Siege of Lathom House
|Siege of Lathom House|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
Illustration of Lathom House, prior to the siege
|Commanders and leaders|
|1st: Countess of Derby
2nd: Col. Edward Rawstorne
|1st: Sir Thomas Fairfax
2nd: Col. Peter Egerton
|1st: 300||1st: 2,000
|Casualties and losses|
|1st: Less than 10||1st: 400–500|
The Siege of Lathom House was a military confrontation between a Parliamentarian army and a Royalist stronghold in Lathom near Ormskirk in Lancashire. The first lasted from late February to late May 1644, when the siege was lifted. The second siege took place a year later from July to December 1645. Lathom House was captured and slighted.
James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby was the leading Royalist adherent in the northwest of England when the Civil War broke out in 1642. The family seat of the Stanleys was Lathom House. In 1643, the Earl of Derby was ordered by King Charles to fortify the Isle of Man against a possible Scottish invasion, and then move on to the northern campaign. His wife, Charlotte de la Tremoüille, was left in charge of what turned out to be the last remaining Royalist stronghold in Lancashire. Sir Thomas Fairfax saw Derby's absence as an opportunity to strengthen the Long Parliament's position in Lancashire and set out to conquer Lathom House. Immediately after the fall of Warrington, the Roundheads requested that the countess acknowledge Parliament's authority and surrender her house, but she refused on the grounds that doing so would dishonour her husband. She offered to limit herself to defending her home, and this postponed further attacks on her position.
When Fairfax arrived at Lathom House in February 1644, the countess had made every effort to conceal the strength of the castle's fortifications. Fairfax demanded that the countess surrender Lathom House to him. She asked for a week to consider his offer, and then insisted that it was only appropriate that he visit her at Lathom House for further negotiations. He was received as an honoured guest, but the entire household categorically rejected his terms for surrendering. He gave her two more days to consider her situation. The emissary sent two days later was scornfully dismissed.
The siege began with 2,000 Parliamentary soldiers (500 cavalry and 1500 infantry) against a garrison of 300. The fortifications of Lathom House consisted of:
- Outer walls and embankments six feet thick
- An 8-yard moat
- 9 towers, each with six cannon, three pointing in either direction, and the Eagle Tower providing an excellent overview of the battlefield.
In addition, the castle was at the lowest point in the middle of an open expanse that allowed excellent views of the enemy's activities. Lady Charlotte had assembled a militia of seasoned marksmen who were able to inflict significant losses by sniping.
John Seacome, an 18th-century historian of the House of Stanley quoted from another account A true and genuine account of the famous and ever memorable siege of Lathom-House in the County of Lancaster:
...upon a flat, upon a moorish, springy, and spumous ground ; was at the time of the siege encompassed by a strong wall of two yards thick. Upon the wall were nine towers flanking each other, and in every tower were six pieces of ordnance, that played three the one way and three the other. Within the wall was a moat, eight yards wide and two yards deep; upon the brink of the moat, between the wall and the graff, was a strong row of palisadoes surrounding the whole, and, to add to these securities, there was a high tower, called the Eagle Tower, in the midst of the house, sur rounding (surmounting?) all the rest ; and the gatehouse was also a strong and high building, with a strong. tower on each side of it; and in the entrance to the first court, upon the top of these towers, were placed the best and choicest marksmen, who had been accustomed to attend the Earl in his field sports, with their fowling-pieces, which they levelled at the enemy, marking particularly the officers wherever they appeared in their trenches. Nature seemed to have formed the house for a stronghold. The situation of the house might be compared to the palm of a man's hand-flat in the middle and covered with rising ground around it, so that during the siege the enemy was never able to raise a battery against it, or to make a single practicable breach in the wall. The works of the besiegers formed a line of circumvallation drawn round about the house at the distance of 60 or 100 or 200 yards from the wall, as best suited the ground, consisting of an open trench, a yard of ditch, and a yard of turf, with eight sconces raised in such places as might annoy the besieged in the sally, directis lateribus, and in some places staked and palisadoed.
The fortifications sustained continuous cannon and mortar fire with minimal damage. The Royalists launched several successful sorties to disrupt Roundhead efforts to set up batteries. As a result, Parliamentary forces were unable to establish any major artillery positions against the castle, and the army refused to replenish those guns that were lost or spiked during the sorties. Morale among the Roundheads also suffered greatly as the besieged shot soldiers and engineers on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, Fairfax persisted in demanding that Lady Charlotte surrender to his forces, going so far as to obtain a letter from Lord Stanley asking for safe passage for her. She refused to surrender under any terms, rebuking messengers in increasingly disdainful tones.
After one particularly audacious sortie in late April that destroyed several Roundhead positions, Fairfax declared a day of fasting and prayer in his camp. One of the chaplains invoked the following verse from Jeremiah 50:14:
Put yourselves in array against Babylon on every side: all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows: for she hath sinned against the Lord.
