Winchester In The English Civil War

Having spent three years of my life in Winchester, I feel a certain affinity to the city and in particular the role that it played in the English Civil War. I first became interested in it’s role during the English Civil War when I was wandering around the Cathedral for the first time and saw the statues of James I and Charles I that sit on either side of the massive main doors. The statue of Charles has a huge musket hole in it, from when Parliamentarian troops took the city. After that, it became my obsession and I spent many an hour in the University library researching what happened to this beautiful city during those turbulent years and I ended up specialising in one particular battle that had a huge effect on the City and the surrounding area: Cheriton. Of course, the city itself holds many secrets of what happened to it during the Civil War, many of which I discovered whilst doing work for University. Today, I thought I would travel away from Renaissance Italy for a bit and do a little something that goes back to my roots: Winchester in the English Civil War.

As War was declared against Parliament in 1642, the majority of Hampshire was staunchly Parliamentarian. Winchester, however, became a Royalist stronghold and began to prepare itself for a fight. Money was voted in for swords, bullets and arms. However, Winchester would soon find itself the victim of siege from the armies of Sir William Waller (commander of the Parliamentarian armies, and old friend of Ralph Hopton; a commander in the Royalist army). In the December of 1642, as the Royalist army who had fought a skirmish is Wherewall, began to withdraw to the City:

“fearing to be caught napping by active Sir William Waller and his force and the better to protect himself and his Cavaliers from the pursuit of the Parliaments force retreated to Winchester, a place not like to give him kind entertainment being full of Malignant spirits, who indeed were not a little glad at his coming, thinking themselves now secure from danger being under the wings of a bird of theire own feathers.”

Yet as the troops fled to the city, they were pursued by Parliamentarian troops, and as they reached the city gates (and some of the citizens came out to help), were heavily outnumbered. As they fought, Grandison’s regiment of horse rushing through the gates covered by musketeers, two entire regiments were destroyed. The city was now under siege, it’s people trapped and its soldiers outnumbered. William Waller himself arrived not long after and found, as was to be expected, the gates shut to him. So he barricaded the city so the Royalists could not escape, and as he waited for his dragoons to arrive, began to plan his attack. At about 2pm on the afternoon of Waller’s arrival, the Parliamentary forces attacked Winchester and by 3pm, they had started to break through the walls into the City and the Royalist soldiers holed themselves up inside the Castle. The very next day, having realised that the Castle was ill equipped to deal with a siege, the Royalists surrendered the castle.

As the Castle was being surrendered however, and terms settled, the Parliamentary troops began to riot through the city, pillaging and plundering as they went. And the Cathedral was quite possibly one of the biggest victims of the 1642 siege. The troops entered the great West Door and there, according to a description by Trussel, defiled bibles, hangings and sacred monuments. They fired their muskets at the two bronze statues of King Charles and King James, and pulled down beautiful mortuary chests containing the bones of Kings an Prelates; scattering the remains.

As well as this they also desecrated chantry chapels, the Lady Chapel and the medieval glass in the cathedral. They also fired their muskets at the huge West Window which depicted images of the saints. During the Restoration, new mortuary chests were made to replace the ones destroyed during this attack, and the bones gathered together and placed in them, including the remains of Kings Cnut and Rufus, Queen Emma and Bishops Wina and Alwyn. Some prominent tombs were destroyed during the attack including the tomb of Cardinal Beaufort (the effigy there now was created during the Restoration and has seventeenth century shoes depicted!) and William of Wainfleet. Whilst most of the damage was reparable, the cathedral lost some parts permanently including the medieval glass windows, ornaments and furniture.

By September 1643, the town was back in Royalist hands again after the Parliamentarians moved out of the city towards Southampton. On Monday 18th September, Colonel Sir Edward Ford marched into the city with his entire regiment. It was the day of the Mayors election, and the city would stay in Royalist hands until Oliver Cromwell would besiege the city in 1645.

