William Fiennes, First Viscount Saye and Sele, (b.28 June 1582 – d.14 April 1662), called “Old Subtlety”, was a prominent puritan politician, landowner and parliamentary leader in the 1630s and 1640s, who opposed Charles I’s efforts to rule without Parliament. He was a shareholder in the East India Company and with Robert Greville, the second Baron Brooke of Warwick Castle, was one of the founders of the Providence Island Company and a co-founder of the independent colony of Saybrook in Connecticut in 1635.
In 1639 William refused to take the military Oath of Allegiance to the King and Broughton Castle became a key meeting place for politicians opposed to Charles I. The Council Chamber where these meetings took place, under the cover of meetings of the Providence Island Company, provided the privacy necessary and is known as the “Room without ears”.
In 1642 William Fiennes raised a regiment of blue-coated foot soldiers and four troops of horse for the Parliamentarian army in the Banbury area. After the Earl of Northampton had seized arms and artillery for the King from Banbury on 8 August to besiege Warwick Castle and the King had raised his standard at Nottingham on 22 August, William Fiennes used some of his troops to occupy Oxford on 14 September 1642.
His son, Nathaniel Fiennes, led one of the troops of horse in the Earl of Essex’s parliamentarian army to relieve Coventry in August and later at the cavalry engagement at Powick Bridge on 23 September, which is often seen as the start of the first civil war, before taking part in the battle of Edgehill.
During the early stages of the war, many of the soldiers in the units raised by William Fiennes were drawn from his power base in and around Broughton Castle near Banbury in Northern Oxfordshire, although many of large local estates remained loyal to Charles I.
William Fiennes appointed experienced and prominent officers to his regiment of foot, including Captain Lieutenant John Rainsford author of “The Yong Soulldier” drill manual.
In September 1642 William Fiennes handed command of the foot regiment to Colonel Sir John Meldrum. According to tradition the regiment slept at Broughton on the eve of the battle of Edgehill. The castle attic is still known as “The barracks”. The regiment acquitted itself well during the battle on 23 October 1642, where is fought as part of Meldrum’s brigade in the Parliamentarian Army.
On 25 October, Essex withdrew the Parliamentarian Army to Warwick. The King’s forces were then able to begin to march on London and on 27 October attacked and captured Banbury.
Nearby Broughton Castle was attacked on the 26th October by Prince Rupert. The garrison held out against Royalist forces for a day and a half. Tradition has it that, wool packs were hung out on the walls to receive the enemies’ shot. The castle suffered some damage judging by the repairs in the hall, the state of disrepair it fell into later and the cannon balls found in the moat. These are now preserved in the house.
A Parliamentarian pamphlet reported, “It is certain that Prince Rupert hath plundered the Lord Say his house … But what startles us most is a warrant under his Majesty’s own hands for the plundering of the Lord Say his house, and demolishing of it, and invites people to doe it, with a grant unto them of all the materials of the house'”
The clear suggestion is that Charles I ordered the pillaging of the house.