Heritage: Romford's key role in the English Civil War

Histoire de L'entree de la Reine Mere dans la Grande Bretagne

A 1638 illustration by Jean Puget de la Serre of the arrival of Marie de' Medici at Gidea Hall from his book Histoire de L'entree de la Reine Mere dans la Grande Bretagne - Credit: From the collection of Andy Grant

In the second part of his series about stories from Romford Road, historian Andy Grant explores how Romford came to play a key role in civil war.

In 1625, King Charles I had married Henrietta Maria, the Catholic daughter of King Henry IV of France and his Queen Marie de' Medici.

By the 1630s, Henrietta was becoming increasingly unpopular with the population.

She spoke very little English, which combined with her Catholic sympathies caused her to be viewed as a potential threat to the country.

During a time of Catholic subversion and terrorism, heightened by the unsuccessful gunpowder plot, she became a deeply unpopular queen. Her extravagance and profligate spending reinforced this view.

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Marie de' Medici was one of the most turbulent characters of her time - becoming reviled by her own nation, she was exiled to Belgium.

Having also caused trouble there, she was invited by her daughter to take refuge in Britain, much to the consternation of politicians and businessmen of London.

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On October 29, 1637, she embarked on the trip to Britain, landing at Harwich.

At midday on November 8, Charles I left London for Havering Palace, sleeping there overnight before travelling on to Chelmsford to meet his mother-in-law.

After meeting Marie de' Medici at Chelmsford, Charles I and a very large retinue accompanying him set off for Gidea Hall, the home of Sir Edward Sydenham.

Here she was the guest of Lady Cooke, the widow of Sir Anthony Cooke.

Sir Edward was a knight marshall of the king’s court and Gidea Hall was considered a safe and fitting place for the exile to stay on her journey. In preparation, it had been lavishly furnished by her daughter.

The royal party arrived to an impressive reception accompanied by the fanfares of 12 trumpeters.

Charles returned to Havering Palace to sleep there overnight, while those accompanying the party were lodged in Romford.

The following day the King returned to Gidea Hall to accompany the royal entourage through crowds lining each side of the market place and onwards to a thronged reception at Cheapside.

Parliament subsequently demanded that she be dismissed from the country and unruly crowds were gathering outside St James’s Palace to hasten her departure, with three people losing their lives in the riots that ensued.

Parliament eventually paid her £10,000 to leave, which she ignominiously did in August 1641.

However, this was not an end to our tale, as darker clouds loomed on the horizon.

By 1642 the first civil war had broken out, ultimately leading to the capture and execution of King Charles I in 1649 and parliamentary rule.

In August 1642, Henrietta had travelled around the continent trying to sell the crown jewels to raise funds for her beleaguered husband. That same year, Gidea Hall and all of the other estates held by Sir Edward were sequestrated by parliament, owing to his role as a Royalist.

On the fine morning of June 7, 1648, a troop of Royalist cavaliers being pursued by the parliamentary troops under Colonel Whalley, arrived at Romford and spent a sleepless night there.

The manor of Marks had been attacked by the Royalists, but its occupant Carew Hervey Mildmay, a Roundhead colonel, had been forewarned and hastily escaped.

The next day the cavalier troops left Romford and Whalley, and reinforced by General Fairfax’s troops, descended upon the town.

During their overnight stay, the Roundheads ransacked the town, smashing any monuments in the church assumed to be connected with Catholic families, including that of Sir Anthony Cooke.

This nationally important monument was not restored until 1973.

Fairfax, Whalley and Mildmay thereafter continued onwards to participate in the successful siege of Colchester.

During the civil war, a Parliamentary committee responsible for the whole of the South Essex area was located in Romford.

It would be reasonable to speculate that without the Medicis, the history of our country might have been very different; as can be seen, our area played a key part in these fateful events.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

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