Civil War

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An Outline of the Civil War

Charles I - beheaded
Oliver Cromwell - "warts and all" - his head, which became an undignified collector’s object, was eventually bequeathed to his former Cambridge College, Sidney Sussex, and was in 1960 immured in the anti-chapel there.

The Civil War lasted from 1642 until 1651, although Charles I, one of the initial protagonists, was executed in 1649.

Depending which side you support, it is known as the "Great Rebellion" or the "English Revolution". The two sides were the Royalists and the Parliamentarians: the terms "Cavalier" and "Roundhead" are derogatory terms used by the opposing side - no supporter of the King would have called himself a "Cavalier".

The Civil War forms part of the Wars of Three Kingdoms, fought between 1639 and 1651. The first (1642–1645) and second (1648–1649) civil wars engaged supporters of King Charles I against those of the Long Parliament, while the third war (1649–1651) had supporters of Charles II opposing those of the Rump Parliament. The Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 ended the third and last civil war.

In the period prior to the civil war - known either as the "Eleven Years Tyranny" or the king's time of "Personal Rule" - the king and his parliament had many disputes over taxation, military spending and the manner in which the country was to be governed. Charles was a pious and unambitious man, but his fatal flaw was that he demanded unquestioning obedience from his subjects, especially the middle classes who were unhappy to be taxed. Charles was inflexible rather than despotic. Further strains arose from attempts by the king to impose religious uniformity.

Estimates suggest that around 10 per cent of the three kingdoms' population may have died during the civil wars, mostly of disease. While Cromwell's troops prepared to besiege Chester in the 1640s the royalist defenders destroyed almost every building where attackers could shelter from view outside the City Walls. Everything medieval outside the walls except the Old Dee Bridge, St Johns church and the Hermitage was destroyed.

At roughly the same time as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, a number of similar conflicts broke out in Europe (Fronde in France, and rebellions in the Netherlands, Catalonia and Portugal against Spain). This period was characterized by a "General Crisis" in Europe, involving the rebellion of bourgeois societies against absolutist monarchs.

Charles II - This affable character had most of those involved in his father's death beheaded, including those who had since died and were dug-up especially to be "executed".

It would be too strong a statement to say simply that prior to the civil war the country was feudal and afterwards democratic, but the civil war does mark a shift from the former to the latter, as afterwards no English monarch could ever consider absolutism to be a safe course of action. On the other hand, Oliver Cromwell's government had many of the features of a military dictatorship and Cromwell, having himself cancelled elections, sought to have his ineffective son, Richard Cromwell, succeed him. Richard did not have much support and to prevent anarchy, what government there was decided that the restoration of Charles II was the only practical course of action.

While Charles II pardoned most of those involved in the civil war, this was not to be the case for those who had been involved in the execution of Charles I. In the ensuing trials, twelve of those found guilty were hanged, drawn and quartered, the full penalty for treason. The leading prosecutor at the trial of King Charles I, John Cooke, was executed in a similar manner. The bodies of the regicides Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton, which had been buried in Westminster Abbey, were exhumed and hanged. The trial of the "Regicides" was presided over by Orlando Bridgeman, son of the Bishop of Chester, who lived in Chester during the civil war.

As well as political change the Civil War was also a time of military re-organisation, with increasing us of "pike and musket" tactics and the formation of the "New Model Army". The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration. It differed from other armies in the series of civil wars referred to as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in that it was intended as an army liable for service anywhere in the country (including in Scotland and Ireland), rather than being tied to a single area or garrison. Its soldiers became full-time professionals, rather than part-time Militia. To establish a professional officer corps, the army's leaders were mostly prohibited from having seats in either the House of Lords or House of Commons, one notable exception being Sir William Brereton, M.P. for Cheshire. This was to encourage their separation from the political or religious factions among the Parliamentarians. The New Model Army was the first full-time professional army raised within the three kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland. It was created in 1645 by the English Long Parliament and it proved supreme in field. At the end of the First Civil War the New Model Army survived attempts by Parliament to disband it. Winston Churchill described its prowess thus:

  • "The Story of the Second English Civil War is short and simple. King, Lords and Commons, landlords, merchants, the City and the countryside, bishops and presbyters, the Scottish army, the Welsh people, and the English Fleet, all now turned against the New Model Army. The Army beat the lot!"

Having survived Parliament's attempts to disband it, the New Model Army prospered as an institution during the Interregnum. It was disbanded in 1660 with the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

The Civil War and Chester

Chester is a good place to stay if visiting the civil war sites in the area. The battlefields of Nantwich, Middlewich, Rowton Heath, and skirmish sites of Holt Bridge, Hoole and Delamere are all close by, as are the castles of Chirk and Beeston. A very detailed history of Chester in the civil war can be found at British History Online.

The then-port of Chester was the site of important events in September 1645 in the latter part of the first civil war. Curiously, while Chester was previously a defensive bastion of the English against the Welsh, the Civil War saw Chester guarding the approaches to the Royalist stronghold of North Wales from the English Parliamentarians: whoever controlled Cheshire controlled the north–south corridor. For Parliament, in the first civil war, the control of Cheshire would mean separating the King's northern (particularly Scottish) supporters from the King and his army, initially at Oxford. It could also stop the King bringing in reinforcements from his Irish army through the port of Chester. Consequently, Cheshire saw considerable fighting during the war and, eventually, Chester itself was besieged.

