Maypole madness

On 8 April 1644, Parliament got into a snit over the maypole. They determined that they had enough of it and released An Ordinance (for the better observation of the Lord’s Day) to ban it, calling the maypole a “Heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness”. The Puritans were looking to reshape England into a godly society, and the poor, innocent maypole just had to go.

The Ordinance stated:

That all and singular May-Poles, that are, or shall be erected, shall be taken down and removed by the Constables, Borsholders, Tything-men, petty Constables, and Churchwardens of the Parishes, and places where the same be.

It wasn’t enough that it had to be taken down, but they were very specific that everyone had to get into the action. If you’re thinking that they left out a loop hole, they also added for good measure,

And that no May-Pole shall be hereafter set up, erected, or suffered to be within this Kingdome of England, or Dominion of Wales.

That was pretty harsh.

Since they were fast approaching the next May festival, there was a bit of urgency to this business. It wouldn’t have served their purposes for people to stand around, shrug at the Ordinance and say, “Yea, we’ll do it sometime after May Day.” No. Immediate action was prescribed, and it came with a fine for non-compliance. The forfeiture for neglect was:

If any of the said Officers shall neglect to do their Office in the Premisses, within one week after the notice of this Ordinance, every of them, for such neglect shall forfeit Five shillings of lawfull Moneys; and so from week to week, weekly Five shillings more afterwards, till the said MayPole shall be taken down, and removed.

Assuming that they wanted to keep the maypole in place for May Day, being 3 weeks after the Ordinance was posted, this would have cost them 15 shillings for a bit of traditional fun. According to Daily Life in Stuart England, one shilling was the average day’s wage of a labourer. It may not have broken the parish bank having to cough up the equivalent of 2 weeks of wages as a fine, but this was the middle of a war and every shilling was dear. Which was a shame, given that the maypole was an innocent bystander in this argument.

But the Ordinance didn’t stop at the May Pole. Why should it? It’s not like they had other things to occupy themselves during this time, like for instance, the English Civil War which was in full swing.

The Ordinance also banned the following leisure activities on the Lord’s Day:

That no person or persons shall hereafter upon the Lords-day, use, exercise, keep, maintain, or be present at any wrastlings, Shooting, Bowling, Ringing of Bells for Pleasure or Pastime, Masque, Wake, otherwise called Feasts, Church-Ale, Dancing, Games, Sport or Pastime whatsoever; upon pain, That every person so offending, being above the age of fourteen years, shall lose, and forfeit five shillings for every such offence.

At least the children were excluded from having to shell out 5 shillings for sports and ‘wrastling’. Oh, but wait, not so fast. Parliament had something for the kiddies too.

And be it further Ordained, That all and singular person and persons, that have the care, government, tuition or education of any childe or children, under, or within the age of fourteen years shall forfeit and lose twelve pence for every of the said offence that shall be committed by any such childe and children.

Seriously. They should have started calling Parliament Burgermeister Meisterburger. Finally, at the time of the Restoration, the Merry Monarch, King Charles II, also restored the poor, unfortunate maypole once more in the village greens where to this day, people still celebrate.

On this day, I wish you all Happy May Day, and you’re welcome to keep your shilling.

Peasant Life in Sweden ... Illustrated

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Mystery of the Lobster in the Tower of London


On the first day of the England Tour-Fest 2016 (also known as the ‘cover England in two weeks trip), we hit the Tower of London. I was travelling with fellow historical fiction writer, Sally Moore, and together, we were armed with a comprehensive itinerary that a drill sergeant would have envied. For two history geeks like ourselves, there was no question about kicking off the tour here.

We had both visited the Tower before, but there is always something new to discover. It’s a remarkable fortress, situated across from London Bridge and hugging the Thames. William the Conqueror built this castle after the Norman conquest. The Tower of London can best be described as a power statement for the Normans: we’re here and we’re staying.

Over the years, the Tower evolved from a garrison to a royal residence, and more infamously, a dreaded prison. This is the place where you keep the things you most want to guard. Like the the Crown Jewels …and a hidden lobster.

Yes, a lobster.

One of the first stops we made in the Tower was the gift shop, and we met a very chatty and pleasant shop girl. She blithely asked us if we had seen the Crown Jewels. Answer: not yet. Then with a knowing grin, she asked if we had heard about the lobster in the Crown Jewels. This was news to us.

