North Wales & the Marches, 1643

Early in 1643, King Charles I appointed three noblemen as regional lieutenant-generals to govern and direct military operations in Wales and the Marches. The six counties of north Wales (Flint, Denbigh, Caernarfon, Merioneth, Montgomery and Angelsey) were allotted to Lord Capel, who was also responsible for the northern Marcher counties of Cheshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Capel set up his headquarters at Shrewsbury in March 1643.

Capel's Parliamentarian counterpart in north Wales was Sir Thomas Myddelton. However, Myddelton's appointment was in name only because the region was entirely under Royalist control. Even Myddelton's estate at Chirk Castle in Denbighshire was in enemy hands after its capture in a Royalist raid in mid-January 1643. When Myddelton arrived in the region to take up his appointment in August 1643 with troops and artillery from London, he went to Nantwich in Cheshire to join forces with Sir William Brereton, the Parliamentarian commander of Cheshire, Shropshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire, to threaten the Royalists on the northern Marches.

Shropshire, August-October 1643

Sir William Brereton was one of the most energetic of the regional Parliamentarian commanders. He defeated the Royalist Sir Thomas Aston at Nantwich on 28 January 1643 then fortified and held the town as Parliament's headquarters in Cheshire. Within a few months, he had gained control of the entire county except for the city and major seaport of Chester, which was resolutely held for the King by Orlando Bridgeman. Throughout the spring and summer of 1643, Brereton co-operated with Parliamentarian officers in Staffordshire and Lancashire, while Lord Capel struggled to raise an army capable of challenging Brereton in the field. When Sir Thomas Myddelton arrived in Cheshire in August, the supplies and reinforcements that he brought from London enabled the Parliamentarians to attempt to extend their territory into Royalist-held Shropshire.

Civil War in Shropshire 1643
Civil war in the Marches, 1643

The eastern approach to Shropshire was guarded by the Royalist stronghold of Eccleshall Castle in Staffordshire, which Lord Capel had garrisoned at the beginning of the war. Brereton's forces besieged Eccleshall in mid-August, establishing their headquarters in the nearby church of the Holy Trinity, where guns were mounted in the tower and in the churchyard to bombard the castle. Colonel-General Henry Hastings, the Royalist commander in the Midlands, marched to relieve the siege and temporarily drove the Parliamentarians away. However, Hastings appointed a Danish mercenary as governor of Eccleshall, whom the garrison refused to obey. When the Parliamentarians returned on 29 August, the castle surrendered.

The fall of Eccleshall Castle opened Shropshire to Brereton and Myddelton. They were joined by Colonel Thomas Mytton with a regiment of foot from London. Mytton was Myddelton's brother-in-law and had been appointed commander of Parliament's forces in Shropshire. On 9 September, the Parliamentarians summoned the county for Parliament. They marched unopposed into Wem on 11 September, and proceeded to garrison and fortify the town.

Meanwhile, with the ending of the King's campaign against Gloucester, Lord Capel was reinforced with a further three regiments and a supply of munitions from Oxford. In mid-October 1643, Capel took to the field at the head of a force of around 4,000 men and six cannon. With most of Brereton's forces concentrated around Wem in Shropshire, Capel advanced from Shrewsbury on the Parliamentarian headquarters at Nantwich in Cheshire. However, the advance faltered when the Royalists were attacked by troops from the Nantwich garrison at nearby Acton. On learning of the Royalist advance, Brereton and Myddelton hurried back towards Nantwich with the bulk of their forces, leaving Colonel Mytton with a garrison of 300 foot at Wem. Capel fell back to Whitchurch then evaded the Parliamentarians to make a bold dash on Wem with the intention of overwhelming the garrison. Although heavily outnumbered, Mytton's troops defended fiercely and Capel's attack was repulsed with heavy losses. With his army badly mauled and some of his best officers killed or taken prisoner, Capel fled back to Shrewsbury.

North Wales, November 1643

After his defeat before Wem, Lord Capel shut himself up in Shrewsbury. His army had been seriously weakened in the attack and a popular local officer, Colonel Wynne, had been killed. The formerly Royalist county of Shropshire now had a Parliamentarian presence. Lord Capel himself had become a laughing-stock and the butt of popular satirical ballads. He feared that the people of Shrewsbury would destroy the Royalist garrison if he left it unguarded.

Under these circumstances, the Parliamentarians took the opportunity to increase their territory by invading north Wales. Sir William Brereton mustered his forces and collected detachments from his allies in Lancashire and Staffordshire to make up a field army of about 1,500 regulars with some Cheshire militiamen. On 7 November 1643, Brereton and Sir Thomas Myddelton led their troops from Nantwich.

Parliamentarian advance into north Wales, 1643

On 9 November, the Parliamentarians stormed the crossing of the River Dee at Holt Bridge by rushing the bridge, scaling the gatehouse and bringing down the drawbridge. Most of the Royalist defenders fled, but some withdrew into Holt Castle, where Colonel John Robinson defiantly refused to surrender. Leaving a detachment to besiege the castle, Brereton and Myddelton advanced to occupy Wrexham with their main force.

The next day, the invasion force marched north from Wrexham. Colonel Ravenscroft surrendered Hawarden Castle on 10 November, apparently without a fight. Brereton's forces occupied Mold on 11 November and Flint Castle surrendered on the 12th. By 14 November, the Parliamentarians had captured Holywell and Mostyn. Within a week of leaving Nantwich, Brereton and Myddelton controlled the western side of the Dee estuary. The supply route from north Wales to Chester was severed and the city was effectively surrounded by hostile forces. As the Welsh Royalists withdrew westwards to the line of the River Clwyd, Sir Thomas Myddelton opened negotiations with Colonel Salesbury for the surrender of Denbigh Castle.

At this point, the victorious Parliamentarian invaders suffered a sudden and dramatic reversal that drove them back across the Dee into Cheshire.

Troops from Ireland

In September 1643, the Marquis of Ormond concluded terms for a one-year cease-fire with the Irish Confederates on behalf of the King. The Cessation of Arms allowed government troops stationed in Ireland to be recalled to England to fight for the Royalists. Some of the returning troops were to join Lord Hopton's army in the South, but most of them were to form a new northern army that was intended to assist the Marquis of Newcastle in countering the expected invasion of England by Parliament's new Scottish allies.

The King's use of troops from Ireland was controversial. Although he hoped in the long term to recruit Irish Confederates to fight against Parliament, his first reinforcements were battle-hardened English and Welsh veterans of the Confederate War. This did not prevent Parliamentarian news-books from playing upon the worst fears of English Protestants by representing the returning troops as bloodthirsty Irish papists.

The first contingent of troops for the new northern army landed at Mostyn in Flintshire on 16 November 1643. It comprised four regiments of foot and one of horse under the command of Major-General Sir Michael Erneley. The troops were directed to north Wales in order to counter Brereton's invasion. Faced with Erneley's veterans of the Irish service, Brereton and Myddelton abandoned north Wales and withdrew to consolidate their forces in Cheshire and Lancashire, leaving only a garrison at Hawarden Castle, which surrendered early in December. Erneley's troops quickly re-established Royalist control of north Wales, then advanced to occupy Chester, where they were joined by further regiments from Ireland during the following weeks.


Sources:

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)

P.R. Newman Atlas of the English Civil War, (London 1985)

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