An Eventful Life

One group of people who are often missed in the history of England’s Civil War were the clerics; The opposing sides, Royalists and Roundheads, were also of opposing branches of Christianity – the established church and the non conformists, so when a town was taken by one group, the opposing clerics were made unemployed and homeless, as well as the risk of being imprisoned, as the following shows.


“Something of the uneasiness of life in Wareham in old days may be gathered from episodes in the life and times of the Rev. William Wake, the rector of the long-suffering town. The days of a country rector are generally assumed to be passed in dignity and peace. There are roses in the rectory garden at Wareham and a trout stream at the foot of the rectory garden. In the time of the Civil War a certain Robert Moreton of Wareham received orders to fortify and garrison the place for the Parliament. On a pleasant Sunday afternoon he went to the town cross and made a declaration of the authority vested in him. He as on horseback, and a little crowd of gaping people, sadly alive to the meaning of proclamations, gathered about him. The saintly rector, who was a firm Royalist, came strolling by, listened to the man on the horse, and then, turning to his flock, begged them not to give credit to his utterances. Whereupon Mr Moreton struck the reverend gentleman over the head with the butt end of a pistol “somewhat to his detriment”, the chronicle states. The next day the rector was returning from taking the air,…In the street he met Moreton, who asked the gentle parson as to what he had said at the cross on Sunday. Before the divine could reply Moreton fired at him with both his pistols and so shot him in the head. “One of the bullets lodged in his forehead at the breaking of the hair, with which he fell to the ground.” The cowardly Moreton then drew his sword and gave the prostrate clergyman “Two cuts over the head, very large.” In due course the rector, having received in all eleven wounds, was put in a chair by his friends and carried home. He was really rescued by a woman, for in the record :… “meantime, one Susan Bolt, a servant of Wake’s, being in a field hard by fetching of pease, came, and with her corn pike made at Moreton, who rode from her and was by her pursued to his own doors.”

The rector, who is described as a “merry, true hearted parson,” was after some days seized and cast into Dorchester gaol, his property was sequestered, and his wife and children turned out of doors. During one of the many changes in the course of affairs the pastor was set free, whereupon he promptly joined the King’s army. He was at SherborneCastle when that place was besieged. As soon as it fell he was made prisoner, and with others was stripped naked and led through the town. From Sherborne he was sent as a prisoner to Poole, “where the plague then was.” He was “exchanged” to CorfeCastle, and was one of the garrison of that fortress during the memorable siege. When Corfe capitulated the rector was again made a prisoner and was “Barbarously dealt with”. His adventures continued, so that before the war was over he had been taken prisoner no fewer than 19 times. His son – who was the father of a famous archbishop of Canterbury – did not disgrace the annals of the rectory. He was only 18 times a prisoner, but could claim the greater distinction that he was twice condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered. When peace fell upon the land it is pleasant to know that the Rev. William Wake returned to the rectory at Wareham … He and his son must have had much to talk about over the parlour fire on winter’s nights It is to be hoped  also that quiet came again to Susan Bolt, and that she was able once more to employ herself in the rectory field…”

I cannot decide whether he was a fortunate or unfortunate man; unlike many of his peers, he had a long life, which is an amazing achievement.


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