‘That factious City’: Exeter during the Civil War,a city with two identities?
AbstractThe 17th century was a period of turmoil for Britain. Tensions had arisen between Protestant and Catholic beliefs, between the emerging merchant class and the old land‐owning gentry, between the king’s wish to rule by Divine Right and Parliament’s attempt to limit this, and between the English core and Britain’s other identities, those of Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. Ireland’s relations with the hub, too, were being re‐shaped. These tensions merged into a series of wars, starting with the first ‘Bishop’s War’ or ‘Scots’ War’ in 1639, which were not resolved until the 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’. The wars brought about substantial changes to the identity of Britain. They are classically represented as one grand war with three phases, 1641‐1646, 1648 and 1649‐1652. Many different areas were caught up in the fighting. In England and Wales a total of around 150 towns were affected, with around 10,000 houses being destroyed. Many castles were slighted, so that they no longer could be used as a fortification or hold the weight of large cannon. Several fortifications were damaged to the point of ruination. The war is often represented as just two sides, Cavaliers and Roundheads; in fact the true identity of the war was one of several disparate factions all attempting to gain their own objectives. Histories of the Civil War have often tended to focus upon major national campaigns and principal armies occasionally clashing in glorious and decisive battles. However, these wars were shaped more by the gaining and holding of territory through skirmishes and sieges rather than these grandiose battles. Indeed the war’s duration and its repercussions for the civilian population make sieges a much better representation of how the Civil War was experienced. This paper looked at Exeter in the Civil War. Study of its alignment not only reveal details about itself, but also themes and trends that run throughout the Civil War. Exeter’s location on the river Exe –a major artery that allowed trade and communication with Europe –and its position between Royalist Cornwall and the Parliamentarian counties of Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset made it a heavily contested prize. It had stonewalls, originally built by the Romans but reinforced several times. It had already been besieged during the medieval and early modern periods, during an 18-day Norman siege of 1068 and a five-week siege during the Prayer Book rebellion in 1549. The city was one of only a handful of walled towns situated in Devon and Cornwall during this period and was situated on a ridge of high ground near the river, functioning as the county town. It was also was fourth or fifth in size and wealth in the country. Despite its wealth, before the Civil War its economic fortunes had declined. War time tax increases and a movement of its trade hub from France and Spain to Holland were causing hardship to the city.
CitationChadwick, S. (2015). ‘That factious City’: Exeter during the Civil War,a city with two identities? Context: The Journal for History & Archaeology Postgraduate Students at the University of Chester.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
JournalContext: The Journal for History & Archaeology Postgraduate Students at the University of Chester
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