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  • William Tyler

Honesty a rare commodity in war and politics

During the Civil Wars of the 1640s, both sides, King and Parliament, employed foreign mercenaries. They employed them for their experience and knowledge of war, a subject on which most British commanders were ignorant. We had not suffered a major land war since The Wars of The Roses ended at Bosworth in 1485. Whilst in Europe much practical experience had been gained during the 30 Years War in Northern Europe, which had begun in 1618, and wasn't to end until 1648.

One of those mercenaries was a Croat from The Balkans called Carlo Fantom. He was first employed by The Earl of Essex for Parliament in order to teach cavalrymen how to fight on horseback. In 1643, however, Carlo changed sides, and turned to fight for the king. He died that December, not heroically in battle but by being hanged at Bedford for rape.


Carlo Fantom is famous for one thing, a remark he is reputed to have made, " I care not for your Cause; I come to fight for your half-crown and your handsome women. ...... I have fought for the Christians against the Turks, and for the Turks against the Christians'.


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In the case of Bernard Gascoigne, honesty, or at least the truth, saved his life.


Gaqscoigne was a Florentine, with military experience, who came to England late in the war with an English friend, Henry Neville. In England he immediately signed up with the Royal Army (1644) in The West Country.


Gascoigne was one of the Royalist commanders during the Parliamentary Siege of Colchester in the summer of 1648. When finally the beseiged were forced to surrender in August, with food stocks virtually at zero and with no hope of a relieving force coming to their rescue, the Parliamentary commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, was loathe to give pardons. The three main Royalist leaders, namely Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, in addition to Gascoigne, were found guilty of treason (for having breached their earlier word not again to take up arms against Parliament). On the night before their execution, however, one of the gaolers saw that Gascoigne's last letter to his wife was written in Italian. The Parliamentary military authorities having been informed, and fearing international repercussions, immediately quashed the sentence of death. Lucas and Lisle were shot the next morning but Gascoigne returned to Italy to tell the tale.


It is good to relate that he was rewarded for his services after The Restoration in 1660. In 1669, now living in England, he accompanied Cosimo, Prince of Tuscany, on his visit to this country and took him to Colchester to show him the place where he had made his name. En route the couple stopped, just outside Chelmsford, at the estate of George Monck, ex Parliamentary General, and now royalist Duke of Albermarle. They were horrified that the Duke did not provide a proper lunch but merely a snack!

Gascoigne died in the Parish of St Martin in the Fields in 1687, a knight of the realm and a Fellow of The Royal Society.

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