When Charles I raised his standard in Nottingham on 22nd August 1642, men of property and influence were forced to choose between supporting Parliament or their King. In Nottinghamshire most of the landowning gentry were staunch royalists including Sir Roger Cooper of Thurgarton who lived at Thurgarton Priory, a Tudor house built by his great grandfather on the remains of a partially demolished Augustinian Priory.
1632 tapestry map showing Tudor house at Thurgarton (1) .
Sir Roger was a magistrate and in 1639 when High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire was responsible for the collection of the increasingly unpopular taxes levied by the court – Ship Money and Coat and Conduct Tax. Increasing numbers of tax defaulters were recorded in the county records of the 1630s including the entire townsfolk of Newark who withheld payment.
In the 17th century county affairs were controlled by the gentry who owed their appointments to the crown. The gentry in turn appointed village officers who ran parish business. The Protestation Returns of 1641 for Thurgarton lists 66 male householders and identifies Michael Poyser as Constable , Matthew Brettle and Henry Forrest as Churchwardens, William Holmes and Thomas Turvey as Overseers of the Poor and Zachariah Trigg as Minister. The fortune of the village in the ensuing conflict would depend on such men of standing in the community but most of all on Sir Roger and his choices.
Civil War in Nottinghamshire
A few months after the outbreak of civil war the royalists garrisoned and fortified Newark which gave them control of vital road and river routes; the town proved to be one of the main centres of royalist strength throughout the war. Less than 20 miles away the parliamentarians, under Colonel Hutchinson, took control of Nottingham and its castle.
Sir Roger Cooper fortified his house and stables at Thurgarton; and similar garrisons were established at Wiverton, Newstead, Shelford, Belvoir Castle and Staunton so providing a screen of royalist outposts around Newark.
Royalist garrisons in red.
Caught between the Royalists in Newark and the Parliamentarians in Nottingham, life in the intervening villages such as Thurgarton was dominated by the competing needs of both armies for manpower, horses, transport, food, fodder, and arms. Village constables continued to raise taxes imposed by whichever side controlled their district and with the fluctuating fortunes of the war some villages found themselves supplying alternating sides or worse were plundered if they had been too supportive of the opposition. In garrison villages and towns the troops were billeted on the locals so further stretching local supplies(2). Occasionally foraging parties could be diverted from their duty as were Colonel Harper’s men who were persuaded not to seize horses from Thurgarton by the provision of 2s 6d of ale.
The royalists at Newark dominated most of the county in the early years of the war and launched a number of attacks on Nottingham; in September 1643 they came close to overrunning the town driving the parliamentarians troops into their last redoubt – the castle (3). In 1644 the tide of war turned and Parliament with their Scottish allies took control of the North. Newark became a target for repeated parliamentary attacks but held out to the final days of the war.
Trouble at Thurgarton
One abortive attempt to take Newark late in 1644 started with an attack on the small royalist force at Thurgarton. This account is taken from the memoirs of Lucy Hutchinson wife of Colonel Hutchinson the parliamentary Governor of Nottingham (4). Parliament ordered “ all the horse of Nottingham and Derbyshire to join with three regiments of Yorkshire and quarter about Newark to straighten the enemy there; and accordingly they rendezvoused at Mansfield and from thence to Thurgarton where Sir Roger Cooper had fortified his house and lined the hedges with musketeers who, as the troops passed by, shot and killed one Captain Heywood, whereupon Colonel Thornhagh sent to the Governor and desired to borrow some foot to take the house. The Governor accordingly lent him three companies of foot who took the house and Sir Roger Cooper and his brother and forty men in it who were sent prisoners to Nottingham ; where , although Sir Roger Cooper was in great dread of being put into the Governor’s hands, yet he received such a civil treatment from him that he seemed to be much moved and melted at it.’
After taking Thurgarton the parliamentary foot and cavalry marched to Southwell where dissension broke out between the foot soldiers who had done most of the fighting at Thurgarton and the cavalry who had confiscated all the plunder taken there. The Nottinghamshire horse harassed the surrounding countryside but were poorly disciplined and failed to set a night guard. A royalist foray from Newark ‘ beat up their quarters’ and captured two troops of parliamentary horse and so this particular threat to Newark melted away.
