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Second English Civil War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Second English Civil War
Part of Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Charles I at his trial.jpg

Charles I at his trial; defeat led to his execution in January 1649
DateFebruary 1648 – August 1648
Result Execution of Charles I
Formation of English Commonwealth
Kirk Party takes power in Scotland
Kingdom of EnglandEnglish Parliament
Commanders and leaders
Duke of Hamilton
Earl of Norwich
Rowland Laugharne
Sir Charles Lucas
Prince Rupert
Kingdom of England Oliver Cromwell
Kingdom of England Thomas Fairfax
Kingdom of England John Lambert

The 1648 Second English Civil War is one in a series of connected conflicts in the kingdoms of England, incorporating Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Known collectively as the 1638 to 1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, others include the Irish Confederate Wars, the 1638 to 1640 Bishops' Wars, and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

Following defeat in the First English Civil War, in May 1646 Charles I surrendered to the Scots Covenanters, rather than Parliament. In doing so, he hoped to exploit divisions between English and Scots Presbyterians, and English Independents.

At this stage, all parties expected Charles to continue as king, the only question being the terms. This allowed him to continue refusing significant concessions, while attempts to dissolve the New Model Army led to mutiny. With backing from English Presbyterians, in December 1647, the Scottish Engagers agreed to restore Charles to the English throne.

The Scottish invasion was supported by Royalist risings in South Wales, Kent, Essex and Lancashire, along with sections of the Royal Navy. However, lack of co-ordination enabled forces under Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax to defeat each individually. Fighting ended in August; in January 1649, Charles was executed, and the Commonwealth of England established.

As a result, Charles II became the new king of Scotland, leading to the Third English Civil War in 1651.


Denzil Holles, a leader of the Presbyterian faction in Parliament
Denzil Holles, a leader of the Presbyterian faction in Parliament

When the First English Civil War began in 1642, all parties agreed a 'well-ordered' monarchy was divinely mandated. They disagreed on what 'well-ordered' meant, particularly the balance of power between king and Parliament, and who held ultimate authority in clerical affairs. There was considerable alignment among moderates, choice of sides often being down to personal loyalties and relationships. Royalists generally supported a Church of England governed by bishops, appointed by, and answerable to, the king; Parliamentarians believed he was answerable to the leaders of the church, appointed by their congregations.[1]

Puritan was a general term for anyone who wanted to reform, or 'purify', the Church of England; Presbyterians were the most prominent, but there were many others, often grouped together as Independents. Presbyterians were over-represented in Parliament, generally believed in a constitutional monarchy, and wanted to keep the church, but as a reformed, Presbyterian body. A good example was Denzil Holles, one of the Five Members in January 1642, who fought in the early stages of the war, but by 1644 supported a negotiated peace.[2]

Independents opposed a state church in principle, and although relatively few in Parliament, formed a significant part of the New Model Army, including senior commanders like Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Rainsborough, Thomas Harrison, and Henry Ireton. Many were also members of radical groups, the most famous being the Levellers. These definitions simplify a complex reality; Sir Thomas Fairfax, commander of the New Model, was a Presbyterian, who fought for Charles I in 1639, and refused to participate in his execution.

Unlike England, where Presbyterians were a minority, the 1639 and 1640 Bishops Wars resulted in a Covenanter, or Presbyterian government, and Presbyterian kirk, or Church of Scotland. This settlement had wide ranging support; Royalist general Montrose fought for the Covenanters in 1639 and 1640. The Scots wanted to preserve these achievements; concerns over the implications for Scotland if Charles defeated Parliament led to the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant. By 1646, they viewed Charles as a lesser threat than the Independents, who opposed their demand for a unified, Presbyterian church of England and Scotland; Cromwell claimed he would fight, rather than agree to it.[3]

Many Parliamentarians assumed military defeat would force Charles to compromise, which proved a fundamental misunderstanding of his character. When Prince Rupert suggested in August 1645 the war was lost, Charles responded he was correct, if seen from a military viewpoint, but 'God will not suffer rebels and traitors to prosper'. This deeply-held conviction meant he refused any substantial concessions.[4] Aware of divisions among his opponents, he used his position as king of both Scotland and England to deepen them, assuming he was essential to any government; while true in 1646, by 1648 significant elements believed it was pointless to negotiate with someone who could not be trusted to keep any agreement.[5]

