The Second Civil War: Wales

In 1648, a series of revolts against Parliament broke out around the country. In south Wales, Parliamentarian soldiers mutinied against orders to disband before their arrears of pay had been settled. This escalated into a general uprising when officers and the Royalist gentry of Pembrokeshire joined with the discontented troops. Early in March 1648, Colonel Poyer, governor of Pembroke Castle, refused to hand over the castle to his appointed successor Colonel Fleming and routed Fleming's troops. On 23 March, Poyer, declared for the King. Colonel Powell and Sir Nicholas Kemoys followed suit at Tenby and Chepstow castles. Major-General Laugharne, Parliament's commander in south Wales during the First Civil War, sided with the insurgents and took command of the rebel army.

Civil War in South Wales, 1648
The Second Civil War: South Wales

St. Fagans, Glamorganshire, 8 May 1648

The Parliamentarian Colonel Horton with one regiment of foot and two of horse, together with Colonel Okey and his regiment of dragoons, were ordered by General Fairfax to secure south Wales. After skirmishing in the area of Carmarthen and Brecon during early May 1648, Horton marched to Cardiff and took up a strong position on Pentrebane ridge above the town to await the arrival of Lieutenant-General Cromwell with reinforcements. Major-General Laugharne was anxious to defeat Horton before Cromwell arrived. Laugharne's army consisted of about 500 horse and 7,500 foot, with many local recruits. The Parliamentarian force was smaller at around 3,000 troops about half of whom were cavalry and dragoons.

On 7 May 1648, Laugharne made a feint towards Cardiff, which drew Horton down to a new position around the village of St Fagans. Laugharne hoped to trap the Parliamentarians in the village and surrounding enclosures where their cavalry would be less effective. Early in the morning of 8 May, Laugharne launched a surprise attack but was driven back when a counterattack by 50 Parliamentarian horse and dragoons routed the Royalist advance guard. Colonel Horton seized the initiative and sent Colonel Okey's dragoons to attack the main Royalist position while the Parliamentarian infantry and horse deployed for a general assault. The Royalists fell back before their advance. Laugharne was wounded during a last desperate charge with his reserves. The Royalist army was routed. Laugharne retreated to join Colonel Poyer at Pembroke while Colonel Horton marched to besiege Tenby Castle.

The Siege of Pembroke, May-July 1648

Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell with three regiments of foot and two of horse had reached Gloucester near the Welsh border when Laugharne's army was defeated at St Fagans. The remaining Royalist insurgents in south Wales were fortified in the castles of Chepstow, Tenby and Pembroke. Cromwell occupied the town of Chepstow on 11 May, but Sir Nicholas Kemoys resolutely held the castle for the King. Leaving Colonel Ewer to conduct the siege, Cromwell marched on via Cardiff and Swansea to join Colonel Horton at Tenby where he arrived on 23 May. Tenby Castle was held by another discontented former Parliamentarian, Colonel Powell with 500 troops. Cromwell left Horton to besiege Tenby while he took his main force to the stronghold of Pembroke. Colonel Ewer took Chepstow Castle by storm on 25 May. Sir Nicholas Kemoys was killed in fierce fighting. Tenby was starved into submission; Colonel Powell surrendered and was taken prisoner on 31 May. At Pembroke, however, Cromwell became bogged down in a long siege.

The great medieval fortress of Pembroke is situated on a rocky promontory to the west of the walled town and surrounded on three sides by the tidal River Cleddau. Its landward side was defended by a deep ditch and walls up to 20 feet thick. Cromwell arrived to supervise the siege on 24 May but found that the artillery he had brought with him was inadequate to breach the town walls or the immense walls of the castle. An attempt to take the town by storm on 4 June failed because the Parliamentarian siege ladders were too short and a second attack was driven back on 24 June. Under the direction of Major-General Laugharne, the defenders sallied out and raided the Parliamentarian siege works, killing thirty of Cromwell's soldiers. Heavy siege artillery was sent from Bristol by sea, but initially the transport vessels were driven back by storms; it was not until 1 July that the guns were finally landed at Milford Haven and brought up to Pembroke.

Under intense bombardment, breaches were opened in the town and castle walls. The garrison was running short of food and ammunition and the soldiers were becoming mutinous when Cromwell issued a final summons on 10 July. Poyer and Laugharne gave up the struggle and surrendered the next day. (According to a later story, Pembroke surrendered after Cromwell was informed of a way to deprive the defenders of water by cutting a conduit pipe). On entering the town, Cromwell ordered that Pembroke's defences should be demolished. The town walls, the barbican and castle towers were brought down by mining and gunpowder, though the castle was extensively restored during the 19th and 20th centuries.

While Cromwell hurried north to deal with Langdale's rebellion and the threat of a Scottish invasion, the renegades Laugharne, Poyer and Powell were sent to London. In April 1649, they were court-martialled and condemned to be executed by firing squad. It was ruled that the sentence would be carried out on only one of them, to be decided by drawing lots, and Colonel Poyer was executed at Covent Garden on 25 April.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iv (London 1894)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

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

Dave Webb, A Great Victory in Wales (Orders of the day, Volume 30, Issue 2, Mar/Apr 1998)


Castles of Wales: Pembroke Tenby