The Otway Family & Civil War

The period of Charles I, the Civil War, Cromwell and Charles II (circa 1620 - 1665), as for many families at that time, produced its own apparent conflicts for the Otway family, but there seems to have been a general family determination to 'survive'. This has produced some interesting insights into life at that time.

The family seems to have embraced the protestant faith early with Rev. Roger Otway becoming the vicar of Bolton-le-Sands in 1535, shortly after the Reformation.

His great nephew, Roger Otway appears to have been a wily and successful schemer, rising from Steward to be a land-owner and influential member of the community. His great age and durability may have had something to do with it. He did live to 88 and sired 14 surviving children, both considerable feats in those days. He seems to have been the acknowledged head of the family. Although living in Sedburgh while his brother had moved south, he appears to have directed the family fortunes. I was lucky enough in about 1967 to see some original correspondence (loaned by Mrs. Upton, daughter of the last Otway to live in Ingmire Hall in Sedburgh and a descendant of Roger - curiously Ingmire Hall was apparently burnt down in 1921/22, a strange coincidence when one remembers the fate of Otway family homes in Ireland) between Roger and his son, John, mostly dating from about 1630.

In the early letters Roger supports Charles I strongly, but as Cromwell gains power, Roger shows a clear willingness to switch sides. There are extracts of letters from Roger during Cromwell's time, referring to the costs of housing soldiers etc. In the years before his death, as Cromwell's power begins to wain, Roger encourages his son John's support for Charles II.

Roger's nephew, John, was a Captain in Cromwell's Army which went to Ireland to put down the rebellion. For his efforts Capt. John was rewarded with a substantial estate in Tipperary and promotion to Colonel, establishing himself powerfully, with two friends, also Colonels, in the area. The Rev Thomas, brother of Colonel John, was banished by Cromwell for his Royalist views and support. Returning from Europe, Thomas sought the protection of his brother and settled in Kilkenny, eventually becoming the Bishop of Ossory.

At about this time John, son of Roger, had established himself as a lawyer and was working towards the restoration of the Monarchy. He sought and got the support of his cousin, Colonel John, who in turn converted his friends, bringing their Regiments over to the Royalist cause. To strenghten these ties, John, living in Sedbergh, arranged for his sister Abigail to marry Colonel Redman, friend of cousin Colonel John, in Ireland.

On the return to the throne of Charles II, John (son of Roger) was rewarded with a knighthood and made Vice-Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Colonel John flourished in Ireland.

Another cousin, Thomas, formerly a soldier, became a poet and playwright. He gained some considerable success and popularity at the Court of Charles II, even having Power of Attorney for Nell Gwynne. Although he eventually died at a young age and a pauper, he represented another element in the family influence 'in the right place' at that time.

One is left with the impression that the wily old Roger saw to it, before his death, that the family was powerfully entrenched on both sides of the fence, Cromwellian and Royalist, prepared to sway whichever way seemed the most likely to survive and to ensure the family's fortunes, a not uncommon activity in those days. I am left with pictures of clandestine meetings between the cousins John, somewhere midway between Ireland and Lancashire, scheming to plot the family's future and in the process having some influence on the future history of our country.

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