The Prince, the Earl, his gift, and the Massacre of Bolton…


Almost 375 years since the notorious ‘Bolton Massacre’, Roundheads and Cavaliers will again descend on Bolton on 7-8 July for an exciting FREE event featuring thrilling battles and fascinating ‘living history’. Click here for more details…

John Callow from the University of Suffolk, is writing a new biography of James Stanley, Earl of Derby, the Royalist officer and Lancastrian magnate who, it was claimed, led the assault on the defences at Bolton in May 1644.

John kindly agreed to write for us about Stanley, the so-called ‘King of Mann’, and his involvement in the attack – but what is revealed is that the people involved found the struggle for Bolton had gone from being an intensely local affair to a very different kind of war – something more brutal than anything they had witnessed before…


When does a killing in battle become murder? How does chivalry descend to the level of a war crime?

Stanley, Earl Derby

James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby

For James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, it all came down to a fight in a muddy street. Dampened powder flashes in the mirk and the lashing rain, blood running into the gutters, screams of women and the cries of children as the King’s men broke through the town walls and earth ramparts. ‘Nothing heard’, wrote one contemporary, ‘but kill dead, kill dead was the word in the town’, with ‘horsemen pursing the poore amazed people, killing, stripping, and spoiling all they could meet with’.

This was how wars ended and cities fell on the Continent, in the Germany of the Thirty Years’ War or during Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland. But these scenes unfolded right here, in Lancashire, at the prosperous market town of Bolton, on the afternoon of Tuesday 28 May 1644.

Bridling at earlier defeats, the searing scorn heaped upon him by his political enemies and the attack upon his own home at Lathom House, the Earl had begged Prince Rupert, the Royalist commander, to allow him to lead the assault upon Bolton, the most stubborn, independent and Puritan of Lancashire’s towns. No one could have doubted his bravery that day. Resembling a pitched battle rather than a formal siege, the early attacks by the king’s army had faltered and been thrown back with heavy losses before Stanley led a charge that cleared the outlying fields of the Parliamentarian Horse, and joined his own Lancashire regiments taking command of an assault that surged over the walls and sent the defenders streaming back through the streets, abandoning their arms, powder, and 22 standards, with all order gone.

On one level, this should have been the high point of James Stanley’s career. The day had brought a stunning victory that had brought Lancashire back under the King’s control. All resistance was broken, with more than 600 prisoners set upon the road south and 50 officers taken. Furthermore, it was Stanley’s leadership of the attack that had marked the crucial turning point in the battle. It was said that he was the first man in the Royalist army to fight his way through the defences, the first to get into the rebel town, the first in valour and prowess, scribing an arc through his enemies with the blade of his sword. As thanks, he gave Prince Rupert an expensive ring; in the hopes that he might be restored to his command of Lancashire.

Yet, in fact, this marked the nadir of his fortunes. The Prince had other ideas about the Earl’s abilities, confided the county to his own men and ordered Stanley back to his post on the Isle of Man: if not quite in disgrace then left in no doubt that control of the war had passed from the heads of traditional aristocratic families to a violent new breed of professional soldiers, grouped around Rupert. Worse still, contemporaries were unanimous in their opinion that what had happened after the Royalist storming parties entered the town was of far greater significance than the conduct of the battle, itself.

The English, we are told do not ‘do war crimes’ – and certainly not on their own doorstep. The idea certainly doesn’t fit with the romantic landscapes fashioned by the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Harrison Ainsworth, and still less with the image of gallantry created around the Cavaliers by Eliot Warburton and the popular historians of the Victorian age.

Yet, the ‘massacre of Bolton’ as the Parliamentarians termed it, certainly was a war crime. The town, and everything in it, had been declared as the Royalist ‘soldiers reward’ and theft, murder, extortion and rape became the order of the day once the enemy had fled. Reaching beyond the brief noting of 78 burials in the parish register, the accounts of suffering still have the power to move, to shock and to challenge our modern pre-conceptions about the nature of the English Civil War. A preacher’s widow was left shivering, violated and stripped to her smock; a 72 year old woman was run clean through with a sword; and Elizabeth Horrocks was dragged at the end of a tether, from one end of Bolton to the other, and threatened with hanging unless she surrendered all her savings to jeering soldiers. Even Stanley’s bravery and conduct came to be questioned. It was now said that he had not killed Captain Bootle in the midst of the fight, but in cold blood and fury after the town had fallen and the guns had been silenced. Though this was almost certainly untrue – the product of propaganda and malice on behalf of his enemies – what cannot be doubted is that Bootle had once been the Earl’s own servant. The civil war was bitter and personal, the occasion for score settling and rough justice. The sense that Bootle had sought to challenge the existing order, to rise within society and to challenge, both politically and militarily, his former master could not have been lost upon James Stanley, even in the heat of the melee.

War itself is nothing but tragedy: the tragedy of the great, and the small, alike. In the case of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, it lay in his inability to adapt to what he famously called this ‘general plague of madness’, as the conflict tore apart all of his pre-existing assumptions and all that he held dear. Highly intelligent and cultured, he had distinguished himself as a supremely gifted peace time administrator, but he had suddenly found himself thrown into the maelstrom of a civil war for which he was neither prepared nor militarily suited. This, then, was the tragedy of a bright and reflexive courtier, conscious of the need for compromise, who was destroyed through his role in the massacre of Bolton in 1644, and by the mistrust and ingratitude of Prince Rupert, and of successive Stuart monarchs.

It had been Rupert, rather than James Stanley, who had given the order for ‘no quarter’ to be given to the citizens of the town; but it was the earl rather than the prince who came to pay the price. Parliament neither forgot, nor forgave his actions. Consequently, when Earl James – the erstwhile man of peace – was condemned to death, in 1651, for his role in continuing and fuelling war; it was decided that he should be executed in the market place of Bolton to atone for the innocent blood that he had shed there.

Unknown artist: The Execution of James, 7th Earl of Derby.

