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The Civil War came at a time of transition from armies being equipped with bows and lances to the era of pike and musket, from an army called-up only in time of war to a well-trained standing army and the emergence of the army as a distinct political unit which could defy both Crown and parliament. As was often the case in Chester the course of events was influenced by the peculiar status of the city as a distinct administrative unit from the the county. In a letter sent to the Lords Lieutenant of all counties in 1626 the Privy Council described the militia as ‘the sure and constant bulwark of defence’. Whatever the truth of this description it underlined the fact that the militia remained, in the early seventeenth century, the bedrock of the country’s land based defences against invasion. Based on the medieval concept that it was the obligation of every able-bodied man to aid the defence of his country in time of national danger, the militia was a part-time force organised on a county basis. In fact the geographical county of Cheshire possessed two militia forces. The city of Chester, as a county in its own right, vigorously upheld the privilege of organising and maintaining its own militia as a unit completely separate from Cheshire’s force.

It was one of the marked features of the Norman policy to keep alive the old English fyrd or militia; and the "Assises of Arms" of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries carefully regulated the liability to serve. The Assize of Arms of 1181 was a proclamation of King Henry II of England concerning the obligation of all freemen of England to possess and bear arms in the service of king and realm and to swear allegiance to the king, on pain of "vengeance, not merely on their lands or chattels, but on their limbs". The assize stipulated precisely the military equipment that each man should have according to his rank and wealth.In the sixteenth century, the county militia, previously under the care of the King's sheriffs, was made the subject of an Act of Parliament and organized under a new county official, the Lord Lieutenant appointed by the Crown. This article is largely about the transformation of the Cheshire militia during the age of pike and musket.

A Change of Tactics

Pike and shot is a historical infantry combat formation that evolved during the Italian Wars before the late seventeenth century evolution of the bayonet. The infantry formations of the period were a mix of pike and early firearms ("shot"), either arquebusiers or musketeers.

By the end of the fifteenth century, those late-medieval troop types that had proven most successful in the Hundred Years' War and Burgundian Wars dominated European warfare, especially the heavily armoured "gendarme" (a professional version of the medieval knight), the Swiss and Landsknecht mercenary pikeman, and the emerging artillery corps of heavy cannons, which were rapidly improving in technological sophistication. The French dominance of warfare at this time presented a daunting challenge to those states which were opposed to Valois ambitions, particularly in Italy. In 1495 at the Battle of Seminara, the hitherto-successful Spanish army was trounced while opposing the French invasion of Naples by an army composed of armoured gendarme cavalry and Swiss mercenary infantry. Realizing that they could not match the sheer offensive power of the French gendarmes and Swiss pikes, the Spanish decided to integrate the shooting power of firearms, an emerging technology at the time, with the defensive strength of the pike, and to employ them in a mutually-supporting formation. This new tactic resulted in triumph for the Spanish at the Battle of Cerignola (April 28, 1503), one of the great victories of the Italian Wars, in which the heavily outnumbered Spanish pike-and-shot forces, in a strong defensive position behind a ditch, crushed the attacking gendarmes and Swiss mercenaries of the French army.

The arquebus, derived from the German Hakenbüchse, was a form of long gun that appeared in Europe during the 15th century. Although the term arquebus was applied to many different forms of firearms from the 15th to 17th centuries, it originally referred to "a hand-gun with a hook-like projection or lug on its under surface, useful for steadying it against battlements or other objects when firing." These "hook guns" were in their earliest forms defensive weapons mounted on German city walls in the early 1400s, but by the late 1400s had become handheld firearms. The development of the arquebus is somewhat tied to technology developed for the crossbow as without the stock from the crossbow, the arquebus would not have a stable platform to rest one's shoulder on. Priming pans also were placed on the arquebus. A matchlock mechanism was added around 1475 and it became the first firearm with a trigger. The heavy arquebus, known as the musket, was developed to better penetrate plate armor and appeared in Europe around 1521. A standardized arquebus, the caliver, was introduced in the latter half of the 16th century. The name "caliver" is derived from the English corruption of calibre, which is a reference to the gun's standardized bore. The caliver allowed troops to load bullets faster since they fit their guns more easily, whereas before soldiers often had to modify their bullets into suitable fits, or were even forced to make their own prior to battle.

