To Preserve That Which God Hath Manifestly Declared Against

Charles, the Scots and the Second Civil War

When the Scottish commissioners left England there had been some preliminary discussion about co-ordinating an invasion with provincial risings in England, but there was no clear plan in place. Their report on the Engagement to the Committee of Estates was well-received, but no further measures were taken prior to the meeting of the Scottish parliament on 2 March. This delay proved fatal to the enterprise, since events in England were moving more quickly. Moreover, the Scottish commitment to the Engagement was not unanimous. Once back in Scotland the commissioners had begun to whip up support for the King, but there were serious concerns that the Engagement was a betrayal. Hamilton, Loudon and others felt that the King had given ample commitments. However, Argyll and others were bitterly opposed and were supported by leading figures in the kirk (the ‘kirkmen’), who felt that Charles, having failed to agree to take the Solemn League and Covenant, had given insufficient commitments on religion. This was after all the same King that had brought Scotland the new Prayer Book, prompting armed resistance. When it met, opinion in Parliament was similarly divided over renewing war in England and the divisions became bitter – in fact, a series of duels were offered. Englishmen keen to renew the conflict travelled to Edinburgh to try to encourage the laggardly Scots, among them notable Cavaliers like Sir Philip Musgrave, Sir Thomas Glemham, Sir Marmaduke Langdale and Sir Charles Lucas. Royalist newsbooks reported that whole districts of England were ripe for revolt, but the Scottish clergy, and the women of Edinburgh and Leith, were said to have ‘cried out’ against a renewal of war. Petitioning campaigns against the invasion were organized by the kirkmen, and this worsened the divisions.1

There had been hopes of help from Ireland, but they came to nothing. In the summer of 1647 the Confederates had been in a strong military position, although under Rinuccini’s influence they were not particularly eager to intervene in England to support a heretic king. The upshot of the English debate about Ireland during the spring and summer was the landing of an English force under Michael Jones which quickly pushed back the Confederates. The Confederates were defeated at Dungan’s Hill on 8 August, a battle which changed the balance of power, and, on 10 August, Jones entered Dublin in triumph. Inchiquin, commander of parliamentary forces in Munster, also won major and bloody victories during September, eventually reaching the walls of Kilkenny. George Monck had been put in command of the parliamentary forces in Ulster. He had fought for the King in England and, following capture at Nantwich, had preferred imprisonment to changing sides. Following the King’s final defeat in 1646, however, Monck felt free of personal obligation, took the Covenant, and accepted service in Ireland. On 2 October 1647 Jones set out from Dublin to meet Monck, and Inchiquin won another major victory at Mallow on 13 November.

All this put the Confederates on the defensive by the winter of 1647. But they were not the only potential royalists. Ormond, strongly opposed to the Confederate programme and Rinuccini’s influence, was nonetheless loyal to the King. For that reason he was willing to pursue peace with the Confederates, and he was joined by Inchiquin, commander of the parliamentary forces in Ireland, who ‘changed sides’ in March 1648. He was upset by the Vote of No Addresses and drawn towards the Scottish/royalist coalition in favour of Presbyterianism and a relatively powerful monarchy. Although Inchiquin was sufficiently disillusioned with the parliamentary regime to throw in his lot with Ormond, however, he did not take all his men with him. Rinuccini, meanwhile, was extremely hostile to the compromises necessary to forge this proto-alliance and pronounced excommunication on all those who co-operated with Ormond and Inchiquin. For a time though, in the spring of 1648, a menacing royalist alliance of Irish and Scottish forces had seemed to be taking shape.2

In England royalist hopes rested on an apparently rising tide of hostility to the parliamentary regime. The failure to settle, the continuing burden of the army, and fear of social and religious radicalism all fed impatience with those in control in London. These were hard times: a second bad harvest in succession made for a ‘sad, dear time’ for the poor in Essex, where ‘money [was] almost out of the country’. In Wiltshire there were food riots and attacks on soldiers and excisemen at Chippenham on New Year’s Eve.3These miscellaneous discontents were the basis for mobilizing support, as in 1642; but, as in 1642, it was not clear that any of the national platforms really addressed them.

The festive calendar was a powerful focus for political mobilization. In Kent there was opposition to the reformed liturgy and in many places worship continued according to the Prayer Book. During 1647 the county committee heard reports of ‘sundry seditious sermons’ and ‘dangerous speeches… darkly implying threats against the parliament and a course to be taken with the Roundheads about Christmas’. As a result they took a hard line, publishing an order throughout the county underlining the prohibition of Christmas celebrations. This proved badly misjudged. One minister’s sermon was protected by armed men at the door of the church, and when the mayor of Canterbury ordered that the market should stay open only twelve shopkeepers complied. They were told to shut up again ‘by the multitude’, and when they did not their goods were ‘thrown up and down’. In the ensuing melee the sheriff was ‘stoutly resisted’ and the mayor knocked down. Despite his torn and dirty gown the mayor commanded everyone to go home, and those who resisted were briefly imprisoned. But only briefly – they soon broke out and were jeering at the aldermen. Shortly afterwards some of the leaders, along with some soldiers, appeared on the high street with two footballs. Joined by large crowds the football game quickly became a tumultuous demonstration, surging through the streets to cries of ‘Conquest’. Holly bushes were set up at doorways and free entertainment offered. The gaol was opened, aldermen chased and beaten into their houses and Richard Culmer, the Puritan minister, pelted with mud.4

