Stuart Chester

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This is part of a series of articles on the history of Chester through time:

The Stuart period of British history lasted from 1603 to 1714 during the dynasty of the House of Stuart. The period ended with the death of Queen Anne and the accession of King George I from the German House of Hanover. After the loss of the throne, the descendants of James VII and II came to be known as the Jacobites and continued for several generations to attempt to reclaim the English (and later British) throne as the rightful heirs.

The Stuart period was plagued by internal and religious strife including a period of Civil War which had a particular impact on Chester. Many of these internal conflicts were between the Crown and Parliament and their causes have been the subject of much historical debate, especially in the 20th Century when the debate was dubbed the "Storm over the gentry". The modern consensus are that the conflicts had a variety of causes, some arising out of the preceeding Tudor period (see: Tudor Chester) and some being down to the personalities of those in Stuart times. Causes varied dependent on location and the course of the Civil War in Chester was probably significantly influenced by local factors as well as national ones. It is possible that events in Chester had some minor effect of the slide into Civil War but the events mentioned below are noted more as local illustrations of causes that were also active elsewhere. During the long life of Roger Whitley (?1618-97) Chester changed from a City largely ignored by a distant royal earl, and thus run by a somewhat corrupt Corporation controlled by the guilds and burghers, to a City dominated by the local landed gentry, the Grosvenors. Pike and musket warfare gave way to rather more mobile warfare with the simple invention of the bayonet, and by Whitley's death Britain was at the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

James I of England - died of dysentery. He rarely washed and had a habit of "fiddling with his cod-piece".

Despite defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588, England faced ongoing difficulties. The economy was hit by a series of poor harvests and there was a heavy tax burden to support the wars with Spain and in Ireland. There was a major famine in Chester in 1598. The population increased and demand drove prices up while wages fell. The Spanish war affected trade in Chester and much business shifted to the French ports, but there were losses of ships due to the war and growth began to slow. The important wool export trade declined. A noted feature of the economy were monopolies, where the right to trade in certain goods was only granted to particular parties, often in return for a payment. These were a royal prerogative and a valuable source of income for the crown as well as a way of rewarding courtiers. They were not a new innovation but their grant expanded in the latter part of Elizabeths reign. A related economic practice was "fee farming", where the state reassigned the burden of tax collection to private individuals or groups. The recipient of the rights then paid the taxes or other fees for a certain area and for a certain period of time and attempted to cover their outlay by collecting money or saleable goods. The advantage to the state was that monies could be secured without the burden of collecting them. The benefit to the "farmer" would be the right to keep any excess that was collected.

Monopolies engendered a widespread sense of grievance and became a major subject of Parliamentary debate towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth, but she was able to deal with the matter with her usual knack of timely intervention, charm and an outward show of making concessions. In her famous "Golden Speech" of 30 November 1601 at Whitehall Palace to a deputation of 140 members, Elizabeth professed ignorance of the abuses, and won the members over with promises and her usual appeal to the emotions in what was a masterful oration. Sixteen months later she was dead.

The popular image of the Stuart period is dominated by the Civil War. While the film overplay's Cromwell's role in the early part of the war and mixes up many dates it is a reasonably accurate portrayal. It completely omits the events which took place in Cheshire.

Elizabeth would never name her successor. James Stuart was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, and thus a potential successor to all three thrones. From 1601, in the last years of Elizabeth's life, certain English politicians — notably her chief minister Sir Robert Cecil — maintained a secret correspondence with James to prepare in advance for a smooth succession. Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24 March 1603, and James was proclaimed king in London later the same day, without any opposition. His English coronation took place on 25 July 1603, with elaborate allegories provided by dramatic poets such as Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson. However, an outbreak of plague restricted festivities, the goverment had debts of £400,000, and James had a very different approach to Parliament than Elizabeth.

In the early years of James's reign, the day-to-day running of the government was tightly managed by the shrewd Cecil, later Earl of Salisbury, ably assisted by the experienced Thomas Egerton, whom James made Baron Ellesmere and Lord Chancellor. Thomas Egerton was born in 1540 in the parish of Dodleston, Cheshire, England. He was the illegitimate son of Sir Richard Egerton and an unmarried woman named Alice Sparks from Bickerton. He bought Tatton Park, in 1598. It would stay in the family for more than three centuries. His third wife was Alice Spencer, whose first husband had been Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (the one in line for the throne, who was probably murdered). The Egertons would have a significant impact on the history of Chester. Thomas Egerton (1540 – 15 March 1617) had a plot at the end of Whitefriars flattened and built what was apparently one of the finest mansions in the city. Egerton was made Chamberlain of Chester in 1593 and is associated with the traditional (but false) legend of how Gallantry Bank at Bickerton got its name.

The transition between the Tudor and Stuart periods roughly co-incides with a significant change in military technology: around 1600 the use of massed firearms emerged (see: Militia) as a replacement for archers. Producing an effective arquebusier required much less training than producing an effective bowman. Archers needed to build and train the right muscles. 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 and using them did not need trained strength. 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 soon took place and allowed 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 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.

Chester in 1603

At the time of the accession of James I Chester had other concerns: there was a plague running riot in the city. There was a plague in London at the same time with at least 30,000 dead in 1603. This was part of the second plague Pandemic, a major series of epidemics of plague that started with the Black Death, which reached Europe in 1348 and killed up to a half of the population of Eurasia in the next four years. Although the plague died out in most places, it became endemic and recurred regularly. A series of major epidemics occurred in the late 17th century, and the disease recurred in some places until the late 18th century or the early 19th century. The plague which heralded the accession of the Stuart rulers actually reached Chester in September, 1602, in a glover’s (or musician's) house in St John Street (then Lane), where seven died, and kept increasing until the weekly deaths reached sixty. This particular plague cycle may well have been associated with the movement of troops through Chester in support of the Irish wars and the famines of the past years. War, famine and pestilence being known as companions. This did not stop some ascribing the plague to the accession of king James, or associating it with Kepler's Supernova.

Portrait of William Aldersey from the Grosvenor Museum (purchased 2012). Painted in oil on an oak panel and dated 1615, the artwork is said to be the earliest surviving portrait of any mayor of Chester. He died at Chester on 26 October 1616 and was buried in St Oswald.

These were not the only superstitions of the times. While king of Scotland, James VI became utterly convinced about the reality of witchcraft and its great danger to him, leading to the North Berwick witch trials that began in 1590. James was convinced that a coven of powerful witches was conspiring to murder him through magic, and that they were in league with the Devil. In 1597, with the end of the trials, James published his study of witchcraft, "Daemonologie". Shortly after becoming king of England he passed his "Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and dealing with evil and wicked spirits". Sir Thomas Browne, who has links with Chester, would become involved in the subject in 1662 and his legal analysis would later be used at the Salem Witch Trials. Witch Trials would last almost to the end of the Stuart period - in 1712, Queen Anne pardoned Jane Wenham who had been sentenced to death for witchcraft, which served as a signal to the authorities that prosecution for such "crimes" should be ceased (the last witch execution was Mary Hicks in 1716).

Various theories have been put forward for the reasons for the "European Witch Craze". For many years the supposed explanation was either the climatic disturbance of the "Little Ice Age" or the outbreaks of various Pandemics - with "witches" being the convenient scapegoat. A more recent proposal is that "witch-hunting" was an activity intended to attract the loyalty of undecided christians during the reformation and counter-reformation. Protestants in general also tended to be more wary of witches: Luther himself authorized the execution of four accused witches, while Calvin urged Genevan officials to wipe out "the race of witches".

The widespread and severe epidemic of bubonic plague in 1603-5 was unusual in Chester in falling into two contrasting phases. The first was long drawn out but relatively mild: 933 dead out of c. 5,220 inhabitants over 83 weeks represented a death rate of 11 per cent a year, four times the annual rate of the previous decade but not as severe as that experienced elsewhere. The second phase killed 1,041 people in 34 weeks, or 20 per cent a year among a population probably as large as in 1603. The first outbreak was accompanied by 'other diseases' (probably smallpox), and when it was carried from Chester to Nantwich in June 1604 it killed 430 people in ten months, a mortality of between 23 and 28 per cent. Preventive measures taken in Chester by the Assembly in 1603-5 may have retarded the spread of infection, even though they were conventional and crude: erecting pesthouses on the outskirts to isolate the sick; destruction of infected bedding; orders against overcrowded housing; and a ban on the Michaelmas fair and Christmas watch in 1604 to prevent crowds from gathering. Some citizens, notably those who were part of the local government, seem to have flouted quarantine measures: former mayor John Aldersey, for example, was moved from Eastgate Street to Watergate Street while sick and later died of the plague. Richer citizens, perhaps more worried about the state of their businesses after the first phase than about the disease itself, may have delayed flight too long. William Aldersey, another former mayor, left only when the weekly death-toll reached 58 and his next-door neighbour's family had been almost wiped-out.

In the early seventeenth century Chester’s population within the city walls numbered around 5,000. The local economy revolved around the leather industry (see: Tanning), whose craftsmen comprised approximately 23 per cent of the freemen. Most trade was with Ireland, particularly Dublin. Some links with the Baltic developed during the period, but these were sporadic and did not involve large cargoes. Overseas trade was restricted to members of the city’s powerful Merchant Adventurers’ Company, founded in 1554. Despite being the dominant port in north-west England, Chester, or rather its corporation, was not wealthy. Rents from city lands, freemen admissions, and fees for grazing cattle on the Roodee accounted for under £100 p.a. Overall income ranged from between £283 in 1607-8 to just £130 in 1616-17. Chester’s poverty meant that corporation members were often surcharged to meet extraordinary expenses.

John Speed's map of Chester from 1610 shows the city with development along the main street frontages but still much open space. The Watertower now stands clear of the river. Speed, who was from Farndon, himself describes Chester as follows:

  • "Over Deva or Dee a fair stone-bridge leadeth, built up on eight arches, at either end whereof is a Gate, from whence in a long Quadren-wise the walls do incompass the city, high and strongly built, with four faire Gates opening into the four winds, besides three Posterns and seven Watch-Towers extending in compass 1940 paces. On the south of this city is mounted a strong and stately Castle, round in form, and the base Court likewise inclosed with a circular wall. It hath been accounted the Key to Ireland, and great pity it is that the Port should decay as it daily doth, the sea being stopped to scour the River by a Causey that thwarteth Dee at her Bridge."

Chester and Parliament

In the earlier part of the Tudor period Parliaments were occasional events and the power of parliament fell far short of being able to challenge the monarchy, but the power of parliament was growing. 1542 had seen the passage of the "Chester and Cheshire (Constituencies) Act" allowing the palatine county of Cheshire and the city to be represented in the Parliament of England. In Elizabethan times huge numbers of bills related to taxation and social/economic legislation. Many of these had consequences for Chester, who now had respresentation in Westminster and where the local power of the Palatinate was weakening. In 1559 alone eight statutes were passed concerning shoemakers, tanned leather, leather exports, wines, linen cloth, iron mills, English shipping, and the preservation of fish spawn, all of which would have a bearing on Chester. In 1554 a group of overseas traders associated with Chester had secured the incorporation by royal grant of a company of merchants, to be governed by a master and two wardens and enjoy the privileges normally granted to such companies. Membership was to comprise merchants trading with the Continent ("mere merchants") and exclude craftsmen and retailers. There was immediate opposition in Chester on the grounds that it would exclude some freemen from foreign trade contrary to long-established practice, but the company renewed its charter in 1559 and even came to include a few retailers.

James I had clear ideas about the role of Parliament and did not shy away from stating them. In 1597–98, James wrote The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron (Royal Gift), in which he argues a theological basis for monarchy. In the "True Law", he sets out the "Divine Right of Kings", explaining that kings are higher beings than other men for Biblical reasons, though "the highest bench is the sliddriest to sit upon". The document proposes an absolutist theory of monarchy, by which a king may impose new laws by royal prerogative but must also pay heed to tradition and to God, who would "stirre up such scourges as pleaseth him, for punishment of wicked kings" - this was, in an ironic sense, a time of harvest failures and plagues. James's advice to his son Prince Henry Frederick concerning parliaments, which he understood as merely the king's "head court", foreshadows his difficulties with the English Commons: "Hold no Parliaments," he tells Henry, "but for the necesitie of new Lawes, which would be but seldome". On 7 July 1604, James had angrily prorogued Parliament after failing to win its support either for full union or financial subsidies. "I will not thank where I feel no thanks due", he had remarked in his closing speech. "... I am not of such a stock as to praise fools ... You see how many things you did not well ... I wish you would make use of your liberty with more modesty in time to come".