In Europe Maurice of Nassau pioneered the countermarch volley fire technique. After outfitting his entire army with new, standardized arms in 1599, Maurice of Nassau made an attempt to recapture Spanish forts built on former Dutch lands. In the Battle of Nieuwpoort in 1600, he administered the new techniques and technologies for the first time. The Dutch marched onto the beach where the fort was located and fully utilized the countermarching tactic. By orienting all of his arquebusiers into a block, he was able to maintain a steady stream of fire out of a disciplined formation using volley fire tactics. The result was a lopsided victory with 4000 Spanish casualties to only 1000 dead and 700 wounded on the Dutch side. Although the battle was principally won by the decisive counterattack of the Dutch cavalry and despite the failure of the new Dutch infantry tactic in stopping the veteran Spanish tercios, the battle is considered a decisive step forward in the development early modern warfare, where firearms took on an increasingly large role in Europe in the following centuries. Ironically, the volley fire countermarch technique was illustrated by the Spanish captain Martín de Eguiluz in his "Milicia, Discurso y Regla Militar" written in 1586 and first published in Madrid in 1592 - two years before Maurice of Nassau first wrote on the subject.

Perhaps most important, producing an effective arquebusier required much less training than producing an effective bowman. Most archers spent their whole lives training to shoot with accuracy, but with drill and instruction, the arquebusier was able to learn his profession in months as opposed to years. This low level of skill made it a lot easier to outfit an army in a short amount of time as well as expand the small arms ranks. This idea of lower skilled, lightly armoured units was the driving force in the infantry revolution that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries and allowed early modern infantries to phase out the longbow. An arquebusier could carry more ammunition and powder than a crossbowman or longbowman could with bolts or arrows. Once the methods were developed, powder and shot were relatively easy to mass-produce, while arrow making was a genuine craft requiring highly skilled labor. Ultimately, the arquebus became the dominant projectile weapon of the early renaissance because it was easier to mass-produce and easier to train unskilled soldiers in its use. As musket technology evolved, the flaws of the musket became less frequent and the bow became irrelevant.

Trained Bands

The "Trained Bands" were local militia regiments organised on a county basis and trained in the basics of formation integrating the offensive use of shot and the defensive use of pikes. The system was inaugurated during the reign of Elizabeth I (17 November 1558 - 24 March 1603) for the defence of the realm, particularly against potential invasion by the Spanish. Elizabeth's foreign policy was largely defensive. The exception was the English occupation of Le Havre from October 1562 to June 1563, which ended in failure when Elizabeth's Huguenot allies joined with the Catholics to retake the port. Elizabeth's intention had been to exchange Le Havre for Calais, lost to France in January 1558. Only through the activities of her fleets did Elizabeth pursue an aggressive policy. This paid off in the war against Spain, 80% of which was fought at sea.

As far as Cheshire was concerned, relaxation of close Privy Council supervision of militia activity was long-standing. In the early 1590s the county had undergone two invasion scares resulting from intelligence from the Continent which suggested that the Spanish were about to invade the north west of England. Neither invasion materialised but both were sufficiently credible to make the Council take a closer than usual interest in the county’s military affairs. The passing of these threats and the growing disorder in Ulster, which escalated into full scale open rebellion in the mid nineties, ended this temporary preoccupation with Cheshire’s internal military situation.

Portrait of William Aldersey from the Grosvenor Museum (purchased 2012). Painted in oil on an oak panel and dated 1615, the artwork is the earliest surviving portrait of any mayor of Chester. Aldersey recorded the numbers and county of origin of the troops and horses dispatched between 1594 and 1616. It is said that his pride in this related to a "special barracks" he had built for that traffic, and to Chester’s efficiency in revictualing warships.He died at Chester on 26 October 1616 and was buried in St Oswald

As Chester was the main port for embarkation to northern Ireland, the Council’s interest in Cheshire now became centred on its role in contributing to the efficient movement of troops sent to quell the rebellion which had broken out in 1579. In the later 1590s and the early 1600s, Cheshire’s Commissioners for Musters, a panel of leading gentlemen undertaking responsibility for the county’s military government (in the temporary absence of a Lord Lieutenant) received a constant stream of orders from the Council relating to the Irish campaign rather than to the county militia. They were directed to carry out such duties as aiding the provision of shipping and victuals for the troops, raising levies of fresh soldiers and ensuring the orderly and efficient passage of men through the county to the point of embarkation. The repeated demands strained local markets, especially during the shortages of the later 1590s: prices rose, ships' masters demanded large payments, there were difficulties with the authorities of Liverpool, disaffected men deserted in droves and were rarely captured, weapons were often found to be defective, moneys were embezzled, profiteering was rife, and Chester earned a reputation as a 'robber's cave'. The city's expenses were supposedly reimbursed by the treasurers-at-war, but funds were short or delayed and loans had to be obtained locally. Disorderly conduct was frequent, especially when troops were delayed by bad weather or lack of ships. To contain it, in 1594 the mayor erected a gibbet at the High Cross. Even after the effective end of the rebellion in 1603 the shipment of men and munitions continued periodically, and the mayor was called upon to collect funds for measures against pirates.

