Different class

by Nick

I came across the following in an account by Thomas Weller of a royalist uprising in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, in Kent, in July 1643. Weller was the owner of Tonbridge castle, pictured, and a local grandee on the Parliamentarian side. At this point in his narrative he is holed up in his house in the castle grounds, having armed his servants and placed them at the windows. A number of royalist rebels have already tried to enter the house when this happens:

Upon Saturday morning early, being in my study, the doore locked to me, suddenly about twenty persons, whereof one Parry, a smith of Crayford, one other smith of Earith, and one Smale were chiefs, with their pistols ready cocked, their swords drawn, matches cocked in their muskctts, entered my house swearing many oaths they would have me alive or dead: and immediately they fell to plundering my house, breaking open chests and trunks and presses, takeing away the greatest part of my linen, all my cloathes, the apparell of myself and wife, she being then lame a-bed of a broken leg, and thrust my linnen and other things into sacks which they brought with them, and laid them upon horses, and rode away with them.

I, keeping myself in my study, heard Parry say to Smale, “We have sped well here. Let us go to Hadlow and Peckham, and plunder there, for they are rich rogues, and so we will go away into the woods;” to whom Smale replied, “But we must plunder none but Roundheads.” Parry replied with a great oath, ” We will make every man a Roundhead that hath any thing to lose. This is the time we look for.”

From Richard Almack (ed.), Camden Miscellany: Papers relating to proceedings in the county of Kent, A. D. 1642-1646, vol. 3 (1855)

Of course we can’t necessarily trust Weller’s account. It may be that he is exaggerating or making up the encounter altogether, and playing on gentry fears of the ‘rude multitude’ turning the natural order of things upside down. But at face value, it appears to show two men with a rather developed sense of class consciousness. The ideological tension between Parry and Smale – do they choose allegiance to their political cause, or allegiance to their class? – is almost too good to be true. There is a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern quality to the pair which makes me wish I knew more about them.

The battle around Tonbridge is one of those skirmishes that barely features in narratives of the civil wars, but which was clearly of huge significance locally. The burial records for Tonbridge Parish Church contain entries for five Parliamentarian and two Royalist casualties, but there must have been more in the surrounding towns and villages across which the battle was fought. The Parliamentary army sent to relieve the local militia, under the command of Colonel Richard Browne, reported killing a dozen Royalists and taking two hundred prisoners.

When I was at school in Tonbridge in the early 1990s, a teacher told me a story of the ghost of a Parliamentarian soldier who haunts the High Street: running up and knocking on the doors of Ferox Hall (a grand house near the town’s old defensive ditch) to escape his pursuers. The house’s owners did not let him in, and he was killed. Hearing about this at the age of thirteen or so was one of the things which first got me interested in seventeenth-century history. I now can’t find any other references to this tale, though, and wonder whether it’s a genuine folk tradition; or whether it was garbled in the telling; or indeed whether the teacher made it up altogether.

Photo courtesy of Dave Patten, used under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution share alike licence.