Penrith political intrigue and double dealing

Date: Friday 20th April 2018

A PERIOD of unprecedented religious and political upheaval is documented in the third book in the series on the history of Penrith being written by Professor Michael Mullett, a retired university lecturer who now lives in the town.

Featuring the same in-depth research and impressive level of detail as the previous books in the series, A New History of Penrith Book III, Penrith in the Stuart Century 1603-1714, tells of the town’s progress in the years leading up to the English Civil War, and events during and after that momentous conflict.

Although Penrith did not suffer the ruinous battles and sieges which affected many British communities during the war, from 1642 to 1651, Prof Mullett’s latest scholarly work demonstrates that it nevertheless witnessed similarly intense political intrigue, double dealing, loyalty to a cause and sometimes lack thereof.

What emerges clearly is that the labels Parliamentarian and Royalist fail to do justice to the numerous political and religious groupings within the two sides, let alone those which emerged after the restoration of the monarchy.

Of particular interest in this regard is an account of a gathering of notables at the “George”, Penrith, where a leading supporter of King James II, who was a Catholic, sought to persuade the largely Protestant group to pledge support for some of the monarch’s controversial religious reforms.

However, the attempt was thwarted by the machinations of two powerful men, Sir Daniel Fleming and Sir John Lowther, of Lowther — at one time friends, then enemies and finally allies once more — who ensured that a series of vague statements were instead written, rather than a ringing endorsement of the King’s position.

This lead seems to have been followed in many other places, and James II was forced from the throne soon after.

Other prominent figures mentioned in the book include the remarkable Lady Anne Clifford, who for a period resided at Brougham Castle and did much to boost the local economy through the restoration work she had carried out on the structure, and her many purchases of fabric, wine, sugar, flagons and many other goods in Penrith.

Another fascinating figure written about at some length is Hugh Todd, who, as vicar at Penrith’s St Andrew’s Church, was involved in an acrimonious dispute with the Bishop of Carlisle, with the latter even excommunicating Todd at one point over their differing views on how the Church of England, and the country, should be run.

Among his other achievements, Todd became a wealthy man, since he had a then huge annual income of £230 from his role at Penrith and another he held, not strictly within church rules, elsewhere in the county. This sum contrasts sharply with the incomes of the poorest members of Penrith’s population, such as the one shilling a week allotted to an elderly widow with a child who could not walk, under a system known as parish relief.

These and many other fascinating pieces of information are contained within A New History of Penrith Book III, Penrith in the Stuart Century 1603-1714, which runs to 192 pages and is available through Bookcase, Carlisle, priced at £12.

G. H.