For the next two years, the city stayed once more as a Royalist stronghold. The mayor of the city, William Ogle set about fortifying the castle in case the worst should happen again. He ordered the clearing of the surrounding ditches from trees, shrubs and wooden buildings that could be set fire to. And on Monday 6th November, Sir Ralph Hopton arrived in the city from Andover and he made the city his main quarters, from which he marched out to relieve the nearby Basing House from its own recent siege. It is also incredibly likely that at this point the City would have prospered – it was free from plundering parliamentarians after all. In the surrounding area, as 1643 drew to a close, much more was happening. For instance on December 12th 1643, Colonel John Boles found himself in a skirmish at Alton where he and many other defenders were killed inside the local church. The outer door of the Church of St Lawrence shows holes made during musket fire and if you look closely you can even see a few musket balls embedded in the stonework.

There is a memorial plaque to Colonel Boles on a column in Winchester Cathedral. Erected many years later, it gives Boles’ name as Richard which was actually his brothers name.

As well as this, in early 1644 nearby Arundel was besieged and taken by Parliament.

The winter of 1644 was used by Hopton to get his troops back into shape after the fall of Romsey, Alton and Arundel. It was high time for him to recruit more men and get them trained in time for the next offensive in the Spring. Hopton also had to make sure than his base of operations was secure and so much of the 1644 winter was spent in building two sconces (defensive ditches or fortifications) – one upon St Giles Hill and the other upon West Hill. By 1st February 1644 Hopton had recruited and trained around 3500 foot and 2000 horse, and by mid February sent a reconnaissance force to Southampton. The sheer amount of new troops in Hoptons army meant that they had to be billeted somewhere, and many were sent to stay at the Hospital of St Mary Magdalen (which at one time had been used as a leper hospital). A few years back now, I took part in an archaeological dig at Magdalen Hill and spent most of my 4 weeks there digging in the chapel where we found evidence of seventeenth century horse gear. This matches up to a complaint sent to Hopton in 1644 by the Master of the Hospital:

“(they) have used violence to the house of God; burninge up all the seats and pues in the church, as also the communion table, and all other wainscott and timbers there, that they could lay hands on: and have converted the sayd house of God into a stable for horses and other prophane uses, to the great dishonour of God…”

By March 1644, there were plans afoot by Parliament to move back towards the west and on 25th March the army rendesvoused at West Meon. News of course reached the ears of Hopton, and during a council of War on 26th it was agreed that they should march immediately against Waller. The two armies met at Cheriton on 29th March 1644, more of which can be read about here. Following their defeat at Cheriton, instead of falling back to Winchester, the Royalists retreated back towards Basing House leaving Winchester isolated. Parliament seem to have got it into their heads that the City would be easily taken, declaring proudly in London that the City had been taken. They were wrong, and the Castle held out for another eighteen months.

On 28th September however, the city found itself besieged once more, this time by Oliver Cromwell – the Lieutenant General of the Parliamentarian Army. It took exactly a week for the City to surrender. During that week, Cromwell and the Mayor exchanged letters in which Cromwell said the only reason he was there was to save the city from ruin. Terms were not reached, and as the week progressed, Cromwell discovered that an elderly bishop was staying in the castle. Cromwell offered the man safe conduct out of the city, but was refused. So instead of giving the city another chance, he fired on the city gates and after a very short skirmish entered the city, forcing the Royalists to retreat back to the castle, which they found difficult to protect against Parliament. Impossible in fact. The castle itself was huge, made up of 8 towers which had to be manned as well as the various gates, yet the Royalists made a stirling effort in their defence. Cromwell however made sure he was well equipped to the task of taking the castle, having gun platforms built, defensive ditches dug and men lined up ready to attack. And during early October, as Cromwell was preparing his attack, the Cathedral was again being ransacked. On the 3rd October, the guns were ready and the next day the attack began. Cromwell started by firing one single shot to signal to Ogle that the attack was beginning, and sent a summons into the castle. It was ignored and the attack began. By nightfall, a breach in the walls had been made and Ogle sent men to defend it. The following day, more summons were sent to Ogle, yet he still refused to surrender although asked if his wife would be allowed safe conduct from the city as she was unwell. Although this was granted, she died on her way home to Stoke. By the Sunday evening, a breach had been made next to the black tower, wide enough for 30 men to walk through. Ogle and his troops had had quite enough, and their morale broke down completely. Ogle then sat down and wrote a letter to Cromwell, asking for a parley which was immediately accepted by Cromwell although negotiations were lengthy. Eventually, a settlement was reached and the castle was once more taken by Parliament and by 3pm the next day Ogle and his army marched out of the City, although many of the Royalists ended up joining Parliament instead.

