George, Lord Goring, 1608-1657
Royalist cavalry commander admired by some for his bravery, brilliance and charm; reviled by others for his drunkenness, debauchery and irresponsibility.
Born on 14 July 1608, George Goring was the eldest son of a Sussex gentleman, also called George Goring, who later became the first Earl of Norwich. In 1629, the younger Goring married Lettice, daughter of millionaire Irish land speculator Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork. The marriage brought a dowry of £10,000 — which Goring promptly spent on gambling, debauchery and establishing a reputation as a wit and gallant at court. Hoping that he would redeem his fortune and character through military service, his father-in-law grudgingly bought Goring a commission as a colonel of the English troops fighting for the Prince of Orange.
Goring proved to be a brave and popular commander. At the siege of Breda in 1637, however, his ankle was shattered by a musket-ball — a wound that caused him pain and ill-health for the rest of his life. He retired honourably from the Dutch service and was appointed governor of Portsmouth in January 1639.
Goring was given command of a regiment of foot in the First Bishops' War (1639), and a brigade in the Second (1640). Although the English were defeated, the campaign enhanced Goring's reputation as a dashing and popular officer. He returned to his governorship of Portsmouth and was elected MP for the town in the Long Parliament (November 1640).
Goring was associated with a militant group of young officers that attended Queen Henrietta Maria. In 1641, they conspired to use military force to discourage Parliament from further criticism of the King. Goring realised that the design was impractical and in danger of being compromised, so he passed the details to John Pym through their mutual acquaintance the Earl of Newport. Pym used the so-called Army Plot to political advantage against the King. Many Royalists believed that Goring had betrayed the conspirators, and his reputation suffered as a result. However, it is possible that the Army Plot was only intended to be a deterrent and that Goring passed the information to Parliament with the knowledge and consent of the King.
There were further doubts concerning Goring's loyalty during 1642. Parliament granted him £5,000 to fortify Portsmouth against the King, though in secret correspondence with the Queen, he assured her of his loyalty to the Crown and was granted a further £3,000 to fortify Portsmouth against Parliament. In August 1642, three weeks before the royal standard was raised at Nottingham, Goring revealed his hand by openly declaring for King Charles. However, the King was in no position to support him, and Parliament moved swiftly to secure the vital port and garrison of Portsmouth. Goring surrendered the city to Sir William Waller in September 1642 after a month-long siege. He fled to the Netherlands where he joined Henrietta Maria, his reputation having sunk even lower through the surrender of Portsmouth.
Goring spent three months in the Netherlands assisting the Queen in buying weapons and raising troops for the Royalist cause. In December 1642, he sailed with a force of officers and veteran soldiers to the north of England and was appointed lieutenant-general of horse to William Cavendish, Earl (later Marquis) of Newcastle. Goring defeated Sir Thomas Fairfax at the battle of Seacroft Moor in March 1643, but was taken prisoner when the Fairfaxes stormed Wakefield in a surprise attack two months later. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London until April 1644 when he was released in exchange for the Earl of Lothian and returned to the north.
When the Marquis of Newcastle fell back to defend York in May 1644, Goring's cavalry joined Prince Rupert on the York March through Lancashire and across the Pennines. At Marston Moor in July 1644, Goring commanded the left wing and led the Royalist horse in a devastating charge that scattered Fairfax's cavalry. Although the battle was lost, Goring was acclaimed the hero of the day at court and his reputation soared. He succeeded the disgraced Lord Wilmot as lieutenant-general of horse in the King's army and took part in the Lostwithiel campaign of August 1644. In October, Goring drove Sir William Waller out of Andover, then distinguished himself further at the inconclusive second battle of Newbury nine days later, where he drove back Cromwell's Ironsides.
With the elevation of his father to the earldom of Norwich in November 1644, Goring was granted the courtesy title Lord Goring — though Parliament refused to recognize the creation of the earldom, and continued to refer to the father as Lord Goring and the son as General Goring.
In December 1644, Goring received a commission as lieutenant-general of the south-eastern counties. He advanced through Hampshire and Surrey with 3,000 horse and 1,500 foot, intending to provoke a Royalist uprising in Sussex and Kent. Goring's forces occupied Farnham early in January 1645 but he was unable to sustain the advance in the face of concentrated Parliamentarian resistance.
Decline and Fall
In February 1645, Goring was sent to the West Country, where the Charles, Prince of Wales had been granted a court and council as captain-general of the west. Although he successfully drove back Waller's advance into the region, Goring clashed with the Prince's civilian advisers and engaged in a series of counter-productive disputes and intrigues against the council. He also argued with Prince Rupert, with the result that Goring's cavalry were in the west, ostensibly to prevent the New Model Army from raising the siege of Taunton, rather than with the King's army at the fateful battle of Naseby in June 1645.
After Naseby, it was rumoured that Goring's periods of drunkenness became more frequent, and his troops—already infamously known as "Goring's Crew"—became even more unruly and undisciplined. He was defeated by Fairfax's New Model Army on its westward advance at the battle of Langport in July 1645, after which he retreated into Devon. Most of his demoralised infantry deserted after the defeat at Langport and the Prince's council continued to dispute his military authority. With only a few loyal cavalry regiments to rely upon, Goring was powerless to prevent Fairfax's relentless advance. His health deteriorated under the strain. He abandoned his command and fled to France in November 1645.
Goring never returned to England. In 1648, he gained command of the English regiments in the Spanish army in Flanders, but his pay fell rapidly into arrears. He travelled to Madrid in 1650 to appeal in person at the royal court, and remained in Spain for the rest of his life. He distinguished himself at the siege of Barcelona in 1652 where he is said to have held the rank of lieutenant-general, but by 1655 he was unemployed again. The offer of his services to the exiled Charles II was apparently ignored. Goring's health continued to decline and he was constantly short of money. After becoming a Catholic convert, he died penniless in Madrid in 1657, aged 49. He was buried in the English Jesuit chapel of St George in Madrid.
A.H. Burne & P. Young, The Great Civil War, (London 1958)
Ronald Hutton, George, Baron Goring, Oxford DNB, 2004
Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)