The Trial of Charles 1 – a dramatic reconstruction!

Some months ago, I was asked to write a play.
Something suitable to be performed in Sandwich’s ancient courtroom
during both the annual Festival and Arts Week.
This, since I’ve never written a play before, was a bit scary … but here is the result.


The cover of our programme

Every member of the cast is portraying a real person and all the language in the actual trial sequences is authentic … words spoken by the King himself and by the various officers of the court. Even my own additional scenes feature people who were really there.  (For my sins, I’ll be playing the part of Anne Fairfax!)  If you’ve ever wondered what really happened during those four days in January 1649, it’s in our play – warts and all, as someone who shall be nameless once said.

Our beautiful courtroom, dating from the reign of Elizabeth 1

To our amazement and delight, tickets for both August performances sold out within five days.  But anyone who missed out will have the chance to catch this unique performance when we repeat it on September 17th & 18th for Sandwich Arts Week.

Katherine Stuart, Lady d’ Aubigny

Daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, little is known of Kate’s early years or education. In May 1638 she secretly married Lord George Stuart, ninth Seigneur d’Aubigny and second son of the Duke of Lennox.  Clearly, it was a love-match; less clear is why neither Kate’s parents nor the King, who was guardian to the Stuart brothers, would consent to the match.  But the young pair did it anyway and had it commemorated in two sumptuous portraits by Van Dyck.  The one of George (now in the National Portrait Gallery) bears the motto, ‘Love is stronger than I am’.

The couple had two children.  Tragically, however, George was killed at the battle of Edgehill in October 1642 leaving his young widow not just heart-broken but in financial difficulties. Since George hadn’t made a will, Kate couldn’t gain access  to his money.

In May 1643, she got Parliament’s permission to come to London to deal with her husband’s affairs.  Kate used this opportunity to deliver the King’s Commission of Array (aimed at raising forces among royalist sympathizers in the city) to fellow-conspirator Edmund Waller.  It’s said she frequently carried secret messages hidden in her curls! Unfortunately, the Waller Plot was betrayed and some of the obscurer figures involved in it were hanged by Parliament. Kate claimed the protection of the French ambassador, by virtue of her husband’s French title, but was none the less imprisoned in the Tower for some months.

By late 1648 Katherine had married her second husband, a Scottish gentleman of the bedchamber to the King – James Livingston, Viscount Newburgh.  They did not have children.

In December 1648, only weeks before his trial and execution, Charles I spent a night at the Newburghs’ house in Surrey, on his way from the Isle of Wight to Windsor, and the couple seem to have made some attempt to secure his escape. Their plans were foiled by the precautions of Major-General Thomas Harrison, but they were able to pass messages from Charles to his exiled queen.

Following the regicide the Newburghs joined other royalist exiles at The Hague. Kate died there in 1650 and was survived by her husband, who was created Earl of Newburgh in 1660 on the Restoration.

The Sixth Man

Sir Richard Willys     1614-1690

The Sealed Knot was a secret organisation formed between November 1653 and February 1654. It’s purpose was to co-ordinate and control all Royalist conspiracies in England,to keep the wilder elements in check and to prepare for an uprising against the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.  Centuries later, this idea conjures up romantic images of gallant gentlemen risking their lives in Scarlet Pimpernel-like activities.  Sadly, the reality was rather different … because the Knot never really achieved anything.

It was made up of six members. Five were younger sons of influential and, in most cases, rich families; the sixth man wasn’t.

Lord Belasyse, the second son of Lord Fauconberg was related to both John Lambert and Thomas Fairfax.
Lord Loughborough was the second son of the Earl of Huntingdon.
Sir William Compton was a younger son of the Earl of Northampton.
Colonel John Russell,third son of the Earl of Bedford, was related to Lords Bristol and Newport.
Colonel Edward Villiers, also a younger son, was related to the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Suffolk and Sir Edward Hyde – to name but a few.
Sir Richard Willys was the son of a Cambridgeshire lawyer and wasn’t related to anyone of note.