Lead-up to war

With two companions, on 27 April Charles left Oxford in disguise; on 6 May, Parliament received a letter from David Leslie, commander of Scottish forces besieging Newark, announcing he had the king in custody. Newark surrendered the same day, and the Scots withdrew to Newcastle, taking Charles with them.[6]

In July, the Scots and English commissioners presented Charles with the Newcastle Propositions, which he rejected; his refusal to negotiate created a dilemma for the Covenanters. Even if Charles agreed to a Presbyterian union, there was no guarantee it would be approved by Parliament. Keeping him was too dangerous; as subsequent events proved, whether Royalist or Covenanter, many Scots supported his retention. In February 1647, they agreed a financial settlement, handed Charles over to Parliament, and withdrew.[7]

Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle of Wight, where Charles was held in December 1648
Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle of Wight, where Charles was held in December 1648

In England, Parliament was struggling with the economic cost of the war, a poor 1646 harvest, and a recurrence of the plague. The Presbyterian faction had the support of the London Trained Bands, the Army of the Western Association, leaders like Rowland Laugharne in Wales, and elements of the Royal Navy. By March 1647, the New Model was owed more than £3 million in unpaid wages; Parliament ordered it to Ireland, stating only those who agreed would be paid. When their representatives demanded full payment for all in advance, it was disbanded.[8]

The New Model refused to be disbanded; in early June, Charles was removed from his Parliamentary guards, and taken to Thriplow, where he was presented with the Army Council's terms. More lenient than the Newcastle Propositions, Charles rejected them; on 26 July, pro-Presbyterian rioters burst into Parliament, demanding he be invited to London. In early August, Fairfax and the New Model took control of the city; this re-established command authority over the rank and file, completed at Corkbush in November.[9]

In late November, the king escaped from his guards, and made his way to Carisbrooke Castle. In April 1648, the Engagers became a majority in the Scottish Parliament; in return for restoring him to the English throne, Charles agreed to impose Presbyterianism in England for three years, and suppress the Independents. His refusal to take the Covenant himself split the Scots; the Kirk Party did not trust Charles, objected to an alliance with English and Scots Royalists, and denounced the Engagement as 'sinful.'[10]

After two years of constant negotiation, and refusal to compromise, Charles finally had the pieces in place for a rising by Royalists, supported by some English Presbyterians, and Scots Covenanters.

South Wales

Second English Civil War is located in Wales
St Fagans
St Fagans
Western England & South Wales; 1645

From 1642 to 1646, most of Wales was held by the Royalists, but the revolt began in Pembrokeshire, an area controlled by Parliament since early 1643. Like their New Model colleagues, the soldiers had not been paid for months, and feared being disbanded without their wages. In early March, John Poyer, Governor of Pembroke Castle, refused to relinquish command; he was soon joined by two other Parliamentary commanders in South Wales, Rowland Laugharne and Rice Powell.[11]

What began as a pay dispute became overtly political when the Welsh rebels made contact with Charles. Most Royalists had sworn not to bear arms against Parliament and did not participate, one exception being Sir Nicholas Kemeys, who held Chepstow Castle for the king. By the end of April, Laugharne had assembled around 8,000 troops, and was marching on Cardiff; however, on 8 May, he was defeated at St Fagans.[12]

This ended the revolt as a serious threat, although Pembroke Castle did not surrender until 11 July, with minor risings in Bangor and Anglesey suppressed by early October. The Welsh rising is generally not considered part of a planned, Royalist plot, but largely accidental; however, its retention was vital for future operations in Ireland.[13]

