A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 11 October 2012

ECW - They Called Her Babylon

Once again, I am grateful to Iain Mac, who is currently operating this blog by remote control. Iain very kindly pointed me towards this clip of Steel-Eye Span performing They Called Her Babylon, which is a song about the self-same siege of Lathom House which I referred to in the comments to the previous post. The heroine of the piece is Lady Derby, a large French lady of terrifyingly feisty spirit, who was resident in the house during the "Leaguer" and showed herself to be a much stronger character than her absent husband. Lathom House is believed to have stood on the site of the Pilkington works near Ormskirk. There is a little poetic licence in the lyric – the defenders did a stout job, no doubt, but the siege failed mostly because of lack of ordnance and suboptimal application on the part of the parliament boys, who retired rather gratefully when it was heard that Rupert was on his way to relieve the siege.

Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby
(1599–1664), born Charlotte de La Trémoille

Fairfax quit the siege rather early – when it became obvious that the defenders had more artillery than he had, and was dismissive of the whole episode afterwards. Alexander Rigby was left in charge, and a more dispirited commander it is difficult to imagine. He was further handicapped by the fact that many of his men were provided by militia units belonging to local towns – these men had little motivation to start with, and had to be constantly replaced as secondments were called back in.

Lathom House, as it was

A sortie by the defenders captures the solitary mortar at Lathom 

Lady Derby is a noble member of that legion of strong-minded ladies over the centuries – from Boudicca to Margaret Thatcher – who must be largely responsible for the amount of time men spend in potting sheds, or playing darts in the local pub. Or walking in the hills. Or wargaming.

Also following on from the previous comments, on the subject of hardship inflicted on non-combatants, here is a piece on exactly that subject. This is lifted, humbly but without apology, from Dr Stephen Bull’s fine A General Plague of Madness – TheCivil Wars in Lancashire 1640-1660 – it is a great book – I recommend you buy it if you have any interest in the period. 

Rupert left Oxford at the head of some cavalry on 5 May 1644. At Shrewsbury he was joined by about 8000 horse and foot, including an Irish contingent under Henry Tillier. On 16 May the royalist army advanced northwards, making first for Whitchurch, as one parliamentarian account noted, ‘plundering most fearfully all along, and especially taking men and horses’. Some Cheshire men who gave up their goods and animals to Rupert were doubly cursed, being royalist supporters already forced to hand over much of their property to parliament. William Davenport of Bramhall was a particularly good example of this double jeopardy. Part of Sir William Brereton’s [parliament] cavalry had visited him in early 1643, taking away not only eight muskets, eight sets of pikeman’s armour but other equipment to the value of £40, plus £7 in cash. Thereafter he had to make regular payments to help support the Nantwich garrison and various ‘loans’. On New Years Day 1644 Captain Francis Duckenfield and other parliament men had returned to clear out most of his horses, and various other things including a drum. Then, five months later, Rupert’s army came as something of a final insult:

‘...by whom I lost better than a hundred pounds in linens and other goods at Milesend, besides the rifling and pulling in pieces of my house. By them and my Lord Goring’s army I lost eight horses, and besides victuals and other provision they ate me three score bushels of oats. No sooner was the Prince gone but Stanley’s cornet, one Lely, and twenty of his troop hastened their return to plunder me of my horses which the Prince had left me.’

Parliamentary sequestrators would come again just a couple of months later.

In case you think you are having a bad time this year, please spare a thought for William Davenport.


  1. Poor old Davenport, but not at all untypical. Fine quote from the book there Tony, sounds a good read. Are some of those books posted previously from Partizan Press? I must get hold of some of those old publications myself again, especially 'Old Robins Foot'. Anyway, I digress, great to see you obviously enjoying researching the period. Right I'm going to grab a coffee and then check out the Steelye Span post :-) There used to a group called I think 'Strawhead' who specialised in period music of the Civil War.... I wonder if they're still going.

    1. The little plain booklets are from Stuart Press - I think they may be available from Caliver - they are not one of my suppliers. I got them from Historical Management Associates, who are the original publisher - have a read of their website for details.

      I heard a recent album of Strawhead - I think they are probably very good indeed, but I find the music of the period heavy going from a musical standpoint! In other words, for me, the songs are only of interest because of the historical context - I couldn't spend a very long time listening to them. The Steeleye Span song, on the other hand, is a modern song about an old story, I guess.

      Is that actually Maddie Prior in the clip? She must be nearly as old as me....

      Cheers - Tony

  2. That was a bit rough, poor chap!