Basingstoke in the Civil War
During 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.
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.
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.
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 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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