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Nothing remains of the once spectacular Cholmondeley house which once stood in what is now Grosvenor Park. One of the buildings on the eastern side of St Johns was St Anne’s, a fraternity guild house and chapel. The guild was dissolved in 1547 and the building wa purchased by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley and converted into his town house. This house was supposedly the scene of a violent skirmish in 1641, immediately prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. According to the commonly told tale, a party of armed "Catholics" were intercepted here by the City trained band. The resulting fire fight left several dozen dead and the rebels either captured or fled. However a look at the general circumstances tends to support the view that the skirmish never, in fact, took place, and reveals a case of what appears to be "fake news".
The three main protagonists in this historical incident include Royalist Thomas Aston and Parliamentarian William Brereton, who were both MP's, both related Cheshire gentry and engaged in a "paper war" in the Commons prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Once the actual fighting started in Cheshire these two were soon to clash on the battlefield. The third protagonist was Robert Cholmondeley, owner of the house in what is now Grosvenor Park. As will be seen, others involved included Calvin Bruen, an extreme Chester Puritan, and some London stationers who would print and publish anything that could sell copy and make money.
Sir Thomas Aston (29 September 1600 – 24 March 1645)
Aston was born in Shropshire, the eldest son of John Aston of Aston, Cheshire and his wife Maud Needham, daughter of Robert Needham. His uncle was the soldier Arthur Aston. He matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford on 28 March 1617, aged 16, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts on 8 July 1619. In 1620, he was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn. Aston was created a baronet of Aston, in the County of Chester by King Charles I of England on 25 July 1628. He was appointed High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1635. In April 1640 he was elected Member of Parliament for Cheshire in the Short Parliament.
Sir Thomas was a staunch churchman and loyally attached to the monarchy, and in the civil and ecclesiastical troubles he played a notable part. The portentous rise of nonconformist sentiment excited alike fear and anger, reflected at first in a "paper war". When what was known as the Cheshire petition against episcopacy (organised by Calvin Bruen and similar to the "Root and Branch petition") was in circulation, Sir Thomas and his friends set about the preparation of a counter-petition or "remonstrance". Sir Thomas was attacked as the framer of the document in an "answer" which he denounces as the work of "some brain-sick anabaptist" and this appears to have provoked him to the hasty compilation of a quarto which is sufficiently described on its title- page:
- "A Remonstrance against Presbytery, exhibited by divers of the nobilitie, gentrie, ministers, and inhabitants of the County Palatine of Chester, with the motives of that Remonstrance, together with a short survey of the Presbyterian discipline, showing the inconveniences of it, and the inconsistency thereof with the constitution of this state, being in its principles destructive to the laws and liberties of the people. With a briefe review of the institution, succession, jurisdiction of the ancient and venerable order of bishops found to be instituted by the Apostles, continued ever since, grounded on the lawes of God and most agreeable to the law of the land. By Sir Thomas Aston, Baronet. . . . Printed for John Aston, 1641' (B.M.), 4to." (see: Free e-Book)
There is independent evidence that there were violently anti-episcopal sermons from many Cheshire pulpits in the summer of 1641 and that one of the pricipal preachers was Samuel Eaton. The "Remonstrance" mentions him in person. Annexed to Aston's Remonstrance are "Certain Positions preached at St. John's Church in Chester, by Mr. Samuel Eaton, a minister lately returned from New England, upon Sunday, being the third day of January 1640," as well as "Certyn other Positions preached by the same man at Knuttesford, a great Market Toune in the same County." Aston bears unwilling testimony to Eaton's powers as a preacher in asserting that by his "doctrines many of the common people are brought into that odium of the Book of Common Prayer, that divers of them will not come into the church during the time of divine service." In August 1641 "the New England Mr. Eaton" is reported as having delivered at Barrow, Cheshire, a violent tirade "against the bishops and their government". Of the genuineness of Aston's alarm there can be little doubt and it was shared by at least those forty Cheshire gentlemen, headed by Lords Cholmondeley and Kilmorrey whose names appear on Aston's pamphlet as supporters.
