Forest of Dean Local History

The Civil War Around the Forest of Dean


Dean Local History

Civil War 1643

Civil War 1644

Civil War 1645

Civil War 1646

Local Castles


On January 15th 1646 Lord Hopton was appointed by the Prince of Wales to command the Western Association with its 3000 cavalry and 2000 infantry.

He was defeated at the Battle of Torrington in North Devon on February 16th, and surrendered his army to Fairfax on March 14. The city of Exeter fell on April 13. On March 2nd the Prince of Wales fled to the Scilly Isles.

The Royalists then left Cirencester and it was reoccupied for Parliament by the Governor of Gloucester.


The Battle of Stow. The last battle of the English Civil War took place near the Cotswold town of Stow-on-the-Wold in the early morning of 21st March 1646.

King Charles was anxiously waiting the arrival of promised relief forces from Ireland, Scotland and France. An experienced soldier, the King’s commander Sir Jacob Astley, had gathered together the remaining troops from the Royalist garrisons left in the West and now marched his 3,000 strong force along the banks of the River Avon towards Oxford.

His progress was blocked by a slightly smaller Parliamentarian army and Astley had no option other than to position his troops on top of a hill to the northwest of Stow.

At the beginning of the battle the Roundhead infantry charged up the hill to meet the Royalist ranks. Initially they were pushed back. The cavalry of Sir William Brereton then made a powerful and decisive attack that forced the Royalist cavalry to break ranks and flee the field.

After fighting a running retreat through the streets of Stow, tradition has it that the Royalist commander, Sir Jacob Astley, finally sat down on a drum on the ancient cross monument in the market square, and smoking his pipe, called out to his defeated men, "You have now done your work and may go play, unless you fall out among yourselves.”

Sir Marmaduke Langdale's Brigade of horse (Royalists) mustered last Thursday between Ledbury and Dean (Gorsley Common near Linton?). They talk of another muster of foot, many of their lately impressed men ran away. Weekly Account Wednesday April 16th.

On May 3rd the New Model Army moved on to besiege Oxford. It was a formal siege; but the war was obviously over and it was negotiation, rather than fighting, that took precedence.

King Charles now realised that the end was in sight and surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark, on May 5th 1646.

The siege of Oxford ended with the signing of a treaty on June 24th 1646.

In our area, the castles of Raglan and Goodrich still remained in Royalist hands.


The siege of Goodrich Castle by Colonel John Birch in 1646.   

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 saw Hereford under the control of the Earl of Stamford for Parliament. When he received information that Lord Herbert had placed 900 infantry and a troop of cavalry at Monmouth, and that the wealthy vicar of Goodrich had been supplying them with arms and preaching pro-Royalist sermons at Ross, he decided to kill two birds with one stone by sending Kyrle, with 100 soldiers, to occupy the empty and neglected Goodrich Castle.

Living at the village of Goodrich, with his wife and ten children, and owning a large property called 'New House', was the Reverend Thomas Swift

Thomas Swift had married Elizabeth Dryden, the daughter of Baron Erasmus Dryden, and aunt to the poet John Dryden, at Whitbourne, Herefordshire in 1625. They had ten children baptised at Goodrich, one of whom was Jonathan (1640-67), the father of author and satirist Jonathan Swift, best remembered for his 1726 book Gulliver's Travels.

The Reverend Thomas Swift was suspected, although he denied the charge, of having supplied guns to the Monmouthshire Royalists. He had, however, preached a sermon at Ross on the obligation of 'rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's'.

During the eight weeks in 1642 that Stamford held Hereford and Goodrich Castle for the Parliamentarians, fearing arrest, Thomas Swift went into hiding. His home and family were plundered on five occasions by Roundhead soldiers.

Stamford's governor of Goodrich castle at that time was Colonel Kyrle of nearby Walford Court, who was later to change sides twice. He managed to strip the vicar's residence of property to the value of £300, taking furniture, horses, clothing and lumber, while threatening dire consequences to any locals who wished to help the family. Thomas Swift's wife visited Stamford at Hereford on two occasions, to beg for some relief from the raids, but was rudely denied.

On the day in December 1642 that the Parliamentarians withdrew from Goodrich Castle, they paid a farewell visit to the distressed vicarage and took the family's last loaf of bread.

