WITHOUT the untimely death of John Steare and Nicolas Rider, it could be assumed that the Bishops Wars passed by the sleepy, small and isolated parish of Bolton-by-Bowland, writes John Pallister.

THE record of Steare’s burial in the church yard on June 2 1641 initially appears to be insignificant, until it is noticed that 11 days later he was joined by Nicolas Rider. Whilst burials recorded in the parish register always recorded the identification of the deceased by reference to their parents, family or the name of their home, these burials were different. Both were simply recorded by the Parish Clerk as being ‘one of the souldiers’.

Immediately question’s arises as to what these two soldiers were doing in Bolton, and why did they both die so close together? There is no common memory of soldiers fighting in the Parish. It would seem apparent from the Clerks salutary note that they were not alone as ‘souldiers’ in the Parish at the time. His identification is perfunctory and lacks very much by way of Christian warmth. The men were outsiders to the Parish, as their surnames now confirm. They remain the only Steare and Rider to be registered by a christening, marriage or burial in the 254 years following the opening of the register in 1558.

382 years after the event a definitive answer to the questions escapes us, but there are clues which may point towards strong possibilities.

For an understanding of the situation in Bolton in 1641, it is necessary to recall the political and religious position of the times. King Charles, ever convinced of his ‘Divine Rights’ had already been at loggerheads with his increasingly strong Parliament.

It was a prelude to what would become the civil war, and Charles, as the Supreme Head of The Church of England brought forward religious reforms including the new book of Common Prayer. He then required his subjects in Scotland to follow the new doctrine, but was soundly rebuffed by Presbyterians, who wanted no Bishops and even less of the doctrine.

It fell to the King to teach the Scots a lesson, but Parliament was implacable and the King had no money to raise an army. His recourse was to call up the Trained Bands (militia) of Yorkshire, who totalled 12,000 men and send them north. Upon meeting the Scots under Alexander Leslie in the borders, the combatants skirmished and eventually made peace in 1639 at Berwick.

It seems that King Charles had his fingers crossed at Berwick, because within a year he again raised the Yorkshire militias to meet the Scots at the battle of Newburn Ford on the Tyne.

Naturally this was extremely costly to the Yorkshire tax payers, who were charged with paying the upkeep of the ‘county army’. Once again the novice and outnumbered Yorkshire militia were routed, leaving the four northern most counties in England possessed by the Scots, who refused to simply go home.

Charles had to make peace and agreed to paying the Scots £850 per day towards their upkeep, if they would retire to their own country. This of course gave them no incentive to bother a speedy northwards return.

Meanwhile the Kings army had retired to Yorkshire, where the men were billeted in households throughout the county, living as unpaying guests of Yorkshire people. Not only did the Yorkshire people have that intolerable burden in their homes, but they had already been unfairly taxed by the King, in order to pay the wages and costs of the Yorkshire county militia Army in the campaigns.

Other English counties had not been required to contribute. Meanwhile the Yorkshire population were now being abused by the rough, discontented, soldiering elements in their midst which continued throughout the summer of 1641, until peace was declared in August.

So on balance, it seems that John Steare and Nicolas Rider were soldiers billeted in the village. They could have been supporting tax collection or have been part of the militia army awaiting the formalities of peace. Whichever, it is unlikely that those paying for their keep and putting up with the rough and ready element of soldiers suddenly in their lives, had much regard for them.

It seems unlikely that these men were a detachment of two, unless they had deserted, and more likely that they were part of a unit of ten, or perhaps a dozen men, from far reaches of the county, or were perhaps some of the modest number of ‘midlands’ supporters of the King.

An examination of the Church register in Bolton for the year 1641 reveals that 43 persons were buried, which compares very unfavourably with the 10 year average of 24. The fact that the two soldiers seem to have died within 11 days of one another, suggests that contagious disease, like a plague or cholera, might have swept through the Parish.

The record also shows 1644 to be a similar year with 40 burials taking place. The disease theory seems confirmed by the burial of Helen Bowcoke in September 1641, to be followed in 1644 by the burials of her husband Richard, daughter Anne and a ‘young infant’ from the family.

Whilst it is now 382 years since Steare and Rider died in Bolton by Bowland, perhaps this explanation of the awful times may be the most plausible. Luckily for the Parish inhabitants, they still knew nothing of greater civil war sufferings about to come to Yorkshire, or the Great Plague later in the century.