late 1620s one subsidy produced about £55,000. The parliamentary assessment reached that as a monthly figure.26 In particular counties, towns and villages this transformation was dramatic. Sussex paid a total of about £16,000 for parliamentary subsidies during the 1620s, and ship money had come to about £4,600 per annum for six years. The county seems to have paid £36,000 per annum for seventeen years, for the assessment alone: seven times as much as for ship money and vastly more than had been paid in the 1620s. To that burden would have to be added the excise and, for some people, sequestration (£9,500 was raised in Chichester rape in 1643 alone). John Everenden, a minor gentleman who had paid £3 for five subsidies in 1628, had to stump up £163 between 1643 and 1652. The 308 taxpayers in Rye in 1644 included all but the poorest. Formal national taxation was hugely more significant than in the years before 1640.27
Where military control was weak the picture might be even worse. Taxes might be claimed by both sides. Where a garrison could not feed itself from formal taxation soldiers might be forced, or choose, to live off the land, plundering or claiming free quarter from the local population. In the Midlands, an area with a patchwork of garrisons, and field armies regularly passing through, these problems of double taxation and informal exaction were very pronounced.28 In Cheshire, a county which saw constant military activity and insecure control over territory, plunder and free quarter imposed greater costs than taxation. Chits given in return for free quarter could only be redeemed from victors, of course, and frequently went unpaid. Certainly there is ample qualitative evidence of the incidence of both plunder and free quarter.29 In Warwickshire quarter and plunder was rarely less than half the level of formal taxation.30 These experiences varied over time as well as between regions. South Warwickshire saw the battle of Edgehill, grave pits and horrors, but this gave way to more routine irritations – horse theft, quarter, taxation, the demands of garrisons or of royalist convoys moving through on their way to the west.31
For those on the receiving end these were terrible costs, but there were clear incentives for armies to be restrained. John Fettiplace, acting for the parliamentary garrison at Cirencester in 1642, where the soldiers ‘were driven to exceeding straits, and ready to mutiny for want of pay’, seems to have secured contributions by negotiation, albeit through agreements that broke down subsequently. Such disputes could be pursued at law several years later.32 In general royalist armies subsisted, and were not defeated because they were less well-fed or less well-supplied, but they do seem to have resorted more often to informal exactions. Those with a bad record of payment could hope for little voluntary help. Goring’s cavalry troops were active throughout the winter of 1644–5 because they were well-fed, but it was at the expense of ruthless plunder and widespread resentment, for which they paid a considerable price the following year. Certainly, the reputation of Prince Rupert as ‘Prince Robber’ did the royalist cause no good at all.33
Of course, these costs of the war borne by many were certainly benefits to some others. All the money being raised was spent in the country: the war machine was also a customer, not simply a burden. Supplying the material to the army – weapons, gunpowder, horses, clothing and food – provided opportunities, as did the need for transport. Large contractors could make huge fortunes, particularly if their services or political connections were good enough to secure payment in full, and for craftsmen in key trades the war was a source of steady demand.
When the war broke out the arms trade in England was small, and inadequate to supply the armies, but by the end of the decade, when huge expeditions were mounted to Scotland and Ireland, almost all the supplies were domestically produced. Weapons were made by skilled craftsmen working in small shops, and production could not be rapidly expanded. The long peace from the mid-1620s onwards had led to the further atrophy of an already limited industry. Massive orders to consortia of tradesmen stimulated development – blacksmiths, gun-smiths, turners and edgesmiths all did excellent business if they were able to adapt their skills to produce these goods. By the middle of the war the royalists had effectively created an arms industry in Oxford and, after it was taken in late 1643, Bristol. Parliament had the advantage of building on the existing trade in London, but stimulated a massive expansion, as well as the development of trades in Manchester and Birmingham. When the New Model Army was supplied in 1645 it was almost all done from domestic suppliers.34
This could provide steady work for large numbers of craftsmen. Partial data for London reveal that between August 1642 and September 1651 at least 30,000 pikes, 102,000 swords and 111,000 firearms were produced there. Two cutlers had received an order for 22,503 swords for the Bishops” Wars. Such contractors clearly flourished, but so too might the craftsmen who did the work. In Nottingham a gunsmith could earn between 1s and 1s 6d per day, a pike header 1s 2d.35 The meaning of a wage in seventeenth-century England is difficult to determine: a figure might include costs of materials or subcontractors, and might omit payments in kind. It is equally difficult to know how many days” work any individual could get – clearly relevant to the value of a wage. Skilled craftsmen in these trades, however, were likely to be getting steady work. If they were keeping most of this wage for themselves, then they were not doing too badly.36 Given the stories of accidents and mishaps, it is unlikely that many soldiers would want to cut costs or corners in these matters.
