Arundel, Blanche (1583–1649)

views updated

Arundel, Blanche (1583–1649)

English noblewoman who fought on the side of Charles I and dislodged Parliamentary forces from Wardour Castle. Name variations: Lady Blanche Arundell; Blanche Somerset, Baroness Arundell of Wardour. Born in 1583 in Worcester, England; died in 1649; sixth of seven daughters of Edward, 4th earl of Worcester, and Elizabeth (third and youngest daughter of Francis Hastings, 2nd earl of Huntingdon); married Thomas, 2nd Lord Arundel of Wardour, in Wiltshire; children: Henry, 3rd Baron Arundel (1606?–1694); Catherine (who married Francis Corwallis); Anne (who married Roger Vaughan); and Clara (who married Humphrey Weld of Lulworth Castle in Dorsetshire).

When James I, the first Stuart king of England, took the throne in 1603, his reign was immersed in conflicts with Parliament over taxes, along with heated debates between sectarians like the Puritans and the leaders of the royalist Church of England over the Protestant makeup of the nation. King Charles I, who succeeded his father James in 1625, pursued his father's policies as he attempted to free the monarchy from Parliament's restraints. Determined to rule without hindrance, Charles dismissed Parliament in 1629, beginning 11 years of "personal rule." In this period, the conflict between king and Parliament deepened, with both sides perfecting their arguments. The center of the debate continued to be the struggle over control of revenue and the levying of taxes. Parliament would not grant Charles the revenue he demanded unless he acknowledged the powers of Parliament. Instead, Charles financed his reign by coerced loans, the sale of offices and titles, confiscation of noble property, arbitrary and, in Parliament's view, illegal tariffs and loans from Catholic France. None of these methods were very popular. By 1640, the king had reached the end of his fiscal rope and was forced to summon Parliament. When Oliver Cromwell was elected to the House of Commons from Cambridge, the great struggle began. Civil war broke out in 1642.

Lady Blanche Arundel was one of many medieval noblewomen who managed a large estate and even took over its defense in these unstable times. She was born into the ruling family of Worcestershire and married Thomas, lord of Arundel. As Lady Arundel, Blanche was responsible for the economic and financial management of her husband's extensive lands, as well as for the health and well-being of all the officials, peasants, servants, and laborers who lived on those lands. Like many married noblewomen, Blanche saw her husband only rarely, as he was absent from home while serving King Charles I at court or at war. However, she had to handle the consequences of her husband's political and military machinations, for his enemies were a constant threat to the safety of her household.

On May 2, 1643, Sir Edward Hungerford approached Blanche's residence, Wardour Castle, with a few soldiers and demanded admittance in order to search for cavaliers and malignants, as the royalists were called. At that time, the castle was occupied by 60-year-old Lady Arundel; Cecily , the wife of her only son (and daughter of Sir Henry Crompton, knight of Bath); Cicely's three young children (two boys and a girl); and about 50 servants, of whom, according to the accounts of the time, 25 were fighting men. When Hungerford's demand was contemptuously refused, he then requested a body of neighborhood troops, under the command of Colonel Strode, to come to his aid, augmenting his Parliamentary force to 1,300 men. When Lady Arundel was told to surrender, she answered that "she had a command from her Lord [her husband] to defend the castle to the last extremity, and would obey that command."

On the following day, Hungerford brought up his cannon within musket shot of the walls, then bombarded the castle without a break for six days and nights. For good effect, he also launched two mines; the second landed in a vaulted passage that connected with almost all the lower apartments and shook the building to its foundation. Lady Arundel and her supporters defended the castle with courage: the men constantly on the alert, and the women supplying them with ammunition, loading their weapons, and extinguishing the fiery missiles that the besiegers continually sent over the walls. The besieged, however, were worn down by the unending strain. With the enemy close to entry and all hope of aid failing, Lady Arundel demanded a conference and offered terms of capitulation. The stubborn determination of Lady Arundel and her colleagues had made such a strong impression on the besiegers that they readily agreed to the following terms:

First that the ladies, and all others in the castle, should have quarter.

Secondly, that the ladies and servants should carry away all their wearing apparel; and that six of the serving-men whom the ladies should nominate, should attend upon their persons wheresoever the Parliament forces should dispose of them.

Thirdly, that all the furniture and goods in the house should be safe from plunder: and to this purpose one of the six nominated to attend the ladies was to stay in the castle, and to take an inventory of all in the house, of which the commanders were to have one copy, and the ladies another.

But soon after the victors entered the castle, they broke the treaty. Seizing several trunks, which the castle inmates were packing up, the Parliamentary forces left the servants and ladies only the clothes on their backs. An extraordinary chimneypiece, worth £2,000, was defaced; carved works were demolished with axes; rare paintings were ripped and torn down; outbuildings, including three tenements and two lodges, were burned; 12 great ponds were destroyed as well as "the fish contained therein." All trees on the grounds were cut down and sold, as were the deer they had not already slaughtered, and the horses and cattle. "Having left nothing either in the air or water," adds the Mercurius Rusticus, "they dug under the earth, the castle being served with water brought two miles by a conduit of lead, and cut up the pipe and sold it." The losses were then valued at £100,000.

The violation of the treaty was not confined to plunder and devastation. The ladies and children were led as prisoners to Shaftesbury, where they were confined for some time, and it was proposed that they be sent to the city of Bath—at that time afflicted with the plague. Lady Arundel, health failing under fatigue and anxiety, was then confined to her bed, and her daughter-in-law insisted that they would not leave voluntarily but would have to be removed by force. The rebels, fearful of appearing monstrous by taking such a step in a country where the objects of their persecution were beloved, gave up their plan. Instead, they wrested the two sons of the younger Mrs. Arundel, one nine and the other seven, from their mother and grandmother, and sent them under guard to Dorchester. Eventually, the attackers were forced to give up and leave the Arundel domains. Blanche's son Henry would have to dislodge Parliamentary forces from Wardour Castle once again the following year.

On July 5, 1644, while fighting at the head of his regiment in the battle of Lansdown, Lord Arundel received two bullets in the thigh and died at Oxford. Blanche Arundel, who died five years later at Winchester on October 28, 1649, was buried with her husband at Tisbury in Wilt-shire. A portrait of Lady Arundel, preserved at Wardour Castle, suffered partial decay and only the head remained perfectly intact. Commissioned by the family, Angelica Kauffmann cut away the damaged parts and copied the head, then added a figure and drapery. Writes Edmund Lodge: "It is a fortunate circumstance that this admirable copy was executed, for it had preserved to the world the only likeness of a heroine who is so eminently distinguished in the dark annals of the rebellion, the small remnant of the original picture being subsequently consumed in the fire which had nearly proved fatal to the splendid edifice of Wardour."


Lodge, Edmund. Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain. Vol IV. London: William Smith, n.d.