The first English Civil War was a four-year conflict which split the country into followers of the monarchy (called Royalists), and supporters of the Parliament (colloquially known as ‘Roundheads.’) Hampshire was the site of various battles including the Battles of Roundway and Cheriton, and its proximity to London meant both sides vied for control of it. Hampshire also saw heavy fighting because the county itself supported Parliament, however various cities including Winchester were Royalists strongholds.
During the 17th century, Winchester was Hampshire’s third city, and at the beginning of the civil war its population was estimated to be about 3,000 people. The city’s size and location meant it was strategically important and therefore both sides vied for control of Winchester.
The history of Winchester during the civil war begins with Sir William Ogle (the city’s MP) declaring for the Royalists. This meant that the city was now technically a Royalist area and thus opened it up for a potential attack from Parliament. Later in the year, Lord Grandison and his army of 4 troops of horses and 600 dragoons were returning to Hampshire after campaigning in Wiltshire, while being pursued by Sir William Waller. Grandison subsequently decided to retreat to Winchester in order to prevent Waller from attacking his force. This meant that Winchester was now at risk from a potential Parliamentarian attack. Grandison recognized that Winchester was under threat, and sent a letter to the city’s governor in which he offered to divert Waller away from the city and force him to chase him into Sussex. Consequently, Grandison was attacked by Waller and defeated which left Winchester open to an attack by Waller’s army.
The defenders of Winchester then began preparing to defend the city from the inevitable Parliamentary assault. On the 12th of December 1642, Waller attacked Winchester; the main thrust of his attack was focused between the Northern and Western gates. Eventually, the Parliamentarians were able to breach the city walls and enter the city. Despite this success, many of the Royalist defenders survived the attack and were able to flee into the city’s castle. This meant that Parliament was not in full control of the city, however they ignored the Royalists in the castle and instead began to sack the city. Clerical property was at most risk of being of damaged, and many items which were considered to be ‘popish’ such as crucifixes were burned. On the 13th, the Royalists in the castle surrendered to the Parliamentarian forces, and on the next day Winchester Cathedral itself was sacked.
Later, Winchester was retaken by the Royalists, but on the 30th March 1644 , Waller appeared at the gates and demanded that the city surrender and be re-occupied by Parliament. Sir William Ogle agreed to this demand as he hoped that Waller would allow him to keep possession of the city’s castle. Waller, did not accept Ogle’s terms and sent ambassadors to Ogle stating that he would burn the Lord’s house and Winchester itself if he did not surrender the castle. Ogle ignored Waller’s ultimatum and in response Waller plundered some of the city and then withdraw from the city. Winchester was once again under Royalist control.
However, this was not the last time the two sides clashed over the city. On April 8th of 1644, Waller marched to Winchester with the aim of recapturing the city for Parliament. The commander was able to successfully breach the city’s defences when he blow up the Southern gate. Although the Royalists attempted to prevent the Parliamentarians from entering the city, the latter eventually retook the city. Once again, they plundered the city and history repeated itself once again when Waller left the city with Ogle still in control of the city’s castle.
On September 28th 1645, a Parliamentary regiment led by Oliver Cromwell arrived at Winchester and began preparations to assault and capture the city. After unsuccessfully negotiating a surrender with the Royalist garrison, the Parliamentary force managed to enter the city via the Eastern and the Western gates. Subsequently, 400 Royalist soldiers retreated into the castle and defiantly continued their fight from inside there. The Royalist garrison in the castle was able to resist the Parliamentarian army until the 6th of October when they finally surrendered.
By 1645, it was clear that the Royalists had lost the war, however it wasn’t until 1646 that they finally surrendered to the Scottish. Hampshire had been divided and devastated by the civil war and its effects lived on in the county for some time after the fighting had ended.
1. T, Mclachlan., The Civil War in Hampshire, (Salisbury, 2000).