A Country Divided: The Meon Valley and the Civil War, 1642-1649

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The Country is divided; there is a battle between two forces, over the Irish question, the country’s finances and the manner in which England is being governed.

Ring any bells? Actually I am talking about 1642, but you would be forgiven if you thought it was a headline from today.

The irony that the THS had asked Duncan Colin-Jones to speak about The Civil Wars in the Meon Valley on the very night of the vote on Teresa May’s Brexit deal  was not lost on the speaker or the audience.

Well at least we know the outcome of the English Civil Wars and the well documented impact on those living within the Meon Valley.

Like most major incidents in history the personalities of opposing factions, some taking uncompromising stances, impacted on the whole country and in this case eventually led to the abolishing of parlia
ment. Yes I am still talking about the Civil Wars and Cromwell.

Duncan Colin-Smith eloquently took us through the various disputes between Parliament and King Charles I and where our local aristocracy and landowners allegiances lay during the three Civil Wars of 1642 to 1651. 

The 4th Earl of Southampton at Place House was a Royalist (Cavalier), yet towards Winchester there was Sir Robert Wallop and at Southwick Park Richard Norton (and his Hambledon Boys) on the side of the Parliamentarians (Roundheads).

The south of England was split and the Meon Valley was the line between the two forces, with key sites fought over such as Winchester Castle, a battle at Cheriton and a siege at Bishops Waltham.

Between 1643 and 1645 both armies moved backwards and forwards across the land around the Meon Valley, playing a cat and mouse game, amassing and moving troops around the south. 

During this time the biggest losers were the small land owners and farmers of the area. When troops from either side arrived in a area they felt entitled to help themselves to food, livestock, horses, hay and even to ‘impress’ local lads into their fighting force, leaving promissory notes that the King or Parliament would reimburse them. Eventually a local militia formed, known for their weapon of choice as ‘The Clubmen’ who banded together to protect their goods and chattels.

In the Meon Valley the Parliamentarians led by Colonel Norton gained the upper hand, pushing the Royalists towards Oxford. 

Defeated King Charles moved north to meet up with his allies, the Scots. He didn’t bargain for his kinsmen selling him back to Parliament and his eventual imprisonment at Hampton Court in 1647. Charles escaped and while wandering around southern England trying to find a passage to safety he arrived at Place House to broker a deal with Parliament. This failed and he was taken to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight and despite several failed escape attempts and peace delegations, Charles was beheaded in 1649 at Cromwell’s instruction. The 4th Earl of Southampton watched over his body that night before its burial, a Royalist to the end.

The ascendance of Thomas Cromwell as Lord Protector, followed by his ineffectual son Richard, the eventual forming of a new Parliament and the return of the monarchy ended this tumultuous period in British history.

Our speaker identified parallels with the mid 17th century and our divided society today and I wonder if serving politicians ever learn from the mistakes of the past.


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