With the decline of the Palatinate Chester's governance was now not as isolated from Parliament as it had been previously and national politics soon infringed on local matters. In January 1606, king James attempted to have Hugh Mainwaring elected as Chester’s recorder, with the expectation that this would give him an MP "in his pocket". Hugh was presumably related to the MP Sir Arthur Mainwaring who was close to both James and Prince Henry Frederick. The corporation reminded the king that only the previous year he had confirmed the city’s charter, which gave Chester the right to elect its own recorder. Consequently, James decided "to forbear to press you any further in the suit". The election had been brought about by the unexpected death of senior recorder Thomas Lawton and, following the attempt at Royal intervention the new recorder, Thomas Gamull, was elected as MP in his place. Gamull had been MP for Chester previously. The Gamull's (see: Gamul House) were already becoming a major influence in Chester and would go on to play a significant part in the Civil War.

A New Earl and a Play for Chester (1610)

The text of Chester's Triumph in Honour of her Prince can be found on-line.

In 1610, with the confirmation of Prince Henry Frederick as Wales and Earl, Chester looked forward to the "return" of a prince and earl it had not really known since the visit of young Prince Arthur in 1499 (see: Cowper). For a century, since 1506, the City of Chester had been a county in its own right, effectively ruled by a Corporation which had the right to hold courts and to control trade, buildings and social conditions. From well before the death of Henry VIII in 1547, the nearest thing to an effective Earl was the Chamberlain, based at Chester Castle in the very center of the City, and the source of prolonged disputes over jusidiction with the Corporation. The institutions of the wider Palatinate were based at Chester Castle, but the markets of the City served as the mercantile center of the entire county. Those who made money by trade in and through the City invested in land in the countryside while rural men fought for civic positions. These conditions created a complex interplay between the City of Chester and the County of Cheshire as a whole. An Earl might have helped bridge this gap in the administration, and Henry Frederick was made Earl in 1610. He held several other "automatic" titles: Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Wales, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. The young Earl was active in dancing, tennis, fencing and hunting. In 1607 Henry sought permission to learn to swim, but the Earls of Suffolk and Shrewsbury wrote to his tutor Newton that swimming was a "dangerous thing" that their own sons might practice "like feathers as light as things of nought", but was not suitable for Princes as "things of great weight and consequence". Perhaps it was meant as a jest, but became an ironic one. He was also much more marked in his Puritan tendencies than his father or younger brother Charles: in addition to the alms box to which Henry forced swearers to contribute, he made sure his household attended church services.

Certain of the citizens of Chester desired a visit from their young and energetic prince, and, as discussed in Chamber's Book of days they put on a pageant to attract him. One notable feature of the pageant was a play, or "Triumph", performed at the High Cross another was a celebration and races on the Roodee. A central figure in the "Triumph" was Mercury, god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld. His name is possibly related to the Latin word merx ("merchandise"; cf. merchant, commerce, etc.). The temple of Mercury in Rome was regarded as a fitting place to worship a swift god of trade and travel, since it was a major center of commerce as well as a racetrack. In the pageant Mercury also symbolises the young Prince and starts his performance by showing due respect to the "high justice officer" (the Mayor).

It was not to be. The "coming man" did not come to Chester for the triumph in his honour. At the age of 18, the man who had been prepared for rulership all his life was taken ill after a swim in the Thames near his home at Richmond. His symptoms suggest he had water-borne typhoid fever, from which he died. As Henry's body was lowered into the ground, his chief servants broke their staves of office at the grave and an insane man ran naked through the mourners, yelling that he was the boy's ghost. His often sickly brother Charles eventually inherited the throne 13 years later, having had little of the preparation Henry had for the role but also inheriting his father's disdain for parliaments. Meanwhile the development of the Chester Militia echoed the emergence of the professional army, as a distinct political unit, which could and would later defy both Crown and parliament.

Puritan Nicholas Byfield was preaching at St Peter (c1600-1615) when the "Chester's Triumph" was performed. There is still a copy of a "Breeches Bible" from around 1579 at St Peter. Byfield was a influence on the iconoclast John Bruen.

Iconoclasm in 1613

From the end of Elizabeth's reign and into that of James, the more extreme protestants became progressively more radicalised as Puritans. Clerical support for puritanism in Chester is not easy to measure. William Barlow, dean at the Cathedral in 1603-5, was a prominent and strongly anti-puritan member of the Hampton Court conference in 1604, but Bishop Richard Vaughan (1597-1604) sympathized with many puritan opinions. The next bishop, George Lloyd (1604-15), a former divinity lecturer at the Cathedral, was an active preacher and apparently a moderate who tolerated puritan clergy in Chester. Lloyd's portrain hangs in the "Puritan Room" at the Grosvenor Museum and his supposed residence, Bishop Lloyd's House, still exists in Watergate Street, but has been much altered over the years. His successor, Thomas Morton (1616-19), however, was of firmly Anglican views and pressed the Puritans to conform. His task was made more difficult by the ministrations of Nicholas Byfield, a Calvinist polemicist and a powerful preacher, who was rector of St Peter's 1608-15, where his congregation included the well known puritan gentleman John Bruen of Bruen Stapleford, a supporter of private prayer meetings in the parish. Byfield was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, but did not emerge with a degree. He intended to exercise his ministry in Ireland; but on his way there he preached at Chester, and was prevailed on to remain as one of the city preachers, without cure. His name is still displayed at St Peter among the list of past rectors on the wall near the font.

John Bruen (1560–1625) was an English Puritan layman, celebrated in his time for piety. In his youth he was the spoiled son of a very wealthy man. On the death of his father in 1587, Bruen's character changed completely. Thenceforth, Bruen was up every day at 3 or 4 a.m. and engaged in prayer and Bible study. Bruen prayed and read the Bible seven times each day. He destroyed his backgammon table by pitching it forcefully into the fireplace. He marred his deck of cards by tearing up the jacks (which were vital to play the local version of "Noddy") and proclaimed games to be the works of the devil and an idle mind. He made it a point to walk the one mile to church each Sunday, gathering the tenants of his properties and arriving in a large cluster for service. His charitable works were notable: he offered the homeless a place to sleep within his own home, the wool of his sheep provided clothing for the poor, the mutton their food. Corn from his fields fed those who came to his door for comfort.

On Ascension Eve (12th May) 1613 a small group of men broke down the roadside cross at "Viccars Crosse" and Christleton Churchyard Cross. This was but part of the iconoclastic cross-smashing that took place around Chester that year, including those in the churchyards of Barrow, Eccleston and Christleton. The Barrow cross possibly partly survives as the column of a sundial in St. Bartholomew's Churchyard. In the winter of 1613 seventeen of Bruen's students and servants were arrested for destroying roadside crosses in Cheshire. Seven of the vandals appeared before the Star Chamber in London. The outcome of the trial resulted in a 500 pound fine, an expense that Bruen covered for his followers. While those charged with the crime denied Bruen’s involvement, it was clear to all that the event was planned at one of his conventicles at Stapleford Hall. According to a complaint by John Savage (Lord of the Manor of Tarvin) in the Star Chamber records, these included four ancient crosses of squared stone eight feet high, one in Delamere Forest, another in Tarvin, another at Christleton, and Ecclestone Cross:

  • "All of them beyond the memory of man, boundaries of townships and estates, and were also good direction points for travellers, and places appointed for the payment of certain rents, and for other lawful meetings".

It was Bruen himself, together with John Eaton & Hugh Jones who broke down "Viccars Crosse" and Christleton Churchyard Cross on Ascension Eve 1613. One of the crosses was restored in 2018.

Morton's successor as Bishop of Chester was Bishop Bridgeman (1619-1652) who was at first lenient towards puritans but initialised suspensions against the puritans Thomas Paget, John Angier and Samuel Eaton. Paget was later exiled to Amsterdam (where he lived off the profits of his family slave-trading). Angier was twice excommunicated. Easton, from Crowley near Great Budworth, eventually fled to New England. By the late 1630s, Puritans were in alliance with the growing commercial world, with the parliamentary opposition to the royal prerogative, and with the Scottish Presbyterians with whom they had much in common.

A Royal Visit (1616) and a Spanish Match

William Aldersey followed in his father's footsteps as a merchant ironmonger and so successful in overseas trade that he became a founding member of the East India Company in 1600, and is said to have been named in the patent incorporating the Company dated 31 December 1600 (although his name does not appear in available texts - he was more likely one of the 125 shareholders, rather than one of the 24 directors named in the patent). This proved to be an extremely lucrative investment, for although he had to subscribe £240 per share during 1601, the distributed profit on the first voyage by 1603 was nearly 300 per cent, and for all the East India voyages up to 1616 was never less than 220 per cent. He served as mayor of Chester in 1595–6 and 1613–4 and was particularly interested in the troops and horses which sailed from Chester to support the standing army in Ireland. Aldersey himself 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. The presence of so many troops also brought problems. 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". 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. It may well be that Aldersey's interest in the origin of the troops, his "special barracks" etc. had less to do with any civic pride, and more to do with keeping the peace in the presence of a large number of frequently drunken and unruly troops. While the events mentioned above took place in the reign of Elizabeth they illustrate hom important Chester had become in communication with Ireland, as well as how important this communication was to the economy of Chester.

Leche House on Watergate Street is one of the best preverved Jacobean properties in Chester. While it still has a full-hight hall it also features a massive chimney.

Between his work and his civic duties, Aldersey studied Chester's Roman archaeology and the documentation of its medieval re-emergence. He is particularly remembered for his compilation of a list of the past mayors of Chester. The list survives to this day in a badly damaged memorandum book which was handed down through the Leche family. Aldersey’s last honour was to attend a civic dinner when James I visited Chester in August 1616. As the most senior alderman, he presented the king with a gold "standing bowl" chock full of gold coins (100 Jacobins) on the city’s behalf. He records the event himself:

  • "12 October 1616 - The Kinges maiesty Came the 23rd day of august to the Lea hall to Sir George Calueley and there had a banquet, and from thence the same day to the Citty of Chester, where he was banqueted in the pentice, and presented with a Cupp of gold by the Citty. and from thence went to Vale riall [word cancelled] the same night beinge Saturday where he rested till mondey, and then came to the nante wiche that night and so away." - ALDERSEY FAMILY COLLECTION CR 469.

The annalists of Vale Royal record the events as follows (one or other has the year wrong):

  • "1617 On the 23d of August our city was graced with the royal presence of our sovereign King James who being attended with many honourable earls reverend bishops and worthy knights and courtiers besides all the gentry of the shire rode in state through the city being met with the sheriffs peers and common council of the city every one with his foot cloth well mounted on horseback. All the train soldiers of the city standing in order without the Eastgate and every company with their ensigns in seemly sort did keep their several stations on both sides of the Eastgate street. The mayor and all the aldermen took their places on a scaffold railed and hung about with green and there in most grave and seemly manner they attended the coming of his Majesty. At which time after a learned speech delivered by the recorder the mayor presented to the king a fair standing cup with a cover double gilt and therein an hundred jacobins of gold and likewise the mayor delivered the city's sword to the king who gave it to the mayor again. And the same was borne before the king by the mayor being on horseback The sword of state was borne by the Right Hon William Earl of Derby chief chamberlain of the county palatine of Chester. The king rode first to the minster where he alighted from his horse and in the west aisle of the minster be heard an oration delivered in Latin by a scholar of the free school after the said oration he went into the choir. And there in a seat made for the king in the higher end of the choir he heard an anthem sung. After certain prayers the king went from thence to the Pentice where a sumptuous banquet was prepared at the city's cost which being ended the king departed to the Vale Royal. And at his departure the order of knighthood was offered to Mr Mayor but he refused the same." (as quoted in Hemingway)

Leche House and the Spanish Match

At the time there was interest in a third "Spanish Match" - yet another attempt to improve relations with Spain by a royal marriage. James had quickly ended the expensive war with Spain that lasted from 1585 to 1604. The "Spanish Match" was a proposed marriage between Prince Charles (later king), the son of King James I of Great Britain, and Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, the daughter of Philip III of Spain. Of course, a previous "Spanish Match" had brought Catherine of Aragon to England and another had wed "Bloody" Mary to the deeply devout but flat broke Philip II of Spain making him jure uxoris King of England and Ireland. Negotiations about the wedding of Prince Charles took place over the period 1614 to 1623, and during this time became closely related to aspects of British foreign and religious policy. There was in fact no chance that Pope Paul V would have issued the required dispensation for the Infanta to marry a Protestant - a fact apparently well known to the Spanish king but of which the English negotiators were ignorant (it was also kept from the Spanish ambassador). Paul V died early in 1621, and his successor Pope Gregory XV was thought amenable to the idea of the match. However by the 1620's events on the continent stirred up anti-Catholic feeling to a new pitch. In fact there was so much discussion of the "Spanish Match" that on the 24th December 1620, King James issued a strongly worded proclamation to put a stop to it.

