Forest of Dean Local History

The Civil War Around the Forest of Dean

Local Castles


Dean Local History

Civil War 1643

Civil War 1644

Civil War 1645

Civil War 1646

Local Castles

Chepstow Castle and bridge

Chepstow Castle and bridge -
From an engraving by Joannes Kip (1653-1722)

Ruardean Castle

Ruardyn castle was originally a manor house built in Norman times, and because of its strategic importance during the later Middle Ages the manor included a castle. It was built under a licence granted in 1311 to Alexander of Bicknor to crenellate his house at Ruardean.

The surviving ruins indicate that it comprised of a courtyard enclosed by buildings on its north east and south west sides, with a tower in the western corner. Carved stonework dates it to the 13th century. On the SE side of the courtyard are the tumbled remains of a gate house, with twin buildings flanking the entrance, from which a faint hollow-way leads SE along the spur towards the parish church. It is believed the site was probably enclosed by a wall. 

The area of the mound on which it stood, suggests a site of considerable size. In the 1930s, when the area was excavated by local treasure hunters, remains of a small chamber were uncovered. No evidence was found to indicate that this site was ever a motte and bailey castle.


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The building suffered major damage during the Civil War in the 17th century.  Ruardean was occupied by garrisons from both sides during the course of the Civil War.

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over principally, the method of the kingdom's government and expenditure. Around the Ruardean area a number of the landowners were catholics and supporters of the Royalist cause.

A staunch Roman Catholic, and a fervent Royalist, Joan Vaughan of Ruardean was the widow of John Vaughan. She was a daughter of Thomas Baynham of Clearwell, and grand-daughter of Sir William Wynter of Lydney.

Joan was an heiress in her own right and, acquiring her husband’s property, including the manor of Ruardean, on his death she went to live there. Records show that a large part of her income was derived from coal and a forge.

In 1641, a year before the start of the Civil War, regarded as a charitable and brave person, she was, at the age of 56, indicted for harbouring a priest at Ruardean. He was named in that indictment as John Broughton.

She seems to have employed Broughton as a steward whilst giving him a base to minister from. In the early part of 1632 he had been imprisoned at London having been accused of being a priest. The matter was not proceeded with and he had returned to the Forest and the protection of the Vaughans.

He apparently had knowledge of estate and woodlands management and was appointed the first Deputy Surveyor of the Forest of Dean in 1633, and remained in that office till the end of the 1630s.

On Joan Vaughan's 1641 arrest she was lodged in Gloucester gaol. The alleged offence was treason and subject to the death penalty on conviction. Fortunately her case did not come to court due to the intervention of King Charles and she was released.

As a kinswoman of the infamous Royalist, Sir John Winter, a man with many enemies, she and her family would have been thought a prominent target by her Roundhead enemies.

There does not appear to be a record of the destruction of Ruardyn Castle but we know that the Roundheads established a garrison at Ruardean and perhaps it was at that time there would have been a military action when the defending castle was possibly put out of action.

During renovations to the Crown Inn at Ruardean in the 1990s,  a Civil War period cannonball was dug up in the garden.

According to Rev. H G Nicholl's 1858 book where he writes about the Parliamentarians - "To check these invasions, the garrison of High-Meadow was carefully kept up. Ruerdean, six miles to the west, and well situated for guarding the Forest on the north, was made another military post, being intended to stop plunderers from the King’s garrison at Goodrich, and where there is a spot yet called “Shoot-Hill,” adjoining which many cannon-balls have been found.

Probably the site of the old castle at Bicknor was also converted into an out-station, guarding the two parallel valleys which there pass up towards the middle of the Forest from the Wye. This station would likewise assist, from its relative position, in transmitting signals between Ruerdean and High-Meadow, or even from Gloucester, if the Beacon, which formerly stood on the crest of Edge Hill, were included in the range. Such posts would be serviceable to the Parliamentary. Colonel Birch, when engaged in the siege of Goodrich Castle, not more than four miles north of Ruerdean; relates that his supplies would be drawn chiefly from the Forest, as indeed appears from a letter dated 4th July, 1646, in which he says, “We have supplies of shells for our granadoes from the Forest of Dean.”

