Guy Fawkes blows away memories of county riot
This month we'll be lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks to remember the Gunpowder Plot but, as our local historian Ruth E. Richardson explains, without Guy Fawkes it may well have been an incident in Herefordshire that lived on in our modern memeories.
Before dawn, on 21st May 1605, noise and torches woke the Reverend Richard Heyns, Vicar of St. Andrew's Church, Allensmore. Peering from his window into the churchyard, he saw, to his horror, about 40 to 50 people, some armed, attending a funeral. Burials took place at night then, but what infuriated the Vicar was that he had forbidden this one as the deceased, Alice Wellington, was Roman Catholic, a recusant who refused to attend Church of England Services. Other clergy turned a 'blind eye' to such funerals but not Richard Heyns. He wasted no time in complaining to Bishop Robert Bennett of Hereford who shared his reforming, Protestant, views.
Bishop Bennett had found his diocese full of traditionalists and recusants. (His effigy is in Hereford Cathedral but not sculpted in a shroud as stipulated in his Will!) Indeed, more recusants lived in south Herefordshire and north Monmouthshire than anywhere else. 'Mass was regularly said at The Darren, upstream from Llanrothal, by Father Robert Jones, who in 1609 became Superior of the English Jesuits, and at Whitfield in Treville Park by Roger Cadwallader, the seminary priest who was martyred in Leominster in 1610'. Times were tense, for King James I's accession in 1603 had raised the hopes of disadvantaged Roman Catholics. Although son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James was brought up Protestant. Hopes for religious toleration were dashed, leaving the enormous fear of revolt.
So Bishop Bennett issued an arrest warrant and on 24th May the High Constable arrived in Allensmore. In the ensuing fight, two men were wounded, but three men were arrested. Local recusant family names included Caunt, Chadnor, Coles, Giles, Gwillim, Jones, Lewis, Marsh, Morgan, Mynors, Parry, Philipps, Powell, Seabourne, Smith and Vaughan. The Privy Council in London ordered the M.P.s, including Sir Herbert Croft of Croft Castle, to re–establish government control. Although Roman Catholic, Croft simply wanted stability. An attempt was made to arrest William Morgan of Treville Park, thought to be the leader but 60 to 100 rioters set ambushes around Cockyard and Kingstone, to free him. Armed with bows, pikes, swords and javelins, they dispersed when they heard Morgan had escaped. Later, 300 participated in an Armed Mass at The Darren.
The authorities responded by searching Kilpeck, Abbey Dore, Wormbridge, Skenfrith, Garway and Llanrothal. They found altars, sacred statues, books and hidden relics. Morgan was sent to the Tower of London. To quell escalating rumours of armed rebellion the Privy Council sent the Earl of Worcester to quieten things. Owner of Raglan Castle, he was a Roman Catholic who saw no benefit from insurrection. He had the desired affect, imprisoning only a few local men. Nevertheless, it was touch-and-go for a time....
So why was the 'Herefordshire Commotion' forgotten? Note the date – less than 6 months later Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the entire government, and, if he had, central London would also have been destroyed. The Gunpowder Plot was more useful as government propaganda than the affair in Herefordshire.
See: 'Whitsun Riot' by Roland Mathias, 1963
©Ruth E. Richardson 2012