ENGLISH CIVIL WAR HISTORY Ė THE SIEGE OF NANTWICH 1644.
With several personal re-enactment battle diaries of events at Nantwich NANTWICH 2003, 2004 - NANTWICH, 2006 NANTWICH. 2007 NANTWICH AND NANTWICH a companion page on the actual historic events sounds useful.†
With most of Cheshire declaring support for King Charles 1st, the town of Nantwich became a dangerously isolated Parliament stronghold, situated on a crucial supply route from the Midlands to and from the North and into Scotland.
The garrison at Nantwich was under the command of Sir William Brereton.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE FIRST BATTLE OF NANTWICH 1643
Nantwich had faced trouble from the outset of the war in 1642. Sir Thomas Aston was sent to capture the powder stored in the town, as part of his mission to secure Cheshire against Parliament troop movements after the battle of Edgehill. The King hoped to raise men and arms throughout the region now that it was clear that the war was turning into a prolonged struggle for both sides. All thought and hope of an early, easy victory had evaporated at Edgehill.
Brereton was sent by Parliament to counter-recruit and harry Astonís mission in the region.
Aston had expected to gain the support of 600 men in Shropshire. There were only 60. He had been grossly misinformed. Brereton, meanwhile, with a force comprising of about the same numbers, made his base at Nantwich, second strategically only to Chester in its importance to Cheshire. He was lucky to arrive there only just before Astonís men.†
A division of 50 dragoons raced forward to secure the approaches to Nantwich for Parliament. They clashed with some of Astonís own Shropshire dragoons, led by Colonel Sir Vincent Corbett. The armies clashed in confusion and surprise, so what followed was largely unplanned.† Neither side had expected a fight. Breretonís dragoons left horses unguarded, so Corbettís men stole most pf them, but the slightly superior in numbers Royalists were forced back and retreated from the town down Hospital Street. Brereton had control of Nantwich. Astonís men were stationed at nearby Whitchurch. Aston hoped for reinforcements from The Earl Of Derbyís forces at Warrington, but his requests were largely ignored. Had the various Royalist bodies in Cheshire united they may well have become nigh on invincible.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† MIDDLEWICH 1643
With Nantwich seemingly secured, Brereton began recruiting in other towns, and he was in Northwich in March 1643 when he found that Aston had foolishly brought a body of men to Middlewich, possibly hoping to cut Breretonís forces in two, but he had sandwiched himself between two fronts; the men at the Nantwich garrison and those now coming from Northwich.† Aston also faced mutinous soldiers who were demanding more money for their services.
Aston seems to have been requesting parlay, but Brereton went on the offensive, seeing the presence of Royalists in Middlewich as too great a threat. The battle was far from easy, but Astonís men often acted prematurely, attacking without strategy or waiting for orders. Some musketeers broke and fled under intense fire from Breretonís men.
Aston retreated to Whitchurch, hoping to get further chances to challenge Brereton, but he was drawn into Prince Mauriceís forces and served at the second battle of Newbury. He was later captured at Banke, near Wallsall, with sixty men and taken prisoner; He died of infection fever from several untreated wounds in 1646.
Brereton fared better, maintaining control of Nantwich, but a second siege in Middlewich in December 1643 proved more disastrous for him, being his only serious military defeat, against the ruthless Lord Byron. The attack weakened Breretonís forces with the death of 200 men. It was now that the Byron led Royalists closed in to besiege Nantwich itself.† Brereton found his garrison under siege for six weeks, but help was coming from Sir Thomas Fairfax. With the Scots now marching south to join the English Roundheads, keeping the Cheshire roads open was vital to the Parliament cause.
††††††††††††††††††††††† THE 2CD BATTLE OF NANTWICH 25TH JANUARY 1644
Byron needed to keep Fairfaxís men uniting with hose of Brereton. He decided to go for the jugular and ride directly against Fairfax, but his troop movements were hampered when the River Weaver burst its banks and sliced his forces in two on either side of the raging torrent. Byron secured positions in Acton, around the church.† Fairfax chose not to march his men directly down the well protected road, but cut through hedgerows and side-paths to take Byronís men by surprise, resulting on the 25th January 1644 in fierce, desperate two hour confrontation in which every inch of ground as hard fought. The terrain rendered both cavalries all but useless. There was little space for horses to gallop across.
Though Fairfax had come to relieve the siege, it was Breretonís men who ultimately rescued Fairfax. With fewer Royalists in a position to contain them in the town, the Parliament forces were able to break out and swing the battle against Byron and his men. The Royalists were forced into Acton churchyard where 1,500 of them surrendered. The siege had ended in Parliament victory, and with the Scots now due in England, and afforded safe travel through Cheshire, the Royalist cause was truly lost.
The battle is re-enacted annually on Holly Holy Day Sunday (the nearest Sunday to the 25th of January) in Nantwich by the Sealed Knot.† http://www.thesealedknot.org.uk/
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