Bruen counted on the backing of the Protestant "patriot" party among the county gentry led by Sir Richard Grosvenor and Sir Richard Wilbraham - a relative of the Hardwares and Bruens - who ensured that the petition was passed on to Sir William Brereton, who read it before the House of Commons in February 1641. This enraged the local pro-ceremonialist crypto-Catholic faction led by Viscount Cholmondeley and Earl Rivers, of which Thomas Aston (A rival of Brereton) was a part. Chester lawyer John Werden (see: Bath Street) was the most outspoken of Aston's supporters, he detested Bruen's faction and fulminated against members such as "Mr Boden" (probably Joseph Boden), curate of Wydenbury and "a notorious adulterer". Werden was also scandalised by the iconoclasm inflicted on the windows of Neston church by Brereton's niece.
The committee that was to hear Aston's case was packed with hardened puritans and supporters of "Root and Branch" reform. It was headed by Sir William Brereton. Petitions, both real and faked, shot back and forth. Aston even managed to get some people thrown into prison, but his arguments came to nothing before the House of Lords. In part this was due to the the coalition of Wilbraham/Booth/Grosvenor taking advantage of the situation an asserting their claim to a position as speaking for the county of Cheshire. News of stirrings of unrest in Chester were discussed by the House of Lords on 20th April 1641:
- "..some tumults and disorders within the county palatine and city of Chester whereby divine servive hath beeen disturbed and disquieted or otherwise neglected.."
.. and the Lords issued an order that..
- "..the divine service be performed and as it is appointed by the act of parliament of this realm and all such as shall disturb that wholesome order shall be severely punished, according to the law and that the parsons, vicars and curates in several parishes shall forebear to introduce rites or ceremonies that may give offence otherwise than those which are established by the laws of the land.."
It would be far too a revisionist view of the Civil War to over-emphasise the influence of the residuum of the Chester Palatinate and make deep-seated conflicts associated with it into a primary cause of conflict on a national scale. However the religious, commercial and political antagonisms of the county provide a microcosmic view of the broader disputes that were to tear the country apart.
Robert Cholmondeley (1584-1659)
The Cholmondeleys had been established in Cheshire since the thirteenth century. Cholmondeley’s grandfather, Hugh, was six times sheriff (once for Flintshire), an MP, deputy lieutenant, custos rotulorum and vice-president of the Council in the Marches of Wales. Cholmondeley’s father did not have such a distinguished career but was knight of the shire for Cheshire in 1584 and married well, acquiring Holford Hall in the process. Like many of the Cheshire gentry, Cholmondeley was educated at Queen’s College, Oxford. He matriculated in 1600 and succeeded to the vast Cholmondeley estates the following year. As lord of the manor of Nantwich, he was one of the county’s wealthiest landowners, and increased his holdings by marrying the co-heiress of John, Lord Stanhope. Robert Cholmondeley was not one of the branch of the family who lived at Vale Royal after his mother purchased it.
The house in Grosvenor Park
At the very end of the Medieval period much of the land on either side of Foregate Street came to be owned by the "Guild or Fraternity of St. Anne", which had close links with the vicars of St Johns, was apparently founded in 1361 and refounded in 1393. The wardens or masters of the fraternity seem often to have been drawn from the clergy of St Johns: between 1396 and 1420, for example, they included Ranulph Scolehall, chaplain of the Orby chantry. A "chantry" was a form of trust fund established during the pre-Reformation mediaeval era in England for the purpose of employing one or more priests to sing a stipulated number of masses during a stipulated period of time immediately following his/her death, for the benefit of the soul of a specified deceased person, usually the donor, who had established the chantry by will or donation. It was believed such masses would speed the deceased's soul through its undesirable and indeterminate period in Purgatory. The fraternity's own chantry seems originally to have been within the collegiate church, but presumably after the refoundation a separate building was established in the precinct east of St Johns. These social-religious guilds abounded (alongside trade guilds) in the period between the fourteenth and the sixteenth century. Many were set up shortly before the Reformation. They received royal charters that enabled them to hold property and devote some of it to the upkeep of a chapel and chaplain.
