History of Hampshire: The Siege of Basing House


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The History of the Siege of Basing House, Old Basing, Hampshire
by David Nash Ford

B A S I N G
B E S I E G E D

Civil War Stronghold holds out for Three Years

King Charles I faced many political and economic problems throughout the early years of his reign. By 1640, England had become involved in the Bishops' War in Scotland and the King needed money to support his troops there. Parliament refused to grant such help without improved laws and taxes. King Charles would not comply with their terms and two years of conflict and criticism followed as the British were overburdened with what were seen as the monarch's unjust and oppressive actions. When the King tried to arrest several members of the House of Commons, Parliament was outraged. Then he demanded control of local arsenals. He was refused. Charles left London for Nottingham where, in August 1642, he raised his personal Royal Standard and declared war upon the Parliament of England.

At this time, many families in England and Wales were now called upon to consider their loyalties. For one man, this was an easier decision than for most. John Paulet, 5th Marquis of Winchester, resident of Basing House in Hampshire, lived up to the family motto, "Aymez Loyaulté" - Love Loyalty - and supported the King.

Paulet had set about fortifying his palatial mansion and collecting arms for fifteen hundred men, some time in advance of these events; but these he was obliged to sell by order of the House of Commons. Left with only six men and six muskets at the outbreak of Civil War, he was quickly attacked by Parliamentarian forces. The small party managed to beat off these initial attacks however and the Marquis was able to strengthen his position. He began to offer shelter to friends in need: among them, the ageing Thomas Fuller and Inigo Jones.

At the end of July 1643, the Marquis was heavily attacked by Colonel Norton of Southwick Park and Colonel Harvey, 'a decayed silk man,' who had recently dispersed a crowd of women demanding peace in London. The attack was held off for a while but help came only just in time with the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel Peake and one hundred musketeers from Oxford. Among the new faces at Basing were two further artists seeking sanctuary: the engraver, William Faithorne, and the artist, Wenceslas Hollar. Another was the man of letters, Thomas Johnston, the first man to write a book on English flora. He was a man of great courage but was shot and killed during the long siege at Basing.

Harvey and the Roundhead troops withdrew but, a few days later, the attack began again in earnest. The London Trained Bands, predecessors of the Royal Marines, were brought in to deal with the five hundred strong 'Papist' garrison at Basing. However, the house's fortifications had been improved and the attack was held off with only eleven guns and muskets. Fourteen and a half acres were now being defended. Hollar's etching, made during a lull, shows the extent of the grounds.

Hollar's Engraving of Basing House

The trained bands withdrew saying that Basing House was larger than the Tower of London. So Sir William Waller advanced from Farnham Castle with seven thousand men to finish off the Marquis and his followers. Free passage out of the citadel was offered to women and children, but refused, and nine days of hard fighting began. Waller tried to storm the place but, after three days of savage fighting, was forced to retire to Farnham once more, 'having dishonoured and bruised his army'. Besides, the Royalist General, Lord Hopton, was on the march to relieve Basing.

On 18th August 1643, Parliament declared the Marquis of Winchester guilty of high treason and his vast estates around the country were all confiscated. This had little affect on John Paulet though, after all he had been through. Basing House, with Donnington Castle near Newbury, now guarded the road to the west and Winchester was determined to hold it for as long as possible. Lord Hopton held the city of Winchester for the King and helped Basing much. As he was a Cornishman, he realised how important their position was. Many raiding parties went our from Basing for provisions and there were spies on both sides. There is record of only one. Tobias Beasley who made bullets at Basing, we are told, 'showed great reluctance to go off the ladder.'

In December 1643, certain Royal cooks came to Basing with some of Prince Rupert's horse. This led to the rumour that the King had removed much silver and other treasure from the fortress himself. Tradition tells us that the Marquis himself exclaimed, "If the King had no more ground in England but Basing House he would adventure it as he did and so maintain it to the uttermost, comforting himself that Basing House was called Loyalty."

In March 1644, Waller was victorious at the Battle of Cheriton not far away, which disrupted the King's schemes. Hopton made good his retreat to Basing and fell back to Oxford, via Reading. Winchester and Basing were now the only places left to the King in the whole of Hampshire.

Some of the garrison at Basing began to lose heart. The Marquis' own brother, Edward, turned traitor and opened negotiations with Waller. The plot was only uncovered after the unexpected desertion of the Roundhead, Sir Richard Granville, who revealed all. Lord Edward was spared his life but was forced to act as executioner to his fellow conspirators.

All through 1644, the garrison held out against heavy assaults. They would not have lasted the winter though, if it had not been for the brave Colonel Sir Henry Gage who marched from Oxford with relief troops, having to fight overwhelming numbers on Chineham Down. They got through though, reuniting families and chasing the Roundheads out of Basingstoke, collecting their stores and taking them to Basing. But, when Gage left for Oxford again, the Roundheads soon returned. Despite famine and disease, the little garrison held out, making bullets from the lead on the roofs and refusing all forms of surrender.

On May Day 1645, five hundred Royalist Protestants marched out of Basing, after a religious dispute and travelled to Donnington Castle, still unbesieged and held by the King; but they were very properly refused admission by the gallant Sir John Boys, himself a Protestant. Only a small body of Catholics, their wives, children and a few elderly women were now left at Basing, but they lasted through the summer and all demands to surrender were again refused. Then, on 8th October, Oliver Cromwell himself arrived with a brigade of the New Model Army, fresh from the capture of one of the most ancient cities in England, Winchester. Basing House was the remaining place in Hampshire still holding out for the King. The end was in sight, but the garrison was going to go down fighting.

On the 13th, a last patrol was sent out and captured prisoners included Captain Robert Hammond, later the King's gaoler at Carisbrooke Castle. Then, on the morning of the 14th October 1645, at dawn, the Ironsides launched a final attack and intaking of Basing House. The small garrison could never have stopped these fresh soldiers, but it is said they were surprised while playing cards. This story is unlikely, but a phrase has caught on and 'Clubs are trumps, as when Basing House was taken' is a, now little-known unfortunately, Hampshire saying. The final assault did not take long. Three thousand men were employed in the attack and a further four thousand ringed the house out. There was no escape. Yet men fought to the death at sword point. At the end, there were only two hundred prisoners, including women and children.

Then came the looting. All the women and most of the men were stripped of their clothes. Most of the men were hanged, certainly the four catholic priests. The Roundhead soldiers took all they could. Cromwell collected a quarter of a million pounds worth of loot at Basing that day, which he called "good encouragement". Then the house was set on fire, some say by accident, but many of the garrison, some seventy-four still alive, perished in the flames.

Lastly, Cromwell let the villagers in and it did not take them long to cart away the bricks in order to rebuild their houses. Of the Marquis, he was held prisoner in the Bell Inn in Basingstoke before being taken to the Tower. Cromwell spared his life though and allowed him to escape to France. After the restoration, he returned to England and retired to his wife's property, Englefield House in Berkshire. His memorial can be seen in the church there with an epitaph by Dryden. Over his actual grave lies a plain blue marble slab, but with powerful words. It reads, 'Here lieth interred the body of the most noble and mighty prince, John Powlet, Marquis of Winchester, Earl of Wiltshire, Baron St. John of Basing, Most Marquis of England. A man of exemplar piety towards God and the inviolable fidelity to his Sovereign in whose cause fortified his house of Basing and defended it against the rebels to the last extremity.'

These days, the ruins of Basing House can be seen for a small fee or why not visit the Paulet tombs in Basing Church. All is well worth seeing and is most definitely part of the area's history.

History of Old Basing Church


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