Revolt against Parliament in Kent

A precursor to Kent's Second Civil War had come on Wednesday, 22 December 1647, when Canterbury's town crier had proclaimed the county committee's order for the suppression of Christmas Day and its treatment as any other working day.[14][15] However, a large crowd gathered on Christmas to demand a church service, decorate doorways with holly bushes, and keep the shops shut. This crowd – under the slogan "For God, King Charles, and Kent" – then descended into violence and riot, with a soldier being assaulted, the mayor's house attacked, and the city under the rioters' control for several weeks until forced to surrender in early January.[16]

On 21 May 1648, Kent rose in revolt in the King's name, and a few days later a most serious blow to the Independents was struck by the defection of the Navy, from command of which they had removed Vice-Admiral William Batten, as being a Presbyterian. Though a former Lord High Admiral, the Earl of Warwick, also a Presbyterian, was brought back to the service, it was not long before the Navy made a purely Royalist declaration and placed itself under the command of the Prince of Wales. But Fairfax had a clearer view and a clearer purpose than the distracted Parliament. He moved quickly into Kent, and on the evening of 1 June, stormed Maidstone by open force, after which the local levies dispersed to their homes, and the more determined Royalists, after a futile attempt to induce the City of London to declare for them, fled into Essex.[17]

The Downs

Before leaving for Essex, Fairfax delegated command of the Parliamentarian forces to Colonel Nathaniel Rich to deal with the remnants of the Kentish revolt in the east of the county, where the naval vessels in the Downs had gone over to the Royalists and Royalist forces had taken control of the three previously Parliamentarian "castles of the Downs" (Walmer, Deal, and Sandown) and were trying to take control of Dover Castle. Rich arrived at Dover on 5 June 1648 and prevented the attempt, before moving to the Downs. He took almost a month to retake Walmer (15 June to 12 July), before moving on to Deal and Sandown castles. Even then, due to the small size of Rich's force, he was unable to surround both Sandown and Deal at once and the two garrisons were able to send help to each other. At Deal he was also under bombardment from the Royalist warships, which had arrived on 15 July but been prevented from landing reinforcements. On the 16th, thirty Flemish ships arrived with about 1500 mercenaries and – though the ships soon left when the Royalists ran out of money to pay them – this incited sufficient Kentish fear of foreign invasion to allow Sir Michael Livesey to raise a large enough force to come to Colonel Rich's aid.

On 28 July, the Royalist warships returned and, after three weeks of failed attempts to land a relief force at Deal, on the night of 13 August managed to land 800 soldiers and sailors under cover of darkness. This force might have been able to surprise the besieging Parliamentarian force from the rear had it not been for a Royalist deserter who alerted the besiegers in time to defeat the Royalists, with less than a hundred of them managing to get back to the ships (though 300 managed to flee to Sandown Castle). Another attempt at landing soon afterwards also failed and, when on 23 August news was fired into Deal Castle on an arrow of Cromwell's victory at Preston, most Royalist hope was lost and two days later Deal's garrison surrendered, followed by Sandown on 5 September. This finally ended the Kentish rebellion. Rich was made Captain of Deal Castle, a position he held until 1653 and in which he spent around £500 on repairs.[18]

Revolt elsewhere

In Cornwall, Northamptonshire, North Wales, and Lincolnshire the revolt collapsed as easily as that in Kent. Only in South Wales, Essex, and the north of England was there serious fighting. In the first of these districts, South Wales, Cromwell rapidly reduced all the fortresses except Pembroke. Here Laugharne, Poyer, and Powel held out with the desperate courage of deserters.[17]

Pontefract Castle in 1648, with civil war fortifications surrounding the old medieval ones.
Pontefract Castle in 1648, with civil war fortifications surrounding the old medieval ones.

