The Siege of Lathom
Nothing now remains of the original Lathom House, the last Royalist stronghold in Lancashire, which was besieged by Parliamentarian forces for three months in 1644. It was the home of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby (Knight of the Garter) (born 31 January 1607 – died 15 October 1651) and wife Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby (Born 1599 – Died 1664) (Charlotte de La Trémoille) who defended the household. When the house was relieved the besiegers fell back to Bolton, where on 28 May 1644 they were attacked in what is known as the Storming of Bolton or the Bolton Massacre (see Ye Olde Man & Scythe). The following account the siege is taken from ‘Traditions of Lancashire’ by John Roby (1872).
No authentic drawing or representation of Lathom House, we believe, exists. The author has, however, had the temerity to present a restoration of this renowned edifice, as it appeared before the siege, and before “the sequestrators under Cromwell, weary of the slow disposal of the building materials by sale, invited the peasants of the hundred of West Derby to take away the stones and timbers without any charge.”
The very numerous documents to which he has had recourse were aided by measurements, and a visit to the spot, where he found that a tolerable accurate idea might be formed of the situation and extent of the walls and towers, together with the main entrance, and the “great Eagle Tower.”
The accompanying view is taken from a hill above the valley or trench, where, it is said, the main army of the besiegers was encamped. It is called in the neighbourhood “Cromwell’s Trench,” and the engraving may serve to convey some idea of that magnificent and princely dwelling, which, as the old ballad expresses it, would hold “two kinges, their traines and all.” Henry the Seventh, two years after his visit to Lathom, restored his palace at Richmond, the same authority tells us, “like Lathom Hall in fashion.” The gate-house in the engraving is drawn from the description of a carving of the Stanley legend in Manchester Collegiate Church, executed in the time of James Stanley, Bishop of Ely. From this it appears to have had two octagonal turrets on each side of an obtusely-pointed or circular archway with battlements, machicolated and pierced for cannon.
The Eagle Tower alone remained when part of the estate was transferred to John Lord Ashburnham, on his marriage, in 1714, with Henrietta, daughter of William, ninth earl of Derby. Lord Ashburnham sold it to a Furness, and he to Sir Thomas Bootle. Not a vestige now exists, and even the records of the family are destroyed. “Golforden,” says Mr Heywood, in his interesting Notes to a Journal of the Siege of Lathom, “along whose banks knights and ladies have a thousand times made resort, hearkening to stories as varied as those of Boccaccio;—the maudlin well, where the pilgrim and the lazar devoutly cooled their parched lips;—the mewing-house,—the training round,—every appendage to antique baronial state,—all now are changed, and a modern mansion and a new possessor fill the place.”
This memorable siege, and the heroic defence by Lady Derby, though among the most prominent topics in the history of the county, supply but few materials which may not be found in records that already exist. Yet there are incidents connected with them which the historian has left unrecorded; occurrences, it might be, too trivial or too apocryphal for his pen. One of the main events in the following narrative, though not found amongst written and authenticated records, the author has listened to when a child, with a vigorous and greedy appetite for wonder,—one of the earliest and most delightful exercises of the imagination.
We purpose to follow briefly the order of events as they appear in the several narratives to which we have had access, interweaving such traditionary matter as we have gathered in our researches, thereby interrupting and relieving the tediousness of this “thrice-told tale.”
Lord Derby, from the usual unhappy fatality, or rather from the indecision and jealousies prevailing in his Majesty’s councils, had been commanded to leave the realm, and proceed instantly to the Isle of Man, at the precise time when his presence here would have been the most serviceable, not only from his great zeal, activity, and loyalty to his sovereign, but by reason of the influence he possessed, and the example which his noble and valiant bearing had shown throughout the county. His house, children, and all other temporal concerns, he left to the care of his lady, first making provision, secretly, for their defence, supplying her with men, money, and ammunition, that she might not be unprepared in case of attack. His lordship’s opinion of this disastrous and impolitic removal may be gathered from the following hasty expressions. After a perusal of the despatches, announcing the king’s, or rather the queen’s, pleasure that he should speedily repair to the Isle of Man, where an invasion was apprehended from the Scots,—speaking to the Lady Derby with more than ordinary quickness, he said, “My heart, my enemies have now their will, having prevailed with his Majesty to order me to the Isle of Man, as a softer banishment from his presence and their malice.”
This valiant and high-born dame was daughter to Claude, Duke of Tremouille, and Charlotte Brabantin de Nassau, daughter of William, Prince of Orange, and Charlotte de Bourbon, of the royal house of France. By this marriage the Earl of Derby was allied to the French kings, the Dukes of Anjou, the Kings of Naples and Sicily, the Kings of Spain, and many other of the sovereign princes of Europe. Her father was a staunch Huguenot, and a trusty follower of Henry IV. That she did not sully the renown acquired by so illustrious a descent, the following narrative will abundantly prove.
It was at a special council of the Holy States, held at Manchester on Saturday the 24th of February 1644, that, after many former debates and consultations, the siege of Lathom was concluded upon. The parliament troops under Colonel Ashton of Middleton, Colonel Moore of Bank-Hall, and Colonel Rigby of Preston, on the same day began their march, proceeding by way of Bolton, Wigan, and Standish, under a pretence of going into Westmoreland, that the soldiers should not presently know of their destination.
Lathom, for magnificence and hospitality, was held in high reputation, assuming, in these respects, the attitude of a royal court in the northern parts of the kingdom; and the family were regarded with such veneration and esteem that the following harmless inversion was familiar “as household words:”—”God save the Earl of Derby and the King;” the general feeling and opinion thereby apparent being love to their lord and loyalty to their prince.
On the 27th of February the enemy took up their quarters about a mile distant from the house. The next day Captain Markland was the bearer of a letter to her ladyship from Sir Thomas Fairfax, commander-in-chief of the parliamentary forces, and likewise an ordinance of parliament: the one requiring that she should surrender the house upon such honourable terms as he might propose; and the other setting forth and commending the great mercy they had manifested by thus offering to receive the Earl of Derby if he would submit himself. But she indignantly refused to surrender without the consent and commandment of her lord; and after many interviews, to which she assented only to gain time, and to complete the provisioning and fortifying of her little garrison, they began to find her answers too full of policy and procrastination, dangerous to the fidelity of their troops. In the end, seeing she was only amusing them by vain pretences, they sent the following as their final terms, by Colonel Morgan, commander of the engineers, who had been appointed by Sir Thomas Fairfax to conduct the siege:—
1st. “That the Countess of Derby shall have the time she desires, and then liberty to transport her arms and goods to the Isle of Man, except the cannon, which shall continue there for the defence of the house.
2d. “That her ladyship, by ten o’clock on the morrow, shall disband all her soldiers, except her menial servants, and receive an officer and forty parliament soldiers for her guard.”
Morgan is described as “a litle man short and peremptory, who met with staidnes to coole his heat; and had the honor to carry backe this last answer—for her ladyshipp could scrue them to noe more delayes, viz.—
“That she refused all their articles, and was truely happy they had refused hers, protesting shee had rather hazard her life than offer the like again;—
“That though a woman, and a stranger, divorced from her friends, and rob’d of her estate, she was ready to receive their utmost vyolence, trusting in God both for protection and deliverance.”
