Published on February 27, 2008
Aston Hall and the Civil War: Written and compiled by Ailyse Hancock for Schools Liaison, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Line drawings by Brian Byron Reconstruction of Aston Hall after the attack by Pat Hughes Aston Hall and the Civil War The first few slides of this presentation provide background information on events leading up to the siege of Aston Hall in December 1643. Further slides provide some information on weapons and tactics used in the Civil War, details of the attack and the resulting damage to the house. Aston Hall in Stuart Times: Aston Hall in Stuart Times Aston Hall was a newly built mansion in the early 17th century. Sir Thomas Holte had had the house built as a prestigious home for himself, his second wife, and a few of his 16 children. Sir Thomas also had a household of some 40 servants making up the household He had only moved in just two or three years before the deteriorating situation between King Charles and his Parliament led to Civil War. Background Information Edward Holte and Elizabeth King: Edward Holte and Elizabeth King Sir Thomas secured a prestigious post in the king’s household for his eldest living son, Edward. Whilst at court Edward met and fell in love with the Bishop of London’s daughter, Elizabeth King. Sir Thomas disapproved of the match. They married and Edward was disinherited. The king tried to make Sir Thomas change his mind but to no avail. The quarrel continued for 20 years until Edward’s death in 1643. These portraits of Edward and Elizabeth hang in Aston Hall. It is thought that King Charles may have stopped off at Aston Hall in October 1642 to persuade Sir Thomas to acknowledge his eldest son. Background Information The Gathering Storm: The Gathering Storm Aston Hall was affected twice during this war. In August 1642 King Charles I raised his standard (flag) at Nottingham and declared his subjects in rebellion - or at least those who supported Parliament. Parliament didn’t like Charles taking the advice of his Catholic Queen and his insistence on the Divine Right of Kings to rule. The King fell out with his Parliament over his foreign, domestic and religious policies. Background Information This picture of Charles I in armour hangs in what was the best lodging chamber at Aston Hall. The Road to Edgehill: The Road to Edgehill Shrewsbury Birmingham London Battle of Edgehill Aston Hall King Charles visited Aston Hall in October 1642. He had travelled from Nottingham to Shrewsbury, where he oversaw the enlisting of 7000 Welsh troops . The King then intended to lead his army in a march on London to take the capital from the Parliamentarians. King Charles is recorded as staying at Aston Hall for one night on, or near, the 18th October 1642. The King’s baggage train was attacked by Parliamentarians from Birmingham. Three or four days later the Royalist advance on London was blocked by the Parliamentarian army moving swiftly across the Midlands under the command of the Earl of Essex. The two armies engaged in the first major battle of the Civil War – the Battle of Edgehill Background Information Welcome the King!: Welcome the King! The army camped near the present day Kingstanding. The King is thought to have addressed his troops here before they moved off the following day. We can guess that lords like Lord Wilmot, Sir Jacob Astley and Sir Edmund Verney, who fought for the King at Edgehill, must also have been at Aston Hall a few days before. Prince Charles and Prince James must have visited too, with their tutor William Harvey. The best lodging chamber is still called King Charles’ Bedroom in honour of the king’s visit. Background Information The Battle of Edgehill: The Battle of Edgehill Sir Jacob Astley was put in charge of the King’s infantry. He was an old soldier with much experience of fighting in the 30 years war on the continent. He was heard to say before the battle,‘O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me’ On the Parliamentarian side was a cavalry officer who was to rise to great fame as the Civil War progressed. His name was Oliver Cromwell. Both sides suffered appalling casualties during this first major battle. King Charles was so appalled by the terrible carnage, and the moans and screams of dying men as dusk fell that he remained on the battlefield all night in a shocked daze. Background Information The Wounded at Edgehill: The Wounded at Edgehill Those injured during the fighting were dragged unceremoniously off the battlefield. The surgeons were at the rear of the fighting men. Four