"We're All Mad Here…."
…but of all the Dave Grohls, the Keith Moons and Rick Allens who have delighted fans with their rhythms, no drummer has inspired and intrigued a nation and even the Church and Crown quite so much as the fabled Drummer of Tedworth.
Our drummer, a stout and sturdy Englishman, would have been in his prime around the time the Cromwellian wars broke out. He would have suffered as many did from the hard rule of the Stuarts, and so wishing to better his fortune he volunteered his services under the Man of Blood and Iron.
It is said that the call of his drum inspired the revolutionists to mighty deeds of valor from the very first skirmishes til the last bloody battle. Then with the conflict at an end, Charles separated from his royal head and the fifth Monarchy men invoking bedlam in their efforts to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, our brave drummer lapsed, forgotten, into a haze of obscurity which lasted until the Restoration.
He reemerged, not as the veteran hero living a life of ease and tranquility but as a beggar, wandering from town to town. The fearsome beat of his beloved drum no longer provoking great and heroic deeds, but played to implore alms and sustenance to facilitate his very survival. And so he journeyed, unnoticed, undisturbed and scraping a meager existence until in the spring of 1661 his weary footsteps chanced upon the quiet village of Tedworth, in Wiltshire, UK.
Tedworth at the time was under the rule of a certain Squire Mompesson, a gouty and miserable old git who was unimpressed that the peace and tranquility of his little kingdom was being shattered by the drummers’ loud and raucous battle cries and his even louder drum, and so it was on the Squires direct orders that the faded soldier was seized, beaten and driven from the little town minus his precious drum. The drummer pleaded in vain with the Squire to return his drum – with tears streaming down his battle worn and weather beaten face he begged, protesting that the drum was the only friend he had left to him in the whole world. In vain he related the happy memories that it held for him, of fire and battle and victory… of greater times. But his plaintive cries fell on deaf ears… “Go!” he was told–“go, and be thankful thou escapest so lightly!”
Go he did. To where nobody knew, and nobody really cared.
The following month, Squire Mompesson had cause to make the long and treacherous journey into London to pay his respects to the King, and the people of Tedworth had occasion to wish that the poor drummers lamentations had moved the Squire to pity, for in the middle of the night the Squires family were roused by angry voices violently demanding entry, windows being tried and an unrelenting banging on the front door..
The house was situated in a remote spot and to the occupants it seemed certain that having heard of the Squires absence one of the many gangs of highwaymen who roamed the countryside had planned to turn burglars. With no men folk to protect them the women and children could make little resistance. Panic reigned at once. And consequently there was much quaking and trembling, until finding the bolts and bars too strong for them, the unwelcome visitors retired.
Mompesson’s wrath was unsurpassed when he returned and learned of the Midnight siege. He only hoped, he declared with great enthusiasm, that the villains would return for he would give them a greeting such as had not been known since the days of the Great War.
Little did the Squire know that he would soon be given chance to make good his boast, for no sooner had the household retired than the disturbance began again. Lighting a lantern, slipping into a dressing-gown and snatching up his brace of pistols, the irate Squire dashed downstairs.
As he neared the door, the hammering and voices became almost unbearable. He quickly turned the great key, slipped back the bolts and threw open the heavy door…
The moment he opened the door all became still. He warily extended his lantern and peered into the night yet nothing but empty darkness met his eyes.
Then the knocking began again – this time at a second door. Quickly securing the first, the Squire hurried towards the hellish noise and threw open the second door – only to find the quiet darkness and to hear, with mounting anger, a tumult at yet another door. Again, he secured the door and raced to the renewed bedlam and again met only silence when the door was thrown open…
When Mompesson related the story afterward, he said that as he stepped out into the darkness he became aware of “a strange and hollow sound in the air.” This instilled in him the suspicion that the noises the household had witnessed may be of supernatural nature. As the Squire hurried back to the sanctity of his bed the suspicion deepened to a certainty, and an irrational alarm filled his very soul – an alarm that grew into a deadly fear when a tremendous booming sound came from the top of the house…
For it was there for safety he kept the beggar’s drum, and a terrible idea began to twist and turn Mompesson’s mind: “Could it be that the drummer is dead, and that his spirit has returned to torment me?”
