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  • Writer's picturePaul


The Northampton of today—located around 60 miles northwest of London—is an established commuter town once described by the Daily Mail as “lively at night, but the action is racier in nearby Milton Keynes”. Well, we’ll have to take their word for it on that one.

But it seems Northampton was an infinitely livelier town at the outbreak of the English Civil War, when Lord Spencer Compton, 2nd Earl of Northamptonshire, was running the show.

Lord Compton was a vehement supporter of Charles I, and soon after war broke out was given instructions by the king to raise funds and rally local volunteers in support of the Royalist cause. This was made somewhat difficult, however, by the fact that Northampton largely came out in support of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces. Volunteers for Compton’s levy, it seems, were thin on the ground.

Lord Spencer Compton: Lost a gauntlet, never mind ran it (Wikipedia)

So. Being rather embarrassed by the distinct lack of volunteers among the local population, Lord Compton decided the best way to persuade men to join up was to send press gangs to the local taverns and ale houses of Northampton—where they proceeded to beat unsuspecting drunks unconscious as they made their way home.

Compton managed to enlist around 200 rather surprised revellers in this manner and, satisfied with a few good nights’ work, off they marched.

In March 1643, however, Lord Compton’s uncompromising plan of assaulting drunkards into supporting the king spectacularly backfired: having marched his conscripts into the Battle of Hopton Heath in nearby Staffordshire, Compton’s “volunteers” promptly turned against him on being given the order to attack, and beat him to death before defecting to the Parliamentary side.

The Royalists (perhaps unsurprisingly) went on to lose the battle.

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