Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Colonel John Hutchinson and the Civil War in Nottingham

As a child, I was fascinated by stories of the English Civil War, a fascination helped along, no doubt by the fact that I grew up in Nottingham, a city with many sites associated with the war - Standard Hill, The Old Salutation Inn,  St Nicholas` Church, and with a number of place names commemorating that history - Parliament Street, Parliament Terrace etc.

Doing a bit of reading on the subject, I found pretty much straight away that one local story concerning the siege(s) of Nottingham Castle is not in fact true ! Many people believe that the steeple of St Nicholas` Church was shortened to allow Royalist artillery in the area behind the church to fire on the Castle, which was held by John Hutchinson`s Parliamentary forces. In fact, this is what normal people call `rubbish` ! The steeple of the church was used by Royalist snipers armed with muskets to fire into the Castle grounds, but no artillery was involved and in fact the church was demolished shortly afterwards (circa 1643) on Hutchinson`s orders to prevent a recurrence - the current church on the same site dates from 1682.

So who was this Hutchinson I hear you ask ? By happy chance I`m in a position to answer. 

 Born in Nottingham in 1615, John was the son of Sir Thomas Hutchinson MP , so unsurprisingly he grew up steeped in Parliamentary tradition, though in fact his mother was related to the Byrons, a family united in the Royalist cause.

University educated, John was something of a dilettante until meeting his future wife, Lucy, a  serious and studious girl who was to become his biographer. Perhaps appropriately, young Lucy was born in the Tower of London, where her father was a high-ranking official ! Eventually, John and Lucy set up house together in the Hutchinson family home in  Owthorpe, Notts.

Both had Puritan views and were critical of the rule of Charles I. When hostilities broke out between Royalists and Parliamentarians, Royalist forces attempted to seize Nottinghamshire`s supply of ammunition and gunpowder . Hutchinson demanded that they stop, but was ignored. Adapting his methods on the spot, he went away, but returned with a group of around 300 local people to back him up and announced that he and his new found allies were "prepared to lose their blood" if it came to a fight. The Royalists threatened that he had made himself "a marked man", but did so whilst beating a hasty retreat !  

When Royalists occupied the Newark area, Hutchinson took himself to Nottingham and repeated this tactic, rallying 700 local people to form a Defence Committee. One of his recruits was Henry Ireton of Attenborough, later to become Oliver Cromwell`s son-in-law.

Hutchinson was made Governor of Nottingham Castle in 1643 and is held to have conducted a vigorous defence, though some question why he prepared the castle for a siege instead of defending the whole town.

In 1646 he became MP for Nottingham and was later one of the men who signed the King`s death warrant.

Originally a radical, who regarded the King as a man who had declared war on the people, Hutchinson opposed Cromwell`s assumption of power in 1653 and refused to serve under him. Throughout  the 1650s Hutchinson and Lucy opted for a quiet life in Nottinghamshire, enjoying the countryside and  involving themselves in the education of their children. John served as a Magistrate during this time. However , the restoration of the monarchy was to bring an end to this idyllic existence, as the Royalists sought revenge on the `regicides` who authorised the execution of Charles I.

 Fearing that he would choose not to defend himself, Lucy wrote a letter to the authorities purporting to be from her husband, stating the reasons for his actions. Astonishingly, her improvised defence, taken together with other factors, proved persuasive and he was reprieved from a possible death sentence. There are various accounts of some of the various strategems behind this episode, an overview can be found in our man`s Wikipedia page.

It was to prove only a temporary respite, as John was falsely accused of participation in "a Northern plot" (revealing choice of words !) against Charles II. Imprisoned initially in  the Tower of London, the birthplace of  his wife, he was then transferred to Sandown Castle in Kent. Lucy rented rooms nearby and set off to Nottinghamshire to fetch the children. On her return, she learnt that her husband had died "of a fever" in her absence, a diagnosis she never accepted.  He was buried beneath the north wall of Owthorpe church, where I understand a Hutchinson Memorial can be seen today, complete with an inscription thought to be Lucy`s work.

