« PreviousContinue »
who held there in 1267 the Parliament at which the celebrated “Statutes of Marlborough” were enacted. Like many other boroughs, if not all, its Constitution was at first, and for a long period, of a liberal character, the entire body of the inhabitants, paying scot and lot, having the rights and privileges of burgesses. But by degrees the governing body became, as in so many other instances, narrowed to a small exclusive self-elected body, till “ reduced at last to some half-dozen individuals, they invited by their insignificance the hand of reform.” The history of these various changes is given in an interesting narrative by Mr. Waylen, but we have not space, of course, to follow him through it.
The Seymour family, who possessed the castle of Marlborough, with the lordship called the “Barton,” and the forests of Savernak and Albourn Chase, as also many large adjoining estates, mostly inherited from the Esturmys of Wolfhall, who had held lands in this neighbourhood from the time of the Conqueror, naturally exercised great influence over the borough. The Earl of Hertford, son of tha Protector, inhabited the mansion of Amesbury, and occasionally resided at Tottenham. It was his grandson, Sir Francis Seymour, younger brother of the then Earl, who built for his residence the large house on the site of the old castle, long known to many yet living as the Castle Inn, and now the nucleus of the Marlborough College. He was returned to the long Parliament as one of the members for Marlborough, his colleague being John Franklyn, and both at first opponents of the extravagant pretensions of the prerogative. Sir Francis, however, when the crisis approached, sided with the King, who raised him to the peerage under the title of Baron Trowbridge, while his colleague, Franklyn, and his successor, Philip Smith, remained firm to the popular cause, and the former played a very prominent part in the ensuing incidents of the great rebellion.
Wiltshire was full of non-conformists, and the inhabitants of Marlborough especially were in Clarendon's estimation “notoriously disaffected.” This was shewn in 1642 by their liberal contributions to the parliamentary loans, and their voluntary enrolment in large numbers in the militia then forming under the Earl of Pembroke in defence of the parliamentary cause, and in opposition to the commission of array of which among others the Marquis of Hertford and his brother, the Lord Seymour, were charged with the execution. Nor was it long before the town of Marlborough defended only by this hastily raised militia was exposed to actual assault from the royalist forces detached for the purpose from Oxford, under Lord Digby, in November, 1642. The first attack seems to have been easily foiled. But in the beginning of the next month, a body of 6,000 infantry with several troops of horse, under Lords Grandison and Wentworth, in conjunction with Lord Digby, attacked the town on several sides with great energy, and having forced its defenders under Sir Neville Poole to retreat for safety to the Lord Seymour's house, and the Castle Mound, sacked, and, to a great extent, burnt and ruined the unfortunate town. A few days later succour arrived from Lord Essex, the Commanderin-Chief of the parliamentary forces, and the royalists retreated on Oxford; but the mischief had been done, and it took some time for the unlucky inhabitants of Marlborough to recover their losses. Moreover, John Franklyn, the popular member, and some hundred of the inhabitants were taken prisoners, carried to Oxford, and confined there for a long period under circumstances of great hardship and cruelty. In the series of contests that subsequently took place between the royalist and parliamentarian forces, in the county of Wilts, and the adjoining counties of Berks, Oxford, and Hampshire, the town of Marlborough bore a prominent part, as lying on the great high road from London to the West of England. But we must refer to Mr. Waylen's book for the interesting details of these events, especially recommending to our readers the amusing narrative of the gallant but somewhat marauding exploits of Major Dowett, commander of the Devizes troopers, who seems to have considered Marlborough a never failing subject for attack and depredation. In the end, however, the cause of the Parliament triumphing, Marlborough rose again from its ruins, and recovered a fair amount of prosperity. The Lord Seymour compounded with
the Parliament for his “delinquencies ;” settled quietly in his residence at the castle ; and so rapidly were all traces of the recent struggles obliterated, that in 1648, our old gossip and friend, John Aubrey, spent the Christmas there, happily hare hunting on the downs with Mr. Charles Seymour's beagles and Sir W. Button's greyhounds, and investigating the interesting relics of Avebury which he seems to have been the first to discover, at least to make known to the world.