It is highly probable that, like nearby Goodrich Castle, the buildings here were demolished to prevent future military use. Nicholls also wrote; "Several traditions of violence and blood, referring no doubt to this period, are preserved by the inhabitants of these parts of the Forest, one of whom reports an act of cruelty perpetrated on a householder living in the little hamlet of Drybrook, who was struck down, and his eyes knocked out, for refusing to give up a flitch of bacon to a foraging party. Another legend, relative to the same neighbourhood, preserves the memory of a skirmish called “Edge Hill’s Fight,” from the spot on which it occurred. It is true that some of the neighbouring foresters suppose it to be “the Great Fight mentioned in the almanack,” an idea which might perhaps have given rise to the story, were it not that a small stream which descends from the place in question bears the name of “Gore Brook,” from the human blood which on that occasion stained its waters."

Chepstow Castle

The towne of Chepstow hath bene very strongly waulled as yet welle doth appere. The wa(ulles) began at the ende of the great bridge over Wy, and so cam to the castel, the which yet standeth fayr and strong not far from the ruin of the bridge. In the castel ys one tower, as I hard say, be the name of Longine. The town now hath but one paroche chirche. The celle of a Blake Monke or two of Bermundesey by London was lately there suppressed. A (great) part of cumpace withyn the waulles is now converted to litle medows and gardins.      John Leland 1503 –1552

By 1627, when Henry, fifth Earl and first Marquis of Worcester, succeeded his father, the castle had been transformed into a great house, and its fortifications, even the most recent of which were then already over three hundred years old, can have seemed of little significance. In fact, however, Chepstow was about to enter the most stormy period of its history and to stand its only two recorded sieges.

On the outbreak of the first Civil War, both castle and town were held for the king, the marquis being a devoted royalist, but in April 1643, on the advance of Waller's parliamentary army, the town, and perhaps the castle also, was abandoned. If the castle was indeed abandoned, it was soon reoccupied without incident and held again for the King until October 1645.

During this period the parliamentarians constructed a strong-point, probably on the site of Mount House, from which they could harass it, and in November 1644 would have laid siege to it with 1300 men from the garrison at Monmouth, had not an attack on that town distracted them.

In October 1645, by which time the royal cause was hopeless, a 1,300 man Parliamentarian army advanced on Chepstow. It took the town and besieged the Castle. Its garrison of 64, with their 17 guns and 30 horses, surrendered after little more than a show of resistance. 
During the second Civil War, the castle was once more secured for the king by Sir Nicholas Kemeys, and garrisoned with 120 men. Cromwell himself called for its surrender, and on this being refused left a regiment to besiege it while he marched westwards to Pembrokeshire (south-west Dyfed) .. Four guns were put in battery against it and these first deprived the garrison of the use of their doubtless much lighter artillery by knocking the battlements off some of the towers.

A breach was then effected at a point generally assumed to have been to the west of Marten's Tower, where the existing curtain is of later date. But the curtain to the north-east of Marten's Tower has been extensively rebuilt in its lower part and it is at least as likely that the breach was made here. The morale of the garrison was low and, when Sir Nicholas refused to surrender except on terms, his men began to run out through the breach to surrender individually, whereupon an assault was ordered and the castle taken. Sir Nicholas was killed; whether he died fighting alone in the breach, or was shot out of hand after his capture, is uncertain. 
Unlike the majority of English castles, Chepstow was neither slighted nor allowed to fall into ruin after the defeat of the royal cause. In April 1648 the de facto government, which had declared the lands of the Marquis of Worcester forfeit, granted the castle to Cromwell, and after its recapture it was repaired and garrisoned by a company of foot, remaining so garrisoned until the Restoration in 1660. chepstow castle

Charles II at once placed it in charge of Lord Herbert, the son of the rightful owner.

During the next few years the garrison was regarded as vital to the maintenance oflaw and order in the district, and in 1661 there was even an alarm that the local anti-royalists were threatening the castle; but nothing came of this, and in 1663 the garrison was reduced to a halfcompany. The end came in 1690, when orders were given for the castle to be dismantled and its guns shipped to Chester, but it seems that the half-company had left already, doubtless during the disturbances at the end of the reign of James II.

