Siege of Chester
|Siege of Chester|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
Morgan's Mount, a Royalist gun platform which was part of Chester's defences in 1645
|Commanders and leaders|
King Charles I
|Sir William Brereton,
Colonel Michael Jones
From the beginning of the war, the city of Chester was held by forces loyal to Charles I of England. It was first besieged in late 1644, but was relieved in March 1645 by Prince Maurice. With fighting continuing around Cheshire, the siege was not pursued again in earnest until September 1645, continuing ferociously until the following January. At the Battle of Rowton Heath in September, Charles himself failed to lift the siege, suffering a disastrous defeat.
Throughout the siege, which varied considerably in intensity, the garrison was commanded by Lord Byron, who in the final months strongly defended the city against great odds. In January 1646 (1645, old style), faced with the starvation of the inhabitants, Byron was persuaded to surrender, and the city was occupied by forces of the New Model Army under Sir William Brereton.
The city of Chester, in Cheshire, was an important stronghold in the English border country, commanding an important crossing of the River Dee and thus the approach to North Wales. With strong city walls, dating originally from Roman times, Chester was a Royalist stronghold from the beginning of the civil war. Early in the war, between 1642 and 1643, its walls were strengthened and a new ring of earthwork defences was added outside them.
After Lord Byron was defeated at the Battle of Nantwich in January 1644, he marched his remaining forces to Chester, making it his base for resistance to the Parliamentarian forces in Cheshire under Sir William Brereton. During the first half of 1645, Brereton was able to gain control of most of Cheshire, but the King's men in Chester commanded the river crossing into North Wales, still held by the King, protecting it from a Parliamentary invasion.
February to March 1645
In February 1645 (1644, old style) Brereton mounted a determined assault on Chester, in the course of which a force of his men tried unsuccessfully to scale the walls near the Northgate. Defeated, he began to besiege the city.
In March, Prince Maurice of the Palatinate arrived to relieve the city. However, having done so, when he moved on in April he took with him a large part of the garrison, including some 1,200 hardened Irish fighting men. Chester was left with only some six hundred regular soldiers, together with its own civilians who were able to bear arms.
Summer of 1645
On 14 June 1645, Charles's main army was decisively beaten at the Battle of Naseby by the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax. The King then withdrew to Hereford, hoping for more reinforcements from Wales and Ireland. Early in July 1645, he lodged at Raglan Castle in Wales. On 10 July his army in the west of England under Lord Goring was heavily defeated at the Battle of Langport, and news also reached Charles that an army of Covenanters was marching south. At the beginning of August 1645, Charles left Raglan with some 2,500 men, marching northwards along the Welsh border in the hope of rallying more Royalists to his cause in the north of England. He reached Doncaster on 18 August, where he had news that both the Parliamentary Northern Association army and a force of Covenanter cavalry were moving towards him. He quickly withdrew to Newark and then to Oxford, by way of a punitive attack on Huntingdon, Oliver Cromwell's home town and Parliamentary base.
On 30 August the King marched to the assistance of his forces at Hereford, by now under siege by Lord Leven's Covenanters, but as the royal army approached news reached Leven of Montrose's victory on 15 August at the Battle of Kilsyth. He abandoned the siege of Hereford, marching north, so that Charles was able to occupy the town on 4 September. The King returned to Raglan, where some two weeks later he received news that Prince Rupert had surrendered Bristol. After Lord Digby persuaded Charles that Rupert had surrendered prematurely, the King dismissed Rupert and the two were estranged.
September 1645 to January 1646
With his remaining forces, Charles marched north from Raglan, hoping to join Montrose, not knowing that on 13 September Montrose had suffered a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Philiphaugh. The Committee of Both Kingdoms instructed Sydnam Poyntz to pursue and contain the King, and Poyntz advanced for that purpose with a mounted force of some three thousand cavalry and dragoons. The King moved northwards, without meeting Poyntz, and on 22 September he reached Chirk Castle where he received news of a new attack on Chester.
With the surrender of Bristol, Chester had become the only seaport in England under Charles's control where it would be possible to land the reinforcements he was awaiting from Ireland, which he hoped could save him from ultimate defeat.