The next morning they discovered the enemy had been at work about a musket-shot from the house, in a sloping ground, where they appeared to be forming a breast-work and trench to protect the pioneers—multitudes of country people being every day forced into this laborious service.
The situation of Lathom deserves some notice, it being admirably calculated to resist any attack.
“It was encompassed by a strong wall, two yards thick; upon the walls were nine towers, flanking each other, and in every tower six pieces of ordnance, that played three one way and three another. Upon the tops of these towers were placed the best and choicest marksmen, who usually attended the Earl in his sports, as huntsmen, keepers, fowlers, and the like, who continually kept watch, with screwed guns and long fowling-pieces, to the great annoyance and loss of the enemy, especially of their commanders, who were frequently killed in the trenches. Without the wall was a moat eight yards wide and two yards deep; between the wall and the moat was a strong row of palisadoes. A high tower, called the Eagle Tower, stood in the midst, surmounting all the rest. The gate-house had a strong tower on each side, forming the entrance to the first court.”
The site of the house seemed to have been formed for a stronghold, or place of safety: thus described by Seacome:—
“Before the house, to the south and south-west, is a rising ground, so near as to overlook the top of it, from which it falls so quick, that nothing planted against it on those sides can touch it further than the front wall; and on the north and east sides there is another rising ground, even to the edge of the moat.” “The situation of it may be compared to the palm of a man’s hand, flat in the middle, and covered with a rising ground, about it, and so near to it, that the enemy, in two years’ siege, were never able to raise a battery against it, so as to make a breach in the wall practicable to enter the house by way of storm.”
It is said the camp of the besiegers was in a woody dell, near what is now called “The Round O Quarry,” about half-a-mile from Lathom. This dell is still called “Cromwell’s Trench;” and a large and remarkable stone, having two circular hollows or holes on its upper surface, evidently once containing nodules of iron, is called “Cromwell’s Stone”—the country people supposing these holes were used as moulds for casting balls during the siege.
The besiegers, however, thought to reduce the place by famine, being deceived through the following device of her ladyship’s chaplain, the Rev. Mr Rutter, a person whom the Earl had left to her assistance, that she might be guided by his great skill and prudence:—
During one of the conferences before-named, a captain of the parliamentary forces, recognising in the chaplain an old friend, with whom he had been educated, and very intimate and familiar aforetime, took a secret opportunity of addressing him, hoping to worm out her ladyship’s secrets; conjuring him, by reason of their former friendship, to tell truly upon what ground or confidence she still refused these offers, seeing that it was impossible to defend her house against such a numerous and well-furnished army as was then encamped in the park.
Rutter, casting his eyes earnestly towards the ramparts, bade his friend note their disposition and defence. Her ladyship, as commander-in-chief, to prevent any sudden assault, and likewise to awe the enemy by these demonstrations, had disposed her soldiers in due order, so that they should be seen, under their respective officers, from the main-guard in the first court, down to the great hall, where they had left her ladyship’s council. The rest of her forces she had placed upon the walls, and on the tops of the towers, in such manner that they might appear both numerous and well-disciplined.
“She is in nothing so desirous,” said Rutter, “as that you should waste your strength and forces by a sudden assault, wherein you would not fail to have the worst of the battle: the place being armed at all points, as thou seest, and able to withstand any attack but that of famine.”
A promise of secresy was exacted, when the wary chaplain pretended to unfold her ladyship’s plans. He said there was but little provision in the place—that she was oppressed with the number of her soldiers—that she would not be able to subsist more than fourteen days; and she hoped to dare them to a sudden onset, not from her own confidence to give them a repulse, but knowing that, should they continue the siege, she must inevitably be forced to surrender.
The captain, after embracing his friend, and promising faithfully to maintain the secret, revealed, as Rutter intended he should, the whole of his confidential story to the enemy’s council; who, giving credit to the tale, laid aside, for the present, all thoughts of an attack, and resolved to invest the place in a close and formal siege.
Fourteen days being expired, and they, supposing her provisions were nigh spent, and the garrison reduced to the last extremity, sent another and more peremptory summons. But during this time her soldiers were training, the walls and fortifications were undergoing a thorough repair, and the cannon properly served and mounted. The fortress, too, was well stocked, and even abundantly stored with provisions, in spite of their enemies, who kept a strict watch, but failed to detect the source and manner of the supply. She was not without hope, too, of relief from the king’s troops, whom she daily expected to her assistance.
The besiegers finding themselves deceived, their confidence abused, and their schemes only serving to the advantage of the opposite party, orders were given and preparations made for more offensive measures, by drawing a line of circumvallation round the house.
The garrison consisted of 300 men, commanded by the Captains Henry Ogle, Edward Chisnall, Edward Rawsthorne, William Farmer, Mullineux Ratcliffe, and Richard Fox, assisted in their consultations by William Farrington of Werden, Esq., who, for executing the commission of array, and attending her ladyship in these troubles, had suffered the seizure of all his personal estate and the sequestration of his lands.
There were 150 men each night upon the watch, with the exception of sixteen select marksmen out of the whole, who all day kept the towers.
The besieger’s army was between two and three thousand, divided into tertias of seven or eight hundred men, who watched every third day and night. They were commanded by Colonels Egerton, Ashton, Holland, Rigby, Moore, and Morgan, with their captains and lieutenants.
After many warlike demonstrations, by which they hoped to intimidate the garrison, and after some days spent in fruitless endeavours to bring her ladyship, as they said, to a due sense of her condition, they sent one Captain Ashurst, “a fair and civil gentleman, of good character,” with fresh proposals. But Lady Derby, justly considering these frequent treaties and debates were a discouragement to her men, implying weakness and a want of confidence in her resources, replied sharply—
“That no one should quit the house, but that she would keep it, whilst God enabled her, against all the king’s enemies; that, in brief, she would receive no more messages, but referred them to her lord, scorning their malice, and defying their assaults.”
As the sequel of a business often depends upon the manner of its beginning, to second and confirm this answer the next morning she ordered a sally, when Captain Farmer with one hundred foot and Lieutenant Kay with twelve horse, their whole cavalry, went forth at different gates. Captain Farmer, determining to take them by surprise, marched up to the enemy’s works without firing a shot; then pouncing upon them suddenly in their trenches, he ordered a close and well-aimed volley, which quickly made them leave their holes in great disorder. Immediately Lieutenant Kay, wheeling round with his horse, took them in flank, doing great execution as they fled. There were slain of the enemy about thirty men. The spoil was forty muskets, one drum, and six prisoners.
The retreat of this little band was skilfully secured by Captain Ogle and Captain Rawsthorne, so that not one of the assailants was either slain or wounded.
The besiegers were much annoyed with devices, ingeniously contrived by the garrison to intimidate them, and hinder and injure their work. Hitherto they had not been able to cast up a mound for their ordnance, so harassed and occupied were they with these incessant alarms. But Rigby, on whom devolved the plan and conduct of the siege, seeing that their affairs were in no thriving condition, but that rather they were the scoff and jest of the garrison, who daily taunted them from the walls, determined at all hazards to raise his cannon. For this purpose a considerable number of the peasantry and poorer sort in the neighbourhood, and for miles round, were driven like beasts to their daily work, labouring unremittingly at the mounds and trenches. At first they were sheltered by baskets and hurdles, afterwards by a testudo, or wooden house running upon wheels and roofed with thick planks. Still many lives were lost in this desperate service. In the end they brought up one piece of cannon, amusing themselves like schoolboys at a holiday, in practising their harmless reports. The first shot struck the outer wall, but it was found proof. Afterwards they aimed higher, intending to beat down a pinnacle or turret, but this also passed without damage. The last shot, which missed entirely, went over and beyond the buildings, burrowing in a field on the other side.
