John Stanford, alias Staunton, Cornet of Horse, during the English Civil War

"What began as a simple misinterpretation of his signature on an official document became within a few months a convenient alias behind which he could discreetly hide his true identity"

At Westminster King Charles I was at odds with his parliament, which sought to restrain his powers, while Charles in his turn strove to establish his divine right to rule as he thought fit.... Underlying this constitutional struggle, moreover, lay the historical tension between the Protestant and Catholic religion.

Although the official religion of England was now Protestant by law, a return to the Church of Rome under a Catholic monarch was still feared, and a Catholic rebellion backed by France or Spain was a distinct possibility. Known Catholic families were watched with suspicion, banned from holding public office, even from taking commissions in the Royal Navy or Army....

One such nationwide registration of Protestants occurred at Everton on 6 March 1641/2.... The list is headed with the crisp statement 'None Refused'.... Only John signs with a flourish in his own educated hand, instead of making his mark, like most of his fellows. However, his signature on the microfilm copy of the Roll is indistinct and looks like 'Stynford', perhaps a scratchy quill or fading ink making the last letters difficult to read. Later transcripts of the name have also mistaken the letter 'f' for a 't', even for the long 's'. This has led to his name being misinterpreted as Staunton, even Stynson; thus adding to the confusion.

What began as a simple misinterpretation of his signature on an official document became within a few months a convenient alias behind which he could discreetly hide his true identity.... so Staunton it would be for the time being, and no doubt the leases on his Everton property were reassigned in that name....

On the 13th September, the King felt that he now had a sufficiently large force to deter the Earl of Essex, son of Queen Elizabeth's favourite and now the Parliamentary commander in the midlands, from moving out of his base at Northampton where he, too, was building an army....

John Stanford, alias Staunton, also took his leave of his mother, placed his farmstead in the hands of his overseer, Will Atkins, when his application for a commission was granted. He was now to be a Cornet in Sir Gamaliel Dudley's Regiment of Horse, then forming in the West Riding of Yorkshire round Bolton Castle ... a mixed regiment of Yorkshire men and Lancastrians, two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic, with most of the officers, like John Stanford, coming from the south.

... On joining the Regiment, John, now using his adopted name, Staunton, found himself assigned to the Troop and Division commanded by Major Richard Sherborne, an elderly Lancastrian officer aged fifty-seven in 1643, the squire of Stonyhurst near Clitheroe. To be appointed to such a prestigious regiment with the rank of Cornet, John, at thirty-eight, often second-in-command of his Troop under his lieutenant when Major Sherborne was elsewhere, must have had military training in the Newark Trainband before the outbreak of war.

In common with most of the regiments in the Royalist Northern Army, Colonel Gamaliel's Horse made no distinction between Protestant and Catholic officers, indeed secret adherents to the Church of Rome were welcomed.... After the war was over, this broadminded tolerance of each others religious beliefs, caused many northern officers to go underground, or to change their identity, to avoid savage sequestration for 'adhering to the King' in the war. This, more than any other reason, explains John's use of an alias to cover his tracks.

At Bolton the regiment would have trained hard at pistol shooting and the use of the sabre in the charge. Their horses, too, had to be trained not to bolt at the noise of musketry, to respond to the pressure of the bit or touch of the spur, and to be under control if its rider at all times, even at full gallop. Troops had to learn to answer trumpet signals, to wheel and change direction without losing formation, and, above all, to pull up and reform their line ready for a renewed attack. John's grey stallion, only used to the hunting field at Laxton was probably not the easiest mount to handle....

On 1st December [1643] ... the Earl of Newcastle took over command of the northern royalists from the Earl of Cumberland, an ineffective soldier, and brought his army south. Not only was the situation transformed, but morale was restored, and throughout 1643 royalist arms in the north saw nothing but success. So it was in this changed atmosphere that Cornet John 'Staunton' entered the war....

The triumph of the parliamentary forces was, however, short lived.... For upwards of a month, the campaign became one of thrust and counter thrust, skirmishing hampering the construction of earthworks by the besiegers at Stoneferry, Sculscoat, and between Hessle and the town, with small forces of cavalry racing from one danger point to the next.

It must have been in those skirmishes at the end of August or during the month of September that Cornet John 'Staunton' was wounded and evacuated to York to recuperate. He was not badly hurt, but sufficiently incapacitated to prevent him from riding his grey stallion in battle again. He did, however, have good friends in high places in the city, who would recommend him for an important post on the military headquarters staff, housed in the Kings Manor with the title of Keeper....

His appointment was gazetted by the Duke of Newcastle on 6th October 1643 at an annual salary of 6.13s.4d, which implies that as a wounded officer he had been placed on 'half-pay', for as a Cornet of Horse on active service his remuneration would have been 5 shillings per week. Interestingly, Cornet 'Staunton' is called 'Stanford' in Newcastle's 'Army Orders', implying that John felt himself sufficiently far away from Nottinghamshire and the circumstances of his birth to use his proper name rather than his alias.... From now onwards he is called Stanford, Stamford, and eventually Stainforth.

Not Found Wanting, pp.118-32, abridged

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