Hard being a good listener when you're almost asleep
Forgetting how history was taught at school I bought a textbook called Portrait of Gloucestershire whose author, Thomas Arthur Ryder, died in 1981 and must have believed in thrift to the very end because he is described on eBay as "well known as a WEA lecturer, broadcaster and the Vicar of Dursley … Very good condition with dust jacket."
It's hard being a good listener when you're asleep. When Ryder informed me that "by the time the River Drift men arrived, the climate was almost tropical judging by the remains of the animals found in the gravels such as … rhinoceros" I was dreaming that the River Drift men were a 1950s skiffle group that raised temperatures when they played at dances.
I awoke abruptly by a surprisingly unkind passage calling the repeatedly beleaguered Gloucester "a city of such antiquity and former importance rather drab and uninteresting", which must have been a typo – as if a priest would dash someone's feelings about their worthiness so they can appear to be their saviour which they wouldn't need to be if they hadn't dashed their feelings. Ryder would have been drab and uninteresting if he'd had his port and spa rights removed and his edifices pulled down.
He redeems himself by praising Gloucester's townsfolk for defying CharlesI when he arrived during the Civil War with his 8,000 (soon some 24,000) soldiers on August 10, 1643 to suggest they surrender. Not only did town governor, Colonel Massey, refuse he reduced their number by 1,000 with frequent raids and, wrote Ryder, "set fire to 241 houses in the suburbs outside the walls, so that they would give no cover to the besiegers".
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Despite nearly starving them the king left on hearing that Massey's ally, the Earl of Essex, had reached Prestbury Hill with 8,000 men. He'd no idea this sorry bunch had no intention of taking on an army three times its size and were planning a little R and R in Cheltenham's inns, explaining why it took them another two days to turn up in Gloucester where the real heroes treated them like conquering heroes and assumed all the staggering was due to a really long route march.
As for what damage the king inflicted on Gloucester's walls, opinions vary. The Gloucester and District Archaeological Research Group mentions bullets flying and "cannon fire from the Barbican that landed at Llanthony and 'made the stones of the wall fly about their ears'."
More fun is the mystery of whether the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty was based on it, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes writing that "Professor David Daube, in … spoof nursery-rhyme histories for The Oxford Magazine (1956), [had] the ingenious idea that Humpty Dumpty was a siege engine in the Civil War."
Humpty wasn't portrayed as an egg until 1872 in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, his first appearance being almost a century before (1797), set to music with tantalising vagueness by Dr Samuel Arnold in Juvenile Amusements:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.
If he wasn't an egg what was he? The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English calls "Humpty Dumpty" 18th-century slang for a short, clumsy person. Was Charles I short? The History Learning Site states, "Charles may have been just over 5 feet tall. In paintings his family … are either sitting while he stands or they are on the floor at his feet … making it appear that Charles was taller than everyone else". More evidence would be nice; speaking of which, WikiAnswers isn't particular about quoting sources in answering "5ft 4in?" to how tall was he? with the confidence of someone who's just told everyone the world is flat.
If someone was teasing the king without risking his life, implying his fall was a moral one, it joins all the other possibilities in the never-ending speculation. My own version of a Gloucester nursery rhyme is unlikely to help much either:
Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
Via Egypt and Hong Kong
His patients didn't mind because
He always took that long.