This is the final article in our three part blog series about Skipton Castle during the English Civil War. If you missed the second part you can read it here. The previous article discussed the aftermath of the siege of York and the castles that still remained in Royalist hands.
Early 1645 saw Skipton untroubled by Parliamentarians as they were busy in trying to take Pontefract castle. Mallory went on the offensive again. A Parliamentarian regiment being raised by Colonel Brandling was based at Keighley. On the 12th of February Major Hughes led a mounted force of 150 men to Keighley. Arriving early in the morning they surprised the guards and entered the town taking 100 prisoners, 60 horses, weapons, gun powder and 400 yards of cloth. Word of this attack though reaches Lambert who was quartered near-by. Lambert reacted quickly gathering together what troops he could and set out after Hughes. He caught up with Hughes and retook all the plunder including the prisoners. It appears that the prisoners even armed themselves and attacked Hughes troops. Hughes was wounded and taken prisoner along with 20 of his men. Around 24 were killed of which 9 were Lamberts’. Hughes later died of his wounds and was buried in Skipton on the 19th February.
1st March saw the defeat of the Parliamentarian forces surrounding Pontefract Castle at the battle of Chequerfield by Sir Marmaduke Langdale. Two days later Langdale marched away to re-join the King down South. By the 22nd of March, the Parliamentarians were surrounding Pontefract castle again which finally surrendered on the 21st of July. Scarborough castle surrendered 5 days later. Now only Bolton, Sandal and Skipton castles remained in Royalist control.
Lambert became General in charge of all the Yorkshire Parliamentarians but because of the wound received at the battle of Chequerfield he had to resign. Sydenham Poyntz now took over and found that all his force was unpaid and understrength. Parliament did not have enough money to pay all of its armies therefore it concentrated funds on the New Model Army which was facing the King’s Army. Soldiers pay could also come from the funds raised by the various York based committees in the County of Yorkshire. However four years of hard fighting had left many farmers short of sheep and cattle; whilst their workers had also gone to war. In the Pennines the wool trade was suffering as many traders had to resort to pay soldiers to guard their pack horse trains as they moved from York- shire to London or Lancashire. Local tradespeople had no money left to give.
3rd August saw Poyntz with foot and horse but no heavy guns taking control of Skipton town. The heavy artillery was with Colonel Overton at Sandal castle. Poyntz requested the Skipton garrison to surrender but it refused. Poyntz and his troops stayed at Skipton until 17th August. Although King Charles had lost at Naseby he was keen to advance into Yorkshire to recruit a new Army. Both Yorkshire and Wales had provided the King with a high proportion of his foot and horse. Poyntz was ordered by the Committee of Both Kingdomes to take his force to oppose the King and the Newark garrison. King Charles entered Doncaster on the 19th August only to turn tail and go back South two days later. Despite this success Poyntz’s forces were in disarray. Many of the regiments were in mutiny over the lack of pay and troops were deserting. Parliament panicking after the King’s advance into Yorkshire decided to pay £20,000 of arrears which solved the problem for a while.
Late August and September saw the recruiting of Poyntz’s force and the continuing siege of Sandal castle. On the 1st October Sandal castle surrendered and whilst the garrison were allowed to march to Welbeck House, the nearest Royalist garrison, they were not allowed to march out with the ‘honours of war’. However this had given Skipton castle a much-needed breathing space in which they reorganised and re-provisioned for the inevitable siege. In October 1645 after his latest defeat at Rowton Heath, Charles was back in Newark. It was here that he heard of the defeat of the Royalist Marquis of Montrose in Scotland at the battle of Philiphaugh on the 13th September. Montrose had been sent to Scotland by Charles as his Lieutenant General in 1644: However despite his many victories he was always extremely short of cavalry. Charles finally decided to send him cavalry under Lord Digby and Sir Marmaduke Langdale. Due to Charles’s defeats this force was not very large (possibly around 1500 men) but was extremely well trained. Digby’s force met and defeated the Parliamentarians at Doncaster and Ferrybridge and rested a night in Sherburn-in-Elmet. In response to Digby and Langdale’s force, on the 15th October two Parliamentarian forces were nearing Sherburn-in-Elmet. One was under the command of Colonel Copley and the other Colonel Robert Lilburne. Digby’s and Langdale’s cavalry were defeated and those that managed to escape went to Skipton castle. Digby, Langdale and the remaining cavalry did not stay long at Skipton. They along with some of the garrison and locally raised troops, headed into Cumberland to their final destruction on Carlisle Sands later in the month.