When they had performed this mighty feat they sounded another parley, having, as they supposed, mightily beat down the hearts of the besieged. Colonel Rigby’s chaplain then appeared at the gate with a letter that Sir Thomas Fairfax had received from Lord Derby, who was now at Chester, on his return from the Isle of Man. In this epistle he desired a free and honourable passage for his lady and their children, if she so pleased, being unwilling, as he said, to expose them to the uncertain hazard of a long siege. His lordship knew not, by reason of his long absence, either how his house was provided with ammunition and sustenance, or in what condition it might be to withstand the attack. He was desirous that the garrison alone should bear the brunt, and that a defenceless woman and her children should be rescued from captivity.
Her ladyship replied that she would communicate with the earl, and if he should then continue in the same opinion, she would willingly submit to his commands; but until this, she would neither yield up the house nor abate in her hostility, but would abide by the result. Immediately she despatched to his lordship a messenger, conveying him from the house by a well-executed sally. The attempt succeeded; but whether he was suffered to reach his destination or not we have no means of ascertaining. No answer was returned, though some days had elapsed, during which the enemy made many fruitless attempts to batter the walls.
They had now mounted the whole of their artillery, including their great mortar-piece, at that period looked upon as a most destructive engine, casting stones thirteen inches in diameter and eighty pounds weight; likewise grenadoes—hollow balls of iron, filled with powder, and lighted by a fusee. These were dangerous intruders, calculated to produce great alarm and annoyance, as we shall find in the sequel. The mortar was planted only about half a musket-shot from the walls, south-west, on a rising ground, from whence the engineer commanded a view of the whole buildings.
The work on which it stood was orbicular, with a rampart of two yards and a half broad above the ditch. To lessen the destructive effects of this dangerous piece of artillery, chosen men were set as guards with wet hides and woollen coverlids to quench the flame, had the enemy been skilful enough to accomplish their purpose; it being their general opinion that to burn the house would be the most effectual means of subduing and driving out the garrison. But finding their endeavours met with no prosperous return, they bethought them to cast a show of religion over these attempts at robbery and rapine, issuing out commands to all men well affected towards their success, to co-operate with them for the overthrow of the “Babylonish harlot,” by which term some worthy disciples of the visible church scrupled not to call the Lady of Lathom.
The following proclamation was sent forth from their headquarters at Ormskirk:—
“To all ministers and parsons in Lancashire, well-wishers to our successe against Lathom House, these:—
“Forasmuch as more than ordinary obstrucc’ons have from the beginning of this p’sent service agt Lathom House interposed our proceedings, and yet still remaine, which cannot otherwise be removed, nor our successe furthered, but onely by devine assistance: it is, therefore, our desires to the ministers and other well-affected persons of this county of Lancaster, in publike manner, as they shall please, to com’end our case to God, that as wee are appoynted to the sd employment, soe much tending to the settleing of our p’sent peace in theise parts, soe the Almighty would crowne our weake endeavours with speedy success in the said designe.
“ORMSKIRK, 5 Ap. 1644.”
The four following days were, on their part, consumed in these unholy exercises; but the garrison, tired with inaction, resolved to awaken them, and turn their thoughts into a more profitable channel.
On Wednesday, the 10th of April, says the MS. journal, “about eleven o’clock, Captn Farmer and Captn Mullineux Rattcliffe, Lieut Penckett, Lieut Woorrale, wth 140 souldiers, sallyed out at a postern gate, beate the enemy from all theire worke and batteries, wch were now cast up round the house, nailed all theire canon, killed about 50 men, took 60 armes, one collours, and three drumes, in which acc’on, Captn Rattcliffe deserves this remembrance, that wth 3 souldiers, the rest of his squadron being scattered wth execuc’on of the enemy, he cleared two sconces, and slew 7 men wth his owne hand, Lieut Woorrall, ingageing himself in another worke among 50 of the enemy, bare the fury of all, till Captn Farmer relieved him, who, to the wonder of us all, came off without any dangerous wound.—The sally-port was that day warded by Captn Chisnall, who with fresh men stood ready for succour of ours, had they been putt to the extremity; but they bravely marched round the works, and came in att the great gates, where Captn Ogle wth a p’ty of musketeers kept open the passage. Captn Rawstorne hadd the charge of the musketeers upon the walls, which hee plac’d to the best advantage to vex the enemy in their flight. Captn Foxe, by a collours from the Eagle Tower, gave signall when to march and when to retreate, according to the motions of the enemy, which hee observed at a distance.—In all this service wee had but one man mortally wounded, and wee tooke onely one prisoner, an officer, for intelligence. In former sallyes some prisoners were taken, and by exchange releast, Colonel Ashton and Rigby promising to sett at liberty as many of the king’s freinds, then prisoners in Lancaster, Manchester, Preston, and other places proposed by her ladishipp. But most unworthily they broke condic’ons, it suiting well with their religion neither to observe faith with God nor men; and this occasioned a greater slaughter than either her lapp or the captaynes desired, because wee were in no condic’on to keepe prisoners, and knew the co’manders wold never release ’em but upon base or dishonorable terms.”
Though their cannon had been injured in the spiking, yet were they not rendered useless; for the same night they “played a sacre twice,” it is said, “to tell us they had cannon that wold speke tho’ our men had endeavoured to steele up all their lippes.”
On the 15th a grenado fell short of the house, in a walk near the chapel tower: some pieces of the shell, two inches thick, flew over the wall, and were gathered up by the attendants. It was a mighty achievement to fire this unwieldy engine, requiring great labour and exertion to fill up its mouth when once it had vomited forth its malice. The day after, they loaded it with stones: to their great joy, Morgan and his bombardiers beheld one of them strike within the body of the house, it being always a matter of some uncertainty where the ball might spend itself. Indeed, it was said, in derision it might be, that sometimes their guns occasioned more damage to the besiegers than to the besieged.
Morgan now set to work, keeping as accurately as he might the head of the blatant beast to the same level, and loading it with a grenado. When the gunner had finished his task and lighted the fusee, Morgan rubbed his hands for joy. Retiring sharply, off went the missile with an explosion that shook the whole fabric. When the smoke was gone they perceived some trifling damage in an old court, where the bomb, striking about half-a-yard into the earth, burst as it rose, much abated of its violence; yet it shook down some slight buildings near, but without hurting any one, save two women who had their hands scorched as a memorial of their presence at the siege of Lathom.
