Snippets from ‘The Storming of Cirencester – 2 February 1643’ (new calendar)
I’m sure that many of you will have already thought: I know the basics of this event and maybe a bit more … what little bit can be added here? Well, just to remind you or others with not such good memories, the story goes:
On Thursday 2nd February 1643 at 10am, in 4 inches of snow, the 7,000-strong Royalist army under overall command of Prince Rupert, Prince Palatine of the Rhine and nephew of King Charles I, opened fire on Cirencester with two 18 pounder canon and four smaller ones – the picture shows a 4 pounder. The town was defended by about 2,500 armed men. The army attacked on foot and on horseback about an hour later. By 2pm it was all but over with over 300 defenders killed by the end of the day and 1,200 locked into the church. By dark it really was all over.
All of that did happen but I want to tell you a bit more detail about some of those, as it turned out, one-sided events. I’m not going to relate the full story as you can read the two main accounts elsewhere. I want to tell you about Prince Rupert, about the way he approached the town in his attack and what happened to the men of Cirencester after the fighting.
Prince Rupert, b. 17 Dec 1619, was just 23 when he took Cirencester! He already had 9 years’ experience ‘in the field’, more than most of his commanders. He continued to great things later but not so much for his Uncle’s cause. In 1646 he started his naval career by opposing Parliament from the sea. Later, after a further period as a pirate, he hired his prowess to various European armies for a number of years before being asked to run the English navy for his cousin Charles II. He founded the Hudson Bay Company in Canada; he was a notable engineer and fine artist. Altogether one of the great characters of the 17th century! He died in Nov 1682 aged 62 – not a bad age for someone so active in life – and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
He attacked the town from the direction of the Ewe Pens to the west of the town. His army had spent the night in the fields around Stratton and moved up to the road across the valley in the morning starting the attack on the Barton Farm (then called Giffords). The Avenue had not been constructed then and the ground down by the Duntisbourne Brook was very marshy. Rupert naturally led from the front and was predictably closely involved in the break-in at 10 Coxwell Street – where one of the Civic Society’s blue plaques has been placed recently.
After the fighting, the men of the town were rounded up and locked in the church overnight before being marched off through the mud and snow to the notorious prison in Oxford via Witney church. Many were wounded. Some were allowed back quite quickly, others stayed until May or June.
The town remained under Royalist control until 1646.
William Cooper, for Civic Society.