Gloucester, 1640-60: The English Revolution

Pages 92-95

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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Gloucester was renowned during the Civil War and afterwards as a parliamentary and puritan stronghold. In 1642 the Presbyterian Richard Baxter praised the inhabitants as 'a civil, courteous, and religious people', (fn. 1) while Thomas Pury, one of the city's M.P.s, was a prominent zealot in the Long Parliament. (fn. 2) During the summer of 1643 the city successfully withstood the king's army in a protracted siege, a victory which Bishop Goodman declared marked 'the turning of the wheel, for ever after the parliament-forces prevailed'. (fn. 3) Subsequently Gloucester was a leading garrison town against the royalists, controlling important military operations in the west. After Oliver Cromwell's victory over the Scots at the battle of Worcester in 1651, the city elected him high steward, (fn. 4) and the city's loyalty to the 'Good Old Cause' remained unquestioned until 1659. That had major economic, social, and political repercussions. At the Restoration Gloucester was, not surprisingly, singled out for retribution by the Crown. (fn. 5)

The City and the English Revolution

The elections to the Long Parliament in November 1640 opened a new era for the city. The M.P.s were Henry Brett, who had served in the previous parliament, and the radical Alderman Thomas Pury. (fn. 6) Within a few months the corporation was petitioning parliament for church reform, asking for several of the poorer parishes to be united to provide a preaching ministry, and seeking confirmation of its powers over the hospitals and Crypt school, powers which had recently been disputed by Archbishop Laud. (fn. 7) The following months witnessed the reinstatement of puritans harried by the Laudian regime. Thomas Wynell, previously in trouble over his visit to Scotland, returned to the curacy of St. Michael and was compensated for his trouble. (fn. 8) In May 1641 John Bird was dismissed from the Crypt school and replaced by the future Socinian John Biddle. (fn. 9) In September that year the city joined with county radicals in petitioning parliament against episcopacy. (fn. 10) With mounting fears of political and military conflict the city started to take steps for its defence; in early 1642 it purchased 40 muskets from London and 20 more from Bristol, together with four cannon. (fn. 11) In May the corporation and many leading citizens invested over £1,200 in the Adventure for the reconquest of Ireland, where the Catholics had recently risen in rebellion. (fn. 12) When the king raised his standard at Nottingham in August, Gloucester, according to the preacher John Corbet, 'determined not to stand neutral in action, but to adhere unto one party, with which they resolved to stand or fall'. (fn. 13)

Against a possible royalist attack the city's watch was doubled, the trained bands were put in readiness, (fn. 14) and a committee of defence was established to supervise the fortification work. (fn. 15) The parliamentary committee for the county, which included leading citizens, also held its meetings in the city. (fn. 16) That summer it was said that 'the parts about Gloucester … happened to be most unanimous for the parliament'. (fn. 17) Gloucester's strategic position on the Severn between Worcester and Bristol and on the high road to Wales was quickly recognized by parliament. In November 1642 two regiments of foot under Colonel Thomas Essex marched there from Worcester, (fn. 18) and shortly afterwards the earl of Stamford's troops arrived to garrison the city and Colonel Edward Massey was put in command. (fn. 19) With the king's forces increasingly successful in the west, Gloucester faced mounting pressure. Large sums were disbursed to maintain the garrison (fn. 20) and from February 1643 troops were quartered on the inhabitants. (fn. 21) In February Prince Rupert and his forces approached Gloucester but the city refused to surrender. (fn. 22) In March the situation was very tense with some of the garrison threatening to mutiny over pay. (fn. 23) Loyalists and neutrals were starting to leave the city, and corn prices were rising. (fn. 24) The city fought back: civic plate was sold off to pay for work on the fortifications; (fn. 25) provisions were purchased; (fn. 26) and a regiment was raised in the city and inshire for Gloucester's defence under the command of leading aldermen. (fn. 27) During the preceding year the town walls had been strengthened and the ditches flooded, (fn. 28) but the city was still vulnerable to attack, with an incomplete circuit of walls and extensive suburbs reaching up to the gates. (fn. 29) Action was taken to demolish some of the houses outside the walls. (fn. 30)

After the fall of Bristol in late July 1643, royalist armies converged on Gloucester, and the city, Corbet wrote, 'did stand alone without help and hope'. (fn. 31) On 29 July Massey informed parliament of the dismay in the town: the troops were discontented and melting away; 'Alderman Pury and some few of the citizens … are still cordial to us, but I fear ten for one incline the other way'. (fn. 32) Massey himself may have been in contact with the royalists about a possible surrender. (fn. 33) On 2 August loyalist gentry in the shire called on Gloucester to capitulate; (fn. 34) a dozen or so citizens tried to negotiate terms with the king's forces; (fn. 35) more royalists left. (fn. 36) On 10 August Charles I, according to Clarendon, 'ranged his whole army upon a fair hill in the clear view of the city and within less than two miles of it' and summoned the city to surrender. (fn. 37) Despite all the pressure, the community rallied to defy the king. Two representatives were sent 'from the godly city of Gloucester' to the king, refusing to surrender except by 'the commands of his Majesty signified by both Houses of Parliament'. (fn. 38) The suburbs were then fired and over two hundred houses destroyed to drive off the advancing enemy. (fn. 39)