This mortar-piece was like some mighty dragon of old, causing great terror in the minds of the soldiers, who knew not how to escape, but were in continual fear and watchfulness, dreading the assaults of this terrible monster. To allay their apprehensions, and to show their own indifference, the captains lodged in the uppermost rooms, behind clay walls, when not upon duty; and many other devices were resorted to for the purpose of encouraging their troops. One circumstance, however, seemed to renew their courage; a gunner opposite, as he was mounting the ramparts to see the success of his shot, was slain by a marksman from one of the towers. The next day one of their cannoneers was slain through the porthole by a skilful hand, which made the enemy more cautious than formerly. Yet did they not slacken their endeavours, but fired almost incessantly. On the Saturday afternoon they played their mortar-piece five times; and in the night twice with stones, and once with a grenado, which by the turning of the gunner fell short of the house.
On Easter Monday and Tuesday Colonel Rigby must needs gratify the country people with some pastime. He had already spent upwards of two thousand pounds, and his great pretensions were hitherto unfulfilled. Accordingly he ordered his batteries to be directed against the Eagle Tower, which, as we have before seen, stood near the centre of the buildings, and was the place where Lady Derby and the children usually lodged.
“We will strike off a horn of the beast, or level one of her hills,” said Rigby, as he strode forth early on that morning to the enterprise.
“Which seven towers be the seven hills of Rome or spiritual Antichrist,” said Jackson, his chaplain, who kept near his master, or rather kept his master between himself and the Babel that roused his indignation. Morgan was just preparing his engines when Rigby approached, cautiously worming his way along the trenches, for the marksmen were become unmercifully expert by reason of continued practice.
The match was lighted,—when bounce went the shot, a four-and-twenty pounder, against the Eagle Tower.
“We will beat the old lady from her perch: I find she hath taken to high-roosting of late,” said Morgan, as he watched the despatch and destination of his messenger.
The ball had entered into her ladyship’s chamber, where she and the children were at breakfast. With as little emotion as Charles the Twelfth on a like occasion, she merely remarked that since they were likely to have disagreeable intruders, she must e’en seek a new lodging.
“But,” said she, rising with great dignity, “I will keep my house while a building is left above my head.”
This mischievous exploit, though an occasion at the time of great triumph and exultation to the besiegers, was the main cause of their subsequent expulsion and defeat.
We now propose to follow out their operations with more minuteness, tracing the consequences of this action to its final result.
That same night some of the garrison, having permission from their commanders, annoyed their enemies with strange and noisome alarms, during which they contrived to steal some powder, and other necessaries of which they were much in want.
Colonels Egerton and Rigby were in close counsel before their tent when they beheld a terrible appearance moving towards them,—looking in the dark like the leaders of some mighty army, waving their torches to light them to the assault. This frightful apparition was a poor forlorn horse, studded with lights fastened to cords, that shook and flickered about in so fearful a manner. In this plight he had been turned out of the gates, the garrison looking on, with frightful shouts and yells.
The sentinels ran from their posts, crying out that the king’s army was coming. In an instant all was uproar and confusion, the trenches were cleared, and happy was he that came foremost in the rout.
Rigby clasped on his sword-belt which he had doffed for the night. Springing on his horse, he met some of the runaways, whom he forced back, hoping by their means to stem the main torrent. But, lo! in the very height of the panic, appeared another and more direful intruder—an avenue of fire seemed to extend from the walls to their own trench. It appeared as though the enemy had by some unaccountable means formed in a double line from the fortress, illuminated rank and file as if by magic—flinging their torches by one simultaneous and well-concerted movement into the air with great order and regularity.
Had a legion from the puissant army of Beelzebub been approaching, their terror could not have been greater. Yet fear kept many from escaping, while they knew not which way to run for safety. Rigby in the nick of time galloped up to this awful and hostile appearance, crying out to his troops that he would soon demolish the bugbear. This saying encouraged some of the runaways, who followed him to the combat. Approaching within a sword’s length, for he was not deficient either in hardihood or valour, he made a furious stroke right in the face of this flaming apparition, when down it fell, revealing its own harmlessness and their cowardice.
Taking advantage of the panic which followed the lighted horse, a few of the garrison had thrown a cord covered with matches and other combustibles round a tree, close to the enemy’s camp; one end was fastened near the walls, and the other was quickly carried back after being passed round the tree. The whole on being lighted was swung to and fro, producing the terrific appearance we have described.
Rigby was greatly mortified at this exploit; it seemed as though they were become the jest and laughing-stock of the garrison.
Morgan at this moment galloped up in great dudgeon. The enemy had found him a similar employment, he having twice bravely discharged his cannon, loaded with cartridge and chain-shot, against two lighted matches thrust into balls of clay that were thrown at him from the walls.
The leaders, provoked beyond measure, speedily assembled in council. Egerton, who had the most influence, from the beginning had urged milder measures, thinking to starve the enemy into submission; but Morgan, Rigby, and some others were now red-hot for mischief, smarting from their late ridiculous disaster.
“And what have we gotten by delay?” said Rigby; “we have wearied our soldiers, wasted our powder, and emptied our purses; and this proud dame still beats and baffles us, casting her gibes in our very teeth which we deserve to lose for our pains.”
“Take thine own course, then,” said Egerton, mildly. “We are brethren, serving one cause only; the which, being best served, is best won.”
“Then be to-morrow ours,” said Morgan, with his usual heat and impatience. “We will burn them up like a heap of dry faggots. The house, though well fenced against our shot, hath yet much inward building of wood, and you shall see a pretty bonfire kindled by my bomb-shells—a roaring blaze that shall ride on the welkin between here and Beeston Castle!”
“Whilst thou art plying thy vocation we will scale the walls, and the sword shall slay what the fire hath failed to devour,” said Rigby.
“Fire and sword!” cried Egerton. “Ye are apt at a simile; but, methinks, these be your own similitudes.”
“They give their prisoners no quarter,” said Morgan; “and why should we sheath the sword when a weapon is at our own throat?”
“Why, doubtless they have more mouths to feed than they can conveniently supply,” said the more pacific personage. “Living men, to keep them so, even though prisoners, require feeding.”
“Our vengeance is sure, though tardy,” said Rigby, rising in great choler. “The blood of these martyrs crieth from the ground. To-morrow!” and he breathed a bloody vow, looking fiercely up to heaven in the daring and impious attitude of revenge.
On the next morning, which was cold and drizzly, a “pragmatical” drummer went out from the nearer trench, beating his drum for a parley, lest his person should be dismissed without ceremony to the hungry kites.
Early had he been summoned to Rigby’s lodging, where Ashton and Morgan were contriving a furious epistle to the contumacious defenders of their lives and substance. A summons, couched in no very measured terms, was drawn up, to the purport that the fortress should be surrendered, and all persons, goods, arms, and munitions therein, to the mercy of parliament; and by the next day, before two o’clock, her ladyship to return her answer, otherwise at her peril. Their valour grew hotter with the reading of this cruel message, which they secretly hoped and suspected she would refuse. The drum-major was called in, one Gideon Greatbatch by name—a long, straight-haired, sallow-faced personage, of some note among the brethren for zeal and impiety. By this we mean that awful and profane use of Scripture phraseology with which many of these gifted preachers affected to interlard their everyday discourse, attaching a ludicrous solemnity to matters the most trivial and unimportant.
In delineating this species of character, unfortunately not extinct in our own days, we do not hold it up to ridicule, but to reprehension. Irreverence and profanity, under whatever pretext, are without excuse, even beneath the mask of holy zeal and ardent devotion.
The man stalked in with little ceremony and less manners. He stood stiff and erect, the image of pride engendered by ignorance.
