Yorkshire in the Civil War

Yorkshire in the Civil War

Yorkshire was deeply involved in the Civil War, which is generally regarded as having begun in 1642, when Charles I left London and set up his standard at Nottingham, and as having ended with the beheading of the King on 30 January 1649. However, its causes go back for at least a generation before 1642 and the issues which were raised by the conflict were not resolved until the accession of William and Mary, 40 years after the death of Charles. The constitutional issue centred on the right of the King to rule without consulting Parliament. As Thomas Stockdale of Bilton near Harrogate put it, should monarchs be entitled to rule ‘according to their own fancies, or their flattering favourites’ malevolent affections?’. Closely interlocked with this were economic questions concerning taxation, the granting of commercial monopolies, and the disposal by the monarch of profitable public offices; and, equally important, the rights and privileges of the Church and the freedom of citizens to worship in ways which might not be approved of by the King. The conflict between King and Parliament appeared during the reign of James 1(1603-25) but did not threaten the peace of the realm until Charles I encountered resistance to his efforts to persuade Parliament to levy taxes to support his military expenditure. In 1637 the Scots—over whom the English King had exercised authority since James VI of Scotland came to the English throne as James I—resisted Charles’s attempt to introduce a new prayer book, and in 1638 further evidence of Scottish resistance was demonstrated by the drawing up of a National Covenant and the abolition of the episcopate by a church assembly in Glasgow.

The first Bishops’ War, between Charles and the Scots, broke out in 1639, and was ended in June by the Treaty of Berwick, but in the following year a second Bishops’ War ended with a Scottish victory at the Battle of Newburn. Charles was forced to sign the Pacification of Ripon, which was later replaced by a permanent treaty, safeguarding the rights of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

One of the leading figures in the King’s service at this time was Thomas Wentworth, who became Earl of Strafford in 1640. Wentworth, who was one of the richest men in England, took his title from the wapentake of Strafford, in south Yorkshire where his great country house, Wentworth Woodhouse, was situated. He had built up a large following amongst the gentry in the Sheffield area, by his ability to dispense patronage through the various offices which he held, which included those of the Lord President of the Council of the North and the Lord Deputy of Ireland. His followers included Thomas Edmunds of Worsborough, Sir Richard Scott of Barnes Hall and Sir Edward Osborne of Thorpe Salvin. The people of Sheffield itself, like those of most of the Yorkshire towns, inclined to the parliamentary side in the Civil War, however, although, after the capture of Sheffield Castle in 1643 by royalist troops under the Earl of Newcastle, the Sheffield iron foundries were making cannon for the King’s army.

The King’s difficulties with the Scots forced him to summon Parliament in 1640. He did so on the advice of Wentworth, who had recently been ennobled, and who had become the King’s right-hand man. The Short Parliament, which lasted from 13 April to 3 May, refused to grant Charles money until their griev­ances should be redressed. The King dissolved Parliament and called a Great Council in York, at which many of the Yorkshire gentry attended. They refused to grant him the funds he needed and recommended the summoning of another Parliament—the Long Parliament, which sat from November 1640 until the out­break of the Civil War in 1642. One of its first acts was to impeach Strafford and the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Laud and his supporter, Richard Neile, Archbishop of York, had incurred the wrath of the many Puritan clergy and gentry in Yorkshire by introducing what they regarded as ‘Papist’ rituals and ornaments in the Church of England. Sir Henry Slingsby of Scriven wrote in his diary that he thought ‘it came too near to idolatory to adorn a place with rich cloaths and other furniture’. In 1641 Strafford’s impeachment was changed into a bill of attainder and in May he was executed. Laud met a similar fate in 1645. Strafford’s tomb can be seen at Wentworth Woodhouse.

The Long Parliament also passed a number of Acts in 1641 which struck at the arbitrary system of government which Charles, aided by Strafford and Laud, had introduced. For example, both the Star Chamber and the Council of the North were abolished. The citizens of York were not pleased by the abolition of the Council of the North, which had been based in the city and which had brought with it some honour and much wealth.

