Most accounts of England’s Civil War – or any civil war, for that matter, come from the combatants. The real victims – the ordinary people who have strangers marauding through their villages, committing atrocities – are largely invisible. But this is again from Adam Nicholson’s ‘Arcadia:
“The men and women of the county found themselves in a labyrinth of contradiction not sure how or why the country had come to this, nor what their part in it should be. Where they had knew before what their rights and restrictions had been, now they were to answer to strange masters on strange grounds Arguments they were only faintly familiar with had erupted into their lives. ‘Do you not thinke the condition of the poor Countryeman hath not suffered a sad alteration,’ one anonymous Wiltshireman asked at the end of 1642, ‘from a state wherein he knew what was his owne, and was not capable of any violence for which he was not sure of a remedy and reparation, to this, where he receives commands under the penalty of plundering and hanging from persons of whom he never heard, for horses, for money, for personal attendance, for which he can find no ground?’
Few sights are more pathetic than the marks of illiterate Wiltshiremen from these villages, perhaps related to the symbols with which they identified their sheep in the common flocks, put at the end of the hundreds of petitions and complaints to the justices that detail the damage and destruction done to their lives in these years.
‘Tis indeeed a sad and miserable condition we are fallen into,’ the anonymous Wiltshireman wrote. He was addressing an MP at Westminster. Why, he asked, had the war even begun? They were ‘weltering in one anothers bloud before we know why we were angry, and to see our houses and towns fired and our Neighbours and Friends taken prisoners, by men who do not onely speake the same language with us, but are of our own families and of the same (or seeme to be of the same) Religion.’ Violence and viciousness had erupted in precisely the way the whole culture had been designed to prevent.
There was ‘a strange dejection in the spirits of the people… & if I a, not cozened, an inquisitiveness, by questions they did not use to aske. Who raised armies first? Why they did it? What the Commonwealth wanted? Whether the King hath denyed anything was not in his lawful power to deny? And was the prize worth the grief that would inevitably come? “