“‘Tis our last,” said Rigby, folding up the message; “and if our arms are blessed, as we have hoped, and, it may be, unworthily deserved, ere the going down of to-morrow’s sun yon strong tower wherein she trusteth shall be as smoke; for the hope of the wicked shall perish.”
“Yea, their idols shall fall down; yea, their walls shall be as Jericho,” said the drum-major, with a sing-song whine, to sanctify his blasphemous allusions, “and shall utterly fall at the sound of”——
“Thy two drumsticks, mayhap,” returned Morgan, sharply; for this latter personage, though his presence became needful in the camp by reason of his reputed skill and bravery, was a great scandal to the real and conscientious professors—of whom not a few had joined the ranks of the besiegers—as well as the hypocritical and designing; some of whom did not hesitate to liken him to Achan and the accursed thing, by reason of which they were discomfited before their enemies.
“Thine ungodly speeches, Master Morgan, I would humbly trust, may not be as the fuel that, when the fire cometh, shall consume the camp, even the righteous with the wicked,” said Gideon, as if shrinking from the contact of so unholy a personage.
Morgan replied not to this deprecation, save by swearing—covertly, though it might be—at the impudence and insubordination of these inferior agents, whose disorderly conduct it was necessary to connive at, while they were looked upon as saints and prophets—men from whose presence was impiously expected the blessing and protection of heaven.
A loud screaming was heard, and Rigby, darting a furious look through the doorway, ordered it to be closed.
“Another porker!” said he. “I verily think she hath provision behind the walls that would last out our siege till doomsday. There is treachery somewhere. Have we not heard, morning by morning, the self-same cry?”
“A whole herd of swine have been martyred in the cause,” said Morgan, sneeringly.
“Every day they have slain a pig,” said the leader of the drums. “Two score and eight,” reckoning upon his fingers. “Verily a drove from the legion.”
They knew not that this unfortunate swine, the only one in the garrison, was made to perform so uncomfortable a duty every morning to mislead the besiegers, and impress them with the idea of a plentiful supply within the walls.
“Even the rabble about the garrison throw shives of bread into our trenches,” said Morgan; “and once or twice I have thought their muskets were loaden with peas instead of pellets.”
“Then is our assault the more urgent,” replied Rigby: “delay doth not increase her strength. Prince Rupert too, some fair morning, may jump between us and head-quarters.”
“I have as many grenadoes,” said Morgan, “as will save his highness the trouble. Were he here, I would make him dance the Flemish coranto.”
“The Amalekites shall ye utterly destroy,” said Gideon, with a sudden indrawing of the breath, as though he were suffering the pangs and throes of possession. “Neither shall ye spare the women and the little ones nor the stuff; no, not even a kid for a burnt-offering. Your eye shall not spare as Saul spare Agag, whom Samuel hewed in pieces.”
“Keep thy counsel to light thine own courage. Yon fiery-tempered woman will not be over-nice in her respect to thy vocation. Peradventure she may dangle thy carcase over the walls in defiance of our summons.” Morgan would have rebuked him farther, had not Rigby hastily put the message into his hands, and bade him good speed.
With inward but audible murmurs at this unholy connection, for Morgan valued not their prayers a rush, Gideon strode forth, his eyes twinkling grievously as the drizzling rime came on his face. His long ungainly figure, surmounted by a high-peaked hat, was seen cautiously stealing through the trenches. Near to the embrasure by Morgan’s mortar-piece he made a sudden halt. After preparing his drum, he first beat the roll to crave attention. He then stepped upon the redoubt, drumming the usual signal for a parley. It was soon answered from the walls, and Gideon, with much ceremony and importance, arrived with his musical appendage before the gate. The requisite formalities being gone through, the drawbridge was lowered, and this parliamentary representative was speedily admitted through a little wicket into the Babylon which he abhorred. His very feet seemed in danger of defilement. He looked as if breathing the very atmosphere of pollution; but when ordered to kneel down that he might be blindfolded, his spirit rose indignantly at the command.
“Ye be contemners and despisers of our holy heritage. I have not bowed the knee to Baal, nor will I worship the beast or they that have his name on their foreheads. Do with me as ye list. Ye would cover mine eyes that your iniquities may be hidden;—but ye shall suddenly be destroyed, and none shall deliver.”
A loud laugh was the answer to this denunciation; for truly it were a marvellous thing to hear an ignorant, arrogant drummer, misapply and profane the words of Holy Writ, wresting the Scriptures to their destruction, if not his own.
In the outer court soldiers were playing at span-counter with silver moneys, which Gideon observing, again lifted up the voice of warning and rebuke.
“But destruction cometh upon them, even as upon a woman in”——
“Peace, thou spirit of a drum-stick!” cried one of them, and, as though he were playing at chuck-farthing, he threw a tester between his teeth; for the soldiers had about fifty pounds amongst them in silver coin, but it was of no use except as so many counters, which they lent one another by handfuls without telling. Sometimes one soldier had won the whole, then another; but if they had been heaps of the rarest jewels they had been of less worth than pebble-stones.
Gideon’s speech was marred in the delivery; thinking he had been hit with a stone, he sputtered out the offending morsel; but, seeing the coin with the king’s image and superscription, he gathered it up again.
“This shall be to me for a prey, even a spoil, as Moses spoiled the Egyptians.” Saying this Gideon thrust the king’s money into his pocket, and consented to be blindfolded, as was customary, in order that he should not act the spy in his progress. He heard many gates unbarred, many sentries challenged, and the pass-words demanded. Indeed the order and discipline throughout was of an excellent and well-contrived regularity.
“Make way for the drum!” ran along the avenues, as though he were passing through a numerous array of guards and soldiery. At length he was safely deposited in a spacious hall used as a guard-room; where his conductors delivered him to Captain Ogle, the officer in waiting that morning upon her ladyship. Being informed she was at prayers, for, as we are told, “her first care was the service of God, which in sermons and solemn prayers she daily saw performed,” Gideon lifted up his hands and said—
“Their new moons and their fasts are an abomination.” He then desired to be conducted near the fire, for the double purpose of drying his threadbare red coat, and relieving his extreme length by a change of position.
He had not waited long ere the signal was given for an audience. Still blindfolded, he was led by a circuitous route into a little wainscotted chamber lighted by a single bay-window. Here the bandage was taken from his eyes, and when the dimness had a little subsided, he beheld that heroic lady for the first time whom he had often compared, in no very moderate terms, to Jezebel, and many other names equally appropriate. A very different person she appeared from what his heated and morbid fancy had suggested. Indeed, if she had been the personification of all evil, with a demon’s foot and a fiend’s visage, he had been less surprised than to find her with the outward form and attributes of humanity.
She was sitting with the children, before a narrow table covered with papers. She wore a black habit, with a white kerchief on her head, and a long Flanders veil of rich open work. This she threw back, and Gideon beheld a countenance not at all either commanding or heroic, but one to which smiles and good-nature would have been most congenial, though a shade of anxiety was now thrown over the natural expression of her features. Her eye seemed to have forgotten its bland and benevolent aspect, and was fixed sharply upon him. For a moment his spiritual pride was daunted, and that natural and inherent principle, not extinct though often dormant,—a deference to superiority, whether of intellect or station—rendered him for a while mute and inoffensive. It is even said that he made a sort of half-conscious obeisance; but his mind misgiving him during the offence, which smote him on the sudden as an act of homage and idolatrous veneration, he breathed out a very audible prayer.
