The former Wheatsheaf Inn at the end of Sheaf Street, Daventry, was during the Civil War the scene of a historic apparition.
On 31 May 1645, Charles I, having taken Leicester by storm, marched towards Oxford, then under siege. On 7 June, the Royalist army reached Daventry, where Charles set up his headquarters. For six nights, he slept at the Wheatsheaf. His army of around 10,000 men were stationed at ‘Daventry Field’ (then unenclosed land), with the cavalry at Staverton and nearby villages. On 12 June, a skirmishing party of Fairfax’s horse seized some prisoners and the king had the whole army encamp on Borough Hill and stood under arms all night. The battle of NASEBY followed on 14 June.
The king had gone to Daventry ‘with a thorough resolution of fighting’, but overnight changed his mind and decided to march north, as Prince Rupert originally advised. According to Rastall’s History of Southwell (1787), ‘The occasion off this alteration was said to be some presages off ill fortune which the King received, and which were related to me by a person off Newark att that time in his Majestie’s horse.’
About two hours after the King had retired to rest, some off his attendants hearing an uncommon noise in his chamber, went into it, where they found his Majestie setting up in bed … The King, in a trembling voice, … told them how much he had been agitated in a dream, by thinking he saw the apparition of Lord Strafford, who, after upbraiding him with unkindness, told him, he was come to return him good for evil, and that he advised him by no means to fight the Parliament armie that was att that time quartered at Northampton, for in it was one whom the King should never conquer by arms. Prince Rupert, in whom courage was the predominant qualitie, rated the King out off his apprehensions the next day, and a resolution was agen taken to meet the enemie. The next night, however, the apparition appeared to him a second time, but with looks of anger. Assured him, that would be the last advice he should be permitted to give him, but that if he kept his resolution off fighting he was undone.
After this, Charles remained another day at Daventry swithering between staying and going, and finally decided to take the advice of Strafford, his former counsellor, whose death warrant he had been obliged by Parliament to sign four years before. But it was too late – overnight, word reached him that Fairfax’s army was now within eight miles (13 km) of his own. He decided to fight. As Rastall comments, ‘If his majestie had taken the advice of the frendly ghost … his affairs might, perhaps, still have had a prosperous issue … After this he never could get together an armie fit to look the enemie in the face.’
Charles’s defeat at Naseby was the beginning of the end:
He was often heard to say, that he wished he had taken the warning, and not fought at Naseby; the meaning of which nobody knew but those to whom he told this appearance at Daintree, and they were afterwards all off them charged to conceal it.