Battle of Preston (1648)

Battle of Preston (1648)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Preston

caption=Battle of Preston 1648
partof=the Second English Civil War
date= 17 August – 19 August 1648
place= Preston north of Warrington, Lancashire
result= Decisive Parliamentarian victory
combatant1= Parliamentarians
combatant2= Scottish "Engagers" and English Royalists
commander1= Oliver Cromwell
John Lambert
commander2= Duke of Hamilton
Earl of Callendar
Marmaduke Langdale
William Baillie
George Munro
John Middleton
strength1= 14,000
strength2= 18,000
casualties2=4000 killed, 5000 taken prisoner
:"See Battle of Preston (1715) for the battle of the Jacobite Rising."

The Battle of Preston (17 August – 19 August 1648) was the major battle of the Second English Civil War. It resulted in a victory by the troops of Oliver Cromwell over the English Royalists and Scottish "Engagers" commanded by the Duke of Hamilton. The decisive victory of Cromwell's Parliamentarian forces at Preston presaged the end of the Second English Civil War in Parliament's favor.

The Engagement

In the weeks and months that followed the surrender by the Scots army of King Charles I to the commissioners of Parliament at Newcastle in January 1647, many in Scotland grew increasingly alarmed at the steady radicalisation of politics in England. There was particular concern for the fate of the King, especially after he was all but kidnapped by George Joyce acting on behalf of the New Model Army. In London the Presbyterians in Parliament were increasingly on the defensive, and the Independents ever more influential. If the religious radicalism of the sects was bad, the political radicalism of the Levellers and even more extreme minorities was worse. Bit by bit the radical Presbyterian party in Scotland gave way to a more moderate faction, headed by James Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton.

The first and most important task before the new government was to ensure the safety of the king. However, any agreement with Charles would have to be made with one eye on the radical Presbyterians-sometimes known as the Kirk Party-headed by the Marquess of Argyll, firmly committed to the letter of the Covenants. During the course of the year discussions were held with Charles at various locations in England, ending in December 1647 with the conclusion of an agreement at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Although he would not take the Covenant himself, Charles agreed to establish Presbyterianism in England on a three year trial basis and to suppress all the sects, including the Independents. In return he was promised an army. This bargain, known as the Engagement, was to bring about the Second Civil War in England and to tear the Covenanter movement in two.

The Devil's Bond

When news of the agreement reached Scotland it was greeted enthusiastically, because it was assumed that Charles had finally taken the Covenant. No sooner was the full truth disclosed than opposition grew in intensity, especially in the south-west of Scotland, an area particularly committed to the Covenants. Political opposition was bad enough, but widespread resistance right down to parish level seriously impaired Hamilton's efforts to recruit an army. Hamilton was appointed commander-in-chief in April, but if his abilities as a politician were bad his talents as a soldier were even worse. Patrick Gordon of Ruthven made his own biting comment on the appointment;

"But, O Maloure! there began our miserie. The Devyne Majestie was not content with us; we must be better humbled; and, therefore, God suffered them to err in this, that they made choice of the greatest man of the kingdome, and thought to be the wysest man, the most profound man, the greatest steatsman and deipest politiciane, not onlie of the thrie kingdomes, but of all Christendome: in this only was he defective, that he had never practised the airt militarie. He was fitter for a cabinet counsell not for a counsell of warre; he could have bein precedent of the gravest senat that ever sat in the Vaticane, yet he knew not what belonged to the leadinge of ane armie."

Throughout the spring and early summer soldiers were recruited with the greatest difficulty. Failures in the timetable was to have a fatal impact on the success of the whole enterprise; for it meant that the New Model Army was able to suppress royalist risings in England and Wales-already underway-in a piecemeal fashion. Indeed Hamilton was faced with his own little civil war in Scotland, and had to divert military resources to defeating a rising of the western shires at the Battle of Mauchline Muir in June.

Time was moving on and it was now past mid-summer. In England many of the risings were already failing. There could be no further delay. But the augurs could not be worse: the army was under strength, badly equipped and poorly trained. Supplies and transport were both serious problems, and there was no artillery. Expected reinforcements from the Scots army in Ireland had not yet arrived. Not able to risk further delay Hamilton crossed the border at Annan on 8 July with 10,500 men, far short of the 30,000 anticipated earlier in the year. That same day he joined up with a force of some 3,000 English cavaliers at Carlisle. Progress of the joint force was closely monitored by General John Lambert and a detachment of the New Model Army.