At about the time that these events were transpiring Leche House in Watergate Street was partly rebuilt and redecorated. The decorations contain some references which are often said to relate to Catherine of Aragon. There are (as Frank Simpson records):

  • On the north side is a shield which, it is said, bore the arms of Catherine of Aragon, but nothing is to be seen on it at the present time. Above this is a smaller shield bearing a bull’s head with horns; on either side are flying horses, some scroll work, roses, and pomegranates. It is evident, therefore, that this decoration has reference to this Spanish princess, for she had for her badges the rose, a sheaf of arrows, and the pomegranate, the latter of which she introduced into this country.".
  • "On the opposite side of the room the Tudor rose is very projninent, as also is a small shield containing a bull’s head, similar to that on the north side. This decoration evidently refers to King Henry VIII., who, it will be remembered, took for his first wife Catherine of Arragon, the young widow of his brother, Prince Arthur";
  • ..."the Prince of Wales feathers, with P on the dexter, and C on the sinister side, the whole enclosed by the garter, with coronet above; and on either side a flaur-de-lys. The letters P and C appear to allude to Catherine...";

"P and C" could also be a reference to Prince Charles. The Leche House hardly hides the signs that something suspicious may have been going on there: it also features a reputed "priest hole" and a "squint", or spyhole which allows the lower hall to be viewed from an upper gallery. Given the dates the legend that Catherine of Aragon stayed there seems impossible to base on actual history, but the symbolism used in the redecoration may be a reference to the proposed marriage of Charles to Maria Anna. In 1623 Charles, accompanied by the utterly incompetent George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, actually visited Madrid to meet his intended bride and the matter ended in a farce. Wigs and false beards were obtained and off they went on a romantic if somewhat foolhardy journey. Buckingham's crassness and quarrel with the Count of Olivares, the Spanish chief minister, was apparently contributory to the total collapse of the proposed mariage agreement. Contempory accounts evidently give Olivares an 'extravagant, out-size personality with a gift for endless self-dramatisation'. The Infanta said she would rather go into a nunnery than marry Charles. And when a drunken Sir Edmund Verney punched a priest, the English party were requested to leave Spain. The Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to have Buckingham executed for his behaviour in Madrid, but Buckingham gained popularity by calling for war with Spain on his return. Charles later married the catholic Henrietta Maria the youngest daughter of Henry IV of France.

One of the "evil counselors" that Richard Grosvenor was concerned about was George Villiers: James I's lover who was assassinated by the puritan John Felton, shown above.


A family which was later to dominate the politics of Chester now appears on the scene. Sir Richard Grosvenor, 1st Baronet (9 January 1585 – 14 September 1645) was born at Eaton Hall, Cheshire, the only surviving son of 17 children. His father was Richard Grosvenor of Eaton, and his mother was Christian, the daughter of Sir Richard Brooke of Norton Priory, Cheshire. Present-day baronets date from 1611 when James I granted letters patent to "200 gentlemen of good birth" with an income of at least £1,000 a year. In return for the honour, each was required to pay for the upkeep of thirty soldiers for three years amounting to £1,095, in those days a very large sum. Baronetcy is the only British hereditary honour that is not a peerage, and was used by James I as a way of raising cash.

At the age of ten Sir Richard joined the household of John Bruen of Stapleford, a "godly Protestant tutor to children of the local upper gentry", who emphasized the link between "magistracy and ministry", and was, as noted above an extreme Puritan. At the age of 13 he went to Queen's College, Oxford, matriculated in 1599 and graduated BA on 30 June 1602 (aged 17). His tutor at Oxford was probably the Puritan William Hinde. Hinde became perpetual curate of Bunbury, Cheshire in about 1603. He was a leader of the nonconformists in Cheshire, and clashed with Thomas Morton (bishop of Chester). In 1602 Grosvenor also became High Sheriff of Cheshire. He was knighted by James I in Vale Royal on 24 August 1617. In 1620 he became MP for Cheshire as a "junior knight of the shire". He was created baronet on 23 February 1622. In 1623 he was again High Sheriff of Cheshire and 1n 1625 High Sheriff of Denbighshire. In 1626 he was removed from the bench, probably for having spoken out in Parliament against the king’s "favourite" (i.e. "toy-boy"), George Villiers, the duke of Buckingham, and for having presented the names of Buckingham's clients to the Common’s committee for recusant officeholders.

Richard Grosvenor was a firm believer in the "divine right of kingship" and in patriarchal authority, but at the same time he staunchly defended the liberties of the subject and of parliament's role as "the representative of the people". Above all, he was concerned to root out the "evil of popery" and to overcome the influence of "evil counsellors" close to the King (including Villiers).

Taxation and Waterworks

A print from Simpson's "The Walls of Chester", based on a drawing by Randle Holme (now in the British Museaum). This shows the water-tower built atop the Bridgegate. Water was lifted using the Dee Mills. The large gate to the left of the bridge is the Shipgate.

"Prisage" was a toll paid to the Crown on certain goods, including wine. In Chester, the fee was due to the Earl. "Prisage" differed from "Custom" which at times was a toll paid by alien merchants. As with prisage the situation in Chester was complicated by the palatine nature of the county. Chester appears to have somehow obtained an excemption from prisage on wines. In 1605 Chester's exemption from "prisage" on imported wines was deemed to have ended, and competition ensued for the right to collect the tax. At first the corporation was allowed to farm it from the royal grantee (Sir Richard Bulkeley), with William Gamull and other prominent merchants as its subfarmers from 1611. In 1624 a new farmer of prisage instead sublet his rights for £650 a year exclusively to five major wine merchants, William and Andrew Gamull, William Aldersey, Thomas Thropp, and William Glegg.

The arrangement had been secured in secret and was challenged by William Edwards, a new councilman already embattled against Gamull's clique for preventing his admission to the Merchants' company. In 1629 the dispute took another twist when William Gamull and his friends, supposedly negotiating a renewal of the licence to export calfskins on behalf of the city generally, instead secured a monopoly for themselves. The privy council finally ruled that all merchants should benefit, though perhaps only on Gamull's terms. In 1630 Gamull and others were still allegedly refusing to allow Edwards to share in the freighting of ships, and two years later Edwards and his associates were accused of diverting cargoes of wine of Beaumaris in order to avoid paying prisage at Chester. Edwards's campaign seems to have won him support, however, for he became sheriff in 1627, an alderman in 1631 and was mayor in 1636-7. By 1640 conflict among the merchants within Chester had somewhat died down: the corporation had resumed the right to levy the prisage on wines, and negotiations for a new licence to export calfskins were conducted in the name of the mayor and citizens. The Merchants' company remained in being, with 46 members in 1639.

The Gamull's were also involved in a curious dispute involving the latest technology of the time. In 1632 Tyrer sold his interest in the Bridgegate Waterworks by the Old Dee Bridge to a consortium headed by Sir Randle Mainwaring (1367-1456), but a dispute with Francis Gamull, who controlled the Dee Mills and causeway, led to Gamull's cutting off the supply. In 1588 alderman Edmund Gamull, later mayor, had paid £600 in advance (according to some accounts) to renew the lease on the corm mills at the reduced rent of £100, but the family got off to a bad start: the weir is known to have collapsed at least once in 1601. The collapse of the weir was only the first of Gamul's problems. In 1607 some of the citizens, abetted by neighbouring gentry, proposed to demolish the weir to improve the tidal scour of the river, thereby ruining the corn and fulling mills and the waterworks. Another concern was that the weir caused water in the River Dee to back-up causing flooding upstream, but it is not clear whether this had been a problem long before the weir was constructed. Gamul was among those instrumental in ensuring that the Privy Council quashed the orders that a breach be made in the causeway. Commissioners who sat, originally decreed that one-third "of the said Weyre be pulled down and the river there made open" but this order was not carried out because an appeal to the Privy Council decided the Commissioners:

  • "had no power to pull it down but only to abate it, if it had been enhanced"

Tyrer had leased the site of his waterworks from the Gamull family, and an arrangement was devised by which no premises could have water unless they purchased all their flour from the mill. The matter again went before the privy council who decided that Gamull must allow the supply to continue. These various attempts by the Gamulls to secore monopolies on trade caused rifts between the city and the county. In summary, the income of a major clique within the City Assembly was dependent on royal grants of rights and, while it did not always find in their favour, the decisions of the Privy Council.

A leaflet from Walton on Thames, describing what may be a relic of Puritan Chester.

James I dies

In his later years, James suffered increasingly from arthritis, gout and kidney stones. He also lost his teeth and drank heavily. The king was often seriously ill during 1625 the last year of his life, leaving him an increasingly peripheral figure, rarely able to visit London, while Villiers, who was probably his lover, consolidated his control of Charles to ensure his own future. In early 1625, James was plagued by severe attacks of arthritis, gout, and fainting fits, and fell seriously ill in March with tertian ague and then suffered a stroke. He died at Theobalds House on 27 March during a violent attack of dysentery, with Villiers at his bedside. James's funeral on 7 May was a magnificent but disorderly affair. Bishop John Williams of Lincoln preached the sermon, observing, "King Solomon died in Peace, when he had lived about sixty years ... and so you know did King James".

Under James, the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scots Protestants began, and the English colonisation of North America started its course with the foundation of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. According to a tradition originating with anti-Stuart historians of the mid-17th-century, James's taste for political absolutism, his financial irresponsibility, and his cultivation of unpopular favourites (including Villiers) established the foundations of the English Civil War. James also seems to have bequeathed Charles a belief in the divine right of kings, combined with a disdain for Parliament. James's plantation in Ireland would lead to conflict and savage repression and then a costly war.

Some historians have presented Charles inherited belief in the "divine right of Kings" and conflict with Parliament over money as the causes of the Civil War. Others have argued that the gentry, enriched by the disposal of the monastries, sought an increase in their freedom against the last remnants of feudalism. Yet others, would lay the blame upon the radicalisation of the Puritans and the rumours about Charles being a secret catholic. Events in and around Chester show that there were often local and personal disputes that could well have played a part in the slow drift to war.

Attitudes towards women appear to have continued to change in Chester. A scold's bridle is referred to in the book Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. This was one on display in the church of St Mary at Walton on Thames, joking that a shortage of iron, or possibly iron not being strong enough to curb a woman's tongue, was why it was no longer in use. In fact the original Walton bridle, which was stolen in 1965, was dated (it is not known how) to 1633 and came to the Parish in 1723, inscribed "Chester presents Walton with a bridle to curb women’s tongues which talk too idle". Local tradition in Walton (where the stolen bridle was soon reproduced) varies between the bridle or brank having come from Chester or having been donated by a person named Chester (who had lost an estate "through the instumentality of a gossipping, lying woman"). However, in 1858, an exhaustive study of "Cheshire branks" was carried out by Dr T. N. Brushfield (house surgeon to "Chester County Lunatic Asylum" - as it was then called) for a paper read before the Chester Archaeological Society. The subject-matter seems to have been of particular interest to a certain type of Victorian gentleman as illustrated by works such as "Bygone Punishments". Brushfield evidently concluded that the Walton bridle was indeed from Chester. The "scolds bridle" was also known as the "witches bridle" and is believed to have originated in Scotland around 1567.

The European "Witch Craze" seems to have reached Chester, where John Bradshaw had been appointed Chief Justice of Chester in 1649 in part recognition of his services as Lord President of the High Court which had tried and sentenced Charles I to death. Bradshaw had condemned to death three Cheshire women for "entertaining evil spirits and bewitching Elizabeth Furnivall, who had languished and died". They had been hanged at Boughton about 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 October 1654. A further three women were sentenced to death by the same judge at Chester in 1656 and were hanged at Boughton on 15 October. Bradshaw was himself to hang: on 30 January 1661 – the twelfth anniversary of the regicide – the bodies of John Bradshaw, Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton were ordered to be exhumed and displayed in chains all day on the gallows at Tyburn. At sunset, the three bodies that had been displayed publicly as those of the three judges being executed posthumously were all beheaded. The bodies were thrown into a common pit and the heads displayed on pikes at Westminster Hall. Whether Bradshaws body was actually one of those "executed" is not certain.

