Civil war expert at University of Nottingham reveals research on massacre cover-up
Research by a civil war expert from the University of Nottingham has shone new light on a little-known massacre that took place in Nottinghamshire 375 years ago this month.
Dr David Appleby has been digging into historical archives to piece together a fuller picture of the shocking story of a Parliamentarian attack on a Royalist garrison at Shelford.
Shelford Manor, on the site of the old Shelford Priory, was stormed on November 3, 1645 when the garrison’s Royalist defender, Philip Stanhope, refused to surrender to forces led by Colonel John Hutchinson and Colonel-General Sydenham Poyntz.
In a frenzied attack Stanhope was killed and around 160 Royalist soldiers were brutally massacred, allegedly along with women and children.
Although the scale of the Shelford massacre was already known, no detailed historical investigation into the event has ever been carried out.
Dr Appleby also set out to find out why the massacre had not been more widely reported throughout history.
He said: “The storming of Shelford Manor was as violent and nasty as any of the more famous battles of the British Civil Wars.
“I was prompted to look into it in depth as the name Shelford kept cropping up in the documents I was transcribing for our Civil War Petitions project. This focuses on the personal pleas for state financial aid from victims and families of the war for decades afterwards.
“Shelford lies on my way into work, so I’ve driven past it hundreds of times, completely unaware it was the site of a massacre.
“I wondered why I’d never heard of it, and why it wasn’t mentioned in the two main works on Civil War atrocities in England.
“Having reconstructed the event using all available archives and historical writings, I began to discover how and why both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians covered up the massacre.
“It begs the question; how many more cover-ups of violent episodes were there during the Civil Wars?”
In an extensive research paper, published in the Oxford University Press journal Historical Research, Dr Appleby argued the scarcity of historical writing on Shelford was to all intents and purposes a cover up.
He said this stemmed partly from serious divisions within the Royalist ranks about the recruitment of foreigners and Catholics in Charles I’s armies.
Dr Appleby said: “There were few recorded mentions of the Shelford massacre in the decades that followed the Civil War years and even fewer as the centuries passed.
“I believe that the frenzied nature of the attack was partly driven by anti-Catholic prejudice and partly by a desire for revenge.
“The Parliamentarians’ home communities — places such as Trent Bridge and Leicester — had suffered badly at the hands of these same Royalists only months earlier.
“The subsequent burying of the Shelford story is perhaps a reflection of both sides’ shame and embarrassment at the bloodshed and viciousness of the supposedly ‘civil’ Civil Wars.”
The most intriguing evidence of social forgetting comes from Shelford itself.
General Poyntz had intended to install a garrison in Shelford House after the storming, but during the night of November 3 the building was set alight, apparently a deliberate act by villagers.
Like many communities, residents had found living alongside a military garrison highly unpleasant, and ultimately dangerous.
“Given that Shelford is still a small, close-knit community,” said Dr Appleby, “it is strange that even long-established families appear to possess no discernible folk memory of the most important event in the village’s history; neither are there any local ghost stories or commemorative place-names to parallel those found in abundance at other civil-war sites.”
Fleshing Out A Massacre: The Storming Of Shelford House And Social Forgetting In Restoration England is available online at https://academic.oup.com/histres/article-abstract/93/260/286/5827207