Battle of Reading (1688)
|Battle of Reading|
|Part of the Glorious Revolution|
|Soldiers loyal to James II||Dutch Republic|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Patrick Sarsfield||William III of Orange|
|600, mostly Irish, soldiers||250 Dutch soldiers
Some people of Reading
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Reading took place on 9 December 1688 in Reading, Berkshire. It was the only substantial military action in England during the Glorious Revolution and ended in a decisive victory for forces loyal to William of Orange. It was celebrated in Reading for hundreds of years afterwards.
On Wednesday 5 November 1688 William, then the Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of the Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel provinces of the Dutch Republic, landed in Devon at the head of a Dutch army in an attempt to wrest control of the country.
Five weeks later, on 7 December, the Prince of Orange and a strong body of troops had reached Hungerford. After retreating from Salisbury, James II's main force was stationed on Hounslow Heath. James posted an advance guard of 600 in Reading to stop the march of the Dutch towards London. These 600 troops were composed of Irish Catholics under Patrick Sarsfield, who wild rumour asserted were planning to massacre the townsfolk.
While the Prince of Orange was in Hungerford, his English supporters came into the town, including a body of several hundred cavalry headed by northern lords. On Saturday 8 December, James sent Lord Halifax, Lord Nottingham, and Lord Godolphin to Hungerford to confer with William. Halifax presented James' proposals: that the points of dispute would be laid before Parliament; and that while Parliament deliberated, William's army would not come nearer than 30 miles from London. Halifax then handed a letter from James to William. William asked his English advisers to discuss the proposals. They met under the chairmanship of Lord Oxford, and after a long debate they advised the rejection of James's proposals. William decided to negotiate with James and put his own counter proposals in writing for Halifax to deliver to James.
James II sent part of his army to Reading to stop the march of the invasion force. The people of Reading had already sent a messenger to William who was at Hungerford to ask for help. On Sunday 9 December a relief force of about 250 Dutch troops was sent to the town. Warned in advance of the Jacobite positions in the town they attacked from an unexpected direction, and got into the centre of Reading, where Broad Street gives rise to one of the alternate names for this encounter.
Forcing the Irish troops back, the Dutch attack was supported by Reading men shooting from their windows. The Dutch soon forced the Irish troops to retreat in confusion leaving a number of their side slain, twenty to fifty depending on the account. There were few deaths on the Dutch side, one being a Catholic officer.
Many of the dead were buried in the churchyard of St Giles' Church.
The battle is described in detail by Daniel Defoe in his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-6). Defoe, who had supported, and possibly fought for, the Duke of Monmouth in his earlier rebellion against James II was welcoming of the Dutch invasion. He describes how a squadron of "Irish dragoons" was routed by the "irresistible fury" of a Dutch force who chased many of the fleeing soldiers to nearby Twyford. In Defoe's account, the Irish dragoons are portrayed as wild and violent men who would have pillaged Reading and murdered its people if they had not been scattered. He then goes on to describe how, after the battle, they regrouped and made their way towards London, again threatening to burn the towns and kill the inhabitants in their way. Rumours of the atrocities that the Irish soldiers would commit, or indeed already had committed, preceded them, although these were clearly exaggerated and it seems as if the men were largely dispersed after meeting - and declining to fight - another force, this time loyal to James, at Colnbrook. Writing more than 30 years after the events he describes, Defoe paints a picture of a terror spread by the threat of the Irish dragoons far in excess of any acts they actually carried out.
James was already convinced that only Irish troops could be relied on to defend him, but this defeat by an inferior force and the willingness of the people of Reading to support a Dutch invasion further signalled the insecurity of his position. Thus on Tuesday 11 December James fled London in an abortive attempt to escape. He eventually escaped to France, where he found the support of Louis XIV and then Ireland, where most of the population supported him. His last hopes of regaining the throne were dashed with his defeat in the Williamite war in Ireland.
In light of proposals he had received from James while in Hungerford, William decided not to immediately proceed to London, but to accept an invitation from the University of Oxford. On 11 December, William set off for Abingdon, but on hearing of James's flight, he turned and headed down the Thames valley through Wallingford and Henley, accepting the submission of the Jacobite troops he met on the way, arriving at Windsor on 14 December 1688.
- All dates here use the Julian Calendar, which was in contemporary use in England; in the 17th century this was 10 days behind the Gregorian calendar used in Continental Europe, and in the UK today.
- also known as the Battle of Broad Street or The Reading Skirmish or The Reading Fight
- Childs 2003.
- Thorne 1847, p. 148.
- Ford 2001.
- Information Services.
- Childs, W.M. (2003) , "The Story of the Town of Reading", in Ford, David Nash, The Battle of Broad Street, Nash Ford Publishing, retrieved 3 August 2010
- Ford, David Nash (2001), "Reading", History of Reading in the Royal County of Berkshire, Nash Ford Publishing
- Information Services, "William of Orange's Itinerary", William of Orange's Itinerary, University of Nottingham, retrieved 3 August 2010
- Pihlens, Hugh. "William of Orange at the Bear". Hungerford Historical Association. External link in
- Thorne, James (1847). Rambles by rivers: The Thames 1,2. C. Cox.
- Collier, John Payne; Percy Society (1840). "The Reading Skirmish". Early English poetry, ballads, and popular literature of the Middle ages 1. The Percy Society.