When the King visited the city on his way south from Scotland in June he was presented with a petition, asking for the restoration of the Council. Although he was not able to do so, he found it possible to reject the Nineteen Propositions which were put to him by Parliament during his stay in York. In March 1642 the King was again in York, where, for four months, he established his headquarters at Sir Arthur Ingram’s house, and attempted to win Yorkshire over to his cause. The control of Hull was perceived by both King and Parliament to be of crucial importance. A large store of arms and provisions, which had been accumulated in support of the earlier Scottish campaigns, remained in Hull, and the port itself also afforded an opportunity for contact by sea with London and across the North Sea to Holland, where Queen Henrietta Maria was gathering support for the King. Parliament appointed Sir John Hotham as governor, but the King nominated the Earl of Newcastle. Hotham took up his post before the Earl could reach Hull. In April 1642 the King, with a troop of 300 horse, travelled from York to demand admission to the city.

According to Hotham’s own account, the governor went to the gates, fell upon his knees before the King and told him, ‘I had had that place delivered me under that sacred name of trust. I could not satisfy him … without incurring to me and my posterity the odious name of villain and faith-breaker’. Charles was forced to return to York, denouncing Hotham as a traitor. In fact, Hotham did change sides, and was later executed in 1645, but Hull remained loyal to the parliamentary cause.

Two months later the King again advanced on Hull but was halted near Beverley, when men from Hull opened the sluices on the river and flooded the countryside.


Yorkshire During the Civil War


The King, who was almost captured, was again forced to retreat. The stores in Hull were sent to London, to be available to the parliamentary forces ere. However, the King was able to acquire a shipload of arms and other supplies which were sent up the Humber from Holland by the Queen. A meeting of Yorkshire gentry on Heworth Moor, reputedly attended by 40,000, was a final attempt to rally Yorkshire to the royalist side. Many of those present signed a petition, praying that King and Parliament should be reconciled, which Thomas Fairfax attached to the saddle of the King’s 1 horse. It has been estimated that, in 1642, 242 Yorkshire families supported the King; 128 were parliamentarians; 69 were either divided in their loyalties or changed sides during the war; and 240 did not declare allegiance to either side. The leader of the parliamentary forces was Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax of Denton and Nun Appleton, ably supported by his son Thomas (Black Tom); the King chose a Clifford, the Earl of Cumberland, as his standard bearer in Yorkshire. After initial royalist reverses, Cumberland was replaced by the Earl of Newcastle. Unlike the position during the Wars of the Roses, on this-occasion the Percys and the Cliffords were on opposite sides. Northumberland, the head of the Percy family, threw his support on the side of Parliament. The sympathies of the clothing towns (Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Dewsbury, Wakefield) were mainly with Parliament.

The rejection by the King of the Nineteen Propositions, put to him in York by Parliament, was the signal for the Civil War to commence. The King rode to Nottingham, where he raised his standard on 22 August and rallied those loyal to him for support in resisting the demands of Parliament.

For almost a year there was only desultory fighting in Yorkshire. The Fairfaxes encamped for a time on Harden Moor, near Bingley, and from this base fended off an attack on Bradford by royalists from York. In the winter of 1642, Lord Fairfax established his headquarters at Tadcaster, whilst his son Thomas guarded the crossing of the Wharfe at Wetherby. Newcastle, who had taken command of the royalists in December, drove the Fairfaxes out of Tadcaster and Wetherby and advanced on Pontefract, Leeds and Wakefield. Bradford and Halifax successfully resisted. It was during this period that the tower of the parish church (now Bradford Cathedral) was protected by wool sacks from damage by the cannon shot of the attackers.

Early in 1643 the siege of Skipton Castle began. The Cliffords, who were strong supporters of the King, were surrounded by parliamentarians, including John Lambert of Canton near Kirkby Maiham, who became one of the military leaders of the parliamentary forces.

At the end of January 1643 the parliamentarians counter-attacked, re-occupied Leeds and Wakefield and forced Newcastle to withdraw to his headquarters in York. Royalist fortunes changed in February 1643, when the Queen landed at Bridlington from Holland, and, despite narrowly missing being killed in a bombardment by parliamentary ships, made her way via Boynton Hall to York. Queen Henrietta Maria, the sister of Louis XIII of France, was a woman of some spirit and charisma, and during her stay in Yorkshire sher persuaded many influential figures (some of whom were waverers and some who had been thought to be strong parliamentarians) to rally to the royalist side. These included Sir Hugh Choimley of Whitby, who brought Scarborough Castle over to the King; Sir William Strickland of Boynton; and, it is suspected, the Hothams, father and son, of Hull. The governor and his son, who had fought bravely in support of the Fairfaxes in 1642, were arrested in June 1643 on suspicion of opening negotiations with Newcastle, in order to turn the city over to the King. They were both executed as traitors to Parliament in 1645.