In these circumstances it was inevitable that the state of Cheshire’s militia should be overlooked by both central and local governors, fully occupied as they were by more immediately pressing military commitments. The Stuart period opened, with the Cheshire militia, like the forces of so many counties, already suffering from neglect and increasing decay. In 1603 matters were made even worse by the repeal of the Tudor law providing the Crown's right to require subjects to attend musters fully equipped at their own expense. Following this repeal the provision of equipment rested only on custom. Through the first ten years of James I’s reign deterioration in standards continued as supervision of the militia became just another aspect of the Council’s routine administration, and was given no special priority.

Re-invigoration and Decay

The year 1616, however, marked the end of this period of near total neglect of the militia. The central government was jolted out of its inattentiveness by renewed Spanish military activity on the Continent which once more brought the possibility of war and even invasion. In the following year, a letter from the Privy Council ordering musters to be held in every county, disclosed that "the danger had caused the King to cast a vigilant and provident eye to the safety of his dominions", a sure indication that militia affairs were again coming under closer scrutiny.

Initially the major result of the government’s change of policy was only to reveal the lamentable condition of the militia after ten years of neglect. The bands were controlled by the lords-lieutenant of counties. A peculiarity of the Chester Lieutenancy was that the Stanleys held it exclusively from 1551 until 1640, with only a short break from 1594 until 1607.

In 1613, the Earl of Derby, then Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire, and therefore the government’s military officer for the two counties, reported to the Council that he "found the defects .. to be sundry and great" in the Cheshire militia after the annual muster had been held. Under­standably, remedying the effects of the previous decade was a slow business, despite pressure from London. In 1619 Derby still had to report that "many defects in general both in horse and foot" had been found at the Cheshire muster. The main faults he noted were that the men were badly trained, many of the firearms were obsolete and the horse company’s heavy cavalry was in every respect below standard. In 1623, a new book of instructions for militia training was sent out to the counties describing the use of modern firearms and the latest methods of drilling and exercising troops.

The accession of Charles I in 1625 was the major turning point in the history of the militia. The presence of an energetic young monarch and the resumption of a warlike policy in the later 1620s combined to cause a far greater interest in the condition of the militia than had been evident even in the latter years of the previous reign. The improvements were three-fold:

1) "Low Countries Sergeants"

The lords-lieutenant of counties were expected to appoint professional soldiers to drill the militia and teach them to use the pike and the then modern musket. Membership of the Trained Bands was compulsory for freeholders, householders and their sons. The education of the Trained Bands was a marked success especially in Cheshire. This was due to the Privy Council’s decision to use experienced professional soldiers to instruct the trained bands. Eighty four of these "Low Countries Sergeants", as they were called (all being veterans of the Thirty Years War - the English had even been present at the Battle of Nieuwpoort in 1600), were to be deployed throughout the country and they were sent out to their allotted counties early in 1626. Cheshire received two, Philip Cotton and Arthur Humberstone. They were given an enthusiastic and positive welcome in the county. Special divisional training was arranged by the Deputy Lieutenants so that the veterans could begin to instruct the raw infantrymen of the militia. In a short time highly favourable reports of their work were being sent to the Privy Council. Originally, the soldiers were to work in the counties for three months. However, as the laudatory reports of their work in Cheshire were paralleled by so many other counties, including neighbouring Lancashire, King James and Council extended their stay. The Cheshire Deputies welcomed this arrangement and gave the soldiers further commendations when they had completed their lengthened term of service. A sure sign of the county’s favour was the ease and speed with which a county rate was arranged and collected to pay the soldiers’ salaries and expenses.

2) A New Magazine

In 1613 most infantrymen in the Cheshire trained bands who carried a firearm were still armed with the caliver, the lighter, less penetrating forerunner of the musket. This weapon had been deemed unacceptable by the Council in 1618 and the process of ousting it was now completed. In 1626 the Council ordered the Lord Lieutenant to ensure that a magazine was established at Chester and laid down the quantities of ammunition it should contain. At first the county’s Deputy Lieutenants toyed with a more ambitious alternative plan, namely to set up several smaller magazines throughout the county, to be used in conjunction with divisional musters of the militia. The idea was only briefly entertained, however, because of the high cost of such a venture. Thus, the original plan was adopted and a magazine was established at Chester Castle and paid for by a county rate.

