Robert Wallop, who inherited the Hopton Castle estate with much else from his wealthy and influential father Sir Henry, was a staunch Parliamentarian and a judge at the trial of Charles I, although not one of the signatories to the King's death warrant (an important distinction). With the Harley family of Brampton Bryan Castle just over the border in Herefordshire, Wallop represented staunch opposition in this locality to Prince Rupert's forces occupying much of mainly Royalist Shropshire. The Harleys were very well-connected, particularly to the higher echelons of the republican faction.
Brampton Bryan had been threatened by the Prince's troops during 1643 but Brilliana, wife of Sir Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, had managed to hold out while her husband and son were away fighting for Parliament. Brilliana having died 'of a great coold' (sic) her doctor, a Lieutenant Wright, took charge and arranged for the neighbouring Hopton Castle to be manned by a small garrison before the Royalists could take it. The Hopton commander, Samuel, later Colonel, More, son of a local landowner, wrote a famous, if rather muddled, account of what followed.
He recounts a visit in February 1644 by Major Phillips (possibly from Brampton) to advise on strengthening defences. A week later, the Royalists, under Sir Michael Woodhouse, attacked. The troop emplacements have not been recorded, but there is rising ground immediately to the north of the Castle field (where most of the village houses are located, including Lower House which dates back to the 15th century). There are slightly more distant rises to the south and east. All suggest plausible vantage points. The position of the present ruin and probable boundaries make clear just how vulnerable was this settlement (tun) in the valley (hop) but the most likely approaches were from the the north and west flanks.
On the 26th February, More recorded that the Royalists burnt a brick house (presumably on the perimeter) and attempted to breach the walls. Three were killed and Major Sutton brought More the Prince's demand for surrender. In the first sign of what would be fatal intransigence, More refused to acknowledge the message delivered 'without drum or trumpet'. Most of the Royalists left, leaving guards.
Support from Brampton doubled the size of More's garrison to about 31 before the attackers returned in early March. Although Woodhouse's demand for surrender came this time with a drum, More again refused. A large force attacked (More estimated 500, but numbers in these matter may depend on your point of view) and the curtain wall was breached.
The Royalists having lost perhaps 200 of their number (even More thinks this an overestimate, but the bodies must have been numerous) they left, regrouped at Clungunford and returned in a few days with heavy armoury including 3 huge siege guns.
Woodhouse warned that, in accordance with the prevailing code of warfare, if surrender was again refused, the garrison should expect no mercy ('quarter'). A reasonable convention intended to dissuade defenders from holding out against impossible odds, the challenge had no effect on More and the attack was resumed.
From 9 a clock until 5* they shot 96 shots at our out wall
* not a fixed working day, but the daylight hours in early March
Although there were lulls (a quiet Tuesday "until night"), the beleaguered garrison would have had to remain constantly alert.. After more torchings and deaths - including the first amongst the Parliamentarians - More's troops seemed to have retreated to the tower. The Royalists set fire to the door and undermined the walls. More, with his company in desperate straits after two weeks of fighting, asked to be allowed to march away armed. Unsurprisingly, this was refused, so he then sued simply for the lives of his men. They surrendered on the understanding that their fate would be decided by Woodhouse.
More was taken to a house '"in the town", questioned about his arms ('about 22 muskets..and 33 pistols") and about a supposed hidden cash of money and threatened. He was taunted about the fate of his men:
A popular Parliamentary account (which, in the nature of the times, may be too partisan to be wholly reliable) records the soldiers having their hands cut off and being stoned or drowned in a ditch, although there were several variations. According to one, the old steward was offered the gentler option of having his throat cut in a chair provided for him.
After the Seige
'Hopton Quarter' became a byword for treacherous treatment by your opponents.
Colonel More survived to became governor of Montgomery Castle, Parliament's military leader in Shropshire, governor of Ludlow Castle and of Hereford and later an MP.
Colonel Woodhouse, after the Royalist fortunes had turned, was forced to surrender Ludlow Castle, but agreed only on condition that it should be to anyone but Samuel More.
Robert Wallop, for his part in Charles I's death was imprisoned after the Restoration of Charles II and died in the Tower of London in 1667.
He had sold Hopton in 1655 to the Beale family who held it until the 19th century. Tax records of 17th century suggest that no-one resided in the castle and depictions of the 18th and 19th centuries show a ruin much like what is visible today. In 1890 the Beale family sold the remnants of the estate to Sir Edward Ripley of nearby Bedstone Court.
In 1946 an Inspector from the Ministry of Works (precursor to English Heritage) served a notice on Sir Henry Ripley requesting a fence be erected to prevent cattle damage. Sir Henry replied that he took no responsibility and '"I suggest that this is done by your work men". No-one did anything, it seems.
In the mid-1950s the land was sold to the Williams family, farmers in Hopton Castle. They contacted the Ministry of Works about the danger represented by the fragile building. The estimated cost of £17,000 could not be afforded. Minor repairs in the 1950s and '60s kept the monument standing. Only in the mid 1990 was the cause of Hopton Castle taken up again by the handful of dedicated local people now represented by the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust.(HCPT).
By 2010, almost a thousand years after its first appearance in our history, Hopton Castle will be in public ownership, rescued and preserved as a significant site in the bloody story of the beautiful Welsh Marches.