After 3 years of pillage and plunder following the King raising his standard in 1642, the men and women of the south and west of England as well as other parts of this country, decided that they had tasted enough of the "miseries of this unnatural intestine war."

"The third sort, greater then either of the other, both in fortune and in number."

Clarendon 

"This third party hath peeped, for many months in many corners, they will have an army without a king, a lord or a gentlemen almost"

Parliamentary newspaper 

 

 These dissatisfied gents, women, yeomen, landworkers, ministers and tradesmen appealed to "our ancient laws and liberties" fearing that they had become "altogether swallowed up in the arbitrary power of the sword" They came to be known in "this war most horrid" as Clubmen.

If you offer to plunder or steal our cattle be assured we will bid you battle

For Stories of Clubmen, through this war most unnatural. See Blog, Click on image below. 

In A Rut. Artist, Stewart MacArthur

Image courtesy of Stewart MacArthur 'In A Rut'.

The English Revolution of the mid 17th Century gave rise to many factions within local community and society such as the  Levellers, Ranters, Diggers to name but a few. A group even perhaps an early form of a movement, with beginnings of a view that stable governance (as opposed to state interference) and peace within state as a goal, could not only be achievable, but profitable and sustainable.

The Desire for war was now seen among many as unnatural and an intrusion on locality by the state imposed upon them, peace was seen as desirable and more beneficial to local communities. 

 

What can be seen as a peaceable army, a neutralist approach or localism through association, we see at the beginnings of the English Revolution in 1642. In many local counties; in fact a total of 22 counties in all developed pacts to demilitarise the inhabitants within. These groups of middle gentry, priests, yeomen, keepers of the peace and local folk came to be known as, Clubmen. 

   In Shropshire an example of these Clubmen can be seen, documented in a report from 1644. The Parliamentary 'Mercurius Britannicus' shows an early rejection of the position now put upon the generality of civilians, in the County of Shropshire by King and Parliament.

Mercurius Britannicus, Monday, Jan. 6, to Friday, 10, 1644-5.

 

" Out of Shropshire we hear that there are above a thousand in armes about Clun and Bishop's Castle, standing out against both sides: neither for the King nor for the Parliament, but stand only upon their own guard for the preservation of their lives and fortunes. The occasion of it was the friendly usage which they received from his Majesties officers in these parts and particularly from one Colonel Van Gore a Dutchman: they are absolutely resolved (notwithstanding all the entreaties used by Commissioners of Array) not to lay down their armes unless his Majesty grant them their own conditions which are these :

(1) to have restitution of all wrongs done by Van Gore.

(2) to have him and all his soldiers expelled from their County.

(3) that the King's two garrisons at Hopesay House, and Lay [Lea] House- shall be removed and demolished.

(4) that they may have commanders of their own.

 

 

 By 1645 the Clubmen were at their most prominent. Their objections to what was described by them as "a war most horrid and unjust", a war which their world was "altogether swallowed up in the arbitrary power of the sword".

 

The Clubmen, were fast becoming a focus for both Parliamentarian and Royalist armies alike. Loyalties to either side in general, among this growing body of Clubmen, were across the counties neutral in nature. Each county dealt with garrisons of troops being quartered in, or passing through. What the Clubmen all had in common, and what one of their banner mottos, sums up,    "If you offer to plunder or steal our cattle, be assured we will bid you battle", was a demand for the end of the continuing plundering. Their goods and land produce stripped from them,  their lives affected by the imposition of sums of money, combined with the loss of order from undisciplined troops, the Clubmen's desires for peace between King and Parliament had by 1645 come to a head. 

 

The Dorset Clubmen in written petitions and declarations and at public gatherings around the county called for an ending to the war. 

 

Clubmen in Dorset in trying to bring the warring armies to an agreement, came in the form of a declaration titled, " The Desires and Resolutions". Written in May of 1645, and read out by a Thomas Young <described as more eloquent then trustworthy by parliamentarian accounts> at Badbury Rings. A gathering of 4000 attended.

The Clubmen across counties through the written document made clear their neutrality and called for "an end to this civil and unnatural war within the Kingdom", as stated by them, " foreseeing that famine and utter desolation will immediately fall upon our wives and children".