Charles I and The Road to War

Following a series of disputes with Parliament over granting taxes, in 1627 Charles I imposed "forced loans", and imprisoned those who refused to pay, without trial. This was followed in 1628 by the use of martial law, forcing private citizens to feed, clothe and accommodate soldiers and sailors, which implied the king could deprive any individual of property, or freedom, without justification. It united opposition at all levels of society, particularly those elements the monarchy depended on for financial support, collecting taxes, administering justice etc, since wealth simply increased vulnerability. In 1628, Charles I, having prorogued Parliament in early summer and after his assent to the Petition of Right, proceeded to levy ship money on every county in England without Parliament, issuing writs requiring £173,000 to be returned to the exchequer. Unsurprisingly, there were those who felt that there should be "no taxation without representation". This was not the only ancient law that Charles used to try to fill his coffers: in 1630, Charles I resurrected a medieval law that all gentlemen with an annual income of £40 at the time of his coronation and who had not asked to be knighted should be fined.


Thomas Wentworth,1st Earl of Strafford (1593-1641) with his Secretary Sir Philip Mainwaring (1589-1661) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 - London 1641). Strafford on the left seated, Mainwaring is to the right.

The hapless Philip Mainwaring was a younger son of a Chester family who would expect little in the way of inheritance and therefore had to make his own way in the world. He started his career at the age of 16 in around 1605 and studied at Gray's Inn before graduating from Brasenose in 1610. He then entered into the service of Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, through his mother’s family – the Fittons’ – connections. Before the end of 1610 he was described as "my Lord Chancellor’s man", referring to Thomas Egerton, Lord Ellesmere, himself a Cheshire gentleman. During the latter part of that decade, probably after Ellesmere’s death in 1617, Mainwaring began working as an agent for Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, at home and in the Netherlands, where he ran errands for the earl in Antwerp and Amsterdam. The errands included the purchase of artworks. Working for Arundel brought Mainwaring into close contact with a man who placed great emphasis on noble lineage and matters of honour and gentility. Arundel was on good terms with James I. Arundel favoured the "Spanish Match" and the failure of that and the accesssion of Charles brought a shift towards an anti-Spanish foreign policy and an immediate change for the worse in Arundel’s fortunes, and therefore in Mainwaring’s prospects. By the late 1620s Mainwaring had served a number of patrons, none of which had been able to advance him to office. Now aged forty, he must have been looking for a patron who might be better placed to further his career, and he had begun to communicate with Thomas Wentworth, President of the Council of the North, shortly to be appointed to the Privy Council, informing him of foreign developments and court news. Wentworth appears to have had some connections with Chester as in 1632 he stayed at the Bishops Palace and was entertained at the Pentice. Mainwaring’s services were finally rewarded in 1634 when the lord deputy secured his appointment as the Irish Secretary of State to replace the ageing Sir Dudley Norton. With this post came membership of the Irish privy council and a knighthood, and it was the highest administrative post held by a member of the Cheshire gentry at this time.

A curious connection between Chester and Wentworth is found in an event during Wentworth's tenure in Ireland. It was under his patronage that the Werburgh Street Theatre, Ireland's first theatre, was opened by John Ogilby, a member of his household, and survived for several years despite the opposition of Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh. James Shirley, the English dramatist, wrote several plays for it, one with a distinctively Irish theme, and Landgartha, by Henry Burnell, the first known play by an Irish dramatist, was produced there in 1640. Werburgh was the patron saint of Chester and the street in Dublin is named after St Werburgh's Church, originally built in 1178.

In favouring Philip Mainwaring, Wentworth went against the advice of his closest political allies, Archbishop Laud and Francis, Lord Cottington. Cottington reminded Wentworth that he had himself voiced criticisms of Mainwaring in the past. The Mainwarings were counted, along with the Bruens among the leading puritan families of Cheshire, which, alongside his close connection with Arundel, would not have commended him to Laud. Mainwaring's poor choice sponsors revealed itself again in May 1641 when Parliament accused the king’s chief minister, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Strafford, of treason for his excesses in Ireland and executed him.

Mainwaring's role in the events in Ireland has not been well researched. He may have simply been a "hanger-on" or may, as Secretary of State, have taken a more active role in events. He was a fervent Royalist and imprisoned during the Civil War. After the Restoration of Charles II Mainwaring applied unsuccessfully for the position of headmaster of Charterhouse School. In December 1660, Mainwaring was again appointed to the Irish Privy Council. It was suggested that given his advanced years he should step down from his old office as Principal Secretary, but he held on firmly to his place. He was then elected MP for Newton in the Cavalier Parliament in 1661, but died later that year. He never married.


The 1639 and 1640 Bishops' Wars were the first of the conflicts known collectively as the 1638 to 1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which took place in Scotland, England and Ireland (separate kingdoms with the same king). Others include the Irish Confederate Wars, the First, Second and Third English Civil Wars, and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The Bishops' Wars originated in disputes over governance of the Church of Scotland or kirk that began in the 1580s and came to a head when Charles I attempted to impose uniform practices on the Scots Kirk and the Church of England. In 1636, a new Book of Canons replaced John Knox's Book of Discipline and excommunicated anyone who denied the King's supremacy in church matters. These measures were opposed by most Scots, who supported a Presbyterian church governed by ministers and elders. The Scots sought support from sympathisers in Ireland and England, chiefly Puritans who objected to the religious reforms and those who wanted to force Charles to recall Parliament, suspended since 1629. The Scots then invaded England. The English army mustered at the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed totalled some 15,000 men, but the vast majority were untrained conscripts from the Northern trained bands or militia, many armed only with bows and arrows. With the Scottish army in northeastern England, the Chester Assembly set up a nightly watch, strengthened the defences at the Eastgate, Newgate (todays Wolfgate), and Bridgegate, and ordered members of the corporation and others to supply corselets, muskets, halberds, and calivers within a month.

By late 1640, Charles had no money to continue his war and there was no option but to call a new Parliament and raise money to fund an army. The Long Parliament assembled on 3 November 1640, and Charles immediately summoned Strafford to London, promising that he "should not suffer in his person, honour or fortune". Parliament was concerned that if Charles was provided with the means to raise an army he would use it against them. One of Parliament's first utterances after its 11-year forced hiatus was to impeach Strafford for "high misdemeanours" regarding his conduct in Ireland. However tyrannical Strafford's earlier conduct may have been, his offence was outside the definition of high treason. Although a flood of complaints poured in from Ireland, and Strafford's many enemies there were happy to testify against him, none of them could point to any act which was treasonable, as opposed to high-handed. Impeachment failed, and the Commons, feeling their victim slipping from their grasp, brought in and passed a bill of attainder on 13 April by a vote of 204 to 59. Charles had a serious problem with signing Strafford's death warrant as a matter of conscience, especially as he had explicitly promised Stafford that, no matter what happened, he would not die. However, to refuse the will of the Parliament on this matter could seriously threaten the monarchy. Strafford now wrote releasing the King from his engagements and declaring his willingness to die to reconcile Charles to his subjects.

  • "I do most humbly beseech you, for the preventing of such massacres as may happen by your refusal, to pass the bill; by this means to remove ... the unfortunate thing forth of the way towards that blessed agreement, which God, I trust, shall for ever establish between you and your subjects"

Whether Strafford was now resigned to death, which soon followed (12th May 1641), or whether he thought that the letter, if circulated, might move his enemies to mercy, is still debated. Strafford's administration had improved the Irish economy and boosted tax revenue, but had done so by heavy-handedly imposing order. A series of alarmist pamphlets published stories of atrocities in Ireland, which included massacres of New English settlers by the native Irish who could not be controlled by the Old English lords. When rumours reached Charles that Parliament intended to impeach his wife for supposedly conspiring with the Irish rebels, the king decided to take drastic action and sought to arrest five members on the 4th January 1642. They fled before his arrival Charles abjectly declared "all my birds have flown", and was forced to retire, empty-handed. No English sovereign had ever entered the House of Commons, and his unprecedented invasion of the chamber to arrest its members was considered a grave breach of parliamentary privilege. Charles fled London and both sides began to arm for war.

Events in Chester

Events in Chester which can be linked to the Civil War date back to 1637. They did not cause the war but simply provide a local perspective on divisions and disputes which were present in similar forms elsewhere. These include issues over religion, which was even the subject of "fake news" and often complicated by disputes over trade and governance.


William Prynne by Wenceslaus Hollar. Hollar (13 July 1607 – 25 March 1677) was a prolific and accomplished Bohemian graphic artist of the 17th century, who spent much of his life in England, and some time in Chester where he produced Hollar's Map. He appears to have known Randle Holme.

William Prynne (1600 – 24 October 1669) was an English lawyer, author, polemicist, and political figure. He was a prominent Puritan opponent of the church policy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. On 31 May 1630 Prynne obtained a licence to print his book against stage-plays, and about November 1632 it was published. "Histriomastix" or, as it was otherwise known, "A whip for stage-players" - a volume of over a thousand pages, showing that plays were unlawful, incentives to immorality, and condemned by the scriptures, Church Fathers, modern Christian writers, and pagan philosophers. By chance, the queen and her ladies, in January 1633, took part in the performance of Walter Montagu's "The Shepherd's Paradise": this was an innovation at court. A passage reflecting on the character of female actors in general was construed as an aspersion on the queen; passages which attacked the spectators of plays and magistrates who failed to suppress them, pointed by references to Nero and other tyrants, were taken as attacks Charles I. William Noy as attorney-general instituted proceedings against Prynne in the Star-chamber. After a year's imprisonment in the Tower of London, he was sentenced (17 February 1634) to be imprisoned during life, to be fined £5,000, to be expelled from Lincoln's Inn, to be deprived of his degree by the University of Oxford, and to lose parts of both his ears in the pillory. Prynne was pilloried on 7 May and 10 May. Some of the judges outbid each other in suggesting refinements or additions to Prynne’s punishment. Lord Dorset urged greater violence against Prynne’s body, to have him "branded in the forehead, slit in the nose, and his ears cropped too". King Charles, it seems, was content with Prynne’s treatment, though Henrietta Maria had made some intercessions for mercy and pardon. William Noy, the Attorney General, was said to have laughed so hard while Prynne was suffering on the pillory that he was:

  • "..struck with an issue of blood in his privy part, which by all art of man could never be stopped unto the day of his death, which was not long after"

Prynne could not later resist telling this story, which could be read as a providential judgement. Prynne was subjected to further punishment and eventually, in 1637, it was decided he would be moved to an isolated prison at Caernarvon Castle. Hemingway writes, in his "Panorama":

  • In the year 1636 the celebrated William Prynne, who, by his hostility to the hierarchy and the measures of government, had incurred the hatred of the court, and become popular through the country by the severe persesecution of the star chamber, was conveyed through Chester, on his way to Carnarvon, to be imprisoned in the castle there. On his approach to the city, he was met by numbers, who had imbibed like sentiments with himself, and who testified towards him the most unmeasured sympathy and approbation. This conduct was narrowly watched, and eagerly represented by the emissaries of the court, and some were fined £500 some £300 and others £250.

Calvin Bruen was one of those arrested and only released after making a public confession both in the Cathedral (17th December 1637) and in the Commonhall in Chester, of how he had behaved "audaciously and wickedly". The sketches of Prynne were destroyed by the authorities in Chester. In order to destroy any trace of the sketches the now-empty frame were ceremoniously burned at the High Cross on 12th December 1637 - before (it is said) a large crowd shouting "burn them! burn them!". As Prynne himself put it:

  • "these High Commissioners not satisfied with the defacing of the pictures, would needs proceed to burn them for heretics; and since they could not burn Mr. Prynne in person as they desired, being then on the sea sailing to Jersey, they would do it at least by effigy; and to show the extravagance of their unlimited malice, not only the pictures but the very frames wherein they stood (poor innocents) must to the fire".

Bishop Bridgeman may have had a personal reason to dislike the Bruens. His daughter Elizabeth had died, aged about six months, on Ascension Eve 1613: the very day that John Bruen was busy smashing crosses in and around Tarvin.

Prynne was released from captivity in 1641 and continued his attacks on the Anglican church. He noted that Bishop Bridgeman had installed a stone "altar" in the Lady Chapel and mentioned it as:

  • "one in the Cathedral at Chester used in times of popery, which he caused to be digged up out of the ground where it was formerly buried".

The "altar" can actually be identified from a confrontation which Bridgeman had with John Ley, the pastor of Great Budworth, Cheshire, another lecturer at St Peter's. Ley's letter (Against the erection of an Altar) Written June 29th 1635, to the Reverend father Iohn L. Bishop of Chester ("Iohn L" appears to be John Lloyd) expressed his opposition to what was variously described as an "altar" or "a funerary monument to St Werburgh". After the Reformation St Werburgh's shrine served as the burial place for Bishop Downham, but in 1635 the base and part of the upper section were adapted to make a throne for the Bishop of Chester.


