Dazzling sunshine, a furious wind, flapping and screaming gulls, crowds of fishing-boats, and innumerable people jostling one another on the seafront, made up the chief features of my first view of Scarborough. By degrees I discovered that behind the gulls and the brown sails were old houses, their roofs dimly red through the transparent haze, and above them appeared a great green cliff, with its uneven outline defined by the curtain walls and towers of the castle which had made Scarborough a place of importance in the Civil War and in earlier times.
The wide-curving bay was filled with huge breaking waves which looked capable of destroying everything within their reach, but they seemed harmless enough when I looked a little further out, where eight or ten gray warships were riding at their anchors, apparently motionless.
From the outer arm of the harbour, where the seas were angrily attempting to dislodge the top row of stones, I could make out the great mass of gray buildings stretching right to the extremity of the bay.
I tried to pick out individual buildings from this city-like watering-place, but, beyond discovering the position of the Spa and one or two of the mightier hotels, I could see very little, and instead fell to wondering how many landladies and how many foreign waiters the long lines of gray roofs represented. This raised so many unpleasant recollections of the various types I had encountered that I determined to go no nearer to modern Scarborough than the pier-head upon which I stood. A specially big wave, however, soon drove me from this position to a drier if more crowded spot, and, reconsidering my objections, I determined to see something of the innumerable gray streets which make up the fashionable watering-place. The terraced gardens on the steep cliffs along the sea-front were most elaborately well kept, but a more striking feature of Scarborough is the magnificence of so many of the shops. They suggest a city rather than a seaside town, and give you an idea of the magnitude of the permanent population of the place as well as the flood of summer and winter visitors. The origin of Scarborough's popularity was undoubtedly due to the chalybeate waters of the Spa, discovered in 1620, almost at the same time as those of Tunbridge Wells and Epsom.
The unmistakable signs of antiquity in the narrow streets adjoining the harbour irresistibly remind one of the days when sea-bathing had still to be popularized, when the efficacy of Scarborough's medicinal spring had not been discovered, of the days when the place bore as little resemblance to its present size or appearance as the fishing-town at Robin Hood's Bay.
We do not know that Piers Gaveston, Sir Hugh Cholmley, and other notabilities who have left their mark on the pages of Scarborough's history, might not, were they with us to-day, welcome the pierrot, the switchback, the restaurant, and other means by which pleasure-loving visitors wile away their hardly-earned holidays; but for my part the story of Scarborough's Mayor who was tossed in a blanket is far more entertaining than the songs of nigger minstrels or any of the commercial attempts to amuse.
This strangely improper procedure with one who held the highest office in the municipality took place in the reign of James II., and the King's leanings towards Popery were the cause of all the trouble.
On April 27, 1688, a declaration for liberty of conscience was published, and by royal command the said declaration was to be read in every Protestant church in the land. Mr. Thomas Aislabie, the Mayor of Scarborough, duly received a copy of the document, and, having handed it to the clergyman, Mr. Noel Boteler, ordered him to read it in church on the following Sunday morning. There seems little doubt that the worthy Mr. Boteler at once recognised a wily move on the part of the King, who under the cover of general tolerance would foster the growth of the Roman religion until such time as the Catholics had attained sufficient power to suppress Protestantism. Mr. Mayor was therefore informed that the declaration would not be read. On Sunday morning (August 11) when the omission had been made, the Mayor left his pew, and, stick in hand, walked up the aisle, seized the minister, and caned him as he stood at his reading-desk. Scenes of such a nature did not occur every day even in 1688, and the storm of indignation and excitement among the members of the congregation did not subside so quickly as it had risen.
The cause of the poor minister was championed in particular by a certain Captain Ouseley, and the discussion of the matter on the bowling-green on the following day led to the suggestion that the Mayor should be sent for to explain his conduct. As he took no notice of a courteous message requesting his attendance, the Captain repeated the summons accompanied by a file of musketeers. In the meantime many suggestions for dealing with Mr. Aislabie in a fitting manner were doubtless made by the Captain's brother officers, and, further, some settled course of action seems to have been agreed upon, for we do not hear of any hesitation on the part of the Captain on the arrival of the Mayor, whose rage must by this time have been bordering upon apoplexy. A strong blanket was ready, and Captains Carvil, Fitzherbert, Hanmer, and Rodney, led by Captain Ouseley and assisted by as many others as could find room, seizing the sides, in a very few moments Mr. Mayor was revolving and bumping, rising and falling, as though he were no weight at all.
This public degradation was too much to be borne without substantial redress. He therefore set out at once for London to obtain satisfaction from his Sovereign. But Ouseley was wise enough to look after his own interests in that quarter himself, and in two letters we see the upshot of the matter.
