Ewelme church is resplendent in medieval paintings and icons that have survived intact from the ravages of the Reformation and the Puritans’ ideology of the English Civil War. (1642 – 1651). The buildings’ Royal connexions to Henry VIII ensured the church survived the Reformation. Then early June 1643 whilst the Parlimartian army was moving from Reading to Thame part of it passed through the village of Ewelme. Ewelme church must be blessed to have survived the Earl of Essex’s puritanical army. The story is still told how one man, Francis Martyn, gallantly fought off a mob of Puritans who were hell bent on defacing and destroying the paintings, windows and icons in Ewelme church. The story seems apocryphal but detailed analysis of historical events concerning the movements of the Earl of Essex’s army between 3rd and 8th June 1643 reveals that his army was in the Ewelme area. Francis Martyn may have been friends with Bartholomew Hone who lived in Wace Court, Ewelme. In 1650 Francis Martyn purchased the mortgage from Hone’s widow making Wace Court his principal residence. (see VCH Vol. 18 pages 192-234) Lt. Col. Francis Martyn Commanding Officer of Col. Thomas Ballard’s Regiment of Foot was at the Siege of Reading, April 1643. Ewelme is on the shortest route between Reading and Thame. Lt. Col. Francis Martyn had the power of life and death, as did every officer, over a common soldier. Should a fanatical puritan mob decide to ransack Ewelme church Martyn’s order to have them stopped would be sufficient. Lt. Col. Martyn’s order would be passed to fellow officers to keep their men in order. Lt. Col Martyn may have left a gruesome reminder of a head on a pike outside the church as a warning to other zealous Puritans. Ewelme was saved and the army passed through to make camp at Thame. The battle of Chalgrove was such a disaster for Essex that he had to take his army out of Oxfordshire leaving Ewelme church in the safe hands of the Royalists until 1646.
The first Sunday of June is a fitting day to celebrate the salvation of Ewelme church as Sunday 4th June 1643 is a likely date that Francis Martyn fended off the puritanical mob.
Victoria County History (VCH) – Oxfordshire Vol 18. – Pages: 192-234
Back to Prelude to the battle