Guilds like this fraternity were so much feared as "wealthy agencies supporting superstitious uses" that in the last year of Henry VIII and the first year of Edward VI two Acts were passed which suppressed them all, and appropriated their property to the Crown. The Fraternity of St Anne was dissolved in 1547 and their building was purchased by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley (a royal commissioner during the Dissolution) and converted into his town house (which was largely destroyed in the Civil War). Their property included:
- "Possessions of the Fraternity of Saint Anne in the City of Chester." (First Account.) "Rents and farms in the City " Saynt Anne's House with houses, gardens, ftc., demised 12 Feb. 1 Edw. iv. for the term of 100 years. Foregate Strete. Cowlane. Seynt Johns Lane. Estgate Strete. Castell Lane. Iremonger Rowe. Northgate Strete. Parsons Lane. Watergate Streete." The messuages and tenements here mentioned are entered as leased to divers persons for terms of years, at various dates from the reign of Edw. iv." - "Rentes and farms in divers towns called Felde Renttes " Newton. Hole near Chester. Annes Heye near Seynt Annes Crosse" ("Hole" is "Hoole")
Excavations of the site in Grosvenor Park has revealed extensive building remains from the 16th and 17th centuries. These consisted of slots and pad stones for a large timber-framed building. Although the footings were slight, timber framing technology was such that the structure they supported may well have been sophisticated. The parts of the building or buildings excavated would be consistent with it being the north-eastern corner of a large courtyard structure. One room contained a large brick hearth. This is amongst the earliest brick structures yet discovered in Chester. Leading out from the room was a stone-lined drain. These features suggested that it might have been a kitchen. The finds support an interpretation of the building as a high status establishment of mid-16th to mid-17th century date. The demolition layers contained wall or ceiling plaster and window glass. One of the panes or quarries of glass was inscribed with writing. The name "Randal" can be made out. Also within the demolition layer were a large number of musket balls and a few powder-flask caps, graphic evidence of its destruction during the Civil War. It seems likely, therefore, that this was Cholmondeley’s house.
A failed rising - or a hoax?
According to some accounts, as part of the Irish rising of 1641, a conspiracy was attempted by Lord Cholmondeley and some of his fellow Cheshire Papists. It had supposedly been ordered by Parliament that all Papists should be disarmed, but those in Cheshire refused to obey so the Trained Bands (the local Militia) were employed to search for the culprits with instructions to destroy the houses of any who declined to yield. The events have been reported as follows:
- On 20 November, the Papists, having obtained news of this intention, gathered themselves together at the Cholmondeley mansion, and in the night sallied out and commenced to attempt to batter down the walls of the city. Unsurprisingly, this made "a very great noise" and soon drew the attention of the City Watch, who were "very much amazed" but, being mostly elderly men, retreated to the city gate where they loudly cried out "treason, treason, against the city!". By the time the Trained Bands were alerted, most of the party had escaped, but two stragglers who were captured said that the rest were running to Lord Cholmondeley's house. They were pursued and taken at the gate as the guard on duty at it had thought the fugitives belonged to the Trained Band and would not allow them to pass through to safety. The fugitives were arrested and a strong guard left at the house so that none of the Papists there might leave. After the prisoners had been "lay'd fast" the Trained Bands returned to the house and demanded admittance which was refused. Muskets were discharged at the house and when part of it had been battered down, Lord Cholmondeley escaped by a postern door which opened on to the fields. Most of the Trained Band then went into the house and searched it, and coming into a private wood-house there, to their horror came face to face with 50 Papists with charged muskets. These were discharged and 25 of them were killed. The Papists retreated through a back door out of the wood-house but were met by the remainder of the Trained Band and a battle ensued. At length the Papists were routed and "trusted to the swiftness of their feet", but 19 of them, including their leader, Henry Starkey, were nontheless shot in the back. These unfortunates were later "buried in the highway together". (see: Tracts relating to the civil war in Cheshire for the full text)
The above account is based on a publication entitled: "True Relation of a Bloody Conspiracy by the Papists in Cheshire. Intended for the Destruction of the Whole Country, London, 1641". There are several things which are at once suspicious about it: despite the considerable number of fatal casualties (at least 44) there seems to be no record of it in the Chester Corporation or Mayor's papers, or indeed in any other contemporaneous account. The very idea that a relatively small number of people could pull down the City Walls without being prevented seems absurd. Cholmondeley, who was in the upper ranks of the Royalist command structure, seems to have suffered no negative consequences. There is also the rather remarkable potency of the catholic weapons - 50 "papists" in a woodshed discharge a volley and kill 25 of the Trained Band (even at close quarters this is remarkable shooting, and makes no mention of how many of the Trained Band were "merely" wounded) and then, with empty weapons, all 50 "Papists" manage to scatter through a back door.