The embittered cleric was later to fight back. Unconfirmed and undated records from the Reverend Webb's book relate that Swift received advance notice that a Roundhead party consisting of around 300 horse intended to attack the Royalist garrison at Goodrich Castle.

The good reverend is said to have placed a number of spiked iron devices, known as caltrops (horse-traps), across the ancient ford over the Wye at Goodrich on the night before their arrival. That action is believed to have caused a large number of casualties, some from drowning or receiving fatal injuries from the spikes, and others being trampled to death by their frightened and injured horses.

When King Charles was staying at Raglan Castle as a guest of the Marquis during July 1645, Thomas Swift, whose home by that time had been raided and pillaged thirty times by the Roundheads, appeared one day and offered the Sovereign his coat. When Lord Charles Somerset, who was acquainted with the vicar, doubted its value, Swift tore off his waistcoat, handed it to his lordship and said, 'Why then, take my waistcoat'. Into this he had sewn 300 broad pieces of gold, the proceeds from mortgaging his estate at Goodrich. Apparently the cash-strapped monarch accepted the gift with gratitude.

After the fall of Hereford Castle to Parliament in December 1645, its Royalist Governor, Sir Henry Lingen, had withdrawn to Goodrich Castle. From there, with his useful local knowledge, and a large amount of intelligence from supporters, he was in a position to pillage the area and interrupt communications and supplies between Hereford and Gloucester.

Birch, in a letter to the Speaker, he related 'that Lingen's men had been so active that a passenger could not be safe between Gloucester and Hereford, nor could he quarter horse abroad without much danger, or draw forth towards Ludlow or Worcester without their approaching Hereford to plunder.'

Colonel Birch was now determined that Lingen must be crushed or crippled.

It was around the 9th of March 1646 when, taking advantage of a dark night, and with information he had obtained as to the height of the wall enclosing a courtyard where the stables stood, Birch and Kyrle raided Goodrich castle

"with a forlorn hope of 100 firelocks, planted ladders, surmounted the wall before a full alarm was given, slew or seized 5 men, broke through the wall, and turned loose about 80 horses: the stables and hay were then set on fire. Meanwhile the out-guard at the boat-house upon the ferry was assaulted; but the defence was stubborn for two hours, when at last the wall being dug through, they surrendered, and the commander of the horse, the Major, and 15 gentlemen and troopers received quarter."

March 16, 1645. "We had likewise by letters from Hereford, that a party of Colonell Birches from Hereford and Colonell Kirles from Monmouth went against Gotheridge Castle in Munmouthshire, surprized 60 horse in the stables, and other provisions, fired downe the stables, and have close besieged the castle. Colonell Kirle besides this snapt another party of the enemy from Ragland, and took a lieutenant, a quarter-master, 12 firelocks, and six case of pistols." Perfect Diurnall, No. 138, 1104.

Even after that successful raid, Henry Lingen still held on to Goodrich Castle for the Royalists and appears to have recovered enough resources to take advantage of Colonel Birch's absence at the Battle of Stow during late March

At the head of only 30 horsemen, and relying upon an uprising of popular support from the inhabitants once he showed his face, Lingen attempted the recovery of the strongly garrisoned city of Hereford, not apparently worrying that Birch had left at least 700 foot soldiers and 50 cavalrymen in its defence.

Lingen's cavalrymen charged the guards at the gate and managed to kill 4 of them. They then cut the turnpike for access, but were only finally beaten off when they received none of the expected support from Hereford's citizens.

Lingen must by now have anticipated the approaching storm. He knew that the town of Ludlow had recently submitted and, "the whole power of his enemy would be free, and the evil day must shortly come"

In May 1646 Colonel Birch placed his forces around Goodrich. In a communication with the Speaker of the House of Commons on June 18th, he described the frequency and desperation of their past skirmishes 'which had cost them all their horses, more than 100 in number; as well as the expense of casting of a great mortar-piece carrying a shell of more than 200 Ibs.'

For this, as well as for his battery and mines, he requested, and speedily obtained, the supply of 80 barrels of gunpowder.