In the north, Pontefract Castle was surprised by the Royalists, and shortly afterwards Scarborough Castle declared for the King as well. Fairfax, after his success at Maidstone and the pacification of Kent, turned northward to reduce Essex, where, under their ardent, experienced, and popular leader Sir Charles Lucas, the Royalists were in arms in great numbers. Fairfax soon drove Lucas into Colchester, but the first attack on the town was repulsed and he had to settle down to a long and wearisome siege.[17]

A Surrey rising is remembered for the death of the young and gallant Lord Francis Villiers, younger brother of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in a skirmish at Kingston (7 July 1648). The rising collapsed almost as soon as it had gathered force, and its leaders, the Duke of Buckingham and Henry Rich, the Earl of Holland, escaped, after another attempt to induce London to declare for them, to St Albans and St Neots, where Holland was taken prisoner. Buckingham escaped overseas.[17]

Lambert in the north

Major-General John Lambert, a brilliant young Parliamentarian commander of twenty-nine, was more than equal to the situation. He left the sieges of Pontefract Castle and Scarborough Castle to Colonel Edward Rossiter, and hurried into Cumberland to deal with the English Royalists under Sir Marmaduke Langdale. With his cavalry, Lambert got into touch with the enemy about Carlisle and slowly fell back to Bowes and Barnard Castle. Lambert fought small rearguard actions to annoy the enemy and gain time. Langdale did not follow him into the mountains. Instead, he occupied himself in gathering recruits, supplies of material, and food for the advancing Scots.[19]

Lambert, reinforced from the Midlands, reappeared early in June and drove Langdale back to Carlisle with his work half finished. About the same time, the local horse of Durham and Northumberland were put into the field for the Parliamentarians by Sir Arthur Hesilrige, governor of Newcastle. On 30 June, under the direct command of Colonel Robert Lilburne, these mounted forces won a considerable success at the River Coquet.[19]

This reverse, coupled with the existence of Langdale's Royalist force on the Cumberland side, practically compelled Hamilton to choose the west coast route for his advance. His Scottish Engager army began slowly to move down the long couloir between the mountains and the sea. The Campaign of Preston which followed is one of the most brilliant in English history.[19]

Campaign of Preston

On 8 July 1648, when the Scottish Engager army crossed the border in support of the English Royalists,[20] the military situation was well defined. For the Parliamentarians, Cromwell besieged Pembroke in West Wales, Fairfax besieged Colchester in Essex, and Colonel Rossiter besieged Pontefract and Scarborough in the north. On 11 July, Pembroke fell and Colchester followed on 28 August.[19] Elsewhere the rebellion, which had been put down by rapidity of action rather than sheer weight of numbers, smouldered, and Charles, the Prince of Wales, with the fleet cruised along the Essex coast. Cromwell and Lambert, however, understood each other perfectly, while the Scottish commanders quarrelled with each other and with Langdale.[21]

As the English uprisings were close to collapse, it was on the adventures of the Engager Scottish army that the interest of the war centred. It was by no means the veteran army of the Earl of Leven, which had long been disbanded. For the most part it consisted of raw levies and, as the Kirk party had refused to sanction The Engagement (an agreement between Charles I and the Scots Parliament for the Scots to intervene in England on behalf of Charles), David Leslie and thousands of experienced officers and men declined to serve. The leadership of James Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton proved to be a poor substitute for that of Leslie. Hamilton's army, too, was so ill provided that as soon as England was invaded it began to plunder the countryside for the bare means of sustenance.[19]

On 8 July 1648, the Scots, with Langdale as advanced guard, were about Carlisle, and reinforcements from Ulster were expected daily. Lambert's horse were at Penrith, Hexham and Newcastle, too weak to fight and having only skillful leading and rapidity of movement to enable them to gain time.[21]

Appleby Castle surrendered to the Scots on 31 July, whereat Lambert, who was still hanging on to the flank of the Scottish advance, fell back from Barnard Castle to Richmond so as to close Wensleydale against any attempt of the invaders to march on Pontefract. All the restless energy of Langdale's horse was unable to dislodge Lambert from the passes or to find out what was behind that impenetrable cavalry screen. The crisis was now at hand. Cromwell had received the surrender of Pembroke Castle on 11 July, and had marched off, with his men unpaid, ragged and shoeless, at full speed through the Midlands. Rains and storms delayed his march, but he knew that the Duke of Hamilton in the broken ground of Westmorland was still worse off. Shoes from Northampton and stockings from Coventry met him at Nottingham, and gathering up the local levies as he went, he made for Doncaster, where he arrived on 8 August, having gained six days in advance of the time he had allowed himself for the march. He then called up artillery from Hull, exchanged his local levies for the regulars who were besieging Pontefract, and set off to meet Lambert. On 12 August he was at Wetherby, Lambert with horse and foot at Otley, Langdale at Skipton and Gargrave, Hamilton at Lancaster, and Sir George Monro with the Scots from Ulster and the Carlisle Royalists (organized as a separate command owing to friction between Monro and the generals of the main army) at Hornby. On 13 August, while Cromwell was marching to join Lambert at Otley, the Scottish leaders were still disputing whether they should make for Pontefract or continue through Lancashire so as to join Lord Byron and the Cheshire Royalists.[21]

