As well as giving you a taste of what’s in store this Saturday, we’ll also be looking at the build-up to the battle in 1644, with updates each day as to what was happening…
Upon this day 368 years ago, the town of Nantwich in Cheshire was given a second chance to surrender by the forces surrounding it. It refused.
Besieged by Royalist troops, it was the last remaining stronghold for Parliament in the county and things looked dire for the defenders. 1643 had been a good year for King Charles in his on-going war against Parliament and his forces had enjoyed a number of successes in the west of the country.
The Royalist commander, Lord John Byron, had around 4,000 men under his command while Nantwich’s garrison numbered just 2,000 men under Colonel George Booth. However, the River Weaver formed a natural defence to the west and th town was fortified with a circuit of earthworks, ditches and barricades. On 10th January 1644, when Byron summoned Nantwich to surrender Booth turned him down flat. The next day the bombardment of the town’s defences began.
To a degree, Byron was responsible for the town’s stubbornness. His mission had been to mop up the remaining Parliamentarian garrisons in Cheshire to tighten the Royalists’ grip on this key area. As he swept north, they fell easily. On Christmas Eve, when a group of Royalists plundered the village of Barthomley, twenty villagers – mostly militia men – took refuge in St Bertoline’s Church. The Royalists made a fire to smoke them out and they surrendered. They were then stripped and twelve of them murdered in cold blood.
Such ruthless actions hardened the hearts of defenders because, to them, they echoed the brutality of the on-going 30 Years War in Europe, where entire towns were being put to the sword. So if they were to die, they would die fighting for their cause.
Unbeknownst to Byron, despite being in the heart of Royalist territory, his time was actually running out. On 27 December, he had defeated the forces of Sir William Brereton, the Parliamentarian commander in Cheshire and Lancashire, at the Second Battle of Middlewich. Brereton retreated with the remnants of his army to Manchester in Lancashire. With Nantwich besieged, he urgently begged Parliament for reinforcements.
Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of the story of the Battle of Nantwich…