Civil War in South Wales, 1644-5

When Prince Rupert arrived at Shrewsbury to take up his appointment as President of Wales in February 1644, he commissioned experienced soldiers to replace the three noblemen who had governed Wales since the outbreak of the civil war. Neither Lord Herbert in south-eastern Wales nor Lord Capel in the north had been successful against the Parliamentarians, but Lord Carbery had lost his entire command: the south-western counties of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire.

Gerard in South Wales, May-October 1644

Rupert quickly stabilised most of Wales, but the strength of the Parliamentarians in the south-west seriously undermined his position. Unable to campaign personally in such a remote region, Rupert appointed Charles Gerard, one of his most trusted officers, to undertake the task. Gerard's commission extended the area formerly commanded by Lord Carbery to include Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire, thus enabling him to draw upon the resources of south Wales in his re-conquest of the west.

Gerard left Oxford for Wales on 8 May 1644 with an army of 1,000 foot, 700 horse and 200 dragoons. Lord Carbery accompanied him to advise on local conditions. Although relatively small, Gerard's force was enough to overwhelm the Parliamentarians. Gerard drove them out of Cardiff to secure Glamorganshire then advanced westwards. By the end of June, he had captured the whole of Carmarthenshire and the castles of Cardigan and Newcastle Emlyn. The Parliamentarian commander Colonel Rowland Laugharne abandoned his territorial gains and withdrew his forces to the strongholds of Pembroke and Tenby, from where he could maintain contact with the Parliamentarian navy for reinforcements and supplies.

Rather than repeat Lord Carbery's mistake of committing his field army to garrison duty, Gerard consolidated his position by ordering the Welsh gentry to recruit local forces to defend the newly-captured towns and castles and by appointing veteran English officers to command the most important strongholds. Large areas of countryside around the remaining Parliamentarian outposts in Pembrokeshire were ruthlessly laid waste to deny support to Laugharne's forces, which remained blockaded in Pembroke. By October 1644, Gerard was able to leave the region fully garrisoned while he marched with 3,000 troops from Wales to reinforce the King's Oxford army.

Laugharne Castle & Cardigan, October-December 1644

As soon as Lieutenant-General Gerard and his Royalist army left Wales, Colonel Laugharne and the Pembrokeshire Parliamentarians emerged to reconquer the territory they had lost. Their first objective was Laugharne Castle on the estuary of the River Taff, where Gerard had stationed a 200-strong Royalist garrison under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Russell. Colonel Laugharne approached the castle in late October 1644 with a force of 2,000 men and several pieces of ordnance. A summons to surrender was issued on 29 October, but was refused. Laugharne set up artillery batteries on high ground to the north-east and north-west. However, the Parliamentarian guns could not be brought to bear on the main gate of the castle from either of these positions.

Campaign map of Pembrokeshire, 1644
Laugharne's campaign in south-west Wales, 1644

On the night of 30 October, the Parliamentarians stormed and captured one of the town gatehouses which was situated 100 yards from the outer gates of the castle, with a clear line of fire. Guns were brought up and a two-day bombardment ensued, which resulted in the breaching of the castle gates. The Parliamentarians stormed the breach on the evening of 2 November. The Royalists fell back to the inner ward, but when the Parliamentarians began to mine the wall, Lieutenant-Colonel Russell asked for a parley. Negotiations continued throughout the night, and the Royalists surrendered early in the morning of 3 November. They were allowed to march away, leaving their weapons, ammunition and supplies.

Although delayed by heavy rain, Laugharne continued his offensive by advancing towards Cardiganshire. Around 21 December, he approached Cardigan with a force of 500 horse and 200 foot. The town surrendered immediately, but a Royalist garrison under the command of Major Slaughter remained defiant in the castle, which had been strengthened by the construction of additional earthwork defences and guns recovered from a shipwreck in Cardigan Bay. Laugharne was obliged to send for artillery from Pembrokeshire to breach the defences, but succeeded in storming and capturing the castle around the turn of the year. About 200 Royalists were killed in the siege and many prisoners taken, including the noted divine Jeremy Taylor, a former chaplain to the King.

Gerard's Return, April-May 1645

After leaving Wales in October 1644, Lieutenant-General Gerard marched to reinforce the King's army in the aftermath of the second battle of Newbury. When the King withdrew to Oxford in November, Gerard's army was sent into winter quarters at Monmouth. In March 1645, Gerard was ordered to join forces with Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice in opposing further Parliamentarian advances in Cheshire and Shropshire. The Royalists successfully relieved Chester and Beeston Castle, and destroyed evacuated Parliamentarian garrisons in Cheshire, after which Rupert and Maurice marched to occupy Herefordshire while Gerard took his forces into Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales.

