We have an image of the Civil War inspired by Hollywood romances of a chivalrous conflict between gentlemen. Some moments reflect such a view: but generally it was a bitter and bloody clash.
Prince Rupert arrived at Bolton on May 28 1644 with local magnate the Earl of Derby, en route from Oxford to, they hoped, the relief of York . He took advantage of poor preparations in the town – a small mud wall had been thrown up around it but many points were still barely manned – to attack before any parlay. The fighting was hard, the Royalists lost at least 300 men before taking the settlement.
Much of the wartime bitterness resulted from religious differences. When Prince Rupert’s forces took Bolton, a noted nonconformist centre at odds with the Royalist High Anglican world-view, his soldiers included some Irish Catholics. It is said that during the fighting one Irish Catholic soldier was captured and summarily hanged by the town’s defenders for all to see, though that may be an invention. Given no parlay had been held thus no quarter agreed, by the rules of the day the victors had no restrictions on their action. Rupert or Derby allowed the Royalist soldiers to plunder the place as their reward; during that plunder it is alleged that 1600 civilians and captured Parliamentary soldiers were slaughtered.
A coda to the tragedy: after the Battle of Worcester signalled the military end for Charles I , the Earl of Derby was captured. On October 15 1651 he was led from Ye Old Man and Scythe pub in Bolton to his execution by beheading in Churchgate.
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