A similar story can be told of the development of heavy ordnance production. Although it was necessarily a much more capital-intensive business in the hands of fewer producers, both sides were able to find domestic sources of heavy ordnance. The demand for gunpowder led to the establishment of mills, to supply the parliamentary armies, in the lower Lea Valley on the edge of London, Manchester, Gloucester, Leicester, Nottingham, Stafford and Coventry; and to supply the royalists in Oxford, Chester, Shrewsbury, Worcester and Bristol.37 The importance of these trades to the war effort further reinforced the strategic significance of garrison towns, of course.
Clothing and equipment was ordered from prominent merchants – haberdashers, woollen merchants, tailors, shoemakers – and provided employment for large numbers of craftsmen in urban and rural areas. In 1646, for example, 8,000 pairs of shoes were ordered from thirteen shoemakers.38 The demand for horses stimulated an interest in breeding which was of long-term significance and speeded the decline of local horse markets and fairs. Smithfield prospered, since it was immune from attack and an established national market, but even it was increasingly dominated by a small group of dealers acting on contracts from the army. Elsewhere it was increasingly common to buy through dealers rather than at fairs.39
Carrying trades were also in high demand. Parliamentary control of the navy was significant, but the navy was too small to protect all parliamentary shipping or to stop all royalist shipments. Where possible, supplies were moved by sea, therefore, and when the royalists lost their western ports in 1645 it was a serious blow to their war effort. Carters and carriers also did very well though, since land transport had to be used eventually. In May 1643 Charles had 122 carts in his artillery train and at Newbury, later in the summer, had 400 draught horses and oxen. Thomas Bateman, a master wheelwright, did a very good business with the parliamentary armies throughout the 1640s: he supplied 10 wagons to the Earl of Essex early in the war, and was one of twenty-one artificers contracted to supply 120 wagons, one cart, 20 carriages for boats, 20 pontoon boats, 46 grapnells for the boats and 20 harnesses. In the spring of 1645 he was paid £13 each for 21 closed wagons for the New Model, £12 each for 6 open wagons and £5 each for a further 5. We do not know about his margins, of course, but this was big money for a craftsman – an order for £370, which would count as a pretty respectable annual income for a gentleman. He continued this work into the late 1640s and also made gun carriages. Carters were employed for particular purposes too, sometimes in lieu of tax payments, but sometimes for cash: a carter, cart and horse were charged at 2s 6d per day per horse, higher early in the war when supply was short.40
Armies waxed and waned in size, but it has been estimated that up to one in ten adult men were in arms during the 1640s.41 The economic effects of this were likely to have been considerable, although very little is known about it. A brief consideration of some of the known facts is suggestive, however. Numbers in the New Model in the last two years of the war ranged from 24,800 in late May 1645 to a low of 13,400 in January of 1646. The number of horse remained fairly constant, around 5,000 to 6,500, so that the number of infantry in the New Model during this period ranged from perhaps 18,000 down to 7,000. The New Model was only about half of the total parliamentary strength, and the royalists had similar numbers in service in 1645, so that it may be that the total number of infantry ranged from 30,000 to 55,000 in these years.42 The former is equivalent to the second largest city in the country, the latter is the equivalent of the three largest cities in the country, London excepted.
