The Second Bishops' War, 1640

King Charles was determined to subdue the Covenanters by force and summoned Sir Thomas Wentworth from Ireland as an adviser. Wentworth was created Earl of Strafford in January 1640. He coerced the Irish parliament into granting funds to raise an Irish army for service against the Scots and advised the King to summon a parliament in England to raise further funds. The Short Parliament duly assembled in April 1640 but proved uncooperative. When Parliament refused to grant funds for the war, the King appealed for a loan from Spain while the Queen appealed to her brother the King of France and even to the Pope. These appeals were in vain, however, and King Charles was left to his own devices.

Mustering the Armies

The northern militia from the First Bishops' War was disbanded and a new levy was raised in the south of England. Untrained and poorly-disciplined, many of the southern levies deserted on the march to the north. Others were prone to mutiny: two officers thought to be Catholics were murdered by their own men, who then dispersed. Violent disorders were reported from all parts of England that the levies passed through. By August 1640, the King's forces had mustered in Yorkshire and Northumberland, most of them poorly-armed, unpaid and underfed. Strafford's Irish army was not ready in time to take part in the campaign against Scotland.

The Second Bishops War campaign mapThe Second Bishops' War, 1640

In Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament appointed the Committee of Estates to direct the defence of Scotland. The Earl-Marischal William Keith occupied Aberdeen for the Covenanters in May 1640 while Major-General Robert Monro invaded the lands of the Royalist Gordons in the north-east. In June, the Earl of Argyll was granted a commission of "fire and sword" and led 5,000 Campbells in a six-week expedition to pillage and burn the lands of Royalist clans in the Highlands. Once the Scottish Royalists had been subdued, Argyll besieged Dumbarton as a precaution against the possibility of Strafford's Irish army landing in western Scotland.

Several regiments of the Covenanter army had remained in arms after the First Bishops' War and, with another war imminent, new levies were quickly raised. By early August 1640, the Covenanter army massed on the border with England was around 20,000 strong with an artillery train of sixty guns. The English army was concentrated in two areas of assembly: one in central Yorkshire awaiting the arrival of the King, the other in Northumberland. The Earl of Northumberland, commander-in-chief of the English army, had fallen ill. The commander of the northern army, Viscount Conway, concentrated on building up the defences of the border town of Berwick and seems to have disregarded the mustering of the Covenanters until it was too late.

Faced with the difficulties of keeping the Covenanter army supplied while it remained on the defensive, the Committee of Estates decided to mount a pre-emptive invasion of England. On 20 August 1640, General Leslie crossed the River Tweed at Coldstream and marched into England. Leslie thwarted Conway's defensive preparations by simply bypassing the well-defended town of Berwick and marching straight for Newcastle and the rich coalfields that supplied London with coal. As the King hurried north to York, the Scots arrived at the outskirts of Newcastle on 27 August.

The Battle of Newburn, August 1640

Rather than attack the strongly-fortified northern approach to Newcastle, Leslie marched west along the River Tyne to Newburn Ford, the first crossing point over the Tyne, a few miles upstream from the city. He intended to secure control of the northern and southern banks of the Tyne and then to encircle Newcastle.

Viscount Conway sent 1,500 horse and 3,000 foot to reinforce the troops guarding the ford. Two improvised earthwork forts had been constructed on the south bank of the Tyne, each manned by 400 musketeers and defended by four light artillery pieces. However, the forts were poorly placed. Leslie's expert artillery officer Alexander Hamilton, who had served under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, deployed Scottish field artillery on higher ground on the north bank of the Tyne. Light guns were hoisted to the top of Newburn church tower so that the Scottish artillery completely dominated the English position.

Leslie sent a messenger to Conway saying that the Scots did not wish to fight but only wanted free passage in order to petition the King. Conway had no option but to refuse. The first wave of Scottish cavalry advanced towards the ford in the early afternoon of 28 August 1640 but was driven back by gunfire from the English entrenchments. In the ensuing artillery duel, Colonel Lunsford was unable to restrain his raw troops. Under intense bombardment, they deserted the earthworks and fled. The Covenanters poured across the ford to take possession of the undefended river bank. Henry Wilmot, commander of the English cavalry, led a gallant charge to try and drive them back but was overwhelmed as disciplined Covenanter musketeers were posted to secure the position. Most of the English infantry fled in panic towards Newcastle. Colonel Monck managed to retain control of his regiment and retreated in good order with the English artillery.

General Leslie ordered his troops not to pursue the fleeing English to avoid causing ill feeling by inflicting unnecessary casualties. To the amazement of the Scots, Viscount Conway decided that Newcastle could not be defended and withdrew the garrison to Durham. On 30 August, the Covenanters marched unopposed into Newcastle.

The Treaty of Ripon, October 1640

The morale of the English army stationed in Yorkshire collapsed after the defeat at Newburn. On 24 September, King Charles summoned a Great Council of Peers at York — a revival of an institution that had not been used since the reign of Edward III. The Council almost unanimously advised the King to negotiate a truce with the Scots and to summon another Parliament in England. While the Council of Peers continued to sit in York, English and Scottish commissioners met at Ripon in October 1640 to negotiate a treaty.

The Treaty of Ripon was signed on 14 October. A cessation of hostilities was agreed. Negotiations for a permanent settlement were to be negotiated and ratified by a new parliament to be summoned in London. Meanwhile, the Scottish army was to occupy Northumberland and Durham, exacting an indemnity of £850 a day from the English government for its quarter; furthermore the Scottish government was to be reimbursed for its expenses in prosecuting the war against England.


Kenyon, J. and Ohlmeyer, J. (editors), The Civil Wars: a military history of England, Scotland and Ireland 1638-1660, (Oxford 1998)

Stuart Reid, Scots Armies of the English Civil Wars (Osprey 1999)

Stuart Reid, Auldearn 1645: the Marquis of Montrose's Scottish campaign (Osprey 2003)

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44 (Newton Abbott 1973)

C.V. Wedgwood, The King's Peace 1637-41 (London 1955)


Battle of Newburn UK Battlefields Resource Centre