Uncovering a ‘forgotten’ massacre at Shelford House


Speaker: The military history of the British and Irish civil wars has been dominated by the stories of the battles between the two field armies in England, such as Marston Moor, Newbury and Naseby. But in reality, the civil wars largely consisted of relatively small scale local conflicts, often around strong points, such as fortified houses. These engagements were often bloody and hard fought, with important consequences for local communities, yet many of them have been forgotten or subsequently ignored, as being of little or no national significance.


Until recently, this was true of the shocking story of the attack by parliamentarian forces on the royalist garrison at Shelford House on the River Trent between Newark and Nottingham.


But now, after years of investigation, distinguished civil war historian, Dr David J Appleby, has uncovered the realities of this attack, which, as he tells publisher Mike Gibbs, is a story of a massacre and a subsequent cover-up.


Mike Gibbs: David, you’ve uncovered a forgotten massacre that occurred after the storming of Shelford House near Newark in Nottinghamshire on 3 November 1645. It amazes me that an event like this has disappeared from history, until you’ve really spent some time, as I understand it, investigating it.  What first brought you to study this particular event?

David Appleby: Well, it comes about through the Civil War Petitions Project, so I was working on Nottinghamshire, and the name ‘Shelford’ kept appearing in the documents, so that attracted my attention, and I kind of equated it with the place that I drive past every day on my way to work in the University, and I thought, well, I’m supposed to be a Civil War expert, and I’m driving past a place that, obviously something big has happened here, and I don’t know about it. That’s what attracted my attention.


Now, I won’t say that it’s completely unknown, because it is mentioned in passing, in the footnotes if you like, in a number of histories.  It’s mentioned in Lucy Hutchinson’s account and there are about two pages in Wood’s History of the Civil Wars in Nottinghamshire, so I wouldn’t claim it was totally unknown, but what I was interested in was when I found out that you’re talking maybe 160 Royalists killed and 60 Parliamentarians, it’s interesting that modern histories hadn’t given it anything like the publicity given to incidents such as the far smaller massacre at Barthomley Church, where you’re talking about a dozen people. Barthomley Church in Cheshire has panels outside the church, it has quite a big mention in several histories of the Civil Wars, and it’s about a tenth the size of the massacre at Shelford.


The events at Basing House, when Cromwell stormed Basing House, that’s in pretty well every single survey history of the Civil Wars. My guess is from all the evidence there, there were about 100 people killed there, so in terms of actual figures, Shelford is almost twice as big as Basing House.

There are books on massacres in European warfare, and particularly the Civil Wars, there’s even one with a league table, and I think Shelford should be somewhere around number three in that league table, but it isn’t mentioned in the league table at all, not at all. That started to interest me, and then it was a case of, I’m not just interested in what happened, I’m interested in why it isn’t widely known, and I didn’t expect to find what I found, which is it wasn’t just accidental, it was deliberate erasure of the event, by both Royalists and Parliamentarians.


Mike Gibbs: So, what actually did happen at Shelford?

David Appleby: Right, it’s November 1645, the King has lost at Naseby, he takes the remnants of his army up to Cheshire, he loses another battle there, then he comes back across the Midlands, heading for Newark. Behind him, snapping at his heels, is a taskforce under Colonel General Sydenham Poyntz. Now, Poyntz’s orders are to bottle Charles I up in the Royalist citadel of Newark, pending the arrival of Parliament’s Scottish Covenanter allies – clearly Poyntz doesn’t have enough men, he has about four and a half thousand, that is not enough men to take the citadel of Newark, so the committee sitting in London orders him, just bottle Charles I up.


Now, Poyntz and the Governor of Nottingham, Colonel John Hutchinson, realise that if they’re going to do that, they need to neutralise some of the small satellite garrisons that are dotted around Newark. Shelford is one of the most troublesome ones, it’s very well-constructed defences, and very formidable, even though it’s a small garrison.

The King, when he got to Newark, Newark didn’t have room for his army, so he dispersed his army to these various garrisons, and when Poyntz arrives at Shelford, intending to take the place, he discovers that it’s the notorious Queen’s Regiment which is billeted with the small but formidable garrison of Shelford, so this is the most hated regiment in the Royalist Army, hated by the Parliamentarians, and they’ve cornered it, it’s there.


Shelford is also the springboard from which raids have been launched on Nottingham, so the Nottingham people don’t like it, they’ve been involved in the sack of Leicester in May, so the Leicestershire people who are with Poyntz don’t like it either.