The principal source for Bruen’s life and the foremost reason why he has been accorded such significance is the contemporary biography by William Hinde (1568/9–1629), curate in the parish of Bunbury, and Bruen’s brother-in-law. This was published posthumously in 1641 by Hinde’s son, Samuel, himself a clergyman. Whether the text had been mislaid, simply overlooked, initially under-valued, or held back during the intervening twelve years is not clear. It is easy to assume that the publication was intended to stir up religous arguments. This was not the only inflamatory publication: according to some published 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)
Some of the propaganda produced against the "Papists" was particularly horrific.

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. Many of these were complete fiction and in mid-November 1641 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"

While the supposed skirmish at the Cholmondeley mansion in what is now Grosvenor Park never in fact took place it is frequently mentioned in guidebooks to Chester.


In the summer of 1642 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 (8th August, 1642). 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. Thomas Hughes in the Journal of the Architectural, Archaeological, and Historic Society, Volume 2 is recorded as reporting a follows:

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!
  • Mr T HUGHES volunteered some remarks on the Cowper Family of Overleigh and especially on those members of it connected with the siege of Chester He exhibited an old portrait in oil colour of Alderman Thomas Cowper Mayor of Chester in 1641 which had been recently presented by Mr J Edisbury of Bersham near Wrexham to the Water Tower Museum Chester. Mr Cowper was Mayor of this city the very year in which a drum was beaten for the Parliament at the instigation of Sir William Brereton and Mr Hughes quoted the following passage from Hemingway's History of Chester to show how boldly and bravely his Worship put down the first symptom of rebellion: Information of this treason having been given to the Mayor Mr Thomas Cowper this intrepid magistrate immediately directed some constables to apprehend the leaders of the tumult but the latter forcibly resisted and compelled the constables to retire upon which the Mayor stepped forward in person to expostulate with them on their conduct and upon being disrespectfully treated he boldly advanced up to one of the Parliamentarians and seizing him by the collar delivered him to the civil officers at the same time wresting a broad sword from another of the party with which he instantly cut the drum to pieces securing the drummer and several others This firm and manly demeanour on the part of the Mayor effectually put an end to the tumult and finally repressed it During this affray the common bell was rung the citizens lent their cheerful aid to the chief magistrate and when they had seen him in a state of personal security the city was restored to peace Sir William Brereton a gentleman of competent fortune in the county and knight for the shire and who was a strong partizan for the Parliament was brought before the magistrates at the Pentice to answer for the part he had taken in the above disturbance though he owed his rescue from the popular fury to the personal interference of the Mayor he was however discharged.

As for why the "constables" would not arrest Brereton it could be that they believed (perhaps wrongly) that Brereton, as an MP, enjoyed the benefit of freedom from arrest on civil matters. 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.

On 22 August 1642, Charles took a decisive step by raising the royal standard in Nottingham, effectively declaring war on Parliament. The Midlands were generally Parliamentarian in sympathy, and few people rallied to the King there, so having again secured the arms and equipment of the local trained bands, Charles moved to Chester and subsequently to Shrewsbury, where large numbers of recruits from Wales and the Welsh border were expected to join him. Having learned of the King's actions in Nottingham, Parliament dispatched its own army northward under the Earl of Essex, to confront the King. On 23 September, in the first clash between the main Royalist and Parliamentarian armies, Royalist cavalry under Prince Rupert of the Rhine routed the cavalry of Essex's vanguard at the Battle of Powick Bridge. Nevertheless, lacking infantry, the Royalists abandoned Worcester.

Bunbury - a "what if"

Orlando Bridgeman (1609–1674) was involved in the attempt to find peace at Bunbury. Bridgeman was later to be highly regarded for his participation in the trial of the regicides of King Charles I in 1660.

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. In July Richard Grosvenor played a leading role in organizing, and probably also drafting, the Cheshire remonstrance, a petition containing over 8000 signatures, which called on the King and Parliament to settle their differences and avoid Civil War. 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. The decisive event, however, was the arrival of the king himself in Chester on 23 September. In an upsurge of loyalty he was greeted with popular enthusiasm, pageantry, bellringing, and a loyal address. The king's supporters seized their opportunity. The houses of known opponents, such as Brereton and Aldermen Edwards and Aldersey, were searched for arms; county gentlemen favourable to parliament were rounded up; and parliamentary supporters in the corporation left. When the king departed five days later, with a gift of money from the corporation, the parliamentarian presence in the city had all but gone, and the royalist hold on Chester had finally been consolidated.

There was one forlorn hope that destructive conflict in Cheshire could be avoided. After a summer of skirmishes in Cheshire, the sometime pirate 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 the township of Bunbury on the River Gowy (which is there little more than a brook). There, they tried to broker a peace.

The details of the whole affair are lost, but the very choice of Bunbury leads to some interesting speculation. Bunbury had been the home of the same William Hinde a leader of the nonconformists in Cheshire who wrote his book on Bruen and was probably Bruen's brother in law. 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 the Bunbury Agreement was never to be ratified. Had it been the course of the Civil War might well have shifted towards a national search for a peaceful settlement, religious liberty and balanced government. The men of Chester and Cheshire had for once remembered their common heritage and settled their differences, but it came to nothing. The consequences would be tragic: one of the sons of the occupant of Brereton Hall is later said to have scratched on a window:

  • "On yonder hill my uncle stands, but he will not come near, for he is a Roundhead, and I am a Cavalier."

Historians now appear to agree that the Civil War had several causes. There were religious tensions between Puritans, High Anglicans and Catholics, tensions between the Scots and the English, and troubles in Ireland. There were tensions between whether the form of government should be based on a Divine Right of Kings or an elected Parliament (with a limited electorate), especially as regards how taxes should be levied. The advent of printing allowed for the spread of political and religious literature which was often the subject of savage suppression. A voting block of bishops in the House of Lords further complicated matters.

Civil War

By the time of the Civil War Chester had developed some outgrowths beyond the course of the City Walls. In particular these were to the north and the east of the city and many wealthy citizen had houses in the suburbs. Developments in cannon also meant that the City Walls would offer much less defence than they would have done in earlier centuries. An initial plan to protect the city and its suburbs consisted of a series of earth banks forming a line from near which is now Pemberton's Parlour and looping around to protect Upper Northgate Street, Flookersbrook and Foregate Street. The outworks to Flookersbrook were soon abandonned. What little is known from the line of the outworks comes from the work of the antiquarian William Cowper in the 1760's who may have had papers available via his family records. In around 1829 Hemingway made use of a version of Cowper's description to provide a somewhat distorted map of the defences.

Hemingway's map of the defences of Chester. Very little of the earthwork extension to the walls survives, apart from a sunken artillery lane to the north of the city and some remains of a fort at the Earls Eye.

There is a separate description of the Civil War and the role played by Brereton in the Cheshire campaign. Brereton started his military activities at Congleton where he arrived on the evening of 27 January 1643 with his own troop of horse and three companies of dragoons: evidently non-Cheshire men brought up from London by Brereton. He was joined in Congleton by the former mayor of Chester andd long-time ally, William Edwards, with another troop of horse. However, his whole force could not have amounted to more than about 500 men. His mission, however, was not to conquer Cheshire but to rouse and organize the Parliamentary sympathizers in it. He had with him the cadre of a foot regiment, a case of drakes (small cannon about 7½ feet long) and 700 muskets in his baggage train as well as an experienced Scottish professional, Major James Lothian, to train recruits. He had wide powers to construct fortifications and raise more men and was to finance the whole enterprise by voluntary payment and distraint upon the rent and goods of local Royalists. The first fighting in Cheshire took place in the southern parts of the county. After the still relatively inexperienced Sir William Brereton defeated Sir Thomas Aston (who was not a particularly good commander) at Nantwich on 28 January, which he then fortified and held as Parliament's headquarters in Cheshire. The battle was something of a farce with Brereton and Aston, together with their amateur armies, blundering into each other in a narrow lane down Hospital Street.

In alliance with Sir Thomas Myddelton, Brereton seized territory in Shropshire during September and October 1643, defeated the inept Royalist commander Lord Capel and confined his forces in Shrewsbury. Brereton and Myddelton then advanced into north Wales, capturing Wrexham and several castles on the western side of the Dee estuary, thus threatening to blockade the Royalist stronghold of Chester. On the 9 Nov grenades were used at Holt Bridge at Farndon - Brereton, attacking the bridge for the Parliamentarians stated:

  • "for which end they had also made a towre and drawbridge and strong gates upon the bridge soe as they and wee coceived it difficult if not altogether ympossible to make way for our passage".

Despite this he, Thomas Myddelton and their forces took the bridge when they cast "some grenados amongst the Welshmen" (this may be the first ever recorded use of grenades). In the same month Brereton captured Hawarden Castle for Parliament. Brereton was a long-term advocate of carrying the war into Royalist north Wales. However the Parliamentary High Command in London did not accord the Cheshire campaign a particularly high priority and were more concerned with the defeat of the King's main field armies in the South or the Midlands. Hence while Brereton was not starved of resources and his operations against Chester and Beeston Castle were never put on hold, the High Command did not provide the significant numbers of extra mean, money and other resources that an effective Welsh campaign would have required. On the other hand, Chester was considered far more important by the Royalists, who saw it as providing an important defence for north Wales as well as a key port for the import of troops from Ireland. The Royalists sent field armies north to Cheshire in each of 1643, '44 and '45. It is notable that these armies were commanded either by the King himself or by his nephews Rupert and Maurice.

September 1645 saw a series of setbacks for the Royalist cause. On the 10th September Prince Rupert surrendered at Bristol, ending the siege and depriving Charles of one of his major ports for reinforcement from Ireland. The petulant King sacked Prince Rupert (who demanded, and got, a Court Marshall to clear his name). On the 18th September King Charles (then at Raglan in Monmouthshire) set out to the north. His objective was to relieve Chester and link up with his remaining allies. One can only speculate as to whether Charles was influenced by the absence of Brereton. On the 20th September Parliamentarian Colonel Michael Jones led a determined assault on Chester's outer defences with 700 infantry and 700 horse and dragoons and stormed the eastern suburbs of Boughton. Many of the dead from this skirmish and are buried in St Giles Cemetery. The "mayor's house" on the corner of Dee Lane and Foregate Street was captured (and with it the civic sword and mace - the mayor fled in his nightshirt reaching the Eastgate just before it was locked) and became Brereton's third headquarters after his return. Following this, cannon are set up near St Johns (including in the tower) and a steady pounding of the walls begins. On the 22nd September a breach some 25 feet wide was made near the Roman Gardens with thirty-two cannon shot. The subsequent Parliamentary assault on the city walls was only just repulsed by Lord Byron.

The events of the 23rd/24th September 1645 (click on image for a larger view)

Charles, then at Chirk Castle, learned that Chester might soon fall and led his army north on a relief mission. Charles entered Chester on the 23rd September with his "Lifeguard of Horse". On the same day, 1,500 Royalist cavalry arrived at Rowton Heath. At dawn the next day the main Royalist force crossed Holt Bridge. By nightfall, the Royalists were defeated before the walls of Chester in what was to be one of the last battles of the first civil war. Charles spent the night at Gamul House then left Chester in retreat to Denbigh, along an undefended road, accompanied by only 500 horse. Due to the discussions at Westminster about the "Self-denying Ordinance" Brereton was not present in Cheshire during the Battle of Rowton Moor and the events surrounding it. In his absence matters had been handled very capably by Lothian and Michael Jones.

With the return of Brereton, the noose around Chester tightened. Dodleston Hall, to the south-west of the city, was occupied by Brereton to prevent any further escapes into Wales. The Roundheads made a floating bridge across the river Dee, which was, however, destroyed by fireships which were turned adrift and were carried up the river by a strong spring tide. Scaling-ladders were fixed on the walls, but the Royalists dragged them up into the city in the night-time. The besiegers planted four large pieces of ordinance against the walls, close to Morgan's Mount between the Northgate and the Water Tower and battered the walls so fiercely that they beat down a portion of the walls and compelled the Royalist garrison to retreat from the walls. However the Parliamentary forces did not succeed in entering the City as during the bombardment the garrison had entrenched Lady Barrow's Hey (the Infirmary Field - now a housing estate) and so prevented the attackers from exploiting their breach. Within the city the hardships were now very severe. Fires were frequent, especially in the night-time.