“Pardon thy servant in this matter, even if I have bowed in the house of Rimmon.” As he said this, he threw himself back, lifting his narrow eyes towards the ceiling; then thrusting out his hand with the despatch at arm’s length, he was striding forward, but Ogle intervened ere he had made his way to the Countess.
“With all courtesy, friend,” said he, “these communications must proceed from the officer on duty.”
With great gallantry and respect the captain presented it to his mistress.
“Eye-service and will-worship!” growled Gideon. “‘Tis like your vain and popish idolatry and the like, through the ministry of saints, even to a woman, vain and sinful as yourselves. I would as soon commit my prayers to the angel of the bottomless pit!”
Her ladyship had broken open the seals. Her eye kindled as she spoke—
“Thou hadst thy reward were we to hang thee up at the gate.—Yet art thou but a foolish instrument in the hands of this traitor Rigby; and we do not punish the weapon, but him that wields it.”
Now Gideon, finding himself moved by natural heat and choler, and mistaking this wrath for a righteous indignation, thought himself surely called upon to reprove these unrighteous ones for their iniquities. His body fell into the usual disposition for a harangue. His eyes rolled upwards, and his whole frame swung to and fro whilst the exhortation was preparing. To his great mortification, however, the lady quitted the room, leaving word for them to follow her to the hall.
The preacher was greatly chagrined, when his eyes resumed their office, to find himself almost thrust out and on his way back to the guard-chamber. A number of soldiers and domestics were here assembled. Lady Derby, with her chaplain, steward, and captains, ranged on each side, stood at the higher end of the chamber.
Silence was commanded, whilst she read aloud the despatch.
“And this,—and this, my answer!” said she, tearing the paper as she spoke, and throwing the fragments indignantly from her.
“Tell that insolent rebel he shall neither have our persons, our goods, nor yet this house. When our strength and provision be spent, we shall find a fire more merciful than Rigby; and then, if the providence of God prevent it not, my goods and house shall burn in his sight:—myself, children, and soldiers, rather than fall into his hands, will seal our religion and loyalty in the same flame!”
A loud shout burst through the assembly, who, with one general voice, cried out—
“We will die for his Majesty and your honour:—God save the king!”
Gideon’s countenance grew terrible, and he seemed as though suffering under some violent excitement. Lifting up his hand, he was about to thunder forth anathemas and denunciations, the dealing out of which, strange to say, most parties agree in reserving to themselves. Even men whose honesty and single-heartedness we cannot doubt—who have boldly defended our rights and liberties against religious tyranny and intolerance—have still arrogated to themselves exclusively the control of opinions and modes of belief:—wielding the terrors of Heaven where the arm of Omnipotence can alone be felt; their efforts futile and ineffectual, as though a feeble worm were attempting to grasp the quiver,—to launch the bolt and the arrow from the skies.
But Gideon’s purpose was again frustrated: the impious idolaters, refusing to listen, blindfolded him before he was aware.
But his spirit kindled suddenly, and he cried aloud—
“Yet shut your eyes wilfully, and go blindfold to your destruction. To-morrow these walls in which ye trust, this Egypt in whom your soul delighteth, shall be as Sodom. Brimstone and fire shall devour you; and they that flee from it shall not escape!”
Gideon and his threats were, however, speedily thrust out at the gates, and the answer transmitted through him was faithfully reported to the council.
Though this heroic woman was not daunted, yet she saw her soldiers were, at times, dispirited, by reason of the expected succours so long delayed. The mortar-piece, too, which, if it had been well managed, was sufficient to have laid the fortress in ruins, was an object of daily terror and annoyance.
One of the MS. journals states, “The little ladyes had stomack to digest cannon; but the stoutest souldiers had noe hearts for granadoes, and might not they att once free themselves from the continual expectac’on of death?”
Her ladyship was well aware that inactivity is, of all things, the most dangerous and dispiriting to the soldier, who, used to the bustle and array of camps, doth fear nothing so much as a quiet home and winter quarters.
It was needful that something should be done, some decisive blow struck; for, according to the historian, “Chaunges of tymes are the most fitt for brave attempts, and delayes they are dangerous, where softnes and quyetnes draweth more danger than hazarding rashly.”
“A hard choice either to kill or be killed;” but such was their case. The Countess therefore proposed that the next morning, a little while after daybreak, they should make a sortie; and though ordnance was planted against every passage, yet that they should sally forth, and stake their all upon one desperate throw.
On the 26th April, about four o’clock, before sunrise, the action commenced. Captain Chisnall and Captain Fox, with Lieutenants Brettargh, Penketh, Walthew, and Woorrall, were appointed for the service. Captain Ogle had the main-guard to secure a retreat at the southern gate, while Rawsthorne had the charge of the sally-gate to secure a retreat on the eastern side. Captain Ratcliffe had the command of the marksmen and musketeers on the walls, while Farmer, with the reserve, stood ready at the parade, to relieve any of them in case of necessity. All things being ready, Captain Chisnall and two lieutenants issued out at the eastern sally-port. The morning favoured their attempt, being wet and foggy, so that before he was discovered he got completely under their cannon, marching immediately upon the scouts where the enemy had planted their great gun.
“It cost him a light skirmish to gain the fort; at last hee entered; many slayne, some prisoners, and some escaping. Now by the command of that battery, the retreate being assured, Capt Foxe seconds him wth much bravery, beateing upon their trenches from the easterne to the south-west point, till hee came to the work wch secur’d the morter-peece, wch being guarded wth 50 men, hee found sharpe service, forceing his way through muskett and cannon, and beateing the enemy out of the sconce wth stones, his muskett, by reason of the high worke, being unserviceable. After a quarter of an houres hard service, his men gott the trench and scal’d the rampier, where many of the enemy fledd, the rest were slayne. The sconce, thus won, was made good by a squadron of musketteers, which much annoyed the enemy, attempting to come upp agayne. The 2 maine works thus obtained, the two captaynes wth ease walked the rest of the round, whilst Mr Broome, wth a companye of her lapps servants and some fresh souldiers, had a care to levell the ditch, and by a present devise, with ropes lifting the morter-peece to a low dragge, by strength of men drew it into the house, Capt. Ogle defending the passage agt another companye of the enemye which play’d upon their retreate. The like endeavour was used to gayne theire greate gunnes; but lying beyond the ditch, and being of such bulke and weight, all our strength could not bringe them off before the whole army had fallen upon us; however, our men took tyme to poyson all the cannon round, if anything will doe the feate, Capt. Rawstorne still defending the first passe agt some offers of the enemy to come up by the wood.”
It was near the conclusion of this affray, as Mr Broome, the steward, and several of his helpers, were encompassing the great dragon which had so often vomited forth fire and smoke upon them, intending to carry it away captive, that they heard a voice from the breach below:—
“Hold, ye uncircumcised:—I will make your house desolate, and the glory thereof shall be turned into ashes.”
