Mid-Wales & the Battle of Montgomery, 1644

The arrival of Prince Rupert to take up his appointment as President of Wales in February 1644 initially lifted the morale of the Welsh Royalists. Rupert's military record was exemplary and he proved to be an energetic organiser and administrator. However, his policy of appointing veteran English soldiers to replace the unsuccessful aristocratic regional commanders (Lords Carbery, Herbert and Capel) led to friction with civilian administrators. Furthermore, signs of war weariness were beginning to appear among the Welsh people who, despite the heavy demands made upon them during 1642-3, were still expected to supply recruits and money for the King's armies.

Rupert's tenure in Wales was brief. In May 1644, he marched into Lancashire on the first stage of the York March, taking the army he had mustered at Shrewsbury. In Rupert's absence, the Welsh Parliamentarians prepared to take advantage of the depletion of Royalist forces in the Marches. The Earl of Denbigh, commander of Parliamentarian forces in Shropshire and Warwickshire, joined forces with Colonel Thomas Mytton at Wem around 20 June and marched against the Royalist garrison at Oswestry.

Oswestry, Shropshire, June-July 1644

Oswestry had been garrisoned by Lord Capel in 1643. The town was walled and defended by a castle under the command of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Lord Denbigh and Colonel Mytton approached the town on 22 June. They deployed cavalry to guard the approach roads in case of a relief attempt and sent their small force of 200 infantry to attack the Royalists defending St. Oswald's Church, which lay outside the town walls. The church was captured after half-an-hour's fighting and a number of prisoners were taken. The Parliamentarians then brought up a saker, which quickly blew in the town gate. The Royalist defenders withdrew to the castle and Lord Denbigh led his troops in to occupy the town.

Campaign map: Oswestry 1644
Manoeuvres around Oswestry, 1644

The Parliamentarian field gun had little effect on the walls of Oswestry Castle. That night, Denbigh and his officers resolved to burn down the castle gate with pitch. Next day, however, before the attempt was made, the women of the town implored Denbigh to let them try to persuade the garrison to surrender. Although reluctant to accept Denbigh's terms of quarter only, the garrison eventually marched out, surrendering their weapons and ammunition. The townspeople paid £500 to the Parliamentarians in order to avoid being plundered. Colonel Mytton was left to garrison Oswestry while Lord Denbigh withdrew to Cheshire with the intention of gathering forces to pursue Prince Rupert into Lancashire.

The fall of Oswestry was a serious blow to the Royalists. It opened a route into mid-Wales for the Parliamentarians and severed direct communications between the strongholds of Chester and Shrewsbury. Prince Rupert had left the veteran officer Sir Fulke Huncke in command at Shrewsbury, who quickly mustered all available Royalist troops and marched to recover Oswestry. In late June, Huncke approached the town with 2,000 foot, 600 horse and two pieces of artillery. News of the Royalist advance had reached Lord Denbigh, who sent Sir Thomas Myddelton with all the forces that could be spared from Cheshire to reinforce Mytton. As Myddelton's force approached Oswestry, Huncke ordered Colonel Marrow to send out scouts to discover the strength of the Parliamentarian army. Apparently against Huncke's orders, Marrow took the whole body of horse and attacked Myddelton at Whittington, three miles east of Oswestry, where the Royalist cavalry were ignominiously routed. With his cavalry scattered, Huncke was obliged to lift the siege and retreat with his guns to Shrewsbury.

Prince Rupert's Departure, August 1644

On 2 July 1644, Prince Rupert suffered a major defeat at the hands of the combined Parliamentarian and Scottish armies at the battle of Marston Moor in Yorkshire. After the battle, Rupert rallied the remnants of his army and retreated back across the Pennines to the Welsh border, arriving at Chester on 25 July. While Rupert attempted to recruit a new army from north Wales, Parliamentarian commanders took advantage of the weakened state of the Royalists in the Marches and began a new series of offensives all along the border.

On 4 August, Sir Thomas Myddelton and Colonel Mytton led 500 horse in a dawn raid on Welshpool in Montgomeryshire, where they routed a Royalist cavalry detachment under Sir Thomas Dallison and plundered the town. On the same day, Sir Edward Massie defeated Colonel Nicholas Mynne at Redmarley in Gloucestershire. Mynne, who had ably defended Herefordshire for the King, was killed in the battle and his regiment destroyed, which exposed Herefordshire to Massie's raids. On 21 August, the veteran Royalist cavalry commander Colonel Marrow was killed during a Parliamentarian raid on Tarvin in Cheshire. Around 26 August, Sir Marmaduke Langdale's Northern Horse, having retreated into Cheshire after Marston Moor, were routed at Malpas by Sir William Brereton and driven into north Wales.

Meanwhile, Prince Rupert's attempt to raise money and new forces from Wales had foundered. His reputation for invincibility was destroyed at Marston Moor; the levies he raised were reluctant to serve and quickly deserted. Some of his veteran officers left him to find employment abroad, or even with Parliament. He was unable to find weapons and ammunition to equip a new army. In late August, Rupert abandoned the task and left the Welsh Marches to set up his headquarters at Bristol.

The battle of Montgomery, September 1644

Early in September 1644, Sir Thomas Myddelton and Colonel Thomas Mytton advanced from Oswestry with 500 foot and 300 horse, intent upon securing Parliamentarian control of the upper Severn valley. On 3 September, they surprised and overwhelmed Sir Thomas Gardiner's garrison at Newtown in Montgomeryshire and seized a powder convoy on its way north from Bristol to supply the beleaguered garrisons at Chester and Liverpool. Laden with their captured gunpowder, Myddelton and Mytton advanced to attack Montgomery.

