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Sir Lewis Dyve

Frontispiece to the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume on Sir Lewis Dyve
Frontispiece to the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume on Sir Lewis Dyve

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is fortunate to have a series of letters of Sir Lewis Dyve written during his confinement in the Tower of London in 1646 and 1647 [AD3342]. The letters comprise 112 pages. Thirty four letters were written to Charles I (1625-1649).

He was a remarkable man and of some national notoriety. Volume XXVII published by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 1948 was devoted to the life and letters of Sir Lewis Dyve and was written and edited by H. G. Tibbutt and it is from this volume that this short piece is taken.

Lewis Dyve was born at Bromham hall just before midnight on 3rd November 1599, eldest son of John Dyve, whose father Lewis had bought the family estates in Bromham. The family had deep roots in Northamptonshire. Lewis was baptised in the church on 25th November 1599, ironically one of his godmothers, the Countess of warwick sent as her deputy Mrs. Boteler of Ford End, a family with whom the Dyves had recently carried on a bitter feud.

Lewis' father John Dyve when the boy was just eight years old. His mother married again, Lewis' stepfather being Sir John Digby, later 1st Earl of Bristol and she bore him a son George, later 2nd Earl of Bristol and a major Royalist commander during the 1st Civil War. Sir John was an ambassador in Spain under King James I (1603-1625) being in that country from 1611 to 1624 and Lewis must have spent some time in the country, though he went up to Oxford University in 1614. It is known that Dyve was fluent in Spanish.

On 19th April 1620 Lewis Dyve was knighted at Whitehall. His stepfather became Earl of Bristol in September 1622 and at the time Sir Lewis was in Madrid when the future King Charles I (1625-1649) and his friend the Duke of Buckingham were at the court to carry out negotiations for Charles to marry the Infanta. This came to nothing and in 1624 the Earl of Bristol was recalled to England, presumably bringing Sir Lewis with him as that same year he married a young widow from Dorset called Howarda Rogers, daughter of Sir John Strangways of Melbury Sampford. Their first child, Beatrice, was born the following year and was christened at Melbury where the younf family seems to have settled.

Sir Lewis became MP for Bridport, despite the opposition of the new king's friend the Duke of Buckingham, who had "recommended" to the borough that it elected one Richard Strode. Buckingham had contrived to sent Sir Lewis' stepfather to the Tower of London. Luckily for Bristol, Buckingham was murdered in 1628 and he was freed.

Sir Lewis' first son Francis was born at Melbury in 1632 and one of his godparents was the Earl of Bedford. In 1637 Sir Lewis and his father-in-law were before the Court of Star Chamber charged with exporting gold out of the kingdom, an offence for which they were pardoned two years later.

By 1639 the Dyves were living at Bromham hall once again as a daughter, Jane, was baptised there in August that year. Sadly she died at a year old. Sir Lewis was not really a politician, but his half-brother George Digby was and was one of the leading opponents of the bill of attainder brought against the king's supporter and general the Earl of Strafford, who was executed for treason the following year. Digby, seeing that the gulf between king and parliament grew ever wider decided that it would be as well if the Tower of London, and the large quantity of arms it contained, was in Royalist hands. He decided that his half-brother should become the Lieutenant of the Tower and managed to force the resignation of the incumbent. Unfortunately Sir Lewis was out of town so Digby had another man appointed, who was promptly sacked by parliament and replaced with one of their men, at which point Digby went into voluntary exile in the Netherlands. He wrote incendiary letters to his friends about the situation in England, including Sir Lewis, which put them all in great danger when they were read out in parliament. Sir Lewis was called to answer before the bar of parliament but did not suffer any harm.

On 23rd April 1642 the king tried to seize the important port of Hull from parliament and Sir Lewis played a prominent part in this failed attempt. The civil war can be said to have begun on 22nd August 1642 when the king raised his standard at Nottingham. Sir Lewis was appointed colonel of a regiment of foot (these were notionally a thousand strong and comprised both pikemen and musketeers but their strength in the field was often considerably less). He also commanded a troop of cavalry which committed acts of plunder against the houses of prominent parliamentarians in Nottinghamshire around the time the war began. Sir Lewis was present in the first engagement of the war, an skirmish at Powick Bridge just outside Worcester on 23rd September. A force of a thousand cavalry under the king's nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine drove off a similarly sized force of parliamentary cavalry under Nathaniel Fiennes, son of Lord Say and Sele. Sir Lewis took a sword cut to the shoulder.

The first major battle, an indecisive encounter at Edgehill in Warwickshire took place exactly a month later. Sir Lewis fought on the king's side whilst Sir Samuel Luke of Cople fought for parliament. A small, indecisive engagement was fought near Aylesbury on 1st November in which Prince Rupert charged a body of parliamentary horse under Sir William Balfour but was forced to withdraw. It is of note because at one stage the prince was surrounded and in difficulties. A contemporary pamphlet stated: "Prince Rupert mauger [i.e. despite] his native courage was at his non plus ultra till Sir Lewis Dives, a man of as much acrimony and spleen as any of the malignants against the Parliament, fell in pell mell to the prince's rescue". Sir Lewis continued to advance on London with the royal army but it was forced to retire after a face-off at Turnham Green just outside the capital.

Another cavalry engagement took place on 11th November near Brentford where Sir Lewis again distinguished himself in an action where the Royalist cavalry was forced to withdraw. After this it was reported that The English Intelligencer of 12th-18th November reported: "Sir Lewis Dives is reported absolutely to be dead".

The armies remained largely inactive over the winter months but in April 1643 parliamentary forces laid siege to Reading [Berkshire]. Sir Lewis was amongst the Royalist army sent to relieve the town but their attack at Caversham was beaten off. Reading fell on 27th of that month. Again, by chance, Sir Samuel Luke was in the opposing army and he sent a letter to parliament regarding the plundering of Bromham Hall by parliamentary troops.

In September 1643 another indecisive battle was fought at Newbury [Berkshire] and following this Royalist forces fanned out into Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. Sir Lewis and Sir John Digby of Gayhurst [Buckinghamshire] entered the county with four hundred cavalry. On either 4th or 5th October they rode to Ampthill and surprised the Bedfordshire Sequestration Committee who were meeting to consider seizing the estates of prominent Royalists in the county. Two of the committee were captured and some horses were seized before the Royalists withdrew from the town. A day or two later they turned up at Newport Pagnell [Buckinghamshire], occupied it and began to fortify it.

On 16th or 17th October another Royalist force under Sir John Hurry seized Bedford, capturing the three hundred strong parliamentary garrison. Sir Samuel Luke's house was plundered, perhaps this was Sir Lewis Dyve's own personal revenge for the sack of Bromham Hall in the previous year. It should be noted that the parliamentary governor of Bedford had sent out to have the trained bands assemble to defend the town but only eighteen men turned up! There was obviously some form of fight, however, because Hurry was wounded near Bedford Bridge and returned to Oxford with his bodyguard, the town reverting to parliamentary control.

On the night of 26 and 27th October Sir Lewis evacuated Newport Pagnell, reportedly due to a mistaken order sent out from Oxford, as a parliamentary force under Sergeant Major General Philip Skippon advanced towards it via Dunstable and Little Brickhill [Buckinghamshire]. Skippon occupied the town and it became a parliamentary stronghold, where John Bunyan later served in the garrison. Sir Lewis fell back on Stony Stratford [Buckinghamshire] and was in Towcester [Northamptonshire] in November, perhaps being present at a skirmish in Olney [Buckinghamshire] on 4th of that month.

By January 1644 Sir Lewis Dyve was at Abingdon [Oxfordshire] and was forced to evacuate it on 25th May. He accompanied the royal army to the west country and was present during the surrender of the parliamentary army at Lostwithiel [Cornwall] on 2nd September. On 2nd October the royal army reached Sherborne [Dorset], home of Sir Lewis' stepfather's family, the Digbys. Whilst in the town the king made Sir Lewis Sergeant Major General for Dorset and left him to govern it with his regiment of foot, one only 150 strong, and Colonel James Strangways' regiments of horse and foot, of 200 and 50 respectively. Sir Lewis was tasked with raising the numbers from 200 horse and 200 foot to 500 horse, 100 dragoons and 1,500 foot.

At the end of October parliamentarian Colonel William Sydenham defeated Sir Lewis  in the field and took 40 prisoners was well as arms and horses. Undaunted Sir Lewis dislodged a parliamentary garrison from Blandford Forum  and later defeated parliamentary cavalry at Dorchester. However his nemesis Sydenham later attacked and drove him out of Dorchester by a surprise night attack, forcing him back to Sherborne. In December he failed to support a royalist siege of Taunton which thus failed.

He fared better in the new year, storming Weymouth on 9th February with help from the Royalist garrison of Portland. He captured the forts and the upper town but the port area, garrisoned by the indefatigable Colonel Sydenham held out. Reinforcements under George Goring were sent to aid Sir Lewis but they were defeated by Sydenham and two of the forts were lost, though they were later retaken. The royalists could not take the port, however, and retired to Dorchester, Goring being held responsible for this serious defeat. 

The parliamentarians now went on the offensive in Dorset and took the entire county with the exception of Sir Lewis' garrison of Sherborne and the garrison at Portland. The main royalist army, under personal command of the king was decisively defeated at Naseby in Northamptonshire on 14th June 1645 and this signalled the beginning of the end for the royalist cause nationally. Goring was then defeated by parliament's commander-in-chief, Sir Thomas Fairfax at Langport [Somerset] on 10th July and he retreated into Devon.

At this point Sir Lewis entered negotiations with a group known as the club-men. These poorly armed but determined groups had sprung up all over the country. They did not take sides as a general rule but simply tried to stop the armies of either side laying their own countrywisde and towns to waste. Sir Thomas Fairfax, hearing of Sir Lewis' actions resolved to snuff out his fortress of Sherborne and to capture the troublesome royalist. On 27th July a parliamentary force arrived outside the Old Castle, Fairfax and his second-in-command Oliver Cromwell arriving on 1st August. Cromwell crushed the local club men on 4th August whilst Fairfax laid siege to the castle. The castle surrendered on the 15th of the month and Sir Lewis and his wife were taken prisoner.

Sir Lewis was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 29th August 1645 and remained there until 1647 when he was removed to King's Bench Prison in Southwark [Surrey] because his estates had been seized by parliament and he was, therefore, heavily in debt. He escaped on 15th January 1648 and made his way to Scotland and joined a Scottish army which invaded England in the name of the imprisoned King Charles. They were soundly defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Preston in Lancashire between 17th and 19th August and Sir Lewis was captured once more and held prisoner at Whitehall. He escaped on 30th January 1649, the day on which Charles I was beheaded less than a quarter of a mile away. A warrant for his arrest was issued which described Sir Lewis, now nearing 50, as "of a middle size, and hath flaxen hair". By June Sir Lewis was in The Hague but went to the Isle of Man at the bidding of Prince Charles (the future Charles II) to defend royalist interests there. He did not linger as he had a commission to go to Ireland to appoint Viscount Montgomery of Ards General of Ulster in the royalist cause. He remained in Ireland, observing the campaign until June 1650 when he returned to the Netherlands.

Sir Lewis remained in exile in Europe until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660; his stepfather died in 1653 and mother in 1658, she was buried at Sherborne. He had suffered great financial loss on account of the civil wars, perhaps as much as £164,000 and was not adequately recompensed by Charles II. He had owned properties in Northamptonshire; one of these, Quinton, was sold before the wars. The estate at East Haddon was sequestrated by parliament and sold by them in 1652 though at the restoration it appears that Sir Lewis did get this back and sold it in 1661. A property at Harleston was also sequestrated and sold in 1652 and 1658 for nearly £3,000 none of which, either money or property, Sir Lewis was ever able to recover.

Sir Lewis had bought a small estate at Combehay in Somerset some time before 1644 and it was to this that he retired on his return to England in 1660. He conveyed the Bromham estates, which had been returned after sequestration, to his son Francis. He died at Combehay on 17th April 1669 and was buried there.

The Dyve family coat of arms
The Dyve family coat of arms