What kind of man was Hutchinson ? He is said to have been an "untypical" Roundhead - reserved, polite and fashion-conscious, with long curly hair. It is recorded that he played a musical instrument, the viol, and enjoyed falconry.

As Governor of the Castle, he "ran a tight ship", with penalties for soldiers who behaved badly, which was unusual for the time. He allowed local people to live within the protection of the castle walls in return for their help with building defences. Lucy often acted as nurse during hosilities.

He treated his enemies well, possibly because he knew that some of his friends and family fought in the Royalist cause, and even on occasion invited prisoners to share an evening meal with him.

There was one occasion when his reputation for courteous and gentlemanly behaviour took a slight dent, when Royalist soldiers disguised as civilians entered Nottingham carrying concealed weapons. Forewarned, Hutchinson arranged for his troops to intercept them, which they did without difficulty. Some of the would-be attackers were believed to have drowned in the Trent during fighting on the bridge while a number were taken prisoner. 

For some reason, the incident enraged Hutchinson, who stated variously that he would have been happy if his men had thrown their captives into the Trent, that the prisoners should be executed as spies since they were in disguise and that they should be tortured to obtain details of the plot (though it is unclear what information he hoped to obtain).  In the event, none of the above actually took place. One of the prisoners was recognised as a former Parliamentarian soldier who had defected and he alone was executed. The others were exchanged for Roundhead prisoners held by the Royalists.  

After the war, Hutchinson had the castle demolished, much to Cromwell`s annoyance, stating he never wanted to see it used again in such a struggle.

He seems to have been troubled over the matter of King Charles` death warrant, possibly due to Cromwell`s heavy-handed efforts to get the verdict he wanted. According to Lucy, her husband prayed for guidance and eventually found "confirmation in his conscience that it was his duty to act as he did". In the event, he was the thirteenth person to sign the warrant. He is said to have later expressed remorse over this, but it is unclear if this is an accurate representation of his feelings on the subject.

Although he refused to serve under Oliver Cromwell, he did agree to act as Sheriff of Nottingham under the rule of Oliver`s son, Richard.

Was Hutchinson a good man ? I believe he was, also that he was a remarkable man who deserves to be remembered and is entitled to our respect.

 I don`t suppose this little article is much in the scheme of things, but if it introduces a few people to the life and times of Colonel John Hutchinson, I shall be happy with that. Most of the information above comes from Ian Brown`s A Guide to the Civil War in Nottingham (Nottinghamshire County Council) - any mistakes and misconceptions are my own, I`m sure ! 

There are a number of books about on the Civil War in Notts - here are a few that may be of interest, though I can`t claim to have read them all myself ;

1) Unknown (Royal Commission for Historical Monuments) - Newark on Trent ; The Civil War Siegeworks - HMSO, 1964

2) Lucy Hutchinson (author), James Sutherland (editor) - Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson - OUP, 1973

3) A C Wood - Nottinghamshire in the Civil War - OUP, 1937

4) Tim Warner - Newark : Civil War and Siegeworks - Notts County Council

5) Unknown (Notts Archive Office)  - Discovering the Civil War in Nottinghamshire (Notts County Council)

6) Ian Brown* (author) , Gillian Elias (illustrator) - A Guide to the Civil War in Nottinghamshire (Notts County Council)

A copy of this last item is available from Hoonaloon Books (our item number 3697) , as are   ;

7)  Unknown - The Civil War 1642 - 1651 : A Pitkin Guide - Pitkin Pictorials 1993 (our item number 3698).

8)  Young - An Illustrated history of the Great Civil War 1642-1648 - Spurbooks (our item 1883)

9) Plowden - The Women All on Fire  - Sutton (item 2552)

* A number of booklets by Ian Brown can be found in our listings, including Nottinghamshire Industrial heritage (2505) and Samuel Butler of Langar (2219).

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