The Battle of Muster Green and the church font myth

Updated: Oct 27, 2020


The Battle of Muster Green (also known as the Battle of Haywards Heath) was a minor battle at the start of the English Civil Wars that had major significance. It took place during the first week of December 1642.


A Royalist army unit, under Colonel Edward Ford, High Sheriff of Sussex, marching from Chichester to seize Lewes for the King encountered a smaller but more disciplined Parliamentarian army under Colonel Herbert Morley that was waiting for them at Muster Green.


After Royalist musketeers fired ‘some’ volleys, Morley's cavalry broke through the Royalist's advanced guard and, with the Parliamentarian infantry charging simultaneously, fought hand-to-hand.

Sealed Knot, seen here in 1971 on Muster Green.

At least an hour of fighting ensued in which 200 Royalists were killed, wounded or captured, causing the surviving Royalist forces to retreat in a disorderly manner and the Parliamentarians to emerge victorious. This saved Lewes from a Royalist assault.


The battle site of the Battle of Muster Green became and remained the furthest that the Royalist army advanced through Sussex during the First English Civil War.


It has been estimated that some 84,000 deaths were directly attributable to combat in the Civil Wars, so this engagement was just a minor skirmish.



Maisie Wright in her 1991 book ‘A Chronicle of Cuckfield’ gives a neat summary of the action is as follows: Sir Edward Ford and the Earl of Thanet were on the way from Chichester to Lewes and were intercepted by a patrol of Parliamentarians. The ‘Roundhead’ reserves arrived and routed the Cavaliers who retreated to Chichester.


But Wyn Ford in his section of the book ‘Metropolis of Mid-Sussex’ throws a different light on events: ‘Sir Edward Ford, the unscrupulous Sheriff of Sussex, flushed with his own success at Chichester, confronted a smaller Parliamentary force at Haywards Heath. Unfortunately for him, he had been misguided enough to recruit his soldiers by means of threats against their property if they refused to join him. Naturally enough, morale was not what it should have been. His force was routed by the Parliamentarians, and his men fled in the direction of Hurstpierpoint and Ditchling.’


The damaged church font

Maisie observes that Mid Sussex largely was untouched by the Civil Wars. However, there is the exception of Lord Goring, a royalist, who fought with Prince Rupert. The gentry of this part of Sussex do not appear as active partisans on either side during these troubled times.


‘The Burrell papers in the British Museum include a list, dated 1643, of persons whose estates are to be sequestrated as they adhere to the King. There are no names from Cuckfield. Generally speaking, the South East supported Parliament so there were no major battles in Sussex.’


Joyce Donoghue, in her history of Cuckfield Church, dismisses the ‘oft repeated tale that the cracks in our font were caused by Cromwell’s cavalry. This is not borne out by what is known of the ebb and flow of the war in this area.’ She goes on to report that Rev. Joseph Fearon found the font pieces in the belfry around 1840 but no evidence exists of how they came to be there.


Sources:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Muster_Green

‘A Chronicle of Cuckfield’ by Maisie Wright 1991

‘Metropolis of Mid-Sussex: History of Haywards Heath’ by Wyn Ford and Conway Gabe, 1981

‘A History of the Parish of Holy Trinity Cuckfield ’ by Joyce Donoghue, April 2009


Captions: The Battle of Marston Moor, the English civil war, a painting by John Barker [Public Domain Image].


Members of the history reenactment society, the Sealed Knot, seen here in 1971 on Muster Green making their way to Cuckfield to re-enact the skirmish. This visit led to the formation of a garrison of the Sealed Knot based the Talbot Inn that was active for 10 years. Photograph by Malcolm Davison.


Holy Trinity Church Font, the left side can be seen here held together by an iron staple this repair has often been attributed to Cromwell’s cavalry causing damage while sheltering their horses in the church.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


Charles Tucker writes 'Assuming the skirmish was on Muster Green it's hard to imagine it on the current Muster Green; however the current Muster Green is about a third of the size it would have been back in those days. After the restoration of King Charles II, in 1660 Muster Green was used for the mustering of militia, quite possibly leading to its name, however it was also known as Mouster Green.

Thanks to Charles Tucker for this additional information

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