or five were attached to the headquarters and treated the nobility. The rest were regimental surgeons assisted by surgeon’s mates. Few were qualified! Most were totally inexpert in the use of their crude instruments. Background Information The Battle of Birmingham3 April 1643: The Battle of Birmingham 3 April 1643 Rupert was sent from Oxford to ensure a safe route for the Queen’s convoy - on its way south from Bridlington. He had not forgotten how Birmingham, ‘this incurably Parliamentarian town’ had attacked the king’s baggage train in 1642. On hearing of Rupert’s approach earthworks were thrown up and streets barricaded. The townsfolk put up a spirited defence even after the Royalists had entered the town. The ‘Birmingham Butcheries’ were reviled by both sides. Background Information After the ‘Birmingham Butcheries’: After the ‘Birmingham Butcheries’ The people of Birmingham were keen for revenge. During the summer of 1643 a Parliamentarian gang, with a leader called ‘Tinker’ Fox, attacked the homes of known Royalist supporters. They looted and burned and caused fear amongst the Midland Royalist nobility. By the autumn Sir Thomas Holte was very worried about the safety of his home. He asked Colonel Leveson, Governor of Dudley Castle, for 40 musketeers to help defend Aston Hall. Earth banks were thrown up around the house (there is a record of Sir Thomas complaining about trees being cut down during this operation). By fortifying his house Sir Thomas gave cause for concern on the Parliamentarian side. Around Christmas 1643 a force was sent from Coventry to take Aston Hall. Events leading to the siege Report to Parliament by the Warwick County Committee on the Assault on Aston Hall - January 1644: Report to Parliament by the Warwick County Committee on the Assault on Aston Hall - January 1644 ‘The Knight’s forces sounded a Challenge, and we sent to demand the House for the use of King and Parliament; but they returned answer that they would not yeeld while they had a man alive. On Tuesday we played upon them with our Cannon, but they disposing of themselves in the lower rooms had little prejudice done them. On Wednesday … Our Men, Horse and Foote, marched up very valiantly, and by assault tooke the Church, which was defended by 40 stout French and Irish men, who we tooke prisoners, with one woman … by taking the Church we presently assailed their workes and tooke them, stormed the House, and our men with great valour entring in at the windows … the enemy within … then cryed for quarter, which was granted them, yet afterwards some of them very barborously shott two of our men in the mouth comming in at the window, which so inraged our souldiers, that they went about to put them all to the sword, and killed or wounded neere twenty before they could be appeased. We lost on oure side foure men and foure wounded…we tooke in all about 80 prisoners, whereof some of note, but above all we had good store of rich Pillage, goods, moneys and plate’. Sir Thomas’ troops in the house demanded to know what the Parliamentarian troops were doing there. A Parliamentarian version of events The Royalist soldiers said they were not letting the Parliament’s troops take the house. The house was bombarded with cannon fire. These could be anyone with a different accent to the local one! These nationalities were likely to be Catholics and hated by Parliament. The earth banks thrown up around Aston Hall Surrendered and asked not to be killed. The Royalists did not honour their surrender The attacking soldiers felt tricked and drew their swords in a frenzied attack before their officers could gain control. The house was ransacked. An eye witness account Slide12: Deployment of Parliamentary Troops The Attack Aston Church: Aston Church ‘…..On Wednesday … Our Men, Horse and Foote, marched up very valiantly, and by assault tooke the Church, which was defended by 40 stout French and Irish men, who we tooke prisoners, with one woman … by taking the Church we presently assailed their workes and tooke them…….’ The Parliamentarian infantry and cavalry attacked the church on Wednesday and captured everyone inside. They were not local people and included one woman. Once the church had been taken then the Parliamentarian side could start attacking the earth banks which had been thrown up to protect the Hall. This says:- The Attack The Parliamentarian Attack: The Parliamentarian Attack The south side of the house is thought to have been badly damaged during the attack. The east front of Aston Hall was greatly altered in the years following the Civil War. Was this partly a result of damage done during the attack? Sir Thomas had the church fortified but it was taken first. The Parliamentarian forces could then move closer to the house. The Attack The Artillery(Which may have been used by the Parliamentarian force at Aston Hall): The Artillery (Which may have been used by the Parliamentarian force at Aston Hall) Artillery weapons ranged from large siege pieces, able to knock holes in walls, like those used at Aston Hall, to smaller, anti-personnel guns. Horses or oxen were used to pull the guns. The rate of fire was usually about 15 rounds per hour. They were loaded with gunpowder (kept in a barrel or wrapped in canvas or paper to make cartridges), iron shot and wadding (dry vegetation). All field guns were mounted on two wheeled carriages of oak and elm. The Attack Musketeers: Musketeers Muskets played a large part for both sides in the siege of Aston Hall. A matchlock musket could be loaded and fired twice in a minute. It was loaded at the muzzle end with gunpowder (sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre), shot and wadding. A smouldering length of rope was used to ignite gunpowder in the priming pan. The gunpowder was stored in small wooden or tin containers on a ‘bandolier’ which was worn across the body. The Attack PikemenThe pikemen were mostly used in open field warfare - they were little use in a siege such as that at Aston Hall.: Pikemen The pikemen were mostly used in open field warfare - they were little use in a siege such as that at Aston Hall. Pikemen carried a pole or pike. It was 3 metres or more in length with a sharp, metal point on the end. A vicious weapon to aim at the head, throat or unprotected part of the body. They fought in a group, a ‘hedghog’, with up to a 100 men in each group. Background Information Cannonball Damage: Cannonball Damage Once the church was taken the artillery could move closer. At some point in the attack a cannonball flew though the window of the ‘Withdrawing Room’ through an open door, and hit a newel (stair) post. The resulting damage can still be seen today. It is difficult to say why this damage was not repaired immediately after the attack – maybe shortage of money. By the time a Holte baronet could afford repairs to the stair post, they had become aware of the interest value of the damage. Damage to the house John Vicar’s God’s Arke Overtopping the World’s Waves or the Third Part of the Parliamentary Chronicle (1646) : John Vicar’s God’s Arke Overtopping the World’s Waves or the Third Part of the Parliamentary Chronicle (1646) ‘And about the beginning of this instant January, came credible intelligence from Warwickshire to London, that Coventry forces marched out to Sir Thomas Holts House, about 14 miles from Coventry, and a little from Brumingham, and summoned them within the House, which caused a parley, and while the parley was, some shot was made from the House which hurt or killed two of Coventry-men: Whereupon they left parling, and instantly fell to battering the House, whereby they killed divers of them within, and forcibly made their way into the House and took about 80 prisoners, some Horse, and all the plunder of the House, an so returned safely to Coventry. This January just gone a message was sent to London from Warwickshire telling us that a Parliamentarian army had been sent from Coventry to Sir Thomas Holte’s house which is about 14 miles from Coventry and a short distance from Birmingham. The Parliamentarian officers offered to negotiate with the Royalists in the house. But as they were talking someone inside shot two of the men from Coventry. The Parliamentarians then opened fire and started attacking the house. They killed quite a number of the people inside and forced their way into the house. The Parliamentarians took 80 prisoners, horses and valuable items from the house. Then they returned safely to Coventry. Another primary source but written by someone who was not there. Transcribed (written in modern language):- The Sack of Aston Hall: The Sack of Aston Hall After the Royalists in the Hall had surrendered, Sir Thomas was taken into custody ‘without a shirt to shift him’. The house was sacked - although it could have been worse. At least it was not burnt out. Sir Thomas managed to get himself acquitted of deliquency in 1646. But Sir Thomas was tried again later and fined a 1/6 of the value of his estate. Damage to the house This is part of a reconstruction picture based on the inventory drawn up at the time of Sir Thomas’ death in1654 during the Commonwealth period).