During its period as a garrison the castle was used as a prison for both political and military prisoners, of whom the most distinguished was the royalist bishop Jeremy Taylor and the best known the regicide Henry Marten. Marten spent his twenty years of comfortable captivity in Bigod's great tower, which has thus assumed his name. Similarly the adjacent round tower is sometimes known as Taylor's Dungeon. 
The castle bears clear signs of having had its defences altered in the seventeenth century; towers have had their medieval battlements replaced by stronger parapets designed for use with guns, while for almost the whole of its length the southern curtain has been thickened and its parapet loopholed for musketry. By this time the old subdivisions of the defences had been abandoned, and the alure from the Great Gatehouse to the Great Tower and from the other side of the Great Tower to the upper gatehouse was made continuous by cutting through the walls of the south-east tower of the middle bailey and the south-west towers of the upper bailey and the barbican.

The thickening of the curtains required a great deal of stone, which probably accounts for the destruction of the internal walls of the tower of the upper bailey and the Great Gatehouse, the removal of much of the upper storey of the Great Tower, and the disappearance of the Tudor buildings and the kitchen in the lower bailey. 
It is tempting to regard these works as having been carried out by the royalists during the Civil Wars, but they seem likely to be later. Many castles were held for the king, yet although stone defences were built at some, as for example, at Carew and Manorbier, there is nowhere any work comparable to what we find at Chepstow. Further, it would not have been the simple task which it proved to be during the second siege, to knock off the parapets of the towers as they stand today, because they are the full thickness of the tower walls and a platform of some sort for the guns must have been constructed behind them. They have, in fact, been partially broken down, but this was most probably done in 1690 as a principal part of the "dismantling." The most likely time for the changes to have been made is soon after the second siege, when it was decided to maintain the castle as a garrison; and the expenditure of £300 recorded in 1650 may well supply the date. As late as 1662, however, Lord Herbert spent £500 on repairs. 
From the experiences of our own time we can well picture the state of the domestic buildings in 1690 after half a century of military occupation, and we shall not be surprised that no attempt was made to restore them as a family residence. Instead the castle was thenceforward allowed to decay, although as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century Marten's Tower was still roofed and part of the castle inhabited. In 1682 Henry, Marquis of Worcester was created Duke of Beaufort, and his successors continued to hold the castle until its sale in 1914 to the late Mr W R Lysaght, who in the following year also acquired the freehold rights in the town wall. In 1943 Mr Lysaght conveyed the town wall to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (now the Department of the Environment) by Deed of Gift for preservation in perpetuity under the Ancient Monuments Acts, and in 1953 his son Mr DR Lysaght invested the then Ministry with the permanent guardianship of the castle under the same provisions. From the official handbook 1967


Raglan Castle

Henry Somerset, 1st Marquis of Worcester (1577-1646) was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford . As Lord Herbert of Chepstow he was made a deputy lieutenant of Monmouthshire in 1602, and associated with his father in the lord-lieutenancies of Glamorgan and Monmouth from 1626.

While not strictly within the Forest of Dean's area, Raglan Castle strongly influenced events occurring in our region during the Civil War. It was the first local castle fortified and the last to be captured.Henry 1st Marquis of Worcester

In 1642, when the civil war broke out between King Charles and Parliament, Raglan, Chepstow, Caerleon, and Monmouth Castles were all held by Henry, Marquis of Worcester.

He had inherited the huge estate in 1628. An elderly man at the time of the conflict, he appointed his son, Edward Somerset, Lord Herbert, who was born in 1601, as his deputy in military matters. Both were firm Royalists.

Their Lydney connection was Lady Ann Somerset, the Marquis's sister, who had married Edward Wintour of Whitecross, and was John Wintour's mother.

When King Charles sent his 12 year old son, Prince Charles, on a fund-raising tour of friendly regions in October 1642, it began with a visit to Raglan Castle.

