Friends at War

I found this letter by accident yesterday while I was searching for something else. Apparently, it’s very famous but I had never seen it before, and it struck me as unbearably moving. It was written by Sir William Waller to his friend Sir Ralph Hopton on 16th June 1643, during the (First) English Civil War and it is the last known communication between the two men. The former was a General in the Parliamentarian army, the latter held the same rank in the Royalist army.

This one heartbreaking letter reveals the tragedy that was unfolding all over the country at the time, as friends and families were torn apart by  forces not of their making but that proved impossible to to resist. It seems that countries are doomed to do this from time to time.

To my noble friend Sir Ralph Hopton at Wells


The experience I have of your worth and the happiness I have enjoyed in your friendship are wounding considerations when I look at this present distance between us. Certainly my affection to you is so unchangeable that hostility itself cannot violate my friendship, but I must be true wherein the cause I serve. That great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go about this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy; but I look upon it as an Opus Domini and that is enough to silence all passion in me. The God of peace in his good time will send us peace. In the meantime, we are upon the stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do so in a way of honour and without personal animosities.

Whatever the outcome I will never willingly relinquish the title of Your most affectionated friend.

William Waller

Following the eventual defeat of the Royalist cause Sir Ralph Hopton fled to the Continent with the young Prince Charles. He died of fever in Bruges in 1651. Sir William Waller served as a Member of Parliament but became increasingly disillusioned with the new Commonwealth and subsequently worked for the Restoration of the Monarchy, which began in 1660 with Charles II. Waller died in 1668.



8 Responses to “Friends at War”

  1. Nigel Foot Says:

    Dear Telescoper,
    Thank you for posting this letter. As you say, it is very poignant. I know you have posted it because of the Brexit tragedy that is being played out before us at the present time. I live in Newbury, a town for ever linked with the English Civil War, and it has struck me how we are now more divided (over Brexit) as a nation, than at any time since the Civil War, 375 years ago. I wonder if you would consider posting on the “48% ” facebook group? Many of those in that “Remain” facebook group would find it very thought provoking.
    Nigel Foot

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Civil wars are always horrible because the divide runs through every town, village and even family. Bodies of troops under the two men in question clashed more than once in 1643 and 1644. When Parliament subsequently raised its own standing army, Waller declined to be part of it. But I am squarely on Parliament’s side. The Stuart kings came from Scotland where Parliament was much less powerful relative to the Crown than had long been the case in England, and simply did not understand this. Charles I pushed it harder than his father and simply dismissed Parliament, which by longstanding custom had been consulted over taxation, and enacted new and arbitrary taxes to pay for his rule. He also broke his word on a regular basis.

    Events came to a head in the 1640s. Charles was forced to recall parliament for support against rebellions in Scotland and Ireland, which his religious policies had unwisely provoked. But the English Parliament prioritised its grievances against Charles, and both sides escalated until civil war broke out between them. By 1646 Parliament’s standing ‘New Model’ Army had won. What happened then was a mess. Parliament was for mandatory presbyterianism in the church in England, Charles for bishops, and the parliamentary army for religious freedom among protestant traditions. Parliament refused its army back pay and indemnity for its actions during the fighting, and the army refused to disband until it was paid. It marched on London and occupied it peaceably, while Parliament and Charles haggled over a constitutional settlement. Parliamentarians and Army men then held the ‘Putney debates’ in the church at the south end of Putney bridge, historic debates in which the army’s ‘independents’ called for the restoration of common land to the poor, the vote for all adult men, free trade and the abolition of monopolies. (The Stuart kings had instituted and sold various monopolies, raising the prices of many goods.) Debate was curtailed when Charles got away and, from the Isle of Wight, sold out his episcopalian principles for a Scottish invasion to restore him to power and for a presbyterian English church. The Army smashed this invasion – Scotland still being a foreign country – at Preston in 1648. Even after that the Army allowed Parliament to negotiate with the duplicitous king about a constitutional settlement. It was only when these negotiations stalled and the Army’s proposals to unlock the situation – freedom of Reformed religion, regular elections, Parliament above king – had been ignored that Pride’s Purge was enacted, in which the Army threw out of Parliament those seeking to treat with Charles, then had him put on trial. Charles was in flagrant violation of his Coronation Oath, which bound him to the people as well as to God, and he was beheaded at the end of January 1649.

    Once the Army had seen off his son, the future Charles II, Parliament ran England, but rather shambolically and Cromwell effectively took over. He tried to give up power but the resulting chaos meant he took it up again. He never had time to study Republican Rome, the only republican system to last for any long period of time, and when Cromwell died having refused the crown there was again chaos until England reverted to monarchy and the constitution was wound back to before the civil war under Charles II. He would be succeeded by his brother James II. James was openly Catholic, but the now-protestant English put up with it because he had no male heir and England’s power brokers knew that on his death they might invite a suitable protestant monarch, just as their predecessors had invited James I on Elizabeth’s death. Then James II’s queen unexpectedly gave birth to a boy and England faced the prospect of an indefinite Catholic dynasty. The country’s power brokers invited James’ son-in-law William of Orange to cross the channel and depose his father-in-law with their support. This took place and is the so-called Glorious Revolution. As part of the deal with William, the constitutional settlement for which Parliament had fought the civil war four decades earlier was enshrined into a Bill of Rights. Parliament was now supreme, and protestants could worship outside the Church of England – although such nonconformists were barred from the professions and public office by ‘Test Acts’. They went on to lead the Industrial Revolution as entrepreneurs and innovators. In parliament, two parties emerged, Whigs and Tories, and the leader of the party in power became known as the Prime minister. And thus it has been for the next 300 years…

    In essence the Civil War turned into a 3-way spat between Parliament, its Army, and the King. Throughout it, the Army were consistently for the settlement with the most freedom, and showed great patience in letting the other parties negotiate to deadlock before acting. How different from military coups today!

    • “Events came to a head in the 1640s.”

      Charles’s head, to be precise. 🙂

      The current Prince Charles said that, should he become King, he would be King George. (George is one of his names: Charles Philip Arthur George, not Charles Arthur Philip George, as Diana said at the wedding).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Philip Charles Arthur George is what she actually said.

      • telescoper Says:

        She also said “All thy goods with thee I share”…

      • I stand corrected. Did you remember it or did you check YouTube?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Both! I was reasonably certain of the order she spoke his names but verified it on YouTube, at 5:15:

        It is something to view this extract given what happened.

      • Indeed. To be fair, though, Charles didn’t have the possibility to marry the woman he loved, at least at the time. For a while now, Scandinavian princes and princesses have been marrying commoners, including single mothers, reality-TV stars, etc. These marriages have lasted.

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