Saturday, 25 November 2017

Reading or the Battle of Broad Street 1688

Skirmish in the Glorious Revolution.
Here's what Defoe wrote about it

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies

 Here it was that the vanguard, or first line of the Prince of Orange's army, was posted, when the Irish dragoons, who were posted in Reading, finding they should be attacked in a few days, had put the town's people into such a fright, by threatening to burn and plunder the town, and cut all the peoples throats, that they sent express messengers to the Dutch general officer Grave Van Nassau for help; who sent them a detachment of but two hundred and eighty dragoons, though the troops in the town were near seven hundred men. What success they met with, I shall mention presently.

As I have noted above, it was here that the Dutch with two hundred and eighty horse and dragoons, attacked the forces of the late King James, in aid of the distress'd town's-men, who they threatened to murther and plunder that very day. It was on a Sunday morning, that the Irish dragoons had resolved on the design'd mischief, if they really intended it: In order to it, they posted a guard at the principal church in the piazza there, and might, indeed, easily have lock'd all the people in, and have cut their throats; also they placed a company of foot in the church-yard of another church, over-against the Bear Inn; so that if they really did not intend to massacre the people, as their officers said they did not, yet that way of posting their men, joyn'd to the loud oaths and protestations, that they would do it, made it look as like such a design, as any thing unexecuted, or unattempted, could do.
In this posture things stood when the Dutch entered the town: The Irish had placed a centinel on the top of the steeple of the great church, with orders, if he saw any troops advance, to fire his piece, and ring the bell; the fellow, being surprised with the sight, for he discovered the Dutch but a little before they reached the town, fired his musquet, but forgot to ring the bell, and came down. However, his firing gave the alarm sufficiently, and the troops in the town, who were all under arms before, whether for the designed execution, or not, I will not determine; but, I say, being under arms before, they had little more to do, but to post their troops, which they did with skill enough, being commanded by Sir John Lanier, an experienced officer, and colonel of a regiment of horse in King James's army; and had the men done their duty, they might easily have repuls'd the few troops that attacked them; but the Dutch entering the town in two places, one by the ordinary road from Newbery, and the other by the Broad Street near where the horse-fair is kept, forc'd both the posts, and entered the market place, where the main body of the Irish troops were drawn up.
The first party of the Dutch found a company of foot drawn up in the church-yard over-against the Bear Inn, and a troop of dragoons in the Bear Inn yard; the dragoons hearing the Dutch were at hand, their officer bravely drew them out of the inn yard, and faced the Dutch in the open road, the churchyard wall being lined with musquetiers to flank the street; the Dutch, who came on full gallop, fell in upon the dragoons, sword in hand, and with such irresistable fury, that the Irish were immediately put into confusion, and after three or four minutes bearing the charge, they were driven clear out of the street. At the very same instant, another party of the Dutch dragoons, dismounting, entered the church-yard, and the whole body posted there, fled also, with little or no resistance, not sufficient, indeed, to be called resistance. After this, the dragoons, mounting again, forced their squadrons, and entered the market place.
Here, the troops being numerous, made two or three regular discharges; but finding themselves charged in the rear by the other Dutchmen, who had by this time entered the said Broad Street, they not knowing the strength, or weakness of their enemy, presently broke, and fled by all the ways possible. Sir John Lanier, having a calash and six horses, got away with the first, though he was twice headed by a Dutch trooper, who endeavoured to shoot one of the horses, but miss'd his shot, so the colonel got away.
The Dutch having cleared the town, pursued some of them as far as Twyford, and such was the terror that they were in, that a person, from whom I had this part of the relation, told me, he saw one Dutch trooper chase twelve of the Irish dragoons to the river near Twyford, and ride into the water a good way after them; nor durst Sir John Lanier's regiment of horse, and Sir John Fenwick's, and a third, whose colonel I do not remember, advance to relieve their friends, though they, having had the alarm, stood drawn up on the hill on Twyford side of the river, where they might see by what a contemptible number their numerous party was pursued; for there were not above five and forty, or fifty at most, of the Dutch, that pursued about three hundred of the Irish dragoons to Twyford.
Thus the town of Reading was delivered from the danger they were threatned with, and which they as really expected, as they expected the sun would rise. It is true, the Irish officers denied afterwards, that there was any such design, or that they intended to offer the people any violence; but it is true, that several of their soldiers confess'd it, and gave private intimations of it, to the people in the houses where they quartered, especially some that had been kindly treated in their quarters, and had a little more gratitude and humanity than the rest.
I cannot omit to observe one thing here, to which I was an eye-witness, and which will resolve a difficulty that to this day has puzzled the understandings of a great many people, if not of the whole nation; namely, That here began the universal alarm that spread over the whole kingdom (almost at the same time) of the Irish being coming to cut every bodies throats: The brief account of which, because it has something curious in it I believe will be agreeable to you. The state of it is thus:
As the terror which the threatnings of these Irishmen had brought upon the whole town of Reading, obliged the magistrates, and chief of the inhabitants, to apply to the Prince of Orange's army for immediate help, so you cannot doubt, but that many of the inhabitants fled for their lives by all the ways that they could; and this was chiefly in the night; for in the day the soldiers, who had their eyes every where, stopped them, and would not permit them to stir, which still increased their terror.
Those that got away, you may be sure, were in the utmost fright and amazement, and they had nothing less in their mouths, but that the Irish would (and by that time had) burnt the town, and cut the throats of all the people, men, women, and children. I was then at Windsor, and in the very interval of all this fright, King James being gone, and the army retreated from Salisbury, the Lord Feversham calls the troops together, and causing them to lay down their arms, disbands them, and gives them leave, every man, to go whither they would.