Willys fought abroad in the Thirty Years War before returning to serve King Charles in 1639.  He earned his knighthood and the rank of Colonel during a cavalry skirmish in October 1642.  Two months later, he was taken prisoner but managed to escape and in 1643 he became a Major-General of forces in Cheshire and Shropshire.  He was captured again in January 1644 and spent nine months in the Tower before being released in an exchange of prisoners. Once free, he joined forces with Prince Rupert at Bristol.

In May of 1645, Willys was appointed Governor of Newark … and this is where bad-timing, conflicting personalities and tactlessness all came into play.

In June, the King’s army was destroyed by the New Model at Naseby. In September, the surrender of Bristol cost Prince Rupert his commission, his uncle’s favour and his reputation. He was ordered to leave the country. He didn’t. Instead, he followed Charles 1 to Newark, intent on getting a court martial to clear his name.

Richard Willys was pro-Rupert and didn’t mind showing it. When the King arrived at Newark, Willys met him at the gate; by contrast, when Rupert turned up shortly afterwards, he greeted him two miles outside the town with a full military escort. Already critical of the behaviour of some of Willys’s men, Charles took this as an act of defiance and a personal affront. Although he allowed Rupert a court-martial (which found the Prince not guilty) he revoked Willys’s appointment as Governor of Newark and replaced him with Lord Belasyse.

The result was an angry, undignified and public quarrel. There were even treasonous rumblings about making Rupert King – an idea the Prince strongly repudiated.  (See A Splendid Defiance for more on this). Rupert’s friends took Willys’s dismissal as a further attack on them while Willys himself took umbrage at the slur on his ability to command and challenged Belasyse to a duel. Actually, provoking Belasyse wouldn’t have been very difficult his lordship already had a reputation for duelling. But the King forbade the two men to fight – with the result that ill-feeling between them lingered on and manifested itself a decade later in the affairs of the Sealed Knot.

In May 1654, Willys was arrested in the wake of a plot to assassinate Cromwell – a plot he’d had no part in – and was convinced that he had been betrayed to the authorities by Lord Belasyse.   In this, he was mistaken.  His arrest was merely one of many at this time – in fact, Edward Villiers was detained along with him. Interestingly, neither arrest was anything to do with the Sealed Knot … for though Secretary of State and Spymaster-General John Thurloe already knew it existed, he didn’t yet have any names.  If he’d known he had two of its members in custody, the next phase of Willys’s story might have happened sooner.

In the latter part of 1656 and while still a member of the Knot, Willys started supplying Thurloe with information. His reasons for this are unclear but the most likely one is that he thought the writing was on the wall and the King’s cause irretrievably lost.  At any rate, he seems to have been selective about what he told Thurloe and also made it a condition that no Royalist should be executed as a result of his information.

For three years, apparently unsuspected by his friends and associates, Willys remained a double-agent,  contributing to the Sealed Knot’s consistent lack of success. And when his treachery finally came to light in July 1659, it wasn’t thanks to the Knot.  He nefarious doings were revealed to Sir Edward Hyde by one of Thurloe’s assistants.

As a consequence and regardless of his military achievements, Sir Richard Willys has gone down in history as the man who betrayed the Sealed Knot.

At the Restoration in 1660, he was denounced as a traitor and condemned to death. He was later pardoned on condition that he never attended court or came into the presence of Charles ll. He lived quietly in Cambridgeshire until his death in 1690.


Sir John Suckling

1609 to 1642

Sandy-haired and slightly-built, Sir John Suckling had a passion for clothes, cards and women. He was also a courtier, an MP, a soldier, a wit and a poet. In January of 1641, he attended the marriage festivities of the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter, Margaret, to a son of the wealthy Earl of Cork and composed a ballad for the bride.
Her feet beneath her petticoat like little mice, stole in and out as if they feared the light;
But oh she dances such a way!  No sun upon an Easter-day is half so fine a sight.

Within eighteen months of this happy occasion, Suckling would be dead.

He was born in Twickenham, Middlesex, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and inherited his father’s estate at the age of eighteen. After a couple of years travelling abroad, he returned to England in 1630 and was knighted by Charles l but the following year saw him volunteering to fight in Germany under Gustavus Adolphus, one of the best military brains of his day. Once more back in England, Suckling turned his attention to less war-like pursuits.