A few nights later, the Squires darkest fears seemed to come true when instead of the usual cacophony of nocturnal shouting and knocking, there began a veritable concert from the room containing the drum. This concert, Mompesson informed his friends, opened with a peculiar “hurling in the air over the house,” and closed with “the beating of a drum like that at the breaking up of a guard.” One can only imagine the mental torture of the Squire and his family, but worse was still to come.
As the ghostly drummer gained confidence he laid aside his drum and began to play practical, and sometimes very painful, jokes on the members of the Squires household, and this malicious practice was directed primarily at the Squires children. It is recorded that for a time “it haunted none particularly but them.” Linen was dragged from their beds as they slept and thrown to the floor, a scratching noise was heard emanating from under the bed, described as ‘of some animal with iron claws’. Sometimes, the children were lifted bodily, “so that six men could not hold them down,” and their limbs were beaten violently against the bedposts.
It would seem the unseen visitor bore no prejudice regarding age though, Mompesson’s elderly mother’s bed was often found to contain ashes and knives among other things and her bible was frequently nowhere to be found.
As time went by, the seemingly unexplainable events became more frequent and profound – chairs moved by themselves, a board pulled itself from the floor and reportedly hurled itself at a servant. Lights were observed to float around, described as similar to corpse candles.
John, the Squires personal manservant, was often the focus of the eerie occurrences. The “stout fellow of sober conversation” found himself confronted one night by a horrible apparition which he described as “a great body with two red and glaring eyes…” John also suffered from bedroom visitations in much the same way as the children, his bedclothes removed and being struck by an unseen force. John found, however, that if he brandished a sword he was left alone. Clearly, the ghost seemed to respond to the threat of cold steel. It didn’t, unfortunately, respond to the exorcism rituals which were performed with no effect. All went well as long as the clergyman was on his knees saying the prescribed Latin verses by the bedside of the terrified children, but a bed staff was thrown at him the moment he rose from his genuflection, while other articles of furniture whirled about so violently, that the room had to be cleared of people for fear of serious injury.
The Squire Mompesson was understandably distraught. As well as the injuries received by members of his family and household, people from all over the country began to flock to the house every night, hoping to witness the otherworldly events. The Squire found himself accused of staging the phenomena himself, of having committed some terrible secret sin for which he was now being punished. Such was the reputation of the events at Tedworth that sermons were preached with the Squire as the text.
The people were divided, half angrily affirming the paranormal nature of the disturbances, the other emphatically denying it. In time news of the events reached the ears of the King, who sent an investigating commission to Mompesson House. Nothing untoward occurred during the visit, to the great delight of the disbelievers. After the visit, however, the most sensational and vexatious phenomena of the haunting so far occurred.
The events continued for many months in this manner, until one day it occurred to Mompesson and his friends that the cause was not ghosts as they had first presumed. This idea rose from the singular circumstance that the voices heard in the children’s room began “for a hundred times together” to bellow “A witch! A witch!”.
One of the bravest individuals in the throng of spectators suddenly demanded, “Satan, if the drummer set thee to work, give three knocks and no more!” Three distinct knocks were heard as if in response. By way of confirmation, five knocks were requested, and received by another onlooker.
A hunt for the drummer was launched, and eventually he was discovered in a jail in Gloucester accused of theft. With this discovery came the word that the drummer had openly bragged of hexing Squire Mompesson. This was all the evidence the outraged Squire needed.
There was in existence at the time an act of King James I. which stated it was a felony to “feed, employ, or reward any evil spirit.” It was under this Act that the Squire quickly had his alleged persecutor indicted as a wizard, and amid great excitement, the aged veteran was brought from Gloucester to Salisbury to stand trial. Although in the seventeenth century such a trial was sure to end in the drummer’s execution, his spirit remained unbroken. Not for him the lesser acts of confessing or humbly begging mercy. Instead the drummer tried to bargain with Mompesson, promising that if the squire would only secure his liberty and gave him employment as a farm hand he would rid him of the haunting that had plagued the Mompesson household.