Unknown artist: The Execution of James, 7th Earl of Derby.

Whether he contemplated the slaughter during his last hours, or recalled the face of Captain Bootle and the cries of Elizabeth Horrocks, he might have brooded that the ring he once gave to Prince Rupert, on the field of battle, was probably the most expensive and misplaced gift of his life.


John Callow is a Visiting Tutor at the University of Suffolk who has written widely on Early Modern culture, belief and politics. His books include James II. King in Exile, (History Press, 2017) and Embracing the Darkness. A Cultural History of Witchcraft, (I.B. Tauris, 2018). He is currently working on a biography of James Stanley, Earl of Derby: Cavalier and King of Man for Helion Publishers.  


The Poet MP and the 1643 Plot Against Parliament


London, 1643 – a city under threat, a resurgent enemy, dangers around every corner. And a poet, engaged by a king to lead a plot to restore him to his throne…

The year 1643 would prove to be the ‘high water mark’ of the Royalist cause in the first English Civil War. Only months after the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, the King seemed to have the upper hand, both politically and militarily. Thanks to defeats handed out to the Parliamentarian armies of Sir William Waller and the Earl of Stamford, and Prince Rupert aiming to confront and destroy the prevaricating Earl of Essex’s main field army, the King now sought to exploit political divisions amongst his opponents in London and weaken their cause. Between late February and late April, Parliament took measures to stiffen its cause while it faced a difficult military situation and it was during this time that Charles encouraged the development of what became known as The Waller Plot…

(c) Bodleian Libraries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationBorn in 1605 at Colshill in Hertfordshire, by the 1640s Edmund Waller had become a notable MP and poet. His father died when he was a baby but left him well-off, while his uncle on his mother’s side was politician and future Ship Money rebel John Hampden. His separate lives as a politician and a poet began virtually at the same time: he was 18 when he wrote his first poem – ‘Of the Danger His Majesty (Being Prince) Escaped in the Road at St. Andero’ about the then-Prince Charles – and became MP for Amersham around the same time. He was reelected for the Short Parliament and then became MP for St Ives in the Long Parliament.

Initially a supporter of John Pym, the King’s chief critic in Parliament, he then moved over to a group of moderates led by Viscount Falkland and Edward Hyde – although Waller was careful to avoid directly criticising the king, these were definitely not arch-Royalists and opposed Charles’ brand of absolute monarchy. Yet Waller became increasingly concerned over Parliament’s attempts to interfere with the Royal prerogative and, as tensions between King and Parliament increased, he gravitated towards the King while also urging Parliament to seek an accommodation with him to avoid open conflict. He remained in Parliament after the outbreak of the Civil War, still arguing on behalf of the Crown.

Plots and the uncovering of them were virtually ten-a-penny in 1640s London and, following the collapse of peace talks in March 1643 and as Parliament took important measures to shore up its military situation, Charles gave encouragement to a plan to deliver London to him by stealth…


Waller was one of the commissioners nominated by Parliament to negotiate with the King at Oxford, although he was not trusted to be one of the principle negotiators. When the commissioners were presented to Charles, Dr Johnson later recounted that the King said to Waller “Though you are the last, you are not the lowest nor the least in my favour.” This was later taken to be either a subtle acknowledgement of the plot’s existence or a kind word from his monarch which then gave Waller the idea for the conspiracy. Either way, Charles already had a reputation for duplicitousness – seeming to encourage reconciliation in good faith while secretly plotting to gain the upper hand – and it was a characteristic that would later lead him to the scaffold.

Once back in London, Waller began plotting with his reluctant brother-in-law, Nathanial Tomkins (an influential London man, MP for Carlisle and Christchurch, and clerk to Queen Henrietta Maria’s Council) and a wealthy linen draper called Richard Chaloner. Not without some justification, they believed there were strong support for peace in London, as well as moderate factions in Parliament who were still hopeful of a reconciliation with Charles I. According to Clarendon, the plot aimed to create a groundswell of Royalist support in the city and then force Parliament to negotiate by withholding the taxes it desperately relied on to fun the war. As chief conspirator, Waller’s impressive list of contacts included the Earl of Northumberland, John Selden, Bulstrode Whitelocke and Simonds D’Ewes, all of them prominent Puritan critics of Charles l’s government.

They proceeded with great caution – only three conspirators met in one place, and no man was allowed to reveal the plot to more than two others, so that if any were suspected or seized no more than three others could endangered. The bibliophile politician Lord Conway joined in the plot and they conspired to conduct a census of those in London who secretly supported the King – a conspirator was to be appointed in every district to distinguish between friends of the king, adherents to the parliament, and neutrals. Parliamentarian leader John Pym later claimed that the results of their survey showed that within the walls of London there was one Royalist for every three Parliamentarians, but outside the walls it was one for Parliament against five for the King.

But while the plot seems to have begun as a means to peacefully force Parliament to seek a negotiated settlement, it soon developed into plans for an armed rising – the King issued a commission to 17 prominent London citizens, empowering them to lead an armed rising on his behalf. The Tower of London and strong points in the city would be captured and leading Parliamentarians were to be seized in their beds as a prelude to a general uprising by Royalist supporters before the gates were thrown open to troops sent from Oxford.

The plot was soon betrayed by one of Tomkins’s servants, possibly due to the boasting of loose-lipped conspirators, but news of the discovery was deliberately withheld by the Parliamentarian leadership for full propaganda effect: it was revealed theatrically on the official fast day of 31 May, when MPs were summoned from morning worship. Despite the culprits being already arrested, a precautionary mustering of the militia caused a considerable stir in the city.

