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The Worcestershire Clubmen

During the First Civil War the despair of the local population in many counties, continually at the mercy of either side, whatever their original loyalty had been, led to the rise of the 'Clubmen Movements'. These were associations or 'clubs' of local inhabitants who practised armed neutrality.

There were assemblies of Clubmen in Worcestershire throughout 1645. The best evidence comes from the west of the county, around Woodbury Hill and the Malverns. These were areas that had so far escaped the worst excesses of the plundering by both sides and that wished to continue to do so. On 5 March, 1,000 men from north-west Worcestershire met on Woodbury Hill, under the leadership of Charles Nott of Shelsley. There they drew up a Declaration to protest the 'utter ruin by the outrages and violence of the soldier; threatening to fire our houses; endeavouring to ravish our wives and daughters, and menacing our persons'.

The Clubmen wanted to establish 'a mutual league for each other's defence', including provision to rescue members who were captured. Admission to the league was refused to any soldier or those marked for enlistment. This was not a revolutionary, or even Parliamentary movement. The Woodbury Clubmen, composed mainly of commoners, recognised the Royalist High Sheriff (Henry Bromley of Holt) and Grand Jury as the legitimate legal authority of the county and claimed that their league was to enforce the Royalist's own, oft-repeated and by now discredited, proclamation to improve the discipline of the troops. The practical consequence of this stance was, however, to oppose the Royalist occupying forces. The profession of loyalty to the king was in itself a well-used convention during the war. In practical terms this movement benefited the Parliamentarians, as it was the Royalists whose armies were the principal occupying power. Nevertheless, the refusal of the Clubmen to offer outright support to Parliament meant that an irritated Colonel Massey in Gloucester (who supplied them with some weapons) still described them as traitorous rebels.

Nothing seems to have come of this first phase of the movement in Worcestershire although the Committee of Salop wrote on 13 April that the Clubmen 'continue resolute to oppose the King's party'. Despite attempts to track down the ringleaders, local constables refused to give the names of those attending. After an abortive attempt to negotiate with the Clubmen at Tenbury, there is no recorded reaction to the demands of Prince Rupert in May for every man to forswear the leagues.

Despite this ominous sign of popular revolt, the exactions of the Royalist army continued unabated. In addition, there was an absence of any firm Royalist leadership in the county. By the Autumn of 1645, the ultimate defeat of the Royalists was becoming evermore obvious and this encouraged the waverers. A more politically-calculating movement, with a different power base therefore emerged in the winter, and was a more overt anti-Royalist movement. On 11 November, 3,000 men from the Evesham area met on the heights of Bredon Hill to declare formally for Parliament and seek armed support. This time they were led, not by commoners, but by gentry who had realised that they had been supporting a losing cause. Sir Edward Dineley of Charlton, formerly a Royalist Commissioner and then a member of the Parliamentary Committee of Sequestration (to investigate and seize the estates of proven Royalist gentry), was elected leader.

The hopes of the eastern Clubmen were short-lived. Fired with new-found enthusiasm they tried to blockade Royalist garrisons and, in early December, they rashly attacked Maurice and Rupert on their way to Oxford but were easily defeated and dispersed, at least temporarily. Nevertheless, the Committee of Salop wrote on 14 December that the troops at Evesham 'joined with the country who rise so freely that Worcester is already much straitened for provision'.

The Woodbury league also re-emerged in early December. On 6 December they presented a new manifesto to the governor of Worcester. Details were given for systems of warning of danger, arranging help for any that were wounded and declaring any that did not answer the summons as enemies who would be denied future protection. Every parishioner worth £10 a year had to provide himself with a musket. The new Royalist commander in the county from 6 December, Lord Astley, was ordered to 'keep the county from rendezvous and tumultuous assemblies of men without authority'. But the tide was now firmy with the parliamentary forces and the Clubmen formed an important new militia that supported the New Model Army as it regained control in the county via the sieges of the small county garrisons from January, culminating in the siege of Worcester itself in June.

Go to the text of the Woodbury Declaration

Back to Worcestershire in the English Civil War pages

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Last modification: 12:06:46, 14th October, 2005 by Web Team
Review date: 14th December, 2005
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