Atlas of the English Civil War

By P. R. Newman | Go to book overview

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Flashpoints of Civil War in the Summer of 1642

Although civil war did not formally break out until the King raised his standard on 22 August 1642 at Nottingham, the summer had seen both sides flexing their muscles and striving for advantage on a localised level. The physical division between the King and his Parliament came in March, when Charles arrived in the city of York on the 18th of that month and established his court there. It was in Yorkshire that first overt royalist action took place when, on 3 May, Sir Francis Wortley reportedly drew his sword and swore to maintain the King against his Parliament, and began to raise 200 horse for the royal service. The Trained Band regiment of Robert Strickland was then brought into York to serve as a royal Lifeguard. In Lancashire on 25 May a gathering of local Catholic gentry near Lancaster was dispersed by the High Sheriff, a royalist, as being premature, but on 20 June agents of the Lord Strange seized magazines in Preston, Warrington and Liverpool. On 4 July Strange attacked the puritan town of Manchester in some force but was driven off after inconclusive fighting. From York, on 20 June, the earl of Newcastle, future royalist commander in the north, was sent to secure the port of Newcastle upon Tyne and Tynemouth and with them the Northumberland and Durham coalfield. This, despite a minor rising by colliers on 11/12 July, he succeeded in doing. The King, having been refused entry to Hull in April, advanced on the port from York on 3 July, and on the 10th the first fighting took place. Hull was besieged from the 15th, but on the 27th Sir John Meldrum, the garrison commander, raided Strickland's regiment at Anlaby, outside Hull, and inflicted severe casualties. The King abandoned the profitless siege.

Somerset also saw some early action. On 11 July the marquess of Hertford was sent there from York by the King to raise men, and on the 19th Parliament sent Alexander Popham to do the same on its behalf. From 28 July, Wells became the royalist mustering town, whilst from the 30th the Parlia ment's friends gathered at Shepton Mallet. On 1 August occurred an ugly brawl in the latter town when Sir Ralph Hopton met up with William Strode MP. This developed into an armed confrontation between local country people, raised by the Sheriff as a posse comitatus, and the royalist forces. Nothing came of it, but Hertford's commission as lieutenant general became official on 2 August, and on the 3rd he sent troops into Shepton Mallet and beyond to the foot of the Mendips in a show of strength. After plundering the town of weapons, the royalists withdrew to Wells. Elsewhere in the county, Strode and John Pyne on behalf of the Parliament were seeking to combine their separate forces, to move against Wells. The royalists acted pre-emptively to prevent their conjunction, and at the battle of Marshall's Elm fought on 4 August, the royalists routed and destroyed Pyne's column of 600 men although outnumbered by them. Nevertheless, the Parliament's local forces began to muster at Chewton Mendip to the number of 10,000 to 12,000, far more than Hertford could dispose of to resist them. On the 5th, therefore, the marquess withdrew without offering battle, making his way towards Glastonbury.

As well as these formalised developments, there were reports of riots and affrays in Rayleigh, Essex; Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; and Isham in Northamptonshire. On 30 July royalist supporters gathered together on Kineton Heath in Warwickshire to prevent the parliamentary gentry from removing artillery from Banbury to Warwick Castle. Confrontation was avoided when the parliamentary commander, Lord Brooke, agreed to leave the guns in Banbury. Elsewhere on 2 August, George Goring the governor of Portsmouth delivered the port up to the King's supporters, but for no apparent reason he was to abandon it in September and become a field commander for the King. Dover Castle was taken by Parliament on 21 August, the day before the royal standard was unfurled.

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