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AUTHORS ASSOCIATED WITH PLACES.
VISIT TO DONNINGTON-BATTLE OF NEWBURY.
LORD CLARENDON-GEOFFREY CHAUCER-JOHN HUGHES.
OF all places connected with the Great Civil War, none retains traces more evident and complete of its ravages than the beautiful district which a tolerable pedestrian may traverse in a morning walk, and which comprises the site of the two battles of Newbury, and the ruins of Donnington Castle, one of the most memorable sieges of the Parliamentary Army.
I went over that most interesting ground (not, however, on foot) on one of the most brilliant days of the last brilliant autumn, with the very companion for such an excursion: one who has shown in his "Boscobel" how well he can unite the most careful and accurate historical research with the rarer power which holds attention fixed upon the page; and who, possessing himself a fine old mansion at the foot of the Castle Hill, and having a good deal of the old cavalier feeling in his own character, takes an interest almost personal in the events and the places of the story.
The first of these engagements took place, according to Clarendon, on the 18th of September, 1643,
and has been most minutely related by contemporary writers, the noble historian of the Rebellion, Oldmixon, Heath, the anonymous author of "The Memoirs of Lord Essex," and many others, varying as to certain points, according to their party predilections, but agreeing in the main. A very brief summary must answer my purpose.
Charles commanded the Royalists in person, whilst the Parliamentary forces were led by Essex, the King's object being to intercept the enemy, and prevent his reaching London. The common, then and now called "The Wash," was, together with the neighbouring lanes, the principal scene of the combat. The line of road has been in some measure altered, still sufficient indications remain to localise the several incidents of this hotly-contested field. Essex, assailed on his march from Hungerford by the fiery Rupert the evening before, encamped on the open common, "impatient," as one of the Commonwealth narrators says, "of the sloth of darkness," all the more so that the King is said to have sent the Earl a challenge to give battle the next day. On that day the great battle took place, when the valour of the raw and undisciplined train-bands, the citizen soldiers, so much despised by the cavaliers, withstood the chivalry of the royal army, and enabled the General, although hotly pursued for several miles, and furiously charged by Prince Rupert, who had three horses killed under him that day, to accomplish his object, and conduct his troops to London.
Essex, previous to his advance towards Reading, sent a "ticket" to Mr. Fulke, the minister of Enborne parish, commanding him to bury all the dead on
either side; and three huge mounds still attest the compliance of the clergyman with an order worthy of a Christian soldier. His Majesty, hearing of the "pious wish" of the Lord-General, issued his warrant to the Mayor of Newbury for the recovery of the wounded. Rival historians differ as to the number of the killed. But it seems certain that the loss of the Parliamentarians amounted to more than five hundred; and that on the King's part not fewer than a thousand were wounded and slain. Amongst them fell many distinguished loyalists - above all, the young, the accomplished, the admirable Lord Falkland, he who, for talent and virtue, might be called the Hampden of his party, and who, like Hampden, left no equal behind.
The night before the battle he had slept at the house of Mr. Head, whom my companion (a man of ancient family and high connections) was proud to claim among his ancestry; and tradition says, that being convinced that an engagement the next day was inevitable, and being strongly impressed with the presentiment that it would prove fatal to himself, he determined, in order to be fully prepared for the event, to receive the sacrament. Accordingly very early on the morning of the battle it was administered to him by the clergyman of Newbury, and Mr. Head and the whole family, by Lord Falkland's particular wish, were present. It is also related that his corpse, a few hours afterwards, was brought slung on a horse, and deposited in the Town Hall, from whence it was subsequently removed for interment.
Such strong impressions of coming death were not uncommon in that age to men of imaginative tempera
ment. But it is not improbable that Lord Falkland, in that hour of danger, remembered a prediction which had come across him strangely not many years before, and which is thus related:
"Whilst he was with the King at Oxford, his Majesty went one day to see the Library, where he was shown, among other books, a 'Virgil,' nobly printed and exquisitely bound. The Lord Falkland, to divert the King, would have his Majesty make a trial of the Sortes Virgilianæ, an usual kind of divination in ages past, made by opening a Virgil.' The King, opening the book, the passage which happened to come up was that part of Dido's imprecation against Æneas, Æn. IV. 615, &c., which is thus translated by Dryden :
'Oppressed with numbers in the unequal field,
"King Charles seeming concerned at this accident, the Lord Falkland, who observed it, would likewise try his own fortune in the same manner, hoping that he might fall upon some passage that could have no relation to his case, and thereby divert the King's thoughts from any impression the other might make upon him; but the place Lord Falkland stumbled upon was yet more suited to his destiny than the other had been to the King's, being the following expressions of Evander upon the untimely death of his son, Pallas, Æn. XI. 152:
"O Pallas! thou hast failed thy plighted word!
That boiling blood would carry thee too far,
Charles was notoriously superstitious; and we may well imagine, that besides the grief of losing the noble adherent, whose very presence conferred honour and dignity on his cause, a strong personal feeling must have pressed upon him as he recollected the double prophecy, one half of which had been so fatally fulfilled.
I could not choose a better specimen of Clarendon, that great master of historical portrait-painting, than his character of Lord Falkland. The writer who so immortalises another, gains immortality himself:
"In this unhappy battle was slain the Lord Viscount Falkland, a person of such prodigious parts of learning and knowledge, of that inimitable sweetness and delight in conversation, of so flowing and obliging a humanity and goodness to mankind, and of that primitive simplicity and integrity of life, that if there were no other brand upon this odious and accursed civil war than that single loss is, it must be most infamous and accursed to all posterity.
"Before this parliament, his condition of life was so happy that it was hardily capable of improvement. Before he came to twenty years of age he was master of a noble fortune, which descended to him by the gift of a grandfather. His education for some years had been in Ireland, where his father was LordDeputy; so that when he returned into England, to the possession of his fortune, he was unentangled with any acquaintance or friends, which usually grow