Civil War in the South-East, 1642

South-eastern England remained almost entirely Parliamentarian throughout the First Civil War. Colonel Edwin Sandys and Sir Michael Livesey raised troops to secure Kent in August 1642 and were active in suppressing any signs of Royalist activity in the county. Dover Castle was seized by Captain Dawkes and ten companions in a daring night raid on 21 August, while Colonel Sandys scattered a small group of Royalists under Lord Teynham to secure Rochester two days later. Although the Royalist High Sheriff of Sussex briefly gained control of Chichester and Arundel towards the end of 1642, the counties of Surrey and Sussex were almost entirely Parliamentarian in sympathy. Hampshire was largely Parliamentarian at the beginning of the war but the Royalists held a number of isolated strongholds in the county, notably Basing House and Portsmouth. Parliament's earliest strategic objectives in the war were to control the vital ports of Hull in Yorkshire and Portsmouth in Hampshire.

Civil War in the South 1642Southern England 1642

The Siege of Portsmouth, 12 August- 7 September 1642

Portsmouth in Hampshire was the most important and heavily-defended port on the south coast of England. Since 1639, it had been governed by Colonel George Goring who played an active role in the political intrigues that preceded the outbreak of civil war. There were doubts regarding his loyalty after his involvement in the "Second Army Plot" during the spring of 1641. However, the House of Commons exonerated Goring and granted him £5,000 to fortify Portsmouth against the King — though in secret correspondence with the Queen, Goring assured her of his loyalty to the Crown and was granted a further £3,000 to fortify Portsmouth against Parliament. Early in August 1642, with the outbreak of civil war imminent, Goring declared openly for the King — thus presenting him with a major port where it was hoped that aid for the Royalist cause could be received from France and the Netherlands.

However, Goring's declaration was premature and poorly-timed. The King was gathering forces in the north of England and was unable to support him with troops or supplies. Goring's 400-man garrison seemed secure behind a circuit of medieval walls and earth ramparts, but Parliament's Committee of Safety moved swiftly to ensure that the vital port did not remain in Royalist hands. Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, was ordered to blockade Portsmouth by sea while Sir William Waller, assisted by the professional soldier Sir John Meldrum, marched to co-operate with the Hampshire Trained Bands to besiege it from the land. Goring's friend, the Royalist Earl of Portland, was removed from his governorship of the neighbouring Isle of Wight and replaced by the Parliamentarian Lord Pembroke. On 8 August, Warwick's squadron of five warships arrived off Portsmouth and seized Goring's only ship, the Henrietta Maria, thus ensuring that no help could arrive by sea. By 12 August, Waller's forces had arrived and seized Portsbridge to secure the northern approach to Portsea Island on which Portsmouth is built, thus preventing the Hampshire Royalists from bringing in reinforcements or supplies.

With the town cut off by land and sea, morale in the Portsmouth garrison was low. Many townsmen and soldiers fled. Towards the end of August, Waller ordered the construction of gun platforms at Gosport to further intimidate the garrison. Waller's commissioners came into Portsmouth on 28 August to negotiate for a peaceful surrender, but Goring was unwilling to accept the terms offered. On 2 September, the Parliamentarian guns at Gosport and Portsbridge opened fire. The tower of St Thomas's Church (now Portsmouth Cathedral), which was being used as a watch tower, was badly damaged during the bombardment. The following day, Colonel Richard Norton led a surprise night attack on the strongpoint of Southsea Castle, which was inadequately defended by only twelve soldiers and easily captured. With the guns of Southsea Castle threatening the town, only a handful of dedicated Royalists were prepared to continue fighting. Goring surrendered to Waller on 7 September and left for the Netherlands.

Farnham, Surrey, November 1642

Following his success at Portsmouth, Sir William Waller rejoined the Earl of Essex and the main Parliamentarian army to fight at the battle of Edgehill (23 October 1642). After the King's subsequent withdrawal to Oxford, Waller was ordered to secure the south-western approach to London by capturing Farnham in Surrey, which occupied a strategic position mid-way between London and Winchester.

In late November 1642, Waller's forces approached Farnham Castle which had been abandoned by the Parliamentarians when the King's army approached London earlier in the month. The castle was defended by a Royalist garrison of 100 men under the command of Sir John Denham, the high sheriff of Surrey. Realising that the Parliamentarians had no artillery, Denham refused Waller's summons to surrender when he appeared before the town on 26 November. Undeterred, the Parliamentarians blew in the main gate of the castle with a petard, then rushed in to kick down a barricade of stacked logs and overwhelm the garrison. The Royalists threw down their weapons and cried for quarter, which was granted. Waller, leading the attack, was just missed by a shot fired by one of his own men.