The main battle at Chester itself was Rowton Heath, which occurred towards the end of the first civil war and is described in further detail below. After the battle, the siege of Chester continued in a highly destructive manner. Of the 10th December 1645 Randle Holme gives the following desciption of a bombardment from a battery in Foregate Street:

  • "..eleven huge grenados like so many tumbling demi-phaetons threaten the city, if not the world, on fire. This was a terrible night indeed, our houses like so many split vessels crash their supporters and burt themselvs in sunder through the very violence of these descending fire-brands. The Talbott, an house adjoining to the Eastgate, flames outright; our hands are busy quenching this, while the law of nature bids us leave and seek our own security. Being thus distracted another Thunder-crack invites our eye to the most miserable spectacle spite could possibly present us with - two houses in the Watergate skippe joynt from joynt, the main posts josell each other, while the frightened casements (windows) fly for fear. In a word the whole fabrick is a perfect chaos lively set forth in this metamorphosis. The grandmother and three children are struck stark dead in the ruins of this humble edifice, a sepulcher well worth the enemies remembrance..."

Chester has no notable monument to its Civil War dead. There is a small monumental plaque in the Roman Gardens which was funded in part by the Sealed Knot society and more recently some explanatory signage has been added nearby. Two of the carved reliefs at the Town Hall relate to the Civil War.

Places to see in Chester

Hemingways Map of the city at the time of the Civil War

Hemingways Map is believed to have been drawn in 1829 and shows the defences of Chester at the time of the Civil War. While the City Walls remain, the defensive "outworks" have largely vanished.

Around the City

  • Gamul House - once home to the Mayor of Chester (Francis Gamull) and the place where Charles I slept before and after the Battle of Rowton Heath. Now a pub;
  • Chester Cathedral - one of the places that Charles watched the battle from and where he was nearly killed by a sniper's bullet. Nowadays you can ascend the tower and look at the same view;
  • Phoenix Tower - another place from where Charles watched parts of the battle;
  • St Johns Church - the (later collapsed) tower was used by the besiegers as a gun platform;
  • At the Roman Gardens a repaired wall breach which was the site of furious fighting can be seen;

North and West

  • Flookersbrook Hall - the original was destroyed during the civil war
  • Prince Rupert's trench - a portway for moving guns around the earthworks

South and East

  • Dee Lane has at the top a house on the site of one of Brereton's field HQ locations and the bottom end was at one mooring point of the "bridge of boats".

The Battle of Rowton Moor

The events of the 23rd/24th September 1645 (click on image for a larger view). There is quite some debate amongst scholars as to the details: for example as to where and when Langdale crossed the River Dee and just where the clash of troops started. However everyone appears to agree that the battle was not simply a fight on Rowton Moor.

To set the scene, in mid-1645 the Royalist troops had been badly mauled at the Battle of Naseby (14 June) and Langport (10 July). Charles maintained a stronghold in Wales and had retreated from most of England, but still hoped to link up with his allies in the north, bring in troops from Ireland and then perhaps drag victory from the jaws of defeat. Bristol had fallen (10 September) and so King Charles's only port was Chester, then besieged by Parliamentary forces after much fighting for strategic control of Cheshire. Charles gathered what men he could and marched north along the Welsh border in the hope of relieving Chester and consolidating his forces with those of his supporters in Scotland, particularly Montrose. His course northward was paralleled by parliamentary forces under Sydenham Poyntz who had been instructed to prevent Charles from breaking out into the Midlands. At Chirk Castle, Charles, learning that Boughton had been overrun and that Chester itself (whose walls had been breached) might soon fall, hastened northward to the beleaguered city, arriving on 23 September 1645.

Military tactics in the civil war were based on cavalry, artillery and a combination of pikemen and musketeers (known as 'pike and shot'). Before the bayonet had been invented pikemen and musketeers fought in mixed formations with the former protecting the latter. These were known as "Tercio" (later to evolve into the British infantry square as used at Waterloo). A cavalry charge at a facing block of pike was suicidal, so cavalry either discharged pistols when close to the pikemen, or tried to take them in the flank. Massed bodies of pikemen could not manoeuvre quickly (the 12-14 foot pike also slowed the rate at which armies could move), so cavalry could have the advantage on open ground. Artillery was mostly used for siege purposes and was improving to the point where the stone walls of castles and cities were being replaced by earthwork defences. In later years, improved firearms and the bayonet led to much more mobile infantry tactics.

The events around Chester of 24 September 1645 were one of the last major battles of the first civil war and ended all hope of a Royalist victory.