Over the weekend Canterbury became the focus for a wider protest as people from surrounding parishes flocked into the town. On Monday a heated argument with ‘a busy prating’ Puritan led to pistol shots and cries of ‘Murder’. Crowds surged through the town, calling out ‘For God, King Charles, and Kent’. The sheriff, trying to keep the peace, was knocked down, receiving a serious head injury in the process. Windows were broken in the houses of the mayor and other prominent men, and some of the godly ministers and members of the accounts committee were assaulted, imprisoned and ‘laid in irons’. Worse, the city magazine was seized, and there were reports of similar, smaller riots elsewhere in the county. This was quickly becoming a pro-royalist rising: when news arrived of the King’s attempted escape from Carisbrooke on 29 December a number of gentry were reported to have openly declared their willingness to support the King and the Engagers. Their aim, they said, was to ‘release the King’s Majesty out of thraldom and misery,… restore him to his just rights,… and… endeavour the preservation of the honourable constitution of parliament… and all the just privileges thereof’.5

In the event the county committee was able to muster sufficient support to re-establish control in Canterbury. Elsewhere, however, festive pastimes became a means of expressing political dissent. A hurling match between the men of Devon and Cornwall was thought to be a pretext for anti-army action. In Bury St Edmunds on May Day a crowd gathered around a maypole or May bush as a troop of Fairfax’s cavalry rode into town. The soldiers were attacked to cries of ‘For God and King Charles’, before the gates were shut, streets barricaded and the magazine secured. There followed attacks on parliamentarians by a crowd containing 600 armed men and another hundred on horseback. The rising was contained by a ring of five troops of horse around the town, but it did not stop other protesters gathering at Newmarket ‘under pretence of horseracing’.6 The anniversary of Charles’s accession, 27 March, was another focus for discontent. In Norwich the mayor permitted bonfires and feasting to mark the occasion, and refused a summons to attend Parliament to explain himself. On 24 April a crowd gathered in his support seized the headquarters of the Norfolk county committee, which was also the county magazine. When troops arrived to take back the building the magazine blew up, killing more than a hundred people.7

London was not immune. On 17 July 1647, a week before the Presbyterian assault on London, with tensions reaching a crisis point, the theatres had been closed down, reviving an ordinance of 1642 passed in similar circumstances. The measure lapsed on 1 January 1648, probably by oversight, and theatre owners and patrons took full advantage. On 27 January 120 coaches were said to have delivered customers to the Fortune Theatre alone. On 11 February the theatres were closed once more – a traditional measure of crowd control and probably therefore a sign more of security concerns than of Puritan hostility to pleasure. On the anniversary of Charles’s accession bonfires were lit across the City and those passing along the streets in coaches were compelled to drink the King’s health. There were shouts both for the King and against Hammond, his keeper. Butchers were apparently saying that if they caught Hammond ‘they would chop him as small as ever they chopped any of their meat’. On Sunday, 9 April, during afternoon service, the Lord Mayor sent a party of Trained Band members to stop boys playing tip-cat (a relatively harmless bat and ball game) in Moorfields. A crowd of apprentices intervened, pelting the men with stones and disarming them. Now armed they marched along Fleet Street and the Strand, attracting a crowd of 3,000 or 4,000, raising shouts of ‘Now for King Charles’. Their target was a regiment in Whitehall, but they happened to pass Cromwell and Ireton at the head of cavalry regiments. Cromwell led a charge along the Strand in which two of the crowd either were killed or were nearly so. During the following night apprentices secured the gates at Newgate and Ludgate, and attacked the house of the Lord Mayor. By 8 a.m. they controlled the City, and were only finally subdued when a regiment of foot and four troops of horse were let into the City at Moorgate. Onlookers appeared more sympathetic to the rioters than to the troops sent to restore order.8

Mixed in with these disputes were hostility to the burdens of taxation and the tyrannies of parliamentary administration, and positive commitment to royalism and Prayer Book religion, and to the forms of local government that had existed prior to the war. There were rival petitioning campaigns once more as activists sought to harness these multiple grievances to drive forward their programme. Through 1647 there were sporadic petitions for settlement, and an end to military occupation. October, for example, had seen a petition promoted at Somerset quarter sessions against the persistence of free quarter. But following the Vote of No Addresses a number of Independent MPs promoted petitions in support of their position: in Warwickshire, Essex, Somerset and the northern counties. In Essex, Sir Henry Mildmay did get a packed Grand Jury to approve his petition, but a meeting of freeholders at Romford expressed strong opposition. In Buckinghamshire 5,000 signatures were gathered and in Somerset a packed Grand Jury at the March assizes also approved a petition which had enjoyed some success in parts of the county. It commended the Vote of No Addresses, was critical of local malignants holding office, and drew attention to the material hardships of the times: just as in 1642 complaints about material hardships were not necessarily the home ground of the royalists.9

This Independent mobilization did not go unanswered. A ring of counties from Essex to Hampshire produced petitions against military government and centralization. In Essex, the failure of the petition in favour of the Vote of No Addresses was followed by the adoption of a petition calling for a personal treaty with Charles, which was accepted by the Grand Jury at the Chelmsford assizes in March. It linked this call for a personal treaty with a denunciation of free quarter and high taxation, and a call for the disbandment of the army. Two thousand men came to London to present the petition. The key point in the ‘moderate’ campaign, therefore, was the call for a personal treaty, and opposition to the Vote of No Addresses: it was intended to forestall a Scottish invasion, and secure a rapid settlement by bringing Parliament back to the table. Similar petitions were produced in Sussex and Hampshire, and calls for restraint of the county committees, local control of the militia, and restraint of the military and of sectaries were heard around the country throughout the summer.10 But while that might offer a means to resolve disparate problems it was not clear that those who joined in these campaigns were royalists, or in favour of a return to the religion of bishops and the Prayer Book.