By 1629 there were no calivers on show at the Cheshire muster, and the militia could boast seven hundred muskets compared to two hundred and eighty in 1613. Besides the caliver, another casualty of modernisation was the bow. The muster certificate for 1613 reveals that although Cheshire’s trained bands were by then armed with calivers and muskets there were still several bows in evidence amongst the untrained sections of the militia. Even as late as 1627 Cheshire provided a contingent of archers for the Duke of Buckingham’s ill fated expedition to the isle of Rhe. By the end of the decade the bow had been discarded even by the untrained sections in favour of firearms.

An artillery yard was eventually laid out by the Kaleyards Gate near Cow Lane (later Frodsham Street), powder and match for the trained bands being bought from city funds despite the Assembly's reluctance to establish a precedent.

3) Improving The Horse Companies

Constantly under­-strength and poorly equipped, this section of the militia had always provided the most problems for both the local governors and the Council, and Cheshire’s horse company was no exception in this respect. In the early years of Charles I’s reign the Council had constantly exhorted all the counties to improve their horse companies, but little progress was made in Cheshire or elsewhere. As a result, in 1628, the Council tried a dramatic new move to force the local governors into taking effective action at last. Regional, rather than county, musters of the horse companies would take place and would be inspected personally by the King. Cheshire’s company was to assemble at Leicester with those of the midland counties. Despite hurried preparations in Cheshire during the first few months of 1628, the muster at Leicester was cancelled due to an almost complete lack of action in other counties.

Originally the horse company was divided into two sections, the lances and light horse. The former, who took their name from their main weapon, were the heavy cavalry. They wore threequarter length armour and carried a sword and dagger, and sometimes a pistol, in addition to their lance. The light horse wore only light armour, and were armed with a staff and pistol, their role being to skirmish and harass the enemy. Advances in weaponry required a change in these roles. The lances were replaced by cuirassiers armed with a brace of pistols and more lightly armoured for greater mobility. Harquebusiers, taking their name from the portable gun they carried, succeeded the light horse. By 1628 these changes had been effected by the Cheshire Deputies in the county’s horse company. The Deputies had not been able, however, to raise substantially the numbers of the horse company as the Council had wished. The height of their achievement was to raise the number of horse soldiers to seventy-six in 1629, a figure only barely equalling that for 1613. The Council was concerned because, in Elizabeth’s reign in the years leading up to the Armada, the Cheshire horse company had numbered one hundred and twenty. Given the heavy cost of providing cavalry armed in the modern fashion, it was perhaps inevitable, despite pressure from London, that the Deputies’ efforts further to increase the numbers proved futile throughout the 1630s.

Unfortunately, the passage of time would lead to a significant drop-off in the performance of the Cheshire Trained Bands. The combination of Privy Council pressure and conscientious activity within the county brought Cheshire’s militia to the zenith of its achievement by 1629: the ranks of the infantry were complete and the horse company had been enlarged, albeit modestly; the trained bands were armed with modern weapons and had been instructed in the latest techniques; a magazine had been established and stocked, and the county’s beacons repaired. All seemed well but, once more, the militia had reached another important turning point. In the years after 1629 England remained at peace. As the militia was less likely to be needed for national defence, there was less motive for keeping the force efficient and ready. Moreover, the Council was increasingly distracted by the pressing demands of other policies, notably the need to provide adequate revenue in the absence of parliamentary supply during the King Charles’ "personal rule" from 1629 to 1640.

Captain Thelwell

The attempt of King Charles and Archbishop Laud to impose orthodox Anglicanism on Scotland, by the introduction of a new prayer book in 1637, had provoked widespread resistance. This developed in 1638 into a revolt of national proportions north of the border. As both sides prepared for war, the Government’s interest in the militia was reawakened. In November the counties were ordered to hold a muster of their forces immediately. Recent assurances from Cheshire’s Deputies that they had found "all things complete, and in readiness" were ignored as were similarly bland reports from other counties. In December the Council sent a military officer, Captain Thelwell, to oversee and report on preparations in Lancashire and Cheshire. Early in 1639 Thelwell reported in generally favourable terms on the situation he found in the two counties. His report was, however, grossly misleading as regards Cheshire for, while his observations on the armament and personnel of the militia were substantially correct, he had miscalculated the mood of the county community, which by 1639 had become increasingly unco­operative and defiant. This mood existed in the county largely because of the Government’s collection of ship money. Initially this had met with negligible opposition in Cheshire. The regularity with which it was collected after 1635, however, and the size of the amounts demanded, caused growing protest and, by 1639, open defiance.

