The Siege of Loyalty House: A Story of the English Civil War

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Release Date: 
January 3, 2023
Pegasus Books
Reviewed by: 

“Childs writes an engrossing, spellbinding narrative while laying out a clear and comprehendible history.”

In a true example of world history, the first half of the 1600s suffered from a mini-ice age that unleashed civil unrest, famine, and plague across the world. It resulted “in political turbulence across the globe.” The consequences affect politics to the present and brought on the Enlightenment with all that has entailed.

In The Siege of Loyalty House, Jessie Childs tells of these times in England, the period of the complicated English civil wars. “It was a terrifying, electrifying time.” “There were exciting new discoveries and terrible prospects.”

The author points out the strange reality of today’s “Englishman’s unfamiliarity with his nation’s brightest and darkest hours.” No book could ever make the politics and violence of England in this period comprehendible or memorable to all people “despite the civil wars creating fault lines that are still evident in the way we divide and vote.”

Most of the book covers the events of the English civil war in Basing House, the palatial home of the Marques of Winchester. Childs writes an engrossing, spellbinding narrative while laying out a clear and comprehendible history. It entertains as well as educates.

More explanation of some characters and events might help the reader and less needed elsewhere but, with so complicated a subject, it might not! The author also includes in the story the parts played by trade guilds, the plague, and the relative enormity of London.

This history begs comparison to the more famous French Revolution of more than a century later. By 1641, the British Isles had a bloody Roman Catholic revolt in Ireland, a Scottish uprising in the north, and a civil war in England.

Even beyond the frightening realities of these crises, across England the presence of the refugees from the violence encouraged the public to embrace paranoid conspiracies. Rumors spread of “sleeper cells and underground armies,” and of ghostly apparitions fighting battles in the sky. Protestants believed that the king plotted to restore the Roman Catholic faith and to rule without Parliament.

The surviving records do not lend themselves to a broad demographic study. Childs, in an Annalistic form, instead tells the history through the lives of representative individuals in London. They include an actor, an astrologer, an attorney, a druggist, a physician, a printer, a shipping contractor, and a wine merchant among others, with something of what their lives entailed.

Details of the lives of people like poet Thomas Johnson of the Apothecary Guild who would “dispense advice” with his homemade remedies enrich this reading experience. Such people “did not want a civil war. They had bills to pay and mouths to feed.”

That public unrest led to mobs of such people and from them that armies and revolution fought “in a series of regional contests” without foresight remains an important lesson for all time. After the English civil wars, the reader may wonder why the British allowed the American Revolution to happen.

King Charles I—absolutist, inept, and vindictive—had started the crisis of 1742 and, especially with regard to the military, seemingly made every conceivable bad decision. He had supporters but the economic, political, and religious hatred turned violent with no one allowed to be neutral or a peacemaker.

“Both sides traded in atrocity stories.” The countryside was laid waste and the wealthy were forced to pay for the war. Failed sieges and indecisive battles wasted the king’s advantages of a formal army and gave the parliamentarians time to consolidate and organize.

Typically, on December 12, 1642, a group of men seeking to petition the Lord Mayor of London was accused of being “papists, atheists, lawyers, monopolists, Custom House men, publicans, actors” and other counter-revolutionaries working for the Royalist Cavaliers. They were accosted by soldiers in the “great Hurlleyburley.” (The author explains that when a “word adds charm, effect or, indeed girth, I have retained it.”)

Childs tells the story of the English civil wars around Basing House (“Loyalty House”), the seat of the Marques of Winchester family, beginning in chapter six. Explaining the background of the English civil wars takes up the rest of the space. The author does not disappoint in explaining the background of this family and how the war affected them.

Built on a place of occupation going back to prehistoric times, this hugely expensive complex of two manors and various additions had numerous historic ties to the Tudor monarchs. Sir William Paulet, the 1st Marques, however, “had put up these buildings for entertainment, not defense.” A close personal friend of King Charles I and a Roman Catholic, the 5th Marques found himself in serious trouble.

The first attack on Basing House by the protestant parliamentarian rebels—the Roundheads—was repulsed by the Royalists—the Cavaliers—under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Peake on July 31, 1643. The Marques of Winchester and Colonel Marmaduke Rawdon argued over who was in command.

As with the outnumbered royalists as a whole, the soldiers defending Basing House were divided over religion. Soldiers joined both sides, often with more courage and youth than training, from throughout the British Isles. They wore almost identical clothes and not yet distinctive uniforms. Men also served fonly or pay or deserted.

Basing House became a fortified military base overrun with civilian “camp followers” of all ages and sexes attached to the military and also by royalist refugees. Local people found themselves literally caught between two opposing armed camps. Families were divided and even the Marques of Winchester had to arrest his brother.

The attack by the parliamentarian “roundhead” army under Major General Sir William Waller on Basing House on November 12, 1641, proved a huge victory for the King’s Cavaliers. Courage, fortifications, and weather won over artillery, bravery, and numbers.

Basing Hall became known as the strongest place in England and the symbol of the Cavaliers. Following Waller’s victory at Cheriton, however, the royalist cause steadily lost everything including hope. When the much-reduced number of defenders lost Basing House to the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell on October 16, 1645, the roundhead victory represented that the conflict neared its end. The site of the house became a ruin.

As a result of the civil war, Charles I was executed, the Church of England was abolished, and the House of Lords ended in 1649. The subsequent brutal dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell was followed by the restoration of the Monarch, Church, and House of Lords followed by still another civil war.

Childs clearly describes so many aspects of this war with entertaining prose. This work has a bibliography, color illustrations, maps, and notes.