'LONDON, 'September 22, 1688. '....Captain Ouseley is said to be come to town to give reasons for tossing the mayor of Scarborough in a blanket. As part of his plea he has brought with him a collection of articles against the said mayor, and the attestations of many gentlemen of note.'
'LONDON, 'September 29, 1688. 'The mayor of Scarborough and Captain Ouseley, who tossed the other in a blanket, were heard last night before the council: the Captain pleaded his majesty's gracious pardon (which is in the press) and so both were dismissed.'
Aislabie was the last of the only five Mayors the town had then known, and the fact that the office had only been instituted in 1684 seems to show that what reverence had gathered round the person of the chief magistrate was not sufficient to stand in the face of such outrageous conduct as the public caning of the minister. The townsfolk decided that they had had enough of Mayors, for on November 16 in the same autumn Scarborough was once more placed under the control of two Bailiffs, as had been the case previous to 1684.
If the castle does not show many interesting buildings beyond the keep and the long line of walls and drum-towers, there is so much concerning it that is of great human interest that I should scarcely feel able to grumble if there were still fewer remains. Behind the ancient houses in Quay Street rises the steep, grassy cliff, up which one must climb by various rough pathways to the fortified summit. On the side facing the mainland, a hollow, known as the Dyke, is bridged by a tall and narrow archway, in place of the drawbridge of the seventeenth century and earlier times. On the same side is a massive gateway, looking across an open space to St. Mary's Church, which suffered so severely during the sieges of the castle. The maimed church—for the chancel has never been rebuilt—looks across the Dyke to the shattered keep, and so apparent are the results of the cannonading between them that no one requires to be told that the Parliamentary forces mounted their ordnance in the chancel and tower of the church, and it is equally apparent that the Royalists returned the fire hotly.
The great siege lasted for nearly a year, and although his garrison was small, and there was practically no hope of relief, Sir Hugh Cholmley seems to have kept a stout heart up to the end. With him throughout this long period of privation and suffering was his beautiful and courageous wife, whose comparatively early death, at the age of fifty-four, must to some extent be attributed to the strain and fatigue borne during these months of warfare. Sir Hugh seems to have almost worshipped his wife, for in his memoirs he is never weary of describing her perfections.
'She was of the middle stature of women,' he writes, 'and well shaped, yet in that not so singular as in the beauty of her face, which was but of a little model, and yet proportionable to her body; her eyes black and full of loveliness and sweetness, her eyebrows small and even, as if drawn with a pencil, a very little, pretty, well-shaped mouth, which sometimes (especially when in a muse or study) she would draw up into an incredible little compass; her hair a sad chestnut; her complexion brown, but clear, with a fresh colour in her cheeks, a loveliness in her looks inexpressible; and by her whole composure was so beautiful a sweet creature at her marriage as not many did parallel, few exceed her in the nation; yet the inward endowments and perfections of her mind did exceed those outward of her body, being a most pious virtuous person, of great integrity and discerning judgment in most things.'
Her husband speaks of her 'sweet good-nature,' and of how she was always ready to be touched with other people's wants before her own. That such nobleness of character should shine out brilliantly during the siege was inevitable, and Sir Hugh tells us that, though she was of a timorous nature, she bore herself during great danger with 'a courage above her sex.' On one occasion Sir John Meldrum, the Parliamentary commander, sent proposals to Sir Hugh Cholmley, which he accompanied with savage threats, that if his terms were not immediately accepted he would make a general assault on the castle that night, and in the event of one drop of his men's blood being shed he would give orders for a general massacre of the garrison, sparing neither man nor woman.
To a man whose devotion to his beautiful wife was so great, a threat of this nature must have been a severe shock to his determination to hold out. But from his own writings we are able to picture for ourselves Sir Hugh's anxious and troubled face lighting up on the approach of the cause of his chief concern. Lady Cholmley, without any sign of the inward misgivings or dejection which, with her gentle and shrinking nature, must have been a great struggle, came to her husband, and implored him to on no account let her peril influence his decision to the detriment of his own honour or the King's affairs.
Sir John Meldrum's proposals having been rejected, the garrison prepared itself for the furious attack commenced on May 11.
The assault was well planned, for while the Governor's attention was turned towards the gateway leading to the castle entrance, another attack was made at the southern end of the wall towards the sea, where until the year 1730 Charles's Tower stood. The bloodshed at this point was greater than at the gateway. At the head of a chosen division of troops, Sir John Meldrum climbed the almost precipitous ascent with wonderful courage, only to meet with such spirited resistance on the part of the besieged that, when the attack was abandoned, it was discovered that Meldrum had received a dangerous wound penetrating to his thigh, and that several of his officers and men had been killed. Meanwhile, at the gateway, the first success of the assailants had been checked at the foot of the Grand Tower or Keep, for at that point the rush of drab-coated and helmeted men was received by such a shower of stones and missiles that many stumbled and were crushed on the steep pathway. Not even Cromwell's men could continue to face such a reception, and before very long the Governor could embrace his wife in the knowledge that the great attack had failed.
