It has been far too long since I tapped out with these honest keys some more muddled ramblings to fill some piece of internet better fitted for something else. I have a few excellent projects that I cannot wait to share – a three-month long bookbinding project that is now a month in, some other minor bindings, and a new collection of poetry about kitchenalia inspired by that old microware.
For now, though, allow this in-expert history of a little village in the 17th century be an appology for itself; since the lack of any similar history of this place in this time is the only excuse for something so poor to have been written.
Danbury, a Civil War Village
The English Civil Wars are a well-rehearsed tale of families at each other’s throats over whether they should have a king or a government, brought on by an infamous decade-long self-rule and a people divided over social and religious change. The trouble and danger of these times affected politics for many, many decades following and was a penultimate nail in the coffin of Catholic England before the final detruction of the Stuart line in 1688.
The wars themselves were a chaotic affair at best, with many thousands killed, entire populations displaced, and lands and churches ransacked. We are all familiar with the tales of those times; from noblemen battling at Edgehill, to the murder of a misjudged king. But how did such times affect a tiny village in a very much Parliamentary county?
Throughout the notorious self-rule of King Charles I the manor of Danbury belonged to the celebrated Mildmay family, a famous breed of men descended from Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer of England. He built a new manor called Danbury Place in about 1560 and, through his second son, Humphrey, it passed to its owner at the time of the Civil war; his grandson, Sir Humphrey Mildmay.
The family had always had close ties to the royal family, firstly the Tudors through Walter’s role as a chief financier to many courtiers and Treasurer to the Queen’s Household, and secondly to the Stuarts, for whom one of Walter’s other sons was Master of the Jewel Office.
By the start of Charles’ reign there were already at least nine branches of the Mildmay family in Essex, each with their own minor estates. They had plenty of ties among many other notable local families, and a range of ambitions to suite their standing among the modest Essex nobility. Many had held the position of Sheriff of Essex, including Sir Humphrey of Danbury Place, allowing – in what was then a much more practical role – them to see the state of affairs that high taxes and poor harvests were bringing to the populace of the county.
The village itself was small, but well known to be one of the more prosperous places around, with several minor manors existing aside from Danbury Place. These included the ancient houses of St Clere’s, also held by the Mildmays; Frettons; Gibcrack, held by William Maynard; Peppers (now the Griffin Pub), and a number of other significant farms and houses.
William Maynard almost certainly would not have lived at Gibcrack, being the second Lord Maynard and with a family seat elsewhere in the county, he more than likely rented the house out to tenant farmers. However, being a Laudian (a supporter of William Laud, Charles I’s much-loved archbishop of Cante whorbury terrified the country that he might bring about a much more Catholic-feeling Church of England), it is very likely that he found tenants for the manor who supported his very royalist feelings.
Danbury Church would have been the center of village life at the time, the one place where both gentry and village folk would mix regularly, and a landmark visible for miles around. The building at the time that civil war approached was a grand structure, it had last been rebuilt significantly in the early 1400s following its near-destruction in a great storm. How much of its Catholic decoration had escaped the reformation is unclear, but certainly it was still a very medieval at the centre of a quickly modernizing village.
The rector of the church was a man called Clement Vincent, under who operated two church wardens called Robert Audley and Alexander Thisillthaught. Clement became rector in 1628, chosen by the Mildmays, and was given a license to preach in 1636. He was a fellow Laudian, who was encouraged by the royalist Mildmays, and often spent time at their family house at Danbury Place as well as their London home.
This made Danbury a particularly Royalist village, with the landed gentry supporting enjoying the Royalist sermons being delivered by their chosen churchmen. Similar feelings were to be found at the church in Sandon, where Brian Walton preached a Laudian message to a less-impressed congregation. Trouble from villagers there is reported as early as November 1636, when three people there refused to bow at the mention of Jesus’ name in church services.