The mortar was ready charged, and they beheld Gideon, with a lighted match, springing towards them. Several of the men drew aside in dismay; but as Providence willed it, he was prevented from his purpose, the light being struck from his hand, and himself tumbled backwards into a deep and muddy ditch, extinguishing both light and life apparently together. But he arose, and would have run a tilt at them in this unsavoury condition, had he not been caught by one of his enemies, who waggishly exclaimed—
“Let us yoke this great Amalekite to the gun. He’ll help us well over the ditch.”
This goodly piece of advice was not neglected; and the unhappy Gideon, fastened between two yoke-fellows, was dragged on by main force, the hindmost threatening to shoot him if he made any resistance.
In vain did he cry out for vengeance upon them. His gods were deaf—no miracle was wrought for his deliverance; and though he would have called down fire from heaven upon his adversaries, the thunders he impiously desired died harmless on his own tongue.
We again quote the words of the journal:—
“This action continued an houre, with the loss of two men on our part, who, after they were mortally wounded, still fired upon the enemy, till all retreating. What number of the enemy were slain it is not easy to guesse. Besides the execuc’on done in their trenches, Capt. Farmours and Capt. Rattcliffes reserves, wth the best marksmen, played upon them from the walls with much slaughter, as they quitt theire holds. Our men brought in many armes, three drums, and but five prisoners, preserved by Capt. Chisnall to show that he had mercy as well as valour. One of theese was an assistant to their engineere, Browne, who discovered to us the nature of their trench, in which they had laboured two monthes to draw away our water. Theire first designe was to drayne and open our springs, not considering theire rise from a higher ground south-east from the house, wch must needs supply our deepe well, where-ever they suncke their fall: this invenc’on faileing, they bringe up an open trench in a worme work, the earth being indented or sawed for the securitie of their myners, and the ditch two yards wide and three deepe for the fall of the water.
“But now neither ditches nor aught els troubled our souldiers, theire grand terror, the morter-peece, which had frighted ’em from theire meate and sleepe, like a dead lyon, quyetely lying among ’em; everye one had his eye and his foote upon him, shouteing and rejoiceing as merrily as they used to doe wth theire ale and bagpypes. Indeed ev’y one had this apprehenc’on of the service, that the maine worke was done, and what was yet behind but a meere pastime.
“Her lapp though not often overcarryed wth any light expressions of joy, yet religiously sensible of soe great a blessing, and desirous, according to her pious disposition, to returne acknowledgements to the righte authour, God alone, presently commands her chaplaynes to a publike thanksgiving.
“The enemy, thus terrifyed with this defeate, durst not venture theire workes agayne till midnight; towards morneing removeing some of theire cannon, and the next night stealeing away all the rest, save one peece for a memorand. This one escapyt nayleing, which the colonells durst not venture on itsow ne mount, but planted att a distance, for feare of the madmen in the garrison.
“One thing may not heere bee omitted: that day that our men gave Rigby that shameful defeate, had hee destined for the p’secuteing of his utmost cruelty. Hee had invited, as it is now gen’ally confest, all his friends, the holy abettors of this mischiefe, to come see the house yeelded or burnt, hee haveing purposed to use his morter gunne wth fireballs or granadoes all afternoone; but her lapp before two o’clocke (his own tyme) gave him a very skurvy satisfying answr, soe that his friends came opportunely to comfort him, who was sicke of shame and dishonour, to be routed by a lady and a handfull of men.”
This proved a sore disaster to the besiegers. The soldiers, too, began to cry out for their pay. The long-expected plunder of Lathom had hitherto kept them quiet; but they were now willing to leave this precious booty to the next comers, and content themselves with their stated allowance.
Rigby, fearful of the crumbling away and dispersion of his army, made shift to furnish some small arrears of their pay, declaring that it had cost him ?2000 of his own moneys during the siege; but how he got such great store of gold we are not informed, safe that “he was once a lawyer, and a bad one!”
Still there were many deserters, escaping even in the open day; not a few of them coming over with valuable intelligence to the garrison.
Wearied with duty, and sorely perplexed, Rigby sent for Col. Holland, from Manchester, to his assistance. Many days now elapsed, during which little happened worth recording on either side. On the 23d May, Captain Moseley brought another message to her ladyship, desiring, in terms of great courtesy and respect, that she would grant him an interview. He was received with great ceremony; for she abated not a whit of the dignity belonging to her high birth and station.
“Captain Moseley,” said she, having read the summons, commanding her that she should yield up the house, together with the ammunition, arms, goods, servants, children, and her own person too—submitting to the mercy of parliament, “you are, I understand, an honourable man and a soldier.”
He bowed with great humility.
“I would not receive this from any other. But”—and her lip curled proudly as she spoke. “Here seems a slight mistake in the wording of your message. They should rather have written cruelty and not mercy!”
“Nay, my lady,” he replied, “the mercy of parliament. Trust me, you will not be evil entreated at their hands.”
“The mercies of the wicked are cruel,” said she, quickly, but with great composure. “Not that I mean,” she continued, “a wicked parliament, of which body I have an honourable and reverend esteem, but wicked agents and factors, such as Moore and Rigby, who for the advantage of their own interests labour to turn kingdoms into blood and ruin. Besides, ’tis dangerous treating when the sword is given into the enemies’ hand.”
“Most assuredly, madam, as our tractates on the art of war teach us,—which it seems you have not studied in vain,” said Moseley, bowing with an air of great deference and gallantry. “Your ladyship is commander-in-chief, we hear.”
“My lord being absent. I am left in trust, and cannot listen to treaties without his permission.”
“Not to dishonourable overtures, assuredly. But if we agree to your own conditions,—quitting the house in the way it shall seem best to your ladyship, as was once the basis of your own propositions, I believe, it cannot in this case be a reproach or a breach of trust, but will prevent much damage, and be the saving of many lives.”
“I will not treat without my lord’s commands, Captain Moseley, and I have listened to you longer than is expedient. It is unjust to myself, and these brave defenders, that I appear in any way doubtful of their ability and courage. For their sakes, and for my own, I must end this parley.”
The officer bowed low at this peremptory dismissal, wishing her ladyship’s resolutions were less firm or her means more ample.
“I can but deliver your reply. Yet”—He hesitated awhile. “There be fierce and bloody men about the camp, who would lay down their own lives to compass your destruction. It is not in our power to restrain them.”
“One of these flaming zealots is already extinguished: we have him safe under cover,” said her ladyship, smiling; “in our own custody, I trow. He threatened us with all the plagues of Egypt and that of his own tongue to boot,—the worst that ere visited the garrison. One morning, an earthquake would devour us; another, we were to be visited with the destruction of Sodom. Some of our men once looked out for the coming tempest, and buffeted him well for their disappointment. He seems either malignant or insane; but in charity, of which Christian exercise he seems utterly ignorant, we suppose the latter. We have therefore made his feet fast in the stocks, from whence, I hear, he pronounces his anathemas as confidently as though he were armed with the power and thunders of the Vatican!”
“May I crave the name of this doughty personage?—We have but too many of them amongst us.”
“Verily, ’tis your drum, by whose hands I have had a message heretofore. The chances of war have again brought him hither,—but now a prisoner!”
“The same. We have heard him, with many blasphemous allusions, liken himself unto that great one among the judges of Israel,—and truly he seems more fitted to wield the sword than the drum-stick!”
“Your ladyship would perhaps indulge me with an interview. It might comfort him to see one from the camp.”
