18 April 2013

Blickling, the Hobarts and Norfolk

The south front door at Blickling Hall.

Below are some photos taken recently in the snow at Blickling Hall, Norfolk.

Little is written about the largely 17th century house during the English Civil War, though the affiliation of the owning family is suggested through a number of sources, including a letter penned by Cromwell: the first letter to be published in a contemporary newsbook ...

In the 16th century Blickling was owned by the Bolyen family. Mary and George Boleyn were both born at the family seat in Norfolk, though doubt remains whether their ill-fated sister Anne was born there or at Hever Castle.

In the early 17th century Sir Henry Hobart, (pronounced 'Hubbard') a prominent London lawyer, bought and redeveloped the property, employing the architect Robert Lyminge, who had previously worked on Theobalds and Hatfield. The exterior of the property is largely that which survives today.

The south front of Blickling, designed by Robert Lyminge 1617-18.

Henry Hobart's son, Sir John Hobart, owned the house throughout the English Civil War period, though it's hard to find any mention of the impact of the conflict on the house or the family (the National Trust guide book makes no reference to it). Sources do exist, however, to suggest they were supporters of Parliament.

Sir Miles Hobart appears to have been the son of Sir John Hobart's cousin who commanded a regiment in the Eastern Association, though there appears to be some generational confusion around his identity, as 'Miles' was a common family name (the phonetic spelling of 'Hubbard' - also found in contemporary sources - also poses a problem).

John Millman has gone into some detail trying to unravel the identity of the Sir Miles Hobart on his website here.

One of the Dutch-gabled service wings, added 1624.

Sir Miles Hobart first appears as a combatant for parliament in early 1643. Francis Blomefied, writing about the history of Norfolk in 1806 and clearly drawing on primary sources (which he doesn't reference but appear to be taken from a contemporary account), records Hobart taking delivery of a pair of artillery pieces:

'It was agreed that two of the brass pieces should be sent to Sir Miles Hobart, if Sir John Hobart would undertake for the security of them, with powder, bullets, and ball."
11 March 1643 

Blomefield's account notes that Hobart took further deliveries of ordnance throughout 1643. The suggestion that Sir John Hobart underwrite the guns (in the source above) also implies parliamentarian support within the Hobarts' Blickling family line.

The south front clock tower.

By early spring 1643 Hobart was defending Lincolnshire from northern Royalist forces with other East Anglian gentry. Cromwell ordered Hobart's infantry regiment to re-enforce Wisbeach, and on 25 April he besieged Crowland (Crowland) together with Cromwell and Sir Anthony Irby.

On 13 May a Royalist detachment from Newark attacked Grantham, resulting in a short but bloody battle - Cromwell's first independent action as a cavalry commander - and ending in a Parliamentarian victory. The Roundheads' success was related to Hobart in a letter from Cromwell, sent from the village of Syston:

God hath given us, this evening, a glorious victory over our enemies. They were, as we are informed, one-and-twenty colours of horse-troops, and three or four of dragoons.

It was late in the evening when we drew out. They came and faced us within two miles of the town. So soon as we had the alarm, we drew out our forces, consisting of about twelve troops, whereof some of them so poor and broken, that you shall seldom see worse. With this handful it pleased God to cast the scale. For after we had stood a little above musket-shot the one body from the other and the dragooners having fired on both sides for the space of half an hour or more, they not advancing towards us, we agreed to charge them, and, advancing the body after many shots on both sides, came on with our troops a pretty round trot, they standing firm to receive us; and our men charging fiercely upon them, by God’s providence they were immediately routed, and ran all away, and we had the execution of them two or three miles.
I believe some of our officers did kill two or three men a piece; we have also gotten some of their officers, and some of their colours; but what the number of dead is, or what the prisoners, for the present we have not time to enquire into. 

Though Hobart may not have been present during the Grantham fighting, the urgency of Cromwell's tone seems to suggest the two commanders were close and trusted colleagues. The letter is also significant as it's the first of Cromwell's to appear in a contemporary newspaper.

One of the dozens of bull motifs found inside and outside Blickling. A National Trust steward told me that the bulls were adopted as status-symbol by the Hobarts to associate themselves with the Boleyn dynasty, who previously owned the house and used the bull symbol in their coat-of-arms (the 'bull' being a pun on 'Bullen', one of the many alternative spellings before the more aristocratic sounding 'Boleyn' was adopted).

If Hobart remained fighting with Cromwell throughout the rest of 1643 he would have seen action at Gainsborough (where after some initial success the Roundheads were forced to fight a rearguard action against the Earl of Newcastle's advancing northern army) and Winceby (11 October) where Cromwell and Fairfax defeated Newcastle and put an end to Royalist control of Lincolnshire.