He was a highly-adept  card-player, his preferred game being Cribbage which he is reputed to have invented himself.  He apparently travelled around the homes of various friends with whom he played ‘crib’ – from which he seems to have won an extraordinary amount of money.  Perhaps as much as £20,000 which would equate to something in the region of four million by today’s values.  If this was so, later events shed some light on what he did with this fortune.

Suckling and his friends William Davenant, Richard Lovelace and Edmund Waller have become known to us as the Cavalier Poets.  There were other Cavaliers who wrote poetry but these four are considered a case apart – mainly because of their involvement in the conflict between Charles l and his Parliament.  Of the four of them, Suckling probably took his poetry least seriously but much of it remains known to us.  In 1638 he published his play Aglaura which, though not a critical success, was performed twice at the palace of Whitehall.  Later in the same year, he followed Aglaura up with The Goblins which may have been his best work – although it was clearly influenced by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  A collection of his poems was first published in 1646 and would have included well-known verses such as Out Upon It I Have Loved, Why So Pale And Wan Fond Lover and When Dearest I But Think On Thee.

In 1639 and at a personal cost of £12,000, Suckling raised a troop of Horse to serve the King in the first Bishops’ War in Scotland.  But by May of 1641, the world was rapidly changing as relations between King and Parliament deteriorated.  Suckling took an active part in a plot to rescue the imprisoned Earl of Strafford and then in the so-called Army Plot, the aim of which was to seize the Tower of London.  His involvement in both of these enterprises was betrayed to the Parliament by his brother-in-law, George Goring and, having been declared guilty of treason, Sucking was forced to flee the country.

He died a year later  in Paris, utterly penniless and was buried there in a Protestant cemetery.  Some say his death was caused by a razor-blade or nail driven into the sole of his boot by a thieving and ill-natured servant.  The truth, sadly, is that he almost certainly perished by his own hand, having taken poison.

I prithee send me back my heart since I cannot have thine
For if from yours you will not part – why then shouldst thou have mine?
Yet now I think on’t, let it lie … to find it were in vain
For thou hast a thief in either eye to steal it back again.


‘A Welshwoman of no good fame, but handsome …’


1630 – 1658

Lucy was born in Roch Castle near Haverfordwest in Wales, the daughter of middle-class gentry.  Her family supported Charles 1 and, as a consequence, Roch Castle was burned by Parliamentary forces in 1644.  Lucy lived in London for a time before travelling to The Hague where, in the summer of 1648, she caught the eye of the young Prince of Wales.  She may have been Charles’s first real mistress but he was certainly not her first lover.  An earlier affair had taken place with Colonel Robert Sidney – whose brother, Algernon, had paid fifty gold pieces for Lucy’s favours but been forced to rejoin his regiment before he could claim them.  This seems to say everything we need to know about Lucy’s morals.

In April 1649, Lucy bore a son, James.  Charles acknowledged paternity and later created the boy, Duke of Monmouth.  Then, in June of the following year, Charles sailed to Scotland where he was crowned in January 1651 and led the ill-fated Worcester campaign in an attempt to regain his throne.  While he was away, Lucy had an affair with Viscount Taafe and produced a daughter, Mary.

On his return to Paris from Worcester in the autumn of 1651, Charles officially ended his liaison with Lucy with a gift of pearls – though it’s hard to say how he afforded them.  Lucy then set about trying to get his attention by involving herself in a series of embarrassing scandals that rocked and dismayed the English court-in-exile.  Charles wanted to remove young James from her influence – even attempting to kidnap the child – but to no avail.  In 1656, Lucy took both children to London where she was arrested as a spy and incarcerated in the Tower of London for a couple of weeks before being released and deported to the Low Countries.

She died in in Paris in 1658 – probably of venereal disease.

Lucy’s importance to history is solely through her son, James.  When, in the mid to late 1670’s, it became clear that Charles ll would never have a legitimate son and that his successor would therefore be his Catholic younger brother, the Country Party in England devised something they called the Exclusion Bill.  Its purpose was to exclude the Duke of York from the succession and replace him with Lucy’s son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. This meant it would be extremely convenient if  Monmouth could be proved (or at least seen to be) legitimate.  And since Charles stubbornly refused to budge on the issue, many people chose to believe that he and Lucy Walter had been secretly married … and that their marriage-lines reposed in a mysterious Black Box belonging to the bishop who’d heard Lucy’s final confession.