The defences of Raglan were improved at that time. A gunpowder mill capable of producing three barrels a day was constructed and modern earthwork bastions built around the castle. It was garrisoned by around 300 men, heavy cannon installed in the bastions, and lighter pieces placed on the castle towers.

Charles I himself visited the castle twice, first for 13 days in July 1645 after the battle of Naseby, and again in September, when he spent a week organising relief for Bristol. That second visit was at a time when the Royalist cause was close to military collapse.

The Marquis at that time sent some of his valuables, the oak panelling from the parlour, some plaster ceiling and many pictures, to his brother at nearby Troy House, not far from Monmouth, for safe-keeping. raglan castle

Since the Monarch's last sad farewell, a heavy cloud had settled at Raglan. The Marquis's attachment to his Sovereign had received a severe wound. His son, and the monarch's representative, Lord Herbert, had been imprisoned in Ireland. The King, for whom he had made such unlimited sacrifices, had betrayed him by denying his own instructions regarding the formation of an invading Irish army.

An attack on Raglan itself now appeared imminent.

The Marquis took a number of precautions. The trees in the park were felled and the cottages in the line of fire burnt down.  Lord Charles Somerset then built a battery 500 yards north-east of the castle gatehouse, and created an entirely new bastioned enceinte, covering the south, east and north sides, from where attack was most expected. The castle received a daily bombardment of sixty shot, each weighing eighteen to twenty pounds. They made little impression on the great tower, except for the destruction of its battlements, but did serious damage to other parts of the fortress. The Roundheads' 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." resulting in many dead and wounded.After the fall of Oxford the besieging force rose from 1,500 to 3,500, and in August 1646, after 11 weeks, the Marquis of Worcester was induced to surrender to Fairfax.

He only survived a few months as a prisoner of Black Rod, at Covent Garden in London, and died on 18 December 1646. He was given a State funeral with Presbyterian rites, and entombed under the Worcester chapel at St. George's,Windsor Castle.

Raglan Castle

Alan Sorrell's 1930s reconstruction of the visit of King Charles 1st to Raglan





Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquis of Worcester (1601 – 1667). He was known as Lord Herbert until his father, Henry the 1st Marquis, died in 1646. He had graduated from Cambridge University, England, in 1627 with a Master of Arts degree and was responsible for recruiting the Welsh Royalist army that attacked Coleford in 1643. Not regarded by his father or the King as a successful soldier, he was visiting the Royal Court at Oxford when his recently recruited army was thrashed at Highnam in March 1643.

On 1st April 1644, he was given a commission by the King empowering him to negotiate with the Confederate Catholics and raise two armies in Ireland, each numbering 10,000. They were to land in North and South Wales.

He was also to negotiate with Continental powers to raise 6000 more troops in Europe. For those services he would be granted the title of Earl of Glamorgan informally in 1645 and promised further honours.

At Kilkenny, on behalf of the King, and in great secrecy, he signed treaties with the Irish Roman Catholics. The concessions he was forced to offer were so generous that a few days later, on the 26th December, the Duke of Ormonde arrested him as a traitor.

Unfortunately Charles 1st was obliged in January 1646, due to the opposition of the Duke of Ormonde, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Irish loyalists, to repudiate his action. The King swiftly denied giving that authority to Lord Herbert. Edward Somerset 2nd Marquis of Worcester

His plans to bring Irish troops over to England was overtaken by events, and his emissary Edward Somerset, after a period of imprisonment, left Ireland for France. Under the Commonwealth, in 1649, the year of his King's execution, he was formally banished from England and his estates seized. His father, the 1st Marquis, had died in 1646.

Somerset returned from Paris to England in 1652. He was soon discovered, charged with high treason and sent to the Tower of London.

Treated leniently by the Council of State, the Marquis was released on bail in 1654, and that year returned to his interest in engineering and inventions.  A house was leased at Vauxhall where he was joined in his experiments by the Dutch gun technician and inventor, Kaspar Kalthoff, whose family was responsible for developing a repeating cannon.