The Irish dragoons, which had fled from Reading, rallied at Twyford, and having not lost many of their number (for there were not above twelve men killed) they marched on for Maidenhead, swearing, and cursing, after most soldierly a manner, that they would burn all the towns where-ever they came, and cut the throats of all the people. However, whether it was, that they thought themselves too near the Dutch at Maidenhead, or what else was the matter, they did not offer to take quarters at Maidenhead, the town also being full of King James's troops, so they marched on for Colebrook, blustering in the same manner, of what they would do when they came there. The town of Colebrook had notice of their coming, and how they had publickly threatened to burn the town, and murther all the people; but, happily for them, they had quartered there a regiment of Scots foot, of those regiments which King James had caused to march from Scotland to his aid on this occasion; and they had with them, as was the usage of all the foot in those times, two pieces of cannon, that is to say, field-pieces, and they stood just in the market-place, pointing westward to the street where these gentlemen were to come.
The people of Colebrook applied immediately to the Scots colonel, whose name I am very sorry I cannot remember, because it is to his honour that I should mention it, and begged his protection. The colonel calling together a council of his officers, immediately resolved, they would make good their quarters, unless they received orders from their superior officers to quit them, and that they would defend the town from plunder; and upon this, immediately the drums beat to arms, and the regiment came together in a few moments: It was in the depth of winter, and, by consequence, was night, and being a wet day, the evening was exceeding dark, when some advanced centinels gave notice, that they heard the drums beat the dragoons march, at some distance upon the road.
Upon this the colonel ordered a lieutenant, with thirty musqueteers, to make an advanced guard at the extreme part of the town, and he was supported by another party of forty men, most pikes, at a small distance, who were to advance upon a signal; and if these last should ingage, the drums of the whole regiment were to beat a march, and half the battalion, to advance with the two pieces of cannon.
It was near ten a clock at night before the dragoons reached the town, when the two advanced dragoons, which, by the discipline at that time, always rode at a distance from the regiment, were challenged by the centinels placed by the lieutenant, as above; upon which they gave notice to the regiment, who immediately halted, and an officer, with some dragoons (they could not tell how many, because it was dark) came up, and demanded, Who they were that challenged? the centinel called his corporal, and he the serjeant, with three files of musqueteers, and they told the officer what regiment they belong'd to, and that they had orders to stop any troops from entering the town, 'till their colonel should be acquainted with it and give farther orders.
The dragoons, as the ground would admit, drew up in front, and their officers began to huff and threaten, that they were the king's troops, and within the line of the army; that they must have quarters in the town, and ought not to be refused by their own side.
By this time the lieutenant came up also: He gave the officer of dragoons very good words, and told him, He knew too well what belonged to the duty of a subaltern officer, to blame him for doing his duty; but that the regiment was under arms, and the colonel at the head of them in the market-house, and he would immediately send to him for orders, and doubted not, but that the colonel would give them quarters in the town. The dragoons, not satisfied with this civil usage, threatened, swore rag'd, and damning the colonel, and the regiment, though not present, said they would have quarters without asking leave of any man, and the officer turning about to a sergeant, bid him go back, and cause the regiment to advance.
The lieutenant told him calmly, He was sorry to see him act so; but if that was his resolution, he was ready for him, and immediately called out to his sergeant to give the signal to the next party to advance, and told the officer of dragoons, that if he stirred one foot forward, or any of his men, he would fire upon them immediately. The forty men advanced, and in two minutes after, they could hear the drums of the regiment beat the Scots march.
