English Civil War Weekend to revive past glories

The English Civil War Society is holding a whole weekend’s worth of activities to commemorate the city of Gloucester’s involvement in the war on Saturday 23 and 24 March. There will be parades with Cavaliers and Roundheads in full costume, fun and interesting talks at Gloucester City Museum, demonstrations at Gloucester Folk Museum and cannon firing at the Historic Docks.

English Civil War Weekend – full schedule of parades and events

What is the origin of Gloucester‘s strong ties with the English Civil War? The city was besieged by Charles I’s Royalist forces from 3 August until the arrival of the Earl of Essex’s Parliamentarian army on 5 September 1643. After a summer of Royalist victories, Gloucester was one of the few remaining Parliamentarian strongholds left in the West. Charles wished to consolidate his power in the South West and felt that Gloucester’s small garrison would provide little resistance. Colonel Edward Massey led the defence of the city, withstanding cannon attacks and surviving an attempt to undermine the walls at the East Gate (thanks to a spell of bad weather). By the time the Earl of Essex relieved the city, Massey only had three barrels of gunpowder remaining.

Several legends came out of the Siege of Gloucester, one of which was the pig that saved the city. It is said that a pig was carried around inside the city walls during the siege. The poor little pig was tormented into making an almighty racket, hopefully giving off the impression to the Royalists that there were plenty of pigs and that there was no chance of a food running out in Gloucester. For more about Gloucester’s affinity with our porcine friends visit the Centenary of the Gloucestershire Old Spot Exhibition at the Gloucester Folk Museum.

The Mystery of Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty was said to be the name of an unprecedentedly large mortar imported from Holland. It was mounted on the walls of Llanthony Secunda Priory where the Royalist forces were encamped during the Siege of Gloucester. It was apparently named (disparagingly) after a famously rotund MP of the day. As the artillerymen trained their sights on Gloucester’s cathedral, the cannon misfired. Another assertion was that Humpty Dumpty was a ‘tortoise’ siege engine that featured a series of covered bridges to enable King Charles I’s men to cross the defensive ditch and scale the city walls. This second theory was put forward by Professor David Daube in The Oxford Magazine in 1956, but like many other origin theories of the nursery rhyme, it was a case of fitting square pegs into round holes.

Gloucester Day
Celebrated annually for hundreds of years following the lifting of the Siege of Gloucester on 5 September 1643, the event died out in the nineteenth century. However the celebration was revitalised by town crier Alan Myatt and the Gloucester Civic Trust in 2009 and forms an integral part of the Gloucester History Festival.

Mock Mayor of Barton
During the Restoration of Charles II, the king settled scores and penalised Gloucester’s impertinence during the Civil War by knocking down the once unbreachable walls and reducing the city boundaries. This left Barton outside the city limits and without a mayor to defer to. The residents of Barton ‘elected’ a mock mayor (usually a man who had made the biggest fool of themselves in the previous year) to thumb their noses in defiance at the city of Gloucester’s authority.

The Spirit of Gloucester
Perhaps the Siege of Gloucester is seen as a prime example of the defiance of the fiercely proud inhabitants of this small city. This spirit has been documented since the days when Gloucester (or Glevum) was a Roman colonia – the highest status afforded to a provincial town in the Roman Empire. It was a small colonia, but it had colonia status nonetheless. Today, Gloucester revels in its reputation of passion and pride – just ask the fans at Kingsholm (officially the most passionate fans in the Aviva Premiership). If Gloucester is succesful in being named as one of the venues for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 despite it being the smallest (and only club) ground on the shortlist, it will be down to indomitable spirit of its people.

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