 

The Dorset, Wiltshire declaration follows with a list of measures they will take in their defence of their own "lives, fortunes, laws, liberties and properties against all plunders and all other unlawful violence whatsoever." 

 

As this shows, the keeping of the peace and having the right to police their own localities against garrisons based there, and against the passing through of soldiers, represents a conflict of what is desired of locally against the actions of the state upon those at its heart. It is a total reversal with the state of top-down political stability now being seen as anarchical and bottom-up localities filling the void with local governance.

The declarations have at their core the principles put down by the Protestation of 1641-1642. To defend our anicient rights and liberties and show an active citizenry.    

 

The wearing of the white ribbon was a symbol of the Clubmen's neutrality. Their desire was to get the two warring parties to return to a settled form of governance through agreement not bloodshed . This is shown again later in the Dorset proposals sent to both Parliament and King in. 'The Humble Petition Of The Habitants Of The County Of Dorset', in July 1645. 

 

"Calling for his Majesty and the two houses of Parliament to continue once again to be restored to the blessing of peace by a happy accommodation of their present differences without further effusion of Christian blood"

 

The petition is signed by "a thousand of your majesty's loyal subjects of the county not in the armies of either parties in the present wars."

 

The Dorset, Wilts Clubmen's fortunes came to a violent end with the arrests of their leaders in Shaftesbury, followed by a bloody battle on Hambledon Hill, where they met the New Model Army in the form of Cromwell's dragoons.

 

Some historians see the Clubmen as being for Parliament or with Royalist sympathies and hedging their bets where their interests lay. This may have been forced on them as the war drew on, and in some cases where previous alliances were held. Regular payments made to what was the beginnings of a professional army in the form of the New Model Army produced disciplined soldiers and reduced plundering, to the cost of the Kings Army in keeping the provinces on side. What the Clubmen, as the Dorset declarations reflect, wanted was a push for a resolution to the war, and when life and property were under threat, having the right to defend themselves. A desire for a return to a more Elizabethan governance by raising of taxation for local purposes was also of note.  

 

 The Clubmen as a political public tried to win the peace through settlement, and in keeping with their struggle within the locality, showed they knew where their power lay.

.The word Clubmen is a description of a forming of an association and not of a description of carrying a club. We see an early reference to a lack of an association ( Clubmen ) from a reference to plunder in Hampshire from February 28th 1642. The lack of a forming of an association is the route cause why Prince Ruperts forces were so easily able to attain provision at will in Hampshire. A second reference in the report talks of Roundhead and Newter alike if they are not distinguished, and both be slain by the sword.

 

We also can place at the heart of The Clubmen a belief in community,  a community as in County and neigbouring Counties. This was seen as an alliance ( community ) above King, Parliament and Peers as these normal structures of governance collapsed. For once the breakdown of the parts within the whole the subjection to that authority no longer need apply. 

This understanding can be seen in the writing of George Lawson's 'Politica sacra & civilis : or, A model of civil and ecclesiastical government'. Lawson was a rector from More in Shropshire and was among those effected by warring sides in the said county.

 

Shropshire was through the Civil Wars heavily garrisoned with troops, Royalist and Parliament and as such saw a Clubmen presence, stance.   

 

"And both in the time of the Wars and after, both King and Parliament acted not only above but contrary to many of our Laws, which in the time of Peace are ordinarily observed. Neither of them could give us any Precedent for many things done by them : and those few Precedents alleged for some of their actions were extraordinary, and Acts of extraor- dinary times. If the Counties and People of England had not been ignorant and divided, the division of King and Parliament did give them far greater power than they, or their Forefathers had for many years.

The case of influence regards their demands that were published in print had effect in the national politics. In reply against they were debated in Parliament, by those opposed to their actions. Warrant against their actions seen as unlawful in their assemblies. The sheer weight of both sides in objection to this third sort in effect saw their demise. Today we see plunder in its many guises in those opposed to in the Clubmen movement of the 17th Century.

The Third Sort, Greater in Fortune and in Number

Dorset Clubmen Map, courtesy of artist Stewart MacArthur. For Hi Res, please get in touch via contact page, or click on map for link to download.

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