A rather curious incident occurred in October. The York Parliamentarian Committee, wanting to secure the surrender of Skipton castle, started negotiations without surrounding the castle. It appears though that the trumpeter sent by Mallory got himself well and truly drunk and never arrived in York! I’m sure there’s a Living History scenario to be created here. The garrison had to apologise and restart the negotiations which went nowhere as Mallory’s requests were unmeetable.
On the 6th November Bolton castle surrendered, now only Skipton remained in Royalist hands.
20th November saw the re-commencing of the siege again under Colonel Richard Thornton with 2000 foot and 2000 horse. Poyntz was unavailable as he and the rest of the Yorkshire foot and horse, along with the Scots, were busy surrounding Newark. It took three days of hard fighting to take the town as Mallory had learnt from the first siege and no doubt erected barricades and blocked alleys. Having taken the town Thornton now called for the siege guns to be sent from York. It’s not clear when the heavy guns arrived, but considering the weather conditions of the period it is likely to have taken longer than Thornton wanted. Thornton had wisely used the time waiting for them as his troops had built earthworks for the cannon on Park, Sod and Cock hills. As the artillery battered down the walls and the church steeple it was inevitable that the garrison would have to surrender. On 21st December surrender articles were agreed. The garrison could march out with the ‘honours of war’ and be provided with an escort to take them to Nottinghamshire but they were not allowed to go to Newark.
Right at the beginning of these articles I asked a question. The guidebooks and guides at the castle tell you it was the strongest castle in the North of England but was this Royalist fake news? The short answer is yes. True it held out longer than other castles in Yorkshire but in my opinion that was not due to the strength but where it was. Indeed when it was under a proper siege with heavy guns it survived just over a month.
Prior to Marston Moor the Yorkshire Parliamentarians had no heavy guns so there was little chance of taking any castle. Surrendering a castle without at least a breech of the main wall would subject the Royalist commander to a hanging. Post Marston Moor the amount of heavy guns available dictated which castles were taken first.
Until Marston Moor the castle seems to have two main duties. Collecting the rents and tithes for paying the garrison, the surrounding area for food and forwarding the surplus to the Royalist HQ at York. As a holding centre for the recruits obtained from the area. After Marston Moor this of course changes as it becomes more obvious that the King’s cause in Yorkshire is on a downward curve. The position of Skipton makes it a secondary target particularly when Carlisle and Newcastle areas are in Parliament’s allies hands.
Pontefract and Helmsley control the Great North Road and the movement of forces from Newark and the South and the Scots from the North. Scarborough as a port prevents free trade from Hull to the continent and severely interferes with the lucrative coal trade from Newcastle to London. Hence why it was important these castles were taken first. Technically both Sandal and Knaresborough are what I would term satellite garrisons. Neither could survive too long once their main castles of Pontefract and Helmsley were taken.
Research of the 1644/45 period in Yorkshire reveal that there were many outbreaks of ‘plague’ which must have impacted on Parliament’s troops and Poyntz’s ability to recruit. Indeed Aberford on the Great North Road broke up their market cross in 1645 to restrict the numbers coming into and through the town.
For more information I would recommend you obtain the following two books which will give you a good explanation of the sieges of Skipton as well as other castles in Yorkshire:
Skipton Castle in the Great Civil War 1642 – 1645 by Richard T Spence (ISBN 0 9506975 1 6)
Yorkshire Sieges of the Civil Wars by David Cooke (ISBN 978 1 84415 917 8)
In these articles I have included the bare information necessary although in many cases by searching the Internet I have come across other background details which in some cases indicates the regiments involved. Some income/pension claims made in the post 1660’s by wounded Royalist soldiers even indicate which battles they were present at.
Thanks for reading this series about the history of Skipton Castle during the English Civil War. If you would like more information on how we can support you to organise a re-enactment display or if you would like to get involved then please don't hesitate to get in touch here.