Hamilton's March

Once over the border Hamilton's progress southwards was painfully slow. With no sense of urgency, he spent six days at Carlisle, before moving on to Penrith, and then another three days before continuing on the few miles to Kirkby Thorne, where the army remained until the end of July. Matters were made worse by the weather, which was atrocious, raining the whole time Hamilton was in England. The halt at Kirkby Thorne is described by Sir James Turner;

"The Duke is necessitated to stay ten or twelve days at Kirkbie-thorne, to receave those regiments marching from Scotland, which did not exceed the halfe of their numbers they should have beene, all neulie levid, raw and undisciplined; and that summer was so excessive raine and wet, that I may say it was not possible for us to keepe one musket of ten fixed, all the time we were in a bodie in England."

Lambert kept watch, ready to match any move made by the enemy. Not strong enough to risk an engagement, he received the welcome news that Cromwell was on his way from South Wales, having taken Pembroke Castle from the royalists on 11 July.

At the end of July, the lumbering Scottish war machine cranked back into action, moving through Appleby and on to Kendal, arriving there on 2 August. Here Hamilton was joined by General George Munro and the troops from Ulster. The combined force now amounted to some 18000 horse and foot. But almost at once a serious quarrel broke out. Munro refused to serve under Hamilton's second-in-command, the Earl of Callendar, for whom he had an intense dislike, and Callendar saw no reason why Munro should be allowed an independent command. Hamilton, who gave all the appearance of being frightened of Callendar, a bristling martinet, opted for the worst possible solution. The battle-hardened troops from Ulster were to be left behind at Kirkby Lonsdale with some of the English cavalry to wait for the artillery, still on its way from Scotland, while the rest of the army continued on to Hornby. Here Hamilton settled down for a week, having made the first in a series of catastrophic decisions.

On 14 August, the weary trek of the Scottish army continued onwards to Lancaster and then Preston. Sir Marmaduke Langdale and the remaining English cavaliers were placed by Hamilton some distance to the east of the main army protecting the flank. Langdale was charged with gathering intelligence on enemy movements across the Pennines.

While Hamilton was limping through Lancashire, Cromwell had made remarkable progress since leaving Pembroke. He finally joined Lambert between Wetherby and Knaresborough on 13 August, having covered 287 miles in 13 days. Contrast this with Hamilton, who by the time he reached Preston two days later, had taken 39 days to travel 94 miles. The combined force amounted to 14000 horse and foot, weaker than their opponents, but stronger than Cromwell subsequently reported. With Sir Thomas Fairfax and the rest of the New Model Army still busy mopping up the royalists in south-east England, Cromwell was about to enter battle for the first time in independent command.

Hamilton still had no idea of the danger that was beginning to take shape on his eastern flank. Still suffering from supply and accommodation problems, he allowed John Middleton, the future Earl of Middleton, and the cavalry to ride south of Preston, across the River Ribble, and on to Wigan on a foraging expedition. On 16 August, the eve of the Battle of Preston, the Engager army was like a snake, strung out over an incredible distance of fifty miles: Munro and the tail was still at Kirkby Lonsdale to the north; Hamilton and the main body was in the neighbourhood of Preston; while Middleton and the head was south at Wigan. Langdale and his separate force of English royalists had, in the meantime, ridden south from Settle through Ribblesdale, approaching Preston from the north-east.

Cromwell Attacks

Cromwell at Wetherby had no precise information on Hamilton's whereabouts. The conventional thing to do was to fall back southwards to cover the approach to London, while cavalry probes were sent westwards to locate the enemy. But Cromwell, who realised the importance of securing a quick outcome, decided on a brilliant gamble. Rather than move south he decided to cross the Pennines into Lancashire on a seek and destroy mission. From Otley to Skipton, his army then descended into the Ribble Valley, camping at Gisburn on 15 August. Here Cromwell received news from his scouts that Hamilton was approaching Preston from Lancaster.

All too late Langdale awoke to the danger. He told Hamilton and Callendar that he believed that Cromwell was poised to attack; but they did not take his warning seriously. Early the following morning, 17 August, his fears were confirmed. Still his men held a good position, astride the main road between Preston and Skipton, little more than a deep narrow lane, now saturated with rain water. On either side they were protected by the hedges of a small enclosed field, which guarded them against a cavalry attack. Cromwell sent an advance party of 200 horse and 400 foot to force a passage through the lane. Soon after they were reinforced by Captain John Hodgson, whose "Memoirs" tell of the opening scenes of the Battle of Preston;

"And at Longridge Chapel our Horse came upon Sir Marmaduke drawn up very formidably...And here being drawn up by the Moorside (a mere scantling of us, as yet, not half the number we should have been) the General comes to us and orders us to march. We not having half our men come up, desired a little patience: he gives out the word 'March!"'

