During the uncertainty that followed the resignation of Richard Cromwell and the ending of the Protectorate in 1659, a new Royalist conspiracy to overthrow the republican government of England was formulated. In March 1659, warrants were issued to the Great Trust and Commission, an underground group authorised by the exiled Charles II to organise an uprising to bring about the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. As with Penruddock's Uprising of 1655 and the abortive conspiracy of 1657-8, a series of insurrections was planned to take place simultaneously in various parts of the country in order to overwhelm government forces.
The leading member of the Great Trust was John Mordaunt, who was created Viscount Mordaunt in March 1659 as an indication of Charles' favour towards him. Initially, the other members were drawn from the Sealed Knot but when they proved reluctant to co-operate with Mordaunt, more willing conspirators were recruited. The conspiracies of 1659 were characterised by the active participation of Presbyterians and disaffected Parliamentarians as well as Royalists. However, the Sealed Knot's unwillingness to co-operate tended to discourage the Royalist aristocracy so that few noblemen were involved.
Under Mordaunt's vigorous leadership, the conspiracy gathered momentum during the summer of 1659. Leading members of the Trust, including Mordaunt, Sir John Grenville, Lord Willoughby and Edward Massie, met in London on 9 July to finalise plans for the uprising, which was scheduled to take place on 1 August. However, the Commonwealth government was fully aware that a conspiracy was afoot. Cromwell's spymaster John Thurloe was dismissed after Richard's abdication, but Thurloe's predecessor Thomas Scot was re-appointed director of intelligence in May 1659. Despite the exposure of the Royalist informant Sir Richard Willys in early July, Scot's agents infiltrated the conspiracy. From mid-July, prominent Royalists and Presbyterians were detained on suspicion of involvement in the plot. The Council of State ordered the mobilisation of the militia and the reinforcement of strategic garrisons around the country. A squadron of warships put to sea to guard the Channel against the possibility of a supporting Royalist invasion from the Continent.
On 30 July, the Sealed Knot sent out messengers warning the conspirators that the situation was hopeless and that the uprising should be abandoned. The following day, Massie was arrested, leading to the collapse of the conspiracy in Gloucestershire and the West. All over the country, small bands of Royalists preparing for the regional uprisings were intercepted and arrested. Mordaunt himself decided to lie low when a number of his accomplices were arrested in Surrey. On the appointed day, the only partially successful uprising occurred in Lancashire, Cheshire, and North Wales under the overall command of Sir George Booth.
The warning issued by the Sealed Knot failed to reach Lancashire and Cheshire in time, and on 1 August, with the encouragement of the Presbyterian clergy, Booth mustered five hundred supporters at Warrington in Lancashire and advanced to a rendezvous with Cheshire insurgents at Rowton Heath near Chester. The following day, sympathisers opened the city gates and Booth's rebels occupied Chester. The commander of the Chester garrison Captain Croxton withdrew into Chester Castle with his men and refused to surrender. Lacking artillery, the rebels could do nothing to threaten them. Booth issued a series of proclamations claiming that the insurgents had taken arms to defend the freedom of Parliament. No explicit reference was made to King Charles. Leaving forces to blockade Chester Castle, Booth set off for Manchester with around 4,000 men, intending to make his way to York which, it was supposed, would also surrender to him. Colonel Egerton took a party from Chester to join Sir Thomas Myddelton at Chirk Castle in Denbighshire. Myddelton and Egerton advanced to Wrexham where they declared for the King. Colonel Gilbert Ireland seized Liverpool for the King and persuaded some of the militia to desert their colours.
In the Midlands, Lord Byron belatedly decided to muster his forces and join the uprising. On 12 August, Byron led 100 horse to attack a militia troop at Southwell in Nottinghamshire, who were not expected to fight — but the insurgents scattered in panic when the militia stood firm. Colonel White rode with a contingent of Byron's forces to Derby where he was welcomed by Presbyterian ministers and aldermen. Booth's declaration was read in the market-place and it appeared that Derby had joined the uprising. Meanwhile in the south, Lord Mordaunt made a second attempt at inciting rebellion and appeared with about eighty supporters to declare for the King at Barnstead Down in Surrey on 13 August. However, Mordaunt and his followers quickly dispersed at the approach of government troops.
The Council of State moved quickly to suppress the sporadic uprisings. On 5 August, Colonel John Lambert was commissioned to gather forces to march against Booth. Lambert marched north and arrived at Nantwich in Cheshire on 15 August, where he mustered a small army of around 1,200 horse and 3,000 foot. A detachment under Colonel Mitchell occupied Derby on 14 August, meeting no resistance from Colonel White's insurgents.
Meanwhile, Sir George Booth realised that the general insurrection had failed and turned back toward Chester. Lambert also set out for Chester from Nantwich on 18 August, but changed direction when he learned that Booth's forces were near Northwich. Lambert intercepted the insurgents on 19 August at Winnington Bridge which crosses the River Weaver near Northwich. The Royalists held the bridge and the high ground behind it to the north. Lambert sent Colonel Hewson's infantry regiment to drive back the defenders and secure the bridge. Lambert's cavalry then advanced across the river. A short skirmish ensued. Booth's forces were no match for Lambert's veteran cavalry and the insurgents were soon scattered in all directions. Lambert ordered his cavalry not to pursue the fugitives in order to prevent a massacre. Losses were light, with only one of Lambert's men killed and about thirty insurgents.
Chester surrendered to Lambert without resistance on 21 August. Chirk Castle and Liverpool had surrendered to detachments from Lambert's army by 24 August. Sir George Booth fled the scene of his defeat and disguised himself in female clothes. He intended to make his way to London then escape to the Continent but an innkeeper at Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire became suspicious. The inn was surrounded and Booth was arrested, still dressed as a woman. His headlong flight from the battle and the farcical circumstances of his arrest made him the object of great mirth and ridicule in London. Although imprisoned in the Tower, he was never brought to trial and escaped all punishment. Viscount Mordaunt succeeded in escaping to France early in September.
Godfrey Davies, The Restoration of Charles II, 1658-60 (San Marino 1955)
Sean Kelsey, George Booth, 1st Baron Delamere, Oxford DNB 2004
Victor Stater, John, 1st Viscount Mordaunt of Avalon, Oxford DNB 2004
David Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy in England 1649-60 (New Haven 1960)