In 1655 Somerset authored a book which described 100 separate inventions. Printed in 1663, It include such things as secret writing by cipher; explosive projectiles designed to sink ships, floating gardens for London’s rivers, dredging machines, a watch that never needed winding, a cannon that could fire six times in a minute, a flying machine, calculating machines, and a portable ladder. Notably it included a device described as his "Water-commanding Engine". Constructed from the barrel of a cannon, it was a prototype design from what would later be developed by others to become the steam engine.

At the Restoration in 1660 his estates were returned to him. He tried to claim the dukedom of Somerset promised by Charles I, but did not obtain this, nor was his earldom of Glamorgan recognized by Charles II.

Edward Somerset's unique experiments, using steam to create enough pressure to raise water to an unprecedented height, are believed to have started in the 1630s. He was a prolific inventor and among early pioneers in researching the power of steam.

Around 1640 a number of semi-official locals, investigating several allegations that the Catholic Marquis was breaking the anti-Papist laws by storing arms and explosives, visited Raglan Castle and were given a tour by the Earl.

He apparently connived, with the aid of his eldest son Edward Somerset and one of their servants, to give them a scare.Edward Somerset's Water Pump

 'At length the Marquess brought them over the high bridge that arched over the moat that was between the Castle and the Great Tower, wherein the Lord Herbert had newly contrived certain waterworks, which when the several engines and wheels were to be set a-going, much quantity of water through the hollow conveyances of the aqueducts, were to be let down from the top of the high Tower; which upon the first entrance of these wonderful Asinegoes, the Marquess had given order that these cataracts should begin to fall, which made such a fearful and hideous noise by reason of the hollowness of the Tower and the neighbouring echoes of the castle, and the waters that were between and around them both, that there was such a roaring, as if the mouth of hell had been wide open and all the devils had bin conjur'd up, that the poor silly men stood so amazed as if they had been half dead, and yet they saw nothing; at last, as the plot was laid, up comes a man staring and running, crying out before he came at us, 'look to yourselves my masters, for the Lions are all got loose;' whereupon the searchers gave us such a look, that they tumbled so over one another down the stairs, that we thought one half of them had broken their necks, never looking behinde them till they were sure they had got out of sight of the Castle.'

No traces of Lord Herbert's steam-driven apparatus or pipeworks have ever been identified at the Castle, but there are a number of 17th century accounts  leaving little doubt that this picturesque story had some foundation in fact.

Samuel Sorbiere, a Frenchman who visited England around 1660, wrote: 'One of the most Curious Things I had a Mind to see was a Water-Engine, invented by the Marquis of Worcester, of which he had made an Experiment. I went on Purpose to see it at Fox Hall, on the other Side of the Thames, a little above Lambeth, the Archbishop of Canterbury' s Palace, standing in sight of London. One Man, by the Help of this Machine, raised Four large Buckets full of Water in an Instant, Forty Foot high, and that through a Pipe of about Eight Inches long; which Invention will be of greater Use to the Publick, than that very Ingenious Machine, already made use of, and raised upon Wooden Work above Somerset-House, that supplies Part of the Town with Water, but with great Difficulty, and in less Quantity than could be wished.' (S. Sorbiere, A Journey to England, 1709.) 


Monmouth Castle

Monmouth Castle is located close to the centre of Monmouth on a hill towering over the River Monnow, behind shops and the main square and streets. Once an important border castle, and birthplace of Henry V of England, it stood until the English Civil War when it was damaged and changed hands three times before being slighted to prevent it being fortified again.In the tumult of the English Civil War, Monmouth Castle changed hands three times, finally falling to the Parliamentarians in 1645. Wikipedia



After his success when defeating the Welsh army at Highnam, Waller took around 2000 men and three guns into Herefordshire and Monmouthshire in an attempt to stem the influence of the Royalists. On Sunday April 2nd he occupied Ross where he stayed overnight. On the next day he occupied Monmouth from where he sent out parties levying contributions.

Because of his lack of manpower, the parliamentary General  was unable to leave garrisons in the towns he had occupied, and it was only days later that they were back in the hands of the Royalists.

