Arthur Capell, Baron Hadham – the accidental traitor

The middle of the seventeenth century was a turbulent time and it would be very surprising were not some remnants of the House of York involved. Indeed, Ashby de la Zouch Castle, property of Ferdinando, Earl of Huntingdon, was slighted during this time as a result of his participation. Another Royalist partisan was Arthur Capell, an MP and warrior with a strong East Anglian connection, Plantagenet blood and a sense of honour that was to lead to his downfall.

The Capells had originally been wealthy merchants from Stoke-by-Nayland in Suffolk – a connection with the eponymous village is highly probable – and also owners of Rayne Hall, near Braintree. Sir William (c.1428-1515) was an MP and Lord Mayor of London, buying Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire in 1504. It had a large garden and a deer park, being visited by Elizabeth I in 1578.
His son, Gyles, was knighted following the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 and died in 1556. His younger son, Sir Edward moved the family’s main residence to Hadham. His son was Sir Henry (c.1514-88), Sheriff of Essex, who married Catherine Manners (1537-72), great-granddaughter of Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and thus sister of the 2nd Earl of Rutland.
Their son, Sir Arthur (1544-1632) was Sheriff of Hertfordshire. He married Lady Jane Grey’s cousin Margaret and they had twenty children. The first of these was Sir Henry.

Arthur was born at Hadham Hall on 20 February 1603/4. His father, Sir Henry, died in 1622 and his mother, Theodosia Montague, in 1615. He was educated at Queen’s College Cambridge although he probably did not graduate. Unable to travel abroad as the chief heir of an aged grandfather, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Charles Morrison of Cassiobury in Hertfordshire, in 1626 and they had six children. By 1641 his income was estimated at £4,400. He was, like his grandfather, a Protestant of the continental kind. Furthermore, his wife had important connections with subsequent Parliamentarians that ensured her safety and that of their children in the conflict to come.

Arthur was first elected as an MP for Hertfordshire in 1639, in the Short Parliament and re-elected to the Long Parliament. In late 1640, he was an Anglican and supporter of Laud, mildly criticising the excesses of Royal officers but, fearing for the consequences of Parliamentary extremism, became loyal to the Crown by the end of the following year.
In August 1641, he was created Baron Hadham (for £350) and, in 1642, joined the King and his supporters in York. He wrote to the Bishop of Exeter, complaining of the Parliamentary revolution. The new peer was already renowned for his loyalty and integrity, however fatal this would prove later.

The War is declared
During June 1642, he and eight other peers, of the nineteen created with him, were impeached to prevent them from sitting. Hadham moved to Nottingham where the Royal standard was first raised in August, continuing to raise money for the Royalist cause and going considerably into debt in the process.
Hertfordshire rapidly became a Parliamentarian county and men under the Earl of Essex raided Hadham Hall, removing horses, weapons and valuables. Capell joined Lord Bernard Stuart’s company of the King’s Lifeguard, ultimately commanded by Prince Rupert. He served at Edgehill in October before heading for winter quarters near Oxford. Hadham was over six feet tall, a great contrast with the four and a half foot King who was a distant cousin.

The Welsh border command
At the beginning of 1643, Hadham tried to raise money and troops in Cambridge, to no avail. He then devised a strategy to capture Manchester by first taking Cheshire to connect with northern and Scottish Royalists. In the spring, he was promoted to Lieutenant General to command, under Prince Rupert, the Marches and north Wales from Shrewsbury. In the interim, Parliament had granted his rents to the Earl of Essex.
Hadham arrived to find that Lichfield and Nantwich had fallen in March and wrote to Prince Rupert about the situation. His troops soon won a battle at Ranmore Heath near Whitchurch and marched on Warrington to reinforce Chester only to find that Warrington had also fallen and he wrote to “Colonel Henry Hastings”, another cousin later to become Lord Loughborough.
There were heavy Royalist casualties at Whitchurch but they were soon to take Oswestry. After this, Hadham was called away to escort the Queen. On his return, he considered his troops to be short on numbers and provisions. Eccleshall fell and counter-attacks upon Drayton and Wem failed with many of his officers among the casualties. By November, Wrexham had fallen and Rupert was given the operational command as Capell moved on to Bristol.

Lifeguard to the Prince
1644 began with the Hadham estates under sequestration and they were to run at a loss for several years. Capell rejoined the King at his makeshift capital of Oxford. The Scots and Parliamentarians were joined together and the northern Royalists under Rupert and the Duke of Newcastle at Marston Moor, which eventually decided the conflict. The young Prince of Wales, other Royalist peers and gentry sent a Peace Petition but this failed and Capell saw no action in this year.
There were more unsuccessful negotiations in 1645, partly on the religious differences between the Kingdoms, and both armies were reformed. The Earl of Manchester, a cousin of Lady Capell and a moderate Parliamentary commander, was accused of sloth and retired – leaving us this famous quote “If we fight (the King) a hundred times and beat him ninety-nine, we shall be hanged.” – later supporting the new King.
That March, Capell was raised to the Privy Council and appointed to the Royalist Western Association, where he was to serve the fifteen year-old Prince of Wales, along with Rupert, Sir Edward Hyde and the Marquis of Hertford, and to command three regiments. The troops in this area had been badly organised and Capell had to pay many of them himself. Taunton and Bristol fell to the New Model Army and Prince Rupert was dismissed, the cause having been lost far away at Naseby. Their wives visited Capell and his fellows near Bristol. The Prince of Wales was advised to leave the country but refused lest morale in the area collapse completely.
In February 1646, a great battle took place at Torrington. The Royalists seemed to be winning until enemy reinforcements arrived. Capell was wounded and Fairfax barely survived but the Royalist army in the west simply dissolved. Capell and the other officers moved on to Bodmin, Truro and the Scillies, where his aunt Lady Hopton died, as many of their troops deserted and the Lifeguard was disbanded. They then sailed for Jersey.
The Queen (Henrietta Maria, whose husband was now a prisoner) then ordered Prince Charles and his Council to leave the country for their own safety and the Prince reluctantly moved on but the others remained. Capell and his colleagues eventually moved to Middleburgh in Holland where he stayed until the following February.