The exposure of the King’s duplicity in negotiating while encouraging an armed uprising in the city did his cause considerable harm and the parliamentary leadership was quick to seize the initiative. As Ian Roy detailed in ”This Proud Unthankefull City’: A Cavalier View of London in the Civil War’ in London and the Civil War (1996): “a day of thanksgiving was ordered, to praise the Lord and His mercies to embattled London (now miraculously pre-served from imminent destruction), and Pym at last was able to gain acceptance for his long-wished-for scheme to impose a binding, and divinely sanctioned, loyalty oath upon his followers. In June a vow and covenant was made law, by which all men could dedicate themselves anew to the cause of parliament.’ Harsh measures followed. The royal peace messengers, whose incautious boasts had alerted the authorities in the first place, were arrested and died in prison … The houses and goods of those citizens named in the commission were seized.”

Once in captivity, Waller quickly turned informer against his fellow conspirators, making an “abject speech of recantation” before the Commons and – following examination by the Earl of Manchester and other commissioners – provided a full confession of “whatever he had said heard, thought or seen, and all that he knew… or suspected of others”. He then bought his way out of trouble – he paid bribes to leading members of the Commons and, after spending a year and a half in the Tower of London without trial, was fined £10,000 (effectively a year’s income) and allowed to go into exile in November 1644.

Tomkins and Challoner were less wealthy and less fortunate. Both sticking to their principles, they were tried and then hanged outside Tomkins’ home on Fetter Lane in London on 5 July 1643, their bodies were then exposed to the public gaze. Speaking from the scaffold, Tomkins blamed his involvement on his affection for his brother-in-law and loyalty to the King, but denied that he was an atheist or a Catholic: “I have sometimes had conferences and disputes with some Jesuits (in foreign parts chiefly). I thank God my principles of religion were so grounded they could never shake me. I have been called by some of them an heretic in grain. But … in regard of some relations, and in regard I received very civil usage from those of that religion in foreign parts … I returned the like civility to them here as I had occasion.”


The theatrical revelation of the Waller Plot was used to justify the imposition of a new ‘Vow and Covenant’ to shore up support for the continued war effort. It threatened that there was a “popish and traitorous plot, for the subversion of the true Protestant reformed religion, and the liberty of the subject”, pursued by a Roman Catholic army demonstrated by the “treacherous and horrid design lately discovered, by the great blessing and especial providence of God … all who are true-hearted and lovers of their country should bind themselves each to other in a Sacred Vow and Covenant”. In God’s Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars, Michael Braddick says “subscribers were to acknowledge these distractions to be a punishment for their sins, and to promise not to lay down arms while the papists were in arms; to disavow the late plot and report any future ones; and most importantly, ‘according to my power and vocation, assist the forces raised and continued by both Houses of Parliament, against the forces raised by the King without their consent’. By declaring that ‘I do believe, in my conscience, that the forces raised by the two Houses of Parliament are raised and continued for their just defence, and for the defence of the true Protestant religion, and liberties of the subject, against the forces raised by the King’, the Vow had in effect dropped claims that the armies were fighting for the defence of the King’s honour and person. This was made the substance of a separate short declaration of ‘loyalty to the King’s person, his crown and dignity”.

This meant the moderate ‘Peace Party’ in Parliament was almost fatally compromised and hopes of a peaceful settlement to the war were dashed as those who had pushed for a negotiated peace were forced to disavow any sympathy for the plotters’ aims and to reaffirm their support for military action through the Vow and Covenant. Many prominent waverers and secret sympathisers fled the capital, making their way to the King’s court at Oxford, and a string of Royalist victories in the summer of 1643 only hastened the flow as Parliament’s military situation worsened. In London, the plot – and others that arose throughout the year – stoked fears of a Royalist Fifth Column only too eager to open the gates to the invader. Royalist captives were temporarily held in prison hulks in the Thames, there were moves to create a new army with a fresh commander, military control of London was transferred from the Earl of Essex to Lord Mayor Pennington.

For his exile, Waller chose Roan in France before moving to Paris, and then Switzerland, taking his new wife Mary with him. In 1645 his poems were first published in London as he travelled in Europe with the writer and diarist John Evelyn. During the worst period of his exile he had to sell his wife’s jewels to maintain himself but remained hopeful of a reconciliation with the Commonwealth government. In part thanks to the support of his near-relations Oliver Cromwell and Adrian Scrope, the Rump Parliament allowed him to return to England in January 1652. He had good relations with Cromwell, to whom he published A Panegyric to my Lord Protector in 1653, and was made a Commissioner for Trade a month or two later. He wrote several other poems in support of Cromwell and the Protectorate over the next few years, until the Restoration in 1660. Waller expressed his support for Charles II with his 1660 poem To the King, upon his Majesty’s Happy Return. Challenged by the new king to explain why it was inferior to his eulogy of Cromwell, the poet replied, “Sir, we poets never succeed so well in writing truth as in fiction”.

1024px-Edmund_Waller_by_John_RileyWaller was returned to the Cavalier Parliament in 1661 as MP for Hastings and soon become a familiar face, a moderate MP who refused to give unalloyed support to any administration and supported religious toleration at a time when non-conformism was often regarded with suspicion. Interestingly, he attempted to act as a broker between the factions that developed between 1678 and 1681 around the Popish Plot, the fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that whipped up anti-Catholic hysteria, but he found little success and later withdrew from active politics.

Waller’s poems were widely read during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and enjoyed a revival in the early 20th; a 1717 engraving by George Vertue showed him alongside the prominent English poets Samuel Butler, John Milton, Abraham Cowley and Geoffrey Chaucer.

He died at home in in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by his family, on 21 October 1687, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints Church, Beaconsfield.



David Scott – Politics and War in the Three Stuart Kingdoms, 1637-49 (2003)
Michael Braddick – ‘History, Liberty, Reformation and The Cause: Parliamentarian military and ideological escalation in 1643’ (in The Experience of Revolution in Stuart Britain and Ireland (2011), ed: MJ Braddick, David L. Smith)
Michael Braddick – God’s Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (2009)
Stephen Porter (ed.) – London and the Civil War (1996)

George Monck: the ‘turncoat’ of Nantwich


Following a year of set-backs, the victory of their forces at the Battle of Nantwich in January 1644 was a welcome success for Parliament.