Naturally, these disparate issues also got an airing in print. During March there were attacks on sectarianism and protestations in favour of the calendar and promoting the image of a royalist London. A true and perfect picture of our present reformation was yet another catalogue of sectarian errors, arranged thematically (scripture, God, Trinity and so on). Its diagnosis was plainly stated on the title page: ‘the Christian’s Prospective to take a short view of the new lights that have brake forth since Bishops went down’, ‘Printed in the first year of King Charles His Imprisonment’. Heading the list of authors in whose works these new views could be found was Thomas Edwards, rubbing shoulders with some of the pantheon of religious enthusiasts – Roger Williams, Laurence Clarkson, Richard Overton, John Lilburne, John Milton and others. The current parliament was denounced as mother to this monstrosity in Mistris Parliament Brought to Bed of a Monstrous Childe of Reformation, while another pamphlet announced the Last will and testament of that ‘monstrous, bloody, tyrannical, cruel and abominable’ parliament, which was ‘desperately sick in every part of its ungodly members, as well committees, sequestrators, agitators, solicitors, promoters, clerks, door keepers and all her other untrue and unlawful adherents’.11

The tide was not all in one direction, of course. Along with calls for parliamentarian unity, vindications of Independents and celebrations of the conversion of Indians in the New World came a translation of the Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos, the leading work in favour of the right of subjects to resist their monarch in early modern Europe. The man often named as the translator, William Walker of Darnall (near Sheffield), was later credited with cutting the King’s head off, although it is more likely that his credit lay in the inspiration than in the physical act. More ambiguously, Edward Husbands republished Elizabeth I’s speech to her last parliament, made on 30 November 1601.12 Here, in miniature, lay one of the crucial weaknesses of the royalist mobilization in 1648: did attachment to this view of harmonious relations between monarch and Parliament necessarily support a second civil war? Proponents of this vision might be in favour of the Vote of No Addresses and bringing the King to see reason, for example – would a weak peace of the kind threatened by the Treaty of Newport really restore this vanished world?

It was not, however, completely unreasonable to think that these grievances might support pro-royalist risings all over England. Henry Firebrace had a plan for the King’s escape from Carisbrooke, rumours of which reached the Committee of Derby House on 7 February and of another one on 13 March. The following week came the attempt foiled by the failure of the King’s physical body to fit through the window. If he had got out, though, he would have had a welcome – there is evidence of individuals seeking with some success to mobilize arms from many areas of the north, north Wales, the Marches, East Anglia, Hertfordshire, Herefordshire and the east Midlands as well as Bristol, Bath and Tavistock. Many people seem to have gone from, or through, London to join the risings in Essex and Kent.13

There were strong parallels with 1642 – the end of parliamentary attempts to come to terms, against a backdrop of more or less spontaneous expressions of miscellaneous grievances, led activists to mobilize support. Petitions, promoted at quarter sessions and assizes, and pamphleteering publicized grievances, while activists sought to forge from them coherent political campaigns – to renounce the Vote of No Addresses and enter into a personal treaty with the King, for example. In June 1648 in Hampshire a petition was organized, despite pressure from the county committee, which denounced the continued restraint of the King, high taxation, ‘arbitrary power’ and ‘those that think they have monopolised all truth and would therefore square our religion according to their own confused models’. The King was to be restored to his ‘indubitable right’ and ‘the true reformed Protestant religion professed in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, and King James of blessed memory’, with some ‘ease to tender consciences’.14 This was more comforting for the King than Parliament, for sure, but it was not particularly happy reading for many of his allies among Presbyterians and Engagers.

As in 1642 this attempt was only partially successful, for there were two essential difficulties in forging an alliance from these very disparate forces: it was going to require people to start a new war, aimed in part against the consequences of the last one; and that people persuade themselves that the King, who was what held the alliance for a personal treaty together, was worth fighting for. Hostility to the army, the sects, the parliamentary regime might all fuel resentments, but they did not necessarily lead to support for the aims of the Engagers. The Scottish kirk, after all, was not a known supporter of Christmas festivities, or games of tip-cat during divine service. Formal Scottish demands, received in Parliament on 3 May, included the suppression of heresies and schisms, including the Prayer Book, and the extirpation of episcopacy.15 The previous summer the Presbyterians had made concessions to anti-excise feeling largely because they had to, and had sought to insulate apprentices from the consequences of their reform of the calendar. But they were no more the people’s friends than the army, which, its material burden aside, offered a potentially attractive alliance of tolerant Independents and indulgent Anglicans. Being against the Vote of No Addresses was not the same as being in favour of the Engagement; indeed, it might mean quite the opposite – talk not silence might be the best way to keep the Engagers out.