The disorders incident to a state of war were now at an end, and the only military spectacle of which the town was at this period the scene, was in July 1649, six months after the King's death, on occasion of Cromwell's passing through it on his way to Bristol, at the head of a large force destined for the conquest of Ireland. The general was himself with his officers entertained at a grand feast given by the Earl of Pembroke at his manor house of Ramsbury, the army being quartered principally in Marlborough. A few years later, in 1653, the town was in great part destroyed by a terrible conflagration arising from accident; and this calamity being contemporaneous with the accession of the Lord Protector to supreme power, was spoken of by some of the loyalist scribes of the day as “an ominous commencement of this incendiary's usurpation, whose red and fiery nose has been the burden of many a cavalier's song.” By this calamity the town hall, market-house, the church of St. Mary, the principal inns, and between two and three hundred houses were burnt to the ground. The loss was estimated in the petition for aid sent up on the occasion to the council of state from the mayor and other inhabitants, at “three score and ten thousand pounds at the least.” A committee was thereupon appointed by the council to sit at Sadler's Hall, London, for managing and ordering collections to be made through special letters of the council, addressed to all parts of the kingdom. The amount raised by this collection is not stated ; but that the town rose rapidly again from its ashes is clear from a passage in Evelyn's memoirs, recording his visit to it the year after the conflagration.
“ 9th June, 1654. Set out in a coach and six to visit my wife's relations in Wiltshire. Dined at Marlborough, which having been lately fired, was now new-built. At one end of the town we saw Lord Seymour's house, but nothing observable except the mount, to which we ascended by windings for near half a mile. It seems to have been cast up by hand.”
The trade of the town seems at this time to have flourished greatly. The Marlborough cheese market in particular was celebrated, and supplied the metropolis with a thin kind of cheese in great favour with consumers. Cloths and serges were likewise manufactured there, and cutlery and tanning were among the staple trades of the place. The population engaged in the clothing trade must have been considerable, as a petition of the date of 1697 to the Commons House states that “many thousands of poor people had been employed for several years past in the clothing trade hereabouts, besides 700 yearly in the workhouse.” Workhouses were evidently more deserving of their title at that period, than they are at present.
Cromwell granted a new charter to the borough, in which his partisans were numerous. But the royalist party had many supporters there likewise, and even Lord Hertford and his brother Lord Seymour were suspected of readiness to join in any movement for the restoration of the legitimate Sovereign. The rash and unfortunate rising of Mr. Penruddock was intended to have broken out by seizure of this town, and taking unawares the troop of Cromwell's horse stationed in it. The cavalry, however, were too well on their guard. The outbreak exploded at Salisbury instead. And the Seymours remaining quiet were rewarded by Cromwell with a considerable exemption from the threatened assessment on them of the commissioners.
Mr. Waylen gives some amusing passages extracted from pamphlets of the day, relative to the intrigues and contests of the rival partisans in the borough at this period, especially the story of the sufferings of “ William Houlbrook, the Marlborough blacksmith," a royalist, and the treacheries of Cornet Joyce, an old
soldier and agent of the “Rump,' the same person who conducted the late King from Holmby. Houlbrook was suspected of being an agent of Prynne's who had turned royalist at this time, and had been certainly in communication with the loyal blacksmith while passing through Marlborough. This was about the time of Sir G. Booth's rising in Cheshire in 1659, when a few royalists did appear in arms near Malmesbury, but were speedily crushed.
The shrewd smith seems by his own account to have been too cunning for his examiners, when, upon being arrested and taken to London, he was questioned before the council consisting of Bradshaw, Disbrowe, and Sir Henry Vane. At all events he was dismissed unpunished, and a few months later the monarchy being restored, he became the hero of his locality, and ends his exulting and triumphant narrative by the boast that
“Now he lives in Marlborough town,
And is a man of some renown.” In 1663 King Charles II. was sumptuously entertained at Marlborough by Lord Seymour, while on a western progress, accompanied by his Queen and his brother, the Duke of York. It was during this visit that Aubrey was summoned to the presence of royalty, and had the honour and gratification of playing cicerone to the Sovereign among the local antiquities of Avebury and Stonehenge. The King according to Aubrey's relation, walked up to the top of Silbury Hill with the Duke of York, Dr. Charlton and Aubrey himself acting as their guides.
Mr. Waylen takes the occasion of his narrative, having reached the period of the restoration, to give biographical sketches of several of the ejected Divines among the Wiltshire clergy, who, by the Act of Uniformity, were deprived of their preferment. .
The Wiltshire Commissioners for enforcing the execution of the act sat chiefly at Marlborough, and one of them was the famous Adoniram Byfield for some time Rector of Collingbourn Ducis. This portion of the work will offer matter of great interest to many readers. But we have not space here to dwell upon it further than by mentioning, as one among this “army of martyrs,' the well