A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Military and Political Affairs, 1642-60
Beverley was strategically unimportant and was to prove untenable, even as a base, but it was inevitably implicated in the military activity centred on its near neighbour Hull. In 1639 Charles I may have passed through the town while inspecting the defences at Hull, and he arrived again in the autumn of 1640. By that time, in the face of the Scottish army in Yorkshire, the townspeople had been called upon to provide coats for the town's militia and to meet the cost of fires for warming the guard; (fn. 1) the Scottish attack did not materialize, however, and the town remained quiet. During January and February 1642 the situation changed rapidly, as a consequence of the attempts made by both the king and parliament to secure control of Hull. (fn. 2) The corporation ordered watch to be kept and the bars guarded, and an assessment was raised to provide powder and match. (fn. 3) With tension mounting, the king stayed briefly in Beverley during his attempt to force Sir John Hotham, Bt., the parliamentary governor, to surrender Hull, but on being rebuffed he returned to York on 24 April. On that occasion the king had been greeted by the bells of St. Mary's but the political attitudes of the corporation and inhabitants are not known. (fn. 4)
Parliament strengthened its military precautions in the area during the following weeks, and Michael Warton, the town's M.P., joined a parliamentary commission sent to Hull to assist his fellow-member Hotham. Certain Beverley men then hatched a futile plot to undermine Sir John's stance at Hull by suborning officers of the garrison. (fn. 5) On 3 July Charles I moved his headquarters and troops to Beverley, hoping that a show of force in the area would bring about the surrender of Hull. He attended a service in the minster, issued proclamations against Hotham and his garrison, and received a parliamentary delegation. Royal troops from Beverley roved the district, maintaining a loose siege of Hull and engaging in skirmishes: as Nicholas Pearson, the parish clerk of St. Mary's, noted, 'king's war hot at Beverley'. After some three weeks of desultory activity, however, the royal forces withdrew, leaving in the town only a small garrison which was soon driven out by troops from Hull. (fn. 6)
For the rest of the year the corporation maintained its vigilance, deciding to repair the bars and keep them locked at night, and to make ditches across the lanes leading to Westwood. (fn. 7) In the absence of adequate fortifications, however, the town was largely protected by the garrison at Hull. Detachments of troops were billeted in Beverley, the townsmen having yielded to the persuasions of Sir John Hotham and his son, (fn. 8) and between March and June 1643 soldiers were garrisoned in the town, at a cost to parliament of almost £5,000. Even so, the Hothams admitted that they could not hold Beverley. (fn. 9) By March 1643 their attachment to parliament's cause had weakened and, while in Beverley, Capt. John Hotham had been in touch with the earl of Newcastle, the royalist commander in Yorkshire. (fn. 10) On 28 June, when the Hothams' intended treachery in Hull was foiled, Sir John's flight towards his house at Scorborough took him to Beverley, where he was arrested along with one of his officers, Sir Edward Rhodes, who was suspected of plotting to surrender the town to the royalists. (fn. 11) Soldiers from the king's forces appeared before the town soon afterwards but their attack was easily defeated: 'a great scrimmage in Beverley . . . war in our gates', was the comment of Nicholas Pearson. (fn. 12)
Those events coincided with the defeat of the parliamentarian forces at Adwalton Moor (Yorks. W.R.). The consequent withdrawal of Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas to the comparative safety of Hull left most of Yorkshire in royalist hands, and an attack on Hull seemed likely. Beverley was again used as an outpost for the main garrison, and cavalry stationed there made forays into the East Riding. Like Hotham before him, however, Sir Thomas Fairfax realised that Beverley, 'an open place', could not be held, but when a large royalist army set out from York in August he was refused permission to withdraw. Instead he fought a delaying action, forcing Newcastle's advance party to wait for the main body of their forces. The interval allowed Fairfax to withdraw his troops in good order towards Hull, but before the evacuation of Beverley was complete the royalists entered the town, and there was bitter fighting. Beverley was left to the mercy of the royalists, who at once 'fell to their old trade of plundering', allegedly treating the townspeople with brutality. During the ensuing seige of Hull the royalists apparently used Beverley as a base for their operations. The town was not otherwise involved in further military action, although there was said to have been more pillaging when Newcastle's forces passed through on 12 October, after they had raised the seige. (fn. 13)
The return of peace to Beverley did not free the town from military obligations. At various times between 1646 and 1648 troops were billeted there with the usual difficulties about free quarter and reimbursement of billet money; there was occasional resistance to the charges involved and to the payment of military assessments, and in 1649 the corporation tried to encourage harmony by allowing alehousekeepers who quartered troops 35. a man above the sum paid by the soldiers themselves. (fn. 14) The corporation also granted pensions to lame soldiers and soldiers' widows, besides rebates of rent to compensate for military taxation. (fn. 15)
