Monday, 7 February 2011

Colonel Leveson’s Posse – Part 1 of 3

Or "Colonel Leveson's Regiment of Horse"
 Colonel Thomas Leveson
With the brief statement, “Colonel Thomas Leveson was the Governor of Dudley castle during the English Civil War.” this Royalist cavalry officer is often relegated to a brief footnote in history. However, a little research soon reveals a lot more about this fascinating character.

Although baptised an Anglican in Wolverhampton, 18th Oct 1615, Leveson was from a Roman Catholic family and was to remain an openly devout Catholic for the rest of his life, which in itself marks him out as being unusual.

During the period now referred to as the English Civil War (ECW) Leveson was to prove to be a key figure in the complex political and military events that occurred in the midlands and further a field.

The region of the west midlands was split roughly equally between the two opposing forces. Along side Tutbury castle (under the control of Sir Henry Hastings), the cathedral city of Lichfield (Colonel Bagot) and Dudley castle (Colonel Leveson) formed a strong line of Royalist resistance in an area that was often disputed and fought over. For example, the nearby industrial town of Birmingham (it became a city in 1889) was a major supplier of weapons (swords, pikes and armour etc.) to Parliament and therefore came under regular attacks from Royalist forces. One such raid on Birmingham was famously recorded in the portrait of Prince Rupert.

In 1642 the Staffordshire gentry, fearing a Catholic uprising, prompted a local armourer, a certain John Tanner, to confiscate Leveson’s weapons and equipment which had been sent to him for repair. Leveson thrashed the armourer about the head with a stick and promptly fled to France leaving his wife to her own fate. Being a professional soldier it is thought that Leveson fought on the continent and gained experience in the latest warfare techniques and tactics. On Leveson’s return, King Charles appointed him High Sheriff of Staffordshire in January 1644 and sent a letter to the same Staffordshire gentry instructing them to now regard Leveson as their protector, which I imagine didn’t go down too well!
Col. Leveson's Regiment of Horse
If you were curious were this particular blog post title comes from; when King Charles appointed Leveson High Sheriff this gave him the ancient power, during an emergency, to call up able bodied men to assist him. The well known term comes from the Latin phrase “Posse Comitatus” basically meaning "armed group/power of the county”. For me, it re-enforces the impression at that time the area really must have resembled the Wild West (midlands).

Leveson had failed to keep hold his home town of Wolverhampton when Parliament’s Lord Brooke marched into the county in February 1643. Fortunately for the Royalist colonel he had already managed to take control of Dudley Castle and in July 1643 Leveson was confirmed as the military governor of the well sited and impressive fortress. Leveson attacked and then set up satellite garrison outposts in nearby large houses at Chillington, Lapley and Patshull; all the north, north-west of Dudley.
Richard Astley
Christopher Heveningham
Late in December 1643 Leveson sent a force of 40 musketeers to reinforce the Jacobean manor house Aston Hall, Birmingham, home of the Royalist Holte family, just before it was attacked by Parliamentarian forces. A large oak banister in the south-east stairwell still bears the brutal evidence of the power of the Parliamentarian cannon shot. The area/hall later gave its name to the famous football club Aston Villa. To complete the Royalist connection Prince William, the future king of England, is a long time Villa fan. A quick 'interesting fact' for our American cousins: Washington Irving, author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which he wrote whilst living in Birmingham, based his novel "Bracebridge Hall" on Aston Hall.

Colonel General Sir Henry (Lord Loughborough) Hastings’s army had been established in early 1643 and he held parts of the county of Staffordshire for the King. Hastings came under the command of the Earl of Newcastle although it appears that Leveson preferred to align himself to Prince Rupert rather than Newcastle.

Whenever it suited him, Leveson argued the fact that the parish of Dudley formed a tiny island of Worcestershire within the county of Staffordshire and therefore he didn’t have to answer to Hastings (even more confusingly, priests attached to the castle itself did not answer to the bishop of Worcester but were traditionally linked to the diocese of Lichfield, yes back in Staffordshire!).

Leveson even used his friendship with Prince Rupert to influence the King in matters where he (frequently) clashed with the governor of Lichfield, Colonel Richard Bagot. One member of the Bagot family, the Protestant Royalist deputy governor of Lichfield, Hervey Bagot, even referred to the (fellow Royalist) Dudley garrison as comprising of “heathenish cavaliers” although the source of the comment was the Parliamentarian ‘Kingdoms Weekly Intelligencer’.

Royalist soldiers were sent out from the garrisoned towns and cities to collect taxes and often clashed with Parliament forces from Stafford and Tamworth. Leveson’s men sometimes even came into conflict with Bagot’s troops doing the same which didn’t improve their relationship. The castle garrison even collected tax from as far away as Hatherton which is just west of Cannock and around 15 miles north of Dudley itself. The Parliamentarian press soon referred to Hastings, Bagot and Leveson as the “Rob-Carriers” from their ‘tax collecting’ methods.