The Parliamentarians captured a great store of money and plate at Farnham, as well as provisions, weapons and gunpowder. Thereafter, Waller used Farnham Castle as his headquarters whenever he was in the region.

Winchester, Hampshire, December 1642

Waller's campaign in southern England 1642Waller's campaign southern England, 1642

After the capture of Farnham, Sir William Waller received orders to recover Marlborough in Wiltshire, which had been stormed and captured by General Wilmot and a party of Royalists from Oxford early in December 1642, and which now threatened the main road between London and Bristol. Waller rode for Marlborough with four regiments of horse and two of dragoons. Lord Grandison had been left in command at Marlborough, but as the town had no defences, he abandoned it at Waller's approach. Pursued by Waller, Grandison made for Winchester in Hampshire, which had been recently been seized for the King by Lord Ogle.

With Winchester unprepared for a seige, Grandison led a Royalist force of two regiments of foot and a brigade of horse out of the city to meet Waller's advance on 12 December, but they were overwhelmed and driven back with many killed or taken prisoner. The Parliamentarians pursued the retreating Royalists to the walls of Winchester. Colonel Browne's dragoons led the Parliamentarian assault at a point where a section of the medieval town wall had partially collapsed and stormed into the city. The Royalists fell back to take refuge in Winchester Castle, which was Waller's former residence.

Lacking artillery, the Parliamentarians prepared a large quantity of brushwood and tar barrels to burn down the castle gate. At dawn on 13 December, however, Lord Grandison called for a parley and agreed to surrender the castle, weapons, horses and money, on promise of quarter for the lives of his men. As the townsmen has sided with the Royalists, Waller gave way to his soldiers' clamouring to plunder the city. On 14 December, they also tore down the gates of Winchester Cathedral, which they proceeded to sack and desecrate.

Arundel and Chichester, Sussex, December 1642

Under the leadership of William Cawley, Chichester in Sussex had declared for Parliament in August 1642. However, Cawley and his supporters were driven from Chichester in mid-November when the city was seized by a group of Royalist gentry led by Sir John Morley. The Royalists were joined by the High Sheriff of Sussex, Sir Edward Ford, who proceeded to raise a small army by ordering all men in the locality that were capable of bearing arms to enlist, on pain of death and of having their houses burnt to the ground if they refused.

Early in December, Ford marched from Chichester with the intention of capturing Lewes, but his army was intercepted by local Parliamentarians at Haywards Heath. After an hour-long fight, the Royalists were routed with around 200 killed or taken prisoner. Ford fled back to Chichester with his cavalry while the surviving infantry dispersed.

Meanwhile, Sir William Waller advanced from Winchester to Havant in Hampshire where he mustered all available Parliamentarian forces. Around 17 December, Waller marched for Chichester and at the same time sent a detachment of 100 men to secure Arundel Castle. The castle was occupied by a small garrison under Sir Richard Rochford but was unprepared for an attack and taken completely by surprise. The Parliamentarians blew in the castle gate with a petard and overwhelmed the defenders.

Waller arrived with his main force before Chichester on 21 December where he was reinforced by the arrival of cavalry from Kent under Sir Michael Livesey. The Royalist garrison immediately sallied out to attack the Parliamentarians but the attack was repulsed. Under fire from the guns of the city, the Parliamentarians began constructing siege batteries with ordnance brought up from Portsmouth. Waller's initial summons to surrender was refused. The following day, the Parliamentarian siege guns opened fire. Over the next few days, the suburbs outside the city walls were overrun and the Parliamentarian guns were moved closer. As Waller prepared to storm the city from three directions at once, a request for a treaty was received. This was granted and the garrison surrendered on 27 December, though under less generous terms than had been proposed at the beginning of the siege (some accounts give 5 January 1643 as the date of surrender).

As the city had surrendered under terms and had not been taken by storm, it was not plundered by the victorious Parliamentarians as had happened at Winchester. However, the surrender was followed by the sacking and desecration of Chichester Cathedral by Waller's soldiers, which was enthusiastically encouraged by Sir Arthur Hesilrige.

Waller's victories in the south during 1642 made him a popular hero in London, where he became known as "William the Conqueror".


John Adair, Roundhead General: a military biography of Sir William Waller, (London 1969)

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i (London 1888)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

Rev. G. N. Godwin, The Civil War in Hampshire 1642-45, (Southampton 1904)

Charles Thomas-Stanford, Sussex in the Great Civil War and the Interregnum (London 1910)

P. Young and W. Emberton, Sieges of the Great Civil War (London 1978)