Were the Clubmen Revolutionary?
Updated: Apr 26
Artwork Stewart MacArthur
Were The Clubmen Revolutionary?
When the Dorset Clubmen were put to battle on Hambledon Hill among the colours captured were those of scripture. On Hambledon Hill that day were Robert Frampton the later non juror and Thomas Bravell the reverend from Compton Abbas. The Wiltshire Clubmen were on route to join them and among those captured in Shaftesbury the day before the battle were representatives from Somerset. This is of note as it shows a joining across counties. Was there an overriding theme in a belief in the community itself, and was this of upmost importance and as such a duty put upon the people to form as bodies in association?
A question of where The Clubmen can be placed regards the divides of the English Civil War it is often stated they were Conservative, localised bodies with a need brought about by warring sides, a product of the war. Each county had its differing preference of sympathy, as example, Dorset Royalist in nature, Somerset mainly Parliamentarian. This is where the description comes off track.
In Dorset, a threat in early 1645 to help the Parliamentarian cause was voiced to Royalist Sir Lewis Dives. A reaction to a lack of action by the Royalist in Dorset to put a halt to General Goring's antics in the County fueled a 'we will do it ourselves' mentality. In Somerset The Clubmen were later to assist General Fairfax in the Western Campaign after a meeting of a cause in common. Goring again was to be a factor here. What makes each and all in common with each other across Counties with a Clubmen presence is their choice of an independence from the Royalist and Parliamentarian command. A choosing of leader, leaders of there own doing. Massey in Somerset when questioning Clubmen leader Humphrey Willis and asking to choose side had in reply,
"It is quite contrary to the prime intentions of our association, for instead of mediators we shall become parties, instead of making peace we shall in all possibility lengthen the war".
Both sides looked to recruit on side, assistance was given in some cases. Massey sent troops to assist the Clubmen in Bampton Devon, after a request for help in the defence of the town. His troops were stationed in near by Milverton, Somerset. As in the case of Bampton this was granted and would see a harder attack on and a burning of the town by Goring's troops.
With the petitions and declarations of The Clubmen we see the the desires and resolutions by route. This again has at its core a strong independent thought of mind, an empowering theme of a community under attack and a resolution required. Again we see a choosing of those not of a side but free from and separate from warring parties, a third sort.
This independent theme after the fall of top down Governance can be seen as a result of that link between King, Commons and Parliament being no longer seen as just in giving an allegiance to. The wanting by The Clubmen for a resuming of peace and a settlement between King and Parliament is stated as a desire and a return to a place in order. A defence from plunder and defence from violence to person is paramount also in The Clubmen petitions. Religious references in these petitions are common. That God and our religion are almost forgotten, this is stated with a loss of ancient laws and liberty in Dorset, Wiltshire while others such as The Sussex petition talk of God's ordinances neglected.
King and Parliament fought as King and Parliament as both were and one the same in viewing as a body under just providence. The Clubmen saw this as broken and as such a need of a return to or else a stand alone was being put upon them, a duty to the wider generality.
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 had collapsed. For once the breakdown of the parts within the whole the subjection to that authority no longer need apply.
Seeing The Clubmen as revolutionary is itself true regards as in a division between the warring sides they stand alone. The Clubmen were seen as a third sort, an army without a King, lord or even a gentlemen Revolutionary in the fact that their demands were put to King and Parliament as equals and not a duty to until a settlement. They are now governing themselves without licence and assembling also. This was moved on quickly by Parliament and made unlawful. This in fact is how The Clubmen saw the warring sides, unlawful. At war, when the bond between the Governance, King and Peers is breached, the community is paramount. Resistance or revolution is in play. Conquest to power seen as an unjust to the end result. The means don't justify the ends. The word revolutionary maybe not fit, for in fact what The Clubmen of 1645 did do was in the eyes of those Godly and just. A play on Cromwell and Gods Army itself.
The Clubmen were overtaken by events and those that did resist were quashed early. By 1645 the first civil war was nearing an end and the country had become war weary with those that it had touched. The Levellers would push for reform and an Agreement for the People, later to some extent they would suffer the same fate as The Clubmen. The King would later be put on trial and a Republic born. For a spell in 1645 the community, generality were indeed called upon by necessity and across an understanding of what was required of them.
This understanding can be seen and touched upon 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 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 extraordinary 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".