With the boost to his morale—and also to the materiel—which the Queen’s presence in York provided, Newcastle felt strong enough to take the initiative against Fairfax. He moved south to Pontefract, occupied Sheffield Castle, which had been taken by parliamentary forces without a fight in 1642, and secured Hallamshire for the King. In June, the Queen rode to Oxford to join her husband, content that the situation in Yorkshire was secure. On 30 June 1643 the Fairfaxes advanced from Bradford to meet a force of 10,000 royalists on Aidwalton Moor, between Bradford and Wakefield. Outnumbered by more than two to one, they were soundly beaten, leaving 700 of their infantry dead on the battlefield and losing hundreds more as prisoners. Lord Fairfax retreated to Bradford and his son to Halifax, but by the middle of the summer the woollen towns had fallen to the royalists; Bradford was sacked and all Yorkshire except Hull was lost to Parliament.

Lord Fairfax was invited to become governor of Hull and arrived there in time to prepare for the defence of the city against the siege, which Newcastle mounted in September. Thomas was forced to abandon Bradford, and after a perilous journey along the south shore of the Humber, joined his father in Hull, and the siege was raised in October.

Parliament’s turn came in the following year, when the Scots were persuaded to intervene. They were told that, if the King won, their Presbyterian Church would be in danger, while if Parliament won there was a hope that Presbyterian ideas would affect the teaching and organisation of the established Church of England. While the Scots advanced against Newcastle’s forces in Northumberland and Durham, the Fairfaxes began to attack from Hull. Sir William Constable led a force which recovered the East Riding and reached as far along the coast as Whitby, although failing to take Scarborough Castle. Meanwhile Lambert recaptured Bradford and the two Fairfaxes defeated a force of 1,700 men under Sir John Belasyse, at Selby, and cleared much of the area south of York of royalists. Newcastle retreated to York with some 8,000 men, and prepared for a siege. Meanwhile the Scots bypassed York and joined with the Fairfaxes at Tadcaster. The siege of York began on 3 June and lasted for 25 days. It was raised when the Fairfaxes heard of the imminent arrival of a large force under the command of the King’s dashing nephew, Prince Rupert.

Rupert, with 6,000 foot soldiers and 7,000 cavalry, swept across the Pennines from Lancashire, proceeded down Wharfedale to Otley, and reached Knaresborough at the end of June. He out-manoeuvred the Fairfaxes, who were waiting for him near Skip Bridge on the Nidd, and, crossing into the city on a bridge of boats, led 2,000 of his cavalry into York on 1 July. The Scots and the parliamentary forces decided to withdraw to Tadcaster but the impetuous Rupert broke out from York, crossed the river at Poppleton and attempted to intercept them. Battle was joined on Marston Moor on 2 July.

The Battle of Marston Moor involved the largest forces of troops of any battle in the Civil War. Rupert had at his disposal some 11,000 foot soldiers and 7,000 cavalry; and the parliamentary forces numbered some 27,000 men, of whom about 9,000 were cavalry. An artillery duel began at about three o’clock in the afternoon but the real fighting did not begin until three hours later. Oliver Cromwell, who was in charge of a contingent of 2,500 horse which be had raised the previous year in the eastern counties, distinguished himself in an engagement near Tockwith, in which he was slightly wounded, although claims on his behalf to have made the decisive breakthrough are contested by Scottish historians, who give the credit to David Leslie, in command of a squadron of Scots. The issue was not decided until 10 p.m., and in fact it seemed at one point that the royalists would prevail (a message to this effect was actually sent to the royalist governor of Tickhill Castle) but again Cromwell is given the credit for rallying the parlia­mentary forces and striking the decisive blow. Rupert escaped and made his way to Lancashire by way of Wensleydale. Newcastle rode to Scarborough and took ship to the Continent.

