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Basingstoke in the Civil War

RoundheadDuring the Civil War of 1642-1646 the Basingstoke district became one of the most important areas in the country. Basingstoke was in an area sympathetic towards Parliament and resented the weight of Royal taxation. The support was passive, however, as just two miles away was Basing House, the residence of the Catholic 5th Marquis of Winchester.

    Basing House covered 14 1/2 acres and was second in size only to Windsor Castle. In 1641 the King and Parliament were growing increasingly apart when Parliament learned that the Marquis of Winchester had collected 1500 muskets at Basing. Parliament ordered him to sell them, which he did.

   Cavalier When war broke out the following year Basing House was garrisoned in the name of the King. The defence of the house was of great value to Charles, it served as a rallying point for Cavalier forces in the area and could be used to hinder trade from the west country to London, part of Parliaments strength. From December 1642 the Roundheads principal base in the area was at Farnham Castle and skirmishes broke out between the two places.

   Cavalier Basingstoke was forced to pay 40 a week towards the upkeep of the garrison and the surrounding villages supplied food and hay for the horses. On four occasions the Roundheads launched attacks on Basing House with far superior numbers than the defenders, but were driven off on each occasion. The following spring Parliament occupied Reading and the whole area was dominated by forces hostile to Basing House. In July 1643 the King sent from Oxford 100 musketeers who reached Basing just a few hours before a fresh attack. The enemy was beaten off when a cavalry force arrived from Oxford and fortifications were then extended and included mounted guns. Basing House was besieged by 7000 troops under General Waller in November 1643, the assault lasted for several weeks with at one stage the Parliamentarians advancing to within a pistol shot of the House, but at the end of the month Waller withdrew to Farnham having lost over 1000 men.

    Roundhead helmet By the summer of 1644 the King's fortunes were in decline and Parliamentary reinforcements were sent from London. For 24 weeks from June 1644 the siege continued, the garrison suffered from smallpox and individuals had to creep out and risk their lives to cut fodder for the horses close to Roundhead lines. Guns bombarded the fortifications and troops lay ready, eventually a relief force of cavalry reached the house and after a two hour battle drove off the enemy foot and entered the house with provisions and gun powder. In November after nearly six months in the open the Parliamentarians burned their huts and withdrew to Odiham. The next night further relief arrived and the garrisons defences were again strengthened.

    The King's executioner The King's defeat at Naseby in 1645 removed his last field army and it was now just a matter of time before the garrison was overwhelmed. In August 1645 the house was again laid to siege, with heavy mortars hurling 16 inch 63 lb shots at the defences. In October Cromwell arrived to take charge with 7-8000 men besieging the 300  man garrison. On the 14th October the Roundheads breached the walls and occupied the house. The place was sacked, four catholic priests were found hanged and the Marquis was taken prisoner and transported to the Bell Inn. The house was partly destroyed a few days latter by fire caused, it's thought, by a smouldering fireball and several hundred prisoners were burned to death in the cellars. The rest of the building was razed by the Parliamentary forces.

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