The infantry were recruited primarily from the lower orders, with labourers predominating. Their wages were continually in arrears, but not necessarily derisory. And no soldiers starved. Between April 1645 and June 1647 the New Model infantry received 76 per cent of their wage. Put the other way, they received 8d per day, as a minimum, 76 per cent of the time, in addition to being clothed and equipped.43 Agricultural labourers had a better daily wage, but probably fewer days of employment, and are unlikely to have been clothed. Not only did soldiers” wages, even with this level of arrears, make these men more likely to be consumers than recipients of poor relief, but they also made them consumers rather than producers. The other armies were less reliably paid (in fact the New Model drew deserters seeking better conditions), but they add considerably to these figures. Conscription was a less reliable means of filling the armies than pay.44
In all this represents a considerable redistribution of wealth. The New Model wage bill was expected to be about £45,000 per month, much of that on the more expensive higher ranks, but much of it was actually paid, and much of it to men of low social status. This was £540,000 per year, in addition to clothing, and to that we would have to add the wages of the other armies. A ‘cautious minimum figure’ of the total yield of poor relief in 1650 puts it at £100,000: formal taxation paid to labouring men in the army was almost certainly a more significant economic transfer than poor relief, and free quarter would have to be added to that as well. Some of these men, and their dependants, would in more normal times have formed part of the harvest-sensitive population – those whose subsistence was threatened by rising prices and falling wages during a harvest failure. This may be one factor in an explanation for the absence of recorded famine deaths in the later 1640s: the first years of sustained dearth in which England had slipped the shadow of famine.45 That and, of course, the huge death toll of the years immediately preceding it.
This demand for men must have affected the labour market as a whole. Given that the armies were drawn disproportionately from the labouring population, this is likely to have pushed wages up more generally by withdrawing a measurable proportion of the labouring population from the labour market. In September 1645, for example, there were 18,600 men in the New Model; following the harvest 2,000 men, mainly infantry, were recruited to an army whose overall size we do not know, although in December it contained 14,000 men. The New Model at 14,000 men represented 3 per cent of the male population between 15 and 24, and a little more than 1 per cent of the male population between 16 and 64.46 To these figures for the New Model in 1645 would have to be added about the same number of parliamentary soldiers in other armies, and similar numbers serving in the royalist armies: in May of that year Charles had 40,000 men in arms, about half of them in garrisons.47 After the war, the military establishments were more stable, paid more regularly and less exposed to traumatic loss. In May 1647 there were 21,480 in the army, 14,000 of them infantry. Infantry numbers then rose to 16,000 in February 1648, 20,200 in May 1649 and 24,000 the following spring. These infantry figures represent between 3 and 5 per cent of the male population aged 15–24, 1 and 1.5 per cent of the male population between 15 and 59.48 The effects of this must have been particularly felt at harvest-time, pushing wages up and augmenting the market for food by increasing the non-agricultural population. At Myddle Hill, in Shropshire, in September 1642, Sir Paul Harris was offering a very generous 4s 4d per week to soldiers, with likely consequences for the supply of harvest labour.49
Again this might be relevant to the dearth of the late 1640s since, it seems, most famine in this period arose not from an absolute failure of food supply, but from a failure of exchange entitlements:50 soldiers and agricultural labourers may have had better exchange entitlements as a result of a significant transfer of wealth via national taxation, with benefits to their dependants, resulting in a smaller harvest-sensitive population.
