Lord Capel of Ware was taken prisoner at The Siege of Colchester
28th August 1648
By Abi Samuels
Lord Arthur Capel was born at Hadham Hall, Ware in 1604. Alongside his marriage to Elizabeth Morrison in 1627, the death of his grandfather in 1632 presented him with an impressive inheritance, leaving him one of the wealthiest men in the country, with lands said to exceed ten counties.
He was elected as an MP of Hertfordshire for both the Long and Short term parliaments of 1640. His decisions within parliament seemed to hide his royalist leanings: he was the first MP to present a county petition against the King’s policies and additionally voted for the execution of the Earl of Strafford, an advisor described as ‘King Charles’ cleverest and most able’. Despite this, he was horrified to witness the intense hostility directed at the King from Parliament and claimed that his vote in favour of Strafford’s death always lingered on his conscience. Charles became aware of Capel’s support and so promoted him to the peerage as Baron Capel of Hadham in August 1641
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Capel raised a regiment of horses and served as the King’s lifeguard at the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642. It was perhaps due to his lack of military experience that he was unsuccessful when appointed commander of Royalist forces in North Wales; he was unable to prevent the forces led by Sir William Brereton, an energetic parliamentary commander. Disliked by the local gentry, often mocked in popular ballads and in the light of this recent failure, Capel was replaced in his role as commander by Lord Byron in 1643.
After a series of unsuccessful negotiations and the final surrender of the western Royalist army in 1646, Capel accompanied the Prince in exile to Scilly and to Jersey. However, he left his service when the Prince joined Queen Henrietta Maria in France. Similar to other Anglican Royalists, Capel mistrusted the Catholic faction that surrounded the Queen.
Capel returned to England in 1647 and attended King Charles during his imprisonment at Hampton Court. He became actively involved in the conspiracies that resulted in the Second Civil War in 1648 and was commissioned to lead a Royalist uprising in East Anglia. Capel joined a gathering of Royalists at Chelmsford in Essex in June 1648, but they were pursued into Colchester by General Fairfax. Capel fought in the rearguard that covered the retreat into the town and remained there during the 76-day siege of Colchester that followed.
It was at the surrender of Colchester in August 1648 that Capel was imprisoned in Windsor Castle and, despite an attempted escape, was betrayed by a Thames waterman, brought before the High Court of Justice, sentenced to death and beheaded on 8th March 1649.
When Charles II was crowned in April 1661, he rewarded Lord Capel’s family by restoring the lands which the Long Parliament had confiscated and granted to the Earl of Essex, and by elevating the eldest of his five sons, also called Arthur Capel, to the earldom of Essex, vacant since the death of Robert Devereux in 1646.