The "True Relation" was one of many fantastical tracts which appeared at the time: pamphlets describing various plots, conspiracies and planned attacks were quite numerous. It is hard to tell today how many were written and published, and it is impossible to guess their impact based on circulation. A survey of these prints leaves a strong impression on the contemporary reader. Their amount, language, and contents did indeed create an atmosphere of danger. The fear factor, backed by virulent hatred, must have been extremely strong, particularly in London, where most of these prints were published and circulated. The prints show certain ingenuity. First of all, even though they were printed in London, they cover large territories in England and Ireland: Derbyshire, Ireland, Scotland, Dublin, Worcester, Cheshire, Lancashire, Dorset and Hull to name a few. The speciﬁcations of the described assaults are also fascinating, as they range from primitive personal attacks on a particular English patriot to planting bombs to blow up a speciﬁc house, the House of Commons, or a whole town, even an attempt to hurl a "plague bomb" at one politician. Authors repeatedly describe hidden Catholic lords who have amassed arms, munitions, and many horses in such exotic locations as a special cave dug under a castle. Here, in Chester we have the faintly ridiculous story of catholics hatching a plan to demolish the walls of the city, which at a time of considerable unrest are initially guarded by a few old men, despite the city being a major embarkation point for troops being shipped to Ireland. In fact, during autumn 1640, with the Scottish army in northeastern England, the Assembly had set up a nightly watch, strengthened the defences at the Eastgate, Newgate, and Bridgegate, and ordered members of the corporation and others to supply corselets, muskets, halberds, and calivers within a month. Arrears of an earlier assessment to replenish the magazine were called in, and ordnance and carriages were brought from Wirral. The trained bands were brought up to their full strength of 100 men and placed under the captaincy of Alderman Francis Gamull. With all this military activity ongoing it seems remarkable that plotters would assemble in the heart of the City and set to work on demolishing the walls.
There did however appear to be plots active in Chester:
- "Oct 30 Deposition at Chester by Thomas Cremer of Gray s Inn in the county of Middlesex gentleman before Thomas Cowper the Mayor and other Justices that on Tuesday last he met one Magenes, brother to Lord Magenes, at widow Boston's house in Neston, who said that he was going to Ireland (being lately come from Spain) to see Lord Macquere, that he hoped the Irish would drive the Scots out of Ireland, and that he had returned £800 or £900 out of London into Ireland to raise forces for the King of Spain; he further deposes that there was another in Magenes' company calling himself Readman who drank a health to the confusion of the Protestants in Ireland, and that Magenes said that, since the business was discovered, he would go to London with Cremer if he would lend him some money Signed by Tho Cremer and by Thomas Cowper mayor and others is Randle Holme" (DCC/47/5) - Overleaf: Further Information by the said Thomas Cremer, that on the previous Thursday, hearing of the Rebellion in Ireland, Magenes had expressed himself "very glad and joyfull of the Niwes" and said that he would give anything to be there; on the Friday, however, hearing that Lord Macqueire was taken, he told Cremer that since it was discovered he would go to London with him if he would lend him some money
Notably, while the Mayor's correspondence mentions such depositions and investigations of individuals frequently, it is completely silent on the supposed major skirmish of the 20th November 1641 with, one might presume, over 50 people dead or wounded. Even the date of the failed "rising" is suspicious, this was the day when the "Grand Remonstrance" was passing through its final stages in parliament. First proposed by John Pym, the effective leader of opposition to the King in Parliament and taken up by George Digby, John Hampden and others, the Grand Remonstrance summarised all of Parliament's opposition to Charles' foreign, financial, legal and religious policies, setting forth 204 separate points of objection.
