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Alfred J. Church

Of My Coming Back to Oxford

Coming back to Oxford about the beginning of the month September, I found all things in a very disheartened condition. For, indeed, little now remained to the King. The strong city of Bristol the Prince Rupert had surrendered to the Lord General, having but a few days before affirmed in a letter to the King that he could hold the place for four months unless he should be constrained otherwise by mutiny in the garrison. The King, indeed, was ill-served by this same Prince, of whom it may be said that he was over bold where he needed to be cautious, and that where boldness was most required he showed no small lack of constancy. About the same time also there came news of the defeat of my Lord Montrose, at Philiphaugh. From him the King had hoped great things; and, indeed he had had for a time singular great success; but his army was such that success was no less fatal to it than defeat, the savage people from the Highlands, who were its mainstay, retiring, after their custom, to the mountains, where they dwelt, when they had gathered a sufficiency of plunder. As for the King himself, he was then at Newark, to which place he had fled, with but a small following, from Chester, where, seeking to relieve the city from siege, he had been defeated with great loss. But about the beginning of November (for it was, I remember about the day of our Gaudeamus—that is to say, the first day of November) he came back to Oxford, and there tarried for the rest of the winter.

And now it was needful to prepare all things for the worst. First, then, because it could of be hoped but that the city of Oxford would be soon besieged (a thing which, though many times threatened, had never yet been done), it seemed good to make perfect the fortifications. There came forth, therefore, a proclamation from his Majesty's Privy Council that all the inhabitants of Oxford, being above the age of sixteen, should upon four several days, named therein, work upon the fortifications behind Christ Church (at which place their defect was greatest). And it was ordered that if any person from age, or infirmity, or other occupation, should fail so to work, he should either find one suitable person to labour in his stead, or should pay a contribution of one shilling for the day; and for each servant the householder employing him was to pay the sum of sixpence. Having but few shillings in my purse, and being curious withal to see the matter, which was indeed a new thing in England, I elected to work rather than to pay. And, indeed it was a strange sight to see the multitude gathered together. Some came for very zeal, as if they could not be content but they must show how zealous they were for the King, and some for meanness or poverty came rather to labour with their own hands than to pay. So far as I could see there was but little work done, and this from lack of skill in part, and in part from want of heart. I verily believe that a hundred stout fellows paid, not by the hours of their working, but by the work that they should do, had accomplished much more than the mixed multitude gathered together that day.


The Gateway of Christ Church, Oxford.

The fortifications, however, be they as strong as they might, could defend the city but for a short time only, and, indeed, had their chief use in this, that the garrison and inhabitants, being safe from sudden assault, might through them obtain for themselves better terms of surrender. It was necessary, therefore, to provide, so far as might be possible, against the time when the city should be surrendered into the hands of our enemies. Of this provision one chief matter was the hiding away of such things as were apt to suffer damage from their hatred or ignorance. Now there had come from time to time grievous reports of the cruel damage done by the soldiers of the Parliament in various cathedrals and churches throughout the realm wherever they had fallen into their power. Especially had they shown themselves zealous against that in their fanatic language they were wont to call idolatry, not only breaking down statues that they espied on walls or on tombs, but also figures, whether of Christ or of holy men that were painted on windows. And it was known that they were especially zealous against such figures or images when they savoured of Popery, as ran the phrase which was greatly in favour in these times. Such things then it seemed expedient to hide. Therefore at Christ Church, in the Cathedral, the Dean, than whom there was no one more stiff for the King, had a certain window, which is especially prized in that Society, put away in a safe place, and another set up in its place. On this window was represented Dr. Robert King, last Abbot of Oseney and first Bishop of Oxford, in his bishop's robes, having a mitre on his head and holding a crosier in his right hand. 'Twas most handsomely painted with colours, so fine and so harmoniously blended as no man in these days seems to have the wit to do. I hope that it may remain hidden so long as these present hardships may endure, and be found when they shall have passed away, as I do not doubt that they will. At Magdalen College, also, the painted glass of the great eastern window in the chapel was taken out of its place, and put away in like manner, for the safe restoration of which I here set down the same hope.


The Last Abbot of Oseney.