As we have seen, construction work on fortifications was not always achieved by forced or voluntary labour. Men from Upton, Nottinghamshire, seem to have been paid both to construct the massive earthworks at Newark in 1644 and, two years later, to take them down. In the spring of 1644 they were paid 8d per day, comparable with the pay of a foot soldier or for a day mowing hay in Lincolnshire during the 1620s.51 Thomas Catrowe seems to have had employment as a carpenter in the ‘service of the commonwealth’ for at least eleven years after 1643, employing ‘under him several workmen’, particularly in the maintenance of Tilbury Fort. Quarter, as distinct from free quarter, might have been a useful income, another transfer from the taxpayer to the relatively poor. Joane Johnson quartered Col. Thomas Lanes for ‘a long time’ around 1644 and his case for payment of arrears of pay rested in part on what he owed to her: on this argument he secured £16 of the £20 owing to him (although he subsequently sued her to recover the money for his own use).52
The Queen’s Sconce, part of the civil war defences of Newark
Wounded soldiers were often quartered, and the burden and difficulty of dealing with severely wounded men was regarded with alarm. Soldiers” pay was supposed to cover these costs, but of course that was not reliable. Nonetheless, caring for the wounded was also a significant source of income for poor women – the records of the parliamentary army in East Anglia are full of fairly small payments to people of humble means. Cleaning, clothing, repairs, laundry and food provision all provided employments associated with care for the wounded.53 It goes without saying that many of these people would surely have swapped these steady little earners for peace, but it is important to remember that the war brought benefits alongside the appalling costs. Taxes were raised and spent in the country, and the flow must have been a source of employment for many people. War was not simply a burden.
Some contractors in arms and clothing industries clearly did well, and the benefits of this business seem to have spread to craftsmen in those industries. There were also men of very modest means who signed up, whose pay was usually in arrears, but who were employed, fed and clothed; and there were other employments associated with servicing this massive military effort. But the real money lay in the world of public finance. There is some evidence from earlier in the century that men with liquid capital were particularly attractive as tax collectors, since they could advance sums to the government while recouping it in the localities (in return for a ‘poundage’ or cut of the proceeds). They could also transfer money using their own personal credit rather than hauling sacks of cash around. Certainly, later in the century, control of the flow of tax money was a source of profit – allowing men to use the balances to underwrite their own business, or even to act as bankers. More lucrative, potentially at least, was to contract for revenue collection – to farm taxes. Some men were able to build significant commercial careers because they were in a position to advance credit to the regime. Governments sold the right to collect customs, and, in the 1650s, the excise, to individual merchants who had the expertise to ensure collection. In return for a guaranteed income, paid on a particular date, the government gave up a slice of the pie. Men like Martin Noell and Thomas Povey grew rich in this way during the 1650s, diversifying into the emerging colonial trades.54
During the civil wars many of the services being paid for were secured locally, so that much of the money never left the county in which it was raised. In Worcester during the royalist occupation the monthly tax was about half as much as the entire subsidy of 1641. But the money was spent in the city, as it must have been in most fortified garrison towns. The ongoing work of building and maintaining the defences was paid at what appears to be a standard rate of 8d per day.55 Almost all of the New Model’s supplies, arms aside, came from the locality in which it found itself. In 1645 and 1646 the New Model resorted to free quarter, but this was the last year of the war. Thereafter, it depended on orderly supply and payment. John Cory, a Norwich merchant, both collected and disbursed tax revenue. Between 29 April and 20 November 1644 he paid out £480 to twenty local tradesmen for waistcoats, shirts, breeches, stockings and shoes, and another £313 for cloth.56 This was a good position to be in – both collecting and spending government money.