With hindsight it is possible to see that the story of the second civil war is the story of a dog that didn’t bark. As in 1642 there were plenty of grievances but a relatively small number of activists willing to resort to arms. And in 1648, it turned out, there were more-effective forces of suppression, including auxiliary forces raised by hawkish parliamentarians, which prevented activists from rallying effective support.16 It may also be that the disparateness of the movement, and recent experience of the costs of warfare, served as another disincentive: for how many of these grievances was warfare likely to be an effective solution? In Scotland, as in 1640, the decision to invade England was controversial, particularly since it was in defence of a king who was so palpably unreliable on religion. An alliance of Charles with Presbyterians against Parliament was, in the end, a peculiar sight, in both kingdoms. Enthusiasm for renewed warfare was limited, in both England and Scotland, but quite what forms of negotiation might forestall it was impossible to say.17

Last-minute attempts to square the Vote of No Addresses with the pursuit of a settlement were less impressive than the preparations for war. The obvious solution was to try to secure a deposition or forced abdication in favour of one of his elder sons. Charles, Prince of Wales, now seventeen years old, had fled to the Isles of Scilly in March 1646 and from there to Jersey, before taking up an offer of refuge in France following his father’s surrender. There he was beyond reach or persuasion. His younger brother James, Duke of York, now in his fifteenth year, had been in Oxford during the war. When it ended he was placed under the guardianship of the Duke of Northumberland at St James’s Palace in London. He was not willing to countenance a deal of the kind being proposed and was to escape, at the third attempt, in April 1648, in the course of a specially arranged game of hide-and-seek. Colonel Bampfield was waiting for him, and spirited him away to the Netherlands. Replacing the King was therefore not an option, however attractive it might have been as a way out of the impasse. Henry Marten had made overtures to the Scottish commissioners to try to avert an invasion, but they were rebuffed. Meanwhile men rushed north to sign up for the Engagers” army and both Berwick and Carlisle were quickly occupied in the last days of April. For a time, the prospects for armed royalism looked quite good. In late April the Scottish parliament announced that the Solemn League and Covenant had been broken, called for the establishment of Presbyterianism in England and named its officers. On 4 May the Scottish parliament ordered the raising of an army.18 But it would not arrive for some time, until after England and Wales had been pacified, in fact.19

In the meantime the situation in many areas of England and Wales was tense – the disorders of March, April and May and the rival petitioning campaigns spoke of serious problems for the parliamentary position. On a number of occasions there had been moves to take hold of local magazines and to resist the army, but only two of these movements actually resulted in armed risings against the parliamentary regime: in south Wales in April and May; and in Kent and Essex in June.

Politics in south Wales displayed continuities from 1642, a history which illustrates the uneasy relationship between local grievances and national political platforms. In Glamorganshire in 1642 prompt action by the Marquess of Hertford had secured royalist control, but in 1645, faced with increasing military burdens, a ‘Peaceable Army’ was formed, committed to a programme rather like that of the English clubmen. The King went along with their demands, but when he seemed to be about to renege on the deal the Peaceable Army made common cause with the parliamentarians in neighbouring Pembrokeshire. By February 1646, however, there was open resistance to parliamentary government on more or less the same grounds – the intrusion of new men and the suppression of the rites and traditions of the Anglican church prominent among the grievances. A similar revolt took place in June 1647, defeated by force. In 1648, however, there was a military ally. Colonel John Poyer, the mayor of Pembroke in 1642, had taken military control of the county under cover of a fabricated popish plot. In alliance with Rowland Laugharne he had established military domination in an area where there was little sign of enthusiasm for either side. By 1648 Poyer and Laugharne had many local enemies, however, and Poyer had become very vulnerable should he lose command of Pembroke Castle – his power base. When the armies were rationalized late in 1647 this happened and he was required to hand over the castle to a detachment from the New Model.20 The resulting mutiny became a vehicle for a pro-royalist rising, drawing on the kinds of grievance visible in many other areas.

Although Poyer never accepted a commission from the King, he did put his mutinous troops behind a rising of the Glamorgan gentry. The aim of the movement was to bring the King to a personal treaty, along with demands that:

the just prerogative of the King, privileges of the Parliament, laws of the land, liberties of the people, may be maintained, and preserved in their proper bounds, and the Protestant religion, as it now stands established by the law of the land, restored throughout the kingdom with such regard to tender consciences as shall be allowed by Act of Parliament.21

In a sense this was the programme of the Prayer Book petitions of 1642, but without the anti-sectarian bite – liberty to tender consciences had become a currency of ‘moderate’ politics. But here, in essence, was the problem of the second war – a movement in favour of the Book of Common Prayer was hardly an easy bedfellow of a Covenanting army and it seems unlikely that ease of tender consciences would extend very far in the direction of the Irish Catholics also being wooed by royalists. The secular concerns about the balance between the prerogative, law and the people’s liberty was the kind of mother and apple pie declaration that all sides had been making since 1642. Little had changed to promise agreement about what that meant in practice.

