Richard Heath at Siege of Biddulph Old Hall

Genealogy for the Heath family's of Saffordshire and surrounding areas.

Richard Heath at Siege of Biddulph Old Hall

Postby Peter Dzik » Fri Jan 31, 2020 3:20 pm

The beginning background to this event in the English Civil War was the final breakdown of contacts between King Charles 1 and the Puritan majority in Parliament. The king moved the Court to York in March 1642; then both sides began issuing military commissions in July as there had long been no standing army in England, and hostilities soon followed. By early 1643 the royalists controlled most of Staffordshire south of Newcastle under Lyme and Uttoxeter, giving them through links to Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Late in 1643 major Royalist forces under the Marquess of Newcastle (1st Duke) were attacking Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. In the west large Royalist forces were assembling at Chester, winning battles and capturing outlying castles/fortified posts. Lord Byron, based at Betley, began besieging Parliamentary Nantwich town on January 10th 1644, but lost 400 men in a one hour assault. Parliamentary master strategist Sir Thomas Fairfax, in Manchester, was ordered to relieve the siege. On the 25th he defeated Lord Byron's Royalist army outside Nantwich, enabling them to recover many outposts. Some Royalist survivors of the battle were cut off by the River Weaver and moved to Royalist Lord Brereton at Brereton Hall, being only 12 miles northeast of Nantwich. It being indefensible he fled eastwards with his family and troops to Biddulph Old Hall in the heavily wooded Biddulph valley.

Middle aged John Biddulph, the owner, had died in November 1642, to be succeeded by eldest son Francis, aged 23. John had completed the rebuilding of the stone built Dairy House in 1635, three miles higher up from the Hall in Horton parish. Carved in the stonework were Jesuit symbols. Francis had earlier been captured by the Parliamentarians in 1642 in Stafford, but released in a prisoner swap. But the Hall itself was not constructed to withstand a siege, having large glass windows and no outer protective walls.

The Biddulph family were already regarded with great suspicion, as having been long officially registered as Catholics, bringing regular fines. Even more serious was the matter that three of John's brothers, one a Jesuit ( gruesome death if captured in England), another a theologian in the Vatican in Rome, and another a priest trained in Spain. But worse was that the Jesuit's regional organiser had lived at the Hall sine 1624, with all his vestments and records .

Lord Brereton's arrival at Biddulph increased the garrison to between 150 and 300 soldiers plus officers, together with excess horses and armaments. Parliamentary records appear to state that Biddulph Hall was immediately under siege after the Nantwich battle, by Colonel Rugeley and 800 cavalry; though without artillery they posed modest threat. Fairfax quickly sent big guns and 700 further cavalry from Stafford via Newcastle and Astbury (using the currently labelled A34 road). They entered the Biddulph valley via the steep Congleton Edge. Gun emplacements had to be built before firing began wrecking the Biddulph buildings - some cannon balls weighed 28 pounds. No casualties are known, but at least one named Parliamentary officer- a Dutchman - was killed. The Puritans further badly damaged (desecrated?) both Astbury and Biddulph churches of all figurines, paintings and coloured glass windows, plus apparently the Biddulph family graves.

The Hall surrendered on 21st February with over 700 stockpiled weapons captured. Prisoners numbered some 120 troops (not named) plus officers. Prominent were Lord Brereton and his 13 year old son William (later a distinguished founder of the Royal Society) , besides Captain Francis Biddulph and his son; majors William and Lawrence Booth - veteran soldiers of the continental Thirty Years War. Biddulph's uncles Peter and Andrew were apparently at the "secret" Catholic church in Cobridge, Burslem parish. Also Captain Edward Bellot and two brothers , who were sons of John and URSULA Bellot of The Ashes in Endon. Referred to elsewhere as captured at Biddulph is Colonel Ralph Sneyd of Keele Hall, who later continued resistance until his death on the last Royalist outpost of the Isle of Man in 1651. And mentioned without detail is Richard Heath, also called a gentleman. There could be several possibilities as it was an honoured name in local Heath families, and I have noted it continued in the descendants of Andrew of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Richard Heath of Kingsley in the Moorlands ,(father of Quaker emigrant Robert) also fits the age bracket. A couple of Richards also existed in nearby Cheshire.

But most threatening to the safety of all the prisoners was captured civilian John Worthington, Jesuit Provincial Organiser. He later wrote of his efforts to burn his writings and bundles of letters before the Halls surrender. He refers to his lengthy imprisonment and the suspicions of many Puritans and interrogations as to his real identity. After ransacking the Hall by the victors it was ordered demolished, although parts remained standing.
The Biddulph family never returned to the area. Francis' heir Richard, his wife, and cousin Lady
Strickland were resident at the exiled court of King James II in France, Richard having lead the escaping King James II out of the country in 1688.

Note 1. I am indebted to Mr. P. Wheeler's in depth research into relevant records in the Vatican, French and U.K. National Archives for many details mentioned above.
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Peter Dzik
 
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