Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxv.

The First Days.

Needs must that I say somewhat concerning the first days of this unlucky Rebellion, because many things foolish and false have been said and written concerning its early beginning. And first, it is most true that not one gentleman joined (except, perhaps, the Earl) who was not possessed beforehand of a general knowledge (I say general, not full and particular) of the design, and had pledged his honour to carry it out when called upon. Yet nothing was decided upon until the meeting, wherefore all spoke truth in saying at their trials that the business was not premeditated. This being so, I hope that no one will repeat the idle accusation which has been brought against my brother that he drew them all in. In truth, there came but two who can be fairly charged upon him. One of these was Mr. Craster of Craster, and the other his cousin, Tom Forster, afterwards hanged at Liverpool. Lastly, I declare that not one among them all would have moved but for the things they were told by the secret messengers, such as Oxbrough, Gascoigne, and Talbot —— I mean such things as have been already repeated concerning the temper of the country. Never was a company of honourable gentlemen (as I have since fully learned) so vilely deceived and betrayed to their own destruction as these unfortunate gentlemen of Northumberland. Had I known then what now I know, I would myself have stabbed Colonel Oxbrough to the heart with my scissors. For there was no rising in the West of England at all, and only a riot or two in the Midland Counties; nor any rising in Ireland, where most we expected and looked for one; and as for the great promises which we had, it will be seen presently to how much they amounted. Yet the poor gentleman may himself have been deceived, and in the end he met his death with great fortitude.

There were about twenty gentlemen who rode out with Tom. They were, if I remember rightly, Mr. William Clavering, of Callalee, and his brother John; Mr. George Collingwood; four Shaftoes —— namely, Mr. William Shafto, of Bavington, and three others; Mr. George Gibson; Dick Stokoe; Mr. George Sanderson, of Highlee, and Mr. William Sanderson; Mr. Will Charleton the younger, of the Tower; Mr. John Hunter; Mr. William Craster; my cousin, Thomas Forster; Mr. Thomas Lisle; Mr. Thomas Riddle the younger, of Swinburne Castle; Mr. John Crofts, of Wooler; Mr. John Beaumont; Mr. Robert Cotton, and Mr. John Cotton, his son. With them rode Mr. Patten and Mr. Hilyard, the former swelling like a bishop (as he already thought himself), in a new cassock and great wig, and the latter riding last, with anxious face. Some of them rode out from Blanchland, but most came from Hexham.

They made no stay at Greenrig, but, thinking the place inconvenient, they rode on to the top of an adjacent hill, called the Waterfalls, whence they presently discerned Lord Derwentwater approaching with his friends. It hath been reported, and I have never heard to the contrary, that on the evening before he left the home to which he was to return no more, and in the grounds of his house, the Earl met a ghost, or spirit, who spoke to him, and promised (being one of those spirits who are permitted to tell the truth with intent to lead astray) that he should never fall in battle. I know not how this may be: I saw and spoke with my lord but once again, and he made no mention of this circumstance. But I am well assured that all night long his favourite dog howled and cried; and, when he mounted his horse in the morning, the creature reared and backed, and could not be persuaded to advance; which makes me think that a friendly spirit barred the way, as was done unto Balaam a long time ago —— only, in this case, the angel became not visible; and, when one of the grooms led the horse forward, he fell to trembling, and became covered with sweat and foam. Moreover, my lord found, soon after starting, that the ring which he always wore (it had been his grandmother’s gift to him) was lost or left behind. In spite of these ill omens and manifest warnings, he bore himself with a cheerful countenance; and, if he had misgivings, communicated none of them to those around him, who were, indeed, a joyful company, laughing and racing as they rode. He had with him his brother Charles; Lord Widdrington and his two brothers; Mr. Edward Howard, brother of the Duke of Norfolk; Mr. Walter Tancred, brother of Sir Thomas; Sir William Swinburne’s two brothers, Ned and Charles; Lord Widdrington’s brother-in-law, Mr. Richard Townley; Mr. Errington, of Beaufront; Mr. Philip Hudson, uncle to Lord Widdrington; and one or two others. The numbers of the gentlemen thus joined together amounted in all to about sixty horsemen, of whom twenty were servants. This was not, to be sure, a large force with which to take the field against King George’s armies. But they expected no more at the beginning, and rode north that day to Rothbury, the news of what was doing spreading like wildfire through the country. At Rothbury their numbers were much increased; though, for the present, they would enlist none of the country people, only bade them sit down and wait, for their time should come before long. Now this, Mr. Hilyard hath always maintained, was their first and capital error; for they should have listed all who came that were able to carry pike and firelock, and not to have refused any. Then, whether their army were well or ill-equipped, the fame and rumour of the great numbers flocking to them would have been spread abroad, and so many thousands encouraged to enlist. Besides, those who would have joined, on seeing the gallant show of gentlemen and their mighty following, lost heart, or became cold, when they had passed by, and remembered only the danger when their offers to join might have been accepted with joy. However, this was only one of the many mistakes made, Colonel Oxbrough, the principal adviser, being one who knew not the country, and vainly imagined that the rustics of Northumberland are as hostile to the Government, and as full of hatred, as are the wild kernes of Ireland, which was a great mistake to make.