Battle of Preston

On 14 August 1648 Cromwell and Lambert were at Skipton, on 15 August at Gisburn, and on 16 August they marched down the valley of the Ribble towards Preston with full knowledge of the enemy's dispositions and full determination to attack him. They had with them horse and foot not only of the Army, but also of the militia of Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and Lancashire, and were heavily outnumbered, having only 8,600 men against perhaps 20,000 of Hamilton's command. But the latter were scattered for convenience of supply along the road from Lancaster, through Preston, towards Wigan, Langdale's corps having thus become the left flank guard instead of the advanced guard.[22]

Langdale called in his advanced parties, perhaps with a view to resuming the duties of advanced guard, on the night of 13 August, and collected them near Longridge. It is not clear whether he reported Cromwell's advance, but, if he did, Hamilton ignored the report, for on 17 August Monro was half a day's march to the north, Langdale east of Preston, and the main army strung out on the Wigan road, Major-General William Baillie with a body of foot, the rear of the column, being still in Preston. Hamilton, yielding to the importunity of his lieutenant-general, James Livingston, 1st Earl of Callendar, sent Baillie across the Ribble to follow the main body just as Langdale, with 3,000-foot and 500 horse only, met the first shock of Cromwell's attack on Preston Moor. Hamilton, like Charles at Edgehill, passively shared in, without directing, the Battle of Preston, and, though Langdale's men fought fiercely, they were driven to the Ribble after four hours' struggle.[22]

Baillie attempted to cover the Ribble and Darwen bridges on the Wigan road, but Cromwell had forced his way across both before nightfall. Pursuit was at once undertaken, and not relaxed until Hamilton had been driven through Wigan and Winwick to Uttoxeter and Ashbourne. There, pressed furiously in rear by Cromwell's horse and held up in front by the militia of the midlands, the remnant of the Scottish army laid down its arms on 25 August. Various attempts were made to raise the Royalist standard in Wales and elsewhere, but Preston was the death-blow. On 28 August, starving and hopeless of relief, the Colchester Royalists surrendered to Lord Fairfax.[22]

Execution of Charles I

The victors in the Second Civil War were not merciful to those who had brought war into the land again. On the evening of the surrender of Colchester, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were shot. Laugharne, Poyer and Powel were sentenced to death, but Poyer alone was executed on 25 April 1649, being the victim selected by lot. Of five prominent Royalist peers who had fallen into the hands of Parliament, three, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Holland, and Lord Capel, one of the Colchester prisoners and a man of high character,[peacock prose] were beheaded at Westminster on 9 March. Above all, after long hesitations, even after renewal of negotiations, the Army and the Independents conducted "Pride's Purge" of the House removing their ill-wishers, and created a court for the trial and sentence of King Charles I.[22] At the end of the trial the 59 Commissioners (judges) found Charles I guilty of high treason, as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy".[23][24] He was beheaded on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on 30 January 1649. (After the Restoration in 1660, the regicides who were still alive and not living in exile were either executed or sentenced to life imprisonment.)

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle was slighted on the orders of Parliament.
Pontefract Castle was slighted on the orders of Parliament.