  • Before dawn, Sir Marmaduke Langdale brought his scratch army of 3,000 Royalist horse across the Dee at Holt Bridge. His plan was to concentrate near the city and fall upon the rear of the Parliamentarians besieging Chester, crushing them between his Royalist cavalry and the Chester garrison.
  • An intercepted message reveals that Sydnam Poyntz is also marching on Chester along the Whitchurch Road and Marmaduke Langdale deploys to the east to intercept Sydnam Poyntz. Instead of trapping the besiegers against the walls, Marmaduke Langdale is about to be trapped between the besiegers and their support.
  • At Hatton Heath Marmaduke Langdale clashed with Roundhead Colonel-General Sydnam Poyntz who had made a night march from Whitchurch with around 3,000 horse in the hope of intercepting the Royalist army. At first the battle was a stalemate, the hedged land being unsuitable for a cavalry engagement and with neither side wanting to advance on Chester and expose its rear to the other. Lamgdale sends to Chester for reinforcements, sending Lt. Col. Jeffrey Shakerley of Warden's Regiment. Shakerley, a local man, knew the most direct route to the city which avoided the besieging forces. He crossed the River Dee in a wooden tub (a large vessel used for the slaughtering of swine), rowing his make-shift boat across the deep and wide waters of the Dee, along with a servant. His horse swam alongside the tub and he managed to carry the message within 15 minutes. Meanwhile Langdale withdrew to Millers Heath and Poyntz waited at Hatton Heath while his strung-out forces arrived.
Did he?
  • Parliamentary Lt. Colonel Michael Jones detached 350 horsemen and 500 musketeers under Colonel John Booth (accounts vary) from the force besieging Chester to support Sydnam Poyntz.
  • The Royalists in the city saw Jones' movements and around 17:00 sent out a force of around 1,000 horse and foot under Lieutenant-General Charles Gerard to attack the rear of Michael Jones' troops. Gerard could not march out through Boughton because of the besieging army and had to manoeuvre through Hoole.
  • At Hoole Heath, Charles Gerard was attacked by about half of the units of the besieging Parliamentarian army under Colonel Lothian. Thus engaged, Gerard was unable either to attack Michael Jones or support Marmaduke Langdale.
  • Langdale withdrew about a mile towards the City and took up position on open ground at Rowton Moor, where his cavalry could be expected to fight effectively. However Jones joined up with Sydnam Poyntz and together they advanced on Marmaduke Langdale. Worse still, the musketeers of John Booth had taken up position in the hedgerows and lanes around the village of Rowton and on the flanks of Langdale's cavalry. After fierce fighting, Langdale's army was broken and split, with a part (the Northern Horse) retreating back towards Farndon and a further part trying to reach the safety of Chester.
  • "We hastened towards them in the best posture we could, the Horse was the battell, because many, the wings were foot, because few; they had the wind and the sun; we had God with us, which was our word, counterpoising all disadvantages, and countermanding all strength; a little before five o'clock we joined in a terrible storm, firing in the faces of one another, hacking and slashing with swords. Neither party gained or lost a foot of ground, as if everyone were resolved there to breath their last. Whilst the dispute was so hot and doubtful, our musquetiers so galled their horse, that their rear fled, perceiving their losse by them, upon whom they made no execution. Their van perceiving that, faced about and fled also."
  • The Royalist troops heading towards Chester to rejoin with the King ran into the ongoing fight between Charles Gerard and Lothian at Hoole and even more troops were sent out from Chester to assist. In the confused fighting which followed "as much dispersed as the greatest rout could produce...", Lord Bernard Stewart was killed. It was this last stage of the battle that King Charles watched from the Phoenix Tower.
Charles at the Phoenix Tower.

With the last of his cavalry gone, King Charles left Chester for Denbigh in a retreat that was to end in capture and imprisonment. After the second civil war was started by his supporters, Charles faced execution.

Clarendon (impeached by the House of Commons, and forced to flee to France in November, 1667) summarises the battle in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England as follows:

  • "Sir Marmaduke Langdale was sent, with most of the horse, over Holt Bridge, that he might be on the east side of the river Dee, and the king, with his guards, the Lord Gerrard and the rest of the horse, marched directly into Chester, with a resolution that, early the day following, Sir Marmaduke Langdale should have fallen on their backs,and should assail the besiegers in the rear, when all the force of the town should have sallied forth and enclosed them. But Sir Marmaduke Langdale being that night drawn on a heath two miles from Chester, had intercepted a letter from Pointz to the commander who was before Chester, telling him that he was come to their rescue, and desiring to have some foot sent to him to assist him against the king's horse. The besiegers began to draw out of the suburbs with such haste that it was believed in Chester they were upon their flight; and so most of the horse and foot in the town had orders to pursue them. But the others' haste was to join with Pointz, which they quickly did; and then they charged Sir Marmaduke Langdale, who, being overpowered, was routed and put to flight, and pursued by Pointz even to the walls of Chester. There the Earl of Lichfield, with the king's guards, and the Lord Gerrard, with the rest of the horse, were drawn up, and charged Pointz and forced him to retire. But the disorder of those horse that first fled had so filled the narrow ways, which were unfit for horse to fight in, that at last the enemy's musketeers compelled the king's horse to turn, and to rout one another, and to overbear their own officers who would have restrained them. Here fell many gentlemen and officers of name, with the brave Earl of Lichfield, who was the third brother of that illustrious family that sacrificed his life in this quarrel. He was a very faultless young man, of a most gentle, courteous, and affable nature, and of a spirit and courage invincible, whose loss was by all men exceedingly lamented, and the king bore it with extraordinary grief."

Alternate Views on the "Rowton Moor" Battle Site

In the account given above, the "Battle of Rowton Moor" is spread out over several miles of countryside. Bob Burgess, Chairman of the Cheshire Local History Association and a long-standing member of the Hargrave and Huxley Historical Group and of Sealed Knot, the Civil War re-enactment society, has put forward a revisionary view of the battlefield which places the start of the clash or arms even further south. Mr Burgess is an experienced cavalryman and brings the benefit of that to his assessment of the battlefield. His hypothesis has been tested by "on the ground" archaeology which confirms the presence of significant quantities of discharged long-arms shot and discarded powder flasks well south of Rowton Moor.

The crossing of Golborne Brook presents a possibly significant barrier to troops approaching Chester from the south. The brook is a notable topographic feature, having been adopted as a local boundary and the meandering course suggests that it was prone to flooding. The LIDAR and historical maps can be further explored here.