Even if accounts of the royalist sack of Beverley were exaggerated by writers on the parliamentary side, including Nicholas Pearson, who wrote of 'the plundering time', there were complaints afterwards about serious depredations. William Elrington, for example, sought permission to resign his governorship because of his losses, which he claimed amounted to some £500. (fn. 16) Local trade was interrupted, and there were difficulties about the presentation of receivers' accounts and an apparent laxity over admissions to the freedom. (fn. 17) Another mark of the unsettled times was the corporation's anxiety about non-attendance at meetings and refusals to hold municipal office. (fn. 18) When the fighting had passed, the corporation bought bricks to repair buildings and began a sustained attempt to mend roads in and around the town. (fn. 19) Finally, nine local royalist sympathizers, some of whom had borne arms in the king's service, had their property sequestered and were fined for their delinquency. They included Thomas Waller, son of a former mayor, three members of the recusant family of the Percys, and Sir Michael Warton (d. 1655) and his grandson Michael (d. 1688). (fn. 20)
The extent of local support for the two sides is difficult to assess. It has been said that Beverley was favourable to the king's cause and that, for example, Fairfax was not welcome in 1643, but if there was antagonism towards the parliamentarians some of it may have been, as elsewhere, no more than vestigial neutralism or the hostility of those who lived in the shadow of a major garrison. (fn. 21) The political attitudes of the town's governing body are uncertain. The mayor Robert Manby was, however, clearly sympathetic to the royalists. First elected in 1642, he was unlawfully re-elected in 1643, which implies a measure of support from his fellow governors. Seven of the governors, however, men well affected to the parliamentary cause, later reported that Manby had raised money in Beverley to assist Newcastle's campaign; he was also accused of absconding to the royal headquarters in York, taking with him the mayoral mace and corporation monies and plate. Although Manby seems later to have undergone a change of heart, returning the plate and mace, the parliamentary standing committee ordered the governors and selected burgesses in 1644 to replace him as mayor and governor; 16 members of the governing body recorded their consent and William Wilberforce was duly elected as mayor. Soon afterwards three governors were displaced for royalist sympathies: Thomas Clarke, William Elrington, and Edward Grey. The vacant governorships were filled by William Forge, John Johnson, William Newcombe, and William Wade, all apparently freely chosen. (fn. 22)
After the purge the choice of M.P.s may reflect the changing political complexion of the corporation. Within a year of the displacements the corporation was called upon to elect two 'recruiters' to replace the M.P.s chosen in 1640 but later dismissed by the Commons for delinquency. On that occasion the families of Hotham and Warton played no part because of their royalism, and the corporation cautiously chose two leading townsmen, the brothers James and John Nelthorpe; 20 of the governors and selected burgesses voted for them. Both men had served in the parliamentary armies, James Nelthorpe, a former mayor, as a lieutenantcolonel. James Nelthorpe sat in the Commons after Pride's Purge but refused a place on the High Court of Justice to try Charles I; he was an active M.P. and worked for the town's interests in connexion with the fee farm rents and the charter. John Nelthorpe, who held more moderate views, was excluded from the House at Pride's Purge, in effect reducing the town's representation. (fn. 23) For the elections of 1654 it was decided that Beverley should return only one M.P., and the corporation elected Francis Thorpe, former recorder of the town, who had served in the parliamentary army and became a Baron of the Exchequer in 1649. In political affairs Thorpe played a limited but moderate role and disagreed with the Protector. Consequently, although he was elected for both Beverley and the West Riding in 1656, he was excluded from the House during the first session as an oppositionist. (fn. 24) The pre-war representation of two seats was restored for the election of 1659, in which there were also the beginnings of a re-assertion of traditional family influences. Sir William Strickland of Boynton successfully recommended his son Thomas to the corporation; the Stricklands were strong supporters of the Protectorate, but the other M.P. chosen for Beverley was John Anlaby of Etton, a Rumper opposed to Richard Cromwell and apparently of republican and radical religious views. Neither M.P. seems to have been active in the House. While there is no evidence for any electoral contest the choice of those two men may reflect divisions of opinion among the governors and burgesses. (fn. 25)
During the later 1640s and the 1650s there are no signs of royalist disaffection in Beverley or indications that the authorities were concerned about security in the town. On the other hand, during the winter of 1659-60 the corporation did not follow the lead of Col. Robert Overton, the governor of Hull, and make a stand for the republic. Early in 1660 Gen. Monck, realizing the threat to his plans for a free parliament posed by the obduracy of the Hull garrison, posted a regiment at Beverley under Col. Charles Fairfax to keep a watch on Hull. In the event its services were not required, and in March Fairfax moved his troops to Hull and took command of the garrison there. (fn. 26) Within a few weeks the pre-war parliamentary traditions of Beverley were firmly re-established by the election to the convention, first of Sir John Hotham, Bt., grandson of the M.P. in 1640, and then, after the original choice, Sir Hugh Bethell, had chosen to sit for Hedon, of Michael Warton, son of the elder Sir John's erstwhile colleague in the Commons. (fn. 27) By then Charles II had been proclaimed in the town, and the royal arms had been placed in the guildhall and on North bar. (fn. 28)