Next day, being Saturday, the 7th of October, they marched upon Warkworth; and there, at the gates of the old castle, the General (no other than Tom), wearing a mask —— but why, I know not, because all the world knew him —— proclaimed King James III. of Great Britain. It was done with trumpet and drum, and one acting as herald (I suspect, Mr. Hilyard; but he hath never avowed the fact). On the next day, being Sunday, the General sent orders to Mr. Ion, vicar of the parish, that he should pray for King James; and, on his refusing, commanded Mr. Buxton, Chaplain of the Forces (Mr. Patten being, as it were, Domestic Chaplain to the General), to read the service, which was done, and a very stirring sermon was preached, full of exhortations to be manful to the cause, and to fight valiantly. On Monday, the 10th, they rode to Morpeth, and there received seventy gentlemen from over the Border. They were now 300 strong, and all gentlemen. Had they taken all who offered, they might have been 3,000 strong. Here they were all rejoiced by the news that Mr. Launcelot Errington, with half a dozen companions, had boldly captured the castle on Holy Island. They did not hold it long; but it is by such feats of bravery that the hearts of others are uplifted. If they could keep the place, they could signal friends at sea, who were expected daily, with supplies of arms and officers. At Morpeth they again proclaimed the Chevalier. Here they were joined by a good many other gentlemen; but still they refused the common people. Now, considering that foot soldiers are the greatest and most important part of an army, it seems madness not to have taken them. ‘A dozen times,’ Mr. Hilyard hath said since, ‘was I tempted to proffer my humble counsel to the General; but refrained, seeing that I was the lowest of the gentlemen volunteers, and he now surrounded by noblemen and officers. Yet I would to Heaven I had had but a single hour with him alone over a pipe, as in the old days, when he would honour me by asking my mind!’

Another dreadful mistake, though one which was afterwards pleaded in excuse, was that the gentlemen did not bring with them every man that could be raised. Lord Derwentwater, for example, could have raised and armed well-nigh a thousand men; yet he brought none with him, except half a dozen servants.

‘They were struck,’ said Mr. Hilyard afterwards in London, ‘with that kind of madness, in virtue of which men do nothing right, but see everything as through a distorted glass, and so commit one fault after another, and do all wrong. It is not a phrensy, ecstasy, or the fury which comes from love, study, or religious fury, but one which deprives the reason of judgment, the body being sound and well; and is, I doubt not, a demoniacal possession, permitted for high purposes by Heaven itself, against which we ought to pray. Who but madmen would have refused to enlist the common sort? Who but madmen would have left behind them their own people, who were an army ready to hand? Who but such would have gone into a campaign without arms, ammunition, ordnance, provisions, or any thought for supplying them?’

Their first design was to get possession of Newcastle, of which town they had great hopes; and they sent Charles Radcliffe forward with a troop of horse to take and hold Felton Bridge, which was done with great valour.

