English Civil War in Yorkshire

in York

Tension between Charles I and Parliament over the king’s governing methods led to the king moving his court to York in 1642. Civil war broke out in August when the king raised his standard at Nottingham.

Parliament issued a list of proposals, known as the Nineteen Propositions, which sought to increase Parliament’s power. The king rejected the propositions and the war which followed lasted until 1651, ending in a victory for Parliament. The monarchy was replaced with the Commonwealth and later the Protectorate, under Oliver Cromwell.

Walmgate Bar and St. Lawrence’s Churchyard, York

This is the most complete of the four medieval gateways; it still has a barbican, portcullis, and inner doors. Walmgate Bar was the subject of some of the fiercest attacks during the Siege in 1644. The Parliamentarians set up five guns on the nearby Lamel Hill and in St Lawrence’s churchyard.

From here they were able to bombard the bar and the Walmgate area. Walmgate Bar was also mined; a tunnel was built underneath the bar and filled with explosives. This attempt to blow up the gateway was stopped by the bar’s defenders who dug a separate mine to cut off this tunnel and poured water onto the Parliamentarian invaders. The city surrendered to the Parliamentarians on 16 July 1644. Walmgate Bar had been badly damaged. Work began on restoring the bar in October 1645.

Heads were also displayed on this bar: the head of Robert Hillyard, who took part in the Yorkshire rebellions of 1469 and in 1663, the head of a Farnley Wood conspirator.

St. Mary’s Tower, York

St. Mary’s Tower was built in the 14th century as part of the walls around St. Mary’s Abbey. Internally it is octagonal with two floors. The ground floor led into the abbey precinct, and doors in the upper floor led to the wall-walk.

On 16 June 1644, the Parliamentarian army besieged York and ‘put into Execution their Hellish Design and …did blow up Saint Maries Tower at the North-East corner of the Mannor; and at the same time, they made a Battery, and a breach in the Wall, lower down in St Maries Gate, whereat they endeavoured to enter’. After fighting in the grounds of King’s Manor, the Parliamentarians were driven out.

St. Mary’s Tower was rebuilt after the Civil War; the 17th-century doorway came from King’s Manor and the 15th-century ground-floor window is re-used stone from the abbey.

Helmsley Castle

The site was held by Walter l’Espec, founder of Rievaulx Abbey,  1120 to 1153; the initial ringwork is generally attributed to this period of occupation. Helmsley Castle was constructed by Robert de Roos, Lord of Helmsley, from 1190 to 1227.

During the English Civil War, the castle was besieged by Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1644, by 700 foot and 300 horse. Sir Jordan Crosland held it for the King for three months before surrendering in November. Parliament ordered that the castle should be slighted to prevent its further use and so much of the castle’s walls, gates and the eastern half of the east tower were destroyed. However the mansion was spared.

The castle was inherited by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham who married Mary, daughter of Thomas Fairfax in 1657. In 1687, the castle was sold to Charles Duncombe, whose brother-in-law built the stately home at Dumcombe Park. The castle is still owned by Lord Feversham of Duncombe Park.

Sheffield Castle

Castle Markets was built on the site of the original Sheffield castle which was first mentioned in written records in 1184. At one time it was thought that it might have been one of the largest castles in England.

At the start of the English Civil War in 1642, the castle was seized by the Parliamentarian commander Sir John Gell; all spare arms had been collected by Royalist forces, so the castle had weakened defences. In 1643, the castle changed hands after Royalist forces entered into Yorkshire, led by the Earl of Newcastle.

The Parliamentarian defenders fled into Derbyshire allowing the Royalists to take the castle without a fight. In August 1644, a force of 1200 soldiers, led by Major-General Crawford and Colonel Pickering, besieged the castle. At first their artillery was insufficient to breach the castle wall, but additional cannon were brought to Sheffield. On 11 August 1644, Sheffield Castle surrendered under this increased firepower. Three years later, a resolution was passed for the castle to be slighted and demolished. This was carried out in 1648. The stones and other items were sold for building material to the people of Sheffield.