It is certainly true that, when Charles first terminated their affair, Lucy went around calling herself his wife.  But is it really likely that, either during the last months of his father’s life or in the first months of his own kingship, Charles would have done anything so rash and stupid?  I think not.

You can meet Lucy in The King’s Falcon, due for release soon.



This is a bit different to my usual Who’s Who in that it’s not nearly as detailed.  George, John and Bernard Stuart are largely known to us through Van Dyck’s outstanding portraits and details of their actual lives are very thin on the ground.  Despite this – and for reasons that will become clear as you read the few lines below – I felt there was a strong case for featuring them.

Esme Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox and his wife Katherine had eleven children, six of whom were sons.   Henry died at the age of sixteen, Francis at less than a year.  Of the remaining four, only one – Ludovic –  survived the Civil War.

Lord George Stuart, 9th Seigneur d’Aubigny



George was brought up in France by his grandmother and, on the death of his father, he became a ward of Charles 1. When his brother, Henry, died in 1632, he inherited the title of Lord d’Aubigny.
Returning to England in 1636, he married Katherine, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, secretly and without her father’s permission – which suggests that the two of them were very much in love. They had two children, a son and a daughter.

George died of injuries received at the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642.  He was twenty-four years old.

On a separate note, his widow later re-married and became Lady Newburgh.  She and her husband were suspected of Royalist plotting after the 2nd Civil War and forced to flee abroad – though the date they did so is unclear as we know Charles 1 spent a night at their home on his final journey from Carisbrooke to London.  You can meet Katherine [Kate] at the King’s trial in Garland of Straw.


Lord John Stuart 1621-1644  and  Lord Bernard Stuart 1623-1645


Like his brothers, John [the one wearing gold]  entered the King’s service at the start of the Civil War.  He died at the Battle of Cheriton in March, 1644, aged twenty-three.

Bernard was created Earl of Lichfield as a reward for his gallantry at the first and second Battles of Newbury.  He died of wounds sustained whilst leading a sortie against Parliamentary besiegers at the Battle of Rowton Heath.  He was twenty-two.

All wars are fought by young men and the Civil War was no different.  At present, many people around the world are remembering the sons and brothers, husbands and fathers who lost their lives in the First World War.  The tragic losses suffered by the Stuart family in the 1640’s is a perfect illustration of  how little things change.

As with several other portraits in my Who’s Who collection, the ones shown here are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, London.



Countess of Derby

Of all the ladies who defended hearth and home in the absence of their menfolk, Lady Derby is probably one of the most well-known.

Born at Poitou in France, Charlotte was the daughter of the Duc de Thouars and Princess Charlotte Brabantine of Orange-Nassau. She was a grand-daughter of William the Silent and like her cousin, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, she came from the world of Calvinist royalty and the high nobility of Europe.

In 1626, Charlotte married James Stanley, Lord Strange, in a splendid ceremony in The Hague. But when the couple returned to the English court, they found little favour with either Charles 1 or Henrietta Maria and retired to their principal family seat at Lathom House, a few miles north-west of Manchester, where they lived quietly for the next fifteen years.

Everything changed in 1642. Civil War broke out and James’ father died, making him the 7th Earl of Derby. High-handed, confrontational and reputedly quarrelsome, the new Earl was no favourite with the Lancashire Roundheads; and Charlotte, regardless of her Huguenot connections, had no love for the Puritans – looking on them as rebels, not only against the King, but also against her own family. With the stage thus set, Lord Derby rode off to fight for Charles 1 … and Charlotte was left to hold Lathom House.

Lathom was a fortified palace, dating from the time of Henry V11. Surrounded by turreted battlements and a moat, it was difficult to storm and virtually impossible to bombard. The first summons to surrender came in 1643 and Charlotte replied with a indignant refusal. For the next few months, although a virtual prisoner inside her own walls, she was left in relative peace and was able to lay in supplies in the event of a siege and also to increase the size of her small garrison to a total of roughly 300 men.

