The Boys Family of Fredville & Bonnington in the English Civil War of 1642-1651 [revised 03.01.2021]

During the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651 close neighbours, friends and even family members frequently  took opposing sides in the conflict between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. These divisions were very obvious in Nonington and the adjoining parish of Goodneston as can be seen in the following article.


Sir Edward Boys and Major John Boys of Fredville.

Sir Edward Boys of Fredville became Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports  and Governor of Dover Castle in 1642 and had initially held the castle for King Charles I, but that same year he went over to the Parliamentarians and continued to hold the strategically important castle, known for centuries as the Gateway to England, for Parliament until his death in 1646 when he was succeeded in the posts of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Governor of Dover Castle by his eldest son, Major John Boys, who held these positions until 1648. Sir Edward was also M.P. for Dover in both the “Short” and “Long” Parliaments and was involved with several parliamentary commissions and boards including the New Model Ordinance to form the Parliamentarians New Model Army in 1645.

Sir Edward Boys had a younger son, also called Edward whose baptism on 14th December, 1606 is recorded in the Nonington parish register. The younger Edward Boys also supported and fought for the Parliamentary side and died of wounds received at the Battle of Keynton, otherwise known as the Battle of Edgehill. The parish register of Church of St. Nicholas  in Warwick records: “Buried 22nd Jaunarie 1642 [1643] Edward Boyse ye sonne of Sir Edward Boyse of East Kent wounded at the Battell at Keynton”.

The Battle of Keynton, also Keyneton, [now Kineton in Warwickshire] was an alternative name for the Battle of Edgehill which was fought over the countryside between Edgehill and Keynton in southern Warwickshire. The fighting between the Parliamentary forces under the command of Earl of Essex and the Royalist army led by Charles I began on Sunday 23rd October. The main battle was fought on the Sunday but fighting continued until the following Tuesday morning when Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the King’s nephew and commander of the Royalist cavalry, led a strong force in a surprise attack against what remained of the Parliamentary forces baggage train at Keynton resulting in the deaths of many wounded survivors of the earlier fighting. After this attack the fighting ceased, but the battle had no clear winner. The Parliamentary forces withdrew to Warwick and reformed, while the King and his army continued on towards Oxford and then on to London.

Colonel Francis Hammond, whose family estate of St. Alban’s Court in Nonington adjoined the Boys’ Fredville home, was in the Royalist army at Edgehill and led the Royalist’s Forlorn Hope, but whether or not the younger Edward Boys encountered Colonel Hammond during the battle is not known. The presence of immediate neighbours on opposing sides emphasises how the English Civil War divided the country, and, in the case of the Boys’, also families.

Edward Boys the younger appears to have been wounded during the fighting in and around Keynton  and subsequently taken to Warwick.  Here he was most likely treated for his wounds and hospitalized at Warwick Castle, along with some 700 or so others wounded in the battle. Sadly Edward succumbed to his wounds and was buried at St. Nicholas’s church on 22nd January, 1643. The church stands outside one of the gates of Warwick Castle, which indicates that he was in or near the castle when he died.

Confused identities often lead to errors in fact which are perpetuated over the centuries.  This is certainly true in the case of Major John Boys of Fredville. William Hasted’s history of Kent records his having suffered severely for his Royalist sympathies in the English Civil War when in actual fact he was a Parliamentarian.  His financial woes were caused because, according to William Boys’ 1802 biography and pedigree of the Boys family, ‘by his own extravagance he much encumbered and wasted the estate of Fredville’. Hasted and later historians confused Major John Boys of Fredville in Nonington with Sir John Boys of Bonnington, the famed defender of Donnington Castle, and a distant relative of the Boys’ of Fredville in Nonington.  Bonnington is in the parish of Goodnestone and adjoins the northern boundary of the Parish of Nonington and was the original home of the Boys of Fredville in Nonington. Nonington, which in the past was often spelt Nonnington, Bonnington, and Donnington are only differentiated by their initial letter and could, and still can be, easily be confused. 

Major John Boys of Fredville’s dedication to the Parliamentary cause was confirmed in 1645 when he was named as one of Parliament’s Commissioners and Council of War in Kent with “Power to Execute; Martial Law on all that have taken part in rising in Kent”. The task of the commissioners and the council was to restore law and order in the aftermath of a Royalist attempt to take Dover Castle and begin an insurrection in East Kent.   During an earlier siege in 1642 Sir Edward and John Boys of Fredville had defended Dover Castle against a besieging force which contained at least one of the Hammond brothers from St. Alban’s Court, who were the Boys’ next-door neighbours. However, the English Civil War did not just set the Parliamentarian Boys’ of Fredville against their neighbours, they were also on the opposing side to their Royalist Boys kinsmen at nearby Bonnington and Uffington.

Sir John Boys of Bonnington.

Sir John Boys of Bonnington
Portrait of Sir John Boys in oils,  Circle of William Dobson (1611-1646)

John Boys was the eldest son and heir of Sir Edward Boys of Bonnington and Jane, daughter of Edward Sanders of Northbourne, He was born at his father’s house at Bonnington in the Parish of Goodnestone-juxta-Wingham and was baptised in nearby Chillenden Church on 5th April 1607. John was a distant kinsman of Sir Edward and John Boys of Fredville in the adjoining parish of Nonington where Sir Edward Boys of Bonnington held land. The fact that John Boys of Bonnington and Jon Boys of Fredville both have fathers called Sir Edward Boys would also add to the confusion over identies.