Knaresborough Castle

Knaresborough Castle is first mentioned in 1129, under the custody of Eustace Fitz-John. The castle was often used by King John, due to the proximity to the Knaresborough Royal Forest, his favourite hunting grounds. It was probably during John’s reign that the castle was built in stone. In 1317, the castle was seized by John de Lilburn for Thomas Earl of Lancaster. Royal forces spent three months besieging the castle, finally recapturing it after a wall was breached.

During the Civil War, Knaresborough Castle was a Royalist stronghold. After their victory at Marston Moor, the Parliamentarian forces laid siege to the castle. After four months, the castle surrendered on 20 December 1644; the Parliamentarian cannon breach a hole in the wall above the sallyport. In 1646, Parliament ordered the castle destroyed; the people of Knaresborough petitioned for the keep to be maintained as a prison rather than being razed.

Scarborough Castle and St. Mary’s Church

The present castle dates from 1150s, when Henry II completely rebuilt the castle using stone. In 1312, Edward II’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, took refuge in the castle. Despite the strong defences, the castle surrendered quickly due to lack of provisions. Gaveston was captured and executed by the Earl of Warwick.

In September 1642, Sir Hugh Chomley occupied the castle as a Parliamentarian, but swapped sides in March 1643. During the Civil War, Scarborough was a strategic supply port for the Royalists; its importance is proved by the fact that it changed hands seven times between 1642 and 1648. After Parliamentarian Commander Sir John Meldrum took Scarborough on 18 February 1845, the army prepared for a five-month siege of the castle. This was one of the bloodiest sieges during the war, with almost continuous fighting. The Parliamentarian cannon bombarded the castle from St. Mary’s churchyard, below the castle. Although they destroyed the castle keep, the Parliamentarians could not take the castle, since the outer wall had not been breached. Eventually disease and provisional shortages led to the surrender of the castle on 25 July 1645. The castle returned to Royalist hands on 27 July 1648, when the Parliamentarian soldiers went unpaid, but a second siege brought it back under Parliamentarian control.

Bolton Castle

Bolton Castle was built between 1378 and 1399 by Richard, Baron Scrope of Bolton. During the Pilgrimage of Grace, in 1536, John Scrope offered the castle as sanctuary for the Abbot Jervaulx. In retribution, the king ordered the castle to be torched, but within a few years the damage was repaired.

Mary, Queen of Scots was held at Bolton Castle in 1568; the castle was not equipped to house the Queen, and tapestries, rugs and furniture had to be borrowed from local houses and Barnard Castle in County Durham. In January 1569, Mary was taken to Tutbury in Staffordshire, where she was held for the next 18 years, until her execution in 1587.

During the Civil War, Bolton Castle was a Royalist stronghold. From autumn 1644 until November 1645, the castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces. Sir John Scrope only surrendered after the last of the horses and other animals had been eaten. After two years of Parliamentarian occupation, the castle was slighted, but the north-east tower did not actually collapse until 1761. The castle was left to decay, and the Scrope family built a new manor house, Bolton Hall, nearby.

Skipton Castle

Skipton Castle was built in 1090 by Robert de Romille, a Norman baron. In 1536, the castle was besieged by rebels during the Pilgrimage of Grace. During the Civil War, the castle was a Royalist stronghold under Sir John Mallory. For three years, the castle was periodically under siege, with the final siege lasting for several months.

The Parliamentarian battery can still be seen high up in the hills overlooking the town. The castle surrendered on 21 December 1645. In 1648, the castle was re-occupied by Royalist forces, but they were soon forced to surrender. In 1684, it was ordered that the castle be demolished.

Although the work to dismantle the castle had begun, Lady Anne Clifford petitioned to reverse the decision. Cromwell allowed her to rebuild and repair the castle, the only condition being that it would no longer be capable of serious defence. The reconstructed castle walls are therefore thinner than the original walls.

Pontefract Castle

Built in 1070, Pontefract was an important medieval castle. It was the seat of Thomas Earl of Lancaster. After he was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, he was held at the castle and eventually executed. In 1400, King Richard II was held and executed at Pontefract Castle after Henry IV claimed the throne.

When the Civil War began in 1642, Pontefract Castle supported the king. On Christmas Day 1644, Pontefract Castle was besieged. From 17-22 January 1645, cannon bombarded Pontefract Castle. After 1,367 shots fired on the castle, only a small piper tower was destroyed. The Parliamentarian army attempted to mine beneath the castle walls. Although the defenders dug countermines, the Parliamentarian mines were never able to penetrate the castle since it was built on solid rock.