Her precautions were to prove wise. In February 1644, the local Roundheads decided it was time to crush the nest of Cavaliers within their midst. Thanks to the presence nearby of Sir Thomas Fairfax, this began civilly enough. Charlotte was asked to leave, refused to do so, invited Sir Thomas to call on her and sent him away feeling reluctant to assault a lady of high birth in her own house. So far, so good. Fairfax left Colonel Alexander Rigby with instructions not to attempt to storm the house but simply to lay siege in the hope that Charlotte would eventually surrender.

She didn’t. Rigby, a fanatical Puritan and bitter enemy of Lord Derby, followed Fairfax’s orders to begin with because he’d been told that Lathom’s supplies wouldn’t last more than two weeks. Needless to say, the realisation that he’d been mis-informed made him rather annoyed.

The first shot in what was to be an eleven week siege was fired on March 12th, 1644. Charlotte and her garrison were ready and, on the following day, made a sally during which 30 of the enemy were killed at no loss to themselves. Other sallies slowed down construction of the Roundhead earthworks – so much so that it was three weeks before they were able to start using their cannon and even then their shots went too high to do much damage.

At this point, Colonel Rigby sent to London for a huge mortar. This fired grenadoes [a sort of bomb] and eighty-pound boulders on to the house and, for the first time, lives inside Lathom House were at risk. One grenado exploded close to the room in which Charlotte was dining with her officers; another demolished buildings in the courtyard; and a boulder smashed through the window of Charlotte’s bedroom.

At the end of April, Rigby resolved to use fireballs but presaged this by yet another summons. Charlotte replied that she’d set fire to the house herself and perish within it before handing it over to an insolent rebel. Then, as soon as the Colonel’s messenger had left, she planned a particularly daring exploit. At dawn the following day, her soldiers sallied out, drove the enemy from their works and captured Colonel Rigby’s mortar. In triumph, they hauled the hated weapon back to Lathom and rejoiced to see it lying amongst them like a dead lion.

Doubtless gnashing his teeth, Rigby now had little choice but to starve the garrison out. However, on May 27th came news that Prince Rupert was approaching and the Colonel wisely decided not to stay and meet him. The Roundhead army fled and the siege was over. Only six members of the garrison had died and Rupert gave Charlotte all of Rigby’s colours as a tribute to her gallantry.

After the defeat at Marston Moor spelled ruin for the Royalist cause in Lancashire, Lathom was again besieged – but this time it was captured and then razed to the ground.

During the 1650’s, Charlotte and her daughters lived in severely reduced circumstances on the Isle of Man. Lord Derby joined Charles 11 on the Worcester campaign of 1651 but was caught and executed in October of that year.

When Charles was restored in 1660, Charlotte campaigned vigorously but with little success to have all the the family lands returned to her son, the 8th Earl. She died four years later and is buried in the Derby aisle of the church in Ormskirk.


James Graham 1612 to 1650
5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Montrose


Portrait by Gerrard von Honthurst

I should begin by saying that, since Montrose is one of my great heroes, I won’t be making any attempt to be unbiased here. This one is personal.

Born at Montrose and heir to one of the most ancient and noble Scottish families, James Graham might well be described as the perfect Renaissance gentleman. He was a soldier, a scholar, a poet and the epitome of Christian chivalry. He rode well and was extremely athletic; he enjoyed books and the arts and held deep religious convictions. He was also very good-looking – curling chestnut hair, clear grey eyes and a splendid figure.

When Archbishop Laud’s new prayer book was introduced in Scotland in 1637, Montrose – though a Royalist – was one of the first to sign the National Covenant. Originally, he didn’t see this as opposition to the Crown. He saw it as a matter of spiritual liberty and, initially, even fought in the Bishops’ Wars of 1639-40 until doubts set in, causing him to distance himself from the increasing despotism of the Kirk. This brought him into conflict with Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll – with the result that Montrose, by now in direct contact with Charles 1, was imprisoned for five months without trial.