At St Fagan’s on 8 May a small force under Colonel Horton, who had been sent to disband Laugharne’s force, engaged them instead. Many of Laugharne’s troops wore papers in their hats saying ‘we long to see our king’. The battle was a small one, and Parliament’s forces were victorious, but elsewhere in south Wales the picture was less good. In late April, Colonel Fleming had led 120 horse too far into rebel territory and was forced to surrender. He died by a shot from his own pistol, although whether it was suicide or an accident was not clear. In the meantime Cromwell had been ordered to march into south Wales to retake Pembroke Castle.22 His campaign was quickly successful. Chepstow fell on 25 May and Tenby a few days later, so that he soon arrived before Pembroke.23

What proved to be the only substantial English rising was by then under way in Kent. There were plenty of signs of hostility to Parliament elsewhere in England, however: May saw the riots at Bury St Edmunds, and a petition from Surrey, approved by a meeting of freeholders, in imitation of one from Essex that had claimed 20,000 signatures. The petition called for restoration of the King, disbandment of the army and restoration of known laws – all very well, but offering little guidance about the religious or constitutional settlement. It had a cool reception at Westminster, leading to serious disorder. In London the Essex petitioners had been cheered through the streets.24 News of the raising of the Scottish army reached Westminster as an army prayer meeting was taking place at Windsor, and there was very evident discontent around the country about taxation, the army and the end of negotiation. Awareness of all this prompted the suspension of the Vote of No Addresses in late April, so that members could consider how to settle the kingdom.25

The Kentish rising had grown out of the Christmas disturbances. Leading figures in the Canterbury Christmas riots were put on trial at the assizes starting on 10 May in Canterbury. Two trials were organized, one for the city and one for the county, and the Grand Juries were carefully filled with the well-affected. However, Sergeant Wilde, one of the judges sent down to ensure a clear outcome, delivered a misjudged address, which seems to have inflamed opinion and the Grand Juries proved less tame than hoped. They refused to support the prosecution and rumours immediately circulated that they would be prosecuted, or even hanged. In the heated atmosphere a petition was drawn up and approved by the Jurymen, calling for a personal treaty with the King to settle the just rights of King and Parliament; disbandment of the army; government by known laws; and defence of property according to the Petition of Right against illegal taxes and impositions. When the county committee drew up an order declaring the petition to be seditious, however, the campaign took off. Two hundred gentlemen signed the petition in Canterbury and then sent copies all over the county to be signed more widely. In fact all but ten members of the county committee signed, and the copies returned from the county were collated on 29 May. Anyone who wanted to accompany the petition was called to assemble at Blackheath the following day.26

Annexed to the petition was an engagement to defend the petition by force of arms, if necessary, and a remonstrance declaring the necessity of this provocative step. More than 27,000 people were said to have signed this declaration – more or less equivalent to the total adult male population in the county. Helped by defections many of the county’s strongpoints and magazines fell into the hands of those promoting the petition, although Dover held out. Crucial too was the mutiny of the navy. The displacement of the Earl of Warwick as admiral by the Self-Denying Ordinance, and of Sir William Batten on partisan grounds in September 1646, had been unpopular; so, too, was the appointment of his replacement, William Rainborough. Many of the crews were from Kent, and in May there was an open mutiny, which included Rainborough’s own ship.27Swift military action was taken, Fairfax abandoning his march north in order to relieve Dartford. In order to forestall what seemed like an imminent general mutiny in the fleet Rainborough was moved aside in favour of Warwick.28 The origins of the Kentish rising can be traced to numerous discontents, but it is again clear that its political programme did not sit particularly easily with any of the main players on the national stage, and there were significant divisions within the county about what this movement was for.29

With superior resources and the advantage of a singular purpose, the New Model was able to contain the military threat in Kent very easily. Fairfax occupied Blackheath, the place set aside for the mustering of the Kentish army, on 30 May and the following day moved on through Gravesend towards Rochester. Unable to cross the Medway he moved south along the river reaching Malling on 1 June. The royalist forces, around 11,000 men, were concentrated in and around Maidstone under the command of Goring’s father, the Earl of Norwich, who had filled in a blank commission for himself. But he was no military commander. Fairfax marched into Maidstone without significant trouble and there followed a major engagement in which the parliamentary forces were completely victorious. As a consequence Norwich pulled his forces out, heading first for Blackheath and then Bow Bridge, but the way into London was blocked by Skippon. By now reduced to only 3,000 men, and with Fairfax’s army doing efficient work of putting down resistance in Kent, Norwich crossed the Thames, hoping to make political capital out of discontent in Essex.30

There, a demonstration against the county committee on 4 June quickly threatened to become a rising. Norwich arrived at Chelmsford on 7 June and Sir Charles Lucas was able to induce the Essex men to rally to his support, arranging a rendezvous at Brentwood on 8 June. The following day a substantial royalist force was established at Chelmsford, but the county magazine was seized by Sir Thomas Honeywood on behalf of Parliament. Edward Whalley, a parliamentary colonel at the head of only 1,000 cavalry, was content to shadow their movements, rather than engage them. They marched through Essex via Leighs (the Earl of Warwick’s house, where they took what arms they could) and Braintree before heading for Colchester. There, Lucas hoped, he would be able to get recruits. On 12 June they were admitted to the town.31

