When the Civil War arrived in Birmingham, it tore families apart, setting father against son with deadly otherworldly consequences that linger to this day.
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'But Father, it cannot be right that a King treats his people in such a manner. The people in our town have suffered badly.’
‘What did they expect, lad? They challenged our rightful king.’
‘Those people killed? Their houses burned? Did they deserve that?’
‘If they raise weapons against the king, it’s war. And all is just in war. I’m ashamed of our townsfolk. All them weapons they made for the Puritans. Making money out of war.’
‘And the King had two of his captains hanged for what they did. The looting and all that.’
‘I’ll hear no more of this. God himself appoints our Kings. To go against the king is to go against God. I’ll have no more of this talk under my roof.’
Thomas stalked out of his father’s presence. Agnes moved away from the doorway where she had been listening.
‘It’s dangerous words you be saying, son. Be careful where you speak it. Not all are as tolerant as your dad.’
‘Tolerant? He won’t hear it. Won’t open his eyes to the truth of what’s happening. For him, the king can do whatever he wants and we just have to put up with it.’
‘It’s what we’ve always known. I’ve wept at the hardships the people in Birmingham have suffered. But how can war be the answer, pitting man against man, father against son? You must do what you need to do, but take care. I don’t want to lose you, my son.’ Agnes returned to her kitchen where the bread was slowly rising, almost ready for the oven.
Thomas made his way to the young men loudly talking of the war.
‘Have ye heard the news? Eighty houses burned to the ground, people not allowed to put out the fires, nor even get their stuff out.
‘Fifteen killed, and two women. Cowardly, killing women.’
‘Ungodly, I’d call it.’
The talk grew heated, voices raised, young men losing faith in the king with every retelling of the wrong deeds that Prince Rupert and his men had inflicted on the people of Birmingham.
William was making his way to Westminster farm where he had work for the day. His walk was slower than his usual efficient stride, trying to shake off the worry his lad had caused him. Why could Thomas not see sense? Why side with the people looking for the King’s downfall? His eyes were drawn to the activity at the big house.
Prince Rupert had taken over Lyttleton House, a garrison to house his soldiers and his weaponry, to secure the area for the king.
The grounds were busy with unusual activity, men milling around, in and out of the large barns, carts bringing goods to be stowed inside – foodstuffs and barrels, and heavy wooden boxes. The stables were alive with the calls of horses, impatient for their food.
William watched the soldiers: cavaliers on horseback with their elegant clothes and pikemen practising with long staffs tipped with an iron spearhead. It warmed his heart. Birmingham would not fall into the hands of Cromwell, him who challenged everything England stood for.
‘You’ve made your choice. I’ll have no ungodly folk under my roof. Take your things and go. You’re no son of mine.’
‘Please, William, don’t do this.’ Her eyes filled with tears as Agnes pleaded with her husband. She had no time for this wretched war that tore families apart.
William’s face was stony. He’d chosen his side. There was a rumble of noise and slamming of doors as Thomas took his things and left. He too had chosen his side.
The fighting continued. William felt it his duty to support the King. He joined the garrison. Prince Rupert needed all the men he could get.
Thomas and his friends, frustrated and antagonised by the Cavalier's actions, joined the Puritan soldiers.
Agnes remained at home, fearful for both her husband and her son. She prayed that she would see them again, that they would return safely.
Skirmishes broke out as bands of fighting men come across each other. A foraging party from the garrison at Lyttleton House were met by a band of Puritan soldiers. A fierce fight took place. Foot soldiers took to their swords in close-order fighting. Metal clanged, dying men screamed, the ground became slippery underfoot as blood turned the mud red.
A man fell to the ground, winded by his fall. William raised his sword ready to let it drop across his opponent’s neck. The man on the floor rolled over, raising his hands in a useless attempt to ward off the sword.
‘Thomas?’ William stopped his sword in mid-curve, pitching it to the ground. How could he kill his own son? He stretched out his hand to help Thomas to his feet.
