This challenge is set forth by No Story Too Small, and this week’s theme is “Stormy Weather.”
No one weathered storms like my 10th great uncle Thomas Culpepper, and he was literally caught in “Stormy Weather” during one of his greatest moment.
Thomas was the eldest son of John Culpepper of Feckenham and his wife Ursula Woodcock. He was followed by two sisters, Cicely and Frances, and a brother, John, whom we refer to as John Culpepper the Merchant.
Thomas was born into a life of privilege as his family held vast estates and had worked in the king’s service for generations. When Thomas was born in 1602 in Kent, England, the Culpepper family boasted sixteen living barons and earls.
At the age of nineteen, Thomas entered Middle Temple which was a law school. He was soon called to the bar and became a successful lawyer. He married Katherine St. Leger, moved into the family home of Greenway Court (photo) in Kent, and they started their family.
After King James I died in 1625, King Charles took over, and Thomas was promoted to a colonel in the king’s army. This was one hundred years after the Tudor reign where people had been beheaded for their religious beliefs, but King Charles was making everyone nervous with his religious antics. He married a Catholic princess, appointed a Catholic supporter to the office of archbishop of Canterbury, and demanded the Scots begin using the Catholic Book of Prayer. The people of Scotland, Ireland, and England refused to go back to the age of being charged with heresy. They began meeting behind closed doors and discussing what to do about this tyrannical king.
Parliament rallied an army against the king and in 1642 the English Civil War began. As with the Culpeppers before him, Thomas was a royalist and took the side of the king. Thomas and his friend George Goring, the earl of Norwich, fought bravely against Parliament’s army.
In May 1648, Thomas and George raised 10,000 men around Kent to fight against Parliament. This was a significant number considering by this time Parliament’s army had split into two factions. The larger was holding down an uprising in South Wales, leaving the smaller group of 6,000 men to defend all of London and its surrounding towns. The royalists were holding the town of Maidstone (Thomas’s hometown located south of London) with a force of 2,000 men. Under the leadership of General Thomas Fairfax (photo), 4,000 parliamentarians marched south to Maidstone to recapture it.
On June 1, 1648, in the midst of a terrible storm, Fairfax attacked Maidstone. Fairfax’s men took over a bridge and crossed the Medway River and effectively divided Thomas’s men into two groups. Thomas’s diminished army fought in the heavy rains throughout the night and were backed up by Fairfax’s men, street by street, inch by inch. They moved up Weeks Street and finally retreated into St. Faith’s Churchyard where they fought until well after midnight through the raging thunderstorm. At the first light of dawn, out of ammunition and having nowhere else to go, 1,000 royalists emerged from the church and surrendered to Fairfax’s army.
In return for promising to lay down their arms, the soldiers were released and allowed to return to their homes, but in typical Thomas/George fashion, they didn’t. They regrouped and headed north to seize London, but they found the city’s gates closed, so they moved further north to George’s hometown of Colchester. Fairfax’s men pursued them and another battle ensued. Colchester held its ground for eleven weeks, but in August 1648, they were forced to surrender.
Throughout these battles, the king was being held prisoner by Parliament, and for the last two years, the royalists suffered defeat after defeat trying to save him and turn the tide of the war. They began realizing their cause was lost, and across the country, the royalists began surrendering left and right.
In January of 1649, King Charles was charged with treason, found guilty, and was beheaded. Following the king’s execution, all of the royalists, including Thomas Culpepper and George Goring, had their property seized by Parliament and many were beheaded or hung.
In March 1649, George Goring, being held prisoner since his loss at Colchester, was charged with treason and found guilty. Facing beheading, his family petitioned for leniency and the deciding vote, cast by the speaker of the house, granted George his freedom. He joined the exiled court of the prince in the Netherlands and became the captain of the king’s guard. When the prince reclaimed the English throne in May 1660 as King Charles II, George was by his side. George Goring died in 1663 in Brentford, just west of London.
Fortunately for Thomas, his brother John was a merchant who owned a ship. John smuggled Thomas, his wife Katherine, and their four children out of England in 1650 and took them to Virginia. Thomas escaped probable beheading in England, but sadly, he died in Virginia in 1652 at the age of fifty.
His son-in-law, Sir William Berkeley the governor of Virginia, wrote about him, “He lost all his estate, life, and liberty in the king’s service.”
*This story is told in detail in my coming book, “John Culpepper the Merchant,” which is the second book in the Culpepper Saga and will be released May 2015.