However, Sir Thomas Fairfax and William Brereton’s success on the banks of the River Weaver in Cheshire was not one of the huge set-piece battles beloved in romantic historical fiction and it is not generally considered one of the ‘key’ battles of the English Civil War. Indeed, in Andrew Hopper’s 2007 biography of Fairfax it warrants barely a single paragraph and while other battles in the campaigns of General ‘Black Tom’ have faded from popular memory – Leeds, Adwalton Moor, Wetherby, Winceby – it has chiefly been remembered by the grateful townspeople of Nantwich itself. Nantwich was part of a series of local conflicts, all fitting into the muddled patchwork of the first civil war; a chapter of a story rather than its beginning or climax.

General_Monck_as_engraved_by_David_Loggan,_1661,_National_Portrait_Gallery,_LondonBut there is at least one reason why the Battle of Nantwich is important to the story of the English Civil War – it began a new stage in the life of George Monck, one that would see him play a pivotal role in British history.

George was no stranger to army life. Born to an impoverished landowning father in Devon on 6 December 1608 and partially raised by his mother’s wealthy family in Exeter, he had volunteered for the 1625 expedition to Cadiz. On his return to England, he and his elder brother attacked and beat up a county under-sheriff who had arrested their father for debt. Monck pursued and stabbed the under-sheriff, who later died of his wounds. To escape prosecution for murder, Monck joined the expedition for the relief of La Rochelle in 1627.

Distinguishing himself by his bravery, in 1629 Monck joined the English volunteers fighting for the Prince of Orange against the Spanish in the Thirty Years’ War. He spent nine years in Dutch service and became a hero of the siege of Breda in 1637, during which he led the storming of the breach that resulted in the city’s surrender. However, he resigned his commission after arguing with the Dutch authorities at Dordrecht, after some of his troops, accused of mistreating civilians, were tried before the city magistrates rather than a court martial.

Monck returned to England and joined King Charles’ army in the Bishops’ Wars. In the debacle of the Battle of Newburn in 1640, Monck was one of the few English officers that did not flee from the Scots. He saved the King’s artillery by covering its withdrawal and retreated with his men in good order to Newcastle.

When Ireland rebelled in 1641, Monck became lieutenant-colonel of an infantry regiment, soon earning the trust of his troops as well as gaining a reputation for great energy, ruthlessness, calmness and secrecy. However, his superior, The Duke of Ormonde, viewed Monck with suspicion as he was one of only two officers who had refused to take an oath to support the Royalist cause in England. Placed under arrest upon arrival in Bristol, Monck then justified himself to Charles I in person – citing a constitutional dislike of swearing oaths – and impressed the King, who gave him a command in the army that had been brought back from Ireland, following a cessation of hostilities there. This force was brought over to Cheshire and employed by Royalist commander Lord Byron in his efforts to pacify the county and suppress the local Parliamentarians under William Brereton.

Despite having no military experience, Brereton had been appointed Commander-in-Chief for Parliament’s army in Cheshire, where he quickly established a formidable intelligence network of spies and lead an aggressive campaign against the Royalists, winning the first Battle of Middlewich on 13 March 1643. But these successes brought renewed focus from the Royalists, leading to his only major defeat, again at Middlewich. Bolstered by fresh troops from the English forces in Ireland, the Royalists then besieged Brereton’s headquarters at Nantwich. Hemmed in, Brereton begged for reinforcements from Lord Fairfax, then at York, who raced across the Pennines to Manchester. Physically brought to tears upon finding Parliament’s forces there in a sorry state, he ordered them new clothes before setting out in the snow to relieve Brereton’s forces.

Aiding in the siege of Nantwich, Monck was in command of Michael Warren’s regiment when Fairfax arrived. In the ensuing battle, Byron’s forces were utterly routed in a flooded, muddy quagmire and Monck became one of 72 officers taken prisoner, along with 1,500 ordinary soldiers. After the battle, eight hundred royalist prisoners switched sides and joined Fairfax’s army. But Monck was not one of them. He was taken to the capital and spent the next two years in the Tower of London, where he spent time writing Observations on Military and Political Affairs, a treatise based on his experiences in Dutch service.

It was his experience fighting in Ireland that led to his release – such a man was too useful to be left to moulder and, after swearing loyalty to the Parliamentary cause, he was released from the Tower in November 1646 and made major general of an army sent by Parliament against the Irish rebels. Despite his experience, he made little headway and out of sheer military necessity he concluded a compromise armistice with the rebel leaders on terms he knew that Parliament could not accept. Following the execution of Charles I in January 1649, Scotland proclaimed his son Charles, Prince of Wales, as Charles II and most of Monck’s army went over to the Royalist cause and he returned to England to face a rebuke from Parliament for daring to negotiate with the Irish.

Oliver Cromwell always had an eye for talent and, in July 1650, Monck was given command of a regiment of foot in the army being prepared for the invasion of Scotland. However, the memory of Nantwich had not faded in the intervening years as the regiment supposedly replied: ‘What! To betray us? We took him, not long since, at Namptwick [sic], prisoner: we’ll have none of him.’ Cromwell was forced to form a new regiment for Monck, as the strength of opinion could not be overturned.

George_Monck_1st_Duke_of_Albemarle_Studio_of_Lely.jpgAfter the incredible victory over the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, in which he led a brigade of infantry in an attack on the Scottish centre, Monck was made commander-in-chief in Scotland in order to complete the subjugation of the country, a duty he carried with both efficiency and brutality. After a spell recovering his health in Bath, and despite having no naval experience, he became a General at Sea in the First Anglo-Dutch War. As with all other military matters, Monck excelled – the Dutch were fought to a stand-still.

