A piece of the king's cheese, 1645

Who dares ask for it?

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We never tarry’d long in any place, & therefore might the more willingly endure one night’s hardship, in hopes the next night might be better…

This week we dip into the memoirs of Sir Henry Slingsby (1602–58), a Yorkshireman who was an MP and landowner, and a notable supporter of Charles I in the period of what we used to call the English Civil War. I say ‘used to’, because the title doesn’t really embrace the complexities and scope of the war, which also involved Scotland and Ireland (hence another title being the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) – although, as it happens, in this week’s vignette from the war, we follow the king through Wales (where I’ve spent much of this month myself, in fact).

Slingsby joined Charles’s forces in 1642, and soon commanded a regiment defending York. His men saw action at Naseby (14th June 1645), where a crushing defeat turned the tide against the Royalist cause. Slingsby’s memoirs cover the period 1638–48. Under Cromwell, his estates were confiscated in 1651 and he was later implicated in a Royalist plot and was ultimately imprisoned and then executed on Tower Hill in 1658.

Immediately after Naseby, Charles withdrew to Hereford, and it is from there this passage in Slingsby’s memoir1 picks up:

This City of Hereford is situate’d not much unlike to Yorke, & in some parts resembles it very much; for it hath a round tower mount’d upon a Hill, like to Cliffords tower, & the mills near it, with some little works about, having the river Wye running close by; but the Walls tho’ they be high yet are not mount’d upon a Rampeir as York walls are. The King marcheth from hence to Ragland [i.e. Raglan, held by the Earl of Worcester] a Castle of the Earle of Worsters, a strong Castle of itself, & beautifull to behold, yet made stronger much by art, being pallizado’d & fortify’d by a double work; here the King continued 3 Weeks, being entertain’d by the Earle, not withstanding the great charge by keeping therein a Garison for him…

While he stay’d in these parts he visit’d all Garisons; but first he went to Abergeiny [Abergavenny], which was not a Garison, but a place where he conven’d the Country Gentlemen to be assured of their affection, & with assistance they could give him. After this he went to Monmouth… & to Cardiff… About 3 Miles from this town the King went to view a muster which ye Gentlemen had caused, to testify their forwardness to advance the service of the King, which could be no less upon the view than 3000 foot, with such guns and other weapons as they had, making a shew by their acclamation of much rejoycing to see their King; but all this prov’d vain & fruitless, & no advantage came thereby to the King; whereupon he resolv’d to leave the Country & match Norwards with all the force he had…

The King after he return’d from visiting many places thereabout, came back to Raglang, & so march’d to Brecknock [Brecon]…

[Slingsby then describes their onward journey through Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire to Yorkshire, then Lincolnshire, Rutland and Huntingdon; thence to his headquarters at Oxford before returning to Wales.]

I never observ’d any great severity in the King, us’d either toward the enemy when he had him in his power, or to the Soldier in his own army, except only at Wing [in Rutland], a house of my Lord Caernarvon’s, where he command’d to be hang’d upon a sign post, a soldier, for stealing a Chalice out of the church…

… the King will once again secure himself among the mountains of Wales… Here [in Hereford again, which had been besieged by an army from Scotland]

Here we found all places about the town made Levell, where as before they stood upon the same ground, fair houses & Goodly Orchards. I went to see the house, where I formerly Quarter’d, & found it pull’d down, & the Gentlewoman that had liv’d in it dead upon grief to see the ruins of her house. We stay’d not long here but took our march towards Raglang the Lord of Worsters house, over the River Wye, upon the bridge the Scots had made: the other being broken down, & this made substantiall with strong piles of Timber… [Slingsby then gives great detail on the construction of this bridge.]

… hearing of Poynze advance he gives orders to have a rendezvous 8 miles off upon a Mountain, thinking we should have march’d forwards; but when we were drawn up he commands us to march directly back, & Quarter beyond Hereford; Poynze having his intelligence abroad, & understanding where he meant to be, march’d in the night to be with us; but being this defeat’d we gain’d so much of him by this, & by the wayes we took thro’ the almost unaccessible mountains of Wales, that we heard no more of him…

In our Quarters we had little accommodation; but of all the places we came to, the best at old Radnor, where the King lay in a poor low Chamber, & my Lord of Linsey & others by the Kitchen fire on hay; no better were we accomodat’d for victuals; which makes me remember this passage:

When the King was at his supper eating a pullet & a piece of Cheese, the room without was full, but the men’s stomacks empty for want of meat; the good wife troubl’d with continual calling upon her for victuals, & having it seems but that one cheese, comes into the room where the King was, & very soberly asks if the King had done with the cheese, for the Gentlemen without desir’d it.

But the best was, we never tarry’d long in any place, & therefore might the more willingly endure one night’s hardship, in hopes the next night might be better. And thus we continued our march, until we came to Chester…


Royalist Chester had been laid siege to by the Parliamentarians since September 1644, and Charles reached the city briefly in September 1645 – he only stayed for one night before heading back to Wales, as Slingsby later goes on to report.

Local tradition in Wales holds that the name Beggar’s Bush was given by Charles to the humble place where they stayed – see here for a discussion of it. But whether the king chose to share his cheese, we will never know.

1

The text can be found here in an 1836 edition, which I have used but with my own modernised spelling, or in an 1806 version here, which seems to be have substantially edited and rewritten.