The Second Civil War was fought between May and August 1648. While the Second Civil War witnessed no battles like Naseby, it witnessed a series of battles that led to the defeat of Charles I and his trial and execution.
On November 8th 1647, Charles I escaped from Hampton Court and begun to negotiate with the Scots to gain their support for his continued campaign against Parliament. To buy the support of the Scots, Charles agreed that England should have a three-year period of Presbyterianism. By the end of December 1647, any hope of an agreement between Charles and Parliament had ended and plans were put in place for a Scottish invasion of England.
While Charles had his obvious grievances with Parliament, support for Parliament post-Naseby was declining in strategic areas throughout England and Wales. This dissatisfaction with Parliamentary rule was based on two issues. The first was the concern felt by many about the increasing influence of the New Model Army in decision making. The second was a more basic concern – lack of pay.
Certain key areas transferred their allegiance to Charles once it became obvious that he had managed to get the support of the Scots. The governor of Pembroke Castle, Colonel Poyer, declared himself for Charles despite supporting Parliament in the first civil war. His main concern was that he had not been paid for some time and matters came to a head when it was announced that he was to be replaced. Poyer was also angered at the amount of influence the New Model Army had acquired. His anger at Parliament was shared by others in South Wales. Rowland Laugharne, who had been a major supporter of Parliament during the first civil war, declared himself for Charles as the second civil war loomed.
Oliver Cromwell had two choices. He could ignore the growth of dissent in South Wales as geographically it was out on a limb and the area could be isolated it required. However, if he was seen to be doing nothing, it might encourage others to express their discontent with the way the country was being run by Parliament. Therefore in May 1648 Cromwell moved swiftly to defeat Laugharne and put Pembroke Castle under siege.
However, in the same month, a revolt against Parliament’s control occurred in Kent. This revolt was of greater concern to Parliament as Kent was much nearer to London. There was also a history of Royalist support in the county. When Christmas was abolished, there were serious riots in Canterbury on December 25th 1647. In May 1648, the main protagonists in these riots were put on trial. However, all the charges were thrown out by the jury, much to the anger of Anthony Weldon who represented Parliament in Kent. Those who were released then tried to raise a petition attacking Parliament’s county committee in Kent. The attempt by Weldon to stop this provoked much anger. In response to Weldon’s heavy-handed approach, 10,000 people gathered near Rochester and appointed the Earl of Norwich to lead them. Norwich was the father of Lord Goring, a Royalist leader in the first war.
Thomas Fairfax was sent to deal with the rebels. They met at Blackheath and the New Model Army easily dealt with them and one thousand rebels surrendered while the others dispersed. However, a number of towns in Kent declared for the king; Maidstone, the county town, was among them. The remaining rebel force dispersed itself across the county with many moving to reinforce the coastal forts. 3,000 did attempt to take London but this was a failure – the city gates were locked and they could not enter the city. Many of the Kentish rebels simply dispersed after this and many returned to their homes in Kent. However, a small number did join up with Royalists in Essex. Bolstered by these men, the Essex Royalists felt strong enough to take Colchester. However, once Fairfax arrived he simply besieged the town, which meant that the Royalists relied on the success of the Scottish invasion for them to be successful.
On June 13th, Fairfax decided to enter Colchester. The fighting was particularly vicious and the Parliamentarian force lost 1,000 men. However, the Royalist base not was taken. The Royalists had been encouraged to fight as they based their hopes on an advance by the Marquis of Hamilton from the north. It was not to come and August 27th the town surrendered to Fairfax.
In April 1648 a small force of Scots had crossed the border and taken Berwick. On July 8th, a much larger force took Carlisle. By mid-July, 12,000 men looked poised to march south in support of Charles. However, there were delays in the Scottish advance and this allowed a Parliamentarian force led by General John Lambert to cross the Pennines to confront the invaders commanded by the Marquis of Hamilton. A force led by Oliver Cromwell helped him. Pembroke Castle had fallen to Cromwell on July 11th and freed up men to march north and support Lambert. They met at Wetherby.
However, they were confronted by a much larger force: Hamilton’s army numbered 20,000 men while Cromwell had 9,000 men of whom only 6,500 were experienced soldiers.
What Cromwell had on his side was discipline. In many respects the Scots had become a rabble. Hamilton had allowed his army to spread itself over twenty miles – a distance far too great to allow for good communications between all parts in it. The cavalry was in the front while the infantry trailed behind.
On August 17th Cromwell attacked the infantry in the rear of Hamilton’s greatly extended force. The Battle of Preston was fought in boggy terrain and the skill and power of the New Model Army was severely restricted in such terrain as it relied very much on its cavalry. The battle was initially fought with little finesse as Cromwell used his horse to simply bludgeon the Scots into submission. He then turned on Hamilton’s main force, many of whom had based themselves actually in Preston. The fighting in Preston was bloody. It was now that it became clear to Hamilton that keeping his force spread out over such a large distance was a fatal flaw. Cromwell fought mainly foot soldiers. Hamilton had to get his horse to Preston but they were mainly in Wigan, some miles away. The fighting on August 17th at Preston cost the Scots 8,000 men – 4,000 killed and 4,000 captured. The battle continued on August 18th.
The night of August 17th/18th had been blighted by rain. The Scots who were still in the field were both wet and hungry, as many had not eaten properly for days. To make matters worse, a lot of their ammunition had become damp and unusable. On the 18th, about 4,000 Scots laid down their weapons at Warrington rather than fight a smaller Parliamentarian force. Men under the command of Hamilton marched south away from Preston. Hamilton’s plan was to march south and then back north away from Cromwell’s men and back to Scotland. The plan had some credibility to it but Hamilton’s men were unwilling to follow him and he surrendered his forces to John Lambert.
The fighting during the Battle of Preston was particularly vicious and as a result of this those who had volunteered to fight for Hamilton and had surrendered were harshly treated. They were sent as virtual slaves to the plantations in Barbados and Virginia. Those conscripted into Hamilton’s army were sent home.
The Royalist cause was lost. Charles had no support in Scotland, and his power base – for what it was – in Wales, Ireland and England was non-existent. The last bastion of Royal support was Pontefract Castle. The castle held out and defied Cromwell even after the trial and execution of Charles I. It was only in March 1649 that those in the castle surrendered.