Early on 20 September 1645, just before daylight, a New Model Army force of more than seven hundred infantry and an equal number of cavalry, led by Colonel Michael Jones, began a fresh assault on Chester. The attack broke through the outer Royalist earthworks around the eastern suburbs. After Jones had ordered the burning down of the urban areas in front of the east gate, he moved artillery up to St John the Baptist's Church to bombard the city wall. By 22 September, the King arrived at Chirk, but Jones's guns had already created a breach in the walls.
The King made for Chester with all possible speed. Word that he was coming was passed on to the garrison commander, Lord Byron. The King reached Chester on 23 September with an advance party consisting of his lifeguards, Gerard's brigade of some six hundred horse, and a small number of foot soldiers. This force was able to enter the city from the western bank of the River Dee because it was still under Royalist control. Meanwhile, in the hope of trapping the besieging forces between the king's main army and an enlarged garrison within the city, Sir Marmaduke Langdale took more than three thousand of the King's cavalry northwards towards Chester, crossing the Dee over Farndon Bridge, Holt, at dawn on 24 September.
Moving north-east, Langdale received reports near the village of Rowton that Poyntz's Roundhead cavalry was approaching Chester from Whitchurch, Shropshire. Poyntz, who had ridden through the night to meet the royal army, met Langdale at Rowton Moor. All morning, both forces held their ground, but at about 2:00 pm, Jones sent part of his siege forces to join those of Poyntz. Charles is said to have watched the ensuing defeat of his forces at the Battle of Rowton Heath from the Phoenix Tower on Chester's city walls, when Parliamentary forces routed the remaining Royalist cavalry. The dead included the King's cousin Lord Bernard Stewart.
On 25 September, leaving Byron in charge of the garrison, the King retreated from Chester to Denbigh in North Wales with only five hundred mounted men. As Byron refused to surrender, the Roundheads extended their siege works around the city and continued their bombardment.
For more than four months, the Royalist garrison resisted all Parliamentarian attempts to enter the city and even mounted counter-attacks. But as autumn became winter, many inhabitants died of starvation. In January 1646 (1645, old style), William Ince, as Mayor of Chester, persuaded Byron to surrender the city. On 3 February, the forces of Brereton occupied Chester.
The battlements of Chester Castle were used by the Royalist garrison for artillery platforms.
- Siege of Oxford
- Siege of Taunton
- Siege of Bristol
- Siege of Carlisle (1645)
- Siege of Colchester
- Siege of Pembroke
- Siege of Worcester
- C. P. Lewis & A. T. Thacker, eds., 'Early modern Chester 1550-1762: The civil war and interregnum, 1642-60', in A History of the County of Chester: The City of Chester: General History and Topography (Vol. 5, part 1, of Victoria County History of Cheshire, 2003), pp. 115-125, accessed 12 August 2011
- Thomas Baines, Lancashire and Cheshire, past and present: a history and a description of the palatine counties of Lancaster and Chester ... from the earliest ages to the present time, vol. 2 (W. Mackenzie, 1868), pp. 496-509
- English Heritage Battlefield Report: Langport 1645 web page by English Heritage, accessed 9 August 2011
- 1645: The Siege of Chester and Battle of Rowton Heath at british-civil-wars.co.uk, accessed 19 September 2011
- Charles Spencer, Prince Rupert: the Last Cavalier (London: Phoenix, 2007, ISBN 978-0-297-84610-9), p. 160
- A. Campbell, A dispatch announcing the defeat of the Scottish rebels at Philiphaugh (1645), quoted in Battle of Philiphaugh report by Battlefields Trust, online at battlefieldstrust.com
- D. N. Farr, 'Poyntz, Sydenham (bap. 1607)' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004); online edition (subscription required), October 2006
- John Broster, History of the siege of Chester, during the civil wars in the time of King Charles I (Chester, Broster & Son, 1800)
- Peter Young and Wilfrid Emberton, Sieges of the Great Civil War (London, Bell & Hyman, 1978)
- A. H. Burne & Peter Young, The Great Civil War, a military history (London, 1958)
- S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War (Vol. 2: London, 1889)
- Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies: a military history of the English Civil War (1998)
- T. F. Henderson, 'David Leslie, first Lord Newark', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
- JB, ed., 'John Byron's account of the siege of Chester 1645-1646' in The Cheshire Sheaf, 4th series, 6 (1971), from Rawlinson MS B210 in the Bodleian Library