Burgess proposes that the initial firefight involved the crossing of Golborne Brook, just north of Milton Green. Modern LIDAR and old map evidence reveals this brook sits in a boggy valley, such that its crossing could present a significant "choke-point" to forces marching on Chester. The present day Golborne bridge is in red sandstone ashlar, and carries the A41 road across Golborne Brook. It consists of a single semi-circular arch carried on low piers. It has a plain parapet with rounded coping. To the north is another arch for flood water; the two arches are separated by a cutwater. At the time of the Civil War there was probably a ford here, but the presence of a flood-relieving arch indicates that this brook could at times be a significant barrier. This geophysical feature could have been well-known to the local gentry as it is but a stones-throw from Calveley Hall: while the hall dates from after the Civil War the Calveley's had owned land here before the Civil War and were well connected with the local gentry. Perhaps significantly, early maps of Cheshire show the River Gowy actually dividing near Huxley to flow down Golborne Brook (seemingly a geographical impossibility), but possibly influenced by travellers tales of floods.

The phase of the moon and sun-rise time on the date (24 September 1645) can be calculated with programs available online. Some care needs to be taken that a calculator is used which takes calendar changes into account. It would appear that “civil twilight” (enough to carry out most normal activities) started about 5.45 a.m. We know the day was clear later because the contemporary account of Col. Parsons refers to the Royalists having “wind and sun” on their side in the late afternoon. The moon was almost full the night before the battle and it is therefore quite likely that the Parliamentary forces had made a moonlight march to meet the ambush.

Sources and Links

What If? A "counterfactual" history

  • What if Poyntz has not made his night march...
  • What if Jones had been prevented from coming to his aid...

...and the siege of Chester had been lifted?

Could Charles have brought in his Irish Army, linked up with his remaining forces and established his base at Chester for a victorious campaign against the Parliamentarians?

A Civil War Timeline for Chester (includes nearby events and major war events)

For a more complete timeline see Wikipedia's Civil War timeline or the British Civil Wars Timeline. Much happened in the rest of the country (including many battles not mentioned here) and this section concentrates on the events involving Cheshire and Chester.


Cheshire MP Sir William Brereton before the Mayor's court as depicted at the Town Hall. What did he do for Chester? - shelled it mostly.
  • 8 Aug: Sir William Brereton in Chester trying to drum up recruits for the Parliamentary Army - citizens of Royalist Chester, including Mayor Cowper chased him out of the city.
  • 22 Aug: King Charles raises his standard at Nottingham and the 'first' civil war begins.
  • 6 Sept: Chester assembly orders further repairs to defenses
  • 23-28 Sept: Charles I in Chester. Pro-royalist William Ince made mayor.
  • 26 Sep: Thomas Aston issues an order at Chester for the seizure of arms and horses from those who had joined Parliament's Militia in Cheshire.
  • Oct: 300 men trained and armed with muskets in Chester.
  • Nov: Chester City Walls guarded by armed soldiers.


Sir William Brereton's initial ring of blockade positions around Chester. At this time Chester was defended by Sir Thomas Aston.
  • 15 Jan: Chirk Castle "taken and plundred by Colonell Ellis"
  • ?? Jan: Sir Thomas Aston, on a recruiting tour, had sent to Chester for a hundred and fifty musketeers to be recruited for the Royalists, so his expedition rode up to the town's defenses expecting a friendly greeting. However what they received was powder and shot. Orlando Bridgeman, the royalist controller of Chester had not sent a man.
  • 20 Feb: Beeston Castle taken by parliamentary forces commanded by Sir William Brereton. The defences of Beeston were quickly repaired as it was expected that Charles would attempt to land parts of his Irish army at Chester. Beeston provided an important impediment to the army marching southward.
  • 13 Mar: First Battle of Middlewich the Parliamentarians, under Sir William Brereton, defeat the Royalists under Sir Thomas Aston. Also this month, mud outworks are built around the noth and east of the City.
  • Jun: Conscription for men aged 16-60 introduced.
  • Jul: William Brereton leads the fist attack on Chester - two Royalist youths jeer from the City Walls and are shot dead.
  • Oct: Chester asks the King for more money to spend on the defences.
  • 9 Nov: Grenades used at Holt Bridge at Farndon - Sir William Brereton, attacking the bridge for the Parliamentarians stated: "for which end they had also made a towre and drawbridge and strong gates upon the bridge soe as they and wee coceived it difficult if not altogether ympossible to make way for our passage". Despite this he, Thomas Middelton and their forces took the bridge when they cast "some grenados amongst the Welshmen" (this may be the first ever recorded use of grenades). In the same month Brereton captures Hawarden Castle for Parliament.
  • 13 Dec: Captain Thomas Sandford and eight Royalist soldiers sneak into Beeston Castle at night and persuade the much larger parliamentary force commanded by Captain Thomas Steele to surrender.
  • 26 Dec: Second Battle of Middlewich 200 Parliamentarians killed, along with a much smaller number of Royalists under the command of Lord Byron, Governor of Chester. This small battle was Sir William Brereton's only real defeat. In the same month Hawarden Castle is re-captured and £100 of Chester City Plate is melted down to pay for military expenses.


  • 24/26 Jan: (Sources vary) Battle of Nantwich. The Parliamentarian Major General of Cheshire, Sir William Brereton, was besieged in Nantwich by Lord Byron, Governor of Chester. Byron was making use of troops brought from Ireland (see: Chester and Ireland). 2,500 men under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax attacked, defeating Byron and raising the six-week siege.
  • 2 Jul: Royalists defeated at Marston Moor - the largest battle of the Civil War. Royalist forces now concentrate on operations in the south, leaving Chester to defend itself.
  • Jul-Sept: City defences are further strengthened.


  • 18 Jan: Royalists defeated at Christleton in an unsuccessful attack on the Parliamentary Headquarters established there by Brereton. Parliamentarians attack Chester but are repulsed.
  • Feb: Sir William Brereton's forces attack Chester again and fail in their attempt to scale the walls near the Northgate. In the same month, the New Model Army was formed of 22,000 men, divided into twelve foot regiments of 1,200 men each, eleven horse regiments of 600 men each, one dragoon regiment of 1,000 men, and the artillery with 50 guns. The infantry regiments wore red coats with white facings. The original intention was to use blue uniforms, but red was cheaper. The English would fight in red coats until 1885, but it was not until the 1880s that the term "redcoat" as a commonplace name for the British soldier appears in literary sources such as Kipling's poem, "Tommy".
  • 19 Feb: Prince Maurice relieves Chester.
  • Mar: Chester royalist (and mayor) Sir Francis Gamull was commissioned to raise a regiment of foot to defend the city. Prince Rupert appointed as Commander-in-Chief of Cheshire.
  • 13 Mar: Prince Maurice leaves Chester, siege restarts.
  • 15 Mar: Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice relieve Chester and Beeston.
  • 20 Mar: "Prince Robert (Rupert) cam to Chirk Castle, and so went to Chester". His engineers set to work fortifying the city. Work begins (under Colonel Robert Ellis) on further earthworks stretching from Boughton, through Hoole to the Watertower.
  • 9 May: The King and his troops head north on the first relief expedition to Chester, a proposal of Prince Rupert. The expedition is abandoned before reaching Chester.
  • 14 Jun: Battle of Naseby - Royalists badly beaten. Parliamentarian troops hack to death over 100 camp-followers in the belief they were Irish (they were probably Welsh whose language was mistaken for Irish). The massacre was widely celebrated by the Parliamentarians.
  • 10 Jul: Battle of Langport - at Langport and Naseby, King Charles's armies were effectively destroyed. King Charles made several unsuccessful attempts to break through the Parliamentarian and Covenanter armies into the north of England.
  • 10 Sep: Prince Rupert surrendered at Bristol, ending the siege and depriving Charles of one of his major ports for reinforcement from Ireland. The petulant King sacked Prince Rupert (who demanded, and got, a Court Marshall to clear his name).
  • 18 Sep: King Charles (then at Raglan in Monmouthshire) set out to the north. His objective was to relieve Chester and link up with his remaining allies.
The tower of St Johns, used as a gun-platform in the Civil War collapsed on Good Friday, 1881.
  • 20 Sept Parliamentarian Colonel Michael Jones led a determined assault on Chester's outer defences with 700 infantry and 700 horse and dragoons and stormed the eastern suburbs of Boughton. Many of the dead from this skirmish and are buried in St Giles Cemetery. The "mayor's house" on the corner of Dee Lane and Foregate Street was captured (and with it the civic sword and mace) and became Brereton's headquarters. Following this, cannon are set up near St Johns (including in the tower) and a steady pounding of the walls begins.
  • 22 Sep: A breach some 25 feet wide was made near the Roman Gardens with thirty-two cannon shot. The subsequent Parliamentary assault on the city walls repulsed by Lord Byron. Charles, then at Chirk Castle, learned that Chester might soon fall and led his army north on a relief mission.
  • 23 Sep: Charles entered Chester with his "Lifeguard of Horse". On the same day, 1,500 Royalist cavalry arrived at Rowton Heath.
  • 24 Sep: At dawn the main Royalist force crossed Holt Bridge. By nightfall, the Royalists were defeated before the walls of Chester in what was to be one of the last battles of the first civil war. Charles spent the night at Gamul House.
  • 25 Sep: Charles left Chester in retreat to Denbigh, accompanied by only 500 horse. He had instructed Chester to hold out for a short while, but surrender of the connection with Wales was cut. Charles' troops in Chester for the three days around the time of the Battle of Rowton had consumed supplies that would have supported the garrison of Chester for a month.
  • 4 Oct: The besiegers planted four large pieces of ordinance against the walls, close to Morgan's Mount between the Northgate and the Water Tower and battered the walls so fiercely that they beat down a portion of the walls and compelled the Royalist garrison to retreat from the walls. However the Parliamentary forces did not succeed in entering the City as during the bombardment the garrison had entrenched Lady Barrow's Hey (the Infirmary Field - now a housing estate) and so prevented the attackers from exploiting their breach.
  • Nov: Royalist garrison at Beeston Castle surrendered (after a year of siege) due to lack of food.
  • Dec: More taxes levied in Chester to pay for war. Parliamentarians bombard Chester and demand surrender. Chester at first refuses, however starvation, bombardment and lack of hope force Lord Byron to open surrender talks.


  • 26 Jan: Agreement for surrender of Chester is reached. The sick and wounded were allowed to stay in the city until they recovered, and the able bodied could leave in safety.
  • 3 Feb: Lord Byron at Chester finally surrendered. The Parliamentary leaders had promised to respect ancient buildings and Churches in Chester. But when their soldiers marched through the City Gates in triumph, they ran wild. During the Parliamentary occupation of Chester many Churches were damaged, and the High Cross was destroyed.
  • 23 Feb: The Montgomeryshire forces (parliamentary) began to "fortifie Llansilin churche, for the straightninge and keeping-inn of Chirk Castle men, where Sir John Watts was governor, who shortly after deserted the castle."
  • 5 May: Charles I surrenders, first Civil War ends.


  • ?? The plague visits Chester.

People who had something to do with Chester and the Civil War

Further biographical information can be found at the British Civil Wars website.

The Royalists

  • King Charles I: watched his army defeated, then left Chester. When Charles was beheaded on 30 January 1649, it is reputed that he wore a heavy cotton shirt so as to prevent the cold January weather causing any noticeable shivers that the crowd could have mistaken for fear or weakness.
Sir Thomas Aston (29 September 1600 – 24 March 1645) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1640. He fought for the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. After defeat at Middlewich he escaped to Chester and was placed under arrest. He rejoined the king's army and suffered a second defeat from Brereton at Macclesfield in 1643. Then captured in a skirmish in Staffordshire, when in prison at Stafford he tried to escape, but the attempt was discovered by a soldier who struck him on the head. This and other wounds received in the war brought on a fever, of which he died at Stafford on 24 March 1645. An Aston daughter married a Browne.
  • Sir Thomas Aston: Aston took part with the Royalists, and was in command at Middlewich in March 1643, when he was defeated by Sir William Brereton in the First Battle of Middlewich. The Royalists lost two cannons and five hundred stand of arms. Few were killed, but the prisoners included many of the principal Royalists who took part, and the town suffered at the hands of the Parliamentarians, who made free with the property of burgesses and the plate of the church. Aston escaped, but when a few days later he returned to Chester, he was placed under arrest at Pulford, where he wrote a defence of his conduct which furnishes a very minute account of the affair.
  • Colonel Robert Ellis supervised the construction of the earthwork defences of Chester. Robert Ellis was a soldier with experience of Continental warfare, and his earthworks were completed by the summer of 1643. Earthen mounds were raised behind the walls to strengthen them, and new drawbridges were installed at the Northgate, Eastgate, and Bridgegate. Extensive outworks were made in the form of an earthen rampart with a ditch, dug in straight lengths with salients and flanks, mounts for cannon, pitfalls, and heavy gates. The line of the outworks, 3 km. long, ran from midway between the Water Tower and the Northgate in a north-westerly direction, then eastwards across Upper Northgate Street and Flookersbrook to Flookersbrook Hall, then south to Cockpit hill, east to Boughton, and thence to the River Dee.
  • Marmaduke Langdale, commander of the "Northern Horse" cavalry unit, was defeated at Rowton Heath by Parliamentarian cavalry under Major-General Sydnam Poyntz. News came of Montrose's defeat at the Battle of Philiphaugh on 13 September. Langdale and Lord Digby escaped from Chester with about 2,400 cavalry, but on 15 October a Parliamentarian army intercepted and dispersed their forces at Sherburn-in-Elmet. Digby and Langdale escaped to France and the First Civil War came to an end in June 1646. When the Second Civil War began in 1648, Langdale returned from exile to lead the Royalists in Cumberland and seized the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed to enable his Scottish Engager allies to invade England. Major-General John Lambert, Parliamentary commander in the North, avoided battle, but in August was joined by Cromwell and Fairfax who had defeated Royalist risings in Wales and Southern England. Langdale met up with the Duke of Hamilton's Scottish Engager army but they were decisively defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Preston, over a period of three days between 17 and 19 August. Along with much of the cavalry, Langdale and Hamilton evaded capture at Preston but were taken shortly afterwards and imprisoned in Nottingham Castle. The Second Civil War convinced Parliamentarians, including Cromwell, that peace could only be assured by the death of prominent Royalists; Hamilton was executed, as was Charles himself in January 1649. As one of seven Royalists excluded by name from pardon, Langdale avoided a similar fate by escaping dressed as a milkmaid and made his way to France once again. Under the 1650 Treaty of Breda, the Scots Covenanters agreed to restore Charles II to the English and Scots thrones but insisted on the exclusion of many of those who followed him into exile. As a result, Langdale did not participate in the Third English Civil War, also known as the 1650-1651 Anglo-Scots War. He converted to Catholicism in 1652 and joined the army of the Republic of Venice but was forced to retire due to poor health. Unlike most Catholic members of the court-in-exile, he advocated a Spanish rather than French alliance to regain Charles' throne. In 1655 his poverty and lack of influence led him to take refuge at the English Benedictine community of Lamspringe Abbey in Westphalia. At the Restoration, he was created Baron Langdale.
  • Thomas Sandford, Captain of Firelocks, captured Beeston Castle for the Royalists in December 1643 with eight men, a poker face and a ruse. His independent company of firelocks was raised for service in Ireland, returned to Britain in late 1643 and fought for the Royalists. They initially appear to have been attached to the Lord Lieutenant General’s Regiment of Foot. He most likely defected to the Parliamentarians after being captured at Nantwich in January 1644, where he later died.
  • Charles Gerard campaigned with Prince Rupert in Shropshire and Cheshire. Led his troops from the city to provide support at Rowton Moor. Went abroad with Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice after Rupert's Court Marshal. Intrigued against Cromwell from the continent and returned at the head of the King's Horse Guards at the restoration. Went abroad again after being suspected of complicity in Monmouth's Rebellion. Returned again with William of Orange in 1688 at the head of the new King's Lifeguard.
  • James Stanley, Earl of Derby was tried in Chester on the charge that "James, Earl of Derby, had traitorously borne arms for Charles Stuart, against the Parliament ; that he was guilty of a breach of an Act of Parliament of the 12th August, 1651 , prohibiting all correspondence with Charles Stuart, or any of his party; that he had fortified his house at Lathom against the Parliament". Executed in Bolton outside the Man and Scythe public house.
  • Lord Byron (1599-1652) was commander of Royalist forces in Cheshire, Lancashire and North Wales, with responsibility for securing the route for troops released from service in Ireland to fight for the King. He died, childless, in exile in Paris and was succeeded by his brother, who was the ancestor of the later Lord Byron famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know.". Lord Byron married firstly Cecilia West, daughter of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr and secondly Eleanor Needham (1627–1664) daughter of Robert Needham, 2nd Viscount Kilmorey. According to the diarist Samuel Pepys she was the 17th mistress of Charles II. She died in 1664 and is buried in Holy Trinity.
  • Orlando Bridgeman, son of the John Bridgeman, Bishop of Chester. Initially refused to provide troops to the Royalist army, chasing off the recruiters with gunshots. Presided over the trial of the Regicides and invented the rule against perpetuities. A Puritan viewpoint states ‘he was a very base corrupt man & a very knave in matters of Judicature’.
  • William Lawes, Charles I's personal minstrel, died at Rowton Heath or possibly later in the fighting around Chester - "Will. Lawes was slain by such whose wills were laws".
  • Lord Bernard Stewart died outside the walls of Chester. Lord Bernard was to be created Earl of Lichfield by King Charles I for his actions at the battles of Newbury and Naseby but died (aged 23) of injuries received leading a sortie from Chester, before the patent could be implemented.
  • Prince Rupert of the Rhine commander of the Royalist cavalry during the civil war. His dashing reputation earned him the nickname of the "Mad Cavalier". May have been in part responsible for the Bolton Massacre. He reputedly took a large poodle dog, named "Boye", into battle with him. Throughout the Civil War the soldiers of Parliament feared this dog, claiming it had supernatural powers. He was sacked after the loss of Bristol and later banished. At the end of the war the dog was shot, allegedly with a silver bullet. After the restoration he became an admiral (he wasn't very good at this - so he was made First Lord of the Admiralty). Following retirement from the active military in around 1674, he engaged in scientific research. He invented the "rocker", a wide curved tool with teeth, used to roughen a mezzotint plate. He is credited with the invention of a form of gunpowder and a "fake gold" alloy is named "Prince's metal" in his honour. He is also credited with the invention of 'Prince Rupert's Drops', glass teardrops which explode when the tail is cracked - they are made by the same process that was used at the Lead Shot Tower to make shot.
  • Prince Maurice: accompanied his elder brother, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, to take the part of their uncle Charles I in the English Civil War. He relieved Chester several times.

The Parliamentarians

Sir William Brereton (13 September 1604 – 7 April 1661): looking far more the spy-master in this one.
  • Sydnam Poyntz: In 1631 Poyntz fought for John George of Saxony at the Battle of Breitenfeld. He changed sides and fought as a captain in Wallenstein's army in the service of Emperor Ferdinand II at the Battle of Lützen in 1632. He remained in the Imperial army and the following year he campaigned in Silesia and was present at the Battle of Nordlingen in 1634. He left the army and Germany after the Peace of Prague in 1636. His time in Germany was lucrative and he bought an estate probably in the vicinity of Schorndorf. He returned to England that year and wrote his "Relation", but when he failed to fined employment as a soldier in England, it is likely that he returned to the continent to find further employment in the Thirty Years' War. He may have risen to the rank of sergeant-major, and may have been knighted on the battle-field. Poyntz returned to England no later than 1644, and on 27 May 1645 was ordered by the House of Commons to have the command of a regiment of horse and a regiment of foot in the army raised by the seven associated northern counties. He was also appointed commander-in-chief of the forces of the northern association, with the title of colonel-general, and, on 19 August, governor of York. On taking command, Poyntz found his troops mutinous for want of pay, and at the siege of Skipton was more in danger from his own men than from the enemy. He was ordered after Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645) to follow King Charles I movements. This ex-mercenary Major-General, commanded the Roundhead cavalry at Rowton Heath.

In February 1646 Poyntz published a vindication of himself, in which he included an account of his earlier life as well as of his recent services (The Vindication of Colonel-General Poyntz against the false and malicious slanders secretly cast forth against him , 1645–1646, 4to). Parliament, however, was so satisfied with his conduct that he was voted £300 a year, and it was decided that his regiment of horse should be one of four to be retained at the general disbanding of the army. The Presbyterian leaders relied upon Poyntz and his troops to oppose the Independents of the New Model Army, but the soldiers of the northern association entered into communication with those of Lord General Thomas Fairfax's New Model Army, and, in spite of the orders of their commander, held meetings and elected agitators. Poyntz was seized by the agitators on 8 July 1647 and sent a prisoner to Fairfax's headquarters, charged with endeavouring to embroil the kingdom in a new war. He was released by Fairfax on parole; but the latter, who now became commander-in-chief of all the land forces in the service of Parliament, appointed Colonel John Lambert to take command in the north. At the end of July 1647 an open breach took place between the Parliament in London and the New Model Army. The common council chose Major-general Edward Massey to command the forces of the city, and Poyntz, who was also given a command, actively assisted in enlisting "reformadoes". On 2 August Poyntz and other officers dispersed a body of citizens who brought to the common council a petition "praying that some means might be used for a composure". According to the newspapers, they hacked and hewed many of the petitioners with their swords and "mortally wounded divers". On the collapse of the resistance of London, Poyntz fled to Holland, publishing, in conjunction with Massey, a declaration "showing the true grounds and reasons that induced them to depart from the city, and for a while from the kingdom". "Finding", said they, "all things so uncertain, and nothing answering to what was promised or expected, we held it safer wisdom to withdraw to our own friends".

On 14 May 1648 Poyntz wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons from Amsterdam, begging that he might at least receive the two months' pay voted to his forces when they were disbanded. "When I peruse the letters which I have formerly received from both houses of parliament, with all their great promises and engagements to me, never to forget the great services which I have done them … it would almost make a man desperate to see how I am deserted and slighted in place of the great rewards which the honourable houses were pleased to promise me". Receiving no answer to this or previous appeals, Poyntz in 1650 accompanied Lord Willoughby to the West Indies, and there became governor of the Leeward Islands, establishing himself on Saint Kitts. When Willoughby surrendered Barbados to the Parliamentary fleet under Sir George Ayscue, Poyntz found Saint Kitts untenable, and retired to Virginia. The articles between Willoughby and Ayscue contain a clause permitting Poyntz to go to Antigua along with other gentlemen having estates there. Some authorities have stated that in 1661 he was again appointed governor of Antigua, and held the post until superseded by Lord Willoughby in 1663, but no trace of his tenure of office appears among the colonial state papers. It is added that he then retired to Virginia, but this is not known for sure, and he may have remained in Virginia, dying there at some unknown date.

  • Sir William Brereton, Commander-in-Chief for Parliament's army in Cheshire, played an important role in the first civil war's final major pitched battle at Stow-on-the-Wold, but thereafter faded into the background vis-a-vis military matters. After the first civil war, Brereton was rewarded by Parliament; he gained Eccleshall Castle in Staffordshire and Croydon Palace, previously the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He later argued that the Earl of Derby should not be executed.
  • Colonel Michael Jones commanded the besiegers of Chester. By 1647, his reputation was such that he was chosen to lead the Parliamentary expedition to Ireland. His old commander the Royalist Earl of Ormonde surrendered Dublin to him without a fight in June 1647 saying that he "preferred English rebels to Irish ones". On 15 August 1649 Oliver Cromwell landed at Dublin, and as commander-in-chief superseded Jones. The latter became his second in command, with the rank of lieutenant-general. He took part in the capture of Wexford and the siege of Waterford, in December trying to take the city "by hook or by crook". Hook is the headland on the Wexford side and Crook is the name of the Waterford side. But the fatigues of the campaign proved fatal to him. On 19 December 1649 Cromwell announced his death to the speaker:
  • "The noble lieutenant-general, whose finger, to our knowledge, never ached in all these expeditions, fell sick; we doubt upon a cold taken upon our late wet march and ill accommodation; and went to Dungarvan, where, struggling some four or five days with a fever, he died, having run his course with so much honour, courage, and fidelity, as his actions better speak than my pen. What England lost hereby is above me to speak. I am sure I lost a noble friend and companion in labours".

Jones was buried in St. Mary's Church at Youghal, in the Earl of Cork's chapel.

  • Thomas Middleton was a parliamentarian soldier who helped take Holt Bridge at Farndon - with grenades.
  • Thomas Fairfax, general of the Parliamentary forces in the north, fought at the siege of Nantwich. Prior to the Restoration, Fairfax was put at the head of the commission appointed by the House of Commons to wait upon Charles II at The Hague and urge his speedy return. Fairfax provided the horse on which Charles II rode at his coronation.
  • Thomas Steele, commander of the garrison of Beeston Castle (q.v.), was tried and shot after losing the castle to nine men of the Royalist Army.

and finally...

“mr lely, i desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me; otherwise i will never pay a farthing for it.”

  • Oliver Cromwell (who never set foot in Chester - but see below) on having his portrait painted - "warts and all".


  • Randle Holme III Painter and author of "The Academy of Armory" (1688), said to be the first book printed in the city. The book is subtitled "A storehouse of armory and blazon microform : containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick : with the instruments used in all trades and sciences, together with their terms of art : also the etymologies, definitions, and historical observations on the same, explicated and explained according to our modern language : very usefel (sic) for all gentlemen, scholars, divines, and all such as desire any knowledge in arts and sciences". His father (Randle Holme II) was a royalist Alderman of Chester during the Civil War siege and the book also records the devastation of the city. Randle Holme was "Made a mason" at Chester in the 1670's.

The Cromwell Letter

A letter found in Shropshire Archives purports to be written on July 16th, 1649 by "Oliver Crumwel" in Chester. The text of the letter is as follows:

  • These are to require you to suffer and permit the bearer here of James Smith to have a horse and a pass from Constable to Constable from the City of Chester to the City of Bristol he behaving himself timely being a soldier for the states has orders for to quarter [stay in accommodation] for 21 hours, and if any doth resist him, the Constables of that liberty are assist him and to press him a horse for 4 miles span forward for the special business that he goes about.

The is considerable debate about the veracity of this letter. Firstly, there is no record of Cromwell ever visiting Chester. Secondly, on July 10th, 1649, Cromwell had left London for Milford Haven, on the South Wales coast. He was in the process of gathering an army for a campaign to quell the Marquis of Ormond's rebellion in Ireland. Given that the letter was supposed to be signed by him at Chester on 16th July, Cromwell would have had to make a long, hasty (and unrecorded) diversion northwards to pass through Chester on the way to Milford Haven.


Musket balls found from the seige of Chester at Chester Amphitheatre.

Musket Ball from the seige of Chester

Related Pages



..and close by

Other places within easy reach

  • Nantwich: a hotly contested town during the English Civil War with both the Royalists and Parliamentarians attempting to gain a foothold in the second most important town in Cheshire. Having garrisoned the town in 1643, the Parliamentarians were drawn into battle on 25th January 1644. This resulted in the first major Parliamentarian victory of the war;
  • Middlewich: two battles took place here with the church as a centrepiece; they were titled the 1st, and 2nd Battle of Middlewich in 1643, between the Royalists, commanded by Sir Thomas Aston and the Parliamentarians commanded by Sir William Brereton;
  • Denbigh: during the Civil War, Denbigh temporarily became important for military reasons. There was a battle here in 1645 and the castle was besieged, surrendering to the Parliamentarians in the following year.
  • Beeston Castle