“Provided that no sinister design or advantage be lurking under this request. Yet am I speaking, I would fain hope, to a gentleman and a soldier.”
Moseley was conducted down a dark flight of steps, damp and slippery. The ooze and slime rendered his footing tedious and insecure. Soon he recognised the mighty voice of Gideon bellowing forth a triumphant psalm. Another stave was just commencing as the door opened, and the torch glared lurid and dismally on the iron features and grisly aspect of the captive. A pair of rude stocks, through which Gideon’s long extremities protruded, stood in the middle of the dungeon. He scowled terrifically at the intruders; but suddenly resumed his exercise.
“Still at thy devotions?” said Moseley; but the moody fanatic vouchsafed not to reply.
“We must wait the finishing of this duty, I fear,” said the captain, knowing that interruption would be useless. Silently they awaited the conclusion, when Gideon abruptly cried out—
“Captain Moseley, are ye, too, cast into this den of lions?”
“I came hither on an embassage, and I have craved this visit ere I depart.”
“Hast furnished my breakfast?” inquired this stalwart knight from the enchanted wood. “I think your garrison be short of victual, or my”——
“Hold thy tongue, thou piece of ill-contrived impertinence,” said the gaoler. “We have victual and drink too; but for such as thou art, it were an ill-bestowed morsel. I marvel what can have possessed my lady to keep thee alive!”
The gaoler drew out from his provision bag a small dark-coloured loaf, which he threw at the hungry captive, who, to say the truth, had been half-starved since his imprisonment.
Gideon was devouring it greedily without any further notice, when he suddenly cried out to his keeper—
“Where gat ye this coarse stuff? I would not say good-morrow to my dog with so crusty a meal.”
“It was tossed over the wall,” replied the gaoler. “Our friends oft supply us that way with provision, captain. I picked it up as I came, and thought it was too good for thy dainty appetite.”
“Captain Moseley,” said the hungry drummer, with great earnestness, “take this. Break it before thy brethren, and show them how vilely these Egyptian task-masters do entreat us in the house of bondage.”
There was something more than usually impressive in his manner. Moseley took the loaf as requested; and the gaoler, as if the object before him were beneath suspicion, exclaimed with a knowing look—
“Had I not brought the manchet myself, and watched thee narrowily, I should have guessed thou hadst crammed some secret message therein to the camp. But I defy thee, or any of thy batch, to cheat old Gabriel, the rogue’s butler!”
“Prithee, search,” said Captain Moseley, drawing the loaf from his pocket; “thou mayest, peradventure, find treachery in a toothmark, for o’ my troth they be legibly written.”
“Nay,” said Gabriel, with great self-importance, “the knave’s jaws will score no ciphers. I had as lief interpret pot-hooks and ladles.”
The captain again thrusting it beneath his belt, promised to show his commanders with what coarse fare and severity the prisoners were treated.
“Wilt thou that I intercede for thee before the Countess?” he continued; “if so be that she would remit thee of this durance.”
In a voice of thunder spake the incorrigible Gideon—
“Intercede!—I would as lief pray to the saints they should intercede with the Virgin Mary. I will rot from this perch piecemeal ere I pray to yonder ungodly woman. Yet shall I escape out of their hands, but not by mine own might, or mine own strength,” said the lion-hearted captive.
Leaving this indomitable Roundhead to his fate, Moseley returned to the camp, reporting the ill success of his mission.
Great part of the day was spent in angry discussion, so that Moseley had nigh forgotten his message from Gideon; yet he remembered it ere he left the council. Pulling out a coarse bannock, to the great astonishment of his auditory, he brake it, relating his interview with the captive. Near to where the prisoner had taken his last mouthful, Moseley found a bit of crumpled paper. The surprise and dismay of the assembly may be conceived after he had read the following billet:—
“MY DEAREST HEART,—
“With much joy and comfort I send thee news that his Highness Prince Rupert hath gotten a great victory over the rebels at Newark; and I have besought his Majesty that he should march into Lancashire. By two days, at farthest, these enemies who now beleaguer my house shall be cut off. We purpose to come upon them suddenly, so that they shall be taken in their own snare. I have raised ?3000 on the jewels conveyed to me from Lathom by the last sally, which sum I purpose giving in largess to the soldiers, that it may quicken them to thy help. My prayers and blessing for thee and the children.—Thine,
This secret intelligence had missed its destination. The gaoler had unfortunately picked it up from where some friendly hand had thrown it, reserving the curious envelope for Gideon’s breakfast, not aware of the important message it contained. But the prisoner, more wary than his keeper, when he felt the paper between his teeth, rightly judged that it was some communication of importance to his enemies, and craftily conveyed it, as we have seen, into the hands of Captain Moseley.
No mean act of heroism for a starving man to wrench the food from his own jaws,—a deed we might in vain look for amongst the patriots of our own day,—persons who would sneer at the fanaticism, and, it may be, the sincerity of Gideon Greatbatch.
Consternation was visible throughout the assembly. They had all along flattered themselves with the expectation that Prince Rupert’s army was too urgently required for the relief of York, to have caused them any disturbance; and, with inward curses on the king for his humanity, secret preparations were made for raising the siege.
Though ignorant of the cause, the garrison soon espied an unusual bustle in the camp. They were evidently preparing for some exploit. One of the spies brought intelligence that two squadrons had departed in the night, and that Colonels Moore and Ashton were on their return to Manchester.
On Monday morning, the 27th of May, it was agreed that Captains Ogle and Rawsthorne should make a sally. But they found the enemy had been beforehand with them, leaving the camp in the utmost terror and disorder. Intelligence now arrived that Prince Rupert had entered Lancashire by way of Stockport, where the Parliament army, under Colonels Duckenfield, Mainwaring, Buckley, and others, had suffered a total route. The besiegers had commenced their retreat between twelve and one o’clock the preceding night.
Thus ended the first siege of Lathom, after the place had been closely beset four months; during which time the garrison lost but six men,—four in the service, and two by negligence and over-daring.
They were, in general, supplied with provisions, her ladyship seeing the men’s rations duly served. Yet were they not seldom pushed to a sally for their dinner; their friends outside, by lights and other appointed signals, directing the foragers in their operations.
The enemy shot 107 cannon-balls, 32 stones, and but four grenadoes. By their own confession near 100 barrels of gunpowder were spent, part of which was in supplies to the garrison, who often replenished their stock at the expense of the besiegers. They lost about 500 men, besides wounded and prisoners, according to their own returns.
The next day Rigby, with about 3000 men, drew up at Eccleston Green, six miles only from Lathom, in great uncertainty which way to march, fearful of meeting with Prince Rupert. In the end, imagining that his Highness would go through Blackburn or Lancaster to the relief of York, Rigby marched off in great haste to Bolton, then a garrison town, and well fortified.
The Prince, hearing of their escape, together with Lord Derby, immediately turned their forces in this direction, determined to carry the place by assault, and revenge the insults and barbarity her ladyship had endured. This resolution was terribly accomplished. Sixteen hundred of her besiegers lay dead on the place; and twenty-two colours, which three days before flourished proudly before the house, were presented to her from his Highness by Sir Richard Crane, as a memorial of her deliverance, and “a happy remembrance of God’s mercy and goodness to her and her family.”