When pressed for details, the shop girl clammed up as though she had already spilled too much. I could only imagine what they told her in orientation. “Whatever you do, Gail, do not mention the lobster! There will be no living with the tourists if you do.”

So she went into recovery mode like a pro and tried to distract us by selling us on their fine selection of umbrellas, bottled water and Tower pencils. But it was too late. We had to find the lobster.

The game was afoot.

Contrary to their name, the Crown Jewels aren’t just a collection of flashy crowns and jewellery. They quite simply refer to the regalia needed to crown a king, including the vestments, plate processional and anointing objects. If you’ve seen Crown on Netflix, you’ll understand the almost mystical symbolism of the regalia in the transformation of a person into a full fledged monarch.


Charles II of England

For that reason, when King Charles I was executed by Parliament in 1649, Oliver Cromwell made a point of breaking up (and/or selling) most of the Crown Jewels so they could never remake a king again. That was the idea, but when Charles II was invited to once more take up the throne eleven years later, a new batch were created.

The only thing remaining of the old regalia was a medieval anointing spoon and three swords: the Sword of Mercy, the Sword of Spiritual Justice and the Sword of Temporal Justice.

Our first stop to discover the mystery of the lobster was to visit the Jewel House where the Crown Jewels are stored under very tight security. Once upon a time, an audacious Irishman, Colonel Thomas Blood, tried to abscond with a few items. They say that in order to smuggle one of the crowns past the guards, he beat it with a mallet to flatten it. Blood made it to the gates before he was foiled and since then, security has been considerably more robust.


In the Jewel House, a treasure trove of crowns are on display: Consort Crowns, Imperial State Crowns, and even everyday non-coronation crowns that the lucky monarch can just kick about the palace with. But the oldest is St. Edward’s Crown. Created in 1661 for Charles II’s coronation, it is encrusted with over 400 precious and semi-precious stones, pearls and ermine. Truly spectacular.

Tourists are allowed to gawk at the Crown Jewels, but to keep everyone from loitering, they have rigged up a conveyor belt to keep everyone moving along. The moving walkway makes it harder to stop and examine the crowns for marine life, but fortunately we were able to repeat our pass several times experimenting with different angles. The verdict…no lobster.

We continued through the swords and staffs and trumpets. The staff of St. Edward is curious as it was a gold walking stick made for Charles II. They created a copy from the medieval staff, but no one knows what it was used for in the coronation ceremony. After a thorough examination of the staff, the verdict…no lobster.

Next the vestments and ornaments. The golden spurs, also known as St. George’s spurs, symbolized the monarch as a military head as well as the symbol of knighthood and chivalry. Golden armills are bracelets symbolizing wisdom and honesty. The 17th century versions are decorated only with the symbols of the 3 kingdoms: the Tudor rose, Scottish thistle and the Irish harp, as well as the French fleurs-de-lis.sovereigns_orb

The famous golden orb is the symbol of sovereignty and held by the left hand when the monarch leaves Westminster Abbey. You’ll see it in all the coronation portraits. Yes, you guessed it…no lobster.

Finally, we wandered over to the plate. There was the altar plate and the banqueting plate. I suppose this really should have been the first place we looked. Where else would you find a lobster than on banqueting plate–unless you don’t like the taste of lobster, in which case I truly pity you.

I have to admit that at this point we didn’t find the lobster. We left in defeat and returned to the gift shop to demand the answer from the shop girl but she had finished her shift and was no where to be found. Later, I hit the internet and googled it but could not find a reference to lobster + Crown Jewels. All I succeeded in doing was making myself hungry.

But now I think I’ve found it. The Plymouth fountain. It was fashioned by a German goldsmith and presented by the city of Plymouth to Charles II in July 1660. Instead of using water, it was a wine fountain. Very clever contraption and ironically amusing that it was created for Charles, the Merry Monarch.

The figure at the top of the fountain was originally Hercules, but much later (not by Charles) it was replaced by Venus. The fountain was said to sprout coloured flames and perfumed waters. The original figure held a perfume burner, or pastille, but this was removed when they added Venus.


The Plymouth Fountain

The Plymouth fountain is decorated with marine creatures, both real and fantastical: dolphins, mermaids and sea monsters. Could the lobster be the sea monster? In 16th century maps depicting sea monsters, they included lobsters in the category of sea monsters.