Sadly, the Squire felt the drummer “could do him no good in any honest way,” and rejected the drummer’s ingenuous proposal, and so the drummer was left to face his fate A packed court room listened attentively to the tales of mishaps and misadventures that had made Mompesson House a national center of interest. During the trial proof was submitted that the accused had been friends with an old vagabond who claimed to possess supernatural powers. Emphasis was placed on the alleged ‘fact’ that the drummer had boasted of having taken revenge on Mompesson for stealing his drum and the beating that had been administered on the Squires orders.
It was to the drummer’s great fortune that Mompesson did not have the power in Salisbury that he held in Tedworth. The jury was moved by the drummer’s eloquent defense, acquitted him, and sent him on his way rejoicing. The Drummer was never heard of again, and with his disappearance came an end to the knockings, the corpse candles, and all the other uncanny phenomena that had made life a waking nightmare for the Mompesson family.
So astonishing was the story of the drummer of Tedworth, it was still cited by the superstitious as a capital example of the intermeddling of superhuman agencies in human affairs, and still mentioned by the skeptical as one of the most amusing and most successful hoaxes on record until the beginning of the twentieth century.
Today the chief significance of this case lies in the striking resemblance between the trials of the Mompesson family and modern poltergeist phenomena, or Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK). There are few people who are not already familiar with the theory of an invisible entity which seemingly for no apparent reason other than to annoy causes furniture to shake or move violently, rings bells, plays tambourines, levitates alleged “mediums,” and favors its victims with knocks and even blows. The term RSPK was coined by William Roll in the 1960s and can be defined as inexplicable, spontaneous physical effects unknowingly effected by an individual who wishes to express hostility without the fear of punishment and is sometimes forwarded as an explanation for the effects known as Poltergeist phenomena.
Still another possible explanation could be given citing one of the many forms of temporal lobe epilepsy. In the early twentieth century when research into psychic phenomena was relatively new, the learned gentleman researchers were divided in their opinion. The more forward thinking of the two camps claimed that the Mompesson case was not caused by something supernatural in origin, and was more than likely a hoax. The supporters of the newly minted Spiritual movement generated by the exploits of the briefly celebrated Fox sisters toe-dislocating and general (later allegedly admitted as hoaxed) shenanigans believed that the occurrences at Mompesson House were indeed caused by the restless spirits of the dead. For all we know, if the Fox sisters claim that they had hoaxed the entire episode in which they were involved –the episode which fuelled a trend for darkened parlor séances and were the bane of the Victorian maid due to the amount of ‘ectoplasm’ which had to be disposed of following these events – may have been based on the alleged events at Mompesson House. which would be both a shame and quite amusing in equal measures.
The only real chance of forming a true picture of the case of the Drummer of Tedworth lay within the meticulous documentation of the case made at the time the events were occurring.
A document exists, written by the Reverend Joseph Glanville who was a clergyman of the Church of England and an eye witness to some of the phenomena. Glanville’s point of view is that of an ardent believer in the reality of witchcraft, and his narrative of the Tedworth affair was designed to shame the foolhardy folk who didn’t. Glanville’s account is therefore somewhat one-sided. Another consideration is the fact that all the phenomena witnessed personally by Glanville and Mompesson were described as ‘susceptible of mundane interpretation’, while the more extraordinary phenomena – the great body with red eyes, the levitated children etc. were related to the Squire and the Reverend by second, third or even fourth hand sources – uneducated and superstitious persons no doubt, whose fears would lend wings to their imagination.
Further to these considerations, the Reverend Glanville changed his story on many occasions, adding more details of his own alleged experiences, or making fun of other events when the validity of his narration was brought into question. It is also worth noting that the Reverend was responsible for reporting the case to Court – the medieval equivalent of selling your story to the tabloid newspapers – the Reverend Joseph Glanville may indeed have been the very first ‘media whore’.
John Mompesson was an avid letter writer, and though he was not a popular chap his name at least was well-known enough in the right circles for his letters to have been read and in some cases even replied to by some very important people of the time.
Samuel Pepys also wrote about the Drummer of Tedworth case. He documented the fact that, as far as he was concerned, John Mompesson had actually confessed to fabricating the whole story to none other than the King himself….