Fairfax had crossed from Gravesend to Tilbury the previous day, meeting with Honeywood and Whalley at Coggeshall and on 12 June parliamentary forces began to gather outside Colchester. The town was not easily defensible and Fairfax ordered a swift attack, hoping for another quick success, as at Maidstone. The fighting, however, was intense. By 19 June an attempt to bring supplies for the defenders up the river from the sea had been repulsed and the besiegers had settled down to building fortifications – it looked as if it would be a long stay. Norwich and Lucas settled in for a long resistance, hopeful, no doubt, that events elsewhere would go their way.32

They did not. Kent had quickly given way and risings elsewhere did not amount to much. Efforts to raise royalists in Devon and Cornwall in June were headed off, and preparations in Herefordshire to rise in support of a Scottish invasion also came to little. The minutes of the Derby House Committee betray a sense of panic, and there were signs of at least some trouble in Nottingham, Lincoln, Huntingdon, Rutland, Leicester, Hertford, Cambridge, Sussex, Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey, Worcester and Warwick.33 But this was not the same as a co-ordinated war effort. The Earl of Holland, charged with co-ordinating the English royalist effort, was arranging for the removal of horses from London two or three at a time, but the organization was extremely leaky and the Derby House Committee well-informed about the operation. On 4 July he took the field and the following day appeared at Kingston to try to raise men. He sought recruits at a horse race on Banstead Downs and in Reigate, but was eventually chased out by Colonel Michael Livesay. He gave up on 8 July and headed north with 200 horse, arriving at St Neots on the evening of the following day. There, however, he was surprised and captured. The debacle was a great morale-booster for the Derby House Committee and they signalled their new confidence by taking a sterner tone with the City, calling on the Lord Mayor to keep better order in London.34

In the north of England the seizure of Pontefract Castle on 1 June and the desertion of the garrison at Scarborough at the end of July were the sum of royalist successes. Many fortifications in England had been ‘slighted’ (rendered indefensible) the previous year, and that drew the teeth of these risings. Pontefract Castle was not among them and illustrates the danger – taken by John Morris, a former officer in Ireland who had returned to fight for the King, before defecting to Parliament, and now fought on the other side. His control of Pontefract effectively tied up a considerable body of John Lambert’s forces.35 The failure of co-ordination, the successful suppression of those risings that did occur, the containment of naval mutiny and the failure of discontent in many places to support risings meant that by early June the situation was far less threatening than it once might have appeared. When Pembroke Castle surrendered on 11 June, the threat in England and Wales had been contained – Colchester, Pontefract, Scarborough, Carlisle and Berwick aside.36

To that extent the second civil war in England was more or less over by the time the Scots invaded. They crossed the Tweed on 8 July, only days before resistance in south Wales gave out and Cromwell was freed to march north against them. With risings elsewhere either abortive or snuffed out this left Colchester very isolated and gave Fairfax no particular reason to risk troops in more assaults. Naval mutiny, although not suppressed, had been contained. Attempts to put the Prince of Wales at the head of an army, with Dutch support, also came to little. With the navy in mutiny, and support for the rising in East Anglia, a landing on the east coast might have posed serious problems to the parliamentary forces. But his blockade of the Thames eventually came to nothing.37 There were defections from Parliament – notably of Scarborough and Batten, who took with him one of the best of the parliamentary ships. But when the Engagers arrived the main strategic hope had already been lost – parliamentary forces were not divided amongst numerous threats but confronted only two: Colchester and the Engagers. Parliamentary control of the seas was not entirely secure, but help from Ireland or the continent was not going to arrive.

Hamilton had raised only 9,000 of the projected force of 30,000 men. His march through the north of England, however, was opposed only by Lambert, commanding the remnants of the Northern Association army. Some of Lambert’s men had been despatched to lay siege to Pontefract and this left him with only 3,000 men, not enough to engage Hamilton. Cromwell was able to leave Pembroke on 14 July with 3,000 foot and 1,200 horse and so Lambert merely shadowed Hamilton, awaiting Cromwell’s arrival.38 Both Cromwell and Lambert expected Hamilton to march to the eastern side of the Pennines, to take the faster route south to relieve Pontefract then Colchester. As a result they stayed to the east, while Hamilton took a relatively slow march southwards on the western side of the Pennines, arriving at Hornby Castle, north of Lancaster, on 9 August. It was only then, at an argumentative council of war, that Hamilton finally committed to a continued march via Lancaster rather than to cross the Pennines.39

By the time this decision was taken Cromwell was in position to join Lambert, having taken on supplies in the Midlands. On 9 August, Henry Lilburne, brother of John and Robert, turned Tynemouth Castle over to the royalists but died in its defence against Haselrig the following day. Cromwell and Lambert joined forces at Ripon, to create an army of 8,600 men, which set off across the Pennines. Hamilton probably had 10,000 men by this time, and was supported by Langdale’s 3,600 men and, potentially, troops from Ulster. But Cromwell was able to catch this larger army in the flank, with devastating effect. Hamilton had allowed his cavalry to advance sixteen miles beyond the main body of infantry, which was near Preston, when Cromwell’s forces arrived from the east on 17 August. The Engagers” army was north of the river Ribble, with the cavalry far to the south. Cromwell faced a choice of seeking battle on either bank, and chose the northern side, cutting off the retreat and separating the army from potential reinforcements. It was the more confident move, since if he had lost the march to the south would have been unopposed.40