Of the 10th December 1645 Randle Holme gives the following desciption of a bombardment of the area around the Eastgate from a battery in Foregate Street:

  • "..eleven huge grenados like so many tumbling demi-phaetons threaten the city, if not the world, on fire. This was a terrible night indeed, our houses like so many split vessels crash their supporters and burt themselvs in sunder through the very violence of these descending fire-brands. The Talbott, an house adjoining to the Eastgate, flames outright; our hands are busy quenching this, while the law of nature bids us leave and seek our own security. Being thus distracted another Thunder-crack invites our eye to the most miserable spectacle spite could possibly present us with - two houses in the Watergate skippe joynt from joynt, the main posts josell each other, while the frightened casements (windows) fly for fear. In a word the whole fabrick is a perfect chaos lively set forth in this metamorphosis. The grandmother and three children are struck stark dead in the ruins of this humble edifice, a sepulcher well worth the enemies remembrance..."

"Grenados" were metal containers filled with gun-powder and fired on a high arcing path from a mortar, such as the one surviving as "Roaring Meg". This had a 15.5 inch caliber barrel and fired a 100kg hollow ball filled with powder. It has been suggested that "Roaring Meg" was actually used in Chester, but no actual evidence for that appears to exist.

Cold and bleak December days increased the suffering, and, worst of all, food was getting scarce, and the pinch of hunger began to be felt. At length the inhabitants were reduced to eating the flesh of horses and dogs, and still Sir Nicholas Byron held out, waiting daily for the help that never came. Famine did its work at last. Brereton wrote several letters to Chester stating that further resistance was futile and even offering to maintain "privileges" if surrender was forthcoming - showing that he well understood the initial motivations of Gamul, Holme et al. However, by this time power sat firmly with the military authorities in Chester and even if they had wished, Gamul et al could probably do nothing.

In Januaty 1646 an agreement for surrender of Chester was reached. The sick and wounded were allowed to stay in the city until they recovered, and the able bodied could leave in safety. On the 3rd February Lord Byron at Chester finally surrendered. The Parliamentary leaders had promised to respect ancient buildings and Churches in Chester. But when their soldiers marched through the City Gates in triumph, they ran wild. During the Parliamentary occupation of Chester many Churches were damaged, and the High Cross where Brereton had beaten the drum to recruit for Parliament and been arrested by Cowper was destroyed. Sir Francis Gamull, now the mayor, bargained with the Roundheads that the tombs of his family should not be harmed, and this explains the fact that the Gamull monuments in St Mary on the Hill are almost the only relics of the kind in Chester that escaped destruction.

The Commonwealth

Oliver Cromwell - "warts and all" - his head, which became an undignified collector’s object, was eventually bequeathed to his former Cambridge College, Sidney Sussex, and was in 1960 immured in the anti-chapel there.

After his defeat in 1645, Charles I surrendered to a Scottish force that eventually handed him over to the English Parliament. Charles refused to accept his captors' demands for a constitutional monarchy, and temporarily escaped captivity in November 1647. Re-imprisoned on the Isle of Wight, Charles forged an alliance with Scotland, but by the end of 1648 Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army had consolidated its control over England. Charles was still an issue, but plans to demolish the City Walls were never carried out and in May 1648 with rumours of a attempt to restore the king in the North the fortifications were repaired.

Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in January 1649, by beheading. In Chester, several Royalist supporters were simply shot in the marketplace, usually by the Abbey gateway. The plague epidemic of 1647-8 seriously delayed the return to normality in city government. Parliament suspended the mayoral election in 1647, appointing Robert Wright as mayor and naming the two sheriffs, arrangements confirmed in March 1648 when meetings of the Assembly resumed. The reconstituted aldermanic bench included two of Brereton's wartime associates, William Edwards and Richard Bradshaw, who, along with Calvin Bruen, Edward Bradshaw, Robert Wright, Peter Leigh, and John Ratcliffe, represented a strong puritan tradition. Most of the new aldermen, however, were less committed and indeed had been members of the Assembly for most of the time that the city was under royalist control. Chester's governing body therefore remained tainted with royalist sympathies and included men who were apparently content to wait upon events. War and plague left the city with social and economic difficulties from which recovery was very slow. Wartime disorder had weakened the city companies, which met irregularly, lost some of their meeting places (notably the Phoenix Tower), and suffered from non-payment of dues, avoidance of rules, and interlopers.

Damage to the city through shelling had been massive. Rebuilding was also delayed by the plague. A commonplace Chester legend states that "God's Providence House" in Watergate Street was the only house in the street where the occupants were untouched by plague. The story is a myth which appears to date from about 1865 and the house was only built in 1652, well after the plague had ended.

"God's Providence House" in 2014.

There were only a few signs of intellectual or artistic activity, for plays were officially proscribed and the musical traditions of the cathedral had lapsed. However, Randle Holme II sorted the corporation's records, and in 1656 the engraver Daniel King published his Vale Royal of England, a compilation of the writings of Cheshire antiquarians, including William Webb's material on the city. Holme and King illustrate the near obsession of Chester families with their ancestral past and coats of arms.

"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... In the name of God, go!"

On 20 April 1653, Cromwell dismissed the Rump Parliament by force (and a famous quote), setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as Barebone's Parliament: named after one of its members: Praise-God Barebone. The members were chosen by Cromwell and the Army Council instead of being elected, and it soon became known as Barebone's Parliament to its many critics, Barebone proving a likely target due to his name and his apparently humble origins. In effect it was a military coup.

After the dissolution of the Barebones Parliament, John Lambert put forward a new constitution known as the "Instrument of Government". It made Cromwell Lord Protector for life to undertake "the chief magistracy and the administration of government". Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector on 16 December 1653, with a ceremony in which he wore plain black clothing, rather than any monarchical regalia. However, from this point on Cromwell signed his name 'Oliver P', the P being an abbreviation for Protector, which was similar to the style of monarchs who used an R to mean Rex or Regina, and it soon became the norm for others to address him as "Your Highness". In 1654, Booth had been elected to the First Protectorate Parliament and in March 1655, he was one of the commissioners appointed to assist the Major-Generals in Cheshire. Appointed in October 1655 Charles Worsley governed a district consisting of Cheshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire and was extremely zealous in carrying out his instructions. No one suppressed more alehouses, or was more active in sequestering royalists, preventing horse-races, and carrying on the work of reformation. During the elections for the Second Protectorate Parliament, Major-General Tobias Bridge intervened to substitute Booth in place of the republican John Bradshaw as candidate for Cheshire. However, Booth emerged as a critic of the Major-Generals. When he described them as "Cromwell's hangmen" during the debates over the renewal of the decimation tax, the resulting altercation with Major-General Howard almost ended in a duel.

In 1657, Cromwell was offered the crown by Parliament as part of a revised constitutional settlement, presenting him with a dilemma since he had been "instrumental" in abolishing the monarchy. Cromwell agonised for six weeks over the offer. He was attracted by the prospect of stability it held out, but in a speech on 13 April 1657 he made clear that, in his view, God's providence had spoken against the office of King: "I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust, and I would not build Jericho again". Cromwell was ceremonially re-installed as Lord Protector on 26 June 1657 at Westminster Hall, sitting upon King Edward's Chair, which was moved specially from Westminster Abbey for the occasion. The event in part echoed a coronation, using many of its symbols and regalia, such as a purple ermine-lined robe, a sword of justice and a sceptre (but not a crown or an orb). John Lambert, who had fought during the English Civil War and then in Oliver Cromwell's Scottish campaign (1650–51), and even been a key figure in proposing the Protectorate, was dismissed by Cromwell in 1657.

In 1658, Owen Jones of Chester died, leaving a charitable bequest to the Corporation for the relief of the poor of the guilds of Chester in rotation. The initial income of Owen's bequest was £27 a year of which £20 was distributed. However, a lead mine was discovered on the property around 1744 and the mortgage became a far more valuable instrument. Owen's death, and his charity are commemorated on the frontage of the Grosvenor Club next to the Eastgate.

Late 20th-century historians re-examined the nature of Cromwell's faith and of his authoritarian regime. Austin Woolrych explored the issue of "dictatorship" in depth, arguing that Cromwell was subject to two conflicting forces: his obligation to the army and his desire to achieve a lasting settlement by winning back the confidence of the nation as a whole. Woolrych argued that the dictatorial elements of Cromwell's rule stemmed less from its military origin or the participation of army officers in civil government than from his constant commitment to the interest of "the people of God" and his conviction that suppressing vice and encouraging virtue constituted the chief end of government. Historians such as John Morrill, Blair Worden, and J. C. Davis have developed this theme, revealing the extent to which Cromwell's writing and speeches are suffused with biblical references, and arguing that his radical actions were driven by his zeal for godly reformation.

On his father's death Richard Cromwell became Lord Protector, but he lacked authority. Richard attempted to mediate between the army and civil society, and allowed a Parliament to sit which contained a large number of disaffected Presbyterians and Royalists. Without a king-like figure, such as Oliver Cromwell, as head of state the government lacked coherence and legitimacy. In July 1660, Richard Cromwell left for France, and the newly returned Charles II appears to have simply let him go.


Charles II - This affable character had most of those involved in his father's death beheaded, including those who had since died and were dug-up especially to be "executed".
George Booth (not disguised as a woman).

George Booth (August 1622 – 8 August 1684), was nominated to the Barebones Parliament for Cheshire in 1653 and was elected MP for Cheshire in the First Protectorate Parliament in 1654 and in the Second Protectorate Parliament in 1656. In 1655 he was appointed military commissioner for Cheshire and treasurer at war. He was one of the excluded members who tried and failed to regain their seats in the restored Rump Parliament after the fall of Richard Cromwell in 1659. He had for some time been regarded by the Royalists as a well-wisher to their cause, and was described to the King in May 1659 (possibly by Roger Whitley - see the link for much more on him) as:

  • "very considerable in his county, a Presbyterian in opinion, yet so moral a man ... I think Your Majesty may safely [rely] on him and his promises which are considerable and hearty".

Roger Whitley (1618 – 17 July 1697) was a royalist officer in the English Civil War, attaining the rank of Major General (2nd in command of their forces in the battle for the Isle of Anglesey) and was closely involved throughout the 1650s in plans for a royalist uprising against the Interregnum and Protectorate regimes. He had accompanied the young King Charles II into exile and carried the kings orders into Cheshire on the rising of forces, under George Booth, at the eve of the Restoration.

An uprising was arranged for 5 August 1659 in several districts, and Booth received a commission from Charles II to assume command of the revolutionary forces in Lancashire, Cheshire, and north Wales. After gaining control of Chester on the 19th, he issued a proclamation declaring that:

  • "arms had been taken up in vindication of the freedom of Parliament, of the known laws, liberty and property"

..and then marched towards York. The plot, however, was known to John Thurloe. Having been foiled in other parts of the country, General John Lambert's advancing forces defeated Booth's men at the Battle of Winnington Bridge near Northwich. Booth himself escaped disguised as a woman, but was discovered at Newport Pagnell on the 23rd whilst having a shave, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

However, Booth was soon liberated and returned to his seat in the Convention Parliament in 1660. He was one of the twelve members deputed to carry the message of the House of Commons to Charles II at The Hague.

The Booth Rising can be seen as a key trigger for George Monck's march on London and the Restoration of Charles II, but is often written-off as wholly unsuccessful. Whitley's part in it is largely forgotten.

Charles II set out for England from Scheveningen, arrived in Dover on 25 May 1660 and reached London on 29 May, his 30th birthday. Although Charles and Parliament granted amnesty to nearly all of Cromwell's supporters in the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, 50 people were specifically excluded. In the end nine of the regicides were executed: they were hanged, drawn and quartered; others were given life imprisonment or simply excluded from office for life. The bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were subjected to the indignity of posthumous decapitations. Roger Whitley who had carried the kings orders into Cheshire was made deputy Postmaster General.

Amid modest jubilation the corporation sent a loyal address to the restored king Charles II in early May 1660. Soon afterwards the aldermen began to dismiss some of the main supporters of the previous regime, principally the Cromwellian alderman and city counsel Jonathan Ridge. Between then and the autumn three aldermen resigned, including the leading puritan Calvin Bruen, three royalists purged in 1646 were restored. In March 1661 the Assembly resolved to revive the Midsummer show. Anglican worship was resumed at the cathedral after Henry Bridgeman, a son of the late bishop, became dean in June 1660. Complete restoration of Anglican worship was made possible only by the 'Great Ejection' under the Act of Uniformity of 1662. None of the cathedral clergy was displaced, but four of the leading ministers in the city were deprived: the incumbents of St Michael's, St Peter's, St Oswald's, and St Johns. At St. Peter's the Friday lecturer also resigned.

A survey by Captain Andrew Yarranton, published in 1677 and entitled "England's Improvement by Sea and Land", concluded that the River Dee was so choked with sand that a vessel of twenty tons could not reach Chester, and propose the construction of a new channel along the Flintshire shore to provide deep water navigation to Chester. Nothing was done about Yarrantons plan and according to John Aubrey he died violently; "The cause of death was a beating and thrown into a tub of water".