In between such scenes as these, when the air was filled with the shouts and yells of attackers and besieged, when the crack of the muskets and the intermittent reports of the cannon almost deafened her, Lady Cholmley was assiduously attending to the wounded and the many cases of scurvy, which was rampant among the garrison. One of her maids who shared these labours crept out of the castle one night with a view to reaching the town and escaping further drudgery and privations; but a Roundhead sentry discovered her and sent her back to the castle, thinking that she was a spy. When the great keep was partially destroyed, Lady Cholmley was forced 'to lie in a little cabbin on the ground several months together, when she took a defluction of rhume upon one of her eyes, which troubled her ever after, and got also a touch of the scurvy then rife in the castle, and of which it is thought she was not well after.' Who can wonder that Sir Hugh appreciated the courage of this noble lady, and I marvel still more at her fortitude when I read of the frailties her husband mentions so gently, fearing, no doubt, that without a few shadows no one would accept his picture as genuine. 'If she had taken impression of anything, it was hard to remove it with reason or argument, till she had considered of it herself; neither could she well endure adversity or crosses, though it pleased the Lord to exercise her with them, by my many troubles and the calamity of the times. She would be much troubled at evils which could neither be prevented nor remedied, and sometimes discontented without any great cause, especially in her disposition of health; for, being of a tender constitution, and spun of a fine thread, every disaster took impression on her body and mind, and would make her both sick and often inclinable to be melancholy, especially in my absence.'
At last, on July 22, 1645—his forty-fifth birthday—Sir Hugh was forced to come to an agreement with the enemy, by which he honourably surrendered the castle three days later. It was a sad procession that wound its way down the steep pathway, littered with the debris of broken masonry: for many of Sir Hugh's officers and soldiers were in such a weak condition that they had to be carried out in sheets or helped along between two men, and the Parliamentary officer adds, rather tersely, that 'the rest were not very fit to march.' The scurvy had depleted the ranks of the defenders to such an extent that the women in the castle, despite the presence of Lady Cholmley, threatened to stone the Governor unless he capitulated.
The reduction of Scarborough Castle was considered a profound success to the side of the Parliament, 'The Moderate Intelligencer' of July 23, 1645, announcing the fact with great satisfaction, 'we heare likewise that Scarborough is also yeelded into our hands, Sir Hugh hath none other conditions for himself, but with his wife and children passe beyond seas. This is excellent good newes, and is a very terrible blow to the enemy.'
Three years later the castle was again besieged by the Parliamentary forces, for Colonel Matthew Boynton, the Governor, had declared for the King. The garrison held out from August to December, when terms were made with Colonel Hugh Bethell, by which the Governor, officers, gentlemen, and soldiers, marched out with 'their colours flying, drums beating, musquets loaden, bandeleers filled, matches lighted, and bullet in mouth, to a close called Scarborough Common,' where they laid down their arms.
Before I leave Scarborough I must go back to early times, in order that the antiquity of the place may not be slighted owing to the omission of any reference to the town in the Domesday Book. Tosti, Count of Northumberland, who, as everyone knows, was brother of the Harold who fought at Senlac Hill, had brought about an insurrection of the Northumbrians, and having been dispossessed by his brother, he revenged himself by inviting the help of Haralld Hadrada, King of Norway. The Norseman promptly accepted the offer, and, taking with him his family and an army of warriors, sailed for the Shetlands, where Tosti joined him. The united forces then came down the east coast of Britain until they reached Scardaburgum, where they landed and prepared to fight the inhabitants. The town was then built entirely of timber, and there was, apparently, no castle of any description on the great hill, for the Norsemen, finding their opponents inclined to offer a stout resistance, tried other tactics. They gained possession of the hill, constructed a huge fire, and when the wood was burning fiercely, flung the blazing brands down on to the wooden houses below. The fire spread from one hut to another with sufficient speed to drive out the defenders, who in the confusion which followed were slaughtered by the enemy.
This occurred in the momentous year 1066, when Harold, having defeated the Norsemen and slain Haralld Hadrada at Stamford Bridge, had to hurry southwards to meet William the Norman at Hastings. It is not surprising, therefore, that the compilers of the Conqueror's survey should have failed to record the existence of the blackened embers of what had once been a town. But such a site as the castle hill could not long remain idle in the stormy days of the Norman Kings, and William le Gros, Earl of Albemarle and Lord of Holderness, recognising the natural defensibility of the rock, built the massive walls which have withstood so many assaults, and even now form the most prominent feature of Scarborough.