And here they met with their first disappointment, expecting that Newcastle would open its gates to them, whereas, on the contrary, the gates of that city were closed tight, and the citizens and keelmen armed, and the friends of the Prince had to lie snug and quiet. There is no doubt that they were promised the town would receive them, and a great accession to their strength it would have been, being strongly fortified, rich, populous, and inhabited by a sturdy and valiant race of men, most of whom would have followed the rising tide of success. However, this failed, and on the 18th of October the town was occupied by General Carpenter with Hotham’s Regiment of Foot, and Cobham’s, Molesworth’s, and Churchill’s Dragoons. Meantime, therefore, the insurgents withdrew to Hexham, where they stayed three days, the men billeted upon the inhabitants, but all well-behaved and among friends, though the vicar refused, like Mr. Ion of Warkworth, to pray for King James. Here the joyful news came that Lord Kenmure, with the Earls of Nithsdale, Carnwath, and Wintoun had taken arms in the south of Scotland, and had set up the King’s standard (worked by Lady Kenmure, very handsome in blue silk, with white pennants) in the town of Moffat. After a little marching and onlisting they crossed over the Cheviots, Lord Kenmure commanding, and came to Rothbury, whence they sent a message to General Forster to know his mind. The latter replied that he would join them, and accordingly the English forces marched north and joined the Scotch; after which they crossed the Border again and went to Kelso, where, on the Sunday, Mr. Patten preached a very stirring sermon from the text, ‘The right of the firstborn is his,’ handling the subject, as Mr. Hilyard assures me, most masterly.

On the Monday the men were drawn up in the market-place, where, the colours flying, the drums beating, and the bagpipes playing, the King was solemnly proclaimed, and the Earl of Mar’s manifesto read aloud. Their army consisted now of about 1,500 foot and 700 horse, to oppose whom General Carpenter had no more than 900 men, horse and foot, and these raw soldiers for the most part. There were, therefore, two courses open to them —— I mean sensible courses —— either they might march northwards and attack the Duke of Argyll’s army in the rear, which would greatly strengthen the Earl of Mar and embolden his followers; or they might cross the Border again and fall upon General Carpenter before he got any reinforcements. Thus would they strike a most telling blow, and one that would encourage the whole party in England. But alas! counsels were divided; there were jealousies between Scots and English; the Scottish officers refused to enter England, while the English would not enter Scotland. They therefore marched without purpose or aim, except, as it seemed to friends and foes alike, with intent to escape General Carpenter, along the northern slopes of the Cheviots, until they came to Langholm in Eskdale, where it was resolved, against the opinion of Lord Derwentwater, to invade Lancashire, most of the gentlemen believing (on the faith of promises and the assurances of the Irish officers) that in this Catholic county 20,000 men would rise and join them. The sequel shows how much reliance could be placed on these assurances. On the way south a good many of the Scots deserted and went home; on Penrith Fell they encountered, being then about 1,700 strong, the whole body of militia, called together and arrayed by the sheriff, armed with pitchforks, pikes, and all kinds of rustic weapons. They numbered 10,000, but at sight of the insurgents they turned and ran without a blow being struck. It was a bloodless victory, and ought to have raised the spirits of our men; but it did not, because the leaders were already dashed (and showed it in their bearing) by the smallness of their numbers and their own dissensions. The only men among them all, Mr. Hilyard tells me, who kept their cheerfulness were Charles Radcliffe, Colonel Oxbrough, whose courage and calmness no misfortunes could depress, and Mr. Patten, who, until the end came, could not believe that an army in which were so many noblemen and gentlemen could fail to be victorious. After occupying Appleby, and obtaining a good number of horses, also saddles, firelocks, and other useful things, they were joined by some of the Catholic families of Lancashire, together with a few Protestants; but as for the 20,000 men who were to rally round them, they were nowhere visible. At Appleby about 500 Scotsmen deserted the camp, and marched homewards again, selling their guns as they went for food. Among them were sixteen or seventeen gentlemen of Teviotdale, who liked not the prospect. I would to Heaven that every man had deserted, and the whole army had melted away! From Appleby they marched to Kendal, where Tom’s godmother, Mrs. Bellingham, was living; but she refused to see her godson, being all for the Protestant Succession. From Kendal they made for Lancaster, which they entered on the 7th of November, and there, indeed, they expected great additions, but I cannot hear that many came in. They stayed at Lancaster for three days, and were hospitably received by the ladies, who dressed themselves in their bravest, and invited the gentlemen to drink tea with them. On the 10th of November they reached Preston —— which was to prove the end of their invasion. Here they were joined by nearly a thousand Catholics and their followers. And, as I have enumerated most of the Northumberland gentlemen, let me also set down some of these Lancashire names who, to their honour, were so loyal to their Prince. They were Mr. Richard Chorley, of Chorley, and his son Charles (the father shot at Liverpool, and the son died in gaol); Mr. Ralph Standish (pardoned); Mr. Francis Anderton (sentenced, but pardoned, though I believe he lost his estate of $2,000 a year); Mr. John Dalton and Mr. Edward Tildesly (both pardoned); Mr. Richard Butler, of Raclife (died in Newgate), and Mr. John Beaumont (escaped); Mr. Hodgson, of Leighton Hall; Mr. Dalton, of Thurnham; Mr. Hilton, of Cartmel; Mr. Butler, of Rowcliff; and others whose names I have been told, but have forgotten. I must not omit the unfortunate Mr. William Paul, clerk, Master of Arts, of St. John’s College, Cambridge. This poor man, the Vicar of Horton-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire, gave up his living, and trudged north, dressed in a blue coat, laced hat, long wig, and sword, as if he was a layman, to join the army (and meet an ignominious death, as it proved, upon the scaffold), and all, I believe, because his old friend Tom Forster, who was kind to him when he was a poor scholar of St. John’s College, Cambridge, was General. He not only joined the army, but he did excellent service in bringing news of General Carpenter’s strength and movements.