The Scottish invasion, 1648 (with an exaggerated estimate of the size of the army)

Cromwell’s approach was resisted by Langdale’s forces on Ribbleton Moor, and it took hard fighting to advance, by which time most of Hamilton’s infantry had crossed the Ribble to the south. This made the Ribble Bridge vital, and it was defended tenaciously, but by nightfall it had fallen to Cromwell. So had the wagon train, 4,000 arms and perhaps as many prisoners. Hamilton decided to head southwards to meet his cavalry as they came north under Middleton, but they took different roads and Middleton’s forces were turned back by Cromwell before they met the infantry. There followed a pursuit in which the Engagers” resistance was hampered by the loss of supplies at Preston, and by the fact that powder flasks had been soaked in heavy rain. It was a dispiriting retreat, in which they suffered heavy losses, ending in a last stand at Winwick, near Warrington. A thousand men died there, and 2,000 more were captured. William Baillie made what terms he could for the remaining infantry while Hamilton rode off with the remnants of the cavalry. Hamilton was later caught at Uttoxeter and Langdale in Northamptonshire.41

This campaign was nothing less than a disaster for the Engagers. Cromwell and Lambert had lost fewer than a hundred men, although there were of course many wounded. In return they had crushed the armies of Langdale and Hamilton, taking nearly 10,000 prisoners. Those among the prisoners who had served voluntarily were bound for servile labour in the New World, and when there was no more demand there, for service under the republic in Venice.42 These victories confirmed Lambert’s rise: he had been given command of the northern forces in place of Poyntz the previous year and was increasingly well-known as a champion of a robust version of the army’s political programme. The defeat at Preston was also a fatal blow to the Prince of Wales’s plans, which had come to focus on a landing in the north in order to join forces with Hamilton. The death of that plan was a mortal blow to royalist hopes in general. The Prince of Wales, forced to sail up the Thames by mutinous sailors at the end of August, tried to engage Warwick but was separated by a storm. Shortage of supplies forced him to return to Holland on 3 September.43

Colchester, isolated since mid-July, was by mid-August completely alone and the county of Essex, which had previously been spared the horrors of war, was now to experience them in full. The siege lasted eleven weeks and by the end conditions were appalling. Food quickly ran short and it was said that at the time of the surrender there were no cats or dogs and few horses left alive. Water supplies had been cut or spoiled and both sides had destroyed property by fire in order to deny cover to the enemy. There had been heavy bombardments, which had also caused extensive damage. Houses, property and livelihoods had been consumed. Desperate inhabitants, led by starving women, demanded surrender, but Norwich refused. Instead he sent the women and children out of the town, but the besiegers would not let them pass. Caught between the two armies they were eventually readmitted to the town. Contemporaries were shocked by conditions in the town after its fall.


The siege of Colchester, 1648

How sad a spectacle it is to see goodly buildings, well furnished houses, and whole streets, to be nothing but ruinous heaps of ashes, and both poor and rich brought almost to the same woeful state, to see such people scarce able to stand upon their legs,… to see poor and rich men, late of good quality, now equal to the meanest, toiling and sweating in carrying some mean bed or other away, or some inconsiderable household stuffs out of the burning, all of them with wailing weeping ghastly countenances and meagre thin faces, shifting and flying in distraction of mind they scarce know wither.

Another witness remarked on the ‘sad spectacle to see so many fair houses burnt to ashes and so many inhabitants made feeble and weak with living upon horseflesh and dogs, many glad to eat the draught and grains for preservation of life’.44 One comparison that came to mind was with Magdeburg, the town which suffered most notoriously in the Thirty Years War.45 Here, in Colchester, was a moment when England threatened to turn Germany.

The horrors inflicted on Colchester were within the laws of war, but only just, and both sides accused the other of a lack of decency. Fairfax, in refusing passage to the women and children, had denied their often-claimed right to special protection, but he did so in order to keep up pressure on Norwich to bring an end to an increasingly futile resistance. If Norwich thought their suffering was too great then he should accept the offer of a treaty to end the siege. The defenders were also accused of having used poisoned bullets and there were rumours of cannibalism. Norwich’s decision to hold the city was increasingly difficult to justify in military terms, and his refusal to surrender threatened to waste human lives. To the besieging parliamentarians it was this stubborn and unjustifiable denial of military realities that was the root cause of the enormities.46

When capitulation came, the defenders could therefore hope for little sympathy. Their resistance had persisted well beyond the point dictated by common sense. They chose to surrender only under pressure of civilian rebellion and news of the defeat at Preston. Norwich made some show of being involved in a negotiation, but was forced to a humiliating capitulation on 27 August, ten days after Hamilton’s army had been crushed. All officers above the rank of captain surrendered at mercy rather than quarter – that is to say that their fate depended on the discretion of their captors and there were no guarantees. In this case, it meant ‘without certain assurance of quarter so as the Lord General may be free to put some immediately to the sword if he see cause’. Junior officers were offered quarter ‘for their lives’ – which guaranteed them freedom from physical harm, warm clothes and food. It was explained though that in this case this meant only that they would have ‘their skins whole, though stripped of all their outward apparel’. The only point of negotiation was whether the senior officers were to surrender to the mercy of Parliament and the Lord General or to the Lord General alone. The latter was preferred by the defenders since it meant that they remained subject to military rather than civil law. But it made little difference that this was granted since the codicil to the treaty added by Fairfax stated that he had summary power in the short term and that he could hand over the generality to the mercy of Parliament.47