Montrose finally joined the King in Oxford in 1643 and, in March of the following year, rode north as His Majesty’s Lieutenant-General in Scotland. With only two companions but recruiting as he went, he winnowed his way through the Covenant-dominated lowlands to his home territory of Perthshire; and there, in July, his thousand or so Highlanders were joined by 1,600 Irishmen led by the somewhat colourful Alasdair Coll Keitach.

As Max Hastings puts it in his outstanding biography, The King’s Lieutenant-General had been granted the steel spearhead of an army. Montrose’s Year of Miracles had begun.

Inevitably, this little army was ill-armed and poorly-equipped. But in August 1644 at Tippermuir, Montrose defeated a force twice the size of his own and took Perth. A month later, it was the turn of Aberdeen – by which time Argyll was giving chase. It is worth noting here that, due to Argyll’s seizure of their lands, both the Highlanders and the Irishmen were blood enemies of the Clan Campbell.

Drawing the Covenanting army out of England was exactly what Montrose had been hoping for but his own inferior numbers made it necessary to lead Argyll a merry dance, rather than be brought to battle at a time and place not of his choosing. In October and virtually out of ammunition, he was at Fyvie Castle melting pewter chamber-pots down to make bullets. And then, as winter was setting in, he and his small army did the impossible.

They vanished into the sow and ice of the Grampians, crossing the mountains in severe weather and with little suitable clothing. Their journey covered some 200 miles and, tiring of both pursuit and the freezing conditions, Argyll retired to his castle at Inverary – a decision he was to regret when Montrose’s force arrived without warning in January of 1645 and the Irish and Highlanders book both the castle and their long-awaited revenge.

The Annus Mirabilis continued. Montrose triumphed at Inverlochy in February, Auldearn in May and Alford in July. His victory at Kilsyth in August made him master of Scotland. Glasgow opened its gates and Edinburgh freed its Royalist prisoners. It seemed the moment was now ripe for Montrose to march south and mend the King’s fortunes in England.

It was not to be. The Highlanders and Irish refused to march south with the Clan Campbell in their rear. Consequently, Montrose left Glasgow with only six hundred men to face six thousand under the command of David Leslie. The result was a foregone conclusion. Montrose was utterly defeated at Philiphaugh near Selkirk in September and the Year of Miracles was over.

Now a fugitive, Montrose fled to the continent. He was hailed as a hero in Vienna and Paris, given a Marshal’s baton by the Emperor and offered high military command by Mazarin. It is also possible that, at this time, he formed a close relationship with Rupert of the Rhine’s sister, Princess Louise, and that they planned to marry. This may be no more than a charming story – or it could be true. The portrait of Montrose [above] is ‘attribulted’ to Gerard Honthurst – but Louise was a talented artist who had studied under Honthurst. Since her family was always short of money, she needed to sell her work and some of it was signed by Honthurst because his name fetched a higher price than her own. So did Honthurst paint Montrose – or did Louise? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Time wore on but Montrose’s loyalty and hopes were still with the Royalist cause and in April 1650 he returned to Scotland with a few hundred men from Orkney and a handful of Danes. Three weeks later, his forces were annihilated at Carbisdale. Former friends who might have helped him didn’t and he was captured. Under the auspices of his old enemy, Argyll, he was executed at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on May 21st.

His last words from the scaffold were:

I leave my soul to God, my service to my prince, my goodwill to my friends, my and love and charity to you all.

His head was placed on a spike at the Tolbooth prison and his limbs severed for distribution to Glasgow, Stirling, Perth and Aberdeen.
montrosegraveEleven years later on May 11th, 1661 while Argyll lay in a dungeon awaiting his own fate, the people of Edinburgh lined the streets as the remains of the Lord Marquis were given a State Funeral and interred in a magnificent tomb in St Giles’ Cathedral. The King’s Champion was finally laid to rest with all the honour that was his due.

The inscription below the effigy are words of Montrose’s own, written whilst awaiting execution.

Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air;
Lord! Since thou knowest whence all these atoms are,
I’m hopeful thou’lt recover once my dust,
And confident thou’lt raise me with the just.

I’ve visited Montrose’s tomb many times over the years. It’s not just beautiful; it’s a little oasis of tranquillity where one may sit for a while and remember a remarkable man. Like other visitors, I’ve always left a small tribute – my preference being for a single red rose. But on one occasion when this wasn’t possible, I left a large purple thistle. I don’t say the one in the photograph above is mine – but it very well could be.