Sir William Brereton (13 September 1604 – 7 April 1661): failed to take control of the city's trained bands for parliament.

In the absence of a regular army, the Trained Bands were the only permanent military units in England when the Bishops' Wars broke out in 1639-40 and the First Civil War followed in 1642. In 1638 and 1639 when the Council strove to resurrect an efficient militia in the shortest possible time, a storm of complaints greeted their attempts in heshire. Protests over the difficulty and expense of providing supplies of powder for the militia were followed by more familiar complaints about the cost of providing mounts for the horse company. The Deputies argued, just as their Elizabethan counterparts had done fifty years previously, that the charges laid on Cheshire were higher than those of neighbouring counties and were unfairly disproportionate to the county’s wealth and population.

The Council chose to ignore the increasingly ugly mood of the county com­munity, and accepted instead the comforting but utterly misleading reports of Captain Thelwell. This was merely one example of the short-sightedness which characterised its national policy. Despite widespread protests, the Council pressed ahead with its plan of raising an army of some thirty thousand men drawn from the trained bands of the county militia forces. For Cheshire, which was to supply over two-hundred men for this army, this scheme brought dissatisfaction with the Council’s military policy to a head. A petition of protest was drawn up and signed by most of the leading gentry.

The Civil War

The popular view was that by the time war actually broke-out the Trained Bands were inefficient, poorly equipped and badly drilled and disciplined. During autumn 1640, with the Scottish army in northeastern England, the Assembly 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 to be brought up to their full strength of 100 men and placed under the captaincy of Alderman Francis Gamull. There were no military threats during the following months, but the Assembly did not meet between December 1640 and June 1641. Defensive preparations remained half-hearted, with the arrears for the magazine never fully collected, and funds for repairing the city walls having to be borrowed from the proceeds of the prisage on wines until an assessment could be levied. Later in 1641, when the Assembly was transacting very little business, it faced growing threats to public order. First, the arrival of protestant refugees from the Irish rebellion set off anti-popish hysteria, culminating in January 1642 in a skirmish just outside the city between Catholics and protestants, with loss of life on both sides. By then troops bound for Ireland had begun to arrive in the city, and the authorities were embroiled in the usual problems: shortage of shipping and delays in embarking troops, unruly and violent behaviour by waiting soldiers, rising prices of food and fodder, and delays in repayment for quarters.

Cowper and Brereton (1642)

Thomas Cowper, Mayor of Chester, now in the Grosvenor Museum. The interesting details in this portrait include the coat of arms, the Charles I medallion and the "death's head" ring. The painting is said to be from 1657 when Oliver Cromwell was still in charge!

A militia bill was proposed in December 1641 in the wake of the Irish Uprising of October. The bill was drafted by Oliver St John and introduced in the House of Commons by Sir Arthur Hesilrige on 7 December 1641. The King and Parliament agreed that an army was needed to supress the rebellion in Ireland, but neither side trusted the other with control of the armed forces. Parliament's militia bill proposed that a lord-general should be appointed to raise and command the militia, to levy money to pay it, and to execute martial law. A lord-admiral was also to be appointed to command the navy. The bill proposed that Parliament should have the right to nominate the commanders of the armed forces rather than the King. Headed by Sir John Culpeper, the King's supporters in the House of Commons vehemently opposed the measure and called for its rejecton, but the bill passed its first reading by 158 votes to 125. Despite the protestations of Parliament, King Charles refused to surrender his control of the armed forces by giving his assent to the bill, so that it was unable to pass into law. In March 1642, however, Parliament issued the militia bill as an ordinance (legislation that has not received the royal assent) and took the unprecedented step of proclaiming that Parliament could act independently of the King in the interests of the nation's defence. The lords-lieutenant of counties, who had authority over the trained bands, were to be appointed by Parliament and all appointments made by the King were to be revoked. Ordinances passed by the Commons and Lords were to be regarded as valid in law without the royal assent. The King issued commissions of array to counter the militia ordinance. The question of whether to obey the militia ordinance or the commission of array became an early test of allegiance in the English Civil War. Baron Strange's attempt to prevent the execution of the militia ordinance at Manchester resulted in the first fatal casualty of the war in England when linen weaver Richard Perceval was killed in street fighting on 15 July 1642.

