Civil War in Pembrokeshire, 1643-4

When civil war broke out in 1642, Richard Vaughan, Earl of Carbery was the most powerful nobleman in south-west Wales. However, Carbery took little interest in national affairs and his allegiance was unclear. Both King and Parliament tried to commission him to raise forces on their behalf. Eventually, Carbery declared for the King and raised a regiment of foot, which he sent to join the Oxford army in January 1643 under the command of his brother Sir Henry Vaughan.

In April 1643, King Charles I appointed three noblemen as regional lieutenant-generals to govern and direct military operations in Wales and the Marches. The three south-western counties of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire were allotted to Carbery, who was expected to raise troops, gather money and to secure the region for the King.

Carbery's Diplomacy, 1643

Apart from a Parliamentarian enclave centred on the town of Pembroke, most of south-west Wales was broadly Royalist in sympathy or neutral. Lord Carbery made no move against the Parliamentarian supporters in the region and was content to allow an informal truce to prevail so that for most of 1643, the area was unaffected by the civil war.

The situation changed in September 1643 with the signing of the Cessation of Arms, negotiated between the King's Lord-Deputy and the Irish Confederates. The cease-fire allowed government troops stationed in Ireland to return to England to fight for the Royalist cause. The seaports of Pembrokeshire took on a new strategic significance as potential landing places for the troops returning from Ireland. As negotiations for the Cessation neared completion, Lord Carbery was required to enforce the King's authority in south-west Wales. On 18 August, he summoned the leading Pembrokeshire gentry to Carmarthen and persuaded them to sign a declaration promising to obey him and to support his efforts to secure Tenby and Pembroke for the King. On 30 August, the Mayor and corporation of Tenby signed a second declaration promising to obey Carbery and refusing to assist Parliament. On 18 September, Carbery summoned the trained bands of Pembrokeshire to a rendezvous at Haverfordwest, where the Mayor and leading citizens also declared for the King. According to the Royalist newspaper Mercurius Aulicus, Carbery also persuaded the Mayor and corporation of Pembroke to declare for the King during October. Carbery's bloodless campaign of diplomacy and persuasion had apparently secured all the strongholds of Pembrokeshire by the end of 1643.

The Conquest of Pembrokeshire, 1644

Around the beginning of 1644, the Parliamentarian leader John Poyer, captain of the town militia, succeeded in overthrowing the Royalist mayor of Pembroke, seizing Pembroke Castle and declaring for Parliament. Poyer was supported by Colonel Rowland Laugharne, Parliament's military commander in Pembrokeshire, and a small force of about 100 soldiers. Lord Carbery responded by mustering all available Royalist forces from the counties under his command and securing artillery and munitions, which were sent by sea from Bristol. Rather than risking a direct assault, however, Carbery imposed a blockade on Pembroke by establishing garrisons in Tenby, Haverfordwest and every castle and mansion around the town. His brother, Sir Henry Vaughan, supervised the building of an artillery fort at Pill on the north shore of Milford Haven to dominate the approach to Pembroke by sea and to deny the use of the Haven to Parliamentarian ships.

Pill, February 1644

While Carbery made his preparations for starving Pembroke into submission, a Parliamentarian naval squadron of six warships under the command of Captain Richard Swanley arrived in Milford Haven. Swanley offered to evacuate the Parliamentarians of Pembroke, but Poyer and Laugharne were determined to take the initiative. Reinforced by armed seamen from Swanley's squadron, Colonel Laugharne stormed and captured the manor house at Stackpole, four miles south of Pembroke and followed this success with the capture of another fortified manor house at Trefloyne near Tenby.

Pembrokeshire campaign map 1644
Civil war in Pembrokeshire, 1643-4

Laugharne next led an ambitious operation against the Royalist fort at Pill on the other side of the Haven from Pembroke. A small army of 250 foot, half seamen and half landsmen, sixty horse, and a number of guns was ferried across to the north shore on 22 February 1644. Laugharne deployed horse and musketeers to cover the road from Haverfordwest and set up his guns to bombard the fort by land while Swanley's ships bombarded it from the Haven. The next day, a Royalist counter-attack was beaten off and the Parliamentarians occupied the village of Pill. As Laugharne prepared to storm the fort, the Royalists called for a truce and surrendered on 24 February on promise of quarter. The Parliamentarians took 300 prisoners, eighteen cannon, two Royalist ships sheltering near the fort and a good supply of weapons and gunpowder. The surrender of Pill apparently caused panic in the garrison at Haverfordwest. The Royalists are said to have mistaken a herd of cattle for a Parliamentarian advance, evacuated the town and fled to Carmarthen, allowing Laugharne to occupy Haverfordwest unopposed. This was followed by the surrender of nearby Roch Castle to Laugharne's forces around 26 February.

Tenby, March 1644

The Parliamentarian campaign continued with a joint land and sea attack on Tenby. Three of Swanley's ships began a bombardment of Tenby on 6 March 1644. The following day, Laugharne's forces arrived and set up artillery on rising ground above the town. For three days, Tenby was bombarded from land and sea. Finally, the main gate was blown in and Laugharne ordered an assault. The Royalists resisted fiercely, fighting in the streets after they were driven back from the gate until the military governor, Commissary Gwynne, was mortally wounded. The discouraged Royalists surrendered. Three hundred prisoners were taken and Tenby was plundered.

The Parliamentarian conquest of Pembrokeshire was completed with the capture of Carew Castle, which surrendered to Captain Poyer on 10 March. In mid-April, the town of Carmarthen surrendered to Laugharne. South-west Wales was firmly under Parliamentarian control and there was no possibility of its seaports being used to land the troops returning from Ireland. Lord Carbery's strategy of dispersing his troops to garrisons in order to blockade Pembroke was criticised because it left no mobile field force to respond to Laugharne's offensive. Having lost the entire region under his command to the enemy, Carbery was recalled to Oxford and a new commander appointed.


Bernard Capp, Naval Operations, in Kenyon & Ohlmeyer (eds), The Civil Wars: a military history of England, Scotland & Ireland 1638-60 (Oxford 1998)

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)

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