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Kidnap of the
Mayor of Reading
To Pay or Not to Pay?

In May 1644, King Charles I gave orders that Reading, which had been held by his forces since September 1643, should be abandoned. He knew that a Roundhead army was advancing from London and he feared that he was not strong enough to hold Reading against it. Before leaving, however, he caused the fortifications of Reading to be destroyed, so that they should not be used against him by his enemies. The Royalists then marched away to Oxford. Soon afterwards the troops of the Earl of Essex again occupied the town.

A change of masters made little difference to the people of Reading, for both sides always made ruinous demands upon them for money and labour. But little did they foresee what was now to happen. A few miles away, Lieutenant-Colonel Lower held Wallingford for the King. He knew that Reading had not paid all the money asked for by Charles, and he knew, also, that the Roundhead force in Reading was as yet small. He now planned a daring stoke. Suddenly, on the night of 2nd June, a party of Royalist horsemen swooped down upon the town and carried off William Brackston, the Mayor, to Wallingford.

From Wallingford, they allowed the Mayor to send a letter to the aldermen of Reading, saying that he would be kept a prisoner until the money demanded from the town by the King should be paid. The aldermen at Reading wrote back to ask how much money was wanted. On this thorny subject, letters passed to and fro. Colonel Lower was very polite. He offered to exchange the Mayor for two aldermen; but he said he should not give him up until he was assured that the money would be paid over. The aldermen at Reading knew not what to do. None of them seems to have been anxious to be exchanged for the Mayor, nor did they know where to turn for money. On 25th June, they met privately at the house of one of their number. They had, before them, the King's demand for 150 (about 13,000 today) already due, and for 50 (about 4,000) a week henceforth for the maintenance of the garrison at Wallingford. This letter was much debated and considered. There was hardly any money left in the town. At length, they resolved to send a submissive answer and to say that they wished they could do what was asked, but they were quite unable, and that they therefore begged that Colonel Lower would show forbearance towards them. On the next day, Lower wrote back to say that this kind of reply was not what he wanted. Nevertheless, he would consent to accept 100 (about 8,500 today), and be content with less than 50 a week. However, until they agreed to these modified terms, the Mayor would stay at Wallingford. Further, if it should come to his ears that the aldermen were helping the rebels he would double his demands.

Again, there was a private meeting of the aldermen at Reading and, again, they resolved to beg Lower to forbear. They also sent a petition to the King, at Oxford, asking for the release of the Mayor and for an abatement of the demands made upon them for money. The council at Oxford seem to have given some attention to this entreaty and it would seem that, before long, the Mayor regained his liberty and returned to Reading. Yet, to the end of his days, he would remember the wild gallop through the summer lanes on the night when he was kidnapped by the Cavaliers.

Edited from W.M. Childs' "The Story of the Town of Reading" (1905)


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