The town of Montgomery was poorly defended by a ruinous medieval wall. On a hill-top to the west of the town, however, Montgomery Castle was one of the most formidable fortresses in the region. It was held by Lord Herbert of Chirbury, a noted scholar and patron of the arts, who lived in a mansion within the castle attended by a small retinue of retainers. By the time of the civil war, Lord Herbert was old and in poor health. Apart from attending the King at Oxford, he had played no active part in the war, and had refused to co-operate with Prince Rupert or to install a Royalist garrison in the castle. Myddelton's forces occupied the town and called upon Lord Herbert of surrender the castle, fixing a petard to the castle gate in order to coerce him. Terms were agreed on 5 September. Myddelton promised that no harm would come to Herbert or to his possessions, in particular his valuable library. In return, a Parliamentarian garrison occupied the castle and the captured gunpowder was secured.

Campaign Map: Battle of Montogomery 1644
The battle of Montgomery, 1644

The loss of Montgomery Castle was a serious blow to the Welsh Royalists. Within days, Major-General Sir Michael Erneley and Sir William Vaughan gathered contingents of horse and foot from Shrewsbury and the surrounding garrisons and marched to counter-attack. Apparently undetected, the Royalists approached Montgomery on 8 September when the Parliamentarians were on a foraging expedition. Surprised and outnumbered, the Parliamentarian foot fell back to the castle while Myddelton rode away with most of the horse to seek reinforcements, leaving Colonel Mytton to defend the castle. The Royalists proceeded to surround Montgomery, digging trenches and throwing up earthworks in preparation for a sustained siege.

Myddelton hurriedly gathered all available Parliamentarian forces for the relief of Montgomery. Sir John Meldrum withdrew a large body of his forces from the siege of Liverpool; Sir William Fairfax brought troops from Yorkshire and Sir William Brereton mustered the Cheshire foot. Joined with Myddelton's horse, and under Meldrum's overall command, the combined Parliamentarian army of around 2,000 foot and 1,500 horse approached Montgomery on 17 September.

Meanwhile, the Royalists before the castle had also been reinforced. Appreciating the strategic significance of Montgomery, Lord Byron had marched from Chester and Sir Michael Woodhouse from Ludlow to join Erneley and Vaughan. The combined army of around 2,800 foot, 1,400 horse and 300 dragoons brought together the full strength of the Royalists in north Wales and the Marches. On the approach of the Parliamentarians, Byron withdrew from his position before the town. Leaving enough troops to guard the trenches and siege-works, Byron deployed the bulk of his forces on a steep-sided hill crowned by ancient earthworks north-west of the castle. The Parliamentarians drew up on flat ground two miles north of the town, with the remains of Offa's Dyke and the River Camladd to protect their flank and rear.

The two armies remained in position overnight. On the following day, with no sign of an engagement, the Parliamentarian commanders sent out nearly a third of their cavalry to gather provisions for the garrison in the castle. Seeing the enemy weakened, Byron took the opportunity to order a general attack, with the object of seizing Salt Bridge over the River Camladd to cut off Meldrum's escape.

Although the ensuing battle is poorly documented, the initial assault seems to have favoured the Royalists. Colonel Trevor's horse drove back the outnumbered Parliamentarian cavalry and the Royalist foot gained ground. The Royalists threatened to outflank the Parliamentarians and capture the bridge. However, Major-General Lothian succeeded in rallying the Cheshire foot to check the Royalist advance with concentrated musket fire, and the tide of the battle turned dramatically against the Royalists. They may have been discouraged by the unexpected Parliamentarian rally; it is also possible that the Parliamentarian foraging party returned to tip the balance against them. The Parliamentarians regrouped and counter-attacked. Myddelton's horse charged and put the Royalist cavalry to flight; Brereton's infantry broke through the Royalist foot. Colonel Mytton's forces sallied out of Montgomery Castle to overwhelm the Royalists guarding the trenches. After an hour's fighting, the battle ended with the rout of the Royalists. Around 500 were killed, with 1,500 taken prisoner. The Parliamentarians lost forty men, including Sir William Fairfax, commander of the Yorkshire contingent.

Montgomery was the biggest battle fought in Wales during the civil wars and a major victory for Parliament. The Royalists were never again able to muster a field army in north Wales and were forced onto the defensive, awaiting attack in castles and garrisons weakened by the loss of men, arms and ammunition at Montgomery. The loss of morale was also significant. Local gentry previously loyal to the King began to shift their allegiance towards Parliament.

After the battle, Meldrum went back to the siege of Liverpool and Brereton returned to Cheshire to tighten the noose on Chester. Sir Thomas Myddelton consolidated his grip on mid-Wales with an advance on Powis Castle near Welshpool. During the night of 2 October, Myddelton's forces blew in the outer gate of the castle with a petard and the small garrison of only sixty men surrendered. A shortage of men and supplies prevented Myddelton from advancing into north Wales to threaten major fortresses like Denbigh Castle, or even from recapturing his estates at Chirk and Ruthin. However, the capture of Montgomery and Powis established a strong Parliamentarian base in central Wales, from which Myddelton led regular raids on surrounding Royalist garrisons.


Sources:

John Barratt, Cavaliers: the Royalist army at war 1642-46 (Stroud 2000)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

Peter Gaunt, A Nation Under Siege, the Civil War in Wales 1642-48 (HMSO 1991)

Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642-46, (London 1999)

J.R. Phillips, Memoirs of the the Civil War in Wales and the Marches vols i & ii (London 1874)