Monday, September 24, 2012
Monarchist Profile: Arthur Capel First Baron Capel of Hadham
In fact, Capel was the first MP to deliver a county petition protesting royal actions and he voted in favor of the execution of the Earl of Strafford. In that case, however, he seems to have had misgivings as he stated later that he regretted it for the rest of his life. By the summer of 1641 Capel had begun to be alarmed at the radical direction Parliament was taking. He had protested against certain things the King had done, but he saw Parliament increasingly setting itself against the King himself and this he found deeply disturbing. King Charles I was, by that time, in need of friends and someone with the wealth of Capel would be a valuable ally indeed. As he already seemed to be drifting away from the Parliamentarians, the King made a friendly overture to him in August of 1641 by raising him to the peerage as Baron Capel of Hadham, giving him a seat in the House of Lords. Lord Capel was seen to be firmly on the royalist side when he voted against the Militia Ordinance which was effectively an effort by Parliament to take control of the armed forces away from the King. When the First English Civil War broke out, Lord Capel put his money where his mouth was and raised and outfitted a cavalry regiment. In October of 1642 he fought in the Battle of Edgehill as a member of the King’s lifeguard.
Even though Lord Capel had absolutely no military experience prior to Edgehill, his standing earned him an appointment to command all royalist troops in north Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire with the rank of lieutenant general though at least Sir Michael Woodhouse, an experienced veteran, was sent along with him. Lord Capel was certainly not lacking in bravery, audacity or devotion to his cause but he had the misfortune to be up against some of the better commanders of the Parliamentary forces. Capel came under attack by Sir William Brereton and despite some daring maneuvers and bold attacks, Capel was checked at every turn and became the object of some ridicule in the area, at least among those predisposed toward the forces of Parliament. Finally, at the urging of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Lord Capel was replaced by Lord Byron in December of 1643. He spent most of the next year at court with King Charles I before next being assigned to the commission that discussed the Uxbridge Treaty of 1645 proposed by the Parliamentarians and the Covenanters of Scotland. There was little chance of this being accepted and it was not so Lord Capel moved on to serve on the Council of the Prince of Wales at Bristol where he formed two regiments, one of infantry and the other of cavalry, to serve as the Prince’s lifeguards.
When the western royalist forces surrendered in 1646 Lord Capel went with the Prince into exile on Scilly and then Jersey but the two parted company when the Prince of Wales went to France to join his mother Queen Henrietta Maria. Lord Capel had been invited to go along of course, but did not because he was uncomfortable around the very Catholic entourage of the Queen (not an uncommon sentiment at the time). In 1647 he returned to England and waited on the King who was being held prisoner at Hampton Court. All the while, Lord Capel, along with other royalists, was constantly involved in the effort to gain support for the King and especially to get the Scots to come on side for another effort at defeating the forces of Parliament. Ultimately, this led to the outbreak of the Second Civil War. In 1648 Lord Capel was charged with leading the royalist uprising in East Anglia. He joined with the troops loyal to the King at Chelmsford in Essex in June but they were pounced on by the Parliamentarians under General Fairfax who chased them to Colchester. Lord Capel commanded the rearguard that held off rebel attacks while the army fell back to the city.
Following the siege of Colchester, the city surrendered in August and Lord Capel was taken prisoner. Confined first at Windsor Castle and later the Tower of London to await trial, the intrepid Baron accomplished the remarkable feat of escaping from the Tower. He hid out for several days but was finally betrayed by a boatman hired to take him to a royalist safe house in Lambeth. In February of 1649, with four other prominent royalists, Lord Capel was taken before the “High Court of Justice” and sentenced to death as a “traitor” for remaining loyal to his King and country. Alongside the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Holland he was beheaded outside Westminster Hall on March 8, 1649. He had paid the ultimate price for his heroic loyalty but, in time, his sacrifice was recognized. After the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II restored all confiscated lands to his family and made his eldest son Earl of Essex.