Confident of an easy success and anxious to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, the king, who made his headquarters at Matson, decided for an extended siege. The city was heavily bombarded and numerous public buildings, including the Tolsey, the Crypt school, and several churches, were damaged. (fn. 40) There were repeated attacks and counter sallies, (fn. 41) but there was only limited loss of life. City morale was increasingly strengthened by news of help coming from London. On 24 August the defenders again rejected the king's call to surrender. (fn. 42) On 5 September the earl of Essex's relief force, marching from London, reached the edge of the Cotswolds and signalled to the elated citizens. (fn. 43) The royalist forces withdrew into the shire. Gloucester remained on the alert for the next 18 months: the fortifications were repaired and improved (fn. 44) and special watches were kept. However, the king's army never mounted a fresh frontal assault. The most serious danger came in November 1643 when the royalists tried to bribe members of the garrison, though without success. (fn. 45)

Claims by puritans like John Corbet, who was Massey's chaplain, that Gloucester's inhabitants had espoused the parliamentary cause almost unanimously in 1642 and 1643 were undoubtedly exaggerated. A sizeable minority showed loyalist or neutral sympathies, particularly during the perilous summer of 1643. (fn. 46) However, Massey in his desperation that July overstated the importance of that group. Only a handful were significant members of the corporation, and quite a few left the city rather than support their cause. On crucial issues, such as the firing of the suburbs, there is little sign of serious opposition. There was a striking continuity of magisterial personnel during the 1640s. (fn. 47)

By 1645 the large garrison at Gloucester was causing serious difficulties, with soldiers protesting over lack of pay. (fn. 48) In early summer parliament removed Massey as governor because of suspicions over his loyalty, (fn. 49) but the city's commitment to parliament held firm. In November Gloucester elected as M.P. in place of Henry Brett, who had defected to royalist Oxford, John Lenthall, the son of the Speaker of the Long Parliament. (fn. 50) At the same time the corporation made renewed efforts to secure parliamentary approval for the reorganization of the city parishes. (fn. 51) There was also increasingly frantic lobbying for financial help. Parliament was asked to provide money for repairing the city and for paying off loans incurred during the military crisis. (fn. 52)

During the second Civil War the city and its garrison remained steadfast for parliament. In April 1648 parliament passed an Ordinance uniting most of the city parishes and setting up a preaching ministry. (fn. 53) Gloucester's M.P.s Pury and Lenthall survived Pride's Purge. In 1649 there was a government scheme for a citadel at Gloucester, possibly involving the rebuilding of the castle. (fn. 54) By the end of the year internal divisions within the community were more apparent, with disputes between Presbyterians and separatists and discontent over the continuing burdens caused by the garrison. (fn. 55) However, with the invasion of the Scottish army in 1651 Gloucester's leaders mobilized for war: fortifications were restored, (fn. 56) a city regiment was recruited, (fn. 57) and provisions were despatched to Cromwell's army. (fn. 58)

The garrison was withdrawn in 1653. (fn. 59) A year later Alderman Pury and William Lenthall were elected M.P.s to the first Protectorate parliament, though Lenthall chose to represent another seat and was replaced by Alderman Luke Nourse, a veteran of the siege. (fn. 60) In 1656 there was an abortive royalist plot to seize Gloucester. (fn. 61) The M.P.s elected to the second Protectorate parliament were Thomas Pury, the son of the alderman and former M.P., and the puritan alderman James Stephens. Stephens was re-elected to Richard Cromwell's parliament, along with Alderman Lawrence Singleton. (fn. 62)

With the break-up of the 'Good Old Cause', however, the city's loyalty to parliament was progressively eroded, some Presbyterians becoming openly disaffected. (fn. 63) In July 1659 Massey was in the west plotting to capture Gloucester for the royalists. (fn. 64) Alderman Pury and his son Thomas raised a force of 300 men for parliament and in the autumn three companies of foot were quartered in the city. (fn. 65) In January 1660 some of the soldiers began to threaten the inhabitants and the magistrates ordered precautionary measures. (fn. 66) The Quaker George Fox visited Gloucester during March and found it 'very rude and divided; for one part of the soldiers were for the king and another for the parliament'. (fn. 67) When Massey arrived at the end of the month he was welcomed by the mayor and aldermen, but threatened by a number of soldiers. A rumour that Massey had been murdered led to a riot. Massey, however, quietened the disorders and soon after was elected M.P. to the Convention Parliament, along with Alderman Stephens. (fn. 68) In May St. Michael's bells pealed out 'when the news came the king was voted in'. (fn. 69)