Upon this, the dragoons halted again, and the major of the dragoons advancing to the parlee, the lieutenant colonel of the foot was also come up to the lieutenant's party, with the forty men, and with the colonel's answer to the demand of quarters; namely, That if the dragoons had any orders in writing from the general for quartering in the town, or for marching that way, he was very ready to give them admittance; but if not they were his quarters, and he would defend them to the last man, and no-body should come in there, especially at that time of night.
The dragoons, however, insulted and menac'd the major also, and that at such a rate, that he gave orders immediately to acquaint the colonel of it, who instantly advanced, in full march, with the whole regiment, having about one hundred links lighted to let them see the way, the night being exceeding dark.
When the dragoons saw this, and having no stomach to engage, they desisted; but raged and stormed at such a rate, as I cannot express, and taking the road to Stanes, swore, they would go thither, and burn the town, and kill man, woman and child.
Those blusters were so loud, and the fellows, by nation, such as from whom it might be expected, as put the people of Colebrook, the fright they had been in for themselves being a little over, into a second concern for their neighbours at Stanes, and some of them shewed the concern to be so real, that they sent express upon express to Stanes, to acquaint the people there of their danger, knowing there was, at that time, only two companies of foot, of Colonel-----'s regiment, in the town. When these messengers came there, they found the people already alarmed by others, who had come from the same town of Colebrook, in the first fright, with the news, that the Irish were coming to burn the said town of Colebrook, and that, by that time, they did not question but they had done it, and they were surprized to hear now, that it was not done; but upon the arriving of these messengers, bringing word, that they had burnt Colebrook, but for the assistance of the Scots regiment; and that they were coming to Stanes, and swore, they would kill man, woman and child; it is impossible to express the consternation of the people: Away they run out of the town, dark, and rainy, and midnight as it was, some to Kingston, some over the heath to Hownslow, and Brentford, some to Egham, and some to Windsor, with the dreadful news; and by that tune they reached those places, their fears had turned their story from saying, they would burn and kill, to they had burned and killed, and were coming after you to do the like.
The same alarm was carried by others from Colebrook to Uxbridge; for thither the dragoons were for marching at first; and thus, some one way, and some another, it spread like the undulations of the water in a pond, when a flat stone is cast upon the surface: From Brentford and Kingston, and from Uxbridge, it came severally, and by different roads, to London, and so, as I may say, all over England; nor is it wonderful, that it seemed to be all over the nation in one day, which was the next after this beginning; Fear gave wings to the news, no post could carry it as it flew from town to town, and still every messenger had two articles with him. 1. Not that such and such towns were to be burnt and plundered by them; but that they were already burnt; and 2. That the Irish were at their heels to do the like.
This, I think, is a clear account of this alarm, and what can be more natural? Colebrook was not the case, for where-ever the Colebrook men came, they were asked, If their town was down? I rode the next morning to Maidenhead: At Slough they told me, Maidenhead was burnt, and Uxbridge, and Reading, and I know not how many more, were destroy'd; and when I came to Reading, they told me, Maidenhead and Okingham were burnt, and the like. From thence I went to Henley, where the Prince of Orange, with the second line of his army, entered that very afternoon, and there they had had the same account, with the news of King James's flight; and thus it spread every way insensibly. The manner is too recent in memory, to need my giving any description of it.

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