Suspicion over Monck’s true loyalties never truly went away and rumours that he was a closet Royalist dogged him. As Lord Protector, Cromwell is said to have written to Monck in 1657: “There be [those] that tell me that there is a certain cunning fellow in Scotland called George Monck, who is said to lye in wait there to introduce Charles Stuart; I pray you, use your diligence to apprehend him, and send him up to me.”

The question of his allegiance came into sharp focus in 1658 when Cromwell died. Monck remained silent and watchful at Edinburgh, outwardly lending his support to the Protectorate under Richard Cromwell but not intervening when he was deposed by a military junta yet refusing to commit when Royalist representatives approached him during the summer of 1659 regarding a possible restoration of the monarchy.

What Monck chose to do at this point was vital as his was the only coherent force left in the British mainland. He had cunningly purged the ranks of the forces occupying Scotland of religious radicals and officers not loyal to his command, leaving himself with – essentially – his own private army, with which he could decide the fate of the nation. So what would he do? Side with Parliament and continue the Commonwealth? March on London and take power for himself? Or would he use his soldiers to reimpose the monarchy?

He continued this difficult game of politics in a highly fluid and charged situation but when Charles Fleetwood and General John Lambert declared against Parliament, Monck refused to join them and marched across the Scottish border, Lambert’s army eventually fading away due to lack of pay.

On 1 January 1660, at Parliament’s invitation, Monck slowly marched south, his ultimate purpose remaining obscure. Occupying London on 3 February 1660, he continued to proclaim his support for the Commonwealth in public but entered into secret negotiations with representatives of Charles Stuart to restore the monarchy. Charles’s conciliatory Declaration of Breda of 4 April 1660 was largely based on Monck’s recommendations and the newly convened Convention Parliament formally invited Charles to return as monarch.

When the restored King landed at Dover on 25 May, Monck was the first to greet him as he came ashore. Charles reportedly kissed him and called him “father”.

Unwittingly, Monck’s capture at the Battle of Nantwich in January 1644 put in motion a chain of events that led, after 16 years, to the Restoration. Without the intractable, practical, and secretive Monck in Scotland it is uncertain what would have happened in the dying days of the English republic and whether the transition back to a monarchy would have proceeded as smoothly. If it had not been for Fairfax’s deliverance on the outskirts of a Cheshire market town, who knows what could have become of George Monck?

Monck retrospectively claimed that he had been working towards a royal restoration since before 1660, a bitter pill to swallow for many staunch Commonwealthmen who did not baulk from condemning his betrayal, apparently without irony. Just as with the unruly regiment in 1650, this reputation as a ‘turncoat’ plagued him for the rest of his life – according to diarist Lucy Hutchinson, her husband so abhorred Royalist-turned-Parliamentarian Ashley Cooper that “he could not bare ‘the mention of his name, and held him for a more execrable traitor than Monck himself.’” Lauded by the new regime and hated by his former comrades, Irish philosopher John Toland claimed Monck’s “Dissimulation, Treachery, and Perjury, are like to remain unparalled’d in history”.

Whether he was a secret Royalist, a true Parliamentarian, or merely a practical and pragmatic soldier, it was at Nantwich that the fate of George Monck turned.



Ellis, John – To Walk in the Dark: Military Intelligence during the English Civil War 1642-1646, The History Press, 2011

Gardiner, S.R. – History of the Great Civil War, The Windrush Press, 1987

Hopper, Andrew – ‘Black Tom’: Sir Thomas Fairfax and the English Revolution, Manchester University Press, 2007

Hopper, Andrew – Turncoats & Renegadoes: Changing Sides during the English Civil Wars, Oxford University Press, 2012

Traitor at the Gate: who was Sir John Hotham, the man who closed the gates of Hull?


4.a.jpgOn 23 April 1642, a herald appeared at the gates in the fortifications of Hull that led to the road to nearby Beverley.

He called on the governor, Sir John Hotham, to open the gates and admit the King, Charles Stuart, who was nearby with 300 troops.

Hull was a strategic port and site of an arsenal left after the Bishops’ Wars against the Scottish Covenanters in 1638 and 1640. Already limbering up for armed conflict against Parliament, Charles wanted access to the weapons stored with its walls. Sir John’s job was to make sure he never got them.

So he refused.

Yet in just a few short months, the same Sir John would be negotiating with the King’s allies to surrender the town to the Royalists.

This Sunday, reenactors from the Sealed Knot and the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote will reenact this moment with members of Hull Playgoers Society, next to the actual remains of the Beverley Gate.

But who was Sir John Hotham?

With five marriages and military service on the Continent under his belt, Hotham was MP for Beverley. Dismissed from the governorship of Hull because of his objection to the Bishops’ Wars, which he thought would damage the fortunes of the northern counties, he was nonetheless elected MP for Beverley in the Long Parliament of 1640 and actively opposed the King. In January 1642, Parliament re-appointed him governor of Hull and told to head there forthwith.

Specifically instructed not to deliver up the town or its arsenal without Parliament’s authority, when the King appeared before the walls on 23 April 1642, Hotham barred the town gates and denied him entry. The King declared Hotham a traitor, but Parliament praised his actions. In July, the King returned with a small army and the first siege of Hull became the earliest military action of the English Civil War.

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Hull.jpgHull’s strategic importance increased during 1643 when the military success of the Royalist general, the Marquis of Newcastle, against the Yorkshire forces of Sir Ferdinando and his son Thomas Fairfax, as well as the defection of Sir Hugh Cholmley at Scarborough, left the city as the only Parliamentarian stronghold in the county.

Rather than attack the city’s impressive walls, the Royalists instead turned their efforts to trying to convince Sir John to change sides. Hotham had grown disenchanted with the Parliamentarian cause and its leadership and had already entered into secret negotiations with Newcastle to surrender the town.

But the indiscreet behaviour of his eldest son, Captain John Hotham, aroused the suspicion of Parliamentarian commanders. Captain Hotham had originally secured Hull against the Royalists with the support of the radical MP Peregrine Pelham and the Yorkshire Trained Bands, the local militia force. But military blunders, the poor behaviour of his troops, and his resentment at Thomas Fairfax’s authority led to the secret negotiations.