At 2pm on June 13th he summoned the Royalist garrison to give up the castle on June 19th in the name of Parliament and offered his personal protection for the safety of the governor, Sir Henry Lingen, and his men. Sir Henry answered by letter, carried by a drummer-boy, saying that the King had entrusted the castle to his care and until he had orders to the contrary, he would continue to hold it.

Colonel Birch then mounted a systematic attack which included the use of the enormous mortar piece specially cast for this siege. "Roaring Meg", as this artillery cannon was known, had a 15.5 inch barrel diameter and fired a 2cwt hollow ball filled with gunpowder.It is believed to have been cast, together with its ammunition, by nearby Howbrook forge at Lydbrook.

In addition the water supply was cut to the castle and mining activity was started under its river side.

The defenders quickly ran out of cannon balls and began using rocks and stones.

Roaring Meg wreaked havoc on its walls and towers, and after only six weeks the castle was lost. 

During the siege Colonel Birch, was so excited with his new weapon he personally fired the last 19 exploding balls.

So eager was Birch, that of 22 granados, 19 were shot by his own hand; and so well directed was their flight that every room in the castle was damaged, and much of the interior unroofed and beaten to the ground.

Yet Lingen did not quail: and there is proof that his feeble artillery " two ' hammer-pieces ' only were given up, at the surrender " was made to respond as best it could; for one of their balls has been ploughed up, aimed no doubt too high for the enemy's battery, on the other side of the road from Ross to Monmouth, where it ascends the hill of Pencraig.

To meet their great mine of 10 yards through solid rock he opposed his counter-mine; till, by a fresh battery unexpectedly planted in the night, the Ladies' Tower was so shattered that it blocked up the countermine in its fall, and laid open the interior to the assailants' fury.

Horse and foot were straightway drawn up for the final storm " parley was refused " and in this last extremity, when ' all was lost save honour,' and the only and sure alternative was indiscriminate slaughter,^ Lingen and his hardy band lowered their cherished colours,"   Rev. J Webb

After the surrender, around 170 Royalists marched out of the ruins and were taken prisoner. Among the garrison were gentlemen from some of the most distinguished families of Herefordshire, including the Bodenhams, Vaughans, Berringtons and Wigmores. The garrison is traditionally believed to have marched out to a lively tune named after their leader, ‘Sir Harry Lingen's Fancy’.

The inside area of the castle was then partly demolished by explosives to prevent its future military use, and the main timbers and lead roofs removed. Goodrich was the last of the Royalist strongholds in Herefordshire to fall.

It is believed that Roaring Meg was then moved to take part in the siege at Raglan Castle.


The Seige of Raglan Castle

When the Royalist cause was very close to military collapse, the Marquess started to send some valuables, including the oak panelling from the parlour, some plaster ceiling and many pictures, to his brother at nearby Troy House for safe-keeping.  The avenue of trees outside the castle gates were cut down, and neighbouring buildings destroyed to avoid them being used by Parliamentary forces. Large amounts of food were brought in to support the growing castle community, which also included a number of the wider Herbert family and other regional Royalist leaders who had sought shelter there.

In June 1646 Colonel Thomas Morgan, a professional soldier from Monmouthshire, and the notorious sidechanger, Sir Trevor Williams, began the siege of Raglan.

The castle had a daily bombardment of sixty shot, each eighteen to twenty pounds. They made little impression on the great tower, beyond destroying the battlements, but they did immense damage to other parts of the castle. In addition, the parliamentary chief engineer, Captain Hooper, planted "four mortar pieces in one place and two mortar pieces at another, each mortar piece carrying a grenado shell twelve inches diameter."

These killed and wounded many. Worcester had 800 horse and foot in his castle and they made "diverse and desperate sallies"; but after the fall of Oxford the besieging force rose from 1,500 to 3,500, and the garrison was "reduced to more caution and taught to lie closer."

In August, Worcester was induced to surrender to Fairfax. He and his household waited in the hall and "could see through the window the general with all his officers entering the Outward Court, as if a floodgate had been let open."

Inside the castle were found twenty cannon, a huge powder magazine, and a powerful mill capable of making three barrels a day, "great store of corn and malt, wine of all sorts and beer"; the horses were "almost starved for want of hay...and therefore were tied with chains"; there was also a "great store of goods and rich furniture."

