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Worcester City


HE city of Worcester was undoubtedly one of the most unlucky in England, for its early record is wholly of misfortunes. The first town occupying the site was taken by Penda, King of Mercia; was destroyed by the Danes; and rebuilt in 894.

The Danish king of England, Hardicanute, took it in 1041, plundered it, and burnt it down to the ground. In 1113 the city, castle, and cathedral were burnt down, the fire being supposed to have been kindled by the Welsh; in the same year the relics of the city were burnt.

In 1139 the soldiers of the Empress Maud set fire to it and plundered it.

Ten years afterwards King Stephen burnt the city, but the castle resisted him. The remains of one of the forts, raised at that time to defend the city, may still be seen on Red Hill, near Digley. Eustace, Stephen's son, then besieged the castle, but vainly, and in revenge burnt the remains of the town In 1189 the city again suffered from fire in 1216 Worcester went over to the side of Louis the Dauphin against John and was besieged and taken by Ranulph, Earl of Chester. In 1263 the city was besieged and taken by the barons, who brought Henry }II. as their prisoner there after the battle of Lewes. Two years afterwards Prince Edward, who had been taken prisoner also at the battle of Lewes, escaped, and flying to Worcester raised an army there, marched to Kenilworth and defeated young De Montfort; then returning to the heights above Worcester at Evesham, defeated Simon de Montfort and his other son, both of whom were killed and the barons' army dispersed.

In 1401 the city was again burnt and plundered by Owen Glendower's troops. In 1485, Henry VII., after the battle of Bosworth, took possession of it, and made it pay a ransom of 500 marks.

In 1534 an earthquake shook it; the next year it was infected by that terrible disease called the sweating sickness; and in 1637 it was ravaged by the plague. Every sort of misfortune seemed to assail it, yet its citizens never abandoned it, but rebuilt it again and again.

In 1651 Charles II. entered Worcester, and was there proclaimed king of England.

Here, however, Cromwell - who had pursued him from Scotland - attacked him on the propitious anniversary of the battle of Dunbar, September 3rd, 1651. Charles that day held a council of war "upon the top of the College Church steeple, the better to observe the enemies' posture," 1 and perceiving some firing at Powick, and Cromwell making a bridge of boats over the Severn at Burnshill, about a mile below the city, towards Teammouth, instantly descended from his post of observation, ordered the troops to get under arms, and marched in person to Powick Bridge to give orders for defending it, and for opposing Cromwell's attempt to make a bridge of boats; he then returned to the city. His orders were obeyed, and the bridge when assaulted was gallantly defended by Montgomery; but dangerously wounded, and his ammunition spent, the gallant Cavalier was obliged to make a disorderly retreat into Worcester, leaving Colonel Keyth a prisoner at the bridge. The effort to defeat Cromwell's attempt at making the bridge of boats was equally unsuccessful, though Colonel Pitscotty, with his Highlanders, did all that valour and fidelity could effect, in pursuance of his King's commands They were, however, but 300 men opposed to great numbers, and were finally driven back. Cromwell achieved his purpose, took the bridge, and sending over a considerable body of men, with his usual benediction, "The Lord of Hosts be with you," returned to raise a battery of great guns against the fort royal on the north side of the city. Charles, with the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Grandison, and some of his cavalry, then rode through the town, and made a sally at Sudbury Gate by the fort royal, where the balls from the rebels' great guns flew round him. Cromwell was posted at Perrywood, within a mile of the city. Duke Hamilton, with his own troop and some Highlanders, Sir Alexander Forbes, with a regiment of foot, and a body of gentlemen volunteers and English nobles, engaged him here, and forced him to retreat, leaving his guns in their possession. The king charged valiantly at the head of his brave Highlanders, who fought with the butt-ends of their muskets when their ammunition was spent; but the main body of the Scotch horse did not come up to their relief; the English were reinforced, and the Scots were compelled to retreat in much disorder into the town by Sudbury Gate. Duke Hamilton had his horse killed under him, and was mortally wounded; many gentlemen of his name were slain; Sir John Douglas received his death wound; Sir Alexander Forbes was shot through the calves of both legs, and lay all night in the wood. He was brought prisoner to Worcester the next day.

At Sudbury Gate a cart laden with ammunition was overthrown, and lay across the passage, one of the oxen that drew it having been killed; this rendered it impossible for the king to ride into the town, and he was forced to dismount and return on foot. The English soon afterwards stormed the fort royal (the fortifications of which were not finished), and put all the Scots found in it to the sword. On reaching Friar's Street, Charles laid aside his armour, the weight of which oppressed him, and took a fresh horse; then perceiving that many of his foot soldiers were throwing down their arms and declining to fight, he rode up and down among them, with his hat in his hand, entreating them to stand to their arms and fight like men; encouraging them, and alleging the goodness and justice of the cause they fought for; but seeing himself not able to prevail, he exclaimed, "I had rather you would shoot me than keep me alive to see the sad consequences of this fatal day!" "So deep a sense had his prophetic soul of the miseries of his beloved country, even in the midst of his own dangers." 2

During this hot engagement at Perrywood and Redhill, the Parliamentarians on the other side of the river possessed themselves of St. John's, and the brigade of Royalists stationed there laid down their arms and craved quarter.