Carta Marina c 1544

The Royal Collection Trust has detailed pictures of the fountain, but it is hard to spot a lobster. There are parts that look like there might be, but the entire contraption is just too gold and shiny to really make it all out.

I may never know for certain, but I’m reasonably certain that I solved the mystery.

Give a shout out if you know anything about the case of the Lobster in the Tower. Obsessive minds need to know.


All pictures of the Tower have been taken by the author. Please do not use without permission.

Charles II Coronation Portrait: By John Michael Wright – From; [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

St. Edward’s Crown: By Cyril Davenport (1848 – 1941) – G. Younghusband; C. Davenport (1919). The Crown Jewels of England. London: Cassell & Co. p. 2., Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The King’s Orb: By Cyril Davenport (1848–1941) – ‘The King’s Orb’ from: G. Younghusband; C. Davenport (1919). “The Crown Jewels of England”. London: Cassell & Co. p. 38., Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Plymouth Fountain: Royal Collection Trust 

Carta Marina: By Sebastian Münster –  Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mercurius Istoria ~ April 2017

mercurius-istoriaMercurius Istoria is now out. This month’s broadsheet features curated articles with the theme of spring cleaning and new beginnings.

Subscribe now and receive Mercurius Istoria by email. Keep up with 17th century news.

To access the April 2017 edition, click here.

Posted in Mercurius Istoria | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Worcester’s Commandery 

Commandery: "Front" facing Fort Royal

I’ve always felt a strong connection to the Commandery. It’s history runs deep. As you can imagine, speaking before the Battle of Worcester Society in the Great Hall of the Commandery was an unparalleled thrill. If you missed reading about the occasion, click here for the post.

Some buildings are more than just the wood and timber that makes up their frame; more than the collection of rooms that make up their space. They occupy a place in history. Imagine a thousand year old building, with its use and purpose changing with the tides of history. Worcester’s Commandery, with its millennium of social, political, religious and industrial history, is such a place.

The Commandery is situated just outside the old city of Worcester, where once the Sidbury gate once stood. The Commandery started out as a monastic hospital, founded by the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (the Order of Hospitallers), offering relief and shelter to travelling pilgrims. The Knights Hospitallers had many such hospitals scattered throughout the world which were centres of administration and healing. They were specifically built outside the city gates to be able to greet pilgrims who arrived after nightfall, long after the gates were shut.


Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem bronze seal. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s very likely that the original site was originally occupied by an 11th century chapel dedicated to St. Godwald (possibly a Welsh hermit bishop also known as Gulval), but in the year 1203, the chapel was rededicated to St. Wulfstan, who had been canonized the same year. St. Wulfstan was an Anglo Saxon bishop who had been given the bishopric of Worcester a few years before the Norman conquest and who had managed to hold onto the diocese in the years following the conquest.

St. Wulfstan had been associated with healing which suited the purpose of the Commandery. One maimed man claimed that St. Wulfstan had healed him, even to the extent of regenerating dear body parts. The image of the saint was also one of the elements of King John Lackland’s tomb, pictured riding the shoulder of the king’s effigy.


During the 13th century until the early 16th century, the Commandery served as an important centre of healing and prayer. The monastery housed a Master, two chaplains and several lay people. Between the years 1480 and 1540, the Commandery was completely rebuilt and expanded into its present Tudor daub and wattle design. Two of its famous features date back to the this time: the Great Hall with the minstrels’ gallery above, and the Painted Chamber.

The Great Hall occupies the centre of the Commandery and opens up off the main courtyard. Most of the floor is a black and white chequerboard pattern while a smaller section is red brick cobbles (at one point used as part of a carriage driveway); both design elements date back to the Victorian era. There is a special medieval stained glass window known as the Oriel window, which depicts plants, a peacock and camel. Given that the building was once owned by the Knights Hospitallers, one could imagine that these exotic images were a fond nod to their travels in far away lands.

The Painted Chamber is one of my favourite rooms in the Commandery. There’s a feeling of calm and peace when you stand inside and look at the paintings on the wall, which is where it gets its name. The chamber dates back to the end of the 15th century, and is considered to be either a sick room or a quiet place for prayer. I’ve no doubt that during the Commandery’s history, the room was used for both. The paintings include images of St. Erasmus, the patron saint of abdominal pain, and St. Thomas a Becket, the patron saint of priests. There is also a scene of weighing of the souls, a painting that suggests contemplation; on the ceiling there is a painting of the Trinity. No doubt, recuperating invalids would gain comfort when they stared at the ceiling.