Pontefract Castle was noted by Oliver Cromwell as "[...] one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom".[25] Even in ruins, the castle held out in the north for the Royalists. Upon the execution of Charles I, the garrison recognised Charles II as King and refused to surrender. On 24 March 1649, almost two months after Charles was beheaded, the garrison of the last Royalist stronghold finally capitulated. Parliament had the remains of the castle demolished the same year.[26][27][28]


  1. ^ Macloed 2009, pp. 5–19 passim.
  2. ^ Wedgwood 1958, p. 407.
  3. ^ Rees 2016, pp. 118-119.
  4. ^ Royle 2004, pp. 354-355.
  5. ^ Wedgwood 1958, pp. 546-548.
  6. ^ Royle 2004, p. 393.
  7. ^ Wedgwood 1958, pp. 603-605.
  8. ^ Rees 2016, pp. 173-174.
  9. ^ Grayling 2017, p. 23.
  10. ^ Mitchison, Fry & Fry 2002, pp. 223-224.
  11. ^ Royle 2004, p. 431.
  12. ^ Royle 2004, p. 436.
  13. ^ Royle 2004, pp. 439-441.
  14. ^ See the pamphlet Canterbury Christmas; or, a true Relation of the Insurrection in Canterbury on Christmas Day last, published in 1648.
  15. ^ Brand 1905, pp. 117, 118.
  16. ^ Durston 1985.
  17. ^ a b c d Atkinson 1911, 46. The English War.
  18. ^ Noake 2007.[better source needed]
  19. ^ a b c d e Atkinson 1911, 47. Lambert in the north.
  20. ^ Plant 2009, The Preston Campaign.[better source needed]
  21. ^ a b c Atkinson 1911, 48. Campaign of Preston.
  22. ^ a b c d Atkinson 1911, 49. Preston Fight.
  23. ^ Kelsey 2003, pp. 583–616.
  24. ^ Kirby 1999, The trial of King Charles I ....
  25. ^ DL staff 2012, ...Historic Properties....
  26. ^ Wakefield staff 2010, History of Pontefract Castle.
  27. ^ Wakefield staff 2012, Pontefract Castle.
  28. ^ Limbird 1832, Pontefract Castle.


  • Grayling, AC (2017). Democracy and its crisis. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1786072894.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Macloed, Donald (Autumn 2009). "The influence of Calvinism on politics". Theology in Scotland. XVI (2).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Mitchison, Rosalind; Fry, Peter; Fry, Fiona (2002). A History of Scotland. Routledge. ISBN 978-1138174146.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Rees, John (2016). The Leveller Revolution. Verso. ISBN 978-1784783907.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Royle, Trevor (2004). Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638–1660 (2006 ed.). Abacus. ISBN 978-0-349-11564-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Wedgwood, CV (1958). The King's War, 1641-1647 (2001 ed.). Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0141390727.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Brand, John (1905), "Christmas Day", in Hazlitt, W. Carew (ed.), Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated, 1, pp. 117–18
  • DL staff (2012), About the Duchy >Historic Properties >Yorkshire, Duchy of Lancaster, retrieved March 27, 2020
  • Durston, Chris (December 1985), "Lords of misrule: The Puritan war on Christmas 1642–60", History Today
  • Noake, Jenny (5 February 2007), Deal Castle, Deal Kent Heritage Pages, archived from the original on 29 September 2007
  • Kelsey, Sean (2003), "The Trial of Charles I", English Historical Review, 118 (477): 583–616, doi:10.1093/ehr/118.477.583
  • Kirby, Michael (22 January 1999), The trial of King Charles I – defining moment for our constitutional liberties, speech to the Anglo-Australasian Lawers' association
  • Limbird, John (28 January 1832), "Pontefract Castle", The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, London: John Limbird, 143, Strand, 19 (531), archived from the original on 17 February 2012
  • Plant, David (27 May 2009), The Preston Campaign 1648, British Civil Wars & Commonwealth, retrieved 29 May 2008
  • Wakefield staff (4 January 2012) [2010], Pontefract Castle,, archived from the original on 25 September 2012, retrieved 1 October 2012
  • Wakefield staff (7 December 2010), History of Pontefract Castle,, archived from the original on 29 July 2012, retrieved 1 October 2012

Further reading


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