At Preston great hopes were raised, so many coming in, whose rebellion of a day or two cost them dear. Reports were brought from Manchester that the leading people in the town were well-disposed towards the Prince. Lord Derwentwater himself went thither secretly, and held a meeting with some of the gentlemen there in order to arrange for a rising, but I have not heard with what success. Then it was expected that the Duke of Ormond would have joined them with at least 3,000 men. I know not, nor have ever been able to learn, why nothing was done in Ireland or in the West of England. Opportunities lost never return, and although I am convinced that never in the history of the world were gentlemen more deceived, yet I cannot understand why, the cause itself being so righteous, the end was not more successful. All might have gone well. Alas! where was the prudence? The English General (my poor brother) had no military knowledge, and, though he was advised by Colonel Oxbrough, the lords and gentlemen of the council were too proud to be led by him, and Tom was not strong enough to command. How could he command his old friends and fellows against their will?

Meantime, while they were considering whether they should advance on Liverpool, General Willes had joined General Carpenter, and was marching on Preston, resolved to attack the rebels with such forces as he had. Look now! King George’s troops were but 1,000 in all, or 1,200 at the most, and the insurgents had nigh upon 3,000! Doth it not make one’s blood boil to think how, being more than twice their enemy in number, brave men’s lives were thrown away, and a righteous cause destroyed? But to enumerate the mistakes made by our people makes me sure that the blessing of Heaven was withheld from the very first, we know not why, and it is well not to inquire too closely. Weak human wit cannot discover why the Right doth not always triumph, or why, for the sins of princes, the people should be punished.

‘I know not,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘what was said and proposed at the councils of war, save that Mr. Charles Radcliffe came from them always in a rage, and the Earl hanging his head, and the General troubled and perplexed. I think that if Colonel Oxbrough’s advice had been taken, things would have put on a different face. A quiet and resolute gentleman, who at the worst never showed the least resentment when his advice was not taken, nor any indignation when Scots and English quarrelled, nor spoke an evil word against those who broke their promises, but took all as part of the day’s work, and went to the gallows as calmly as he went on parade. This it is, methinks, to be a soldier!’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32