But now the enemy had entered the town both at the Key, Castle Hill, and Sudbury Gate, and the fight raged in the streets of Worcester itself. A body of Cavaliers - among whom were the Earl of Cleveland, Sir James Hamilton, Colonels Wogan, Slaughter, and Carlis; Captains Giffard, Astley, and Kemble - rallied what force they could and charged the enemy very gallantly, both in Sudbury Street and High Street. Sir James Hamilton and Captain Kemble, however, fell desperately wounded, and many a brave Royalist went down in that hopeless struggle, but their devotion saved the king by giving him time to escape by St. Martin's Gate.

Meantime the Earl of Rothes, Sir William Hamilton, and Colonel Drummond, maintained the Castle Hill with their Scots till conditions were given for quarter.

At the Town-hall the battle also raged; Mr. Coningsby Colles and many other loyal gentlemen were slain; Mr. Rumney, Mr. Charles Wells, and others, taken prisoners. With them fell the last defenders of Worcester, and the victorious soldiers of the Parliament marched through streets red with the blood of their brethren, as well as of the Scots, to plunder and ravage the town.

When Charles perceived that he could not rally his disordered infantry, he marched out of the city by St. Martin's Gate, as we have said, with his main body of horse, which was commanded by General David Lesley. During the first half-mile's march from Worcester, Charles repeatedly faced about and urged a renewal of the combat, but at the bridge many of the troopers threw down their arms and rode off, and it became evident that there was no hope of retrieving the day. It was then determined that the king should fly to Scotland; but, as is well known, Charles did not abide by this counsel. "The Lord St. Clare, with divers of the Scottish nobility and gentry, were taken prisoners in the town; and the foot soldiers (consisting most of Scots) were almost all either slain or taken, and such of them who in the battle escaped death, lived but longer to die for the most part most miserably, many of them being afterwards knocked on the head by country people, some bought and sold like slaves for a small price, others went begging up and down, till charity failing them their necessities brought on them diseases, and diseases death." 3

It was six o'clock in the evening when Charles quitted Worcester, and, as day closed in, David Lesley turned his face homewards, and marched northwards by Newport with the remnant of the Scottish horse.

Charles found shelter at Whiteladies, half a mile from Boscobel, and from thence began the series of romantic adventures which ended in his escape from his kingdom to France.

The Earl of Derby, Lord Lauderdale, Lord Talbot, and the other gentlemen who had escorted their unfortunate sovereign to Whiteladies, then took horse northwards, in hopes of overtaking General Lesley.

Just as they reached the high-road, however, they were overtaken by Lord Levison, who commanded the Royal Lifeguards, pursued by a party of Roundheads, led by Colonel Blundel. The Cavaliers faced about and beat off their foes; but a little beyond Newport they encountered Colonel Lilburn's men, while a party of Cromwell's horse came thundering in their rear. Then horses were worn out; and the Cavaliers (themselves exhausted) were finally compelled to surrender, with promise of quarter. They were taken to Whitchurch, and from thence to Danbury, in Cheshire, where, happily for him, Mr. Giffard, one of the Party, managed to effect his escape.

The noble Derby was carried to Westchester, and there (in spite of the quarter given) was tried by a mock court-martial; and condemned to death. He was beheaded on the 15th of October following, at Bolton, in Lancashire.

Lord Lauderdale and the other Cavaliers were carried to the Tower, and continued in captivity several years.

The prisoners taken at Worcester were sold to the planters of Barbadoes, and the other West India Islands, as labourers, or rather slaves, by auction, at Tothill Fields; and the cause of the Stuarts remained hopeless till the Restoration, which took place nine years after the Battle of Worcester.

A curious memorial remains in Worcester of this battle. It is an old half-timbered house at the north end of New Street. Charles resided in it, and retreated here with Lord Wilmot, hotly pursued by Colonel Corbet, but he escaped by the back door just as Corbet entered by the front. The person who then lived in the house was named Durant. The room in which the king slept was in the front of the house. Over the entrance is this inscription:- "Love God. (W. B., 1577. R. D.) Honour the King." W. B. stands for Judge Berkeley who was born here. Robert Durant is represented by R. D.

In 1687 James II. paid a visit to Worcester, and persuaded the mayor to accompany him to a Roman Catholic chapel. When asked by the king if the corporation would not enter with him, the mayor answered, "I fear, your Majesty, we have gone too far already;" a warning, if James would have taken it.

Whiteladies still remains.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004