The Clubmen

In the midst of chaos, it is rare to find people who rise up and try to sort out the situation.
In late 12th century Italy, a series of pilgrimages began from various points, at different times, of white garbed penitents pleading for peace amongst the banditry and violence. They were called The Bianchi. The movement fizzled out, but many people joined in, so must have had some impact.

In the wake of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, there was ‘The Pilgrimage of Grace’ which ended in a bloodbath.

But there was local opposition to the constant to-ing and fro-ing of the armies in the English Civil War, as Adam Nicholson records in his book ‘Arcadia’:

“Alongside this erosion of old meanings, there was a longing for peace and for a return to the conditions before the war. As early as October 1642, the leading Wiltshire gentry petitioned the king for peace, as did the burghers of Salisbury. For the first time in the world of 17th century politics, women began to make their voices heard in these petitions for peace, but as the damage, taxation, violence and – increasingly – disease and hunger took their toll, a fiercer and more directed reaction emerged from these villages. Each side was taking more than £70 a week out of Wiltshire at the height of the war. From the spring of 1645 onwards, the men of Wiltshrie, combining with their counterparts from Somerset and Gloucestershire, gathered themselves into the bands known as Clubmen, opposed to all armies, all incursions and all taxations, whether for the king or the parliament. The Clubmen were attempting, in fact, to restore locally the peace which national politics had denied them.
In July 1654, the parliamentarian general Sir Thomas Fairfax told his masters in London what he had heard about the Clubmen. ‘They pretended only the Defence of themselves from Plunderers, but not to side either with the King’s Forces or the Parliament’s, but to give Free Quarter to both: They list themselves under several Officers daily, and meet in great Bodies at their Rendezvous, and boast they have 20,000 men at Four and Twenty hours Warning for assembling them together.’ ”
“for Distinction of themselves from other Men, they wear a White Ribbon, to shew, as they say, their Desires for Peace. They meet with Drums, flying Colours, and for Arms they have Muskets, Fowling-pieces, Pikes, Halberts, great Clubs, and such like. They take upon them to interpose betwixt the Garisons of either Side. “

In mid July there was a gathering of about 4,000 of them in Grovelly Wood near Salisbury, where they agreed to several proposals. But they were of course short lived:

“on 4 August 1645 when Cromwell at the head of the New model Army brushed them aside. The brief engagement was at the Iron Age Fort on Hambledon Hill, just over the county border in Dorset, where the Clubmen had gathered, shouting taunts at Cromwell’s disciplined Ironsides. ‘I believe we killed not twelve of them,’ Cromwell wore to Fairfax that evening, ‘but cut very many and put them all to flight. We have taken about 300; many of which are poor silly creatures, whome if you please to send home, they promise to be very dutiful for time to come, and will be hanged before they come out again”.

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