Although the roots of this kind of relationship to government go deeper than the 1640s, the opportunities were greatly increased by the massive contracts now required to support the war effort. In these ways the war effort fostered a connection between merchants and government around the public finances. Spending often preceded the receipt of the revenue, and the gap was bridged by borrowing not from the money markets, but from individual suppliers or those handling the revenues. The need for credit and supplies stimulated improvements in the provision of both. There is some evidence that the need to find cash for tax payments accelerated the monetization of local economies, and caused frictions between landlord and tenant over rent levels and tax liabilities, as in the case of the farmers in Surrey who complained to Fairfax about their landlords, not the army: ‘your petitioners all rack rented’ had borne the charge of free quarter for six years, ‘and that freely, without any deduction of rent’. Worse, they now faced rent increases. They sought parliamentary enforcement of a contribution from the landlords. This was a common dispute – the tax legislation imposed the burden on the landlord where the rent was racked (set, that is, at the full market rate) and on the tenant where it was not (being set at a customary or easy rent).57
There were winners clearly, but overall the benefits accrued to individuals rather than social classes – there is no evidence of significant structural social change. While some prospered, others were ruined. Ironically, sequestration caused acute difficulties even for Sir Cheney Culpeper, who was unhesitatingly parliamentarian. Taken ill in the early 1640s he had made over his lands to his father in anticipation of his death. He survived but before he could recover the lands war broke out and his royalist father was subject to sequestration, imposed on what were really Sir Cheney’s lands.58 Others paid a high price for royalism, either directly, or in spending their fortune in the service of the King. On the other hand, seized goods and lands enriched others: Oliver Cromwell for example. He had been born into the junior branch of a gentry family, and his personal fortunes had reached a nadir during the 1630s, when he may have been worth only £90 per annum. Rescued by his family, and then by an inheritance, he recovered a secure gentry status with an income of around £300 p.a. At the end of the war, in October 1646, he was granted a pension of £2,500 p.a. from estates confiscated from the Marquess of Winchester.59
These contrasting fortunes really represented a redistribution of wealth within the existing social structure, rather than a social revolution, however. Sequestration did not lead to redistribution between social classes, even where it was harshly enforced. In Cornwall, for example, royalist control during the war gave way to parliamentary rule thereafter, and sequestration was severely imposed, but it did not ruin the pre-war gentry class. Across the country as a whole many were allowed to compound at a relatively mild rate – compared to what might have been possible under the legislation – or to repurchase. Even where this did not happen the estates were not taken up by mechanic preachers or shoeless infantrymen.60 The verdict on the effects of the sale of crown lands is broadly similar.61
The same is true of officeholding – purges or exclusions were a disaster for some, an opportunity for others – and there are signs of a slight downward shift in the status of JPs during the 1640s. The King relinquished control of appointments reluctantly as his military position deteriorated. From 1644 onwards Parliament took control of the commissions in the south and east. In Sussex this led to the displacement of twenty-seven men and the induction of twenty-four. There and in Hertfordshire a core of parliamentary activists provided continuity, recruiting friends and relatives as the need arose. But in other counties the changes were more dramatic. In Devon and Warwickshire there were more thorough clear-outs – in Warwickshire fifty-seven men were drafted in following the defeat of the royalist armies. There was a similarly wholesale change of personnel in Wales following the royalist defeat. This did result in a shift towards men of lower gentry status, and dissolved the cousinages that had dominated commissions before the war, but even in the 1650s, when changes were more dramatic, JPs remained gentry figures almost everywhere.62 In Warwickshire and Cheshire the absence of the greater gentry from wartime administration gave authority to lesser men, who demonstrated that the leading gentry figures were not essential to the maintenance of local government.63 Elsewhere, however, it was the political complexion rather than the social composition of the local officeholding population that changed – in Somerset, for example, it was political radicalism rather than humble roots that attracted adverse comment.64
Justices had rivals, however, in the military administrations and, particularly in parliamentary areas, the proliferating committees. Many places saw the routine of local administration – quarter sessions and assizes – disrupted, and in Somerset, in fact, the county committee was the only effective authority.65 Junior military commands, committee positions or commissions such as that to William Dowsing to purify churches in East Anglia undoubtedly delivered considerable power to relatively obscure men. There was widespread friction between excise officers – salaried functionaries – and the established local officeholding population, a tension frequently expressed in accusations of corruption.66
Many wartime frictions arose from the new-found power of otherwise marginal or dependent men. Among those who left Myddle to fight was Thomas Formaston, ‘A very hopeful young man’, but there were also a number of men whose prospects in the village did not appear so rosy: Nathaniel Owen, whose ‘father was hanged before the wars and the son deserved it in the wars’; Richard Chaloner, bastard son of the blacksmith who had been partly maintained by the parish; William Preece ‘of the cave’, also known as Scoggan of Goblin Hole; and ‘an idle fellow’ whose name escaped Richard Gough when he came to write his history of the parish. Preece had served in the Low Countries and as a sergeant in the Trained Bands, but was lame as a result of falling out of a pear tree while trying to commit a robbery.67 Terrible as it was, military service may have been empowering for men such as these, as well as a way of making a living.
