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The Battle of Preston

August 17-19th 1648. A three-day battle ends the Second Civil War.

British Civil Wars > Weapons & Warfare > Battles & Sieges > The Battle of Preston

At the end of the First Civil War, King Charles had become a prisoner of Parliament. The Roundheads negotiated with the king, trying to get him to reduce his powers. Charles pretended to listen to his enemies but was secretly planning a second civil war.

In the spring of 1648 Royalists in the North of England, South Wales and the counties of Kent and Essex rose up against Parliament. In July, a Scottish army made up of Presbyterians called the Engagers, led by the Duke of Hamilton, invaded England in support of Charles I. The Engager army might have been as large as 20,000 men (although some historians think it was much, much smaller; perhaps 9,000). The Engagers marched through Lancashire.  Following the Engagers, harassing, attacking, slowing them down and blocking the pathway to Royalist Pontefract, was the Roundhead General John Lambert and a small force of cavalry.

The Engagers changed direction and headed toward Wales to assist the Royalists there.

Oliver Cromwell was fighting in Wales when he heard the news. Cromwell’s army were tired. Their clothes were torn, and their shoes worn out. Cromwell left Wales immediately. He marched his soldiers into England and through the Midlands where he kitted them out with new boots and stockings. Cromwell and Lambert’s combined armies were smaller than their enemies’ (about 8,600 men) but their soldiers were disciplined, well led and moved quickly. The Engagers were badly led, undisciplined and moved slowly. By the time Cromwell and Lambert caught up with the Engagers near Preston, the Engager army was dangerously strung out over twenty miles of countryside.

The battle took place in the pouring rain over three days. Cromwell fought 3,500 Engagers, commanded by Sir Marmaduke Langdale, on Preston Moor.  Langdale fought well but was outnumbered and beaten back to Preston. Cromwell took on the bulk of the Engager army who were defending Ribble Bridge and the ground around the River Darwen. The fighting was savage, but Cromwell was victorious. Hamilton and the rest of the Engagers left Preston with the Roundheads following close behind. Hamilton headed for Warrington. His infantry fought Cromwell for the last time, defending a pass three miles outside Warrington. Once again, the Engagers fought bravely. It took Crowell three attempts to clear the pass. Cromwell marched on Warrington where the Engagers surrendered. Around 2,000 Engagers had been killed. Thousands more were taken prisoner and many were sent to work as slaves overseas. Cromwell had lost less than 100 men. Cromwell’s victory at Preston ended the war.

Hamilton was beheaded. Langdale escaped and fled the country disguised as a milk maid. Because of the Second Civil War, King Charles I would be put on trial and executed.          

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