James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby failed to secure the county magazine in the castle for the royalists. He was later captured and imprisoned and tried at Chester Castle. He almost escaped, but was recaptured and was executed at Bolton. He is said to haunt Stanley Palace.

The prevailing mood in Chester in summer 1642 was a wish for accommodation between Charles I and parliament, reflected in the city's neutralist petition in August and in its reaction to the parliamentary commission of lieutenancy and the royal commission of array. The Assembly stood fast against both an attempt by James Stanley, Lord Strange, to secure the county magazine in the castle for the royalists, and Alderman William Edwards's and Sir William Brereton's effort to take control of the city's trained bands for parliament. Nevertheless, Bishop of Chester John Bridgeman, his son Orlando Bridgeman (vice-chamberlain of Chester), other lawyers, and prominent figures were apparently trying to encourage royalist sympathies among leading citizens. On 6 September Mayor Thomas Cowper secured a majority vote in the Assembly for an immediate assessment of 100 marks to fortify the city. Just prior to the outbreak of Civil War in England (22nd August 1642), Brereton tried to seize Chester for Parliament (8th August, 1642), but was driven out by the Royalist faction. According to Frank Simpson, mayor Cowper ordered the constables to arrest the leaders of this "treasonable" gathering, but they failed to do so. At this point Cowper stepped-in and seized one of the leaders by the collar, delivering him to the civil officers. He also wrested a broadsword from another of the party, which which he cut the drum to pieces.

The New Model Army (1645)

The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration. It differed from other armies in the series of civil wars referred to as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in that it was intended as an army liable for service anywhere in the country (including in Scotland and Ireland), rather than being tied to a single area or garrison. Its soldiers became full-time professionals, rather than part-time militia. To establish a professional officer corps, the army's leaders were prohibited from having seats in either the House of Lords or House of Commons. This was to encourage their separation from the political or religious factions among the Parliamentarians.

Between April 1645 and October 1645 Brereton was recalled to Westminster, but the siege of Chesster was so important to the Parliamentarian cause that Brereton was one of the few commanders allowed to retain both his military command and his seat in Parliament after the Self-Denying Ordinance. However he was absent from Cheshire until October 1645, when he was restored to his command by Parliament. There was a personal element to all this - as it seems that Brereton’s determination in the early phase of the war to secure control of the various units recruited and organised by prominent Cheshire gentlemen, including Philip Mainwaring, had caused immediate friction. This worsened in September 1645 when Sir George Booth and the other deputy lieutenants responded assertively to Brereton’s supporters’ attempts to denigrate their efforts and marginalise them. According to Booth, the deputy lieutenants had found the county’s forces:

  • "in a mutinous condition, for want of pay, and the country quite exhausted … yet it hath pleased God so to render our endeavours prosperous that the country and forces are now reduced to a cheerful and obedient condition, ready and capable of any proportionable design that can be presented them for the service of the parliament… Nevertheless we are informed there are some factious petitions presented to you [the Speaker, William Lenthall], bearing the character of the whole county, but indeed being the act of a few … intimating a necessity of Sir William Brereton’s return and so insinuating an odium and scandal upon us and our actions to the disturbance of the present condition we are in and the hazard of the great attempts now in agitation"

Clearly, Booth had come to the view that only Brereton could hold things together in Cheshire. Despite Brereton's opposition, Booth was elected recruiter MP for Cheshire in 1646.

The New Model Army was raised partly from among veteran soldiers who already had deeply held Puritan religious beliefs, and partly from conscripts who brought with them many commonly held beliefs about religion or society. Many of its common soldiers therefore held dissenting or radical views unique among English armies. Although the Army's senior officers did not share many of their soldiers' political opinions, their independence from Parliament led to the Army's willingness to contribute to the overthrow of both the Crown and Parliament's authority, and to establish a Commonwealth of England from 1649 to 1660, which included a period of direct military rule. Ultimately, the Army's Generals (particularly Oliver Cromwell) could rely both on the Army's internal discipline and its religious zeal and innate support for the "Good Old Cause" to maintain an essentially dictatorial rule.

After Cromwell died, the Protectorate died a slow death, as did the New Model army. For a time, in 1659, it appeared that factions of the New Model army forces loyal to different generals might wage war on each other. Regiments garrisoned in Scotland under the command of General Monck were marched to London to ensure the security of the capital prior to the Restoration (see: The Booth Rising), without significant opposition from the regiments under other generals, particularly those led by Charles Fleetwood and John Lambert.

