On the 12th June 1656, there was a funeral procession at Westminster Abbey. Four regiments of foot, ten of cavalry and Oliver Cromwell’s Life Guard with drums covered, pikes trailing and mournful trumpets sounding accompanied the body as it was laid to rest while three grand volleys of shot said the chronicler were sounded over the coffin.
The man in question was a Manchester merchant who had risen to national pre-eminence under the English Commonwealth, and about who later writers would describe as a “Prince of the modern insurrection and Oliver’s great and rising favourite.”
Charles Worsley of Platt was Manchester’s first MP and had held the role of Cromwell’s enforcer in the North of England. Four years previously he had marched along with five other Colonels into the Rump Parliament clad in plain black with worsted stockings and bawled at the members telling them that they were no fit Parliament, before snatching the mace locking the doors and dissolving the institution that had fallen foul of Cromwell’s plans for the new English Republic.
Charles was the eldest son of Ralph Worsley of Platt, born in 1623 near the village of Rusholme, his father was a merchant, importing yarn and selling cloth. His birth was, remarkably for the time well documented, between 8-10 on the morning of June 23rd, the eldest of twins who were both baptised at the Collegiate Church seven days later.
We don’t know a great deal of his early life but we can assume that life was non too difficult. Ralph, a friend of Henry Cheetham had bought the Platt Estate in 1625 for the sum of £500. His family line could be traced back to the Norman conquest.
By his late teens Manchester was preparing for civil war and Charles was wholly behind the anti-King sentiments of the town burghers, a zealous favourer of the views of the Independents writes the Chetham Series when they write of the civil war. Worsley, along with his friend Col.Robert Dukinfield were instrumental in the setting up of the Lancashire and Cheshire congregational churches and would encourage the meetings of such congregations at both Birch Chapel on the Platt Estate and at Chetham’s college where he would support the chaplain John Wigan in his preachings.
He became a Captain in the Parliamentary army that was stationed in Manchester and in September 1644 married his step-sister Mary at Didsbury Church. She died in 1649 during the birth of their daughter Mary.
It is uncertain what role Worsley played during the civil war, his name does not appear amongst the other great commanders of Cromwell’s army in the North of England, he may have fought in defence of Manchester in 1642 and he may have been with the town’s troops during the fighting at Nantwich and was maybe at the battle of Preston.
In 1650 there were serious riots in the region as the new regime tried to collect excise duties and Worsley helped, enrolling and drilling foot soldiers for the cause and when troops were wanted that same year for the Irish campaigns, a regiment was ordered from Lancashire, first called the New Militia, later better known as the Manchester Militia, and becoming the Lord General’s Regiment of Foot, it was almost certainly under the auspices of Charles Worsley.
Now Lord Leiutenant of the army, he joined Cromwell at Edinburgh shortly after the battle of Dunbar. In August 1651, Cromwell sent Worsley to assist Colonel Lilburne against the Earl of Derby in Lancashire during the Worcester campaign. Worsley garrisoned Manchester, then intercepted retreating Scots after their defeat at Worcester. During October, the regiment was one of three sent under the command of Colonel Duckenfield to capture the Isle of Man, which surrendered at the end of the month.
Quite what his link was with Oliver Cromwell and why this, as far as we know undistinguished soldier became a firm favourite of the Lord Protector, is unknown, but he was appointed Major General for Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire, his role that of Cromwell’s enforcer in these counties, remarking on no less than four occasions that the hand of God guided his work.
That work included putting down any hint of conspiracies or tumults, collecting fines from former Royalists, disarming opponents, spying, and maintaining the ideological Puritan pureness in the north.
For that he was to crack down on drunkenness, blasphemy, superfluous alehouses, cock fighting, bear baiting, stage plays and horse racing as well as maintaining and protecting the highways, ejecting scandalous and insufficient schoolmasters and ministers and finding work for the idle and provisions for the poor.
It seemed his work succeeded, for along with commissioners who were appointed to assist him, but who it appears rarely sat, he ejected six scandalous ministers in Preston, pulled down two hundred ale houses in the Blackburn Hundred and impounded a horse racing field in Cheshire.
“People” he wrote of his time as Major General, “were never in better heart than now and so much owned”.
He was appointed Manchester’s first MP in 1654, a role he only held briefly (the town would once again be disenfranchised until the nineteenth century but his endeavours were to catch up with him after receiving an urgent summons to London while already ill. He died probably from overwork at the age of thirty five and was soon forgotten, so much so that his bones in Westminster Abbey survived the post restoration cull of so many of Cromwell’s supporters four years later.
His grave was discovered in the south east apsidal chapel of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey in the late 19th century. The skeleton was of a man of about 6 feet in height and under middle age.