The Clubmen were local associations of war-weary countrymen who took up arms and banded together in an attempt to resist both Royalists and Parliamentarians and to keep the war out of their regions. Clubman uprisings tended to occur in areas that had suffered badly from plundering, free quartering of troops and other depredations of the war.
Clubmen first appeared at Wem in Shropshire in December 1644 when 1,200 countrymen assembled to protest against plundering by Royalist garrisons at Stokesay Castle and Lea Hall. The Clubmen were led by the parson of Bishop's Castle and local minor gentry. The movement spread through the counties on the Welsh border during the winter of 1644-5.
In March 1645, 1,000 Clubmen gathered on Woodbury Hill in Worcestershire under the leadership of Charles Nott, the parson of Shelsley Beauchamp. The Clubmen drew up a Declaration protesting at the violence of local Royalist soldiers and attempted to establish a league for mutual defence and protection. Despite their opposition to local troops, the Woodbury Clubmen professed loyalty to the King and presented the Declaration to the Royalist High Sheriff, Henry Bromley, whom they acknowledged as the lawful legal authority in the county.
In neighbouring Herefordshire, Clubmen gathered to protest at the tyranny of Sir Barnabas Scudamore, the Royalist governor of Hereford. Scudamore's soldiers had clashed with local people who refused to give supplies to the garrison, resulting in the deaths of several countrymen and others being taken to Hereford as prisoners. Up to 12,000 Clubmen assembled, some of them well-armed and mounted, and besieged Hereford for several days. They demanded the release of the prisoners, compensation for the families of those killed and that all Royalist soldiers should leave the county. Colonel Massie, the Parliamentarian governor of Worcester, tried to recruit the Clubmen as an auxiliary force against the Royalists but his approaches were rejected. Scudamore was sufficiently alarmed to agree to some of their demands. When 2,000 Clubmen who remained dissatisfied with Scudamore's promises refused to disperse, Prince Rupert sent soldiers against them. While most of the Clubmen fled, around 200 stood firm at Ledbury and fired on the approaching troops. They were quickly disarmed and arrested; a number of ringleaders were hanged. In May 1645, Rupert made an abortive attempt to negotiate with Clubmen at Tenbury in Worcestershire. When this failed, he ordered all Clubman associations to disband.
During May and June 1645, Clubman uprisings spread to Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset. Royalist fugitives from the battle of Langport were hunted down and killed by Somerset Clubmen in revenge for the depredations they had inflicted on the region. The victorious General Fairfax met Humphrey Willis and other leaders of the Clubmen in July; they agreed not to help the Royalists on condition that the New Model Army would pay for all supplies and provisions and would commit no offences against the local population. The Clubmen of Dorset proved less conciliatory. During the siege of Sherborne Castle, Fairfax ordered the arrest of Clubman leaders meeting at Shaftesbury. On 4 August, Cromwell led a cavalry detachment to Hambledon Hill where several thousand Clubmen had gathered. The soldiers killed about a dozen and scattered the rest; 500 were rounded up and held overnight in a nearby church before being lectured by Cromwell then sent back to their farms and villages.
Meanwhile, King Charles was attempting to raise forces in south Wales after his defeat at Naseby. When he arrived at Cardiff to review his new recruits, however, he was alarmed to find 4,000 Clubmen had assembled under the leadership of local gentry. On 1 August, the Glamorganshire Clubmen declared themselves the "Peaceable Army". They demanded a reduction in taxes and that English Royalist officers in the region should be replaced by Welsh gentry. The King was obliged to grant some of their demands and to abandon his hope for raising a new army in Wales.
During Cromwell's advance on Basing House in September 1645, a detachment was sent to help Colonel Norton to suppress an uprising of Hampshire Clubmen near Winchester, who were encouraged by local Royalist gentry. After firing upon the Parliamentarians, the Clubmen were attacked by cavalry and quickly routed. Four or five were killed, many more wounded, and the ringleaders arrested.
In November 1645, with the Royalist cause clearly faltering, 3,000 Clubmen met on Bredon Hill near Evesham in Worcestershire and openly declared for Parliament. A rash attempt to attack Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice on their way to Oxford in December 1645 was easily brushed aside, but during 1646 the Clubmen actively supported the New Model Army as an unofficial militia by blockading Royalist garrisons to deny them supplies and provisions.
In a separate context, Clubmen was also the name given to the lightly-armed, irregular troops that augmented the Fairfaxes' Parliamentarian army during their campaign against the Yorkshire Royalists in 1643.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol ii (London 1889)
Rev. G. N. Godwin, The Civil War in Hampshire 1642-45 (Southampton 1904)
Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642-46, (London 1999)
P.R. Newman, Atlas of the English Civil War (London 1985)
The Worcestershire Clubmen included in a PDF file on aspects of the civil wars in Worcestershire: www.worcestershire.gov.uk
The Dorset Clubmen www.thedorsetpage.com