Captain Hector Schofield, a messenger from Colonel Rigby of the Roundheads, arrived to offer Lady Charlotte an honourable surrender. She threatened to hang him from the tower gates, then asked him to convey the following while she tore the message:
Carry this answer back to Rigby, and tell that insolent rebel, he shall have neither persons, goods, nor house. When our strength and provisions are spent, we shall find a fire more merciful than Rigby; and then, if the providence of God prevent it not, my goods and house shall burn in his sight; and myself, children, and soldiers, rather than fall into his hands will seal our religion and loyalty in the same flames.
A similar ultimatum issued by Rigby on 23 May prompted Lady Charlotte to respond: "The mercies of the wicked are cruel .... unless they treated with her lord, they should never take her or any of her friends alive".
The siege was lifted on the night of 27 May as the Royalist general Prince Rupert approached Lathom with thousands of cavalry and infantry. Lady Charlotte and her household departed for the Isle of Man. leaving the care of Lathom House to Colonel Edward Rawstorne.
After the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Marston Moor, which was fought 2 July 1644, the north of England was largely under Parliamentary control apart from areas close to Royalist garrisons such as Lathom House. The next year in July (1645), 4,000 of Parliamentary troops returned to begin the second siege. Their commander Colonel Peter Egerton made Ormskirk his headquarters while his men encamped on Aughton Moss (or Aughton Moor), near Aughton Mill. Trenchfield House, on the site of this encampment, still retains the name.
The garrison did not capitulate quickly, but when it became clear that no relief could be expected, and supplies were running short, famine forced Colonel Rawstorne's hand and he surrender at discretion to Colonel Egerton on 2 December 1645.
The fall of Lathom House was regarded as an event of the first importance by the Parliamentary party. Besides the material gain of twelve pieces of cannon and a large store of arms and ammunition, the Republicans had achieved a great moral triumph in the fall of the famous royalist house, and an order was issued by the House of Commons "for the ministers about London to give public thanks to God, on the next Lord's Day, for its surrender".
After the Restoration the property was regained by the Derby family, and in the early part of the last century it was occasionally inhabited by them, but Knowsley Hall succeeded Lathom House as the principal seat of the Stanley family.
- The folk-rock band Steeleye Span memorialized the siege in the title song of their album They Called Her Babylon.
- Stonework reclaimed form the Siege of Lathom House were used in the construction of the Great hall of the nearby 'Lancashire Manor Hotel'.
- Seacome 1793, pp. 225–243.
- Seacome 1793, pp. 234–235.
- Timbs & Gunn 1893, p. 136.
- Young 1970, p. 165.
- Seacome 1793, p. 257.
- Egerton 1645.
- Newstead 1893, p. 13.
- Timbs & Gunn 1893, pp. 136–137.
- Seacome 1793, pp. 262–264.
- Farrer & Brownbill 1911, pp. 143-150.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Timbs & Gunn 1893, p. 137
- Timbs & Gunn 1893, p. 137.
- Ainsworth, William Harrison (1880), The leaguer of Lathom: a tale of the Civil War in Lancashire, t=G. Routledge
- Anonymous, Siege of Lathom House, TheTeacher99, archived from the original on 28 Septernber 2008
- Egerton, Peter (25 Mar 1645), 25 Mar 1645: Egerton, Peter (Colonel) (fl. 1645) (Ormskirk, Lancashire, England) to Lenthall, William, 1591-1662, Bodleian card catalogue, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
- Farrer, William; Brownbill, J., eds. (1911), "Townships: Tottington", A History of the County of Lancaster 5, Institute of Historical Research, pp. 143–150
- Coakley, Frances, ed. (December 2010), Lathom And Knowsley, A Manx Note Book extracts from:
- Draper, Peter (1864), The House of Stanley; Including the Sieges of Lathom House, whith Notices of Relative and Co-temporary Incidents &c., Ormskirk: T. Hutton, pp. 100–101
- Timbs, John; Gunn, Alexander (1893), North, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales: Their Legendary Lore and Popular History III (2nd ed.), F.Warne & Co., pp. 128–137
- Newstead, G. Coulthard (1893), Gleanings towards the annals of Aughton, near Ormskirk, Liverpool: Ratcliffe, p. 13
- Seacome, John (1793), The history of the house of Stanley, from the conquest, to the death of the Right Honorable Edward, late earl of Derby, in 1776, Preston: Printed by E. Sergent, pp. 234–235, 257–265 — This is a detailed source of the sieges and one that is used by several other sources listed here.
- Young, Peter (1970), Marston Moor 1644: The Campaign and the Battle, Kineton: Roundwood, p. 165, ISBN 1-900624-09-5