Following the riots led by Thomas Venner in 1661, which were quelled with the aid of soldiers from Monck's Regiment of Foot and the Regiment of Cuirassiers, the New Model Army was ordered disbanded. However, for their service, both these regiments were, upon the end of the New Model Army, incorporated into the army of Charles II as regiments of Foot Guards (The Coldstream Guards) and Horse Guards.

The Restoration

At the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the King's sole right to call out and command the militia (which had been denied by the Long Parliament of the Civil War) was fully confirmed by Act of Parliament; but the same statute introduced an elaborate scheme which virtually placed its control in the hands of the landowners of its own county.

Rumours of plots prevailed for some time after the Restoration. In 1661 doubts about the loyalty of the citizens of Chester led the corporation to pay for a permanent guard of 30 men and to stockpile match, while the county militia was also placed on alert. In 1662 the government stationed 60 foot soldiers in Chester, and the following year, immediately after his appointment as governor, Sir Geoffrey Shakerley repaired the city's fortifications and repressed dissent. The defences were further strengthened in 1671. The Popish Plot in 1678 led to cancellation of the Midsummer show and the Christmas watch in successive years, as well as repairs to the city walls. As the crisis passed, temporary additions to the garrison were disbanded, but the Secretary of State still interfered in the appointment of the city's militia officers. The visit of the duke of Monmouth in September 1682 was accompanied by searches for arms, surveillance of those deemed disaffected, a few arrests, and frequent reports to London. Both the Rye House Plot in 1683 and the accession of James II in 1685 led to similar precautions, and in the latter year there was mob violence during the county election held in Chester.

When James II showed a disposition to imitate the policy of his father, by establishing a camp of professional soldiers on Hounslow Heath to overawe London, his subjects deposed him, and, in the great Bill of Rights, in 1689, in which they offered the throne to William of Orange and his wife, they made it an express condition of their offer, that "the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom, in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against law." The very event which rendered the existence of a standing, or "regular" army within the realm illegal, also rendered it necessary. Naturally, the dethroned monarch and his descendants would not submit to the loss of their inheritance without an effort; and there were many rulers (especially the powerful King of France) only too willing to make use of the Stuart or Jacobite claims, to embarrass William of Orange, whom they hated as the champion of Protestantism and liberty. Accordingly, it became necessary to provide in some way for the suspension of the provisions of the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights above quoted; and this was done by the passing of annual "Mutiny Acts".

The initially unexpected approach of the Jacobites in 1745 caused greater alarm than in 1715. In mid November part of the county militia was brought in to garrison the city. The city gates were bricked up, save for wickets at the Bridgegate and Eastgate, the walls were patrolled, cannon were mounted to command the bridge, and the castle defences were improved. Business came to a standstill, leading citizens evacuated their families and valuables, and refugees from outside flocked within the walls, where inhabitants were directed to lay in two weeks' provisions against a siege. In the event the Jacobite army went nowhere near Chester, but the city had been involved in heavy expense and had to turn to Sir Robert Grosvenor to obtain reimbursement from the government in 1746.

The Cheshire Regiment

The Cheshire Regiment was a line infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division. The 22nd Regiment of Foot was raised by the Duke of Norfolk in 1689 and was able to boast an independent existence of over 300 years. The regiment was expanded in 1881 as part of the Childers Reforms by the linking of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment of Foot and the militia and rifle volunteers of Cheshire. The title 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment continued to be used within the regiment. In the year 1907, the remains of the old militia and the Volunteers were finally united by the new Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, which actually had in view a voluntary defence force though, as a precaution, the militia ballot, though long disused, was not expressly abolished. Like the old militia, the "Territorials" were organized under the county Lord Lieutenants, aided, however, by County Associations; and they were only subject to military law when actually embodied or "called out" for service.

On 1 September 2007, the Cheshire Regiment was merged with the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th Foot) and the Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's) to form a new large regiment, the Mercian Regiment, becoming the 1st Battalion, Mercian Regiment.

The Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteers

Fear of invasion returned during the Napleonic Wars and a confused and confusing mix of militia, Gentlemen & Yeomanry Cavalry and Volunteer Infantry came into existence. The Chester Volunteers (Col Roger Barnston), for example, were a regiment of 13 or 14 companies, including a grenadier, light and artillery company for which colours were presented on 19 March 1804. They were a fairly primitive armed force: in September 1803 Colonel Barnston requested the Lord Lieutenant to apply for 600 stand of arms for half the regiment, the remainder being unarmed, and 100 pikes for the artillery company.