Later events seem to confirm that the "Cholmondeley Rising" is nothing but a myth.
In the summer of 1642 came the final split between the King and Parliament and both sides made preparations for raising an army. Throughout the summer Commissioners of Array for the King and Deputy Lieutenants for Parliament attempted to raise the Trained Bands and to seize the magazine in every county. During the confusion caused by the troops waiting to be shipped from Chester to Ireland to suppress the rebellion there, Sir William Brereton, the Parliamentary representative in Cheshire, turned to what was virtually recruiting. He found himself opposed by Sir Thomas Aston and all the resident Cheshire nobility and he failed in his attempt to secure Chester for Parliament. Brereton's unsuccessful advemture is depicted in the sculptural works in the Town Hall: he was put on trial before Maoyor Cowper then given a safe escort out of the City.
At this time Aston was probably the recognized representative of the King in the county and was able to present the latter with a list of men willing to serve in the King's army. The King decided to base this army at Shrewsbury and when he arrived there on 20 September 1642 he wrote to Lord Kilmorey, Lord Cholmondeley and "the other of the subscribers for Horse in Cheshire" telling them to deliver their horses into the charge of Aston who was to bring the forces raised to Shrewsbury to join with the main body of the army. Charles made it unnecessary for Aston to leave for Shrewsbury as he instead came to Chester and it was from here that he issued, on 26 September, an order for the seizure of arms and horses from those people who had carried out Parliament's Militia Ordinance in Cheshire. These were to be delivered to Aston who was able to leave with the King at the head of three troops of horse. Clearly at this stage Cholmondeley is still seen as a loyal supporter of the Royalists and no steps have been taken to deprive him of either position or troops.
At the start of the First English Civil War, after a summer of skirmishes in Cheshire, Henry Mainwaring and Mr. Marbury of Marbury Hall for Parliament and Lord Kilmorey and Sir Orlando Bridgeman, son of the Bishop of Chester, for the Royalists agreed to meet on December 23rd 1642 at Bunbury. They agreed that all fighting in Cheshire would end. All prisoners would be released, property taken during the conflict returned to its owners and any losses compensated by a levy on both sides. Fortifications were to be removed at Chester, Nantwich, Stockport, Knutsford and Northwich and their combined forces would escort any external forces out of the county. Both parties agreed that there were to be no further troop movements through Cheshire, and that they would not to raise any more troops locally. Everything depending on the agreement of their national commanders, whom they would urge to settle their differences peacefully. Unfortunately this Bunbury Agreement was never to be ratified. Nowhere in the correspondence about these events is there any mention of the "pitched battle" fought in what was to become Grosvenor Park.
Aston obviously conducted himself satisfactorily in the campaign culminating in the Battle of Edgehill (23 October 1642) because an order from Prince Rupert in January 1643 refers to him as a colonel of a regiment of cuirassiers, and two days later on 19 January the King announced that he was sending Aston as a major-general to Cheshire and Lancashire. Aston's orders were simply stated by Prince Rupert; he was to take his regiment to Shropshire, raise forces of horse and foot there, and then defend Cheshire against the Parliamentary force that was heading to the county from London under the leadership of Brereton. He was also to seize arms and ammunition for the King's use and "put into execution the laws and customs martial upon all offenders.....for the better preventing of disorders, plunderings and outrages which are often committed by soldiers." He was told to achieve this and return to the main army by 15 March unless he received orders to the contrary.
The preparations for Aston's march and arrival in Cheshire reveal the King's interest in keeping Cheshire Royalist. The authorities of the areas that Aston was to pass through on his way from Oxford to Cheshire were ordered to provide food and lodgings for his men. The Cheshire Commissioners of Array (which included Cholmondeley) were also given explicit orders as to what they should do to help Aston. The King explained to them that, as the Parliamentarians had rejected the Bunbury Agreement (December 23rd 1642) and were sending a force to Cheshire, he was sending Aston and his regiment of horse to protect the county. The commissioners were to assemble the trained bands and summon Quarter Sessions to decide on a method of raising money to pay the soldiers. They were also to help Aston raise a regiment of dragoons and seize arms from "malignants" to arm them. In addition the parishes were to supply them with horses.