Charles II faced a political storm over who would become monarch upon his death. The normal choice would be James, Duke of York, the second surviving son of King Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France. Unfortunately, James's time in French exile had exposed him to the beliefs and ceremonies of Catholicism; he and his wife, Anne, became drawn to that faith, and around 1668 had become a convert. The prospect of a Catholic monarch was strongly opposed by the plot-steeped Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury's candidate for succcession was Charles II's illegitimate Protestant son, James Scott, later the 1st Duke of Monmouth. Born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, to Lucy Walter, and her lover, Charles II (who was living in continental exile following his father's execution), James Scott spent his early life in Schiedam. As an illegitimate son, James was not eligible to succeed to the English or Scottish thrones, though there were rumours that Charles and Lucy did, in fact, marry secretly. On 14 February 1663, at the age of 13, shortly after having been brought to England, James was created Duke of Monmouth.

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. It also led to the death of the unfortunate catholic John Plessington who was hung, drawn and quartered at Boughton and shares a memorial obelisk with the protestant George Marsh.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth: the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II.The charming but not too savvy Monmouth toured Cheshire in the autumn of 1682

In May 1682 Charles II fell ill and Shaftesbury's plots thickened. He convened a plot with Monmouth, Russell, Ford Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Werke, and Sir Thomas Armstrong to determine what to do if the king died, but the king recovered. By mid-year the plotters were actively considering simultaneous rebellions in several parts of the country. Shaftesbury grew desperate. He arranged for the apparently charming but not too savvy Monmouth to tour Cheshire in the autumn of 1682. It is clear that this tour of Cheshire had one purpose, to lay the ground for a "Cheshire Rising" similar to that of the early 1400's in favour of Richard II. Hemingway writes:

  • "In 1683 (sic) the kingdom was again threatened with civil commotion from the restless ambition of the Duke of Monmouth a natural son of Charles II who had entered into a conspiracy with Lord Russel Algernon Sydney and other malcontents. The following relation of this young gentleman's visit to Chester is taken from the Cowper MSS which places the loyalty of the citizens of that day in a somewhat questionable shape: "In the middle of August James Duke of Monmouth came to Chester greatly affecting popularity and giving countenance to riotous assemblies and tumultuous mobs whose violence was such as to pelt with stones the windows of several gentlemen's houses in the city and otherwise to damage the same. They likewise furiously forced the doors of the Cathedral church and destroyed most of the painted glass burst open the little vestries and cupboards wherein were the surplices and hoods belonging to the clergy which they rent to rags and carried away, they beat to pieces the baptismal font pulled down some monuments attempted to demolish the organ and committed other enormous outrages. On Thursday the 25th of the said month the duke went to the horse races at Wallasey in Wirral which meeting served as a rendezvous for his friends in this part of the kingdom, a junto of whom sat in consultation in the summer house at Bidston where was concerted that insurrection which was afterwards attended with such fatal consequences"."

News of the general junketings and riots quickly reached London - Peter Shakerley was sending hourly reports from Chester by courier - and Charles II was not pleased. Monmouth is said to have entered Chester at the head of "a great column of 700 men", although that may have been exaggerated by those who had the king's ear. It is said that there were no church bells to greet the arrival of Monmouth in Chester, as the Dean, a loyalist, had concealed the keys to all the churches. While the Duke dined at the Feathers, a mob broke into the Cathedral and did much damage as described above. The reports sent back to London show that Monmouth met many people with whom Whitley had an association:

  • "The names returned by the court spies of the country gentlemen who attended the Duke are - Gower, Offley, Sir John Bowyer, Macclesfield, Brandon, his son. Sir Robert Cotton and his eldest son. Sir Willoughby Aston, Mr Henry Booth son of Lord Delamere, Mr John Maynwaring son of Sir Thomas Maynwaring, Sir John Bellatt, Mr Thomas Whitley, Mr Lawton, and his son, Mr Roger Maynwaring of Calingham - all Cheshire men."
  • "The Duke next went to Rocksavage a house of Lord Rivers thence to Lord Delamere's at Dunham, attended by Lord Gerard, Mr Crew, and others. As they passed over Stoaken Heath, they were met by the principal persons of Warrington, who entertained his party. On the 17th, the Earl of Macclesfield received the Duke; who proceeded the next day once more to Trentham Hall. In the afternoon he came to Newcastle and the next day to Stafford."

At Stafford, Monmouth was arrested. With his plots having proved unsuccessful, Shaftesbury determined to flee the country and soon found himself in Amsterdam. Monmouth himself went into self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, and gathered supporters in The Hague.

James II

Charles suffered a sudden apoplectic fit on the morning of 2 February 1685, and died aged 54 at 11:45 am four days later at Whitehall Palace. Charles was succeeded by his brother, who became James II of England and Ireland and James VII of Scotland. James II was a Roman Catholic and some Protestants under his rule opposed his kingship. James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II, now claimed to be rightful heir to the throne and attempted to displace James II. Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis on 11 June 1685. His army was defeated at Sedgemoor and Monmouth was later executed. Mistrust of James II was evident during his visit to Chester in August 1687, to the extent that the Governor of Chester Castle was unable to procure a loyal address from the corporation - not much of a welcome really.

In 1687, James issued the Declaration of Indulgence, also known as the Declaration for Liberty of Conscience, in which he used his dispensing power to negate the effect of laws punishing Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. He attempted to garner support for his tolerationist policy by giving a speaking tour in the West of England in the summer of 1687. As part of this tour, he gave a speech at Chester where he said:

  • "suppose... there should be a law made that all black men should be imprisoned, it would be unreasonable and we had as little reason to quarrel with other men for being of different [religious] opinions as for being of different complexions."
James II - his attempts to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists were against the wishes of the Anglican establishment, so he had to go.

The King saw the Quaker, William Penn preach at the Quaker meeting house. Bishop Cartwright of Chester wrote: "I was at his majesty's leave and accompanied him to the choir where he healed 350 persons" (presumably of the "king's evil").

Cooke records the attitude of the Corporation at the time:

  • So venal and dependent the corporation became afterwards, that, when James the Second visited this city, the recorder, Leving, at the head of the corporation, thus addressed him: "The corporation is your majesty’s creature, and depends merely on the will of its creator; and the sole intimation of your majesty’s pleasure shall ever have with us the force of a fundamental law." When James made an alteration in most of the charters in the kingdom, the like attempt was made on the city of Chester; but the independent citizens, conceiving, that this offer was only made to seduce them into a resignation of their religious liberty, unanimously refused its acceptance, and desired to have their ancient charter of Henry the Seventh restored. Thus, through the dismission of the corporation created by Charles’s charter, and the non-acceptance of that of James, the city was destitute, nearly three months, of magistrates, and the election-day passed, without any officers being chosen.

Worse was to come for James II. William of Orange at first opposed the prospect of invasion, but he began to assemble an expeditionary force in April 1688. In May 1688 Whitley declared to a fellow Whig that:

  • "Monmouth’s designs were mad, so would [be] any design from Holland. They that remembered former troubles were well pleased with the Government; that all parties were at ease, enjoyed their liberties, paid no taxes, had no grievances. I believe that the Parliament would be very inclinable to comply with his Majesty; those that would not were fools to endeavour to be chosen."

In 1688 the government removed the entire Assembly and obliged the city to petition for a new charter, which named the corporation and principal officers, reserved the Crown's right to dismiss individuals, dispensed all members from the prescribed oaths, and restricted the franchise to the corporation. Of the 24 aldermen named in addition to the mayor and recorder only 11 had already served as aldermen and four as sheriffs. Grosvenor and William Stanley, earl of Derby, were among those displaced. Members removed in the purge of 1685 and restored in 1688 included Mainwaring, Roger Whitley, and Peter Edwards. The attempt to conciliate Whigs and those with nonconformist connexions was fruitless: the nominated corporation apparently never met. The nonconformist Matthew Henry was evidently embroiled in the issue.

In October 1688 the charters of 1685 and 1688 were annulled and the city resumed its earlier privileges. When it became clear that the Prince of Orange would invade, a panic-stricken James II had turned about-face and on 17 Oct. 1688 he gave orders to restore immediately all former charters in cases which were legally pending, that is to say where deeds of surrender had not been enrolled or judgments recorded; promised restoration to the remainder; and issued instructions for the dismissal of all magistrates and corporators holding office by virtue of charters issued since 1679. Great confusion ensued. Some of the boroughs which had been promised restoration duly recovered their charters, as happened in Chester, Exeter, Winchester, and York.

The "Glorious Revolution"

1688 brought the "Glorious Revolution" when William of Orange, landed (5th November 1688) an invasion army from the Netherlands. Chester was the scene of the only spontaneous resistance to the Revolution. On the news of the landing of William of Orange, the Roman Catholic Lord Molyneux with two Irish regiments seized Chester Castle, but on 18 December 1688 the Earl of Derby entered the city, which had declared for the Prince, and Molyneux’s forces were disarmed and disbanded. Whitley signed the declaration produced by the Earl of Derby at Chester on 18 Dec. "for adhering to the Prince of Orange for our religion, laws, etc.", and was again returned to the Convention. Jacobites would however linger on in Cheshire Arthur Mainwaring, who supported the losing Stuart side would for many years live with his uncle, Francis Cholmondeley, who refused to take the oaths to William and Mary, and was encouraged in his Stuart sympathies by a non-juring relation, Sir Philip Egerton.

An 1831 view of the Market Square by David Hodgson (the original is in the Grosvenor Museum. The large building is The Exchange, before its destruction by fire. The Rows can be seen extending this far up Northgate Street on both sides.

Chester's earlier importance as a base for military operations in Ireland was regained after the outbreak of the Irish rebellion in 1689. Troops passed through the city before embarkation from anchorages on the Dee. There were shipments of military supplies, money, and foodstuffs, while senior military officers and State dignitaries also sailed from Chester. Sick and wounded soldiers were evacuated to a temporary hospital established in the city in 1691, while prisoners of war and occasionally an alleged spy were detained there. The flow of troops continued in the later 1690s.

1697 saw the death of Roger Whitley and the beginning of a period in which the Grosvenors would dominate the politics of the City. The guilds still controlled trade, restricting business in the city to those who had joined the guilds and purchased "freedom". The Corporation was as corrupt as ever when it came to elections. Cooke writes:

  • "In the year 1698 the citizens were convened, and, by some artful means, persuaded to elect the whole body, and then to vote that they should continue in their offices, according to ancient custom. Thus was entirely destroyed the ancient privilege of annual elections in the corporation."

Nationally, the closing decade of the seventeenth century saw the generally favourable economic conditions that had dominated since the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, come to an end. The 1690s marked the lowest point of the Little Ice Age, of colder and wetter weather. This reduced the altitude at which crops could be grown and shortened the growing season by up to two months in extreme years. There were four years of failed harvests (1695, 1696 and 1698–99). Climatic conditions were so poor that the "seven ill years" was a period of national famine in Scotland which killed 5–15 per cent of the Scottish population. In 1698 the privy council openly admitted that Scotland was in the grip of:

  • "..not only a Scarcity, but a perfeit Famine, which is more sensible than ever was known in this Nation"

The massive eruptions of volcanoes at Hekla in Iceland (1693) and Serua (1693) and Aboina (1694) in Indonesia may have polluted the atmosphere and filtered out significant amounts of sunlight. In addition, the "Maunder Minimum" which occurred between 1645 and 1715, and when very few sunspots were observed, may have had climatic effects. In 1698 Celia Fiennes visited Chester and enjoyed the view of the city from the coupola on the roof of the newly completed Exchange Building. At the time the newly created stock-market was booming, despite the presures on the economy. One company concerned was "Estcourt’s Lead Mine". The mine was owned by Sir Thomas Grosvenor who, disappointed by the local miners’ inability to exploit it, granted the mining rights to his ‘cousin and friend’ Phineas Bowles, a prominent London broker and stock-jobber, and John Blunt. Bowles, Blunt and Sir Thomas Estcourt, apparently without Grosvenor’s knowledge, turned the project into a joint-stock company nominally headed by John Lethieullier. An unexplained rise in stock price from around £10 to over £100 in late 1693 and early 1694 (by mid-1694 shares were being quoted at £150) apparently confirms that the company was used for speculative purposes. In brief, options were taken to buy the £10 shares back at £20 after a few years - even if they were worth less. The share price in "Estcourt’s Lead Mine" was then manipulated by brokers to push it up, when the options were called upon and the now expensive shares obtained at a cheap price - these were quickly sold to "greater fools" before the bubble burst. Interestingly this was before the South Sea Bubble (1711–1720) and although there had been earlier asset bubbles such as the Dutch "Tulip Mania" (1634-1637 - known in Dutch as "tulpenmanie") it may have been the first actual share bubble and an early example of sophisticated market manipulation.

