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Hemyock Castle
Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

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The defences of Hemyock Castle were probably outdated and may well have fallen into disrepair.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

Like other neighbouring parishes, the inhabitants of Hemyock did not support the King: 29 inhabitants of Hemyock, 53 from Culmstock and 34 from Clayhidon has refused to appear on the posse. In March 1644, following the Parliamentary victory at Lyme, the inhabitants of Hemyock seized control of Hemyock Castle and asked for help from Parliamentary forces at Lyme, to act as a local focus for the struggle against the Royalists. After initial success, the Royalist forces reacted very swiftly:

In 5/6 March 1644 (1643 by some records which use the old calendar) 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 (aka Pawlett), 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. They were forbidden even to cut down the bodies of the hanged people.

Some time later, Parliamentary forces regained Hemyock Castle.

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.

The Humble Petition of Joane Illery (aka Illerie)

See also Joan Illery – Civil War Widow

Joane Illery, "poor distressed widow" of Henry Illery (aka Illerie), one of three defenders hanged after the Royalist siege of Hemyock Castle, later successfully petitioned the Judges of Assize for the County of Devon. She was awarded one hundred Pounds, for relief of herself, and her three fatherless Children.

Here is an extract from: House of Commons Journal Volume 5: 4 April 1648, Pages 525-527:

Execution of Illery

The humble Petition of Joane Illery, of Hemyock in the County of Devon, a poor distressed Widow, to the Judges of Assize for the County of Devon, was read; shewing that her Husband was barbarously murdered and executed by the sole Order and Command of the Lord Pawlett; was this Day read; and likewise a Certificate under the Hands of Nine or Ten Persons, certifying the same, and avowing themselves to be Ear and Eye Witnesses of the Facts and all the Proceedings therein.

Ordered, upon the Question, That the Lord Pawlett be referred to his Tryal at Law, concerning the Death of Henry Illerie, executed at Hemyock.

Ordered, upon the Question, That it be referred to the Justices of Peace in the Eastern Division of the County of Devon, to examine the whole Matter of Fact touching the Death and Execution of Illerie, of Hemiock in the County of Devon, in order to the Tryal of the Lord Pawlett; and to certify the same to the House: And the Care of this Business is more particularly referred to Sir John Young and Wm. Fry Esquire.

Grant to Illery

Ordered, That the Sum of an Hundred Pounds be bestowed upon Joane Illery, the Widow of Henry Illery, executed in the Parliament's Service, at Hemyock in the County of Devon, for Relief of herself, and her Three fatherless Children: And that the said Sum of One hundred Pounds be paid unto the said Widow, out of the Sequestrations of the County of Devon: And the said Committee of Sequestrations are hereby required and enjoined to take Notice of this Order, and to pay the said Sum of an Hundred Pounds to so charitable a Use and Relief accordingly.

Slighting of Hemyock Castle

Hemyock Castle was slighted (destroyed) during or soon after the Civil War and became a farm. Its ruins were "quarried" for building stone. Later in the 17th century, the Everys greatly improved Hemyock village and the farm at Hemyock Castle.

Civil War Background

The early 17th century brought difficult times for Devon's important cloth industries, as well as food shortages and high food prices. High taxes, England's often disastrous involvement in Europe's Thirty Years War, including large numbers of troops billeted in Devon awaiting overseas campaigns, caused more resentment. But some prominent people in Devon tried hard to bring peace, and to act as a bridge for negotiations between Royalists and Parliament; right up to the eve of the first battles.

Note. This nasty conflict was only part of The Wars of the Three Kingdoms (England, Ireland & Scotland) which lasted for at least 12 years, from about 1639 to 1651. This period of conflict ended with the 1660 Restoration of the British Monarchy, under King Charles II, and the suppression of Venner's Uprising in London in 1661.

First Civil War, 1642 to 1646

The Culm Valley around Hemyock was noted for the cloth industry, especially for the production of serge. Other industries in the Blackdown Hills included mineral 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 all of its property. As usual, some people managed always to be on the winning side; some managed to "settle old scores" against rivals, or gain advantages for themselves.

At least two of Sir John Popham's grandsons were prominent supporters of the Parliamentary cause: General-at-Sea Edward Popham (1610 - 1651) and Colonel Alexander Popham (1605 - 1669). Wellington House, the Popham mansion at nearby Wellington, Somerset, was fortified and garrisoned for Parliament. Subsequently, the Royalists attacked and destroyed it.

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 on 14th June 1645.

Second Civil War, 1648 to 1649

Culminated with the execution of King Charles I. Those of his supporters who had broken the parole they'd given after the First Civil War were executed or punished harshly.

Restoration of King Charles II, 1660

This period of turmoil, mostly ended with the Restoration of British Monarchy, under King Charles II in 1660. Those who had signed the execution warrant for his father King Charles I were not forgiven: They were executed or punished harshly.

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 reclamation of the Fens. This disruption had left them bitter against rich land owners and investors (ie. Royalists) who had gained from the land reclamation.

BTW1. Before the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell led the destruction of the works & efforts by "Companies" to drain Fenland. But in 1651, after deposing & executing King Charles I, Oliver Cromwell used his troops & prisoners-of-war to help a new "Company" to start draining Fenland; Betraying his early supporters.

BTW2. Apparently, many Civil War prisoners-of-war were enslaved: Many were sent to Plantations in the West Indies; other were even sold to row the Venetian Galleys.

Although the draining and reclamation 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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