Bit by bit the Royalists were forced to give way over the rain-sodden ground. While the battle was underway, Langdale rode off to warn Hamilton that he was subject not to a probe but a full-scale attack. Langdale found Hamilton with General William Baillie, preparing to move the infantry across the Ribble at Preston Bridge. Hamilton immediately countermanded the order, telling Baillie to remain on the north side in support of Langdale, and sent a message to Middleton to hurry back from Wigan. But Callendar objected that the infantry would be destroyed without immediate cavalry support. Once reunited with the cavalry, he continued, the army would have the advantage of fighting with the Ribble in front, rather than behind. No consideration seems to have been given to the thought that it would be completely cut off from Munro and Scotland. As for Langdale, Callendar took the view that he was exaggerating the scale of the enemy attack, and in any case he could always fight his way back through Preston and join the Scots south of the Ribble Bridge. Hamilton gave way, reverting to his original plan. The only help sent to Langdale's hard pressed troops was a small force of lancers. Mistake now piled on mistake.

Langdale's fight at the hedges and ditches of Ribbelton Moor had now gone on for over four hours. Eventually, with the enemy infantry cleared from the hedges, Cromwell sent two cavalry regiments down the lane, chasing the panicking royalists back towards the town. Langdale managed to join Baillie; but almost all the infantry which survived the fight was taken prisoner, while the cavalry galloped north to join Munro. Hamilton himself came to the aid of Langdale with his life-guards. However, his personal courage in battle in no way made up for his deficiencies as a commander.

South of the river Baillie drew up his men on Church Brow Hill, overlooking the Ribble Bridge. Cromwell's men advanced on this vital crossing from the high bank to the north, their approach covered by a body of musketeers. The battle for Ribble Bridge continued for another two hours, "a very hot dispute", in Cromwell's own words. With evening now falling the Scots were driven off by a charge of pikemen under colonels Thomas Pride and Richard Dean. With Baillie falling backwards, the fight continued ever southwards across the bridge on the Darwen, a small tributary of the Ribble, causing the poet John Milton later to write of "Darwen's stream with blood of Scots imbued." Only night brought the savagery to an end.

Running Battle

Darkness came as a welcome relief to both armies, soaked, tired and hungry. But the Parliamentary soldiers at least had the scent of victory in their noses. Cromwell's flank attack had succeeded brilliantly: Hamilton's army had been cut in two, and he was now cut off from his base in Scotland, with no line of retreat. By the end of the first day's fighting the Engagers had lost, in Cromwell's own estimate, 1000 killed and 4000 captured. Their army was still powerful, but it soon lost all confidence in the competence of its commanders.

There was to be no rest for the exhausted Scottish soldiers. At midnight, with the rain pouring down interminably, Hamilton held a gloomy council of war. Callendar urged a night march to meet Middleton and the cavalry coming up from the south. Both Baillie and Turner argued against this, pointing out the difficulties of moving a tired army along muddy roads on a dark, wet night; but as usual Callendar prevailed. As the army had no means of transport, the musketeers were only permitted to take as much gunpowder as they could carry. All the rest was left behind, to be blown up by a slow-burning fuse. This, like all Callendar's schemes came to nought; for no order was given to light the fuse, and the powder was taken by Cromwell's men the following morning. With no drum beating, and all musket fuses extinguished, the demoralised soldiers slipped off into the night.

On this unhappy march, anything that could go wrong, would. While Middleton was riding north from Wigan through Chorley, Hamilton was marching south through Standish, some distance to the west, so both forces passed each other in the night. The first Middleton knew of this was when he came across not his own infantry, as he had expected, but two regiments of Ironsides under Colonel Francis Thornhaugh, whom Cromwell had sent off in pursuit of Hamilton. In the engagement that followed Thornhaugh was killed, but his men pushed Middleton hard all the way back to the south.

Hamilton had already travelled three miles from Preston before Cromwell discovered he was gone. After sending Thornhaugh off he followed with the rest of the army, leaving Colonel Ralph Ashton and the Lancashire levies to hold Preston against a forward march by Munro, with orders to kill all of Langdale's men if the royalists attacked. He need not have worried: for Munro refused to budge from Kirkby Lonsdale.

With the rain pouring down night and day, the Scots infantry was sodden and half-starved by the morning of 18 August. On Standish Moor near Wigan they were finally rejoined by the cavalry. This was a good position to make a stand, for the ground was intersected with enclosures. Unfortunately, the rain had destroyed the small supply of powder available and, as there was no more to be had, the weary march continued on to Wigan, where the wretched inhabitants were plundered "almost to their skins" by desperate soldiers, now on the verge of panic. The army was very close to disintegration.

From Wigan the retreating army ploughed on through the mud to Warrington, closely pursued by Cromwell. On the morning of 19 August the Scots turned on their tormentors at a place called Winwick, three miles north of Warrington. Cromwell described the fight in his dispatch to Parliament;

"We held them in some dispute till our army came up, they maintaining the pass with great resolution for many hours; ours and theirs coming to push of pike and very close charges, and forced us to give ground; but our men, by the blessing of God, quickly recovered it, and charging very hard upon them, beat them from their standing, where we killed about a thousand, and took (as we believe) about two thousand prisoners."

