on 15 March 2013
This book purports to be about the massacre of Bolton, one of the most brutal episodes of the English Civil War when Prince Rupert's Royalist army assaulted the town and sacked it en route to their defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. The attack was unusual in its ferocity, more reminiscent of the 30 Years War in Germany than this conflict, and anyone who grows up in the area will learn about it as one of the most salient facts from local history.
In fact, the actual massacre of Bolton only occupies 7 pages of this book, which covers the Civil Wars in the wider county of Lancashire from 1642, and includes the Second and Third Civil Wars as well (in 1648 and 1651, which saw important actions at Preston and Wigan respectively). Whereas some of the wider war needed to be covered to put the massacre in context (e.g. the Siege of Lathom House), the book goes for a much wider coverage than that, perhaps because otherwise there would not be enough material for more than a short monograph. The book really should be called `a History of the Civil Wars in Lancashire'. I think a recent book has been published with a similar title so perhaps that is one reason why the more dramatic name was chosen.
The fighting in Lancashire was widespread and vicious in part because in the period leading up to the Civil War the county manifested in concentrated form the divisions of the country as a whole. Lancashire was a predominantly rural in the 1640s with only 11% of the population of 150,000 living in towns with more than 1,000 people. The larger towns, even then flourishing through the textile industry, were concentrated in the Salford Hundred in the South East of the County, including Bolton but also Rochdale, Salford and particularly Manchester, `the very London of these parts' which were all strongly Puritan. This was the only area in the county where Parliamentarian gentry outnumbered Royalist: in total 177 families where the allegiance is known were Royalist, compared to 91 on the other side. The majority of convicted recusants in England were in Lancashire, which was the most Catholic county in the country, with most of them concentrated in the rural north.
One thing I had not realised before reading this book was that Bolton was in total assaulted 3 times during the First Civil War, the first 2 attacks being unsuccessful. A mud wall was built to protect the town before the 1st assault, similar to that built in Manchester by the 30 Years War veteran John Rosworm, which helped that city repel a Royalist attack shortly after the war started. Old Medieval walls made of brick & masonry afforded no protection against modern artillery, but earthworks could absorb their destructive power. There was also a sconce south of the walls beyond Bradshawgate, and 2 others outside the walls.
The 1st assault on Bolton was made in February 1643. It is likely that the attack was led by Scots Sergeant Major General Blair, leading forces up from Wigan. They surprised the town's scouts & had they led an immediate assault they might have caught the garrison unawares & been successful. Instead they decided to invest the town, whose defence was led by Colonel Ralph Assheton of Middleton (of the same family as Baron Clitheroe of Downham), and was ultimately successful in repelling the eventual assault with heavy casualties inflicted on the attackers.
Lord Derby, as the head of the powerful Stanley family, was the natural leader of Royalist forces in Lancashire. After retaking Preston, he again marched against Bolton in March 1643, and again the Royalists delayed their attack, giving time for reinforcements from Bury to bolster the defence, and yet again the assault failed. After more inconclusive fighting Derby mustered more troops in Preston and in April marched along the Ribble Valley. The Parliamentary leader Shuttleworth wanted to withdraw in the face of much larger forces but his soldiers refused to leave their homes to plunder, and surprised the Royalist army, which disintegrated after walking into a trap at Read Bridge near Whalley. Most of the remaining Royalist forces then retreated into Yorkshire. The virtual collapse of the Royalist cause in Lancashire led to calls for Derby's replacement, but although his military prowess left much to be desired Charles resisted the calls to remove him because of his loyalty.
Derby retreated to shore up his stronghold of the Isle of Man against attack by the Parliamentarian navy, leaving his redoubtable wife Lady Charlotte behind to defend the family seat of Lathom House, which was soon the target of the victorious Parliamentarians. In the aftermath the Parliamentarians called her in comparison to her husband`of the two the better souldier'. This was obviously intended as a back-handed complement but it was accurate enough. Lady Derby's chaplain, Samuel Rutter, succeeded in fooling the besiegers with an outrageous bluff. When Sir Thomas Fairfax sent a delegation to discuss surrender, Rutter saw an old school friend amongst the party, Captain Ashurst, & told him that the Countess was not worried about a direct assault but was concerned that the garrison did not have enough provisions to survive even a short siege. This was the complete opposite of the truth, as the besiegers outnumbered the garrison 10:1 and had ample stores. The ruse worked & the Parliamentarians decided to besiege the House. Fairfax soon left & local commanders Alexander Rigby & Assheton fell out which meant that the latter withdrew from the siege altogether. Rain and attacks by the defenders to spike the guns hampered the siege which finally ended with Rupert's march into Lancashire, as part of the agreed Royalist strategy for the year, the intention being to link up with the Duke of Newcastle and relieve the siege of York. Colonel Rigby withdrew with all his forces into Bolton, which was the prelude to the 3rd assault on it.
The Royalists attacking Bolton were enraged when the defenders hung a prisoner from the walls. He might have been Irish (and therefore demonised by English Puritans) and was probably an officer. The defenders were flushed with the success of staving off the 1st assault but this act of murdering a captured prisoner in cold blood in front of the Royalist army was an act of suicidal folly. There is no definitive evidence but it must be quite likely that this was at the instigation of Rigby, who had already exhibited an unfortunate combination of ruthless vindictiveness & bad judgement at various times during the war. This event was the reason why Rupert forbade offering quarter to anyone. Once a former Boltonian had shown a party of Royalist horse how to get through the defences in an area called Private Acres, or Back Acres, near Deansgate the result was inevitable. No-one knows how many were killed. Probably 600 Royalists died & over 1,000 of the Parliamentary soldiers. The estimate by some historians of 800 townspeople killed is probably too high, more likely to be closer to 100: the parish registers identify 78 slain.
