The Risings of the Clubmen

Towards the end of 1644, in certain parts of the country, popular reaction to the war and to the depredations of both sides brought about organised resistance. The Clubmen, countrymen led by minor gentry and the 'middling sort' of people, yeomen and husbandmen, took up arms to defend themselves and their possessions against looting and undisciplined soldiers. Although the Clubmen have been seen as 'crypto-royalists', the fact was that it was largely against royalist troops that they tried to take action, and their activities were almost wholly confined to areas under royalist military control or lying within the spheres of operation of royalist garrisons. Primarily conservative and intensely localist, they were prepared to co-operate with King or Parliament but on their terms for a change.

The risings began in late 1644 in the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, culminating there in the great siege of the royalist city of Hereford by about 12,000 countrymen. By the time that this series of risings had been overcome by Prince Rupert and his brother Maurice, unrest had grown to a pitch in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, although in these latter counties it assumed certain partisan characteristics from the outset. The risings in the Welsh border area appear to have been aimed at the restoration of local authority and the demilitarisation of the counties. Although some have tended to equate upland, pastoral region Clubmen movements (such as those on the Welsh border) with pro-parliamentarian feelings, and lowland, arable region movements as essentially pro-royalist, it seems to have been the case that the border Clubmen were merely defensive and wishing to be out of the war, whilst the Clubmen in Dorset and Wiltshire, by contrast, were overtly pro-royalist and those in Somerset pro-parliamentarian.

On 18 December 1644, 1,200 Shropshire men gathered in Wem to organise resistance to the royalist colonel, Vangerris, and the royalist garrisons at Stokesay and Lea Hall. There were musters at Leintwardine, and in March 1645 Worcestershire witnessed a massive gathering at Woodbury Hill, where it was generally agreed to acknowledge only the authority of the county sheriff and the grand jury. Alterations in the royalist high command—Prince Rupert's arrival as commander in chief with his brother Maurice responsible for the border and Wales—led to gradual pacification. The Herefordshire Clubmen, however, the most violent of the border groupings, had to be overcome militarily and suffer the consequence in having troops quartered on them extensively as a punishment for their hostility towards Hereford garrison.

By June of 1645 the most intensive area of Clubmen activity was the Dorset/Wiltshire/East Somerset border country. An area with a history of unrest over issues such as enclosure, the depredations of Goring's royalist army finally provoked resistance, particularly on the part of the Somerset Clubmen towards Langport garrison. On 25 May there was a general gathering at Wimborne St Giles, and on 2 June 5,000 men met at Castle Cary in Somerset. A display of hostility towards Langport's royalist garrison was easily fought off, but after the New Model's victory there on 10 July, Somerset's Clubmen hunted down royalist fugitives killing at leisure. Humphrey Willis of Woolavington, former tenant of the Pyms, led the Somerset

Wimborne Giles Map

men in their rapprochement with the New Model at Pensy-Pound on Sedgemoor on 11 July, and they played an active part in subsequent campaigns. The Dorset Clubmen, however, showed themselves unmoved even by the New Model's capacity to pay in cash for supplies, and on 2 August Sir Thomas Fairfax moved against them: their leaders were arrested in Shaftesbury, and on 4 August Cromwell's cavalry drove them in flight from Hambledon Hill in a brief, almost bloodless encounter.

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