Arthur, Lord Capel, 1604-49
Wealthy Royalist elevated to the peerage; despite his lack of military success he was executed for his part in the Second Civil War
Arthur Capel was born at Hadham Hall, Hertfordshire, in February 1604. He was the only son of Sir Henry Capel (d.1622) and Theodosia, daughter of Sir Edward Montagu of Boughton. Capel's marriage to the heiress Elizabeth Morrison in 1627 and his own inheritance upon the death of his grandfather in 1632 made him one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom, with lands said to be spread across ten counties.
Capel was elected MP for Hertfordshire in both the Short and Long Parliaments (1640). He was the first MP to present a county petition against the King's policies and he voted for the execution of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. However, Capel became alarmed at the vehemence of Parliament's hostility towards the King and claimed that his vote against Strafford always remained on his conscience. King Charles realised that Capel was a potential supporter of the Crown and raised him to the peerage as Baron Capel of Hadham in August 1641.
As a member of the House of Lords, Capel opposed the Militia Ordinance and was one of the first peers to attend King Charles at York in the spring of 1642. On the outbreak of civil war, Capel raised a regiment of horse and served in the King's lifeguard at the battle of Edgehill in October 1642.
Despite his limited military experience, Capel was appointed commander of Royalist forces in north Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Accompanied by the veteran soldier Sir Michael Woodhouse, Capel arrived at his headquarters in Shrewsbury in March 1643. The Royalists were threatened in the northern Marches by Sir William Brereton, Parliament's energetic commander in the region.
In September 1643, Brereton gained ground in Shropshire while Capel's counter-march against his headquarters at Nantwich in mid-October was repulsed. Capel made a bold dash on the Parliamentarian garrison at Wem but, against the odds, he was again repulsed thanks to a spirited defence by Colonel Mytton. Short of men and supplies, Capel was unable to prevent Brereton's forces from invading north Wales in November. The Parliamentarians captured Wrexham, several castles in Flintshire and threatened to encircle the Royalist stronghold of Chester. Disliked by the local gentry and mocked in popular ballads, Capel was replaced as regional military commander by Lord Byron in December 1643 on the recommendation of Prince Rupert.
Capel was graciously received at the King's court in Oxford and remained there until January 1645 when he was appointed one of the commissioners at the unsuccessful Uxbridge Treaty. After the failure of the Uxbridge negotiations, Capel was appointed to the council of the Prince of Wales at Bristol with responsibility for raising a regiment of horse and one of foot to act as the Prince's lifeguard. After the final surrender of the western Royalist army in 1646, Capel accompanied the Prince in exile to Scilly and to Jersey. However, he left his service when the Prince joined Queen Henrietta Maria in France. In common with other Anglican Royalists, Capel mistrusted the Catholic faction that surrounded the Queen.
Capel returned to England in 1647 and attended King Charles during his imprisonment at Hampton Court. He became actively involved in the conspiracies that resulted in the Second Civil War in 1648 and was commissioned to lead a Royalist uprising in East Anglia. Capel joined a rendezvous of Royalists at Chelmsford in Essex in June 1648 but they were pursued into Colchester by General Fairfax. Capel fought in the rearguard that covered the retreat into the town and remained there during the 76-day siege of Colchester that followed.
After the surrender of Colchester in August 1648, Capel was imprisoned in Windsor Castle, then transferred to the Tower of London. Whilst awaiting trial for his participation in the Second Civil War, Capel escaped from the Tower by climbing over the walls with a rope and wading the moat with the water up to his chin. He spent several days in hiding but was betrayed by a Thames waterman engaged to row him to a new hiding place in Lambeth. Capel was brought before the High Court of Justice with four other Royalist leaders in February 1649. He was sentenced to death and beheaded with the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Holland outside Westminster Hall on 8 March 1649.
When Charles II was crowned in April 1661, he rewarded Lord Capel's family by restoring the lands which the Long Parliament had confiscated and granted to the Earl of Essex, and by elevating the eldest of his five sons, also called Arthur Capel, to the earldom of Essex, vacant since the death of Robert Devereux in 1646.
Peter Gaunt, A Nation Under Siege, the Civil War in Wales 1642-48, (HMSO 1991)
Ronald Hutton, Arthur Capel, first Baron Capel of Hadham (1604-1649), Oxford DNB, 2004
Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642-46, (London 1999)