The fight had taken place in a narrow lane on the road north from Newton-le-Willows. All Cromwell's attacks were beaten back, until the local people showed him a way through the fields, outflanking the Scots position. Thereupon they were pushed back by Colonel Pride's regiment to the village green on the south-side of Winwick Church, where resistance was finally broken. The refugees made their way towards Warrington, where the rest of the army was busy barricading the bridge across the River Mersey.

Even after the victory at Winwick Cromwell would have had a hard time pursuing the Scots south of the Mersey, where they had built up a strong bridgehead. But even though Hamilton still had most of his horse and 4000 infantry this was a beaten army; and no-one was more beaten than the general himself. Callendar, who had led him by the nose almost all the way, now persuaded him to instruct Baillie to order the, by now, useless infantry to surrender, while the cavalry tried to join royalist forces still in arms in Wales. Baillie, shocked by the treachery of his fellow officers, refused to obey. He gave orders to defend the bridge, an honourable but completely unrealistic decision. Most of the musketeers had thrown away their useless weapons. Those who retained them had neither shot nor powder, and the pikemen were close to collapse. When the order was given only 250 men rose to obey. Baillie duly surrendered; and Cromwell, anxious to secure the bridge at Warrington, granted him generous terms. By the end of the running battle from Preston to Warrington 3000 men had been killed and 10000 taken prisoner.

Warrington Bridge was held by Robert Massey,Sargeant Booth,Thomas Wolstencroft and about 20 Musketeers. He had not received a Captains Commission at the time of the event.


Riding off with no clear sense of direction Hamilton and the cavalry eventually ended up at Uttoxeter in Staffordshire on 22 August. Here he finally mustered enough spirit to blame the whole debacle on Callendar. Turner, who witnessed the quarrel, wrote;

"The Duke and Calendar fell out, and were at very hie words at supper, where I was; each blaming the other for the misfortune and miscarraige of our affaires; in which contest I thought the Duke had the better of it. And heere, indeed, I will say, that my Lord Dukes great fault was in giveing E. Calendar too much of his pouer all along; for I have often heard him bid him doe what he pleased, promiseing to be therwith well contented. And therfor Calendar was doublie to be blamd, first for his bad conduct (for that was inexcusable) and nixt for reproaching the Duke with that wherof himselfe was guiltie."

This seems rather generous in the circumstances; for while Callendar's conduct had been bad, Hamilton's had been disastrous, amounting to complete dereliction of duty as a commander. Compromise may be an admirable quality in a politician; but in a soldier it only leads to doubt, confusion and uncertainty. From his inability to ride the storm in Scotland, to his failure to set clear objectives for the army, Hamilton led the Engagement to disaster. He was never a traitor, as Montrose and his supporters had argued: he was simply the wrong man for the times.

Ordered to continue their pointless ride on from Uttoxeter, the cavalry mutinied. Many deserted, including Langdale. Some others eventually rode off with Callendar, who made good his escape to Holland. Hamilton had no option but to open negotiations with the enemy, finally surrendering to John Lambert, whom Cromwell had sent off in pursuit from Warrington, after his safety and that of his officers had been guaranteed. It was not to be. Under his English title of Earl of Cambridge, Hamilton was tried and executed for treason in March 1649, a few weeks after the death of the royal master he had both served and doomed.

In Scotland news of the defeat in Lancashire brought the collapse of the Engagers regime. From the south-west of Scotland the supporters of Argyll and the Kirk Party marched on Edinburgh, an episode which was to be known as the Whiggamore Raid, from the word 'whiggam', used by local people to urge on their horses. Thus the Whigs entered the stage of history.



* Burnet, Gilbert, "Memoirs of the Lifes and Actions of James and William, dukes of Hamilton", 1852.
* Cromwell, Oliver, "Writings and Speeches", ed. W. C. Abbot, 1937-47.
* Hodgson , John, "Memoirs," 1806.
* Ruthven, Patrick Gordon of, "A Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper", 1844.
* Turner, Sir James, "Memoirs of his own Life and Times, 1632-1670", 1829.


* Baldock, T. S., "Cromwell as a Soldier", 1899.
* Broxap, E., "The Great Civil War in Lancashire, 1642-1651", 1913.
* Hoenig, F., "The Battle of Preston", in Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, vol. 52, 1898.
* Irwin, R. A., "Cromwell in Lancashire: the Campaign of Preston 1648", in The Army Quareterly, vol 27, 1933-4.
* Rubinstein, H. L., "Captain Luckless. James, First Duke of Hamilton, 1606-1649," 1975.

External links

* [ 1648: The Second Civil War]
* [ The Battle of Winwick Pass, 19 Aug 1648]

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