At a rendezvous of Parliamentarian troops at Nottingham in June 1643, Colonels Cromwell and Hutchinson reported their suspicions to their superiors and and the arrest of Captain Hotham was ordered. He escaped from Nottingham and fled to Lincoln, but was arrested again when he went to confer with his father at Hull.

Sir John himself made a desperate attempt to escape but was finally arrested at Beverley.

So suspicious and angry had people become with Hotham’s behaviour that one detractor at the time marvelled that after his failed defection he “found nott soe much as one man to lift a hand on his behalf”. His arrest was not handled with kid gloves:

one musketeer battered Sir John, felling him from his horse and striking his face with a musket butt, inflicting a grievous wound from which Hotham suffered until his execution.

Both Hothams were imprisoned in the Tower of London but worse was to come – when Newcastle’s correspondence was captured after the battle of Marston Moor, the full extent of their plotting was revealed.

The popular Parliamentarian general Sir William Waller presided over the court-martial of the Hothams in December 1644. Sir John was found guilty of treason – thus earning the dubious distinction of being declared a traitor by both King and Parliament – and despite trying to lay all blame on his father, Captain Hotham too was condemned.

Hotham was beheaded on Tower Hill on 2 January 1645, the day after the execution of his son.

Sir John Hotham was characterised by both sides as a weak man and a turncoat who, despite his steadfast handling of the incident at the Beverley Gate in 1642, showed his true colours by prevaricating, possibly to buy himself time to see which side would be victorious. His son was a hot-headed and stubborn man whose actions undoubtedly helped lead him and his father to the scaffold.

As described in Andrew Hopper’s Turncoats and Renegadoes: Changing Sides during the English Civil Wars, there was – at least – one upside to Hotham’s wavering – it kept the King’s forces outside the gates of Hull:

Whether it was due to Sir John’s second thoughts or his deliberate sabotaging of their efforts, the royalists’ failure to secure Hull’s arms magazine led to the king’s army being poorly equipped at Edgehill – itself a decisive factor in their failure to inflict a crushing defeat on the Earl of Essex.

He may have been a traitor but Sir John Hotham, probably without realising, did the Parliamentary cause one big favour.

The pirate Prince Rupert and the Booby-Trapped Boat


It’s safe to say that Prince Rupert of the Rhine is one of the unique characters of the 1640s and 1650s. With his long hair, youthful looks, and dashing deeds not only was he the archetypal “Cavalier” but more than 360 years ago he concocted one of his boldest plots in one of the strangest moments of the English Civil Wars…

Screen-Shot-2013-12-16-at-19.59.15.pngPrince Rupert’s naval career began during the Second Civil War of 1648 when he joined Charles, Prince of Wales in an unsuccessful naval exedition using Parliamentarian ships that had defected to the Royalists during the naval revolt of 1648. Retreating to the neutral port of Helvoetsluys in the Netherlands, Rupert – now appointed admiral – was blocked until November 1648 when he began a new career as a privateer, raiding English merchantmen to help raise funds for his uncle Charles I’s soon-to-be-literally-cut-short cause.

His fleet sailed to Kinsale in southern Ireland in January 1649, Rupert travelling on his flagship, the 40-gun Constant Reformation. Here he learnt of his uncle’s execution and swore revenge on the regicides and went full-blown pirate – causing enough of a problem that the Commonwealth navy prepared a larger fleet to sail against him. Rupert’s ships were blockaded by the Irish Sea squadron, which included amongst its commanders newly-appointed general-at-sea Robert Blake, with whom Rupert would ‘enjoy’ a tempestuous relationship over the coming year.

Robert_Blake.jpgBlake is one of the less well-known figures of this period, but he helped establish British supremacy at sea that would last for centuries.

After Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in 1649, Rupert’s position was increasingly threatened. But earlier in the year he had written to King John IV of Portugal, asking permission to base his ships at Lisbon if he should be forced to leave Ireland – John responded favourably and, in September 1649, when bad weather, repairs, and other duties reduced Blake’s blockade to just five vessels, the prince made a break for it with his seven best ships.

Privateering along the way bolstered his numbers but although King John was sympathetic to Rupert’s cause, his chief minister – the Count de Miro – feared that open support for the English Royalists might damage Portuguese trade and also encourage the Commonwealth into an alliance with Portugal’s chief enemy, Spain. Despite hostility and obstruction from the local mercantile community, Rupert and his younger brother, Prince Maurice, threw themselves into a PR campaign, schmoozing with King John and Lisbon nobility, and winning the support of the local clergy.

Departure_of_fleet_from_Lisbon_harbor.jpgBut the party would soon be over. In early 1650, England’s new Council of State denounced Rupert as a pirate and commissioned Blake to destroy the Royalist squadron. Blake sailed from Portsmouth in March 1650 with a powerful fleet of fifteen ships. They arrived at Cascaes Bay at the mouth of the River Tagus on 10 March 1650 and Blake immediately demanded the use of Lisbon harbour and Portugal’s co-operation against Rupert’s pirates – his answer was warning shots fired from Portuguese forts when he tried to sail up the river.

Diplomatic negotiations resulted in Blake anchoring just two miles downriver from Rupert’s ships and a standoff ensued as each side competed for support from the Portuguese king.

As negotiations proceeded, the Portuguese agreed to allow sailors from both sides to come ashore and use the harbour. You can imagine what happened – cross Casablanca mixed with Pirates of the Caribbean and you’ll have something close. With men from both sides frequenting the same taverns, brawls inevitably broke out between crews of the rival fleets.

But the oddest part of this already-strange stand-off were the tit-for-tat assassination attempts…

After an alleged ambush attempt by Commonwealth sailors on the princes during a hunting trip, Rupert retaliated by designing an ingenious booby-trap that nearly sank one of Blake’s main warships.

