swuklink: The English Civil War in Dorsetshire  
(1642 - 1652)
Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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The County of Dorsetshire     OS Map Grid Ref: ST721015

 The County of Dorsetshire

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The English Civil War, often referred to simply as the 'Civil War' was the conflict between king and parliament which inaugurated the Commonwealth. This period of bloodshed, with the the whole nation polarised behind either monarch or parliament, took place between 1642 and 1646. Warfare again errupted between 1648 and 1642, this time between parliament and the disgruntled army which it had assembled to fight the Royalists.

This is not the first period of internal conflict in England for the death of [[]] led to a protracted battle between Queen Matilda and King Stephen. This conflict, however, was much more localised and its effects were felt most in the immediate surroundings of the two chief protagonists rather than involving the whole country in warfare.

August 1642 saw the rift between King Charles I and Parliament fall iredeemably into civil war. As turmoil became inevitable, the whole country took sides. Corfe Castle, the seat of Sir John and Lady Mary Bankes, became practically the only Royalist stronghold in Dorset at the outset of hostilities.

Sir John, was a London lawyer and the Bankes would have stayed at Corfe for only about three months in the summer when the stench of the capital became unbearabe and those who could afford to left for the country.He stayed in London and it was left to his wife, Lady Mary, to defend the castle in the name of the king with only her retainers and probably some men gathered from the surrounding estates.

When subterfuge failed to breach the thick walls of Corfe Castle, Sir Walter Earl, the local parliamentary commander, attempted to weaken the castle's armaments but this, in itself, proved quite a task. The summer of 1643 saw two attacks upon the castle, both futile; the first having failed in June, Sir Walter set up headquarters in the village church opposite the castle and set seige to it; the second attempt, in July, was a failure of almost farcical proportions. Bu this time several towns in Dorset had fallen to the Royalists and Sir Walter withdrew hastily fearing reinforcements would arrive.

In June 1643, Sir Walter Earl attempted unsuccessfully to storm the castle with artillery and a force of five hundred men. He retired to lay seige to the castle making the parish church opposite the castle gates his headquarters from whence his elusive target must have seemed tantalisingly close. In July, his forces were bolstered by 150 men from Portsmouth who arrived with seige ladders for scaling the walls. Even though Sir Walter announced a prize of � 20 to the first man to scale the walls (some � 2,000 in modern terms), his soldiers proved most reluctant and he resorted to getting them drunk before the assault. The drunken army lost 100 men in the attack as they attempted to climb over the walls amist the shower of rocks and cinders thrown by the defenders of whom only two were lost. By now, several towns in Dorset had fallen to the Royalists, including nearby Dorchester and Sir Walter's army, fearing the arrival of Royalist reinforcements fled the castle leaving behind their provisions and arms to be captured by the inmates.

Eventually, the castle fell to the Parliamentarians - but its ramparts were only breached by treachery from within.

During the Civil War when Lady Bankes made her valiant defence of Corfe Castle for the Royalist cause and refused to hand over four of the castle's cannon to sailors sent from Poole by the parliamentary commander, Sir Walter Earl, he proclaimed it an offence for any citizen of Wareham to sell any supplies to the beleaguered royalist castle.

Lyme Regis was strongly Parliamentarian and withstood a seige lasting two months in 1644.

At Sherborne, near the north-west corner of Dorset, the Castle was twice held for the King, in 1642 and 1645. The second occasion saw it holding out against a seige by the forces of General Fairfax for 16 days. Like many castles during the conflict, by october it had been 'slighted '; the defences destroyed defences to prevent its being any further use against the forces Parliament.

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On September 12th, 1549, the Council deemed it necessary to issue special orders for Devonshire and Cornwall 'where the rebels have used the bells in every Parish as an instrument to stir the multitude and call them together' that all bells in the two counties should be taken down 'leaving in every church one Bell the least of the Ring that is now in the same, which may serve to call the Parishioners to the Sermon and Divine Service.'

It may be that such orders were more widespread and affected nearby counties such as Dorset. For example, the 1552 inventory shows four bells in the Parish Church of Stourton Caundle at the time - such orders may be responsible for the fact that only the present No.2 bell has survived of the four pre-Reformation bells which the Church possessed.

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1549.Sep.12The Council issue special orders for Devon and Cornwall; where the rebels have used the bells in every Parish as an instrument to stir the multitude and call them together that all bells in the two counties should be taken down leaving in every church one Bell the least of the Ring that is now in the same, which may serve to call the Parishioners to the Sermon and Divine Service.

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Lady Mary Bankes put up a long and valiant defence against Parliament which only fell through treachery. She so impressed the Protector that he returned her forfieted estates.


The Parliamentary cavalry, according to tradition, stabled their horses in the Parish Church and "burnt popish furnishings".


Hambledon Hill in Dorset was the site of a rising by the Clubmen which was suppressed by Oliver Cromwell. A row of skeletons found in the north aisle of the parish church at Shillingstone on the opposite side of the Stour valley are thought to be the remains of the Clubmen slain by the Parliamentarians.

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Dorset in the Civil War 1625-1665
  by Tim Goodwin, publisher
Dorset%20Books>Dorset Books, 1996, ISBN1871164265

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