Strode's Tiff

from an unfortunate brush with the Black Death (1348), which reduced the population of Shepton Mallet to fewer than 300, and a Peasant Rebellion (1381), due in some part to the social upheavals caused by that plague, the next few hundred years passed in a prosperous uneventfulness.

Let's skip to the 17th century, and the English Civil War. Let's face it - I'm not that good with the Middle Ages - all those poncey Frenchmen; Roger de This and Gilbert Fitzthingy, jousting and pretending to be chivalrous and grinding the peasants into the bouillabaisse. Anyway, I can't imagine much courtly society in Shepton Mallet - it's not that kind of place.

There wasn't actually a Battle of Shepton Mallet. There wasn't even a Shepton Skirmish. But there was a bit of a kerfuffle.

In 1642, the Royalists and Parliamentarians were picking sides. King Charles sent the Marquess of Hertford to the West Country with a "Commission of Array". He set himself up at Wells, and issued warrants to the surrounding districts, calling on them to supply men and arms to the King's cause.

On hearing about this, a group of Deputy Lieutenants of the County (including one Col. William Strode), issued their own warrants, instructing those districts to ignore the Marquess, and hold fast to the Parliamentary interest. These Deputies also called a meeting in Shepton Mallet, to decide on "measures for the preservation of the peace" (yeah, right).

A bunch of Royalists heard about this meeting, and sent word to the Marquess at Wells, that the Parliamentarians were coming to set fire to their homes and make Shepton streets run with blood. The Marquess believed them (yeah, right) and despatched 100 mounted men - led by one Sir Roger Hopton - to publish the Commission of Array in Shepton.

When Strode heard about this, he stormed into town to demand the meaning of this show of force. After a shouting match, Hopton arrested Strode on a charge of treason (the latter only had four men with him, only two of them armed). There was a scuffle, Strode was knocked off his horse, Hopton had a pistol pointed at him, the pistol was snatched by a bystander (a Mr. White). Strode was handed over to the local Constable, while Hopton finished his business.

Hopton then proceeded to read out his Commission and to call on the townspeople for support. He was interrupted by a lone horseman rushing through the crowd, to warn him that men from the surrounding countryside were converging on the town, incensed at the treatment of Strode. Hopton and his men scarpered, leaving the poor Constable holding Strode. The growing crowd turned on the Constable, and forced him to release his charge.

After that, the whole affair descended into an angry-letter-writing contest. Hopton (Member of Parliament for Wells) was turfed out of his seat. There was an occasional punch-up on the road between Shepton and Wells, but nothing too bloody touched Shepton. It seems that Sheptonians decided that the two sides were as bad as each other. A couple of years later, a Royalist army rested at Shepton. Another year later, a Parliamentary army rested here.

During 1645, the whole matter was settled, far away in Northamptonshire, and Shepton returned to normality - for a while.

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