On 13 April 1650, Rupert dressed a member of his crew as a merchant and employed two locals to row a small boat carrying, amongst other goods, a large barrel towards the Commonwealth vessel Leopard. Small fleets of trading boats often thronged around the opposing ships to sell provisions, and so this aroused no concern from the Leopard’s crew. When they arrived, the disguised crew member entered into discussions with the ship’s quartermaster to sell the “barrel of oil” and, after agreeing a price, the barrel was being hoisted aboard.

But the crew became suspicious and the men were seized. The barrel was found to contain a large explosive-filled shell, a string leading from the “merchant’s” boat was attached, through a bunghole, to a pistol. Pulling the string would have fired the pistol and ignited a fuse. It was clear that the plan had been to trigger the device once it had been taken aboard and, potentially, sink the ship.

It was a typically audacious plot by Prince Rupert, who maintained a lifelong interest in the sciences, but it did nothing to break the deadlock. King John refused to allow Blake to attack Rupert’s ships while they were under Portuguese protection, and Rupert could not risk leaving Lisbon harbour with the powerful Commonwealth fleet nearby. Eventually, Blake attacked and captured an inbound Portuguese fleet carrying a rich cargo of 4,000 chests of sugar from Brazil, a major blow to the Portuguese economy, and King John was forced to insist that Prince Rupert’s squadron leave Lisbon. Taking advantage of Blake sailing to Cadiz to resupply, Rupert escaped.

For more on this extraordinary episode of the English Civil Wars, we recommend John Barratt’s Cromwell’s Wars at Sea (Barnsley, 2006) as well as Frank Kitson’s Prince Rupert, admiral and general-at-sea (London, 1998).

Cromwell’s Pirate: the incredible naval career of Christopher Myngs

Vice-Admiral Christopher Myngs (1625-1666)  *oil on canvas  *124 x 101.7 cm  *1665-1666

Vice-Admiral Christopher Myngs (1625-1666)

Born in Norfolk in 1625, Myngs joined the navy shortly before the outbreak of the English Civil War and, siding with Parliament, he rapidly rose through the ranks.

He first appeared prominently during the first Anglo Dutch War (1652-1654) as captain of the Elisabeth when he captured a Dutch convoy, including two men-of-war taken as prizes. In 1655 he was given command of the 44-gun frigate Marston Moor, whose crew was on the verge of mutiny. After quelling the crew’s insubordination, the Marston Moor was sent to Port Royal to safe guard England’s new possession – Jamaica.

On its arrival in mid-1655, Myngs assessed that the best de-ence was to take the war to the Spanish but the Marston Moor was the only English warship available so he decided to recruit the local buccaneers. In May 1656, he raided Santa Maria in Venezuela but the results were disappointing. In January 1657, additional English ships arrived allowing Myngs to form a Jamaica squadron with the Marston Moor as his flagship but still retaining the buccaneers as auxiliaries.

In October 1658, Myngs’ squadron was hidden off the coast of Central America waiting for the Spanish treasure fleet, but while most of the fleet was obtaining fresh water the Spanish treasure fleet appeared. The Marston Moor and another ship passed through the Spaniards, hung on their rear and unsuccessfully attempted to scatter them.

He then proceeded to raid Tolú and Santa Marta, both in Columbia, again with only moderate results. It was then Myngs decided to change tactics. Previously, a large group of ships pre-warned the local population who would retreat inland with their possessions. But he now divided his squadron into smaller flotillas and so increase the chance of surprise. He also would pursue them inland, sometimes using land troops as marines. In 1659, Myngs used his new tactics on three ports on the coast of Venezuela – Cumana, Puerto Cabello and Coro. The latter contained a Spanish silver shipment valued at 250,000 English pounds – roughly £32.5million today. However Myngs decided to split the money with his buccaneers to keep them interested for future expeditions, rather than with the governor Edward D’Oyley and the English treasury.

On his return to Port Royal, Governor D’Oyley had him arrested on charges of embezzlement and returned to England on the Marston Moor. However, in the confusion of the restoration of Charles II the charges where dropped.

In 1662, Myngs returned to Port Royal as a captain in the new Royal Navy, commanding HMS Centurion and with an unofficial policy of a ‘Cold War’ with Spain in the Caribbean. The new governor of Jamaica, Lord Windsor, completely supported Myngs while he raised a buccaneer fleet of 14 ships crewed by 1,400 buccaneers, including such notorious pirates such as Henry Morgan and Abraham Blauvelt – it was the largest buccaneer fleet yet raised on the Spanish Main. In October 1662, his fleet took and sacked the heavily fortified second city of Cuba, Santiago, and in February 1663 it raided San Francisco de Campache in Mexico, during the latter of which Myngs was seriously wounded.

The raids outraged the Spanish, who denounced Myngs as a common pirate and a mass murderer with a reputation for unnecessary cruelty and threatened war with England. This forced King Charles to send a new governor Thomas Modyford to Jamaica with orders to stop the raids. In 1664, Myngs returned to England to recover and was promoted to a vice admiral in Prince Rupert’s squadron, rising to Vice Admiral of the White under Lord High Admiral James Stuart, Duke of York and Albany.

The_Battle_of_Lowestoft,_3_June_1665_-_Engagement_between_the_English_and_Dutch_Fleets_by_Adriaen_Van_DiestThe outbreak of the second Anglo Dutch War in 1665 began for Myngs with the Battle of Lowestoft (right), which resulted in a knighthood for his actions. He then served with Edward Montagu 1st Earl of Sandwich – rising to the rank of Admiral of the Blue – after whose disgrace served under George Monck, 1st Duke of Albermarle. He was on detachment with Prince Rupert’s Green squadron on 11 June 1666 when the great Four Days’ Battle began and three days later he returned to the main fleet for the final day of fighting. His squadron engaged that of Vice Admiral Johann de Liefde’s and it was during this engagement that his flagship HMS Victory was directly challenged by Liefde’s flagship Ridderschapp van Holland, with fighting at close quarters. Myngs was first hit in the cheek and then the left shoulder by musket balls, mortally wounding him. Myngs died from these wounds shortly after his return to London.