Thurgarton was plundered and the surrounding countryside was ‘ miserably distressed’ . Thoroton ‘s history of Nottinghamshire mentions the damage done at Thurgarton ‘the woods being also extremely wasted’ (5). The winter of 1644/5 must have been an especially hard time for the villagers.
Local lore claims that a mass grave of men and weapons was unearthed in a sheepfold near Magadales Farm and an old stunted elm tree near the priory was said to have been cut in half by Cromwell’s cannon. What is certain is that musket balls can be found in the gardens next to Castle Hill.
In May 1646 Charles Stuart surrendered to the Scots army at Kelham and a sort of peace was restored to the country.
Sir Roger Cooper recovers his estate
Late in 1646 Sir Roger Cooper was evidently a free man and spent much of the following year in London attempting to recover his estate which had been confiscated by Parliament. Many hundreds of fellow royalists faced this same dilemma and were required to pay enormous fines to regain their property. Sir Roger was in correspondence with Dr Huntingdon Plumtree a physician and one of the parliamentary committee who had controlled Nottingham during the war. Huntingdon, an avowed atheist with an acerbic wit, was one of the faction within Nottingham who had plagued Governor Hutchinson and provoked severe censure in Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs (6).
The tone of the letters between Cooper and Plumtree was friendly and Cooper was evidently being financed by the good doctor. Sir Roger apologised for the prolonged delays in his business due to long queues at Guildhall where the Parliamentary Compounders worked slowly through long lists of royalists.He requests more money for his expenses for he was not allowed to collect the tithes and rents from his estate(7). Eventually Sir Roger was fined £2,256 by Parliament and to meet this enormous penalty he sold his land and property in Fiskerton, Morton and Bleasby (including Ashwell Hall) to Dr Plumtree for almost the same amount of money as his delinquency fine – £2,250 (8). However that was not the end of Sir Roger’s financial troubles for Parliament demanded another £1200 before he was allowed to repossess his property; this was reduced on appeal in 1651 to £270 by which time he had mortgaged his estate for £8000. He died in debt as did his son John
Second Civil War
In 1648 Charles 1 escaped and allied himself with the Scots whose relations with the English Parliament had deteriorated into open warfare. In 1648 a Scots army marched down into Lancashire but in mid August the parliament’s army overwhelmed the Scots at Preston. Amongst several abortive royalist uprisings in 1648 a force of 400 horse and 200 foot soldiers marched from Pontefract to Lincoln and on towards the vale of Belvoir. On 5th July 1648 a parliamentarian force led by Col. Rossiter defeated the royalists after 2-3 hours of bloody hand-to-hand combat at Willoughby. Casualties were severe and amongst the royalist prisoners were John and Cecil Cooper, sons of Sir Roger Cooper of Thurgarton. How long they were held captive is not known but both were again at liberty in the early 1650s.
The Commonwealth and Protectorate
Charles Stuart the ‘man of blood’ was found guilty of treason and executed at Whitehall on January 30th 1649. The following four years saw a confused struggle for power between the Army and Parliament until Cromwell imposed his rule as Lord Protector in 1653 until his death 5 years later.
Execution of Charles I
In 1655 a group of royalists formed a secret committee – the Sealed Knot. In collusion with the future Charles II in exile in the Low Countries, they planned a series of royalist uprising; plans for Chester, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire all came to nothing and in Cornwall Penruddock’s rebellion was rapidly crushed. In Nottinghamshire a planned uprising involved Sir Roger Cooper’s sons, John and Cecil who were ringleaders in the plot. They mustered a small force of men and a cartload of weapons at Thurgarton; according to local versions of the story they met at the remote farm of Thurgarton Quarters which lay on the route northwards to Oxton and Sherwood Forest.
Thurgarton Quarters farm lies in the north of the parish on the road to Sherwood Forest
Here is Wood’s description of these events in March 1655:- ‘Late on Thursday night March 8th little files of horsemen threaded their way along the dark lanes of Sherwood Forest to the appointed rendezvous on the green before the New Inn close to Rufford Abbey and the cart of arms was brought from Thurgarton. By 11pm about 300 royalist conspirators had assembled. The two Cooper brothers, Gilby, Barker and the other gentlemen went into the inn to discuss their plans while their followers waited on the green outside. At midnight or a little later Captain John Cooper came out, and telling the assembly that they were betrayed, he bade every man to shift for himself. On Cooper’s announcement some of the men flung their arms into the neighbouring pond and the meeting rapidly melted away into the darkness’ (9).