The existence of large armies may have been a help to apprentices, too. A Lambeth apprentice who ran away in June 1645 turned out to have gone via Kingston and Guildford to the army, returning in August with ‘our regiment of dragoons’. His master had gone to William Lilly to try to find him, and there was, perhaps, some relief behind the laconic note that he had returned ‘of his own accord’.68 There is certainly evidence that other apprentices had an advantage on their masters, for once. Matthew Inglesbye, apprenticed as a weaver for two years then ‘went forth a soldier for the parliament’, serving five and a half years. On his return he served his master for another ten months but, he complained, ‘the full term of his apprenticeship being now expired, and more’ he was denied his freedom. Thomas Sheppard left the service of William King, a baker in Northamptonshire, ‘taking notice of several ordinances and Acts of parliament to encourage masters to permit their apprentices to serve the parliament in arms’. In this case, having signed up, he was sued as a runaway, and he may not have been alone in seeing the armies as a way out. William Jennifer, in a similar dispute having left for service in Ireland in the later 1640s, was able to employ the language of national politics to his own advantage: he had served because of ‘his good affection to the parliament’ and also because he was aware of ‘a want of supplies for Ireland against those bloody, barbarous and cruel enemies’.69
Apprentices, it seems, could take the chance to escape their masters and even, having served in the wars, to claim their military service against their apprenticeship term. This was not the only means by which they were empowered, of course. There can be little doubt that the surging crowds of 1642, and those to come in 1647, gave power and licence to young men formally subject to strict patriarchal discipline. The term ‘roundhead’ referred to the enforced hairstyle of the dependent young man; there must have been an appeal in the opportunities offered by war: as in the ‘London Prentices’ who had humiliated the minister of Marsworth in the summer of 1640, ‘triumphing in contempt and derision’. These were perhaps moments when differences were submerged in a shared adolescent identity and licence.70
But this was not a faceless war. Soldiers were not simply an alien force having an impact on society, but were often known to the people among whom they lived, particularly garrison soldiers, of course. Nathaniel Owen’s ‘common practice’ during the war ‘was to come by night with a party of horse to some neighbour’s house and break open the doors, take what they pleased, and if the man of the house was found, they carried him to prison, from whence he could not be released without ransom in money’. But it was Owen who was left to die in the flames by his fellows at Bridgenorth, and who in Gough’s opinion deserved to hang.71 William Preece, Scoggan of Goblin Hole, also worked off a pre-war grudge. He was made governor of a garrison at Abright, and when a group of parliamentary soldiers arrived in town he recognized an old adversary, Phillip Bunny. He broke off from his old soldier’s tricks (he had stood in a window shouting, ‘Let such a number go to such a place, and so many to such a place; and let twenty come with me’, although he had only eight men at his command) to take up a grudge. Taking up a fowling gun he shouted, ‘Bunny, have at thee!’, and shot him through the leg, killing the horse. Following the war many royalist activists were ‘troubled by the Parliament party’, but not Scoggan: ‘he that sits on the ground can fall no lower’.72 War turned Scoggan, one of a kind normally invisible to history, into a local character, whose doings were remembered fifty years later.
