Towards the end of the English Civil War, many English manor houses and stately homes lay in ruins, their treasures plundered, their art-works melted down, destroyed or divided. One good example of this is Basing House, near Basingstoke.
As the King's cause became more and more hopeless, and he lost the crucial towns of Leicester, Bridgewater, Bath, and Bristol to Cromwell's New Model Army, Cromwell moved on towards London. He wanted to keep the road to the city open, and one of the places that stood in the way was Basing House. The house itself had been under siege on two previous occasions, but this was to be its last stand.
|Old postcard of the Garrison Gate at Basing House (circa 1900)|
An elegant walled and turreted red-brick stronghold with its own chapel, Basing House was home to the Marquess of Winchester. When it was first built it was the largest private house in the country with around 360 rooms. In Tudor times it was frequently visited by Kings and Queens, including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and not forgetting Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary I who spent their honeymoon there in 1554. This fabulous piece of Tudor history was soon to be left a pile of smoking rubble.
|Ernest Crofts - Cromwell at the siege of Basing House|
Once the stronghold was breached, the Roundhead storming parties swarmed over the doomed mansion, and the defenders, though they fought bravely, were far too few to stand a chance against the might of the incoming army. Women witnessed their husbands, fathers, and brothers slaughtered before them, and rushed in to try to prevent the attackers, but they were bludgeoned down.
|CW Cope - The Defence of Basing House|
|Landseer - The Plundering of Basing House|
In the wardrobes of the house were more than a hundred richly embroidered petticoats and gowns in silks and satins. These were prey to the plunderers, but not content with these, the ladies were stripped of their outer-garments, the dresses taken literally off their backs until they were left clad only in their shifts. Men were also de-robed, and poor old Inigo Jones, famous architect of Whitehall Banqueting House, had to be carried out of the house naked, but wrapped in a blanket.The Marquess of Winchester himself is said to have been captured whilst hiding in a bread-oven.
after that they sold the household stuff, whereof there was a good store; and the country loaded away many carts, and continued a great while...till they had fetched out all the stools, chairs and other lumber, all of which they sold to the country people piecemeal. In these great houses there was not one iron bar left in all the windows before night... and the last work of all was the lead, and by Thursday morning they had hardly left one gutter about the house.
~Hugh PeterFire was the great house's final indignity. The flames spread rapidly, burning for twenty hours, leaving little remaining but charred and blackened walls. With the house still hot from the flames, country people flocked in crowds to buy the cheese, the bacon, and the wheat which had been hastily dragged out. A cart took all the popish books, idols, rosaries and relics to London, to be burned on a public bonfire.
Even after his house was burned and looted, the Marquess was heard to say; "If the King had no more ground in England but Basing House, I would adventure as I did, and so maintain it to the uttermost. Basing House is called Loyalty."
When Parliament was queried about the bloodshed, the reply was; "You must remember what they were: they were most of them Papists; therefore our muskets and our swords did show but little compassion, and this house being at length subdued, did satisfy for her treason and rebellion by the blood of the offenders."
The experiences of the Royalists of Basing House were not uncommon. In my most recent novel, Spirit of the Highway for teens and adults, the setting is a house that has been attacked and plundered in just such a way. Some Royalists, left homeless, with their houses requisitioned by Parliament, turned to highway robbery to survive.
Although the remains of Basing House were demolished by order of Parliament, and much of the masonry carried off to be re-used in other buildings, the ruin can still be visited today.
By The Sword Divided - John Adair
The English Civil War at First Hand - Tristram Hunt
Going to the Wars - Charles Carlton
British Civil Wars Project
Historic Old Basing