Cromwell reported afterwards that ‘We charged their regiments of foot with our horse and routed all we charged … God made them as stubble to our swords’.

After Marston Moor the parliamentary generals dispersed. Cromwell went first to Doncaster and then back to the eastern counties; Lambert was occupied with the siege of Pontefract Castle, which fell in 1645; and the Fairfaxes remained in York, Ferdinando as governor of the city until 1645, when he was forced to resign under the terms of the Self-Denying Ordinance. Thomas Fairfax used York as a base while subduing the remaining Yorkshire castles which still held out for the King. These included Knaresborough, which sustained a six-week siege; and Helmsley, where Thomas was badly wounded. The last Yorkshire castle to fall to the parliamentary forces was Skipton, the stronghold of the Cliffords, which was taken in December 1645. Between 1646 and 1647 Parliament ordered the destruction of eight famous Yorkshire castles, so that they should be rendered incapable of use in war; Knaresborough, Cawood, Middleham, Bolton, Crayke, Helmsley, Wressle and Skipton were all included. Thomas Fairfax was placed at the head of the New Model Army at the beginning of 1645.

The triumph of Parliament in Yorkshire was soon followed by the total rout of the King’s forces by the New Model Army at Naseby, 14 June 1645, and by Charles’ surrender in January 1647.

Before long, however, the unpopularity of some of the measures introduced by Parliament—and particularly, a rift between Parliament and the Army—produced a coalition of forces favourable to a royalist revival. The Scots changed sides, dissatisfied with the treatment of Presbyterians who wanted a reconciliation with the King. War broke out again in 1648. Several Yorkshire gentry changed sides and Pontefract and Scarborough castles were again in royalist hands. Cromwell and Lambert were active in Yorkshire during this second phase of the Civil War, ranging wide across the county, from Doncaster and Pontefract to Knottingley and Knaresborough. On one occasion in August 1648, Cromwell made ‘a lion like spring across the Yorkshire fells’, from Knaresborough, where he had arrived from Pontefract to give support to Lambert, to Preston, where the Scots were harassing the Parliamentary forces in Lancashire. The King, who had been imprisoned by order of Parliament in Carisbrooke Castle, was seized by the army; and a Parliament purged of those, like the Presbyterians, who favoured a compromise, established a court to try the King. Fifteen Yorkshiremen were among the judges and six were present at his execution on 30 January 1649. Pontefract Castle held out for another six weeks, and was the last place in England to surrender to the Roundheads. At the request of the inhabitants, the castle was demolished.

In the decade which followed Cromwell recognised some of Yorkshire’s needs; for example, the rising towns of Leeds and Halifax were given representation in the Parliaments of 1654 and 1656. In general, people in Yorkshire, like those in other parts of the country, soon tired of his rule, and even some of his most prominent supporters began to favour the restoration of Charles II, which was achieved in 1660, two years after Cromwell’s death. Indeed, the greatest of them all, Thomas Lord Fairfax (his father, Ferdinando, had died during the Civil War and Thomas now held the family title), led the commissioners sent by parliament to meet the exiled King in Holland, and to make the necessary arrangements. Fairfax refused all payment for doing what he had thought right, and again retired to his house at Nun Appleton. He would have nothing to do with the Government’s policy of punishing the puritans and republicans.

We hear of him again in connection with the Farnley Wood Plot of 1663, in which 200 men opposed to Charles and his government, many of them persecuted Nonconformists and old officers of Cromwell’s army, met in Farnley Wood, near Leeds, to try to overcome Charles’ government by force. They soon scattered and nothing came of their plotting, for the Government was fore­warned. Almost the last letter Fairfax is known to have written was one to the King (who owed him so much) asking for reasonable and lenient treatment for the plotters. In fact, 21 of them were executed! The laws against Nonconformists were made more cruel than ever; one of them, the Conventicle Act of 1664, was a direct result of the plot. It was not until 1880 that people in England who preferred to worship God ‘chapel’ fashion were treated in every way equal to their fellow citizens who preferred to attend public worship in the parish churches. There were many reasons for the notion that ‘church’ went with loyalty, ‘chapel’ with treason. One of them, which certainly had some force 300 years ago, was the last Yorkshire ‘rebellion’—the Farnley Wood Plot, the real end of the Civil War in Yorkshire.