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Clubmen were bands of local defence vigilantes during the English Civil War (1642–1651) who tried to protect their localities against the excesses of the armies of both sides in the war. They sought to join together to prevent their wives and daughters being raped by soldiers of both sides, themselves being forcibly conscripted to fight by one side or the other, their crops and property being damaged or seized by the armies and their lives threatened or intimidated by soldiers, battle followers, looters, deserters or refugees. As their name suggests, they were mostly armed with cudgels, flails, scythes and sickles fastened to long poles. They were otherwise unarmed.[1]

Initially Clubmen gatherings came together spontaneously in response to the actions of soldiers in their localities. But as the war went on Clubmen in some areas were organised by the local gentry and churchmen and were a force which both sides in the war had to take into account when planning a campaign and garrisoning some areas, particularly in the south and west. The Clubmen, distinguishing themselves by white ribbands,[2] were of a third party, neither Royalist nor Parliamentarian, and they were repressed severely by the authorities on both sides. Though Lord Fairfax met with clubmen and negotiated with them, eventually he moved against them.

Woodbury Declaration

Organised Clubmen in Worcestershire met on Woodbury Hill on 5 March 1645 and under the leadership of Charles Nott, the Parson of Shelsley drew up the Woodbury Declaration, which protests at the "utter ruin by the outrages and violence of the soldier; threatening to fire our houses; endeavouring to ravish our wives and daughters, and menacing our persons",[3] and presented it to Henry Bromley (of Holt), the Royalist High Sheriff of Worcestershire.[4]

Dispersing the Clubmen

In Dorset, on 2 August 1645, Colonel Charles Fleetwood surrounded and dispersed 1000 Clubmen at Shaftesbury. Stiffer resistance was met by Cromwell in attacking a larger group in the ancient hillfort on Hambledon Hill. An hour's fighting killed 60 Clubmen and captured 400, half of whom were wounded. They were held in the church at Shroton. Parliamentarian sources claimed that they had been stirred up by "malignant priests", for vicars and curates were among the captives. Those who swore to the Covenant were subsequently released, the others sent to London.[5]

See also


  1. George Nelson Godwin, The Civil War in Hampshire (1642–45), (2nd ed. 1904) p. 314.
  2. Rev. Hugh Peters, riding with Fairfax in July 1645, found the Clubmen out in force at Salisbury, "wearing white ribbands in their hats, as it were in affront of the army, not sparing to declare themselves absolute neuters, or rather friends to the enemy" (quoted in Godwin, p. 315).
  3. The Worcestershire Clubmen Worcestershire County Council, Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service 4 October 2005
  4. The Woodbury Declaration of the Worcestershire Clubmen 5 March 1645, Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, 14 October 2005
  5. Godwin, p. 317.

Further reading

  • The Civil War in Worcestershire, Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, Worcestershire County Council
  • Gladwish, P. "The Herefordshire Clubmen: A Reassessment" Midland History, 1985
  • Hutton, R.E. "The Worcestershire Clubmen in the English Civil War" Midland History, 1979
  • Osborne, S. "The War, the People, and the Absence of Clubmen in the Midlands, 1642-6" Midland History, 1994
  • Stace, Machell (1810), "Leaders of the Clubmen in Wilts. Dorcet. and Somerset", Cromwelliana. A chronological detail of events in which Oliver Cromwell was engaged; from the year 1642 to his death 1658: with a continuation of other transactions, to the restoration, Printed for Machell Stace, p. 21<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Underdown, David. "The chalk and the cheese: contrasts among the English clubmen", Past & Present 1979 85(1):25–48.