Now, Poyntz has vastly superior numbers, but he doesn’t have any artillery, so he can’t afford to sit down outside Shelford and besiege it, because that is inviting problems of a relief force of Royalists, he needs to undertake a full-frontal infantry assault. It doesn’t sound much to say he lost about 60 men in vicious fighting, but we are only talking a fairly small action; 60 men is I think about as many, not far fewer, as Parliament lost at Naseby.


So, he loses about 60 men in really vicious fighting, just to get over the first ramparts. Behind those ramparts are more fortifications. At that point, Poyntz is worried that he’s going to be attacked in the rear by Royalist forces from Newark, led by Charles I, by more Royalist forces from Belvoir Castle, where Rupert happens to be with all his Cavalry. That means he has to take Shelford quickly, so he orders his men to give no quarter, he orders his men to kill everyone in there, and he’s already called for Shelford to surrender, and Shelford has refused, so under the rules of war he is perfectly entitled to order his men to kill everyone inside the garrison.


Now, by the time the killing has stopped, by the time Poyntz says, okay, we’ve won, let’s stop this, we know from several accounts that about 160 out of the total garrison of around 200, about 160 have been killed. Now, that is almost precisely the ratio of the French troopers of the Queen’s Regiment to the actual garrison, so it’s pretty certain to me – and the Queens’ Regiment is specifically mentioned in several letters of Parliamentarian officers saying, ‘we put them to the sword’ – it looks like all the French troopers have been killed, it looks like they’ve been massacred.


The Governor of Shelford was Philip Stanhope, he’s one of the sons of the Earl of Chesterfield, and the Earl of Chesterfield soon after alleges to the House of Lords that many people inside Shelford have been killed after surrendering, and that women and children, probably camp followers, had also been killed or had their faces slashed. We know that at least one civilian is a Royalist clergyman from Leicestershire, we know that he’d taken shelter in Shelford, we know that he was killed – he was killed on the stairs of the estate – but this allegation kind of sinks without trace, because the Earl of Chesterfield is a Royalist, and at the time he puts this complaint in to the House of Lords, it’s Parliamentarian London, they’re not going to listen to him, basically.


What we have there is, it looks like there is truth to his allegation, it looks like there has been some sort of massacre, that people have been killed in cold blood, rather than killed in the heat of combat.


Mike Gibbs: So, why was Shelford forgotten – are we talking about a deliberate cover-up here?

David Appleby:  I thought originally, when I started to look into it, I thought, oh well,  it’s not the flavour of the month, and people haven’t bothered to talk about it.


But I was interested that the Parliamentarian reports, which up to this point had been trumpeting about the infamous French Catholic Queen’s Regiment, and how the Queen’s Regiment has rapists and beastly looters and everything else, and one says they’re part of an Irish-French Catholic conspiracy, and they’re all intending to slit our throats, and there’s loads and loads of that, two years’ worth of that, they suddenly fall silent on this. Cromwell is famous to us, but he wasn’t so famous in 1645, he’s known, but he’s not the be-all-and-end-all,  and I thought, why did they not do anything like that?


I’ve been kind of criticised for saying I think Parliament felt shame, and some people say, they didn’t feel shame in those days.  That’s simply not true.  When Richard I, Richard the Lionheart, massacred the Muslim population in the Holy Land, he came in for a lot of criticism for that because it’s not that he massacred infidels, it’s that he didn’t do it under the rules of war. There’s the same thing here, that Parliament has been saying, here are the Royalists, they’re really full of foreigners and everything, they don’t have any moral constraints, unlike us, and then suddenly they would have to admit that Parliament doesn’t have moral constraints either, it would be too embarrassing. I think that was the reason that the Parliamentarians went quiet on it, I think there was cold-blooded murder there.


That leaves the Royalists.  You’d think if there was cold-blooded murder there then the Royalists would be jumping up and down and trumpeting it all over the place. Now, there’s a certain spate of that amongst a couple of Royalist journalists, but they fall quiet on it. It does appear in the Almanacs of the time, so Almanacs of the time will give you famous dates, and particularly the Almanacs in England are full of famous dates of Civil War battles. Shelford is in a couple of Almanacs, but after 1650 it is erased, absolutely erased. That has been done deliberately – the Almanac writers don’t take things like that out, that has been done deliberately. That’s the first thing. The second one was, when I was looking in a thing called the 1663 List, which is a list of recompense to indigent Royalist officers, there are 5600 officers organised by regiment. Now, I was looking through an original copy of that and I couldn’t find the Queens’ Regiment, and I thought, this is crazy, there must be some of them still alive, and then I found them eventually under another name – they’re called the Lord St Alban’s Regiment, and yes, he was in command for a bit, but he was never the titular commander, it wasn’t named after him. So in 1663 the name of the Queen’s Regiment, after the Restoration, had been erased as well.


