'Garrison City': The Corporation of Bristol and the English Civil War, 1642-1646

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Returning to the debate about 'localism' in relation to the English Civil War, so long after it has apparently concluded, may seem a strange decision. That said, regional variation revealed by new archival research is an essential component of civil war scholarship. Previous research on the role played by the corporation of Bristol has drawn heavily upon one set of records, the Proceedings of the Common Council, which provide only a very rough sketch of legislative business. By exploiting the rich seam of evidence provided by the mayoral audit books, which record the corporation’s day-to-day expenditure, a fuller understanding may be reached. When analysed alongside the Proceedings, the audit books reveal the common set of assumptions that guided members of Bristol’s corporate government. Among members, there existed a desire to defend and promote the city's interests by maintaining its self-governing independence during the English Civil War of 1642–46. A high-value asset for king and parliament, the corporation was able to negotiate the terms of Bristol’s occupation with both until late in the conflict. This was identified by the Somerset-born pamphleteer William Prynne as a key reason for parliament’s failure to make a military breakthrough by 1643, and he used the city’s fall to the royalists as a weapon in his campaign against perceived neuters and cowards within the parliamentary ranks. Prynne’s position, that a garrisoned town or city like Bristol should be dealt with only from a position of subservience to parliament’s war-aims, contrasted sharply with the position taken by both the city’s corporation and its parliamentary governor, Nathaniel Fiennes. This article will turn Prynne’s terminology on its head, to contend that Bristol became a ‘garrison city’ during the first civil war. By contributing actively to each respective war-machine, while assuming responsibility for the city’s defences itself, the city government was able to protect and defend its autonomy for much of the war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-59
Number of pages20
JournalSouthern History
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


  • Bristol
  • English Civil War
  • Nathaniel Fiennes
  • Localism
  • William Prynne
  • seventeenth century


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