The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



The National Picture

There are several indications within the diary of the involvement of the puritan community in Northampton in attempting to influence the events taking place in the national arena at this time.  It is clear that the situation on the Scottish border was being discussed and debated by the inhabitants of the town during the autumn of 1640 and on 9 September a petition to the king was being passed around the town. 

Several of the knights and gentry of the area met in Towcester on 15 September 1640 to draw up their own petition and the diarist reported that Sir Gilbert Pyke and Mr Knightley were elected to take the petition to York to be presented to the king there.  Robert Woodforde himself drew up a petition for Northamptonshire against episcopacy on 1 February 1640/1.

In November,  news reached Northampton that the Parliament was continuing.  On 17 November 1640 a fast was held in London and in some adjacent parishes in response to the King's proclamation regarding `removing judgement'.   Robert indicates that the good news of the continuation of the Parliament was met with considerable euphoria by the puritan community in London:‑

" I was at Adermanbury Church about 14 houres together where 3 ministers prayed & preached one after another ... Mr Marshall & Doctor Burges preached before the house of comons at Westm(inste)r in Margarets & delivered glorious things with extraordinary zeale & favo(u)r, this hath bene a heavenly day. Lord heare the prayers of thy peopl. Worke a holy reformacon & make this nacon a pras ..(illegible) ... the  whole earth, for the Lord's sake. "

Robert Woodforde's belief that the Parliament was a divine implement is clear;  but the diarist believed also in the secular authority of the king.  The anniversary of the king's coronation is marked each year in the diary on the appropriate day, with the prayer that `Long may he continue to reign for Thee.'  The implication is that the king was the rightful head of the nation but that he was lacking of wise and godly counsel.  Perhaps the exact stance of the diarist is expressed in the entry for 19 November 1640:‑

" Still God goes on very graciously with the Parliament, though some feare the breaking up of it for its said his Maj(est)y is greatly solicited to it & a great sumes of money (as its s(ai)d) many hundred thousand pounds are offered to that end.  But Lord confirme the hart of his Maj(esty) and make strong his resolucon to continue it for the good of thy church & people & his nacon for the Lord's sake. "

Further doubts as to the continuation of the Parliament are recorded in subsequent diary entries on 21 November 1640 and on several later occasions.  It is noted that a `popish priest' stabbed Justice Heyward in Westminster with a rusty dagger on 21 November, and that the Lieutenant of Ireland was committed to the Tower of London on 24 November.

Perhaps the most significant entry in the diary in relation to Robertís theological stance and his opportunities to associate with the leaders of the puritan movement  is the short and straightforward entry for 4 November 1640/1:

" I supped this night with blessed Mr Burton  who suffered for the name of the Lord."

The diary develops into a record of the various successes of the Parliament in the Spring of 1640/1.  On 17 February Robert noted that the Lieutenant of Ireland was carried from the Tower of London to the upper house of Parliament and that the diarist `saw him upon the water as he was going'.   On the preceding day the King had agreed to the furtherance of the Parliament:‑

" This day the Kings Maj(est)y was pleased graciously to assent to a trienniall parliam(ent), which hath occasioned much reioycninge in the City & very many bonfires."

The diary of Robert Woodforde offers, through the eyes of a devoted puritan, a very personal account of the dramatic events of the time.  During the years preceding the Civil War period many men and women were imprisoned and punished severely on much less evidence than the descriptions and commentaries, names and locations entered in this diary.  Many of his friends, relatives and church associates would have stood condemned had the document fallen into the hands of Armenian sympathisers, and his fear and concern recorded on 17 August 1640 is therefore very understandable:‑ 

" this day I have shewed my book to some Lord deliver me from danger "


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© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev 29/02/04



Robert Woodforde and the Puritans in London

Godfrey Davies,  quoting Clarendon, states that although the short parliament was "most welcome to the whole kingdom", its election  "does not seem to have caused much excitement, perhaps because people were too surprised at so great a novelty to have room for other emotions".   Robert had cause to travel to London on legal business on 4 May 1640 whilst the short parliament was sitting and, contrary to this view,  the diary entries for the period would suggest that the parliament had caused considerable excitement and concern amongst the populace and that the puritans at least were hoping and praying for its success and continuance. On reaching Highgate the diarist had heard certain rumours that the Parliament had ended,  and these were confirmed to him when he reached London on the following day. 