Then I found Philip Stanhope, the Governor.  He was actually a cousin of one of the assailants, Colonel John Hutchinson was his cousin, they’d known each other since they were children. He was mortally wounded and he was stripped and he was chucked on a dung heap to die, until the Hutchinson’s found him and basically put him into a bed to die.  But initially, before the execution of Charles I he was put forward as one of the, they call it the King’s Posthumous Lifeguard, he was one of the Royalist martyrs. He then gets wiped from these Restoration panegyrics, so after the Restoration he just disappears, and for a short space of time he’s been one of the big martyrs, but he’s obviously not.


Now, the only reason we know that he’s buried at Shelford Church – Shelford was one of the Stanhope family’s possessions – the only reason we know he’s there is not because there’s a lavish memorial stone, which so many other Royalists got after the Restoration, there’s just a single sentence at the bottom of his mother’s memorial stone which says “He is also here buried”. This is a guy who, for a very short space of time was a great Royalist martyr, who has just been wiped out of history.


Mike Gibbs: I guess the question is ‘Why?’.

David Appleby:  Yes. My conclusion is that Charles II’s restored monarchical regime desperately wanted the public to forget that foreign Catholics had fought for his father, Charles I. Now, that’s an indication that during the Civil Wars Parliament kept pushing this, that the Cavaliers are just a Papist army, that the King actually is driven by his wife, Henrietta Maria – again, the Queen’s Regiment is named after her – he’s driven by his wife and he’s going to bring back Catholicism, and he’s going to cause all Protestants to be massacred, he’s going to allow Protestants to be massacred. That’s actually really powerful propaganda during the Civil Wars, and I think after the Restoration it’s still powerful propaganda, because Charles II’s regime does not want the public to remember.


There’s a name for this nowadays, it’s called ‘social forgetting’. People who have studied Northern Ireland and the Troubles in Northern Ireland have seen this process of social forgetting, let’s try and move forward by forgetting what’s happened. Social forgetting isn’t about accidentally forgetting, it’s about deliberately saying ‘this will not be remembered’. If you think about the Act of Oblivion and Indemnity, it says ‘Act of Oblivion’ – Charles II’s regime is saying, we must forget, I legally require you to forget.


Shelford is a prime example of what’s called social forgetting. It’s only raised again by Catholic authors after the Restoration.


Mike Gibbs:  Briefly, what does Shelford tell us about the British Civil Wars?

David Appleby:  I think it conveys everything: it conveys the fact that massacres don’t just happen spontaneously, they’re kind of incubated, they have a history – before someone starts killing anyone, particularly in cold blood, there’s a reason why they’re doing it, so it’s not that the people perpetrating the massacres are irrational, they are doing it for a rational reason.

It tells us all about the European influence, that Shelford had up-to-date, state-of-the-art European defences, therefore it was so difficult even though it was a small garrison; it tells us about fear, it tells us about the effects on communities – that garrison had been responsible for a massacre of Parliamentarian troops at the Trent Bridge, just south of Nottingham, and those were Nottingham people, and Nottingham people wanted revenge for that, so it tells us about revenge.  It tells us about xenophobia, it tells us about religious tensions as well, so I think Shelford House, everything about the Civil Wars is combined into one single episode that took place, particularly on 3 November.


The fact that the local community, apart from Stanhope himself, the Governor, don’t seem to have been represented in the garrison, they clearly didn’t want anything there again.  When Poyntz was going to use it as a little fortress himself, the local people apparently set fire to the house to make sure that neither side could have it, they didn’t want either side there, they just wanted them to go, so they could get on with their lives. Everything about the Civil Wars is encapsulated in that small event.


Mike Gibbs: David, that’s really fascinating, because I think you’ve shown that by studying one event, which had actually been forgotten, you can summarise so much of what the British Civil Wars were all about, and particularly the impact on the ordinary lives of people in a village in the middle of England. Thank you very much indeed, a really interesting piece of detective work.

David Appleby:  Thank you.


Speaker: To hear more programmes in which Dr Appleby discusses the conflict of the Civil Wars and the men who fought in the two armies, visit our website www.worldturnedupsidedown.co.uk or download them, wherever you get your podcasts.