John Boys of Bonnington began his military career in the Low Countries where he served as a mercenary during the later part of The Thirty Years War and may possibly have served with Francis Hammond of nearby St. Alban’s Court in Nonington.

During the English Civil War, he became a captain in the army of King Charles I, and later served as Governor of Donnington Castle in Berkshire.  At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 Donnington Castle was owned by John Packer, a Parliamentarian, and garrisoned by a Parliamentarian force, but was by then an out-dated structure and initially considered unimportant.

However, after Oxford became the Royalist capital after the King’s failure to capture London in the early months of the war Donnington Castle, which was located twenty miles to the south of Oxford on the main road to the north, gained strategic importance.  The First Battle of Newbury was fought on 20th September, 1643, a mile or so to the south of the castle and resulted in a defeat for the Royalist army under the command of King Charles I.  After the Royalist defeat Lt. Colonel John Boys with a force of 200 infantry, 25 cavalry and 4 cannon took possession of Donnington Castle and began the construction of substantial defensive earthwork.

By the summer of the following year Parliament forces had gained the upper hand and made attempts to open the road to Oxford by targeting the Royalist strongholds of Banbury Castle, Basing House, and Donnington Castle. Lieutenant-General John Middleton was sent with a force of 3,000 men to take Donnington.  Middleton’s soldiers attempted a direct assault on 31st July which was repulsed with the attackers losing some 300 officers and men.

In late September Colonel Horton built a battery at the foot of the castle hill from where the castle was put under a constant bombardment. During a period of twelve days three of the fortification’s towers and a part of the wall were reduced to ruins by some 1,000 or so large cannonballs from the besiegers guns. When Horton received reinforcements, he offered terms of surrender to Lt. Colonel Boys, but Boys refused to accept them.  Soon afterwards the Earl of Manchester and his forces joined with Horton but their joint efforts to end the siege proved unsuccessful.
After some two or three days of unsuccessful attacks the besieging forces gave up their efforts to capture the castle and withdrew after becoming aware that a relieving force led the King was en route for Donnington.

Donnington Castle was relieved  on 21st October, 1644, and King Charles I   knighted John Boys for his conduct during the siege and promoted him to full Colonel of the regiment he had previously commanded as a Lieutenant-Colonel subordinate to Earl Rivers, the nominal Governor of Donnington.  The king also gave the newly promoted Colonel Sir John Boys an augmentation to his coat of arms of a golden imperial crown or on a blue canton..

Shortly after the relief of Donnington Castle the Second Battle of Newbury was fought under the castle’s walls on 27th October, 1644, and during the fighting the newly knighted and promoted Colonel Sir John Boys led the soldiers from the castle’s garrison to recapture six of the nine guns defending the castle which had been overrun and captured by an attacking  force of 800 Parliamentarian musketeers from the Earl of Essex’s regiment. The numerically superior Parliamentary army was unable to defeat the Royalist’s forces and the battle ended in a draw with no side gaining an advantage on the field but the Royalist army ended the day between two Parliamentary forces.  During the night the Royalists were able to leave and return to Oxford leaving their artillery, baggage train, and some of their wounded at Donnington Castle, which remained in Royalist hands.

On 9th November the King’s army returned to retrieve the artillery left in Donnington Castle and took up positions around Newbury.  Some Parliamentarian commanders, namely Waller, Cromwell and Heselrige were in favour fighting a deciding battle but the Earl of Manchester and his supporters were reluctant to risk defeat and no battle took place. The Royalists were therefore able to resupply the garrison and depart with their artillery, baggage train and wounded.

After the Royalist army decamped the Parliamentarian forces returned to redeploy and recommence their siege of Donnington Castle. The garrison refused to surrender even after the Royalist’s were overwhelmingly defeated at the Battle of Naseby on 14th June, 1645, leaving no functioning Royalist forces in the field. They continued to hold out until April of 1646 when Colonel Boys received a personal order from the King to surrender Donnington Castle, Charles I at that time was about to give himself up to the Scottish army at Southwell. Colonel Sir John Boys and the garrison were allowed to leave the castle with full military honours.

Sir John's memorial in Goodnestone Church

Sir John continued to be an ardent supporter of the Royalist cause and in 1648 he took a prominent part in the Kentish Rebellion. His anti-Parliamentarian activities led to his being imprisoned in Dover Castle in  1659 and he was not released until February of 1660. He died at his house at Bonnington on 8th October, 1664, and was buried in Goodnestone Church where his memorial can still be seen. Sir John and Lucy, his first wife, had five daughters but his second marriage to Lady Elizabeth Finch, the widow of Sir Nathaniel Finch and daughter of Sir John Fotherby of Barham, was childless.

The inscription on his memorial in Goodnestone church reads:

 “Underneath rests Sir John Boys late of Bonnington Kent whose military praises will flourish in our annales as laurells and palms to overspread his grave. Dun(gan)non in Ireland may remain a solemne mourner of his funerall; and Dunnington Castle in England a noble monument of his fame the former for the losse of its expert governer the latter for the honour of its g(alla)nt defender.To crown such eminent loyalty and(va)lour ye King  Royally added to his antient scutchon a crown. Leaving no other heirs male than man(ly) deeds to keepe up his name his inheritance decended to his three daughters Jane, Lucy, Anne. In his (5)8 yeare, being discharged from his militant state below he was entertained as we hope in that triumphant state above October 8th 1664.”

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