The Corn Laws of 1815 onward were intended to protect British agricultural landowners from cheap foreign imports following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but their effect was to increase grain prices and decrease supplies, causing hardship among the poor. In 1816 (the "Year without a summer") severe weather resulted in poor harvests, leading to further food shortages during the winter of 1816–1817. Discontent led to riots, first in some country districts and then in towns and cities, notably the London Spa Fields riots of November–December 1816. A Reform Bill for universal suffrage (see: 1883 Reform Act for later developments) was drafted, with considerable input from the Northern radicals, and presented to Parliament at the end of January by Thomas Cochrane, but it was rejected on procedural grounds by the House of Commons. The Cheshire Yeomanry and county militia were soon to become political instruments.

John Leicester, 1st Baron de Tabley (4 April 1762 – 18 June 1827) was an English landowner, politician, amateur artist, and patron of the arts. Leicester acted also as lieutenant-colonel of the Cheshire militia, and after thirteen years' service was appointed colonel of a regiment of cavalry raised for home defence. During the Napoleonic Wars he raised the regiment eventually called the Cheshire Yeomanry. In 1817, it took part in dispersing the Blanketeers in Lancashire. The Blanketeers or Blanket March was a demonstration organised in Manchester in March 1817. The intention was for the participants, who were mainly Lancashire weavers, to march to London and petition the Prince Regent over the desperate state of the textile industry in Lancashire, and to protest over the recent suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. The march was broken up violently and its leaders imprisoned. The Blanketeers formed part of a series of protests and calls for reform that culminated in the Peterloo massacre.

The Cheshire Yeomanry was also involved in the Peterloo Massacre of 16 August 1819. This was the result of a cavalry charge into the crowd at a public meeting at Saint Peters Field, in Manchester, England. Eleven people were killed and more than 400, including many women and children, injured. Local magistrates arranged for a substantial number of regular soldiers to be on hand. The troops included 600 men of the 15th Hussars; several hundred infantrymen; a Royal Horse Artillery unit with two six-pounder (2.7 kg) guns; 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry, 400 special constables and 120 cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, relatively inexperienced militia recruited from among shopkeepers and tradesmen

After the Napoleonic Wars, the Militia fell in to disuse, although regimental colonels and adjutants continued to appear in the Army List. Whilst muster rolls were still prepared during the 1820s, the element of compulsion was abandoned. The Militia was revived by the Militia Act of 1852, enacted during a period of international tension. As before, units were raised and administered on a county basis, and filled by voluntary enlistment (although conscription by means of the Militia Ballot might be used if the counties failed to meet their quotas). It was intended to be seen as an alternative to the army. Training was for 56 days on enlistment, then the recruits would return to civilian life but report for 21–28 days training per year.

Despite the alliance between Britain and France during the Crimean War of 1854-56, a renewed fear of invasion by the French caused much concern with respect to Britain’s defensive capability. This surged dramatically in April 1859 following the outbreak of war between France and Austria-Hungary, with a growing newspaper campaign supporting the establishing of volunteer military corps. To a large extent, the national press led by The Times created much of this anxiety. Its editorial and correspondence columns intensified the campaign for the creation of Volunteer Corps. The Volunteer Corps were quite distinct from the militia. A number of Artillery Volunteer Corps (AVCs) were quickly formed in Cheshire, and in June 1860 they were brought together into the 1st Administrative Brigade of Cheshire Artillery Volunteer Corps with headquarters at Chester.

Volunteer Street seen from Pepper Street in 2018. The white building is the frontage of the former Drill Hall.

Under the reforms introduced by Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers in 1881, the remaining militia infantry regiments were redesignated as numbered battalions of regiments of the line, ranking after the two regular battalions.

After 1892 the site of the prison became a drill ground for the local Volunteer artillery. It was eventually occupied by a new county hall built between 1939 and 1957. A new militia barracks for the permanent staff of the 1st Regiment of the Royal Cheshire Militia was built by the county authorities outside the castle precinct in Nuns' Gardens to designs by T. M. Penson in 1858–9. In an extravagant 13th century castellated style with many towers and turrets and a gateway with a portcullis, it was sold to the War Department in 1874 and after 1882 housed married non-commissioned officers of the regimental depot. The building was repurchased by the county council in 1963 and demolished in 1964.

One of the few substantial relics of the "militia" in Chester is the frontage of the Volunteer Drill Hall in Volunteer Street. It is the curious turreted building seen at the end of Albion Street. The 2000 conversion into residential apartments has been re-named Albion Mews.

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