Thorough prosecution of the siege and unforgiving terms had the advantage of discouraging others – the logic of the laws of war in this case was that they discouraged unnecessary loss of life by making adventurous souls aware of the costs of their ambition, and of defeat. The royalists having plunged the country into renewed war, there was some justification for seeing these as appropriate responses. But Fairfax went further and actually executed two of the royalist commanders, reprieving a third at the last moment. Appropriately enough the officers had taken refuge at the King’s Head, from where Lucas, Sir George Lisle, Sir Bernard Gascoigne and Colonel Farr were summoned. Farr escaped but the others were condemned by a court martial. So too were Norwich and Capel, but their fate was left to Parliament to decide. Loughborough, the other senior officer, also escaped.48

Lucas, Lisle and Gascoigne all faced immediate death, however, and despite their pleas that they needed more time to prepare to meet their end. Lucas was a senior officer, responsible for the royalist presence in Colchester in the first place. He was also, arguably, in breach of a previous parole – having surrendered before and received quarter on condition that he did not take up arms again. There were other post facto justifications too, and it may have been significant that he was a local man, brother of Sir John Lucas, who had been the principal target of the rioters in 1642. Lisle was a less clear-cut case, though. He was less senior, but was held responsible for orders to destroy many properties and was a close ally of Lucas. In reality, whatever the arguments in favour of these particular executions, these were in Fairfax’s words ‘Persons pitched upon for this example’. These lives were taken, Fairfax explained, ‘for some satisfaction to military justice, and in part of [sic] avenge for the innocent blood they have caused to be spilt, and the trouble, damage, and mischief they have brought upon the town’. Gascoigne was pardoned at the last minute, perhaps because he was Florentine, and it was feared that his death might lead to reprisals. Lisle and Lucas died, treated firmly and unsympathetically by Ireton.49

These two were memorialized as martyrs, but not necessarily with strong justification.50 In October the parliamentary cause acquired its own martyr of dubious credentials. Pontefract and Scarborough had held out after the defeat of the other risings. Thomas Rainborough was sent north to help with the siege of Pontefract, despite the misgivings at Parliament and the hostility of the Yorkshire county committee, which did not want to find supplies for another 800 men. Based in Doncaster he dispersed his men in order to limit the burden, but this left him vulnerable. On 29 October a party of royalists from Doncaster surprised him in his bed - the guard, John Smith, had not reported for duty, owing either to illness (as he said) or to his being engaged in a local bawdy house (as a press report had it). Once captured Rainborough tried to escape, noting that he was held by only four men. One of his captors tried to drag him down, and Rainborough managed to grab a sword, his lieutenant grabbing a pistol. Rainborough was run through the throat but still resisted, receiving another wound in the body, this time a fatal one. His lieutenant also died. This was not, therefore, cold-blooded murder, but Rainborough was immortalized as a martyr, and the army lined up behind the demand for vengeance. Rainborough was given a hero’s burial in London – fifty or sixty coaches of women and men on horseback, numbering around 3,000, processed through the City, entering at Islington and then making their way via Smithfield, St Paul’s, Cheapside and out to Wapping, where he was buried alongside his father. A cannon salute from the Tower marked his interment.51

Charles had turned an amalgam of discontents into a new war, resulting in more unnecessary deaths, and this helped to crystallize support for hardliners in the army. In late April, on his way to war, Cromwell attended a prayer meeting in Windsor. There he would have heard Goffe call again for justice on a king who would plunge his people into war once more. News of the death of Colonel Fleming in south Wales arrived on the third day of the meeting, and it was in this atmosphere of anger that ‘Charles Stuart, that man of blood’ was said to be liable to be called to account ‘for that blood he had shed and mischief he had done to his utmost against the lord’s cause and people in these poor nations’.52

These were more radical arguments than those of 1642/3, but they did not represent a consensus. Radical political demands were divisive within the army, and these divisions were exacerbated by renewed Leveller agitation. In April attempts to elect agitators were launched, and renewed campaigning behind the Agreement of the People enjoyed some success in Rich’s regiment, but there is little evidence of success elsewhere, and it was headed off at a meeting in St Albans.53 The call for justice should not be read forwards as a settled desire to kill the King, and the constitutional radicalism implied by Goffe was not necessarily representative of the whole army. But Goffe’s views as stated in Windsor did reflect something of the mood in which this war was embarked upon – fearfully, and hesitantly, but also with a strong resentment at the profligacy with which the royalists were willing to spend human lives.

At Colchester later in the summer, the acrimony and recrimination brought England close to atrocities. That siege in particular suggested that at the end of the second civil war England was in danger of descent into the horrors experienced in Germany. Many in the army held Charles Stuart responsible for this, and the ‘murder of Rainborough’, having ignored God’s judgement in the first war and deliberately precipitated another one. Determination to avoid a third war might well come to justify harsh, and previously unthinkable, measures: individual cruelties might be seen as necessary to prevent cruelties of a more general and terrible kind.

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