Bolton had its revenge on the leading local Royalist several years later. During the 3rd Civil War in 1651, Derby was beaten again, his Royalist army being shattered at at the Battle of Wigan Lane by forces led by Colonel Robert Lillburne, the elder brother of the famous Leveller. Derby's forces outnumbered Lillburne's, who wanted to withdraw. Derby charged him & was in the thick of the action & badly wounded, & the leading local Royalist Sir Thomas Tyldesley was killed. The area is still known as Bloody Mountain & a monument was erected to Tyldesley which still stands. Derby managed to join the King but surrendered to a Parliamentarian officer after the Battle of Worcester which ended the war.
The Earl of Derby was condemned along with fellow prisoners taken at Worcester at a tribunal in Chester. He was taken into Bolton down the road which became Derby Street in 1651 to face his execution. He had escaped from imprisonment in Chester before being sent there but couldn't find the boat on the Dee which was waiting for him, and seemingly hapless as ever, mistook his pursuers for his friends. Whatever can be said about Derby's competence (& maybe he was just very unlucky), he was certainly brave enough, as he showed at Wigan Lane and in the way he faced his execution.
Objects relating to the execution, possibly mythical, can still be found in Bolton including a chair which Derby supposedly sat in in the Man & Scythe pub in Churchgate (which according to Casserly was broken by a member of the Who in 1967 after a gig in the town). The purported skull of Derby's executioner, George Whowell, is on view in the Pack Horse in Affetside, where after the Restoration some of Derby's supporters allegedly caught up with Whowell & killed him. One legend has it that the head was stuck on a pole outside the pub, another that the skull was taken there by a family member when they left their farm in 1829 as it was George's local.
There is quite a lot of padding in this book, e.g. the origins of place and street names in Bolton is not really that relevant, and, as noted below, is not always that accurate either. Also at various places there are lists of participants in various actions which are not very interesting & whose purpose seems only to be to fill out the narrative. I would guess that the author is neither a professional historian or writer: the writing is a bit uneven as one would expect from someone who is not an experienced author. The 1st chapter, The Path to War, which sets the background to the conflict in both Lancashire and the British Isles as whole is a bit ponderous & cliché-ridden, but after that the style settles down and the book mostly flows quite well and is easy to read.
The plot of the book is a bit confusing, as the second chapter describes the origins and history of Bolton since Saxon times, before the next chapter resumes the story of the opening of the Civil War. Since the majority of the book is more about Lancashire generally rather than Bolton, this diversion doesn't really fit in very well with the rest of the book, although it is interesting in itself to people from the town.
There are quite a few typos, particularly random commas which can make it hard to read in a few places. More seriously, I did notice several factual errors, which means there are probably far more that I missed. Some examples:
1. On page 35 the derivation of the name Churchgate is described as being from `Church' (obviously) and the Old English word `weg' meaning `road' or `track'. Surely it is from the Norse `gata' meaning `way' or `road'?
2. On page 50 the map showing the skirmish at Westhoughton, where 3 Parliamentarian companies were surprised & captured by Derby's forces, is dated 1643 but the text describes it taking place in December 1642.
3. The 1st Earl of Derby, Thomas Stanley (who famously decided the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth by betraying Richard III) is described as marrying `the daughter of one of the leading Yorkists, Lady Margaret Bueaumont' (sic). In fact Lady Margaret Beaufort was the daughter of the 1st Duke of Somerset who famously feuded with the Duke of York, and niece of the 2nd who died leading the Lancastrian army at the 1st Battle of St Albans in 1455. Margaret was from infancy the ward, and later the wife of Edmund Tudor, and the mother of the future Henry VII. She must surely have been a lifelong Lancastrian.
4. Similarly Casserly states (page 21) that Sir Thomas Pilkington lost the manor of Bolton, which his family had held for a century, after siding with Richard III at Bosworth, the `Lancastrian' king.
5. On page 146 it is claimed that the Earl of Derby forced marched towards Preston from Harrington in 1651, which presumably should be Warrington.
6. Casserly states on page 17 that Roger de Picou [sic] was granted most of the land between the Ribble & the Mersey by William the Conqueror, but that he `rebelled twice against William and after his defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1106 was deprived of his estates'. Roger de Poitou or the Poitevin (so called because he married an heiress from Poitou) was the 3rd son of Roger de Montgomery, the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and Norman big-wig who commanded the right wing at the Battle of Hastings. According to the New Oxford History, Roger was deprived of his lands in Lancashire in 1102, by Henry I (William had been dead for 15 years), for supporting Robert Duke of Normandy, the Conqueror's eldest son and really the rightful king. As far as I can see there was no Battle of Tewkesbury in 1106, this is presumably being confused with the Battle of Tinchebray in Normandy, where Henry decisively defeated his brother and reunited England with the Duchy.
There is no index, and very annoyingly references in the Endnotes are by book title, whereas the bibliography is listed in the usual author name order. This means if you want to look up one of the references in the bibliography you have to read all the way through until you find the right book.
All of the above things are irritating, and a shame, as a little more care at the editing stage would have made for a better book. However, I still enjoyed it and am glad I read it. I have given this book 3 stars because if one is interested in the history of the period in Lancashire and particularly Bolton this is a good place to start, and the book is easily read in a day or so. However, if you are looking for the polish of the popular academic historians like Davies, Ferguson or Schama you will be disappointed.