And a brief footnote to this tale of two Marquises …
On May 27th 1661, the Marquis of Argyll was also executed at the Mercat Cross and his head placed on the same spike previously occupied by Montrose. I call this fitting. Argyll’s tomb lies on the opposite side of the nave of St Giles’ Cathedral to that of my hero.
I have never seen it.

One of the ‘Roaring Boys’?

Lord George Goring 1608 to 1657

When he was twenty-one years old, George Goring married the daughter of the millionaire Earl of Cork. She brought him an impressive dowry of £10,000 – which he soon squandered on cards, dice and debauchery before taking military service in Holland. By the time he was thirty, he had acquired a reputation as a gambler, a libertine and a soldier.


The famous siege of Breda in 1637 left Goring with a shattered ankle, a permanent limp – and presumably also permanent pain – but he didn’t let this stand in his way and, when he returned to England, he accepted the post of Governor of Portsmouth.

The Earl of Clarendon [who plainly didn’t like him!] declared that, ‘he would have broken any trust or done any act of treachery to satisfy an ordinary passion or appetite.’ A severe criticism perhaps, but not unjustified. Goring’s actions between 1640 and 1642 don’t do him much credit. He managed to convince Parliament of his loyalty whilst making Portsmouth a base for the King; he was deeply involved in the Army Plots of 1641 but betrayed both of them to the Commons; and when the Civil War began, he declared openly for Charles 1 but surrendered Portsmouth within a month and decamped for Holland.

He didn’t remain abroad for long. Once back in England, he distinguished himself as a cavalry leader in the north, was taken prisoner in 1643 and released in 1644. He commanded a wing of the Royalist Horse at Marston Moor where he acquitted himself well against Fairfax only to be routed by Cromwell – and it was at this point that the rot seems to have set in. Goring had always been unreliable and was notorious for letting his men run amok. But after Marston Moor he appears to have started hitting the bottle with serious regularity whilst going out of his way to become a thorn in Prince Rupert’s side.

In the latter, he was ably assisted by Lords Wilmot and Digby – the three of them joining forces to intrigue against Rupert and to obstruct him at every turn. Inevitably, this constant ill-feeling and the resulting arguments was to eventually prove disastrous to the King’s cause.

In August 1644, Goring – now Captain of Horse in the West Country – let the Roundhead cavalry slip through his fingers at Lostwithiel but redeemed himself with a gallant showing at the battle of Newbury two months later. However, the following year saw him refusing to join Rupert before the battle of Naseby, preferring to spend his time in idle, largely drunken resentment – occasionally punctuated by bursts of action. During the next few months, he lost Taunton and caused a local rebellion by letting his men loot homes and kill livestock. By the time the Roundheads wiped him out at Langport in July 1645, he was widely regarded as ‘the evil genius of the war in the West‘.

With the King’s cause past saving, Goring went to the Netherlands and, from there, to command English regiments in Spanish service. He was to spend the rest of his days there, dying in Madrid in 1657.

So what do we make of this man who, both during his lifetime and long after it, was either loved or reviled? Egotistical, charismatic, pleasure-seeking, wasteful, intelligent, quarrelsome, brave? All of those things, probably. He had a way with the ladies and was the kind of rakehell more commonly found after the Restoration. He diced and whored and drank … but he also had a natural military talent and the ability to inspire men. He was wildly ambitious – and equally wildly irresponsible; and though he possessed the potential for brilliance, he rarely achieved it.

Nowadays, a lot of people probably consider swaggering, hard-drinking, sword-out-at-the-drop-of-a-hat George Goring to be a typical Cavalier. I don’t think this is true. He was more than those things – and many of his contemporaries were none of them. But there seems little doubt that he was one of the Roaring Boys.


