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Timeline 1643

Updated Sunday 7th January 2001

A year-by-year guide to the key events of the Civil War

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Prince Rupert of the Rhine Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

July: Rupert seizes Bristol

A major city and port falls into Royalist hands. War recommenced in early 1643. While the Royalists enjoyed life in Oxford, the Parliamentary forces had organised themselves into Associations of counties. In East Anglia, the Eastern Association was established under the command of the Earl of Manchester and a rising cavalry commander called Oliver Cromwell. During this early phase of the War (1642-43), Wales was relatively quiescent. Following the raising of the Standard, the Principality was overwhelmingly for the King and the Welsh Royalists took the opportunity to garrison the many large, well-fortified castles which dotted the Welsh countryside. With the Royalists safely ensconced in large, virtually impregnable fortifications, there was little incentive for the Parliamentarians to try to winkle them out, especially when more pressing concerns were to hand. This encouraged a war of stasis and stalemate.

The struggle for the West Country witnessed the most violent action during 1643 as Parliament's Western Association came under increasingly heavy pressure. Over the rolling fields of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, armies led by two close friends, Sir Ralph Hopton (Royalist) and Sir William Waller (Parliamentary) fought for control of this vital terrain. They had fought together for the Protestant cause in Europe during the Thirty Years Way, but their religious differences now tore them apart.

Across the West Country, amazing acts of bravery punctured the conflict. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Battle of Lansdown which saw the Cornish militia, armed with pikes, charge uphill against overwhelming Roundhead forces time and again. The losses were staggering but the Cornish militia won the day for the Royalists - a victory which was hopelessly squandered. But the Cavaliers pressed on and in the Battle of Roundway Down, they went on to destroy Waller's forces in the West. Waller and the remnants of his shattered force retreated back to Gloucester.

The ever-watchful Prince Rupert immediately saw his opportunity. In July 1643 he headed West from Oxford to seize England's second city, Bristol. With its rich population of merchants and tradesmen, its trading links to Ireland and the Americas, and its vital strategic position, Bristol was a wealthy prize.

Rupert positioned himself to the north of the town and fixed his battery of cannons at Clifton Church. When the Governor of the city refused to surrender, Rupert let rip with a day long battery. Then to the north of the city, his troops charged and, after some bloody hand to hand combat, the cavalry ground their way through the city's outer defences but were held back by the River Frome. Meanwhile on Bristol's southern side, the masochistic Cornish pikemen were once again suffering huge losses against well-defended city walls. Again and again, they advanced against overwhelming Roundhead forces.

But the successful cavalry on the north managed to cross the Frome and beat their way into the centre. They finally got through and unleashed all hell. The town, by refusing to surrender, had in the warped logic of the day, opened itself up to brutal recrimination. As Rupert looked the other way, the victorious Cavalier troops plundered and sacked defeated Bristol. Turning on the captured Roundheads they asked: 'Where is your King Jesus now?'

The fall of Bristol was followed by the surrender of Poole, Dorchester, Portland and Weymouth to the Royalists. Only Gloucester stood out against the seemingly invincible Cavalier advance. The West had fallen to the King, and Charles hurried down to congratulate his brilliant nephew and the good citizens of Bristol. It seemed that Charles was on the way to regaining his kingdom.

September: Charles concludes a truce with the Confederates.

In an effort to release extra troops to fight in England, Charles reaches an 'understanding' with the Confederation of Kilkenny. While these epic struggles took place on the battlefields of England, Charles and Pym were involved in an equally furious battle of diplomacy. The English Civil War was never an entirely English affair - Ireland and Scotland were always involved as lead players and Wales was a major player in the Second Civil War. The problem of the three kingdoms provided an ever changing dynamic.

In Charles's eyes, the Parliamentarians were the greatest threat to his monarchy and the future of the Church of England. Pym and the Roundheads were far more dangerous than the Catholic Confederates who were now rampaging in Ireland. It was absurd that troops, arms and resources were being used up in Ireland when they could be helping his campaign in England. The Irish Catholics might be unruly, but they were not as treacherous as the English Parliamentarians.

In early April, Charles ordered his man in Ireland, the Earl of Ormond, to cut a deal with the Confederates. Reluctantly, Ormond entered negotiations and by summer had reached a settlement with the Confederate leader Owen Roe O'Neill. In return for Charles agreeing to repeal anti-Catholic laws and to grant the Irish greater political independence, the Confederates would not only agree to a ceasefire but also help the Cavaliers with troops and arms. But the most important consequence was to free up Royalist troops in Ireland, they could now return to England and support Charles. By late 1643, some 15,000 troops had flooded back into Chester from Ireland to help the Royalist cause.

By agreeing to negotiate with the Confederates, Charles was seen to have done a deal with the devil. It was a betrayal of the entire English nation. Charles had once more shown he was unfit to be King. He had sold his soul to the popish antichrist, to the very people who had slaughtered innocent Protestants at Portadown in 1641. Charles's willingness to do deals with Irish Catholic forces stiffened the Parliamentarians' resolve to resist and overcome.

September: Parliament and Covenanters conclude the Solemn League and Covenant

Pym and the Covenanters conclude a tactical alliance to counter-balance Royalist successes during 1643. When news of the deal between Charles and the Confederates reached Edinburgh and London, the Scottish Covenanters and the English Parliamentarians were appalled. Once more they feared the Popish plot was upon them. Charles, allied with Irish forces, could crush Protestantism in England forever. They had to act together-and quickly.

Under pressure, the methodical and ruthless John Pym kept his cool. While the Roundhead and Cavalier forces fought it out at the First Battle of Newbury, the cancer- wracked Pym embarked on secret negotiations with the Scottish Covenanters. His hard work came to fruition on 25th September, 1643 when the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters signed the Solemn League and Covenant against the Royalist- Catholic menace. In return for a commitment to religious reform, 'according to the word of God and the example of the best reformed Churches', the Scots promised to bring an army into England to fight against the King. Once again, the religion and politics of the three kingdoms were driving the momentum of the war. Scottish, Irish and English troops were now all in conflict with each other.

Pym would die within three months - but the Covenanters kept their word and poured into England. In the North-East, they launched a wave of attacks on Charles's commander in the region, the Earl of Newcastle. Meanwhile, in the North-West, the newly imported Irish troops were helping the Royalists win a number of crucial victories. Rupert surged forward seizing Bolton, Preston, Wigan and Liverpool. With the introduction of Scottish and Welsh troops, the tenor of the conflict assumed a more brutal tone. Reprisals, executions, and massacres became increasingly common. The ferocity of the war was escalating.

December: Death of John Pym

The great Parliamentary leader dies shortly after concluding the Covenant with the Scots.


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