On 9 May 1640 the first of several entries describe the heightened tension which certainly existed in London during the time that the short parliament was sitting:‑

" A libell was found which was a summons to all apprentices etc to meete the next holiday (as I have heard) in St. Georges feilds to pull downe the Archb(isho)ps house at Lambeth. "

On the following evening there is a further report on this incident:‑

" This eveninge a drum was beat up in Southwarke & charge given to guard the Archb(isho)ps house. "

Robert reported that early on the following morning, several hundred people gathered to assault the Archbishop's residence.  According to the diary, the Archbishop is said to have escaped in a grey cloak, presumably as a disguise designed to merge with the crowds across the River Thames.  

He was joined in London by the Mayor of Northampton who had been ordered to appear to answer a charge of refusing or neglecting to collect levies of the population of Northampton.  The charge,  and the Mayor's defence,  was of great concern to Robert Woodforde.  In his eyes there was the further implication that it was his responsibility as the Steward of the town to maintain the town's accounts.

On the night of 14 May 1640,  the diarist was drawn more directly into the events of the city,  as he noted in his diary entry on the morning after a turbulent night:‑

" This last night we were much affrighted by reason that about 12 a clock in the night one knocked vehemently at my father's dore  & proclaymed that all the trayned men must suddenly repayre to their Captains  uppon payne of death. Whereuppon my father sent Richard Becket with his armes & in the morninge we heard they were the Apprentices & others that had pulled down the White Lyon & delivered the prisoners their folkwes that were committed a like before. "

On the following evening Robert noted that the apprentices had released some, if not all, of the prisoners from the White Lyon and that one of them had been found dead.  Soon after this event, the diarist returned to Northampton.

The White Lyon was one of a group of four prisons south of the River Thames on the east side of the old road leading south from London Bridge, then called Long Southwark and now known as Borough High Street.  It was formerly an inn which was converted into a prison during the reign of Elizabeth and was the nearest of the four prisons to St. Georges Church.  Next to the White Lyon was the Queen's Bench. A little further to the north was the Marshalsea Prison and within the grounds of Marshalsea House was the Southwark Compter.

For some weeks thereafter, Robert Woodforde was distracted from the drama of the political arena nationally by the birth of another child which died after just ten days;  but he noted the heightened military activity in Northampton with soldiers passing through the town daily,  travelling towards the North and the news of impending hostilities which these military forces brought with them.   He heard the news that Newcastle had been taken by the Scots on 1 September 1640 and received confirmation of the facts on the following day.

From the very heart of the political drama unravelling in London in the winter of 1640 emerged the three men who had become synonymous with the puritan struggle and had grown almost to become the national `leaders' of the puritan movement,  offering inspiration and cohesion.  The church authorities had sought to make an example of Prynne, Bastwick and Burton during the summer of 1637; but the cruel punishment and mutilation of these men, designed as an example to others,  served only to foster and ensure their martyrdom.   At precisely the right time,  while the Parliament was in session, whilst London was packed with visiting travellers,  and whilst the rate of political change was increasing,  and with the consequent increase in the spiritual optimism of the puritans,  two of these men re‑appeared in public,  not in retreat in the countryside,  but in the very centre of political activity,  in London, on 28 November 1640.  They received a tumultuous welcome:‑

" Oh blessed be the Lord for this day, for this day those holy livinge marters Mr Burton & Mr Prynne came to towne, & the Lords p(ro)vidence brought me out of the Temple to see them, my hart reioyceth in the Lord for this day.  Its even like the returne  of the Captivity from Babilon.  There went to meet them about 1500 or 2000 horsemen, & about 100 Coaches and the streets were all thronged with people, and there was very great reioycinge".

The following day was the Sabbath,  and the diarist attended the same church services as Burton and Prynne:‑

" I prayed and went to Mr Calamyes church where good Mr Ash preached & gave thanks for the safe returne of Mr Burton, was there p(re)sent with good Mr Prynne also."