Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the King's horses and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again,
So goes the old nursery rhyme, but who was Humpty Dumpty? No, he wasn't a jolly plump fellow, or a giant egg that sat on a wall only to fall off again. Humpty Dumpty wasn't either of those, nor was he even a he. The Humpty Dumpty of nursery rhyme fame was believed to have been an oversized cannon used in the siege of Colchester during the English civil war of 1642 and 1649.
The war was fought between Puritan Parliamentarians, the Roundheads, (So called because of their short haircuts) and the King's Royalist Cavaliers. (Who sported long hair and feathered hats).
After having been defeated at Maidstone by a Parliamentarian army commanded by General Fairfax. A Royalist force of two thousand men led by Lord Goring and Lord Capel crossed the Thames into Essex and pursued by Fairfax's men, marched north to join Sir Charles Lucas, Sir George Lisle and Colonel Farre at Chelmsford. The next day the combined force, marched on Braintree and two days later occupied Colchester. The plan was to recruit more troops and then march on to raise more in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
But before they could move on, Fairfax arrived at the outskirts of the town, where he was joined by an infantry brigade led Colonel Barkstead. Fairfax ordered an immediate attack. But after being repulsed several time and having lost in the region of a thousand men, abandoned the attempt to storm the town and settled in for a siege.
The Parliamentarians blockaded the river and secured the roads to prevent supplies reaching the town. They then started to build a circle of forts around the town; once they were complete the siege gun bombardment began. The royalists however had heavily fortified the walled town and had raised a great cannon (A culverin) into the tower of St Mary's Church. (Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall) The Cannon Fired by "One-Eyed Jack Thompson" (an expert gunner, who despite have lost the sight in one eye was an excellent shot) created havoc amongst the Parliamentarians killing many of their men and the range was so great that it even reach Fairfax's headquarters at Lexden.
This annoyed Fairfax so much that he ordered his gunners to concentrate their fire on the great cannon. One of the shots scored a direct hit on the tower, blasting away the roof and collapsing the wall beneath the cannon. Humpty Dumpty was sent crashing, damaged, to the ground. (Humpty Dumpty had a great fall) The Royalists tried to repair and raise the cannon to the wall again, but the damage, plus the weight the great culverin defeated them and they were forced to abandon the attempt. (All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again).
The lost of the great cannon, the fact that the townspeople and soldiers were starving, (many of them dying because of the flux and other diseases brought on by starvation) and the news that the main Royalist army and its Scottish supporters had been defeated at the battle of Preston sealed the fate of the defenders. Sir Charles and the other commanders had no choice but to begin negotiations for the surrender of the town.
General Fairfax's terms for the surrender were harsh and the execution by firing squad of the royalist leaders was ordered. Of the four men condemned to death only Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed and became martyrs. Colonel Farre managed to escape and Sir Bernard Gasgoigne, being a foreign national, was reprieved.
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