Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Countess of Derby and the Siege of Lathom House

byAlison Stuart

In my last guest post with the English Historical Fiction Authors, I wrote about Brilliana Harley and her gallant defence of Brampton Bryan Castle in Herefordshire against the royalists during the early days of the English Civil War.

Charlotte de Tremouille
the Countess of Derby
In another part of England, another gallant lady, Charlotte de Tremouille, the Countess of Derby, found herself faced with the defence of her home, Lathom House against the forces of Parliament. Both ladies, in part, were the inspiration for my own own fictional heroine, Deliverance in CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART.

Unlike the Harleys in Herefordshire James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, was a King’s man. The seat of the Earl was divided between the Isle of Man and Lathom House in Lancashire and in the early days of the war, Lancashire was predominantly royalist. While the Fairfaxs battled for the Parliament in Yorkshire, Derby maintained a firm hold in his home county until late in 1643 when he left Lancashire to put down a rebellion on the Isle of Man. In his absence Parliamentary forces gained an upper hand in Lancashire and Lady Derby found herself compelled to make concessions to Parliament, giving up the entire estate for Parliament’s use.

Lady Derby and her two daughters were allowed to remain in the house and were careful not to provoke the enemy forces. Early in 1644, she received secret word that a parliamentary force led by Sir Thomas Fairfax was marching against the house. Local feeling rose against the occupants of Lathom House with a preacher at Wigan taking as his text Jeremiah 50:14 “Put yourselves in array against Babylon, all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows; for she hath sinned against the Lord.” This earned her the nickname “Babylon”.

On Tuesday 27th February, Fairfax began negotiations with Lady Derby for the surrender of Lathom House. She responded, imperiously demanding that Sir Thomas should wait on her, rather than she on him and in answer to Sir Thomas’ demand, she replied “…(she) much wondered that Sir Thomas Fairfax would require her to give up her Lord’s house without any offence on her part done to the Parliament…” The honourable Sir Thomas negotiated with the Lady for some time before she openly rejected all his terms and the Parliamentarians began to move on the house.

Nearly three thousand parliamentarians sat down before Lathom House but the capture of the old fortress was no easy proposition. Behind its thick walls the indomitable Countess and her 300 strong garrison had ample supplies to last a long siege. For two months, the parliamentarians suffered harrying raids engineered by the wily Captain Farmer, Lady Derby’s Captain of her garrison (whose antics inspired those of my hero, Luke Collyer), and the predations of the Lady’s accurate sharp shooters. Artillery brought to bear on the house had some impact but not sufficient to breach its defences. Throughout the siege, Lady Derby asserted herself as the Commander of her garrison, personally supervising every detail. Not surprisingly contemporary commentators remarked she had proved herself a better soldier than her husband.

By the end of March, Fairfax had been recalled to Yorkshire leaving a frustrated Colonel Rigby in command. Rigby’s efforts at cajoling the Lady into surrender received the following response. “…Tell that insolent rebel, hee shall neither have persons, goods, nor house: when our strength and provision is spent, we shall find a fire more mercyfull than Rigby…”

At the end of May, word reached the defenders that Prince Rupert was coming to the relief of Lathom. On 27th May, Rigby marched out with his men to intercept the royalists and the siege of Lathom House was over. Amazingly only six of the defenders had been killed over the length of the siege.

At the end of the siege, Lady Charlotte took her daughters and retired to her husband’s estates on the Isle of Man. Unfortunately in June 1644 the northern royalists were comprehensively defeated at Marston Moor and by the end of December, Lathom House fell to the parliamentarians and was completely destroyed.

The Earl of Derby was captured and executed after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651 and Lady Charlotte died in 1664 at the age of 65.

Further Reading
For the letters of the Lady of Lathom click HERE

Postscript: When I am writing, I find one song becomes the theme song for that particular book. With CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART, that song was “They Called her Babylon” (the story of Lady Derby and the siege of Lathom House) by one of my favourite folk groups, Steeleye Span. If you would like to listen to this song Click HERE.


Alison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of cross genre historicals with heart.  Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or waywards ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.  She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, facebook, twitter and Goodreads.

Alison’s passion is the English Civil War and her latest book CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART is available from Amazon and all reputable on line stores.

As the English Civil War divides England and tears families apart, Deliverance Felton will do whatever it takes to defend her family home against the royalist forces ranged against it. Anything she needs to know about siege warfare she has learned from a book...but no book can prepare her for Luke Collyer, soldier of fortune and a man with his own secrets.
AND YOU ARE NOT TOO LATE TO ENTER THE English Historical Fiction Authors GIVEAWAY of an ecopy of CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART. Just click HERE and leave a comment.

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