On the fourteenth day of March in the year following (that is to say, the year 1646) an army of Sir Ralph Hopton, that still held out for the King in Cornwall (and 'twas in the West that his Majesty's cause was ever the strongest, whereas it was weakest in the East) surrendered itself, being reduced to such straits as left no hope of escape, much less of victory. This was heard in Oxford, by a messenger from the general of the enemy, who was so courteous as to give us the news, not the less readily perhaps, that it was not like to be welcome. On the very same day, that is the twenty-second day of March (for the matter in Cornwall, having befallen on the fourteenth, had taken so long to travel to us) came tidings of a great misfortune that had befallen his Majesty nearer at hand. For Sir Jacob Astley, coming from Worcester to Oxford with about three thousand men, mostly horse, that he had gathered, was fallen upon by one Colonel Morgan at Stow-on-the-Wold, and routed, being himself taken prisoner. This we heard from one of Sir Jacob's own riders, who escaped, or, I should rather suppose, was suffered to escape, that he might bring the ill news to the King. And, indeed, 'twas the very last stroke that overset the tottering edifice of his fortunes, as was sufficiently evident from what the good knight, being taken to the aforesaid Colonel Morgan, is reported to have said: "Now you have done your work, and may go to play, unless you choose to fall out among yourselves." Of this same valiant soldier is told another thing which seems to me well worthy to be here set down, that at the battle of Edgehill, before he charged, he made this prayer: O Lord! Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me." And having said so much, he rose from his knees, and cried with a cheerful voice, "March on, boys."

And now, a siege being imminent, the King departed from Oxford. Of his going but very few knew beforehand, but I heard afterwards from one that was present that he went at midnight on the twenty-seventh day of April, being disguised as a servant, even to having his hair cut in Puritan fashion, and riding with a portmanteau behind him. He had but two companions, Dr. Hudson, that was a parson, but not less a soldier, and a certain Master Ashburnham, whose servant he feigned himself to be. And if few knew of his purpose of going, the place whither he should go he knew not himself. At the first he rode towards London, to which, indeed, he approached so near that he came as far as Harrow-on-the-Hill being minded, it was said, to enter the City and throw himself on the mercy of the Parliament. But, departing from this purpose, if, indeed, he ever entertained it, he rode northward to Newark, where the Scots' army lay, hoping that they might protect him, of which hope he was, indeed, grievously disappointed, the Scots giving him up to his enemies. 'Twas said that they sold him; and it is certain that at the time of his being surrendered, it was agreed that the Scots should have four hundred thousand pounds, being, as they said, arrears of their wages, paid to them. Yet, as they came into England to make war, together with the Parliament, against the King, this charge, methinks, is too harsh, for being by profession enemies, why should they behave to him as friends? Nevertheless it had been more seemly if no mention had been made at the time of the wages.

And now at Oxford the end came nearer and nearer. We made a dam at St. Clement's Bridge (which is by Magdalen College), and so laid the country that is to the south side of the city under water. But elsewhere the lines of the enemy were drawn all about us. This was the beginning of May. Of fighting there was but little; on this, being, as I conceived, bound by my oath, I did not so much as look. But I could not choose but hear the cannonading which went forward with but little rest. Our men would fire, it was said, so many as two hundred shots in the day, doing, however, but small damage, so that it seemed as if they had it in their mind to spend their powder rather than to do execution. And I take it that they suffered more damage than they gave, the enemy having more marks, and these also more manifest, at which to make his aim. About the ending of the month of May comes an order from the King that the city should be surrendered.

Meanwhile I, as I have said, turned away not only my hands, but also, as far as it was possible, my eyes and my thoughts from war, conceiving that I should so acknowledge the great kindness of my Lord Fairfax. Here, therefore, I may not unfittingly set down somewhat about the thing with which I now concerned myself. Before my going to join company with my father before the battle at Naseby, being about to finish my second year of residing, I performed my first exercises, that is to say, I answered, as the Academical phrase has it, in parviso, and so became, to use again the somewhat barbarous dialect, sophista generalis, the visible signs and tokens of which honour was the putting into my hands of a book of Aristotle, and round my neck, by one of the bedels, when I had duly finished my answering, of a little hood of some common black stuff, which same hood, as might be concluded from its look, had done the like service for many before me.

As I am speaking of this matter I may anticipate the time somewhat in this place, and relate how I afterwards answered for my degree, which by great fortune I was able to do before that I was constrained to leave Oxford. The questions on which I disputed were in part ethical, and in part philosophical. And here, for the edifying of my readers, I will set them forth, being two of each sort. First, then, came the philosophical.

1. Whether there can be administered by the art of the physician an universal remedy?

2. Whether the moon can be inhabited? And whether, it being granted that it has inhabitants, these have a popular or a despotic constitution?

After these came the ethical questions, in which were included political.

1. Whether the die be a lawful means of acquiring property?

2. Whether a multitude of scholars be profitable to a commonwealth?

But this was not done till after the time of which I have been now speaking, when I was near upon completing my fourth academical year