‘This way,’ said William, leading his son deep into the woodland, leaving the fading noise of the fighting behind them. The tall birch trees laden with leaves shielded the wood from daylight, alders gave bushy cover. They sank to the ground to wait out the fighting. William and Thomas never knew who had won the day.
They slipped back to their home under the cover of darkness, startling Agnes who leaped to her feet, hugging them both, laughing and crying at the same time.
Alas, this joyful reunion wasn’t to last. As the sun rose, the wooden door burst open. Men charged in, swords drawn. They grabbed William and Thomas, angrily pushing Agnes aside as she clung to them. She fell backward, her head cracking as she crashed to the stone flags under their feet.
William and Thomas ended their days together, swinging side by side from the hastily constructed gallows. A broken sword strapped to their hands told of their crime, a crime which would not be forgiven by either side. Deserting your post could not be tolerated. Neither were buried in holy ground.
Their wandering spirits took shelter in the woodland where they had hidden in their weakness. They watched the flames as Lyttleton house burned to the ground. Prince Rupert was retreating, leaving nothing behind for Cromwell’s men.
In the quiet of the woods, you may hear the faint clang of their swords as William and Thomas hone their fighting skills should they ever be called on again. On a bright day, you may glimpse a reflection of the sun as it flares off the clashing metal. In the still of the night, you may hear Agnes as she weeps, forever in torment for the fate suffered by the men she loved.
The Civil War in Birmingham
The English Civil Wars were a catastrophic series of conflicts that took place in the middle of the 17th century. Fought between those loyal to the king, Charles I, and those loyal to Parliament, the wars divided the country at all levels of society. At the heart of the conflict were fundamental questions about power and religion.
King Charles believed in the Divine Right of Kings, that kings were appointed by God. Any attempt to dethrone the king was contrary to God’s will and therefore a sin. The Parliamentarians believed that the authority of a king comes from a contract between him and his people.
Why people took different sides is a complex issue, and there were many differing motives. Political, religious, and social matters were widely debated, but people became intolerant of differing opinions.
Birmingham was mainly Puritan at the time. When royalist forces passed through Birmingham proper in great force in 1642, some looting took place. As an apology to the town, King Charles ordered two of his captains to be hanged, but it didn’t settle the growing resentment.
Brum produced over 15,000 sword blades which were supplied to parliamentarian forces only. We made great blades, better than London, to the same standard but at less cost. In 1637, a London cutler, fearful of losing out because of the difference in cost, protested against the import of ‘Bromedgham’ blades.
In 1642, Birmingham had no defences. Prince Rupert, in command of nearly 2000 men, requested entry to the city but was refused by about 200 Brummies and a company of roundheads (as parliamentarian soldiers were called) from the garrison at Lichfield. Kings Norton became a battlefield. The townsmen fled from the battle at Camp Hill, racing into Birmingham chased by cavaliers. The royal forces came under fire from people in some of the houses they passed. These houses were torched, 80 houses burned to ashes. 15 men and 2 women were killed, many were wounded and left destitute. These Cavalier actions in 1643 led more people to turn to the parliamentarians.
Frankley Hall was the chief seat of the Lyttelton family. It stood to the west of St Leonard’s church, and opposite Westminster Farm. In 1601, the house was described as ‘a very fair brick house and in good repair, and hath large and sufficient barns, stables, and outhouses’.
During the Civil War, the house was occupied by Prince Rupert and his soldiers who, on leaving it in May 1645, burned it to the ground to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy.
The tower of the present church was built using dressed stones from the ruins of Frankley Hall.
In 1649, the victorious Parliamentarians sentenced Charles I to death. His execution resulted in the only period of republican rule in British history, during which time military leader Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. This period lasted for 11 years until 1660 when Charles’s son, Charles II, was restored to the throne.
For further information, the following sites have proved interesting reads.