Detail of the Painted Chamber

The Commandery would have likely continued as a monastic hospital were it not for King Henry VIII and the Reformation. With the Reformation came the dissolution of the monasteries, courtesy of Thomas Cromwell. Plum church properties and lands were now handed out to loyal supporters. One close friend and protege of Thomas Cromwell, Richard Morrison, was given the mastership of the Commandery and other monastic hospitals in 1540. Morrison eventually became an ambassador to the German court of Charles V during King Edward VI’s time.

A few short years after being given the Commandery, Morrison sold the Commandery to a Thomas Wylde in 1545. Wylde was a prosperous Worcester clothier whose fortunes were on the rise. A short time after purchasing the Commandery, Wylde served as bailiff, a councillor and eventually became a Member of Parliament for Worcester. It was during this period that the old chapel would have been demolished and the house expanded to include a new kitchen. It was also at this time when the Painted Chamber was plastered over. The paintings would have to wait to be discovered four centuries later when the Commandery underwent a refurbishment.

The Wylde family continued to own the Commandery through it’s most turbulent period—the English Civil War and one chapter of this engagement rage immediately outside the Commandery’s doors. Ironically, it also involved another Cromwell.

The first two civil wars were from 1642 to 1648 and ended when King Charles I was executed on Jan 29, 1649. His son and heir, Charles Stuart, launched a bid to reclaim his father’s throne and made an alliance with Scotland. On August 22, 1651, King Charles II and his Scottish army of 12,000 – 14,000 strong marched into Worcester, the end of a nearly three week trek into England. The Parliamentarian army, led by Oliver Cromwell, were closing in on them and the Royalists knew they wouldn’t be able to reach London as they had at first hoped. Worcester had always been a loyal royalist town and it had a number of natural features to make it defensible, including Fort Royal Hill which was immediately behind the Commandery. While Charles II may not have been quartered in the Commandery, it was most likely that many of his senior officers, such as the Duke of Hamilton, had been.

On the morning of Sept 3, 1651, the battle began and some of the hottest fighting occurred just outside the Commandery. The royalists were outnumbered two to one and by the end of the day, they were in retreat. The king managed to escape into the city through the Sidbury gate and joined other fleeing fugitives to escape from the city. The Duke of Hamilton took a shot to the leg and was carried back to the Commandery. They tried to treat his injuries in one of the main floor rooms, but his wounds were grave. He refused to accept the assistance of Cromwell’s surgeon and died nine days later. His final resting place is in Worcester Cathedral. To find out more about who is buried there, read my post, Worcester Cathedral.


The Commandery was thankfully not destroyed or ruined during the battle and remained in the Wylde family until the mid-18th century. In 1764, the Wyldes sold the estate to John Dandridge, a Worcester lawyer and land developer. He didn’t need the entire sprawling estate and had the clever idea of subdividing the property and leasing it out in parts, an arrangement that continued into the 20th century. In 1866, the College for Blind Sons of Gentlemen leased out some of the premises until 1888. At that time, the last owner, Joseph Littlebury purchased it, a publisher who ran his business out of the Commandery. I’ve managed to find a few postcards produced by Littlebury Press around 1910 that featured interior pictures of the Commandery. The publishing house continued until 1973 when the last owner decided to retire.


The Commandery was converted into a museum run by the city of Worcester and while for many it’s associated with the English Civil War, the depth and richness of its history transcends this period. The museum has an excellent audio tour that allows you to explore every part of the building and step back into time as you explore each room. Take a wander through the kitchen gardens and remember that at one time, this was a place where people prayed, loved and died.


This article was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog (EHFA) and posted January 23, 2017. If you haven’t yet visited the EHFA blog, I encourage you to check out their website (click here) for high quality articles pertaining to English history.

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dreaded Bio


The Hesperides (Labour of Hercules)- Photo credit: Ian W Scott via / CC BY-SA

My publisher, Endeavour, needs a bio from me. For civilians, that is what we call a biography; for writers, it’s the 3rd worst painful exercise to subject a writer to.

The undisputed most painful exercise, of course, is the synopsis. Cue the deep-throat narrator. One woman…one natural disaster…one hour to live… can she survive?