Raglan was "the first fortified and last rendered," for Pendennis had fallen two days before.

The garrison were treated with great leniency, considering the eleven-week siege, and allowed to leave with colors flying and drums beating; the hundred officers, gentlemen and squires were even permitted to retain their arms, bag and baggage. But Worcester himself was detained in parliamentary custody, under the Black Rod, and died a few months later.

His library, and much else of value, was deliberately burned, under the supervision, ironically, of Henry Herbert of Coldbrook, a direct descendant of William ap Thomas, who had collected the rare manuscripts and built Raglan's Great Tower. This last caused some trouble to the "slighters".

"The Great Tower, after tedious battering the top thereof with pickaxes, was undermined, the weight of it propped with the timber, whilst the two sides of the six were cut through; the timber being burned it fell down in a lump, and so still firmly remains to this day."

It is interesting that the parliamentarians, in dealing with a superb piece of masonry like this tower, could think of nothing better than the old mining technique used by medieval siege-engineers - and fortunate, too, for enough was left, and still remains, of Raglan to give the visitor a strong idea of its former strength and magnificence.    

The Castles of England, Scotland and Wales, Paul Johnson, Harper & Row, New York, 1989.


The Siege of Raglan Castle ended on 19th August 1646, one of the longest of the English Civil War. Among those who marched out were, four colonels, 82 captains, 16 Lieutenants, 6 Cornets, 4 Ensigns, 4 Quartermasters, and 52 Esquires and Gentlemen. The Civil War was now over.

Despite the apparent finality of the royalist defeat, the fall of Raglan did not mark the end of fighting in the region. A period of apparent calm gave way to what is usually described as the second Civil War and Sir Nicholas Kemeys seized Chepstow for the king, garrisoning it with 120 men.

Cromwell, himself, led the parliamentary army into South Wales and in May of 1647 attacked Chepstow.

The town was taken but Kemeys and his men held the castle and refused Cromwell's demand for surrender. Cromwell, anxious to lead the main force in Pembrokeshire, left a regiment behind to reduce the castle. Artillery pieces were set up and the castle was bombarded. Battlements were knocked off some of the towers and then a breach was made in the wall by Marten 's Tower. At this stage, many members of the demoralised garrison wanted to surrender and some fled through the breach, but Kemeys refused. As a consequence, the order for an assault was given and the parliamentary forces stormed in. Kemeys was killed in the assault.

With the Restoration in 1660, Chepstow and the other confiscated lands were returned to Lord Herbert, Worcester's son and heir.


Colonel John Birch was born at Ardwick, Manchester in 1615. He moved to Bristol in 1633 where he set up a business trading provisions in the Severn Valley area.
He later became a successful soldier leading a regiment of the Parliamentary army and took a prominent part in the recapturing of the West Country from the Royalists.
He was at the siege of Bristol after being given command of the regiment of Major General Phillip Skippon who was wounded at Naseby, and was appointed  Governor after the surrender.
On December 5th 1645 he received a commission by the Committee of Safety:- "To draw out 1000 foot and your own horse and march to Herefordshire" & "To endeavor to distress the city of Hereford and use all means to take it in." 
On December 18th he performed a surprise attack on the city and the Royalist garrison made only a token defence but the Royalist commander, Sir Henry Lingen, managed to escape, taking refuge at Goodrich Castle.
In March 1646 he was again victorious at the Battle of Stow, in May at Ludlow, and in July at Goodrich Castle.
After the successful siege of Raglan Castle in August, John Birch was appointed one of the commissioners involved in the national surrender negotiations.
On December 9th 1646 he entered the House of Commons as MP for Leominster.  

previous   local castles

Sources -
The Battle of Coleford 1643 by Stuart Peachey (1993)
Memorials of the Civil War by Rev. John Webb 1879
The Castles of England, Scotland and Wales, Paul Johnson, Harper & Row, New York, 1989.
The Personalities of the Forest of Dean by Rev. H G Nicholls

The contents of this page are from a number of sources, not all completely reliable. Corbet, from whom we have often quoted, was Massey's chaplain, and obviously biased, and a number of the reports from the Reverend John Webb's book are often very one sided, depending on their source.
Should you have any corrections or additions we would gratefully welcome and acknowledge any input.


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