Even before the beginnings of the Civil Wars, then, there is evidence of villagers in the area being disaffected to the nature of the church and the times. This was the start of the tensions that in January 1642 caused King Charles to flee London, and were the eruption of the first English Civil War.
The First English Civil War
The Civil War, as we now call it, occurred in three parts that should be considered three separate wars, rather than one tumultuous muddle. The first was began after King Charles attempted to eject several members of parliament and, by interfering with an age-old establishment, shattered the tensions of different views on both church and state, and began the series of events that would end in his own death seven years later.
Essex was an easy target for the parliamentarians; with the king north in Oxford, the only rallying point for those with royalist beliefs were the few stubborn members of the gentry who refused to submit to parliament. These were in turn put down one by one, and either fled to be with their king, or over the channel to Europe.
When the war was declared in January 1642, Sir Humhprey with his family at Danbury immediately declared their support for the king. His cousin, Henry, of Graces in Little Baddow declared for Parliament and became a captain of horse and later commissioner for several of the Parliament’s ordinances. Humphrey’s brother, another Henry Mildmay declared for the king, as did his other brother Anthony, who had already served the King loyally as Master of the Jewel Office.
This immediate split in the Mildmay family was surely echoed across the numerous branches of brothers, cousins, fathers, and sons, who each chose their side and in turn irreparably broke ties with many around them. There is no evidence that the Mildmay’s house at Danbury was at all fortified, and perhaps the family there saw no direct risk to their estate in those early days of the war.
Sir Humphrey of Danbury place found himself quickly under orders acting in the name of the king; he surveyed the village along with other nearby places and evaluated them for taxes. These taxes would pay for raising troops across the country, and this seems to be the first action that any citizen of Danbury took in those early days at war.
For a short while, perhaps to protect his estate being threatened by the very much Parliamentarian Essex, or perhaps after pressure from his brothers, he seems to have changed sides and come to support Parliament. Sir Humphrey appears as a leader of a militia serving Parliament in 1642, at about the same time that his brother Henry also defected against the King.
Clearly, though, the war didn’t trouble the Mildmays of Danbury too much (who do appear notably disinterested in politics throughout the 17th century), for by August 1643 Sir Humphrey Mildmay was happily visiting London and seeing plays there. His close ties to his mixture of Parliamentarian and Royalist brothers probably made him unwilling to take part in any real campaigns, and so it seems like at least the noblemen of Danbury spent the first few years of the war peacefully ignoring the state of England, and doing what they could to keep out of trouble’s way.
As for the clergy, Clement Vincent, the rector of the church for nearly twenty years, was facing increased hostility from his congregation. Nearby at Sandon and Little Baddow there had already been trouble, with the altar rails at Sandon church – a piece of church furniture seen as very un-protestant – having already been ripped out by villagers and burnt on the church green outside.
As early as 1636 the vicar was already unpopular, he was brought before a court for being a drunkard and was possibly only saved by the fact that half of his drunk nights seem to have been spent drinking with his friend Sir Humphrey Mildmay. In October 1641 Clement was brought before the courts again for wearing a surplice and hood during a service, although this also was rejected as a sound reason to get rid of a clergyman so popular with the lord of the manor.
His church wardens, Robert and Alexander, were also brought before the court for not destroying the altar rails, it supposedly being “a great grievance to the people”. The had already been disorder recorded in Clement’s services, as the people became less and less receptive of his Laudian views.
It is possible, though, that there were some in Danbury who saw benefits from the growth of Parliament’s power and the fall or flight of more and more Royalist supporters. By January 1644 more and more lands were being sequestered by Parliament and being given to their supporters. Sir Henry Clarke may well have been the Parliamentary nobleman appointed to oversee the re-appropriation of lands in Danbury, and one local farmer called Thomas Bugby found himself fortunate as he was granted “parliament lands”.