The fighting season of 1644 would begin very differently for Hobart. In late March he is listed as serving under Sir John Meldrum with other Eastern Association regiments besieging Newark. In what would be know as one of his greatest victories, Prince Rupert rode all the way from Chester to confront the Parliamentarian army and relieve the siege. The casualties inflicted on Hobart's men are recorded in the account published by Blomefield:
Sir Miles Hobart, Tho. Haswell, and Mr Harvey, captains for the Parliament, facing Newark, were routed by Prince Rupert, and all their ordnance and ammunition taken, so that Capt. Ashwell did not bring home above 30 soldiers of all companies that went from hence, and but little armour.

Hobart bulls above the entrance gateway, flanking escutcheons of the arms of Sir Henry Hobart and his wife Dorothy Bell.

The number of soldiers returning is questionable, as Rupert allowed the defeated Roundheads to march away after a parley, though concurrent accounts list the ordnance and ammunition the Parliamentarians were forced to surrender as 3,000 muskets, eleven artillery pieces and at least two mortars.

The defeat appears only to have been a mild setback to Hobart's military career, as on 2 July 1644 he appears in the Order of Battle for Marston Moor as a commander of nine infantry companies (c.900 men).

After that his name disappears from military-related sources, cropping up occasionally elsewhere though in instances where it's difficult to ascertain whether it's the Miles Hobart who fought in the Civil War or a forebear being mentioned (see the Millman link, above).

The 1627 oak overmantel above the Dining Room fireplace, bearing the arms of Sir Henry Hobart and his wife Dorothy Bell. 

I've digressed from Blickling itself partly to try and fill in a small part of the missing years in the National Trust guide book and also to test the assumption that the family were - as I was told during my visit - supporters of Parliament during the Civil War.

17th and 18th century portraits at the top of the Great Hall staircase (Jacobean timbers in 18th century reconstruction).  Note again the Hobart bull in the ceiling plasterwork (added 1767). 

What I've found confirms that a family member from outside the Blickling line, Sir Miles, appears to have played a small but not insignificant role as a Roundhead commanding officer during the conflict. Beyond that the affiliation of the wide family has largely to be inferred. Sir John Hobart, owner of Blickling, was 49 at the outbreak of war in 1642 (he also served as MP for Norfolk 1641-47), though appears to have played no military role in it, despite spending, as the guidebook notes, 10 months each year in the county - though he may have been suffering from illness during the final years of his life. As he had no male heir, Blickling passed to his nephew, who was only 15 at the outbreak of war and presumably played no part in it.

The intimidating pyramid mausoleum, built in 1793 by the daughter of John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire. Visitors can peek into the spooky, domed vault.

B.G. Blackwood in his essay Parties and Issues in the Civil War in Lancashire and East Anglia (1997) makes the distinction between 'active' gentry (those willing to risk their lives as soldiers or act as civilian officials) and 'passive' gentry (those who avoided fighting, even if holding military rank). Sir John Hobart of Blickling seems to be the latter, though possibly not out of choice due to possible illness and the lack of male offspring. The very 'active' Sir Miles Hobart, English Civil War officer, came from a different line of the family though, as the Blomefield source above seems to suggest, was able to call on the owner of Blickling for financial support.

Felbrigg Hall, designed by Robert Lyminge around the same time as he was working on Blickling. Its owner, John Wyndham, probably also supported Parliament, but, like Blickling, little research appears to have been done about the property and its owners at the time. 

As National Trust properties only 10 miles apart, Blicking's often mentioned in the same breath as Felbrigg Hall, also designed by Lyminge and built around the same time (the properties lie approximately 10 miles apart between Norwich and Cromer). Its owner, Robert Wyndham, seems also to have been a similarly 'passive', Parliament-supporting member of the Norfolk gentry.

As fine surviving examples of Jacobean country mansions their large, imposing structures still resonate wealth and an assumed power that comes with it. We perhaps expect the owners to wield that power in times of conflict, but as little fighting fell on East Anglian soil the events of the 1640s seem largely to have passed the estates by.

Further reading:

The Eastern Association in the English Civil War - Clive Holmes (1974)

Norfolk in the English Civil War - 
R. W. Ketton-Cremer (1985; out-of-print at the time of writing)

'Parties and Issues in the Civil War in Lancashire and East Anglia', Blackwood, B.G. - essay in The English Civil War - Local Aspects (ed. Richardson, R.C, 1997). Excellent examination of allegiances in Norfolk and Suffolk, showing how affiliations of the East Anglian gentry were more complicated than usually assumed.

More articles on East Anglia in the English Civil War

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