Parliament also realised how important Cheshire was and sent Brereton to raise support for its cause. Geographically Cheshire lies between the Pennines and the Welsh hills and so whoever controlled Cheshire controlled the north – south corridor. For Parliament the control of Cheshire would mean separating the King's northern supporters from the King and his army at Oxford. It could also stop the King bringing in reinforcements from his Irish army through the port of Chester.
When Aston arrived in Shropshire he found that there were only 60 dragoons instead of the 600 promised. The authorities promised him another 200 and so he decided to wait for two days before moving on to Cheshire. During this time he was ordered to Stafford to help the sheriff there (perhaps against the Moorlanders who had risen for Parliament). However Aston did not neglect his prime objective and ordered the Cheshire Commissioners of Array to defend Nantwich with 150 musketeers and to inform him of Brereton's progress. Neither order was carried out and Aston was not informed until it was too late to arrive at Nantwich before Brereton. After some skirmishes and maneuvering for position, these two opposing forces would fight a pitched battle, the First Battle of Middlewich, on 13 March 1643.
In 1641 Cholmondeley had supported the petition to Parliament organized by Aston in favour of episcopacy and against puritanism. He was appointed to the commission of array in 1642, and during the Civil War was a strong supporter of the king. He organized the defence of Chester, although this cost him his house in St. John’s Churchyard, which was "plucked down and burnt by the parliament party as they lay siege in and about Chester" (again there is no mention of damage from the supposed previous skirmish). Cholmondeley later distinguished himself at the Battle of Tilston Heath, and in 1644 received a commission from Prince Rupert to raise forces in Cheshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire. In the following year he was granted an English peerage, and in 1646 was elevated to the earldom of Leinster. In all of tthis there is nothing to suggest that Cholmondeley is anything other than a loyal Royalist.
Cholmondeley surrendered at the fall of Oxford, and after compounding for a tenth at £7,742 (the highest in Cheshire) he retired to Bickley Hall. He died without legitimate heir on 8 Oct. 1659.
Overall the evidence (or rather lack of it) suggests that the "Cholmondeley Revolt" never happened. Despite this it is of historical interest in the context of what is sometimes known as "fake news". In the local Chester context the supression of the "Chester Mystery Plays" illustrated how state control of published works came to be established during Elizabethan times. During the lead-up to the English Civil War and in the republic which followed, a wide range of radical ideas and movements flourished. There were Seekers and Ranters, Diggers and Levellers, Quakers, Fifth Monarchists and Muggletonians; and a flood of remarkable pamphlets promoting their ideas poured from the printing presses. The effective ending of censorship facilitated the production of a mass of cheap pamplets and leaflets, and the many different strains of radical thought all took advantage of this situation to promote their ideas. Economy with the truth, if not downright falsification was a feature of many of these documents and the story of Cholmondleye's supposed efforts to "batter down" the walls of Chester does indeed appear to be little other than a "scare-story" concocted during the "paper war" of 1641.
