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1649: Levellers in Northampton

https://A series of historical notes appeared in Northampton Mercury from October 1886 onwards and ran for the next three and a half years. Titled “Things old and new” it often contain historical items relating to Northamptonshire, sometimes contributed by John Taylor.


Interesting particulars of the Levellers in the Parliamentary Army of 1649 are to be found in the British Museum collection of the Perfect Diurnall Nos. 303 and 304, from which I quote in extenso, being an historical episode in our town’s history.

J. T., Northampton.

The Headquarters at Oxford, May 19, 1649. News since came that Thompson the chiefe Leader hath possessed Northampton with two Troops of Horse, and since their comming thither many (called Levellers) from the Countrey are come to them. They have seized the Ordnance, Magazine, and monies there, yet for all you may heare they will be oatcht in a Net.

Beginning Munday, May 21, 1649.

This day a Letter was read in the house from his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, of the surprizing a party of Horse under command of Thompson chiefe leader of those called Levellers, who as we told you in the last with a small party not above 15 horse had surprized Northampton, and the manner of his being slain in the Wood neere Wellingborough, the particulars briefly thus: Major Butler, of Col. Reynoldss Regiment being sent with a select party of horse to fall into Thompsons quarters, he being gone from Northampton to a place called Wellingborough, where all his party where surprized, but Thompson escaped into a Wood, of which having intelligence, we pursued him, and beset the Wood, and sent a party into the Wood, where they found Thompson well mounted, who, being alone, yet rid up to our party and desperately shot a Cornet, and wounded another, and retreated to his bush, receiving two shots; when they began again to draw neer unto him he charged again with his Pistol, and received another shot, and retreated; the third time he came up (for he said he scornd to take quarter) Major Butlers Corporall with a Carbine charged with Seven Bullets gave Thompson his deaths wound. The Lieutenant of the Oxfordshire Troop, who joyned Thompson, is likewise taken, who it seemeth seized on the Magazine of Northampton, and the Excise Money.

The house hereupon ordered that the Commissioners of the great Seale of England be required to issue ont Commissions of Oyer and Terminer under the great Seale, in the Counties of Oxon and Northampton, for trying such persons as are in prison in Oxon and Northampton, being taken in Arms against the Commonwealth in the last Rebellion, and that the Lords Commissioners do consider of and appoint fit persons to be Commissioners therein.

Thursday, May 22nd, 1649.

By a particular Expresse from Northampton this day is certified:

Sir,—Our Town hath been this week the Scene of News, Thompson the Declaration maker with some dozen in his Company stole into this Town late on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning at Sermon time went to the Goale and demanded his friends there imprisoned, threatning death to any that should oppose, the Jaylor himselfe not being within, and the under Jaylor not daring to oppose, he took them out, but no more, and then rode with his company up and down the Town to all the Gates, and gave out that 700 men were to be quartered here that night, and that they would deliver the Nation from oppression of all sorts, and so went to see the Ordnance and Ammunition, and took the Keys into their owne hands, and then went to the Market crosse and read his Declaration, and made a speech to those that came about him, that he would free them from Excise, Free quarter, Taxes, and Tythes, and exhorted all men to assist him in so good a work; and then went to the Excise Office and took all the money he there found, and gave much to the poor people that flockt about him and prayd for him. After that he enquired for Drums, and fetcht them where he found them, and beat them all about the Town, and a Serjeant made proclamation that those who would list themselves should be well entertained: Then he went to the Mayor and demanded the Keys of the Town hall, because he heard there were Arms and Ammunition there; but was answered that it was the Towns and should not be at his dispose. Next morning he and all his Company came to the Mayor and demanded the Key again, but were denied as before. All this while no body stird, I being engaged because it was Lecture day, was not informed of any thing; but Friday noon I went to Mr. Mayor to satisfie my selfe how this impudence of a few men could be so swallowed in this Town, that was not went to carry ooals so patiently? he told me he had summoned his brethren and very few came, and those devided in their judgements what to do, told him, He spake well and they believed had a great party, for not onely the old Malignants and rabble of poore people would be for him, but all Sectaries in Town an Countrey, because he promises to pull down Tythes and Ministers that we had no horse to oppose theirs, and they would quell our foot as soon as any preparation should be made, or arms put into their hands; neither knew we whom to trust, all men were so unsatisfied, and taken with his grounds, that it was lawfull to repell force with force and if they should engage and get the worst the Town would be destroyed; that he had sent to Sir Gilbert Pickering and divers of the Committee, and had no encouragement to meddle, but was perswaded that it was best to let them take their course, so long as they were neither insolent nor injurious unto any, but very civill, and payd for what they took, and that he was certainly enformed the Generall had utterly defeated those at Burford, and was upon his march this way, and would finde these men carelesse. I told him it would be no thank to us if it were wholy done without us, and that we might inform the Generall privately, and see what answer we should have.

As we were talking one brought word that his new listed men were marching out of the Town much afraid, and had set scouts on all the passes toward Oxford, where it was believed the Generall was, Yet they were perswaded to write presently to the Generall how things were, and because it should not be discovered one of the Alderman, being a Physician, put the Letter in the bottom of a Box with Pils, and directed them to one in Witney whom he knew. Thompson himselfe made no haste to go out of the Town until the evening, and then went not above six miles to Walgrave, where he and his company being about 21 foot and nine or ten horse quartered; and were so confident (because they found so little opposition at Northampton) that the Generals Forlorn hope was with them in the morning before they stird out of their quarters; he was on horseback himselfe and might have escaped, but had engaged overnight not to desert his foot, and so stirred not but stayd their comming, and ohargd three severall times himselfe, and went off gallantly, and led them thus some three miles, but being shot and bleeding, leapt into a Wood with his horse, and routed those that first pursued him on horseback, and being offered quarter told them he scorned it; but one of Major Butlers Troop left his horse and having a good Carbine waylaied him in the bushes he heard him comming, and having a fair shot him with a trace of Bulletts so that began to stagger, and the fellow to make sure him a good blow with the end of his Carbine and feld him, and so died William Thompson, and was brought Saturday night into this Town, there was but one slain, not outright, but dead by this time. Poore Northampton for their want of valour punished with the free quarter of about 800 horse and men, and left to be censored as please men. I liked not their politicke cowardinesse, because I thought it might invite mere of that kind, the Lord helpe this poor kingdom, there is no trusting these men, they made many believe that severall Commanders of note would presently be with them with a great brigade of horse, Mrs. Thompson bearing of her husband’s death, being great with child and near her time, fell in labour, and both she and her child are dead.

We are desired by the Licencer M. Jenings to insert thus much, That whereas for some Weeks past there was a Sheet published, called The Scout Printed on Fridayes for Robert Wood, he wil from henceforth upon good grounds deny Licence to the said Sheet for that day, as also some other Sheets of as little satisfaction to the Kingdom.

Northampton Mercury – Saturday 20 August 1887
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