Bradshaw's Defence of Manchester. AD 1642. Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893). Completed 1893. Oil on canvas (see Introduction to the Manchester Murals). Downloaded and reproduced here from "Ford Madox Brown Murals" by kind permission of Manchester City Council. Commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee.

This Civil War scene was the ninth in the series of murals, but the last to be completed. It deals with the successful defence of Manchester against several thousand Royalist soldiers. But it focuses more on the misery of defeat than on the splendour of victory. Since Brown suffered a stroke during this period, he was forced to paint much of it with his left hand, and it is often considered the least satisfactory of the set (see Treuherz 300).

The action, such as it is, is mainly in the foreground. A horse has just fallen, and two men are trying to help up the rider, probably the Royalist leader Lord Montague (Ford 388), whose foot is still in the stirrup. Sprawled on the bridge just above him is an infantryman, apparently sent flying by a shot from a distant figure. Brown, taking the Parliamentarian Captain Bradshaw as the hero of the hour, depicts him firing his musket from the Manchester end of the bridge, where he stands in front of the collegiate church (now Manchester Cathedral). Back on the Royalist side, near the struggling rider on the left of the bridge, are three other men, one mere stripling in the lower left-hand corner standing dazedly under an arch, head drooping, and arm bandaged up to the fingers. The bandage is spattered by blood. Of the other two, in their sheltered positions just above him, one still holds his weapon at the ready, but the other, with his head thrown back, seems to be dead. Two barns are burning between them and Bradshaw, and smoke wafts across the top of the picture, obliterating all but one hat and the merest glimpse of the other musketeers supporting Bradshaw.

The background as a whole is only lightly sketched in, not a flaw when we consider that Brown has clearly intended to focus on the Royalists, tumbling like ninepins right at the front of the picture. Apart from the yellow flames and the tiny red pennant on the boat to the right of the bridge, the colour is all concentrated here too — the rich red of the horse's saddle and the brown, yellow, green and white of the rider's garb. The helper nearest the right sports red leggings and a green-striped shirt.

Brown has taken a good deal of artistic licence here: the bridge was actually defended by a German military engineer called Captain Rosworm. But the Parliamentarian Bradshaw must have seemed a more suitable hero, one who could more fittingly testify to Manchester's radicalism (see Treuherz 300). Nevertheless, instead of sharing his age's propensity to hero-worship, Brown has been inexorably drawn to the woes of the defeated Royalists. The humanity of the man has triumphed over triumphalism. The picture is not as unsatisfactory as first appears.

Related Material

References

Ford, Ford Madox. Ford Madox Brown: A Record of His Life and Work. London: Longmans, 1896. Internet Archive. Web. 27 April 2012.

Treuherz, Julian, with contributions by Kenneth Bendiner and Angela Thirlwell. Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer. London: Philip Wilson, 2011. Print.


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Last modified 27 April 2012