1696 saw the establishment of a mint at Chester Castle. The man in charge was Edmond Halley, English astronomer, geophysicist, mathematician, meteorologist, and physicist who is best known for computing the orbit of the eponymous Halley's Comet.

Queen Anne

Anne (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714) was Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland between 8 March 1702 and 1 May 1707. On 1 May 1707, under the Acts of Union, the kingdoms of England and Scotland united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain. Scotland was at the time still recovering from a series of climate and economic disasters and was, according to some "bought and sold for English gold". She continued to reign as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1714. The Union can be seen as another twist in the development of Anglo-Scotish relations that had continued through the entire Stuart period and would continue in the form of Jacobitism.

In the early 1700's Abraham Darby joined a number of fellow Quakers to form the Bristol Brass Company, with works at Baptist Mills in Bristol. He brought in 'Dutchmen' to operate a brass battery work, making cooking pots and other holloware under a trip hammer. He also developed a method for casting pots in 'greensand' moulds, previously only used for smaller castings. This enabled pots and cauldrons to be mass-produced and to be thinner than those made by the traditional process of casting in loam moulds. The Industrial Revolution was about to begin.

Anne was plagued by ill health throughout her life, and from her thirties, she grew increasingly ill and obese. Despite seventeen pregnancies, she died without surviving issue and was the last monarch of the House of Stuart. Under the Act of Settlement 1701, which excluded all Catholics, she was succeeded by her second cousin George I of the House of Hanover.

Chester at the end of the Stuart Period

At the end of the Stuart Period Chester was still a major port for communications with Ireland. In 1686 the city's 682 guest beds and stabling for 871 horses far exceeded the figures for any other place in the North-West. Liverpool was still to grow in importance, but Chester offered a shorter land journey from London, even though silting of the River Dee meant that boats sailed from Neston and Parkgate. Bad weather in the Irish Sea frequently mean that travellers were left in Chester for some days before being able to make their passage to Ireland.

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Exploring Stuart Chester

Just prior to the seige of Chester, almost every building outside the City Walls was destroyed to prevent it being used for cover. St Johns being the only significant exception. The sights and sites of Stuart Chester can be conveniently split into three groups:

The interior of Leche House gives a sense of what the Stuart town-house of a moderately wealthy merchant family would have been like.
  • Leche House existed in Tudor times but was extensively renovated about the time that James I visited Chester, and retains many features from that time. It is therefore of mixed contruction: the oak timber framing and roof trusses of the house are late 15th Century, whereas the extension of the front chamber over the Row, the rear extension and internal improvements are 17th Century. The front chamber was heightened and extended forward in the 17th Century and ceiled with an attic floor c1730 and has a raised plaster strapwork frieze visible at the north-east corner. The hall has a late 14th Century chimney-breast on its east wall with an early 17th Century overmantel having 3 panels divided by half-columns of Ionic derivation, surmounted by the coat of arms of Sir John Leche. The partly plastered false hammer-beam central truss has a substantial 17th Century chandelier pendant. The timber-framed gallery with shaped splat balusters gives access to the front and rear chambers; access to the former screens passage bay is from the through-passage beneath the gallery; some oak small-panelling; the stair to gallery and rear chamber was replaced and repositioned behind the screens bay, probably 18th century. The rear chamber above the parlour has 17th Century plasterwork in truss panels: in north truss 2 winged horses with a Maltese cross in a shield, in a pattern of fruit and foliage; in south truss a pattern with human heads, crowns and roses. The closet above the Lion House passage has a panel above its north doorway with a lion rampant on a shield flanked by damaged fleur-de-lys; at south end Prince of Wales feathers in the Garter, flanked by fleur-de-lys.
Civil war
  • The High Cross is notable for having been torn down (1646) by Parliamentary troops after the seige of Chester. It was restored to its ancient original site at the intersection of the city's main streets in 1975, after an absence of some 329 years.
  • Gamul House - once home to the Mayor of Chester (Francis Gamull) and the place where Charles I slept before and after the Battle of Rowton Heath. Now a pub.
  • Chester Cathedral - one of the places that Charles watched the battle from and where he was nearly killed by a sniper's bullet. Nowadays you can ascend the tower and look at the same view.
  • Phoenix Tower - another place from where Charles watched parts of the battle, but probably not the battle of Rowton Moor, although he would have been able to see the smoke from firearms. Beeston Castle is visible from the steps of the tower on a clear day.
  • St Johns Church - the (later collapsed) tower was used by the besiegers as a gun platform. The ruins of the tower can still be seen today.
  • At the Roman Gardens a repaired wall breach which was the site of furious fighting can be seen.
  • Morgan's Mount - signage and guidebooks will relate that this gun emplacement on the City Walls was the site of furious fighting. It is possible that the actual "Morgan's Mount" was some small distance away across the more modern canal and formed part of the earthworks built to protect the city.
  • God's Providence House is famous for the inscription on the Row fascia reading "God's Providence is mine Inheritance", said to be in thanks for deliverance from the plague of 1647-8. It is worth noting that the house bearing the inscription was built in 1652 (the earlier building having been destroyed in the Civil War), by which time the plague was over, and so the inscription, if it does have anything to do with the plague, actually relates to the earlier (presumably seriously damaged) house on the same site.
The Bear and Billet with the Dee Mills, the Bridgegate and the Old Dee Bridge. The house was built in 1664 and can be compared with Bridge House (1676) to see the developments in architecture over the intervening decade.
  • The Bear and Billet was built in 1664 as the town house of the Earls of Shrewsbury who held the hereditary serjeancy of the nearby Bridgegate. It was possibly, given its proximity to the Dee Mills used as a grain warehouse (in the gable are double doors and a bracket for a hoist). The building became an inn in the 18th century, although it continued to be owned by the Shrewsbury family until 1867. Its name is taken from the heraldic device of the Earls that consist of a bear tied to a billet (or stake). In the Batenham illustration it is called the "Bridgegate Tavern". The building is constructed in timber framing with plaster panels. It consists of cellars (but no undercroft), above which are three storeys and an attic in the gable overlooking the street. Each storey is jettied above the storey below. On the ground floor are two doors, one to the south and the other placed more centrally. To the right of each door is a three-light window. At the base of the first floor are 16 rectangular timber framed plaster panels. Above these is a window occupying the whole width of the facade and divided into 32 lights separated by mullions and transoms and containing leaded lights. In the second floor storey are 12 arched timber framed panels. The window above these is similar to that in the first floor. Over this window is a row of 12 square decorated timber-framed panels. The jettied beam to the attic storey is inscribed "16:HH:64" and has a running vine pattern. It is rumoured (but by no means confirmed) that the front of the Bear and Billet contains well over 1664 individual panes of glass.
Bridge House in 2014: still a "grace and ornament to the city". Note that it now extends over six bays and has lost the original external double staircase, which was believed to be the only example of such an entrance in the city of Chester.
  • Bridge House was built in 1676, altered 1678 for Lady Mary Calveley, occupied early 18thC by John Williams, Attorney General of Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire from 1702 and Cheshire and Flintshire in 1727. Lady Mary Calveley, was the still young (and very wealthy) widow of Sir Hugh Calveley of Lea (who died 1648). Mary Calveley had petitioned the City Assembly for permission to demolish her existing house, which contained a section of the Chester Rows, and replace it with a well-proportioned Baroque Neo-classical mansion.

The house features a "piano nobile" a first storey containing major rooms and located above the normally rusticated ground floor containing the minor rooms and service rooms. In England and Italy, the piano nobile is often reached by an ornate outer staircase, which avoided for the inhabitants of this floor the need to enter the house by the servant's floor below. Often the stairs take the form of an Imperial Staircase, or as here a double staircase without any half-landings.

  • Booth Mansion is the largest house in Watergate Street and was built in 1700 for George Booth of Dunham Massey (and, after 1694, 2nd Earl of Warrington) by remodeling two Medieval houses, one of which (to the east) was owned by Sir John Booth since around 1659. George is said to have moved in about 1678 (he was then aged about 2), and by the time he was in his early 20's the house was hosting lavish parties. His father, Henry Booth had been Chancellor of the Exchequer (1689-90) and became mayor of Chester in October 1691. His grandfather was he of The Booth Rising.

Stuart Architechure

In the Jacobean period (James I: 1603-25) the depressed Tudor arch gave way to the round-head arch that had first reappeared in Elizabethan grand houses, though most windows and doors were now square-headed. The Aldersleys appear to have redeveloped much of their property at this time and there is some evidence to suggest that they owned several houses and a mansion in the area between Eastgate Street and the Cathedral.

Other Jacobean features included elaborate plaster ceilings. Most lower and middle class houses in this period were still timber framed, typically with a tiled roof and – if they were lucky – a brick chimney. Bricks under a tile roof became more popular in the Stuart period, especially after the Great Fire of London which demonstrated the clear disadvantages of timber structures and thatched roofs. While the first recorded slate roof of a private home is reported to be in North Wales, England around 1300A.D. for most people, the material was too expensive and could usually only be found on castles or other militaristic structures.

Batenham showing Bridge House and the next section of Lower Bridge Street (1816).

The Stuart period in Chester saw the first enclosure of The Rows. The earliest recorded enclosure of a Row was during the Civil War in 1643, when Sir Richard Grosvenor petitioned the Assembly to enclose the Row of his town house in Lower Bridge Street (now The Falcon). As a leading Royalist commander, garrisoned at Chester Castle, his request could not be denied and the Row walkway was enclosed to form a new room in the front of the house. The stone columns which once supported the upper floor and the original shop front at Row level, can still be seen in the Falcon bar. This precedent lead to the loss of almost all the Rows in Lower Bridge Street - once a section of Row has been lost, adjoining householders were able to claim that it was now useless as a public walkway. Elsewhere, the Assembly had more success at preserving the Rows. Sir George Booth rebuilt two medieval houses in Watergate Street in 1700, but was obliged to keep the Row walkway.

In 1671, following the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Chester Assembly ruled (and the Town Crier proclained) that no houses within the city walls of Chester were to be roofed in thatch but should either be tiled or slated. As half-timber and thatch buildings differ significantly in their structural loading and flexibility from less flammable but more rigid and massive brick constructions there was a shift away from the wide "Jacobean" windows (with leaded lights in pivoted casements) such as seen at the Bear and Billet. The sash window appeared in the 1670's. It may have been invented by Robert Hooke, or it could be a Dutch invention. Hooke was Surveyor to the City of London and chief assistant to Christopher Wren, in which capacity he helped Wren rebuild London after the Great Fire in 1666. An important innovation needed for the manufacture of sash windows was the production of glass in larger sheets than were available previously. These were not however able to glaze an entire window, so sash windows were still made up from a number of individual "lights". Initially, they were only really within the price range of the richest people in society: the English Royalty and landed aristocracy. They readily adopted these novel new windows that enhanced the appearance of a building rather than detracted from it. Leaded casement windows in mansions and grand country houses up and down the country were ruthlessly ripped out. The earliest surviving examples of sash windows in the UK are in Ham House, in Richmond, London. They date from the 1670s and display many early design features, like pane placing and astragal bar styling, that would go on to become the "Georgian" sash window style. Many early sash windows only had a lower sash which moved, with the upper one being fixed.

Decorative gables influenced by those in Amsterdam began to appear in London and spread wider in the Caroline period (Charles I: 1649-1660). Palladian classicism did not really become popular in Britain until the 18th century. Britain was so slow to wholeheartedly embrace the Italian Renaissance that Italian architects had passed from pure Classicism through the more theatrical Mannerism towards Baroque. These later Italian styles filtered into British architecture more quickly, such that the last years of Stuart architecture are dominated by the soldier-playwright-architect Sir John Vanbrugh and his professional partner Nicholas Hawksmoor, designers of Castle Howard, Yorkshire (1699–1726), and the Duke of Marlborough’s stupendous Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (1705–16). Their influence continued into the Georgian period. But England’s passion for over-the-top opulence was beginning to wane and in just a few years the Georgians would turn their backs on it altogether, with the result that Palladianism in general follows Baroque in Britain.

Related pages


One fashion change during the period was the emergence of the male wig. Perukes or periwigs for men were introduced into the English-speaking world with other French styles when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, following a lengthy exile in France. These wigs were shoulder-length or longer, imitating the long hair that had become fashionable among men since the 1620s. They also served a practical purpose: the unhygienic conditions of the time meant that hair attracted head lice, a problem that could be much reduced if natural hair were shaved and replaced with a more easily de-loused artificial hairpiece.


Chester in Other Historical Periods