Philip Skippon, c.1600-60
Stalwart verteran of the Dutch service, he commanded the London Trained Bands, the Earl of Essex's infantry, then the New Model Army infantry.
The son of a minor gentry family of West Lexham in Norfolk, Philip Skippon went as a volunteer on Sir Horace Vere's expeditionary force to Bohemia in 1620 and continued his military career in the Dutch service. He established his reputation for courage on the battlefield at the siege of Breda in 1625 when he led 30 English soldiers to drive off a force of 200 Spaniards. After inheriting property at Foulsham Hall in Norfolk in 1634, Skippon returned to England with his wife Maria, whom he had married in 1622, and their seven children.
Skippon and his family moved to London in 1639 when he was recommended for the post of Captain-General of the Gentlemen of the Artillery Garden (later known as the Honourable Artillery Company. When the King was forced to flee from London in January 1642, Parliament appointed Skippon commander of the London Trained Bands and ordered him to raise a guard for the defence of Parliament. The King ordered his attendance at York in May 1642 but Skippon chose to support Parliament, having become disaffected from the King's cause on religious grounds. When the Royalist army marched on London after the battle of Edgehill, Skippon commanded the Trained Bands at the stand-off at Turnham Green. His popularity amongst the troops was noticed by the Earl of Essex, who appointed him Sergeant-Major-General of Parliament's army.
Skippon took part in the siege of Reading in April 1643 and led the London Trained Bands on Essex's march to relieve Gloucester in August. At the first battle of Newbury, Skippon commanded the infantry and artillery positioned on Round Hill which stood firm against Royalist artillery bombardment and repeated cavalry attacks. In 1644, Skippon took part in Essex's disastrous march into the West. After the Parliamentarian cavalry had broken out of Lostwithiel and the Earl of Essex had escaped by sea, Skippon was left in command of the beleaguered infantry. He tried to persuade his officers to fight their way out, but was obliged to surrender to the King. The defeated army was allowed to march away after surrendering all its weapons, artillery and stores. At second Newbury in October 1644, Skippon's troops had partial revenge by recapturing six of the cannon they had lost at Lostwithiel.
On the formation of the New Model Army in 1645, Skippon was appointed Major-General of Foot. His appointment persuaded many reluctant officers and men of Essex's old army to enlist in the New Model. At Naseby in June 1645, Skippon fought at the head of the infantry. He was dangerously wounded by a musket ball that splintered his armour, but he refused to leave the field until victory was assured.
Skippon tried to mediate between the Army and Parliament during the troubles of 1647 and was one of the military commissioners sent to Saffron Walden in April to persuade discontented officers and men to enlist for service in Ireland. He refused to support the attempt by Presbyterians to mobilise the London Trained Bands and marched with Fairfax and Cromwell when the Army occupied London in August. During the Second Civil War, he secured London for Parliament while General Fairfax suppressed the Royalist uprisings in Kent and Essex. In December 1648, Skippon persuaded the London Trained Bands charged with guarding Parliament to stand down during Pride's Purge. The following month, he was commissioned one of the King's judges, but never attended any sessions of the High Court of Justice.
During the Commonwealth and Protectorate, Skippon continued to hold high military and civil office, with particular responsibility for maintaining the security of London. He was appointed military governor of London during the Rule of the Major-Generals in 1655, but left the day-to-day running of the capital to his deputy, John Barkstead. Skippon was also elected to the First and Second Protectorate Parliaments, where he rarely spoke, except to join the condemnation of the Quaker James Nayler in 1656. Cromwell appointed Skippon to his Upper House as Lord Skippon. Although he supported Richard Cromwell after Oliver's death, Skippon was generally held in such high regard that the restored Long Parliament voted to keep him on as commander of the London militia in July 1659.
Skippon died in the summer of 1660 and left a substantial estate, having been well-rewarded for his loyal service. He was the author of three devotional books, published at his own expense, which reflect his faith as a Puritan soldier.
Ian J. Gentles, Philip Skippon , Oxford DNB, 2004
Christopher Durston, Cromwell's Major-Generals (Manchester 2001)
David Underdown, Pride's Purge (Oxford 1971)