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Hemyock Castle

Civil War Siege

The Civil War

In 1642, the long disputes between King Charles I and Parliament erupted into Civil War. At this time, the Popham family owned Hemyock Castle. It was garrisoned and held for Parliament.

The defences of Hemyock Castle were probably outdated and may well have fallen into disrepair. When the Castle was garrisoned, it was presumably repaired and strengthened. It may have been modified and equipped with light cannon to supplement the original medieval arrow-loops and crenellations. The garrison would also have re-instituted the network of outer defences, passwords and sentry posts to defend all approach routes.

The Castle was used as a prison and a base for the collection of taxes to fund the Parliamentary forces. Important prisoners would have been ransomed back to their own side (to raise further funds), or been exchanged for Parliamentary prisoners.

Siege of Hemyock Castle

In 5/6 March 1644 (1643 by some records) Major Carne attacked Hemyock Castle with a Royalists force. They were beaten off. Major Carne and many others were killed.

On 9 March, the Royalists attacked Hemyock again, this time with an overwhelming force drawn from their garrisons at Axminster, Colyton, Chard, Exeter, Taunton and Bridgewater. Commanded by Lord Poulett, Sir John Berkeley, Sir Richard Cholmondeley, Colonel Blewitt and others; they forced the "rebels" into the Castle.

Next morning, the Parliamentarians surrendered the Castle together with 200 prisoners, 10 officers and 80 horse. Three of the Parliamentary defenders were hanged on the spot and the rest were taken as prisoners to Exeter. The local people were treated very harshly.

Colonel John Were (aka. Ware) of the Parliamentary forces was later charged with cowardice over various incidents in Devon and Cornwall. In his written defence, he gave a detailed account of the Siege of Hemyock.

Some time later, Parliamentary forces regained Hemyock Castle. The Castle was slighted (destroyed) during or soon after the Civil War and became a farm. Its ruins were "quarried" for building stone.

Civil War Background

The Culm Valley around Hemyock was noted for the cloth industry, especially for the production of serge. Other industries in the Blackdown Hills included whetstone mining. Some sources suggest that industrial workers were more likely than full time farm workers to support Parliamentary forces. The family of the late Sir John Popham owned Hemyock Castle at this time and supported Parliament.

Families and communities were split by their loyalties for the two sides; a tragic but common experience in any civil war. However as usual, some canny families turned this to their advantage: Having some family members supporting each side in the conflict meant that the family was less likely to lose its property. As usual, some people managed always to be on the winning side.

In 1644, Civil War fighting was fierce in the South West. The Royalist forces held Exeter, Bristol, Bridgewater, together with the Castles of Taunton and Dunster. They gripped Lyme Regis in a long ruthless siege.

Taunton Castle was captured by Parliamentary forces in July 1644. It seems that they frightened the garrison into surrender. An account by Lord General Essex reported finding plenty of provisions in the captured castle and that the garrison could have held out for much longer. He also complained bitterly about the constant lack of money to pay his Parliamentary troops and about their shortage of weapons.

In May 1645, Royalist forces raided Taunton. They captured much of the town but were frightened off by the sudden arrival of part of Fairfax's Parliamentary army. According to the account in a letter from the Royalist Sir John Digby, they wrongly assumed that Fairfax's whole army was there, whereas Fairfax had actually retreated east and left just a small remnant behind.

Subsequently, the vital Royalist port of Bristol was surrendered by Prince Rupert. King Charles I promptly exiled Prince Rupert in disgrace.

Parliamentary forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax went on to "mop-up" the remaining Royalist forces in the South West. Fighting then moved to the Midlands where it culminated in the decisive Parliamentary victory at Naseby.

The Plague

Hemyock had further horrors during this period. The Plague sweeping England struck Hemyock and killed 57 people in June 1646 alone.

The effects of the long Civil War and the waves of Plague would have left Hemyock desperately impoverished with a serious shortage of able-bodied labour.

Fenland Tigers & The Somerset Levels

Oliver Cromwell, the Parliamentary civil war leader, had held lands near Huntington in the east of England. Much of his early support came from the "Fenland Tigers" — people whose traditional way of life in the East Anglian Fens had been greatly disrupted by the draining and reclaimation of the Fens. This disruption had left them bitter against rich land owners and investors (ie. Royalists) who had gained from the land reclaimation.

Although the draining and reclaimation of the Somerset Levels near Taunton would have greatly disrupted the traditional way of life of the people living in them; at this time, it seems not to have caused the same political reaction or support for Parliamentary forces.

Monmouth Rebellion & Bloody Assizes

Perhaps the reaction happened a few years later during the failed Monmouth Rebellion, finally defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor near Taunton on 6 July 1685?

This was followed by the brutal Bloody Assizes led by Judge Jeffries "the Hanging Judge". Many hundreds of people were sentenced to hanging; hundreds more were sentenced to transportation to the West Indies as labour; hundreds more died in prison, often of gaol fever (typhus).

Glorious Revolution

Stability was finally restored by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when William of Orange deposed King James II. Brutal Judge Jeffries was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died in 1689.

The Aftermath

We are fortunate that these events were so long ago and before the advent of modern polluting weapons. In Hemyock, and most of the rest of England, you would be very unlucky even to "stub your toe" on an old inert cannon ball. These ancient conflicts left none of the land mines or unexploded munitions of modern battlefields. Similarly, any Plague has long since dispersed.

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Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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