In August 1644 the turncoat, Lt. Colonel Kyrle from Monmouth Garrison, appears to have realised the hopelessness of the Royalist cause. His family property at Walford was in Parliament's hands, and it was generally accepted that, should Parliament be the victor, he would most likely be tried and imprisoned at the end of the war for his earlier treachery.

Helped by the fact that his father James was still a resident at Gloucester, he began secret communications in which he negotiated with Governor Massey about changing sides once again.



Monmouth from Speed's 1610 map


In September 1644, the two met at Highmeadow in the Forest of Dean and hatched a plan to take Monmouth. He would ride in front of some Parliamentary troops and help gain access to the town.

Kyrle appeared from the Forest of Dean at the Wye Bridge Gate and demanded admission for himself and 100 prisoners. Colonel Holtby was persuaded to allow the drawbridge to be lowered and Kyrle with a small number of the 'prisoners' admitted. They quickly overpowered the bridge's guard. The ruse had worked and Monmouth fell to the Roundheads.

As a reward Kyrle was given the Governorship of Monmouth and all earlier charges against him were dropped.

Unfortunately the garrison at Monmouth soon fell back into Royalist hands during the period that Kyrle was with Massey fighting at Beachley and involved in the pursuit of Royalists to the Cotswolds.

It remained in Royalist hands until the capture of Chepstow in October 1645.

After the fall of Chepstow, Colonel Kyrle made his way to Monmouth which was being besieged by Governor Morgan with 1,500 of his own men, plus the 1,500 troops and county clubmen and two hundred horse raised by Sir Trevor Williams.

The town surrendered on October 21st without any fierce resistance, but the castle held out another three days until they discovered that miners from the Forest of Dean had been brought in and mined the walls in six places.

The Mercurius Verdicus on 25th October 1645 reported: 'Colonel Morgan with the assistance of the county clubmen came against the town with a considerable number of horse and foot; and after the enemy perceived that we had an intention to storme them, they fled out of the towne into the castle, after which the townsmen, considering with themselves, that if we entered by force after summons, they should be left to the violence of the soldiers, they let fall the drawbridge, by which meanes our men entered the towne, and the enemy stood on their guard in the castle. Then we sent for pyoneers to Deane and other parts, which came in very freely, and the next day being Thursday, we began to undermine in several places, which the enemy perceiving, sent out for a parley, which was consented unto, and hostages given on both sides. At which it was agreed, the officers should march away with their owne armes, and the common souldiers without.' 

"We took in the castle seven pieces of ordnance, four sling pieces, 300 muskets, 600 pikes, ten barrels of powder, with bullet and match proportionable, 24 barrels of 'Peter' and brimstone, and a reasonable quantity of all sorts of provisions. By these successes all South Wales is brought into a good condition, and declare themselves for the Parliament. So I rest, gentlemen, Your servant,  THOMAS MORGAN. Monmouth, October 24, 1645."

Thereupon, Sir Trevor "Williams, seeing the danger he was in (Raglan Castle being within seven miles of it), and the malignants gathering together and giving out words that the town would be their own by the morning, sent a post to the Governor of Gloucester to acquaint him, and also to the Forest of Dean for present supply, upon which Lieut.-Col. Kyrle and Capt. Gainsford came at 12 o'clock that night with 200 men, and before 12 o'clock next day with 500 more, who guarded the town till the Governor had sent 200 commanded men of Gloucester for the keeping thereof. The garrison of Monmouth being put in a posture of defence, and the malignants' design prevented, proclama- tion was made by Sir Trevor WiUiams and Lieut.-Col. Kyrle that upon Monday following those people that were suspected to be against the Parliament should depart the town upon pain of death, whereupon divers families of malignants were put out.

After receiving instructions from Cromwell, on March 30th 1647, Colonel Robert Kyrle arrived at Monmouth to supervise the slighting of the castle. The townsmen and soldiers then began to pull down the tower and demolish the works.

A large part of the tower collapsed in December that year.

A local man's diary for 1647 records that on 30 March the townsmen and soldiers began pulling down the great round tower, which stood where Great Castle House now stands, and that on 22 December 'about 12 o'clock, the Tower in the castle of Monmouth fell down, upon its side, whilst we were at sermon'.




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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


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