By 1644 Parliament was clearly getting the upper hand, by now Humphrey had again become a supporter of the king and was again on the opposite side to his neighbours and much of his family. It is at this point that things took a much more drastic turn for this village nobleman; he was fined £1846 by Parliament and his lands confiscated. For the first time in three generations, no Mildmay would sit in Danbury Place and instead the family found themselves cast out, to fend for themselves among many other Royalist nobleman-refugees.
With the Mildmays no longer present at Danbury Place, Clement Vincent found himself without his powerful back and friend. He was cast out of his home in Spring 1644, at around the same time as the man whose ideas he so supported – Archbishop William Laud – was brought to trial in London.
The lamentations of the people against that unfortunate rector of Danbury were long and, by some fortune, well recorded:
“For that he is a great practicer of the late illegal innovations, and doth not only encourage sports and playing on the Sabbath day before his own doore, but hath also been a practiser himself thereof, giving ill example thereby, and neglected the keeping of the monthly fast, and instead of fasting, suffered on the fast day foot-ball playing in his own ground, himself being a spectator thereof and is a common drunkard and a common swearer; and hath expressed great malignity against Parliament.”
Henry Mildmay, a cousin of Humphrey who had defected from the King and joined parliament back in 1642, was in quite the opposite stead to his Royalist counterparts. He had by now had a long established commission of a regiment of footmen, and was commanding the garrison at Cambridge Castle.
It is very possible that, at this sudden loss of both the gentry and the clergy of Danbury, any other locals who were equally loyal to the King and the Royalist cause left or were forced out with them.
Sir Humphrey here seems to disappear for some time, it is very possible that him and his family went into hiding in Oxford, the Royalist stronghold.
His son John appears at the Second Battle of Newbury on the 27th of October 1644 along with Sir Humphrey’s brother John and a cousin of the same name – which led to much mistake being made over the resultant casualties of the battle. It is almost doubtless that there would have been other Mildmays there, and who knows who else – perhaps even other Royalist villagers of Danbury – joined the fight under their banner.
It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when the Royalists came under a surprise attack from the Parliamentarians not far from Shaw House near Newbury. Royalist cannon fired out upon the men of Parliament, among who rode a young Oliver Cromwell, the first attack was fought off and musketeers under a fellow Royalist lined up in the hedgerows overlooking the battlefield.
The cavalry on both sides clashed and there were heavy casualties, and somewhere among this fray there fought that group of eager Mildmays so far from home. About 150 meters from Shaw House – near the road called Well Meadow that stands there now – the Mildmays found themselves at the forefront of the fight. (To have been so close to the house and still fighting, it is more than likely that this was after it had become dark, when several Parliamentarians attempted to storm the building.) It was this fight that would take the life of John Mildmay, Humphrey’s brother, and severely wound his cousin. It has been believed since at least the early 1700s that it was his son who was killed, but he in fact survived and would be one of the lucky few to one day return to Danbury.
Whether this affected the Mildmay’s feeling towards the Royalist cause is unclear, but they are not recorded as fighting at any other battle afterwards. What they do for the remainder of the war is unclear, but it is possible they took a quieter refuge in Oxford with other Royalists forced from their home.
Back in Danbury, the village must have been a changed place, with no nobleman overlooking the scene from his manor house, and the clergy thrown out of their own church. A new preacher, a man of more Parliamentary ideals, was put in place – John Chandler, who remained at the church for a little over a year before being replaced by Richard Man on June the 13th 1646.
Things certainly weren’t peaceful in the village, one man – a gentleman called Thomas Glascock living at Runsell Green – had his house broken into and his possessions stolen by one Ann Kempson. It’s impossible to tell if this was due to a difference in opinion over the war, perhaps an opportunistic robbery in the chaos of the times, or just a maid stealing a few spoons from her master. A year later it was necessary for the disused stocks at Runsell Green to be repaired, so presumably, whatever the state of the village, there was at least some need to punish locals.