Writing a synopsis is the equivalent of facing screaming legions of Hell during the Apocalypse. Do you have any idea on how hard it is to boil your full length novel down to a one or two page synopsis and not make it sound like, “and then this happened, and then that happened, and finally, this happened.” You might as well have a vulture pick at your liver.


By Cornelis Cork via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

The second most painful rite of passage is creating the blurb, the back-jacket copy that is meant to entice readers. Sounds easy…ha, you think! You might argue that by sailing around the synopsis on the River Styx, you already have the bare bones of a blurb, but not so, my young grasshopper. Where the synopsis is meant to tell the reader what your story is about, the blurb is meant to tease them with as little information as possible. Pick up your favourite book and see what they included in the blurb as well as what they didn’t. Clever right?

Ancient Book and Key

But the third is definitely the bio, because now it’s all about you. If the synopsis is like breaching the castle walls and the blurb is like sacking the citadel, the bio is reaching the inner sanctum. In there you will find a glowing box perched atop a stone podium and all you have to do is pop it open and REVEAL WHO YOU ARE. Introverts run from the room screaming. Extroverts, not so much.

Pandoras box

Here’s the thing, most writers tend to be introverts which makes this exercise particularly ironic. I can only postulate that forcing a bunch of writers to talk about ourselves is just the universe’s way of inflicting payback for the hubris of wanting to write a book.

Have you noticed that many authors include information about their pets in their bio? Since we’re mainly introverts, this makes perfect sense if you think about it. Pets are a safe subject. Everyone likes them and they really are the only ones who truly understand us. Pets really don’t look for conversation. Maybe a warm keyboard to curl up on (while it’s in use) but that’s about it.

But what if you don’t have any pets, as it happens in my case? What now?

“Cryssa doesn’t have any dogs or cats but she would consider getting a snake except that she objects to their diet.”

Which is true, but I’m thinking that I need something better than that. Not everyone connects with snakes. I settle in my chair, poise my fingers over the keyboard, close my eyes and think…what do I want a reader to know about me?

“Cryssa Bazos is an incurable romantic and a history nerd.”

Anyone who has been following my blog will know that yes, I am a history nerd, especially a 17th century history nerd. I squeal over re-enactments. The content I share on twitter, through the EHFA, the HNS and even through my new broadsheet, Mercurius Istoria (shameless plug: click here to subscribe ) is all historical content. Because I love history.

Then there is the romantic part. This is the part where the glowing box starts to open and reveal a truth that I haven’t really touched on before. I am an incurable romantic. Not a gushy romantic who delights in red roses and chocolates offered by a knight on a white charger. I do love fragrant pink English roses, not long stemmed red tea roses which take themselves far too seriously and have no fragrance (or personality) at all. But is a rose any more romantic than a daisy?  I will never turn away Purdy’s dark chocolate caramels with pink Himalayan sea-salt but I really don’t consider them romantic either—addictive, yes, but not heart-warming. And as for white horses, I do prefer the image of a dashing cavalier to a medieval knight, but it isn’t necessarily what I consider romantic either. Now a highwayman…


The black highwayman via VisualHunt

Love, romance, romantic elements (or any way that you want to call it) are essential ingredients to a good story. People struggling to connect, to find love in the hardest and harshest conditions is romantic fodder for me.  It doesn’t have to fill the entire story and may just be a small piece of it, but that connection is what makes for a memorable story. I would argue that this drive to connect, emotionally and romantically, is even more important in historical fiction than we’ve given it credit for. When recreating the past, whether writing about a historical character or a purely fictional one, you can’t do it without understanding their fears, hopes and motivations. Give this concept a shake and you will find that love, in all its nuances, underpins our motivations. This is what connects us as human beings. This is what gives truth to fiction.

So yes, count me in as an incurable romantic. So glad to have gotten that off my chest.

First line done. Now to stop procrastinating and get back to the rest of the bio.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mercurius Istoria ~ March 2017

mercurius-istoriaMercurius Istoria is now out. This month’s broadsheet features curated articles with the theme ‘words do matter’.

Subscribe now and receive Mercurius Istoria by email. Keep up with 17th century news.

To access the March 2017 edition, click here.


Posted in Mercurius Istoria | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Footnotes in History: Major Peter Burgoine


Diving into the minutiae of history. Some call it research while others, procrastination. I prefer to think of it as inspiration.