On 1 March 1645, the siege was ended when Sir Marmaduke Langdale defeated the Parliamentarian army at the Battle of Chequerfield and relieved the castle. On 11 March, the Parliamentarians renewed the siege, this time building a series of earthworks around the castle. Eventually, the lack of provisions forced the castle to surrender on 19 June 1645. In 1648, the Royalists recaptured the castle. For five months, the castle was besieged until forced to surrender on 24 March 1649. Three days after the surrender, Parliament ordered the destruction of the castle.

All Saint’s Church and Chequerfield, Pontefract

All Saint’s Church is situated below Pontefract Castle. During the Civil War, the church proximity to the castle meant it changed hands several times. In December 1644, the Parliamentarians battled for four days to remove the Royalist defenders. There was fierce fighting in the church and churchyard.

From All Saint’s Church is it possible to see the site of the Battle of Chequerfield, which is the hill visible over the houses on the opposite side of South Baileygate. Sir Marmaduke Langdale’s Royalist forces, marching from Doncaster, reached the crest of the hill at 3.30pm on 1 March 1645.

The Parliamentarian army marched to meet them, but were defeated when the castle defenders attacked the Parliamentarian army from behind; the siege was lifted.

On 11 March 1645, when the Parliamentarian renewed their siege of Pontefract Castle, earthworks were constructed around the castle and the church to restrict the Royalist defenders. In June, the Parliamentarians forces took the church. The soldiers began making siege works within the ruined church, pillaging the church of lead, iron and wood. In 1649, the church was a roofless ruin.

Cawood Castle

Cawood Castle was a palace for the Archbishop of York, first mentioned in 1181. It was converted into a quadrangular castle from 1374-1388. In 1642, the castle was proclaimed a Royalist stronghold, but in October, Captain Hotham led a force of 500 horse and foot to capture the castle, which was in defiance of a treaty of neutrality between Lord Fairfax and the Yorkshire Royalists.

The Earl of Newcastle resecured York and the surrounding area in December 1642. During the Siege of York, on 24 April 1644, the Parliamentarian attacks on Cawood Castle were repulsed. Finally, Sir John Meldrum’s Parliamentarian forces captured the castle on 19 May, but the Earl of Newcastle briefly recaptured it again in 1644. Shortly after that, Lord Fairfax recaptured it and used it as a prisoner-of-war camp. After the end of the Civil War, the castle was destroyed, with only the gatehouse and the banqueting hall remaining. 

Stones from the castle were used to construct the surrounding houses and possibly taken upriver to extend the official residence of the Archbishop of York at Bishopthorpe.

Newburgh Priory

Newburgh Priory stands on the site of a 12th century Augustinian priory. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site of the priory was sold to Anthony de Bellasis, who built a Tudor manor house. Newburgh Priory is reputed to be the resting place of Oliver Cromwell.

In 1661, Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey, and it was subjected to a posthumous execution. His body was hanged in chains at Tyburn. His remains were thrown in a pit, while his severed head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster hall until 1685. It is believed that Mary, Countess of Fauconberg, Cromwell’s daughter, used her influence to retrieve his remains and bring them back to Newburgh Priory.

Originally the stone tomb was incorporated into the roof, but alterations in that part of the house have raised the roofline and revealed the tomb. The family has never allowed the tomb to be opened, so the contents are a mystery.

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5 thoughts on “English Civil War in Yorkshire”

  1. I am looking for information about Oliver Cromwell in the Calder Valley. I know that a battle took place at what is now known as Cromwell Bottom near Brighouse and reputedly, cannons were fired from Cromwell mount but, sadly , nothing is recorded on this web site.

    • I think he had a really strong presence in Rastrick part of Brighouse
      I have been really trying to find some more information about this but no look yet.

  2. My ancestor was present at the “Seige of Halifax”. I don’t see a reference to this, but thought perhaps one of the castles or churches listed above is in Halifax. Do you have any information on this?

  3. I’m interested to know how did the town called Ollerton got its name, I know its Nottinghamshire, so my thoughts are to do with Robin Hood,


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