It was Myngs’ strategy of the use of buccaneers to supplement English resources in the Caribbean that became England’s policy for nearly 60 years and his tactics were a template for Henry Morgan and other buccaneers, leading to the high watermark of the capture of Panama City in January 1671.

Two remarkable 17th Century women for International Women’s Day



As it’s International Women’s Day today let’s take a look at two very different but equally remarkable 17th Century women – Brilliana, Lady Harley and Nzinga Mbandi, the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba – who should be remembered for their strength and fortitude in the face of great hardship and prejudice.

Brilliana, Lady Harley

Brilliana, Lady Harley was a 17th Century heroine in the English Civil War who defended her home at Brampton Bryan from Royalist forces.

Born in 1598, Brilliana Conway became the fourth wife of Sir Robert Harley in 1623. Her father, Sir Edward Conway, was Secretary of State of England and her husband was his aide.

A deeply religious woman, she was a devote Puritan and when the English Civil War broke out in 1642, she and her family sided with the cause of Parliament.

Unable to return home, Sir Robert ordered his wife to leave for her own safety, but she refused. It was her duty, she said, to uphold her husband’s rights in the county.

A detachment of Royalist troops from nearby Gloucester besieged her home, Brampton Bryan Castle in northwest Herefordshire, but she refused to surrender and defended the castle for months.

From her letters we know many details of what went on in her daily life during the siege – sheep and cattle were plundered and fortifications were dug in her gardens. When the Royalists stole the bells from the town’s church tower during what should have been a truce, Brilliana was quick to order a repulse: ‘We sent some of his Majesty’s good subjects to old Nick for their sacrilege,’ she wrote.

Reluctant to treat her harshly due to her gender, the Royalists tried in vain to get her to yield. Even when a personal letter from King Charles arrived, she was not to be moved. Although relief finally arrived and the siege was lifted – she not only organised her tenants to level the Royalists earthworks but also dispatched 40 troops to raid a local Royalist camp – Royalist forces continued to threaten her safety.

Sadly, Lady Harley died of a cold on 29 October 1643, probably as a result of hardships endured during the siege.

Early in 1644 Brampton Bryan finally surrendered. Brilliana’s younger children, baby Tom and his little sisters Dorothy and Margaret, 11 and 13, were taken into custody but were well treated by the Governor of Ludlow Castle.

Brilliana was a courageous woman who steadfastly refused to conform to her society’s view of women as weak and passive. Her name lives on thanks to her position as a celebrated English letter-writer. As an educated woman versed in several languages, she wrote prodigiously, intelligently, and passionately to her husband and son, keeping Robert informed of local political affairs when he was absent from home.

Nzinga Mbandi, the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba

While the English Civil War was raging in Britain, 4,300 miles away in what would become the African nation of Angola, a woman was also steadfastly protecting her home – but on a remarkable scale.

The story Nzinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, is simply incredible. A key figure in African resistance to colonialism, she defined much of the 17th Century history of Angola and is now recognised internationally as a key figure in the period – outstandingly talented in warfare, espionage, trade, alliance-building, and religious matters she held off Portuguese colonialism and defended her country steadfastly until her death in 1663 at the age of 82.

With their slave trade threatened by England and France, the Portuguese shifted down to The Congo and south west Africa. Establishing a fort in 1618 at Ambaca, now in northern Angola, Nzinga’s brother sent her to try to negotiate a Portuguese withdrawal and the return of some of his subjects who had been taken captive.

A famous story says that when meeting with the Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa, he did not offer a chair to sit on during the negotiations, instead placing a floor mat for her to sit. Not willing to accept this, Nzinga ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and sat on the servant’s back during negotiations. By doing this, she asserted her status was equal to the governor, proving her worth as a brave and confident individual.

Nzinga refused to allow Ndongo to become a vassal of Portugal and De Sousa agreed to her terms. She did convert to Christianity, possibly to strengthen the treaty.

But the Portuguese never honoured the treaty. Nzinga’s brother apparently committed suicide shortly afterwards and she assumed control – first as regent of his young son, Kaza, and then in her own right when the child died (she is alleged to have had him killed, but this may have been propaganda distributed by her enemies).

Forging an alliance with the Dutch in 1641, Nzinga defeated the Portuguese in 1644 at Ngoleme. Unable to follow up on the victory, her forces were defeated two years later at Kavanga but she rallied and, with Dutch reinforcements, routed a Portuguese army in 1647 before laying siege to the Portuguese capital of Masangano. Using troops from Brazil, the Portuguese then recaptured Luanda and forced Nzinga back to Matamba in 1648, from where she resisted the Portuguese well into her sixties and personally leading troops into battle.

In 1657, Nzinga signed a peace treaty with Portugal and attempted to rebuild her nation, resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children.

Legends of Nzinga extend outside of her brilliant military tactics and political strategy. In Philosophy in the Boudoir, the Marquis de Sade wrote that Nzinga “immolated her lovers,” obtaining a large, all-male harem after she became queen and having each man she slept with killed after their carnal encounter. Though there is no way of knowing if there is truth to these rumors, there is no denying Nzinga was a ruthless ruler, unafraid of sacrificing men who came in her way. – Atlas Obscura

Despite numerous efforts to dethrone her, Nzinga died a peaceful death at the age of eighty on 17 December 1663 in Matamba.

Today, she is remembered in Angola for her political and diplomatic acumen, great wit and intelligence, as well as her brilliant military tactics. In time, Portugal and most of Europe would come to respect her. A major street in Luanda is named after her, and a statue of her was placed in Kinaxixi on an impressive square in 2002, dedicated by President Santos to celebrate the 27th anniversary of independence. Angolan women are often married near the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. – Wikipedia