Later in 1645, Ogle was court marshaled for surrendering Winchester castle. However, due to the size and strength of Cromwell’s army he was allowed to walk free.

It was decided by Parliament that the castle should remain garrisoned in case of another Royalist rising, and Thomas Bettesworth was made its governor.

During the attack on the Castle, a large hole was made in the roof of the Great Hall. This Hall is one of the only remaining parts of the Castle left today, and has been used frequently throughout history including the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603, and the famous Judge Jeffries condemned supporters of Monmouth during the 1685. The hole had been caused by a grenado filled with musket shot which had killed three men. The famous Round Table which today hangs on the wall of the Hall is littered with musket shot, caused either by this grenado or possibly by stray musket shots.

Many other buildings in the city were damaged during the siege, including the church of St Clements and its surrounding buildings. This church had been used as a guard room by the Parliamentarians and ransacked by them. St Larences church in the middle of the city was also wrecked and made unsafe for usage thanks to its interiors being torn out. Hastily patched back together, it was used as a school until Charles II was restored in 1660. The Royalists also stole the bells from the towers of St Mary Kalender, a church that had already long been in ruin. This church now no longer exists within the city. My very favourite little church in the city, St Swithun’s Upon Kingsgate was also badly damaged and during Cromwell’s Protectorate was let out to a family who used one end of it to live in and the other to keep their pigs in!

By the end of the English Civil War, and following the execution of Charles I in 1649, Cromwell ordered that  Winchester castle be demolished. The castle was demolished in 1651, due to fears of a Royalist invasion from France under the exiled Prince Rupert. Parliament ordered that the Castle be demolished within fourteen days of receiving the instructions. The Great Hall was left standing, as was the central oval tower on the east side of the castle. This tower seems to have been left standing until Sir Christopher Wren began building a new palace for King Charles II in the 1680’s. Sir William Waller seemed to be rather upset by the demolition:

“It was just with God for the punishment of my giving way to the plunder of the City of Winchester (whereof I was a freeman and sworne to maintain and procure the good thereof as far as I could) to permit the demolition of my castle in Winchester”

In 1682, the City sold the land to King Charles II for the grand sum of 5 shillings. And in 1683, the City agreed to the demolition of the Great Hall to make way for the Kings new palace but only if they could have a new hall built for them. However, when Charles II died in 1685, building of his new palace was abandoned and so the Hall was saved.

The history of Winchester during the English Civil War has long fascinated me. It was the central area that each side wanted to keep their hands on, and during the years of war certainly suffered. Not only were buildings destroyed but the Cathedral was ransacked and it’s people had to put up with the pillaging soldiers not once but four times. The War also meant that the City lost one of it’s biggest landmarks; it’s Castle, with only a few ruins and the Great Hall left of it today. I must admit, that every time I go back to Winchester I wonder what it would have been like during the siege of 1645, what would the Royalists held in the castle have been thinking? And it never fails to get my imagination going.

Further Reading

The Civil War In Winchester – Richard Sawyer
Cheriton 1644: The Campaign & The Battle – John Adair
The Civil War in Hampshire – Tony MacLachlan
The Civil War In Hampshire – Rev G N Godwin (no link available)

5 thoughts on “Winchester In The English Civil War

  1. Great post! I took some photos from St Giles Hill last year but haven't managed to get them on on my site. The arrangement of the city's defences seem to make a lot of assumptions from the few accounts I've read as so little archaeology seems to have been done – or does the Sawyer book address this?

  2. yeah, very little archaeology has been done on them so alas, at the moment we can only go on the assumption of the defence arrangements. Sawyer doesn't really go into it very much but if I recall correctly (without moving from my seat to get the book as I'm feeling rooouuuggghhhh) he does mention it very very briefly in passing at the end of the book.

    St Giles is one of my favourite places in the city I have to say, second only to St Catherines Hill. That was a walk and a half getting to the top but so worth it for the views!

  3. I did take a wander up to Olivers Battery a couple of times. Many used to think that it was used by Cromwell to place his guns during the siege and fire them from there. But the placement of the battery is far to far away from the city centre for that! It's far more likely that it was used as a camp for some of the parliamentarian troops, and is marked on a map of 1780 as “olivers camp”. Though old Cromwell probably wasn't there. It's such an interesting earthwork though, and so full of history its unreal!

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