Sir William Compton

1625 to 1663


Portrait by Sir Peter Lely

William was the third son of Spencer Compton, the 3rd Earl of Northampton. He attended Eton between 1634 and 1636 and presumably went from there to either Oxford or Cambridge – though I haven’t been able to establish which. When the Civil War broke out, William was just seventeen years old but he fought with his father’s regiment at Edgehill and, when Banbury Castle fell to the Cavaliers four days later, Major Sir William Compton – assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Greene – became the Castle’s titular Governor. He also assembled a regiment of Foot under his father’s name … and, in a sense, they still exist today. Go to any Civil War battle re-enactment and you’re likely to find Lord Northampton’s green-jackets have set up camp.

I won’t go too deeply into Will’s time at Banbury. A large part of the garrison’s job was to keep Oxford supplied by raiding enemy convoys which made it a particular thorn in Parliament’s side and, even then, the town was a by-word for Puritanism. But until the summer of 1644, life in the Castle remained fairly quiet; mundane … possibly even tedious. And then the Parliament’s first serious attempt to re-take it changed all that.

The Great Siege of Banbury Castle lasted for fourteen weeks while 3,500 Parliamentarians threw everything they’d got against the 320 strong garrison. By the time the King sent help, the Cavaliers had neither powder, shot nor food and had eaten all but two of the horses. Read the full story of this and what happened afterwards in A Splendid Defiance.

After the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Greene in December ’44, William was raised to the rank of Colonel and got full Governorship of the Castle He was nineteen.
So what was this rather remarkable young man really like? Plainly, he had physical determination and courage; equally plainly, he possessed sufficient intelligence and authority to make men follow him despite his youth; and, in addition, he seems to have enforced a code of behaviour born of basic Anglican piety on the garrison – doubtless no easy task. But there is one particular incident which speaks of a passion for fairness … and that was his reaction to the attempt of his elder brother [now the 3rd Earl] to cashier Captain Tyrwhitt in 1645. William took up the cudgels in Tyrwhitt’s defence, defying his brother and stating that no officer of his would be cashiered in his absence for an unproven offence. He didn’t win – but, by God, he tried.

The Castle was besieged again in January of 1646 – this time by Colonel Whalley – and the Cavaliers held out until the King’s surrender made their own inevitable. William seems to have spent a large part of the next two years travelling abroad … probably in France and the Low Countries, perhaps even fighting in the Thirty Years War. He doesn’t re-emerge until 1648, when we hear of him settling on the estate in Kent granted to him by his grandfather. And the reason I’m featuring him in my Who’s Who now is because he pops back on to my pages in Garland of Straw.

As a Kentish land-owner, William automatically became involved in the risings that were part of the second Civil War. Now a Major-General, he fought at Maidstone and was an officer in Lord Norwich’s small, ill-fated army on the miserable journey [dogged every step of the way by Colonel Whalley] that eventually meandered its way to Colchester. After Banbury, William must have hoped never to find himself in a siege situation again … but to his superior officers [notably Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle] his experience must have been invaluable. Colchester held out from July 2nd to August 24th before surrendering to Sir Thomas Fairfax. Lucas and Lisle were put against a wall and shot. Sir William ended up in the Tower of London.

In 1651, Will married Elizabeth Tollemache and settled down in Cambridgeshire. He doesn’t appear to have taken part in the Worcester campaign – but he doesn’t appear to have retired from Royalist activities either. During 1652, he joined five other erstwhile Cavalier gentlemen in forming a secret society whose sole aim was the restoration of Charles 11. This clandestine group called themselves the Sealed Knot and made at least eight unsuccessful attempts over the next seven years. But, as time passed, four of Will’s co-conspirators concluded that a fifth member – Sir Richard Willys – had become a double-agent and was betraying them. Once again, William refused to accept a man’s guilt without solid evidence – and was excluded from the Knot as a result.

In 1660, Sir William sailed to Holland to escort King Charles 11 back from exile. He became an active member of the first two Cavalier Parliaments, serving on various committees and, we are told, often providing the voice of reason. Sadly, he died at his home in Drury Lane after a short and apparently sudden illness on October 18th, 1663. He was thirty-eight years old.

Samuel Pepys wrote of Sir William that ‘all of the world was saying he was one of the worthiest men and best officers of state in England‘ and also added that ‘no man ever spoke ill of him.

But who, after his conduct at Colchester, christened him The Godly Cavalier?
A surprise here.
It was Oliver Cromwell.