The story of this siege is well known but Lord Hadham’s part is not. As 1647 began, the King was returned to the English Parliament and Hadham returned home under house arrest but was bailed in July and returned to Hadham Hall where he resumed serving as a JP. Charles was released under escort and they met several times, the King escaping in November to the Isle of Wight. There was mutiny and disaffection even in the New Model Army.
Once again, the King began to plot the return of his authority and put Capell in charge of the eastern counties as the Civil War resumed. Sir Charles Lucas, a member of the Colchester gentry, raised a force and was joined by the Earl of Norwich, the senior member of the Howards. Although they lost a battle at Maidstone, they took Bow and Stratford. On June 10th, they marched north from Chelmsford and, two days later, the gates of Colchester were opened to them.
During the ensuing battle, Capell opened the gates to the Parliamentarians and besieged some them in turn, using his own cane to seal Headgate. There were heavy casualties on both sides.
On the 17th, Lucas managed to introduce emergency provisions. Attempts were made to mediate but Lucas’ previous promise not to bear arms against Parliament gave grounds for its rejection. The House of Commons ordered that Capell’s eldest son be taken to Colchester as a hostage, an echo of Lord Strange at Bosworth. This happened just as Lady Hadham was giving birth to another son. At the behest of the Lords, whose speaker was the Earl of Manchester, young Arthur was released.

There was much fighting in July and Lucas’ house was razed, the family vault being despoiled. Also at this time Thompson, the legendary gunner (“One-eyed Jack”) was killed. On the 16th, Fairfax demanded the town’s surrender, excluding the Royalist officers – Norwich, Capell, Lucas and others – from their terms. It did not come at first but he tightened the siege and it succeeded on August 28th.
Capell, Norwich, Loughborough, Lucas, Sir George Lisle and Sir Bernard Gascoigne were all captured, the three knights sentenced to death although Gascoigne was reprieved as an Italian national. Lucas and Lisle were shot that evening beneath the Castle walls on a site than can be seen today.
Norwich, Capell and Loughborough were sent to Windsor Castle to await trial but Capell retained friends in high places. On October 24th, he was transferred to the Tower, where Norwich joined him three weeks later. The Lords voted to banish them but had no authority in the matter.
Matters came to a head, as it were, in January 1649 when the King was tried and beheaded, contesting the court’s authority throughout. Capell wrote to Cromwell, warning him of the possible consequences but respecting the difference of view between two highly religious men. However, a second court was convened. It’s defendants were to be the Duke of Hamilton, the Earls of Holland and Norwich, Capell and Sir John Owen, a Royalist rebel from Wales.
At the very beginning of February, Capell escaped and the mud of the Tower moat proved very deep. Saved only by his unusual height and a servant, he made his way to Lambeth but was recaptured.

The end
The trial began on the tenth, Lord Bradshawe once again presiding. Capell followed the King’s precedent by refusing to recognise its authority. Unlike Lucas and Lisle, he had not been paroled against opposing the Parliamentary forces but this and all other defences failed, sentence being pronounced on March 6th. Norwich and Owen, though convicted, were reprieved.
Three days later, the remaining prisoners were transferred to Westminster Palace Yard where the scaffold had been built. Hamilton and Holland had some wine and Capell smoked his pipe. They were beheaded in this order, at hourly intervals, each addressing the crowd. Capell prayed for the new de jure King who was little older than his own heir. His head and body were sewn back together, as was customary, and buried at Hadham, except for his heart. His grandson replaced it in 1683.
In his Daily Observations of Meditations Divine and Morall, Capell had written: “My Saviour the cross sanctified/ My King the block hath dignified/ Crosses nor blocks I do not fear/ Sanctified, dignified they are.” He had followed his King’s fate thirty-eight days later. Whether Capell had failed as a military commander is a moot point because he was fighting a lost cause.

The moral victor?
In November, the Council of State protected the old family home at Rayne. Money, however, was still short. The executed peers had all been attainted, as was still the practice at the time of Viscount Stafford’s execution in 1680, so young Arthur was initially a commoner.
In April 1661, Hadham was posthumously rewarded when young Arthur, was raised to the Earldom of Essex, vacated in 1646 by the death of the 3rd Devereux Earl, the Parliamentary commander, and the Viscountcy of Maldon. Although he was, in turn, a casualty of the Rye House Plot in 1683, his descendants have held these titles ever since. Sadly, his mother had died that February.

Fidelity and fortune: Lord Capell, his regiments and the Civil War (Martin Hazell, Partizan Press, 1987).


By super blue

Grandson of a Town player.


  1. An exceptional story, Stephen. My father was a great admirer of Cromwell, and I still have his books, collected over a long time. I remember him telling me that he had books the Cromwell Society did not. I can’t say I shared his intense interest, but he believed Cromwell was a great man. He didn’t convert me. But I have found this post utterly engrossing. Thank you.


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