Sir John Hotham.
William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. 1642
As the possibility of Civil War loomed larger the King sent secret orders to William at Welbeck on the 15th January. He commanded William to proceed with all haste and in secret to the important port and arsenal at Hull. Here he was use his influence and rank to take control and await further instructions.
William , a loyal subject, obeyed without question. That night he left Welbeck by horse without informing his wife or family of his mission or even destination. He was accompanied by only 2 or 3 servants and his equerry, Mazine, a fine horseman of whom William remarked
“ the best horseman I ever knew.”
They arrived at the gates of Hull that morning after a hard ride.
Entering Hull anonymously as “private gentlemen” it was only on meeting the Mayor that he identified himself. Hull had many Parliamentarian sympathisers and William was needed a strong nerve and all his influence, wit and charm to pull off this coup. He certainly had no force to back it up and his authorisation was questionable. Even so he took control of the city and was effectively in charge for 3 days. News reached the Commons who demanded to know by what authority William had taken this action. He was summoned to London to answer for his actions.
William was in a difficult position and did not want further trouble having already been implicated in the Army plot. He sent Mazine to the King at Windsor with an urgent request that he should come north to Hull and/or supply some official authorisation in his support. William still hoped, through his personal influence, to attract Royalist supporters in the area to his cause but this was not forthcoming.
Parliament appointed their own governor of the port, Sir John Hotham MP, a veteran of the 30 Years War. The Hothams swiftly recruited a force of Parliamentarian sympathisers from Beverley and the surrounding region to take control of Hull. At first the Mayor, not wanting bloodshed, locked the gates. The King dithered as usual and eventually lost his nerve ordering William to comply with Parliament’s request.
The Hothams took control of Hull and for William was forced to leave for London to appear before an investigating committee. There he offered no apology saying he was acting solely on the King’s own instructions. He was cleared of personal blame. In April Parliament requested that the King order the vast store of munitions at Hull be transferred to London immediately. The King, then in York, delayed his answer and went to Hull as William had earlier urged him to do.
Sir John Hotham , greatly embarrassed at having to confront his King, nevertheless stood on the city walls and refused him entry without the specific instructions of Parliament. This incensed the King’s followers who demanded the garrison throw Hotham off the wall. When they declined the King was both outraged and, not for the first time, humiliated. He declared Hotham a traitor and returned to York in a huff.
The inquiry into the January incident rumbled on with protracted correspondence between the King and investigating committee. Although William was not officially charged he had come under renewed suspicion and his reputation in the eyes of the Parliamentarians suffered accordingly.
With the ever increasing possibility of open war and the major port of Hull denied to him it was urgent that the King secure a major east coast port to as a point of landing for supplies of ammunition and supplies from abroad. The Queen had fled to the continent to raise troops and supplies of ammunition and took the Crown Jewels as security.
In late June the King appointed William as Governor of Newcastle on the north east coast with jurisdiction over the counties Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmoreland and he immediately left his Welbeck home and headed north to assume his new role.
In Durham he ordered the sheriff to mobilise the trained bands until volunteers could be enlisted. This was not at all well received but William prevailed and marched into Newcastle at the head of 500 armed Durham men to take control. He set then set about recruiting a sizeable armed force of volunteers from the locals who rallied to his flag and conscripted large numbers of the local miners to build defences around Newcastle and Tynemouth under the guidance of German engineers. The miners were mostly of Parliamentarian persuasion and resisted. Riots resulted which were put down by the Durham militia men. Back in Durham the remaining trained bands mutinied and William had to leave Newcastle for a spell with what forces he could spare to deal with it.
With the Navy having declared for Parliament it would not be long before a full scale naval blockade was imposed. The defences of Newcastle, Shields and Tynemouth had to be ready and garrisoned to meet the threat. William’s family connections in the north east and his own estates in the area proved an invaluable source of recruits and many of the tough and fiercely loyal border men flocked to join him.
He was soon able to review his re-raised troop of cavalry and his own regiment of infantry, the legendary Whitecoats It was the intention to equip them in red tunics but only undyed wool was available. It is reported the soldiers said it mattered not as they would dye the coats red in the blood of their enemies.
William had acted with great speed, intelligence, efficiency and cunning throughout this episode. He had secured the area and port for the King, initially with no forces at his disposal. It was now under his complete control and he had reliable men in charge at Newcastle and Durham with forces to back up his authority and defend the area. So far so good.