As in other wars, some women also had new opportunities. Women petitioners in London had pushed at the boundaries of respectable female behaviour, claiming a traditional voice as defenders of their children but using it to make specific policy recommendations to the House of Lords. Some had voted in the elections to the Long Parliament, and others took public oaths – the Protestation or the Solemn League and Covenant. Women lent money, paid taxes, followed the armies and treated the sick. Their lives were no more insulated from the war than those of men; they too had felt the burdens but saw some of the opportunities. Elizabeth Alkin, ‘Parliament Joan’, was active in the news business, like a number of others – the new freedom of the press offering an opportunity to find a voice, and to serve the public good. Women were also employed as emissaries, their female skills and status allowing them to feel out the possibilities for more formal contacts, and a number of women played very significant military roles. Henrietta Maria, like Lady Macbeth, was reviled for her undue influence over her husband, particularly after the revelation of their letters in the Kings Cabinet opened. When a cannonade forced her from her lodgings at Bridlington in February 1643 it was thought to be ungentlemanly, but she was subsequently known as the she-generalissima. This gender ambiguity was evident elsewhere – in the career of Lucy Hutchinson or of the Countess of Derby. Lucy, however, always presented herself as the loyal wife, her views no more than an expression of her devotion to her husband.73
These public and martial roles posed a kind of challenge to patriarchy – at least in principle. The King’s cause had suffered when 120 women were reported to have been taken in arms at Nantwich, in January 1644, and from the persistent accusation that he was in thrall to his wife.74 It is not too fanciful to see in these gender troubles a reason for the acute anxieties aroused by John Milton’s pamphlet on divorce. It was one of the publications that prompted Ephraim Pagitt to go into print with his denunciation of numerous schisms, heresies and errors of the 1640s. In contemporary polemic these gender troubles were a manifestation of the problem of order, of civil chaos, which seemed an important feature of the war. Political disorder was reflected both in sexual licence – a particular form of gender disorder – and in the intrusion of the feminine into the public arena. The world was governed by opinion (female) rather than knowledge (male), and by a parliament of women.75
Above all, though, it was in the sectarian scare that these anxieties about gender roles were most evident. Women preachers were a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the claims of the uneducated to preach – as in A discoverie of Six women preachers, which ridiculed the pretensions of middling-sort women to religious insight. Their ‘manners, life, and doctrine [were] pleasant to be read, but horrid to be judged of’, and the key scriptural text was I Corinthians xiv, 34–5:
Let your women keep silence in the Churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the Law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the Church.76
A common theme in stories about the corrosive effects of sectarianism was how virtuous women were led astray from the patriarchal authority of the godly household by false prophets, and this fear resonated widely. Alarmed by what he saw around him in Lincolnshire in 1646, Colonel King demanded that the Grand Jury in Lincolnshire present all ‘Papists, Anabaptists, Brownists, Separatists, Antinomians and Heretics, who take upon them boldness to creep into houses, and lead captive silly women to sins’.77
These fears about female independence were not groundless; but neither were they proportionate. Women were prominent in the sects during the 1640s – the dependence on direct revelation cancelling contemporary assumptions about the inferiority of female reason and learning. The reformation of the spirit, with its relative distrust of the scripture and learned divinity, was easily satirized as a licence for ignorant women to preach, and it did certainly give a voice to some women. During the 1640s there was a steady flow of prophetic pamphlets. Some of them retold apparently ancient prophecies: the publisher Richard Harper fought something of a paper war, with a constantly escalating number of visions offering to give meaning and direction to the current confusion. But the 1640s also boasted an unusual number of living prophets, many of them women. John Thomas, founder of the newsbook and ally of Pym’s in the world of print, had spent time and money in November 1641 printing a pamphlet retailing the visions of a maidservant from Worksop.78 Sarah Wight was to become briefly famous in 1647, when despair and illness drove her to suicide attempts and fasting. In the midst of these travails she began to experience trances in which she spoke from scriptures, and ministers came to take down notes. By September she had recovered, but she had achieved celebrity. She entered into print, too, her story one of rebirth which was of more general relevance to Puritan piety, but this presence in print was mediated by male divines and authors. Little is known about her besides this: female prophecy was a fleeting, mediated, kind of power.79