History is my source for inspiration, and it tends to be the small things that attract my attention. The information you can find in footnotes can be veritable gold. There’s the main historical account and then there are these nuggets of information that don’t quite fit in with the  narrative, but were fascinating for the historian nonetheless. It’s like a impromptu “by the way did you know” anecdote; an invitation to explore the rabbit warren. The gaps in history and the ‘what if’s’ send my muse off like Nancy Drew.

Allow me to share with you an interesting skeleton of a story that I uncovered in a footnote of history. I was researching gaols one day and idly trolling through British History Online (aka Historical Fiction Procrastinators Anonymous)…wait, why gaols you ask? When your main character is a highwayman, you become very fascinated with them. No spoilers, but they tend to be an occupational hazard. Clears throat and continues. 

So there I was flipping through references to Warwickshire gaols, and I come across an entry in the Calendar of State Papers. The Calendar of State Papers was a record of the government’s business, motions and decisions, and not a court of law. This particular entry was made on September 12, 1650 (British History Online).

“To write Col. Purefoy to examine the charge against Major Burgoine of Coventry, upon the articles enclosed to him.”

“40s. To be paid to James Grayle, who came from Coventry to inform Council of the disturbances there by Major Burgoine, about proclaiming the King of Scots King of England.”

To give a bit of background, the King of Scots is a reference to Charles Stuart, later Charles II. In 1650, he was an exile trying to reclaim his late father’s English throne. King Charles I had been executed a year and a half earlier by his Parliamentarian enemies, and the twenty year old Charles Stuart had made a bargain with Scotland, two months prior to this entry, to help him get his crown back. The closest that the Parliamentarians came to acknowledging his kingship was as the Scottish King, which was ironic because Charles was more English than Scottish.

But this wasn’t what actually intrigued me. Who was Major Burgoine and why would this James Grayle make the troublesome journey from Warwickshire to London to sell the man out? Clearly, Grayle had initiated this trip. He hadn’t been summoned to Whitehall to chat about the state of Coventry.

So why did James Grayle, Informant, feel that this was the juiciest piece of information and hightailed it to London to share with the merry men at Whitehall? They were grateful for the news, judging by the compensation they awarded Grayle for his troubles. 40s represented roughly a month’s wages for a labourer.

I had to dig into this further. The hunt was on.

The next entry regarding the matter of Major Burgoine was on October 9, 1650 in the Calendar of State Papers (British History Online) and there was a neat little twist:

To write the Militia Commissioners for Coventry that Council is much dissatisfied with Burgoyne’s escape, and particularly as the gaoler who suffered him to escape is not proceeded against; and to desire them to re-examine the business and the informer, and commit the gaoler, until he gives good bail to appear at the next assizes for trial, and to bind over the prosecutor and witnesses to appear and prosecute, and to return an account to Council.”

Within a space of a month, our Major Burgoine/Burgoyne (creative spelling was a thing then) had been arrested, locked up in Coventry gaol and then engineered an escape! Even better, the gaoler had been implicated as his accomplice. Now, this would not really have been a shocker of a revelation at that time. Gaolers were usually local men who were paid a very nominal fee by the town to guard the prisoners. The majority of their pay would have come from the prisoners themselves. The more well off the prisoner, the better the lodgings. Those who couldn’t afford to pay were at the mercy of the parish and were kept in the worst lodgings, the ‘two penny’ ward. Many gaolers were not above a bit of free trade and were willing to consider a better offer. But in this situation, there was a further twist: the authorities in Coventry had not bothered to arrest the gaoler for his dereliction. Did they feel sorry for the man, having to support a wife and (possibly) multiple children, or instead, were their sympathies with the prisoner?


Who was Major Burgoine? If he had proclaimed Charles the King of England, surely he had been a Royalist?

I caught up with Major Burgoine in a House of Lords Journal dated February 4, 1643 (British History Online), the first winter of the civil war. The record listed the Parliamentarian business for their war effort. For the raising of troops for Parliament, our major (then a sergeant major) was given this commission for the “city and county” of Coventry in Warwickshire. Our man was a Parliamentarian!

