Siege Musings - 15 June 1644: A city under fire
Trinity Sunday, 15 June 1644, marked a significant escalation in hostilities between the forces loyal to the King occupying York, and those opposed to the King - the Allied Armies of Parliament and Scotland - besieging the city. A coordinated attack using mines at strategic sections of the wall had been planned - but unfortunately the mine at St Mary's Tower on Bootham exploded early. Parliamentary forces swarmed over the walls into the bowling green alongside St Olaves Church and the ruins of St Mary's Abbey, but were met by the crack troops of the Earl of Newcastle, the 'Whitecoats' (who 2 weeks later distinguished themselves at Marston Moor). 300 of the invaders were killed.
From other accounts it seems that the attack coincided with the Sunday morning service in the Minster. Whether this attack was motivated by strategic (hoping that a large number of military were attending the service) or religious motives
(One Royalist commentator saw the purpose of the attack was no less than 'to abolish the service of the Common-Prayer in a Military Way, which by Disputation they were not able to perform') is unclear. But it did herald a more sustained onslaught on the city from the besieging armies. Thomas Mace claims that the Minster itself was under fire with cannonballs ricocheting around the Minster, presumably from artillery in Bootham ('with which constantly in Prayers time they would not fail to make their Hellish disturbance'). Considerable damage was also inflicted on the eastern side of the City, with the guns on the tower of St Lawrence's Church just outside Walmgate Bar damaging buildings in the central area of the city.
In short, Trinity Sunday marked the beginning of the end for the Royalist city, although it was temporarily reprieved when the King's nephew Prince Rupert relieved the city at the end of the month. However, following Rupert and Newcastle's defeat at Marston Moor, the city suffered another two weeks of deprivation before surrendering. The victorious army were greeted by houses destroyed in the suburbs, and a large number of wounded soldiers. Thanks to the intervention of Fairfax, those soldiers that could march were granted safety of passage, and although York had been defended by Royalist forces, its gentry and general population welcomed the Allied Army - two reasons why York did not suffer the same fate of other Royalist cities.
There's some appeal to liken the psalms by William Lawes on our recording Music for Troubled Times to Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony - music composed of performed for an oppressed besieged city. However, other than Thomas Mace's famous description of the psalm singing on Trinity Sunday during the siege, there is no direct evidence placing composer or his music in York. Lawes may have travelled to York with Royal court or army, but no music survives in the Minster Library (but little from this period does). However, York lay on fault lines that reflect the social, political and religious frictions of English society in the 1640s, and Lawes' psalms - unique in their structure - provide further insight to this turbulent period.