The Second & Third Civil Wars
The first English Civil War ended in 1646 with a two year gap before the country found itself back at war. In that time Sir Humphrey’s wife went before Parliament to plead for them to be absolved of their crimes and for their lands to be returned to them. On the 18th March 1647 the Mildmays of Danbury had their estates returned to them, after an ordinance of Parliament was agreed to – having “paid the Sum of Five hundred Pounds, to supply the Holy Island; and hath since, at several times, paid the Sum of Seven hundred Seventy-five Pounds more, other Part of the said Fine”.
Perhaps Humphrey had some minor roles within the war again when the second Civil War broke out in the summer of 1648 – he seems to have once more had his estates confiscated, regaining them a few months later on the 24th of October 1648 when he was again absolved by Parliament. Within a few months the King was dead, and much of the Royalist fire present in the country died with him.
The second Civil war closed with little record of Danbury, its villagers, or its noblemen being made. The church had most likely by now already been attacked by Puritan fanatics as many local churches seem to have been, the altar rails would certainly have been ripped out, imagery in windows broken, and perhaps some brass or decorated tombs broken up – it is surprising that the wooden knights still present in the church survived. Similar wooden knights at Little Horkesley may have been partly mutilated in this period.
King Charles I was executed on January the 30th 1649, Anthony Mildmay – Sir Humphrey’s brother – looked after the king at times during his imprisonment, and later was a part of the group who brought his body to Windsor. He later accompanied two of the king’s children to Carisbrooke where they in turn were imprisoned.
The third civil war, 1649 to 1651, was an affair largely confined to Scotland and the north of England, and it seems that the folk of Danbury were unconcerned with these distant matters. Although at many times the English Civil war was a war of the people, the distance of it at this point and the now-broken spirit of self-preserving royalists seems to have left the folk of Danbury far out of any intrigue here.
The last of the civil wars closed in 1651 with Parliament very much the victors, but for many in Essex it would have felt as if they had been under Parliamentary rule for a long time already. It would still have been a final nail in the coffin for any lingering Royalist hopes kept secret by those still bitter over the murder of their king two years earlier.
Certainly the Royalist Mildmays felt the effects of a Parliament that was tired of the old champions to the King’s cause, and had fines levied on them annually. This did not deplete their coffers so much, and Sir Humphrey’s son, John, was married in the summer of 1652. Humphrey’s cousins who had supported Parliament, though, found new riches in their fortunate victory; Henry Mildmay of Little Baddow became an MP, while another cousin, Carew Mildmay, also became an MP and had the duties of recovering money and belongings of the exiled royals – including removing the king’s clocks from Whitehall Palace.
Clement Vincent, the old rector and friend to the Mildmays, died in apparent penury in 1652. He has no marked grave, but likely lies near the church that he had been forced from less than a decade before.
Village life itself seems to have gone quietly in these years; villagers occasionally argued over land, one man was prosecuted for stealing a deer from Sir Humphrey’s park.
By 1655 it is possible that the costs of living in a country ruled by his political enemies was starting to affect Sir Humphrey; lands that had been in his family for a century were sold off in a large quantity to a John Glasbrooke.
Then, for some reason, from 1657 a feud seems to appear between Thomas Glascock of Runsell Green and the Audley family of Woodham Ferrers. Whatever the reason, for the next year or more the two parties continues insulting and attacking each other, their words well recorded in court records. Another group seem to have fallen out at a similar time, with Abraham Francis and Henry Towers breaking into each-others houses and refusing to leave. These all, though, do not seem to be politically motivated, and are more likely family feuds of other reasons.
By the time 1660 came along and the royal family were restored to Britain, with Charles II sat on his father’s throne, Danbury had returned reasonably to its pre-war self – a quiet community of farmers and gentlemen. Except perhaps for the nobility, whose money problems would never fully recover, and would see the Mildmays enter debtors prison before the end of that new decade, forcing far more land to be sold to pay their way out.
This kindly sums up the history of a little Essex village in a war torn country, and a few minor events of that difficult time.