Join the Club

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I have been writing a series of posts about Wessex Political Thinkers over at the Wessex Regionalist blog. This was originally intended to be a part of that series, but I thought it more properly belonged here, for two reasons. Firstly, because their interest seemed more related to history than current politics. And secondly, because political theory was never really their thing.

The Clubmen were a movement that arose during the English Civil War in response to depredations inflicted on the general populace by both royalist and parliamentarian troops. Originally founded in south-west Mercia in 1644, bands of  Clubmen sprang up the following year in virtually every county of Wessex, with their heartlands being in Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset. Their symbol was the white ribbon, but these were no "peace at any price" non-interventionists; rather, their slogan was "resist all plunderers." Some favoured the royalist cause, others the parliamentarian, but all were sick of the war, and prepared to take up cudgels--literally--to defend their property, and their womenfolk.

The first Clubman uprising in Wessex came, appropriately enough, on St Ealdhelm's Day 1645, when 4000 Dorsetshire Clubmen assembled near Shaftesbury, at the site known to this day as Clubmen's Down. It is thought that many of the ringleaders had been involved in the Western Rising of twenty years earlier, against enclosures and disafforestation, but this is mostly conjecture based on the fact that many of the riots occurred at the same locations.

Further uprisings occurred across Wessex in the following months. On August 4th, Cromwell dispersed nearly 2000 clubmen at Hambledon Hill, killing around 50 or so. Combatants on the Clubman side included the future Bishop of Gloucester, Robert Frampton, and his four brothers. Shortly afterwards, the Clubmen of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Devon appear to have been won over to the parliamentarian cause, and at a meeting in Dundry on September 7th, they agreed to aid Fairfax in the siege of Bristol.

As the uprisings ended in the western part of Wessex, they were just beginning in the east. Roundhead troops were diverted from the siege of Basing House, seat of the Marquis of Winchester and a key royalist stronghold, in order to suppress a nearby rebellion by Hampshire Clubmen. In Berkshire, the Clubmen were said to number 16000, more than either the Cavaliers or the Roundheads in that county.

In November, 3000 Clubmen met on Bredon Hill in Worcestershire and openly declared for parliament. After that, they survived in the form of local militias acting on behalf of the New Model Army. Their last gasp was an ill-fated attack on Princes Rupert and Maurice as they retreated to Oxford. Interestingly, the use of the word "club" to mean an association is first recorded shortly after the English Civil War, so it is possible that their legacy lives on in the English language, long after they themselves have faded into history.

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