Skipton Castle during the Civil War - Part 1

Read on for the first in a three part series about Skipton Castle during the English Civil War

Posted on May 24, 2022

Pick up any book about the English Civil War and it will say that Skipton castle was one of the last to surrender. Visit the castle and its information boards will tell you how strong it was and how important it was to the Royalist cause. Speak to the guide in the gateway of the castle and he will tell you how it was the strongest castle in the north of England! But is this just Royalist fake news?

January 1644 saw the castle in an unusual position, garrisoned by the Royalists but owned by a Parliamentarian – Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. As a result Newcastle made Sir John Mallory Royal Governor of the castle. Meanwhile Lord Fairfax had been in contact with Pembroke asking if he had a problem with the taking of the castle. Pembroke responded that he did not but would take it kindly if he did not knock it about too much! Perhaps this was one of the main reasons why Skipton survived so long.

Newcastle himself had an additional problem as a large Scottish army under the Earl of Leven had just invaded England. Newcastle’s forces in Yorkshire had not recovered in numbers or morale from the dual defeat of Winceby and Hull so he was forced to take troops, particularly cavalry out of his garrisons. It appears that most of Skipton’s mounted troops (cavalry and dragoons) were merged with Newcastle’s cavalry and headed North.

In January King Charles made Colonel John Belasyse Governor of York. As Newcastle had taken most of the Cavalry and foot with him to fight the Scottish army Belasyse was left with too few troops to defend Yorkshire. After the taking of Nantwich in January 1644 Lambert returned to the Thornton Hall area in February. By early March Lambert had retaken Bradford whilst at the same time Parliamentarian troops from Hull were vigorously raiding the East Riding reaching as far as Whitby and Stamford Bridge. In order to counter this Belasyse left York and chose Selby as his main base of operations as it was strategically positioned between the forces at Hull and at Bradford. In order to bulk up his army he withdrew many of the troops that were left in the garrisons, including Skipton.

In March Belasyse received cavalry reinforcements from Newark under General George Porter. Both decided to attack the force under Lambert at Bradford. On the 25th of March the attack went in and nearly succeeded. It is said that Lambert’s forces were running low on ammunition and decided to break-out of Bradford. It appears they chose to break-out where Porter’s main force was and managed to rout them. Belasyse having lost most of his cavalry retreated back to Selby and Porter went back to Newark. Lambert of course reoccupied Bradford.

The Fairfax’s decided the time was right to attack Belasyse at Selby so on the 9th/10th of April Lord Fairfax with troops from Hull, Sir Thomas with his force from Lancashire and Lambert with his troops met at Ferrybridge. On the 11th they advanced and after a hard fight took Selby. They captured around 1600 Royalists and effectively destroyed Belasyse’s army. Quite a few of the Skipton garrison’s Officers were captured or killed at Selby so it is reasonable to assume some of the garrison’s foot were also lost there. What was left of the Royalist army now retreated to York.

The following day on hearing about the loss Newcastle began his retreat to York. The Fairfax’s met the Earl of Leven at Tadcaster on the 20th of April. On the 23rd the first siege of York commenced as both forces moved into position. The Scots positioned themselves on the south side of the Ouse around Micklegate Bar whilst Fairfax covered the east side of the Ouse around Walmgate Bar. Not having sufficient troops to surround the whole of York they persuaded the Eastern Association under the command of the Earl of Manchester, which was then in Lincolnshire, to assist. By the 3rd of June Manchester’s forces were in position around York.

King Charles agrees for Rupert to join up with Newcastle’s forces and march to him in Oxford. Rupert based in Shrewsbury and having a small force of troops available decides to go up the western side of England recruiting as he goes along and taking troops from garrisons. Ever since the battle of Nantwich Parliament have had the upper hand in parts of Cheshire and Lancashire and Rupert is determined to reverse this. 25th of May saw Rupert defeat the defenders of Stockport. On the 28th May it was Bolton’s turn to be taken. Here Parliament claimed the Royalists massacred the townsfolk although there is no supporting evidence in the burial records. The 7th of June saw Rupert, now reinforced by all of Newcastle’s cavalry, besiege Liverpool. By the 11th of June Liverpool had fallen, which enabled the Royalists to bring over reinforcements from Ireland. Whilst still in Lancashire on the 19th of June Rupert received a letter from King Charles requesting he relieve York. This is the infamous letter which has been much debated over the years by historians. Many believe it asks the Prince just to relieve York whilst some like Rupert himself thought it meant to defeat the Scots and Parliamentarian armies.

Rupert with his army of 10 – 15,000 now marched over the Pennines and arrived at Skipton on the 26th of June. Here he stayed for two days whilst corresponding with Newcastle. Whilst on route to Skipton his troops burnt down and sacked Thornton Hall. Rupert of course went on to relieve York but lost the battle of Marston Moor on the 2nd of July. It is likely that most if not all of the remaining garrison took part in the battle of Marston Moor.

On the 3rd of July both Rupert and Newcastle left York. Newcastle with a troop of horse and dragoons headed to Scarborough and left for Hamburg. Rupert marched north with around 2,000 horse plus 1,000 foot to Thirsk. Here he met up with a force commanded by Sir Robert Clavering of around 1,500 troops. They joined together and marched to Bolton Castle and then back into Lancashire.

York surrendered on the 15th of July and Skipton was agreed to by the signatories to be the garrison that the Royalists would be escorted to. It is said that only around 200 decided to march out of York and many of those that arrived in Skipton then went on to other garrisons or re-joined Prince Rupert. Now the reduction of Yorkshire Castles could commence!

The second in the three part blog series is now available here.