John Mompesson was born in 1623 to the Reverend John Mompesson of the Parish of North Tidworth. The Reverend Mompesson had been called before parliament for his Royalist sympathies 20 odd years before our story commences. The young John Mompesson’s’ uncle was the infamous Jacobean Monopolist, Sir Giles Mompesson, and his cousin Thomas had raised a force in support of Penruddocks rising in 1655, and had then gone into exile in France before returning to England during the Restoration. On Thomas’s return to Blighty his estates were restored and he became the MP for Wilton before 1662, when he secured himself a Knighthood and the Excise farm in Wilton for his dear cousin John.
John wasn’t, as many writers on this subject claim, the High Sheriff of Wiltshire at the time of these events. He wasn’t even so much as a Knight, this title being stripped from the family due to old Uncle Giles’s misdeeds. John was, however, a staunch Royalist, and as such had a desperate need to get back into the Kings good books. What better way than to be seen as the defender of the Faith, and present His Majesty not just a witch, but with a witch who had fought for the ‘Other Side’?
Our Parliamentarian Drummer was the ideal pawn in Mompesson’s game. William Drury had requested money from a local constable on the strength of a pass that was alleged to have been counterfeit in the neighboring town of Ludgershall. I’m uncertain as to the nature of this pass, but in 1660 an act was passed by Charles II titled ‘An Act for the speedy provision of money for disbanding and paying off the forces of this Kingdome both by Land and Sea.’ This act required that all ‘Noblemen and their eldest Sons of the Age of 21.; A Baronet.; A Knight of the Bath.; Knight Batchelor.; King’s Sergeant.; Esquires.; Widows rated at One-third according to Rank of Husbands.’ To pay a levy to the Crown at a rate in accordance to their stature. Several ‘commissioners’ were employed by the Crown to achieve this, and among them, oddly, was John Mompesson.
That John had been accorded this position of trust is odd in the sense that his Uncle, Sir Giles, had been exiled in 1623 after exploiting a similar position of trust bestowed on him by the Crown. Sir Giles had devised a scheme to become a commissioner for the licensing of Inns, among other endeavors, which he had the exploited for his own and his friends and family’s gain. As a result of his nepotism, Sir Giles was heavily fined, stripped of his title, exiled and made to ride down the Mall in London, facing backwards on his horse.
During his time as commissioner of Inns, Sir Giles had managed to upset just about everyone he came across – one of his favorite wiles was to send his men into establishments pretending to be in distress. The men would then spiel such a tale of woe and sorrow that the keeper would offer him a bed and sustenance. At which point, Sir Giles could not only earn a license fee from the poor keeper, but also fine or blackmail him to his hearts content – not a nice chap, old Sir Giles. He was an adept in the art of nepotism. The only people to benefit from his wicked ways were himself, and his immediate ‘family’.
During the Reformation, it was common for banished dignitaries (such as Sir Giles, who had only left Britain briefly) to try to regain their titles by… well, by getting into the new Kings good books. Giles’ son, Thomas had already secured himself a Knighthood and the Excise farm for John, which meant John now owed him a favor. That the whole witchcraft themed poltergeist plot was engineered between the two to try to gain the Kings favor, Knighthoods within the family and thus reinstate the ageing ex- Sir Giles to a respectable position is not too far fetched a story. Using the Parliamentarian drummer who was allegedly trying to gain money by deception is far too close to home for it not to be an added detail designed to jog the memory a little.
In 1663, the events at Mompesson House ceased, and peace reigned again in the little village of Tedworth. Also in 1663, The King questioned John Mompesson about the alleged haunting, and John confessed that the whole thing had been a hoax – this little detail was recorded by the ever vigilant Samuel Pepys in his Diary. Another major event in the Mompesson family in this year was the death of Giles Mompesson.
And our Drummer? Nothing is really known other than the vague story about him serving in Cromwell’s Army, of which I can find no record. After the false pass incident he was arrested for stealing a pig and sentenced to transportation. Some stories say he escaped on the way to the ship, some say he jumped overboard and swam to shore, or was lost. We can pretty much say that the events at Mompesson House were not of paranormal origin – either that or John Mompesson lied to the King, which if discovered would have brought about a charge of treason and almost certainly the loss of his head. The frustrating thing is that I’ll never discover for certain John Mompesson’s motive for the hoax.
Of one thing I am certain though – If John Mompesson’s motive was fame and fortune, he surely achieved his aim. 350 years later the Drummer of Tedworth is STILL regarded as an ‘Unsolved Mystery’.