  • 1. Quoted in F. A. Hyett, Glouc. in National Hist. (Glouc. 1906), 98.
  • 2. M.F. Keeler, Long Parliament 1640–1 (1954), 316–7.
  • 3. Quoted in Rudder, Glos. 110.
  • 4. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 639.
  • 5. Below, Glouc. 1660–1720, city govt. and politics.
  • 6. Keeler, Long Parliament, 47.
  • 7. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 172; above, Glouc. 1547–1640, religious and cultural life.
  • 8. G.B.R., F 4/5, ff. 150v. sqq.; B 3/2, p. 197. John Workman was also compensated: ibid. B 3/2, p. 167.
  • 9. Ibid. B 3/2, pp. 176–9.
  • 10. Glos. Colln. JF 4. 13.
  • 11. G.B.R., G 3/SO 2, f. 24v.; B 3/2, p. 205.
  • 12. Ibid. B 3/2, pp. 213–15.
  • 13. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 6–7.
  • 14. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 220–1; G 3/SO 2, f. 27; Bibliotheca Glos. ii, pp. xxii-iii.
  • 15. J. K. G. Taylor, 'Civil Government of Glouc. 1640–6', Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 67.
  • 16. G.B.R., H 3/3; G. A. Harrison, 'Royalist Organization in Glos. and Bristol, 1642–1645' (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis, 1961), 41.
  • 17. R. Atkyns, Vindication of Ric. Atkyns (Lond. 1669), 18.
  • 18. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 84.
  • 19. Ibid. 84.
  • 20. Harrison, 'Royalist Organization', 46.
  • 21. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 85–6.
  • 22. Bibliotheca Glos. ii, p. xxxii.
  • 23. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 245.
  • 24. Ibid.; ibid. G 3/SO 4, East. 1643.
  • 25. Ibid. B 3/2, p. 253.
  • 26. Ibid. pp. 249, 252.
  • 27. Ibid. p. 254.
  • 28. Ibid. p. 267.
  • 29. Bibliotheca Glos. ii, p. lviii.
  • 30. Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. pp. 511–12.
  • 31. Harrison, 'Royalist Organization', 82–3;Bibliotheca Glos. i. 39.
  • 32. Bodl. MS. Tanner 62, f. 197; cf. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 40.
  • 33. Clarendon,Hist. of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in Eng. ed. W. D. Macray (1888), iii. 144.
  • 34. Harrison, 'Royalist Organization', 84.
  • 35. Ibid. 85.
  • 36. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 41.
  • 37. Clarendon, Hist. iii. 132.
  • 38. Ibid. 133.
  • 39. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 211; Fosbrooke, Glouc. 70–1.
  • 40. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 291, 293–4; F 4/5, f. 212v., et passim.
  • 41. For detailed contemporary accounts of the siege, J. Corbet, 'Hist. Relation of the Military Government of Glouc.', Bibliotheca Glos. i. 39–59; J. Dorney, 'Brief and Exact Relation of the … Siege Laid before Glouc.', ibid. 207–32.
  • 42. Bodl. MS. Tanner 62, f. 298; A. R. Williams, 'Siege of Glouc. 1643', Trans. B.G.A.S. lxxxviii. 181.
  • 43. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 55; ii, p. lxviii.
  • 44. G.B.R., G 3/SO 4, Mich. 1644.
  • 45. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 76–86; ii, p. lxxxiii.
  • 46. Harrison, 'Royalist Organization', App. II–III.
  • 47. Below, city govt. and politics.
  • 48. Letter Books of Sir Sam. Luke 1644–45, ed. H. G. Tibbutt (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xlii), 261.
  • 49. Hyett, Glouc. 125.
  • 50. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 195.
  • 51. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 321.
  • 52. Ibid. p. 295.
  • 53. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 359–66.
  • 54. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1649–50, 232.
  • 55. J. Dorney, Certain Speeches (Lond. 1653), 51, 55–6.
  • 56. Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. pp. 500–2.
  • 57. Ibid. p. 502.
  • 58. Ibid. p. 505; Bibliotheca Glos. i. 406–7.
  • 59. Bibliotheca Glos. ii, p. cxxv.
  • 60. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 195–6.
  • 61. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1655–56, 344.
  • 62. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 196–9.
  • 63. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1659–60, 250.
  • 64. Clarendon, Hist. vi. 112.
  • 65. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1659–60, 195; Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. pp. 517–18.
  • 66. G.B.R., B 3/3, p. 124.
  • 67. Jnl. of Geo. Fox, ed. N. Penney (1911), i. 352.
  • 68. Diurnal of Thos. Rugg, ed. W. L. Sachse (Camd. 3rd ser. cxci), 68–9; Letter from an Eminent Person in Glouc. to a Friend in London (Lond. 1660), 1–4; Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 199–200.
  • 69. Glos. R.O., P 154/14/CW 2/2.