Local History: Seventeenth Century Winchester

Winchester in the Seventeenth Century was a turbulent city in which to live; subjected to multiple plagues and the damaging effects of the Civil War. In 1603, Elizabeth I died at the age of sixty-nine and James VI succeeded her, uniting the crowns of both England and Scotland. In the same year plague broke out in Winchester and would twice more before the end of the century. The final bout of plague hit between 1665 and 1666.

In 1642 the Civil War between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists began and before the end of the year its destructive force had reached Winchester. During the duration of the war the city changed hands several times. At first Winchester remained loyal to King Charles but then the Parliamentarians marched on the city and took it with relative ease. Despite the town councillors paying the invading soldiers £1000 not to plunder and loot the city they attacked with force. On the 14th of December they ripped down the gates of Winchester Cathedral and proceeded to sack and desecrate the building. The bones of the Anglo-Saxon kings were tipped from their mortuary chests by the Parliamentarians and used as missiles to smash the stained glass windows of the Cathedral. Afterwards these bones were placed without order into whatever boxes remained. A project is currently taking place within the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral which attempts to reunite these bones so that the correct skeletons can be reconstructed and hopefully identified. As well as taking the bones and breaking the windows the Parliamentarians carved into the stone work in some areas of the Cathedral. Recently a statue of King Charles I was removed for restoration work and a bullet from the Civil War was found inside which had not been discovered previously.

After these attacks the Parliamentarians moved on leaving Winchester undefended. By November of the following year the city was once again occupied, this time by the Royalists. Here they remained until March 1644 when they marched out to face the enemy in the Battle of Cheriton Down – approximately eight miles from Winchester. A precautionary garrison was left by the Royalists to man the castle. The battle was a resounding victory for the Parliamentarians, who promptly marched on the city, took it swiftly but then once more moved on without attempting to capture the castle. Finally, in September 1645, Oliver Cromwell himself came with the army occupied the city and within a few days captured the castle. Six years later the castle, except for the great hall, was destroyed by the Parliamentarians to ensure that it could never become a Royalist stronghold again.

Despite the Civil War and outbreaks of plague not every year of the Seventeenth Century spelled disaster for the people, buildings and communities of Winchester. After the Restoration Charles II took a particular interest in the city and began to construct a new palace there. This royal palace was never completed. The reestablishment of the monarchy led to the repair of Winchester Cathedral, the broken pieces of the west window were replaced as a mosaic. The second Bishops castle was also built to replace the original Wolvesey castle which had fallen into disrepair. The Seventeenth Century well and truly left its mark on Winchester. Street names, schools and buildings all demonstrate a link to Seventeenth Century Winchester that cannot be forgotten. Battery Hill and Oliver’s Battery are street names reminding the average passer-by of the turbulent past of the city. At the beginning of the century, in 1607, Peter Symonds founded the Christ’s Hospital in the street later named after him. The city now has a college named after him which provides sixth form education for up to 2,900 pupils. This once more demonstrates that the Seventeenth Century remains within the public eye.

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