The next reference to the major was another House of Lords Journal dated May 26, 1645 (British History Online) when he was offered the governorship of Coventry. He had responded to their promotion with a letter dated May 16th addressed to the Speaker of the House of Commons:

“Honourable Sir,

“I cannot but take Notice of a Report of my being appointed Governor of Coventry by both the Honourable Houses. In the First Place, to return my most humble Thanks for so high an Honour conferred upon me, whereby I am ever obliged to lay out myself, as hitherto I have done my best Endeavours, so hereafter in my heartiest Prayers for your Honours, and your good Successes in all your pious Counsels and Undertakings; for that I must needs become an humble Suitor to your Honours (as with much Favour you have conferred this Place upon me), so you will please to take into Consideration my ingenuous Acknowledgement of mine utter Insufficiency to undergo so great a Burthen and Charge, by reason of mine Age, and the Infirmities that of late have beyond Expectation extraordinarily accompanied it; which, though it no Whit lessens the Vigour of my Will and Affections to the Cause and your Service, yet I must needs acknowledge my Disability of Body to be such, as that I am not only minded to beg Leave to resign this Employment newly conferred upon me; but am inforced, by the sensible Increase of my bodily Dispositions, to take my Ease, and very shortly to bid Farewell to all the Activity of Soldiery, though with my best Advice I shall still continue to serve the State, jointly with the rest of the Committee, for the Preservation of this Town and County, according to the Trust reposed in me; which is all I humbly pray may be expected from me, or imposed upon me; for which Favour I shall be yet further obliged to remain,

“Your Honour’s humble and ever devoted Servant,

Covent. May 16th, 1645.

“Peter Burgoyne.”

This would have been near the end of the first civil war and things were not going well for Parliament (though that would reverse a few weeks later at Naseby, which was a huge victory for Parliament and a major kick in the teeth for the king). After years of fighting was our major ill and shattered? It’s not unreasonable to suppose he was. They even offered up prayers for the man.

Perhaps the answer lies in the next record I found was under the December 2, 1648 Acts and Ordinances (British History Online). Peter Burgoine was once again listed as one of the commissioners for raising the militia in his county, though without a rank. Presumably, his health improved, or in their need, Parliament didn’t care and forced him to break his retirement. For you see, they were facing a crisis. King Charles I had been captured in 1648 and his negotiation for terms caused a divide in Parliament.

The moderates favoured a negotiated treaty with their monarch so everyone could make up and play nice again. The king would get his crown back, albeit with curtailed powers. On the other side, the New Model Army grandees were opposed to treating with the king; they simply did not trust his word, which was fair as he had no intention of honouring any agreement that would restrict his kingship. The General Council of the army lobbied to end the negotiations and put the king on trial. Naturally, the moderates were horrified and rejected their demands. What they forgot was that he who controls the army, wins.

English Civil War Society re-enacts Charles I's trial and execution

London, United Kingdom. 25th January 2015 — Every year on the last week end of January the English Civil War Society re-enactors retrace Charles I’s trial and execution.

The army marched on London and occupied it on December 2nd, the day that Parliament was naming commissioners to raise troops. Four days later, Colonel Pride of the New Model Army stormed into a sitting session of Parliament and arrested all the moderate Members of Parliament, an act known as Pride’s Purge. A month later, Parliament (or those who were left) voted themselves supreme authority without having to answer to the King or to the House of Lords. Their first action was to order the King’s Trial. He was found guilty on January 27, 1649 and beheaded two days later.

Where did that leave Major Peter Burgoine? Sometime over the next six to eight months, he must have suffered a change in conscience in order to switch sides. Was it the execution of the king that tipped it for him or was it the high handed way that the army seized control? Many of the Parliamentarians had, after all, fought the king to force a constitutional monarchy. Pride’s Purge was essentially a military coup. Whatever his reasons, Peter Burgoine had enough. His anti-government activities clearly shocked the Council. If Parliament could lose such a faithful and highly respected servant to their cause, this did not bode well for them. No wonder James Grayle rushed to London to tip them off.

What happened to Peter Burgoine? There is no further mention of him. Very likely he made good on his escape, otherwise, there may have been a followup entry that the prisoner had been caught. Did he leave England and join Charles II in The Hague as many exiles did, or did his age and ill health finally catch up to him?

We’ll never know. Therein lies the gold.

For another story that I stumbled on while procrastinating researching in British History Online, check out Puzzles in the Historical Record: The Highwayman Did it?


Posted in historical records | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments