Wales and the Civil War

In the Civil War, religion was an important factor in deciding which side to support. The government's persecution of Puritans meant that the vast majority of this religious group supports Parliament, whereas most Anglicans and Catholics tended to favour the royalists.

Workers and tenants of large landowners who supports the royalist cause were often obliged to follow their master's example. Richard Vaughan, the Earl of Carbery, an Anglican, who owned land in Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire managed to persuade large numbers of his tenants to join the royalist army. Whereas Lord Dacres of Hereford recruited soldiers for the royalists from his estates in Radnorshire.

The Marquis of Worcester, the Roman Catholic owner of Raglan Castle, also supported Charles I. The Marquis feared that if the Puritans won power they would persecute people who shared his religious beliefs.

The king was unwilling to appoint the Marquis of Worcester or his son. Lord Herbert, to senior positions in his army as he was aware of the strong prejudice most people in Britain had against Roman Catholics. However, the Marquis, who owned large areas of Monmouthshire, and was one of the richest men in Britain, did provide the king with considerable amount of money to pay for his armed forces.

In some cases, families were divided on who they should support. William Feilding, Earl of Denbigh, and a member of the Council of Wales, joined the king's army soon after war was declared. However, his son, Basil, refused to follow his father's example and eventually decided to fight for Parliament.

Husbands and wives did not necessary support the same side. Although John Bodvile of Anglesey became a colonel in the king's army, his wife Anne supported parliament. Afraid that his wife would influence the religious and political views of his three children, John Bodvile had them taken away from her and placed in the care of his mother.

Although most of the large landowners in Wales supported the king, some very influential figures in the country favoured Parliament. Thomas Myddelton, MP for Denbighshire, and owner of a considerable amount of land surrounding his castle at Chirk, was a devout Puritan.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who owned large estates in Carmarthenshire, was a strong opponent of Charles I. At the beginning of the Civil War, the Earl of Essex was appointed General-in-Chief of the parliamentary army.

The most important supporter of Parliament in South Wales was Philip Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, the largest landowner in Glamorgan. Herbert's Cardiff Castle provided an important base for Parliamentary forces in South Wales.

The Parliamentarians produced thousands of pamphlets in an attempt to persuade people to support their cause. Although some of these were distributed in Wales they had very little impact on the Welsh people. The main problem was that these pamphlets were in English, a language that large numbers of the population did not understand.

People's business interests also affected their political allegiance. To obtain money the king had sold monopoly rights to businessmen. This meant that only one person had the right to distribute certain goods such as bricks, salt and soap. Those men who had profited from these monopoly rights supported the king, whereas those who had been denied the opportunity of trading in these goods often supported parliament.

People who lived and worked in the more economically advanced areas in Wales tended to favour parliament. This was especially true of towns such as Haverfordwest, Pembroke and Tenby, which were involved in a great deal of trade with the Puritan dominated port of Bristol.

People living in the rural areas of Wales, knew very little about the political disagreements between the king and parliament. They were also unlikely to have had any contact with Puritan preachers. These people were strongly under the influence of the local clergy and gentry, who were in most cases extremely hostile to Puritanism. As a result, people living in rural areas tended to support the king.

The vast majority of people in Wales did not hold strong views on the dispute between the king and parliament and tried as hard as possible to stay out of the conflict. It was only when they came under considerable pressure from their landlord or from a visiting army regiment, that they usually agreed to join one side or the other.

On 27th September, 1642, Charles I left his headquarters at Shrewsbury and travelled to Wrexham, the chief town of North Wales. Messages were sent out to the people living in Flintshire and Denbighshire to assemble at Wrexham so they could hear their king explain the reasons for the conflict with parliament. The king was pleased with the reception he received and his speech resulted in a large number of men agreeing to fight for the royalist army.

When the king returned to Shrewsbury he was soon joined by his nephew. Prince Rupert, who had also been busy recruiting men from North Wales. In the south of Wales, the Marquis of Hertford had also been successfully persuading men to join the royalist cause. By the 3rd October, the royalist army was strong enough to seize Cardiff Castle from South Wales' chief parliamentary supporter, the Earl of Pembroke.

Charles I now had an army of about 24,000 men. Whereas most of the footsoldiers were from Wales, the officers were members of the English nobility. In the 17th century upper-class men were trained at a young age to ride horses. This gave Charles the advantage of having a good cavalry.

On 12 October, the king's army marched on London. Eleven days later the royalist forces were intercepted by the Earl of

Essex's troops at Edgehill. Prince Rupert decided to try a new cavalry tactic that he had learnt fighting in Sweden. This involved charging full speed at the enemy. The horses were kept close together and just before impact the men fired their pistols.

Rupert's charge was successful and for the next hour his cavaliers pursued members of the parliamentary cavalry who

had ran from the battlefield. The poorly armed royalist foot soldiers relied on the cavalry for support. When Rupert returned he discovered that his foot soldiers had suffered very heavy casualties. One eyewitness claimed that nearly 1,000 Welsh royalist soldiers were killed at Edgehill.

This was followed by another 1,500 Welsh soldiers killed at Tewkesbury on 16th November and 2,000 at Hereford on 27th November. Royalist military commanders accused the Welsh of fleeing from the battlefield. Some historians have justified the soldiers actions by claiming that the Welsh were poorly armed and were always placed at the front of the royalist forces where they took the brunt of the charging parliamentary army.

The royalist army continued its march on London and by November reached the outskirts of the city. At Turnham Green, Charles found his way blocked by a parliamentary army of about 24,000 men. Heavily outnumbered, Charles decided to retreat to Oxford.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Pembroke was the only town in Wales that declared support for Parliament. When he heard the news Charles gave orders for the town to be attacked. Richard Vaughan, the Earl of Carbery, lieutenant-general of the king's army in south-west Wales, decided to make sure that other towns in this region were secure before dealing with Pembroke.

The Earl of Carbery did not begin his assault on Pembroke until the beginning of 1644. However, before he could capture the town, parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from England. The Earl of Carbery now decided that he was not strong enough to capture Pembroke, and withdrew his forces.

Rowland Laugharne, the parliamentary commander of Pembroke, took this opportunity to go on the offensive. His troops soon gained control of Haverfordwest, Tenby and Carew Castle. His forces then marched east and it was not long before Carmarthen and Cardiff were also captured by the parliamentary army.

Charles I was furious when he heard what had happened and sacked the Earl of Carbery as commander of his troops in southwest Wales. Carbery was replaced by Colonel Charles Gerard, an experienced military commander from England. Gerard's royalist forces soon won back the territory that had been lost and by the summer of 1644 Laugharne and his soldiers had been forced to return to Pembroke.

The Parliamentary forces also had short-term success in the north of the country. Thomas Myddelton, M.P. for Denbighshire, and whose Chirk Castle had been captured by royalist forces in January 1643, was put in charge of the parliamentary military campaign in North Wales.

Major-General Myddelton's main strategy was to cut off the king's military supplies that were arriving in North Wales from the continent. After capturing Wrexham in November 1643, his army headed for the ports of Wales' northern coast. Conwy, Bangor and Caernarvon were well defended and after 2,500 royalist troops arrived from Ireland, Myddelton was forced to withdraw.

Myddelton now turned his attention to mid Wales. In the summer of 1644 he captured Welshpool and Newtown and on 18th September the first major battle of the Civil War in Wales took place at Montgomery. The royalists suffered a heavy defeat and over 2,000 of their men were either killed, wounded or captured.

Myddelton's troops headed north and in October they were able to capture Powis Castle. However, despite strenuous efforts, Myddelton was unable to win back control of his own castle at Chirk. After failing to persuade Parliament to supply him with any more troops, Myddelton once again had to abandon his plan to try to win control of Wales' northern ports.

In 1645, the king ordered Colonel Charles Gerard and 2,700 of his soldiers to go and help the royalist campaign in England. With the royalist forces weakened in South Wales, Rowland Laugharne decided to go on the offensive again. After defeating the royalist army at Colby Moor, Laugharne was able to capture Carmarthen and by the spring of 1646 the whole of western Wales was under the control of the parliamentary army.

The royalist army suffered a bad defeat at Naseby in June 1645. Amongst those killed in the battle were over 100 Welsh women who had followed their husbands into battle. Later, the parliamentary army justified its action by claiming that as the women spoke a language they did not understand, they assumed they were Irish Catholics.

After the Battle of Naseby the king withdrew to Raglan Castle. Charles hoped that he would be able to persuade more Welshmen to join his army. However, Gerard's treatment of the Welsh after his victories in 1644 had turned them against the royalist cause.

To protect themselves against Gerard's royalist troops, men in Glamorgan had formed a 'Peaceable Army'. Charles I agreed to meet representatives of this group at St Fagans on 29 July 1645, to discuss their grievances.

As a result of this meeting, Charles agreed to remove Colonel Charles Gerard as commander of the royalist forces in South Wales. Despite this action, Charles still had difficulty recruiting local men into his army. On 14 September the king left Raglan Castle and headed for North Wales. Soon after the king left, the castle was captured by the parliamentary army. Other royal castles at Ruthin, Chirk, Caernarvon, Beaumaris, Rhuddlan, Flint and Harlech fell one by one to the parliamentarian forces. For a while, Charles stayed at Denbigh Castle but after Jacob Astley and his royalist army surrendered on 21 March 1646, Charles fled to Scotland.

After its successful victory over the royalist forces in 1647, Parliament began to make plans to disband its army. This created a great deal of concern as many of the soldiers had not been paid for several months. Others were worried about the increase in taxes imposed by the parliamentary government.

On 24th December, Parliament declared that all soldiers who had enlisted after 6th August, 1647 were to be dismissed without pay. Those that had joined at an earlier stage of the war were to receive only two months wages.

John Poyer, the military governor of Pembroke, was furious when he heard the news and began making speeches to his soldiers attacking Parliament's decision to disband the army. When Parliament discovered that Poyer was making hostile speeches they sent Colonel Fleming to replace him as governor of Pembroke Castle.

Poyer refused to give up the castle and instead sent a letter to Parliament demanding the payment of £1,000 in wage arrears for his men. Colonel Fleming offered £200, but this was rejected. Other soldiers based in South Wales, who had heard about Poyer's actions, began to head for Pembroke to give him their assistance. John Poyer's supporters included the two most senior army officers in South Wales, Major-General Rowland Laugharne and Colonel Rice Powell.

Parliament now realised that they had a major rebellion on their hands. The situation became even worse when news arrived that Charles I had made an agreement with the Scots. In return for the support of a Scottish army, Charles agreed to accept the establishment of the Presbyterian religion in England.

On 10 April 1648, Colonel Poyer declared that he now supported the king. Encouraged by Poyer's declaration for the king, ex-royalist soldiers began joining Poyer in Pembroke.

When Parliament heard about Poyer's actions in Pembroke they sent Colonel Thomas Horton with 3,000 troops to deal with the rebellion. Rowland Laugharne and nearly 8,000 rebels left Pembroke and engaged Horton's parliamentary army at St. Fagans in Glamorgan. Although outnumbered, Horton's experienced and well-disciplined army was able to defeat Laugharne's poorly armed soldiers. Over 200 of Laugharne's men were killed and another 3,000 were taken prisoner. Laugharne and what was left of his army, managed to escape back to Pembroke.

The rebellion now spread to other parts of Wales. Richard Bulkeley and the people of Anglesey declared their support for the king and Sir John Owen attempted to take Denbigh Castle from the parliamentary army. In the south of the country Rice Powell took control of Tenby and Sir Nicholas Kemeys and other local royalists captured Chepstow Castle.

Realising that the rebellion had to be put down quickly, Parliament decided to send Oliver Cromwell and five regiments to Wales. Cromwell's troops won back Chepstow Castle on 25th May and six days later Rice Powell was forced to surrender Tenby.

Cromwell now marched on to Pembroke to deal with John Poyer and Rowland Laugharne. The castle, built on a great mass of limestone rock and nearly totally surrounded by the Pembroke River, was considered one of the strongest fortresses in Britain.

Oliver Cromwell did not have canons large enough to break through walls that were in some places 20 foot thick. Nor did he have besiegers' ladders that could deal with the 80 foot high walls. Attempts at storming the castle failed and so Cromwell was forced to wait and starve the rebels into submission.

Cromwell wrote back to Parliament forecasting that Poyer and his men would be forced to surrender in about two weeks. However, he was initially unaware that the castle had its own excellent water supply. Eventually, a local man betrayed the secret to Cromwell and the besieging army was able to cut the exposed water pipe on the outskirts of the town.

After a siege of eight weeks and completely without food and water, the rebel soldiers in the castle were forced to surrender. Cromwell dealt leniently with the ex-royalist soldiers. His main anger was directed towards those who had previously been members of the parliamentary army.

John Poyer, Rowland Laugharne and Rice Powell were tried by court-martial in London and after being found guilty were all sentenced to death. Thomas Fairfax, the leader of the armed forces, decided that only one should die. The three men refused to take part in the lottery to decide who would be executed. The military authorities chose a young child to draw the lots. The papers drawn for Laugharne and Powell read: "Life Given by God". Poyer's paper was blank and he was shot in front of a large crowd at Covent Garden on 21 April, 1649.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) In June 1642 the Countess of Denbigh wrote to her son Basil Feilding. Her husband, the Earl of Denbigh, was a royalist officer in the war.

I do suffer more pain for the ways you take... than ever I did to bring you into the world... I hope you will never take up arms against the king for that would be too heavy a burden for me to bear.

(2) Walter Cradock, speech in Parliament (July, 1646)

Is it not a sad case that in Wales... there should not be above thirteen conscientious ministers who in these times expressed themselves... faithful to Parliament.

(3) Henry Palmer, speech in Parliament (August, 1646)

Wales... is a howling wilderness... there has hardly been a sermon preached among them... since the reformation... Churches will be your strongest castles, if you furnish them well with ministers.

(4) J. Corbet, The Military Government of Gloucester (1645)

The common people addicted to the King's service have come out of blind Wales and other dark corners of the land... These miserable Welshmen... took up arms partly allured with the hope of plunder.

(5) Report sent to the House of Commons (5 April, 1644)

We hear that... 6,000 Irish rebels have landed in Wales... they are exercising horrid and savage cruelties... Unless some speedy help... is sent to Sir Thomas Myddelton... the whole country will be destroyed by these bloody Irish.

(6) Thomas Myddelton, letter to the House of Commons (March, 1645)

The great amount of plundering of the country makes most people hate the very name of a soldier. A great number of people in Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, who call themselves neutrals, have armed themselves to withstand plundering... The common people would be gained to our side, if there were some severe declaration by Parliament against plundering, and against all commanders who neglect to punish those responsible.

(7) Sir William Brereton, parliamentary officer, letter to Captain Hugh Cullham (7th April 1645)

Your soldiers have plundered Sir John Trevor's house, Plas Teg... without any warrant or authority... We therefore require you to bring before me all such persons under your command as did plunder or take away any of the goods.

(8) Decision of a Council of War in Wales (12th April, 1645)

Richard Jones went about a mile out of the camp and took two sheets from a poor woman, whom he wounded... It was resolved that, according to the Laws and Orders of War, Richard Jones shall die. He was executed on 12th April.

(9) William Brereton, parliamentary commander in North Wales, letter to Jane Done (13 March, 1645)

Wales is in so impoverished condition that there is no subsistence for the enemy nor us. Many of their men are dead by eating unwholesome food... Many of our men are dead, others have run away and those that remain have little food.

(10) Harry Brych, letter to T. Ormonde (December, 1645)

Thomas Myddelton's men are as contemptible an enemy as ever we had in Ireland... At Hawarden parish church his men tore up prayer books, removed the communion rails and dragged the altar into the centre of the nave.

(11) Lord John Belasyse was a member of the royalist army that fought at Naseby in June, 1645.

All the footsoldiers became prisoners. The horse soldiers knew how to save themselves, though not their honour, by a hasty and shameful flight to Leicester... The king marched to... Raglan Castle to recruit himself a new foot army in South Wales.

(12) Richard Symonds, royalist officer, diary entry (30th July, 1645)

In the county of Glamorgan some propositions were tendered to his Majesty, which if he would grant, they would continue to defend his Majesty and their country... The meeting was at Kevenoh, four miles from Cardiff. The King agreed to their propositions... They called themselves the Peaceable Army.

(13) Mercurius Civicus, newspaper (28th August 1645)

The King met 600 men in Glamorgan... They demanded that the Papists be removed from the country... and a governor and garrison of their own put in... the removal of the £7,000 demand from Colonel Gerard... The King left Cardiff that night... Gerard was put out of command in Wales, it being the country's demand.

(14) Earl of Clarendon, The Civil Wars in England (1667)

On 25th September, 1645... the King came to Denbigh Castle in north Wales... he stayed three days to refresh himself and his broken troops... He had four hundred horse soldiers; but where to go with them was the difficult question. Some proposed the isle of Anglesey as a place of safety, and an island fruitful enough to support his forces... and from where he might be easily transported into Ireland or Scotland.

(15) Declaration by Colonel John Poyer and Colonel Rice Powell (10th April 1648)

A few men... have already gotten too much power into their hands, and want to disband us... So they can enslave the people... and establish taxes. We promise to protect the people from injury and maintain the Protestant religion... as established by the law in this land. We therefore crave the assistance of the whole kingdom.

(16) Major General Rowland Laugharne, letter to the Parliamentary Commissioners (4 May, 1648)

As commander of these counties... I cannot ignore the affronts put upon my men... Instead of receiving their pay allowed them by Parliament... they have been disbanded... This happened in my absence, and to my knowledge, still unrighted... I believe that my past service for your country... merited much better treatment.

(17) Colonel Thomas Horton, letter to Thomas Fairfax describing his victory over. Major-General Rowland Laugharne at the Battle of St Fagans (8 May, 1648)

On Monday morning... the enemy advanced towards us... we took the best ground... About sixty men on horses charged once, but we beat them back, and after that none of the men on horses appeared again... The enemy tell us they were 8,000. We had a sharp dispute with them for about two hours. Our men on horses charged the enemy, who were wholly routed... Many of the enemy were slain... We have taken 3,000 prisoners... we have not lost many soldiers and not one of our officers.

(18) Oliver Cromwell, letter sent to the Committee of Carmarthen (9 June 1648)

I desire that we have your assistance in procuring some necessaries to be cast in the iron-furnace in your county of Carmarthen, which will enable us to reduce the castle of Pembroke. The principal things we need are mortar shells, the depth of them being fourteen and three-quarter inches... We also desire some cannon-shot... This service being done, these poor wasted lands may be freed from the burden of the army.

(19) Oliver Cromwell, report to Parliament (14 June, 1648)

We have not got our guns and ammunition yet. We only have two little guns... we made an attempt to storm the castle but the ladders were too short... so the men could not get over. We lost a few men but I am confident the enemy lost more... we hope to take away his water supply in two days.

(20) Hugh Peters was Cromwell's chaplain during the siege of Pembroke Castle (23 July, 1648)

Pembroke Castle was the strongest place that we ever saw... We have had many difficulties in Wales... We have a desperate enemy, and few friends, but a mighty God.

(21) Oliver Cromwell, letter sent to John Poyer and Rowland Laugharne (11th July, 1648)

I must tell you that if this offer is refused... misery and ruin will befall the people with you, I know where to charge the blood you spill. I expect the answer within two hours. If this offer be refused, send no more letters to me on this subject.