The intention had been for the Rufford assembly to join forces with a similar body of Yorkshire royalists and march north to seize York. Both Cooper brothers were arrested, Cecil Cooper was permitted to leave England and brother John eventually escaped and fled overseas probably to join the circle of royalist exiles in the Low Countries.
Sir Roger Cooper died in 1657. His younger son, John, was still in exile and in 1658 John Cooper’s wife, Jane, wrote to Richard Cromwell the new Protector begging permission for her husband to return ‘ that he may live quietly’. We have no record of a reply to this letter but John and Cecil Cooper were probably amongst the host of returning royalist exiles that accompanied Charles II in 1660.
Charles II was in no position to financially restore the lost fortunes of his loyal followers many of whom had to content themselves with the royal gift of honorary court appointments – John Cooper was appointed ‘Carver to his Majesty’. Indeed Charles II’s government was short of funds and resorted to a raft of new taxes and John Cooper as his father before him was resposible for their collection in Nottinghamshire. He was described as ‘ a very industrious person who died in 1672 in his majesties debt having been Receiver General of the Royal Aid and Additional Supply and Collector of Hearth taxes in this county’. His older brother, Cecil Cooper, also returned from exile and served as a magistrate from 1660 to 1674 and as deputy lieutenant of the county; he died in 1675 and was buried in Thurgarton church
Graveslab of Cecil Cooper
With the exception of the regicides most leading parliamentarians escaped severe retribution. Governor Hutchinson’s house at Owthorpe was plundered in December 1660 on the orders of Captain Cecil Cooper possibly in revenge for the despoiling of his father’s estate in Thurgarton six years previously.
Lucy Hutchinson complained bitterly of Captain Cooper’s raid on her home but three years later he redeemed himself by an act of kindness to her imprisoned husband. Hutchinson was initially allowed his liberty but in 1663 he was arrested and imprisoned at Newark prior to his transfer to the Tower. In poor health his transfer was delayed by order of Cecil Cooper and he was allowed a last visit to his family at Owthorpe (10). He died of fever in Sandown Castle in 1664.
The great Nottinghamshire historian,Thoroton, writing only a few years after the Civil War describes Sir Roger Cooper as:‘ a worthy honest gentleman whose fidelity and constancy to the royal interest weakened his fortunes so that Cecil Cooper esquire his son will have too hard a task to make his house and demesnes entirely his own’ (11). The same could have been said of many worthy and honest gentlemen on both sides of the divide. As for the villagers of Thurgarton we have no record of how many shared Sir Roger’s loyalty to the king but what is certain is that they along with the ordinary men and women of England suffered years of hardship.
They were poorly served by both King and Parliament.
1 Tapestry Map of Nottinghamshire commissioned by Mary Eyre in 1632 and held at Nottingham City Museums.
2 M.Bennett, The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland (Blackwell 1997), pp.176-9
3 C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\Desktop\civil war\The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway Events The English Civil War Overview.mht
4 L. Hutchinson, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (J.M.Dent 1969), pp.190-1.
5 R.Thoroton, Antiquities of Nottinghamshire1677, edited 1790 by J.Throsby, (reprint 1971 E.P.Publishers) p.59
6 http:/www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/71045 – biography of Dr Huntingdon Plumtree
7 Nottinhamshire County Archives, DD.2B 2/17-51, letters between Cooper and Plumtree.
8 House of Commons Journal V 5 : March 9th 1648 and House of Lords Journal V 10 15th April 1648
9 A.C.Wood, Nottinghamshire in the Civil War, (S.R. Publishers, Wakefield 1971), pp.166-9
10 Hutchinson pp.302-3
11 Thoroton p.59
M. Ashley, The English Civil War ( Stroud 2001 reprint)
M.Bennett, The Civil Wars Experienced (Routledge 2000)
I. Brown, The Civil War in Nottinghamshire (Notts County Council 2000 reprint)
Copwell, 17th Century Nottinghamshire County Records
A. Fraser, Our Chief of Men (Phoenix 1973)
M.Honeybone, The Vale of Belvoir (Barracuda Books 1987) pp.39-62