Since the notable Parliamentarian victory at the battle of Montgomery in September 1644, Sir Thomas Myddelton had established a Parliamentarian presence in mid-Wales and established contact with Colonel Laugharne's forces in the south. However, the arrival of Gerard's army around the end of March 1645 disrupted Myddelton's efforts to secure his hold on the region and severed contact between the Parliamentarians in central and south Wales. Gerard established his headquarters at Newtown in Montgomeryshire where he rested his army and imposed a harsh local levy for recruits and supplies.

Campaign map: Gerard's advance 1645
Gerard's advance in south-west Wales, 1645

By mid-April, Gerard was ready to strike towards Pembrokeshire. Advancing rapidly across the Cambrian Mountains, he fell upon Laugharne's Parliamentarians on 23 April at Newcastle Emlyn in Carmarthenshire, where they were besieging the Royalist garrison. Taken by surprise, the Parliamentarians were routed with over 500 killed or captured. Gerard advanced swiftly on Haverfordwest, which he entered unopposed on 24 April as the Parliamentarians evacuated the garrison and fell back on Pembroke and Tenby. The fall of Newcastle Emlyn and Haverfordwest left Cardigan isolated, so the garrison was evacuated by sea to Pembroke. Gerard continued his lightning campaign by storming Picton Castle in a midnight attack on 25 April and Carew Castle on 29 April. Within a week, therefore, Gerard had recovered nearly all the territory lost since his departure in October 1644. Once again, Colonel Laugharne was confined to the strongholds of Pembroke and Tenby while Gerard settled down to raise recruits and supplies.

By mid-May 1645, Gerard had raised a force of 2,000 foot and 700 horse. Leaving full garrisons in place under his chosen officers, Gerard marched to reinforce the King's army once again. However, by the time he joined the King at Hereford in late June, the Royalists had suffered their decisive defeat at Naseby. Gerard's army was broken up, the foot joining Prince Rupert at Bristol and the horse remaining with the King as the nucleus of a new army he hoped to raise in south Wales. The Welsh gentry complained bitterly at Gerard's severity. Backed by a force of 4,000 irregulars known as the "Peaceable Army", the gentry petitioned for the removal of Gerard and other English garrison commanders. In order to retain their loyalty, and fearing a popular uprising against the Royalists, King Charles agreed to replace Gerard, raising him to the peerage as Baron Gerard of Brandon in compensation. Gerard remained with the royal army throughout the King's marches of August-September 1645 while Lord Astley replaced him as Royalist commander in south Wales.

Colby Moor, August 1645

Although Lieutenant-General Gerard left south Wales in May 1645, strong Royalist garrisons remained in place throughout the region. In mid-July, Major-Generals Stradling and Egerton, who had been left in command at Haverfordwest, sent troops to destroy the growing corn around Pembroke. Threatened with starvation and encouraged by news of the Parliamentarian victory at Naseby, Colonel Laugharne gathered a force of 550 foot, 200 horse and two field guns from the Tenby and Pembroke garrisons and advanced into Pembrokeshire on 28 July 1645.

Campaign map, Colby Moor 1645
The battle of Colby Moor, 1645

Laugharne's forces occupied Canaston Wood between Haverfordwest and Narberth. The infantry were reinforced by a party of 150 seamen from Vice-Admiral Batten's naval squadron, which had anchored in Milford Haven. On 1 August, the Royalist commanders Stradling and Egerton advanced from Haverfordwest to challenge Laugharne with a force reported to be double the size of the Parliamentarians. The Royalists drew up on Colby Moor where, at about 6 o'clock in the evening, an advance guard of Parliamentarian horse flanked by musketeers moved to attack. The battle continued for an hour, but the Royalists were finally routed with 150 killed and 700 taken prisoner.

That night, the Royalists abandoned the town of Haverfordwest, leaving only a small garrison in the castle. After a futile bombardment, the Parliamentarians scaled the castle walls on 5 August, taking the entire garrison prisoner. From Haverfordwest, Laugharne moved swiftly to recover other Royalist garrisons. By the end of September 1645, the whole of Pembrokeshire was back in Parliamentarian hands.

The gentry of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire declared for Parliament during September. The Royalists abandoned Cardigan, and Major-General Stradling surrendered Carmarthen to Laugharne on 12 October. The last two Royalist bases in Cardiganshire were Newcastle Emlyn, which surrendered to Colonel Lewes in December 1645, and Aberystwyth, which surrendered to Colonel Rhys Powell in April 1646 after a sustained siege.


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)

Ronald Hutton, Charles Gerard, first earl of Macclesfield (c.1618-1694), ODNB 2004

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