Escape by sea

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Portrait of a long-haired man in armour

Prince Rupert. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I’ve always admired the style of Prince Rupert, probably the most famous cavalier of the English Civil War. He lived in an age when a man had to be able to fight and when not using his sword could elegantly trip a dainty measure (dance) with a lady.

However, Liverpool gave Rupert a massive challenge when he marched his Royalist army to the heavily-defended town expecting a walkover. The sea has always provided a means of escape from danger and this was true in this famous siege.

In the war Royalist cavaliers were led by King Charles I and the Parliamentarian roundheads by Oliver Cromwell. Dashing Prince Rupert was Charles’ nephew and besieged Liverpool held for Parliament by the town’s governor John Moore, member of a powerful local merchant family. Moore was also a vice-admiral and commanded a small fleet of six ships which inflicted substantial damage on the Royalist fleet in the Irish Sea.

Rupert camped at Everton, which was then a small village on the hill outside Liverpool. When the siege started, he haughtily dismissed Liverpool as “a mere crow’s nest which a parcel of boys might take”. However, it was a month before Rupert took Liverpool after a constant cannon bombardment and the loss of more than 1,500 of his own troops.

Moore concluded that the town was no longer defensible. He and his men escaped by sea in ships that had been moored in the Pool, the creek which gave Liverpool its name. Moore’s action was taken without consulting the local civic leaders and the town was left defenceless. Many citizens fought on and Rupert’s men had to take Liverpool street-by-street. No mercy was shown and about 400 people – many unarmed – were slaughtered. The troops were then allowed to ransack the town. Liverpool was recaptured by Parliament a few months later in November 1644 after it was cut off by land and sea. Moore became governor again.

There is a fascinating display of Civil War armour and weapons in the Magical History Tour exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum.

A breast plate carries a small dent indicating that it was proof against pistol shots. A mortuary sword was a common type of cavalry broad sword. It is believed to get its name from the basket hilt resembling a human rib-cage.

Part of a timber beam is believed to have come from the cottage on Everton Brow which served as Prince Rupert’s headquarters.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).