At the outbreak of hostilities in August 1642 Northampton was fortified as a major parliamentarian garrison. The south-western part of Northamptonshire was a disputed territory and throughout the war the people were at times taxed by both the county committee at Northampton and the royalist garrison at Banbury. Though the greater part of these areas were normally under parliamentarian control, the territory around Grafton Regis suffered various raids by royalist forces.
1643 was the King's most successful year of the war and that autumn his main field army returned to Oxford for the winter. Prince Rupert, the King's senior commander, had the opportunity for a major local campaign to capture the south Midlands. On 14 October 1643 Rupert advanced with 2,000 horse and 700 foot, hoping to take Northampton by treachery, but the garrison had been forewarned and the royalists were driven off. Rupert marched on into the Ouse valley to plunder north Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, before fortifying the town of Newport Pagnell to consolidate his control of the area. London trained bands of Parliamentarians were mobilised under Major-General Sir Philip Skippon to drive out the royalists. On receiving the news of Skippon's advance on 27 October, the royalist commander of Newport Pagnell left the newly constructed defences and fell back towards Banbury. Skippon took control of Newport Pagnell and re-fortified the town, establishing a garrison which was to remain in parliamentarian hands throughout the rest of the war.
On 14 November, 1643, came the first report that Colonel John Digby was at Grafton Regis with a Royalist regiment of horse and a further 400 horse at Paulerspury. The Digbys were described in parliamentarian propaganda as a papist family, one of Sir John's brothers being close to the King while his father had been executed for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. He was joined by 'Sir John Waycutt' (probably Sir John Wake of Hartwell) and by 19 November they had begun to fortify Lady Crane's house at Grafton. The Cranes were also royalist supporters. By fortifying the manor house at Grafton, the royalists now also controlled the main road from London to Northampton and Leicester.
Sir Samuel Luke, Parliamentarian commander of the garrison at Newport Pagnell, was amongst leaders who instructed troops to obtain food from the surrounding villages. He was unusual in trying to ensure that it was properly paid for. Sometimes he would buy up all the available provisions to stop them falling into Royalist hands. Despite these intentions, in February 1645 Luke reported that “we have been forced to eat up the inhabitants in these three hundreds (including Cleley) that they neither have horsemeat for any, or corn for themselves to sow.”
He also commandeered the services of men, teams and carts from parts of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to work on fortifications at Newport Pagnell.
Luke’s reports to London were intended to pressurise authorities into providing him with more money. In April 1645 Captain Henry Andrewes, having ordered his troops at Cosgrove to march to Warwick to assist in operations, found himself on the wrong end of a mutiny when his men refused to comply because they had received only four week’s pay in four months. Their local debts in Cosgrove village were mounting up.
On 14 April 1645 the troopers stationed at Cosgrove petitioned Sir Samuel Luke, as the inhabitants had refused to let soldiers “into their homes by reason there is so much due to them.” Relationships with the local people had declined to the point where:
“we may have just cause to fear that the people may rise and cut our throats, if an enemy approaches from who they may expect some relief from such oppression. By their continual murmurings it appears that their grievances are so great that their general expressions are that we eat the meat out of their children’s’ mouths, they paying their contribution and we neither receiving any pay to give some small satisfaction for quarter nor not hey expecting any abatement out of their tax, having so long been deceived by fair promises, which is probably as great oppression to the country as Pharaoh’s demanding full tale of brick, without allowance of straw.”
These house were certainly in Cosgrove at the time of the records quoted above.
The Civil War Siege at Grafton Regis by Glenn Foard
Wanton Troopers Buckinghamshire in the Civil Wars 1640-1660 by Ian F W Beckett