The tract about the revolt was printed by John Greensmith of London. In 1641 Members of Parliament in the Commons and planter gentry in Ireland had become aware of the spate of pamphlets that were circulating with false information, and in mid-November the Commons committee charged with the supervision of the press was required to find "some means to restrain this licentious printing". In January 1642, John Greesmith, who was also responsible for publishing many of these pamphlets admitted to the Commons that he had actually arranged for "sundry pamphlets" with titles like "Good News from Ireland" to be written by two "dropout" Cambridge students for 2s 6d a copy. Such was the scale of Greensmith's creation of "fake news" that it became, in January 1642, the subject of "The Poets Knavery Discouered" a pamphlet (by John Bond - another "hack writer") which listed the printed falsehoods of Greensmith:
- "The Poets Knavery Discovered, in all their lying Pamphlets wittily and very ingeniously composed; laying open Names of every lying Libel that was Printed last Year, and the Authors who made them; being above three hundred Lies. Shewing how impudently the Poets have not only presumed to make extreme and incredible Lies but dare also feign false Orders and Proceedings from the Parliament with many fictitious Speeches Well worth the reading and knowing of every one that they may learn how to distinguish betwixt the Lies and real Books Written, by JB"
Unfortunately Bond himself published his "Knavery Discovered" in a form which resembled an official publication (as a parody, but on his own admission for profit) and was pilloried as a result. Bond's excuse was that when money became short it was the normal recourse of writers to make news up. Greensmith himself did not escape, from "A Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers who Were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1641 to 1667" we discover:
- "GREENSMITH (JOHN), bookseller in London, 1641-2. Took up his freedom January 19th, 1635. [Arber, iii. 687.] Chiefly a publisher of political pamphlets and broadsides. In 16412 he was examined before a Committee of the House of Commons in connection with the Hertfordshire Petition, and confessed that Martin Eldred, of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Thomas Harbert brought a copy of the petition to him and he paid them half-a-crown for it. He also confused to having published various other pamphlets, "Good newes from Ireland", "Bloudy Newes from Ireland", and "The Cambridge Petition", which were composed by the same authors, and for each of which he gave the same sum. These pamphlets were printed by Bernard Alsop, q.v. [House of Commons Journal, January 25th, 1641/2.] Greensmith was sent to the Gatehouse for this offence. His address has not been found."
Greensmith, (who was apparently released after a comparatively short stay in the Gatehouse Prison) often sold pamphlets printed by Barnaby Alsop (of Broadstreet) and Thomas Fawcett, two printers who also operated on the fringes of the law. They too were hauled before Parliament on a number of occasions in 1641 for illicit printing. Works with their imprint are distinguished by their worn type and hasty typesetting. The content of these publications ranged from propaganda from the most extreme ends of the political and religious spectrum to sensationalist broadsheets, claiming to report atrocities (with illustrative wood-cuts) but which had little relation to the actual truth.
In summary, in 1640-41 a century-long partnership of the Crown and the London Stationers collapsed, leaving state control of the press and the Stationers' interest in copyright in an extremely vulnerable situation. Tentatively at first and with growing assertiveness by 1642, the Lords and Commons revised and restated in their own interest the old partnership of the state and the Stationers; for their part, the Stationers worked hard to demonstrate their utility to the new regime and to preserve the privileges that allowed them to control the book business. The result of their joint efforts was the Licensing Order of 1643, which critics, including John Milton, thought to be scarcely distinguishable from the Star Chamber decree of 1637, the high-water mark of the old regime. But the ordinance proved only partially successful. In the interim between regimes, there emerged a vigorous, if vulgar, tabloid journalism, sustained by an underclass of undisciplined elements of the Stationers' Company, non-company interlopers and hawkers, and often youthful scribblers, several of them Cambridge drop-outs. Such engaging rascals no less than moralists like Milton had their share in acclimatizing the English to a press practically free of prior restraint.
It would be a step too far to say that the publication of "fake news" relating to the seige of Cholmondeley's house in what is now Grosvenor Park led directly to the Civil War and the siege of Chester, but the "paper war" prior to the outbreak of the Civil War was one factor in the drift to open conflict.
Sources and Links
- Politics, Religion and Popularity in Early Stuart Britain;
- Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts;
- Grosvenor Park Excavations 2011;
- THE CHOLMONDELEY FAMILY;
- Robert Cholmondeley, 1st Earl of Leinster;
- 'SUCH A TWIN LIKENESS THERE WAS IN THE PAIR':AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE PAINTING OF THE CHOLMONDELEY SISTERS;
- The Defence of Episcopacy on the Eve of Civil War;
- THE CAMPAIGN OF THE IRISH ROYALIST ARMY IN CHESHIRE, NOVEMBER 1643 JANUARY 1644;
- Tracts relating to the civil war in Cheshire;
- Outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641;
- 'Paper-contestations' and Textual Communities in England, 1640-1675;
- A Chronology and Calendar of Documents Relating to the London Book Trade 1641-1700: Volume I: 1641-1670;
- England on Edge: Crisis and Revolution 1640-1642;
- Media and Revolution: Comparative Perspectives;
- Print Letters in Seventeenth‐Century England: Politics, Religion, and News Culture;