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Second English Civil War

Second English Civil War
Part of the English Civil War

Map showing the site of the Battle of Preston (1648)
Date February 1648 – 30 January 1649
Location England and Wales
Result Execution of King Charles I,
The Interregnum in the British Isles.
Royalist forces
Parliamentary forces
Commanders and leaders
Duke of Hamilton
Earl of Norwich
Lord Capel
Oliver Cromwell
Thomas Fairfax
Thomas Horton

The Second English Civil War (1648–1649) was the second of three wars known collectively as the English Civil War (or Wars), which refers to the series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651 and also include the First English Civil War (1642–1646) and the Third English Civil War (1649–1651).


  • Prelude 1
  • Revolt against Parliament in South Wales 2
  • Revolt against Parliament in Kent 3
    • The Downs 3.1
  • Revolt elsewhere 4
  • Lambert in the north 5
  • Campaign of Preston 6
    • Battle of Preston 6.1
  • Execution of Charles I 7
  • Pontefract Castle 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • Footnotes 12


The end of the Thomas Fairfax's horse seized the King for the Army, after which the English Presbyterians and the Scots began to prepare for a fresh civil war, less than two years after the conclusion of the first, this time against "Independency", as embodied in the Army. After making use of the Army's sword, its opponents attempted to disband it, to send it on foreign service and to cut off its arrears of pay. The result was that the Army leadership was exasperated beyond control, and, remembering not merely their grievances but also the principle for which the Army had fought, it soon became the most powerful political force in the realm. From 1646 to 1648 the breach between Army and Parliament widened day by day until finally the Presbyterian party, combined with the Scots and the remaining Royalists, felt itself strong enough to begin a Second Civil War.[1]

Revolt against Parliament in South Wales

In February 1648 Colonel John Poyer, the Parliamentary Governor of Pembroke Castle, refused to hand over his command to one of Fairfax's officers, and he was soon joined by some hundreds of officers and men, who mutinied, ostensibly for arrears of pay, but really with political objectives. At the end of March, encouraged by minor successes, Poyer openly declared for the King. Disbanded soldiers continued to join him in April, all South Wales revolted, and eventually he was joined by Major-General Rowland Laugharne, his district commander, and Colonel Rice Powell. In April also news came that the Scots were arming and that Berwick and Carlisle had been seized by the English Royalists.[2]

Oliver Cromwell was at once sent off at the head of a strong detachment to deal with Laugharne and Poyer. But before he arrived Laugharne had been severely defeated on 8 May by Colonel Thomas Horton at the Battle of St. Fagans. The English Presbyterians found it difficult to reconcile their principles with their allies when it appeared that the prisoners taken at St Fagans bore "We long to see our King" on their hats; very soon in fact the English war became almost purely a Royalist revolt, and the war in the north an attempt to enforce a mixture of Royalism and Presbyterianism on Englishmen by means of a Scottish army. The former were disturbers of the peace and no more. Nearly all the Royalists who had fought in the First Civil War had given their parole not to bear arms against the Parliament, and many honourable Royalists, foremost amongst them the old Lord Astley, who had fought the last battle for the King in 1646, refused to break their word by taking any part in the second war. Those who did so, and by implication those who abetted them in doing so, were likely to be treated with the utmost brutality if captured, for the Army was in a less placable mood in 1648 than in 1645, and had already determined to "call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for the blood he had shed".[2]

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.[3][4] 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.[5]

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.[2]

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 behind 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.[6]

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.[2]

Pontefract Castle in 1648.

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.[2]

A 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.[2]

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.[7]

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.[7]

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.[7]

Campaign of Preston

On 8 July 1648, when the Scottish Engager army crossed the Anglo–Scottish border in support of the English Royalists,[8] the military situation was well defined. For the Parliamentarians, Cromwell besieged Pembroke in South 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.[7] 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.[9]

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.[7]

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.[9]

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.[9]

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 withal 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.[10]

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 magnificently, they were after four hours' struggle driven to the Ribble.[10]

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.[10]

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 Capel, one of the Colchester prisoners and a man of high character, 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.[10] 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".[11][12] 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 noted by Oliver Cromwell as "[...] one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom".[13] 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.[14][15][16]

See also


  • DL staff (2012), About the Duchy >Historic Properties >Yorkshire, Duchy of Lancaster, retrieved October 2012 
  • Durston, Chris (December 1985), "Lords of misrule: The Puritan war on Christmas 1642-60",  
  • Noake, Jenny (5 February 2007), Deal Castle, website of Deal Kent Heritage Pages, archived from the original on 29 September 2007 
  • Kelsey, Sean (2003), "The Trial of Charles I",  
  • 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) 
  • Plant, David (27 May 2009), The Preston Campaign1648: , British Civil Wars & Commonwealth website, retrieved 29 May 2008 
  • Wakefield staff (4 January 2012) [2010], Pontefract Castle,, retrieved 1 October 2012 
  • Wakefield staff (7 December 2010), History of Pontefract Castle,, retrieved 1 October 2012 

Further reading

  • House of Lords Journal Volume 10 19 May 1648: Letter from L. Fairfax, about the Disposal of the Forces, to suppress the Insurrections in Suffolk, Lancashire, and S. Wales; and for Belvoir Castle to be secured
  • House of Lords Journal Volume 10 19 May 1648: Disposition of the Remainder of the Forces in England and Wales (not mentioned in the Fairfax letter)


  1. ^ Atkinson 1911, 45. Second Civil War (1648-52).
  2. ^ a b c d e f Atkinson 1911, 46. The English War.
  3. ^ See the pamphlet Canterbury Christmas; or, a true Relation of the Insurrection in Canterbury on Christmas Day last, published in 1648.
  4. ^ Brand 1905, pp. 117, 118.
  5. ^ Durston 1985.
  6. ^ Noake 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d e Atkinson 1911, 47. Lambert in the north.
  8. ^ Plant 2009, The Preston Campaign.
  9. ^ a b c Atkinson 1911, 48. Campaign of Preston.
  10. ^ a b c d Atkinson 1911, 49. Preston Fight.
  11. ^ Kelsey 2003, pp. 583-616.
  12. ^ Kirby 1999, The trial of King Charles I ....
  13. ^ DL staff 2012, ...Historic Properties....
  14. ^ Wakefield staff 2010, History of Pontefract Castle.
  15. ^ Wakefield staff 2012, Pontefract Castle.
  16. ^ Limbird 1832, Pontefract Castle.
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