This filled a role rather like astrology, but was a distinctively feminine realm, or at least a sphere in which women had easier access to public authority. But, for that very reason, sects were regarded with suspicion, as potentially subversive of stable patriarchal order. Prophecy was dangerously subversive in other ways – an authentic personal revelation overrode the claims of law, custom, status and tradition. As a licence for change it was very alluring; but it was an authority to be urged with caution. The validation and interpretation of visions were highly problematic.80
There were others too – Elizabeth Poole, who prophesied to the General Council of the Army, and Mary Cary. And women wrote theology as well as uttering prophecy. One of Thomas Edwards’s chief interlocutors in his role as hammer of the sects was Katherine Chidley; in fact she was one of the only writers to respond to Edwards in 1641 – a source of irritation to him in itself. She had a long career as proselytizer in the Independent churches in London, as a pamphleteer and, later, Leveller petitioner. Lady Eleanor Davies, for further example, published at least thirty-seven tracts between 1641 and 1652.81
But while these women found a voice, and some of them found considerable influence, they often sought to present themselves in ways that conformed to convention – the relative independence of these women did not necessarily lead them to call for, or enact, radical action or social transformation. Within the Independent churches men often continued to claim a spiritual superiority, and the Levellers did not seek to extend the parliamentary franchise to women; their claim was for a spiritual rather than civic equality. For the Levellers, the cornerstone of political decency was the household, and their view of that institution was in many ways conventional. This was more generally true of women’s writing during the period, which claimed a voice for women without, on the whole, repudiating male authority. Much the same has been said of the women who petitioned and demonstrated, notably Elizabeth Lilburne, wife of John. Women active in print, and politics more widely, often worked for ‘less spectacular, all-consuming goals, such as sustaining businesses, households, and families’.82
John Taylor famously claimed that the world was being turned upside down and many of his readers may have believed him. We know that there were even some people who actually did want to see the world turned upside down. There is also little doubt about the practical disruption of the routines of local life: the absence of quarter sessions and assizes, the absence of established governors, the disruptions caused by tax demands and troop movements. In many ways, however, the routines of social life survived. In 1645 clubmen movements were to claim a voice for the rural middling sort, and even some of their poor neighbours, but in a respectable political idiom. The same was true of many of the women who emerged into public view, and may have been true of most men too. Established habits survived in a more profound sense too: in the persistence of familiar languages and metaphors of political life. Cheap print is full of the same stock of ideas which had served to make sense of the world before 1642: that no new languages had been found which could deal with the new circumstances was in fact an important part of the problem. Honour codes had emerged and survived, albeit under strain; order had been imposed, more or less, on the exaction of resources to support the war. We will never have any quantitative certainty about these things, but it seems likely that the fears were much worse than the reality.
That is not the main, or only, point, however: anxieties were probably of more political significance than realities, and fuelled a desire to protect these fundamental values. Moreover, our difficulty in assessing how seriously to take the fears expressed in these pamphlets mirrors a widespread contemporary uncertainty about the trustworthiness of cheap print. Lack of certainty is no reassurance in the face of anxiety; and anxiety, however unjustified by actual conditions, is a potent political force.
By 1645 there were no signs of a social revolution, despite contemporary fears and satirical attacks on upstart governors. Clearly, military, economic and governmental opportunities arose for relatively humble men and some women. Some eminent men lost their shirts, or their offices. The New Model Army officer corps included men of middling status, but continued to be leavened by the sons of the gentry and aristocracy,83 local government and Parliament were still peopled by the landed classes. There were mechanic preachers, of course, but they were heavily outnumbered by Oxbridge graduates in possession of church livings. Nonetheless there were clearly benefits as well as costs, and Self-Denial was not a confected political issue: fortunes were being made and opportunities taken up as others suffered dreadfully.