Berwick and the Civil Wars

Someone asked me the other day about how many times Berwick changed hands during the English Civil War and how many times Charles I had visited.  Here goes!  It’s a bit of a long read but I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching it.

A New Dynasty

The story so far.

Elizabeth died on March 26th 1603 and the Scottish king, James VI became James I of England.  He coined the phrase “my United Kingdom” and instigated the building of the Old Bridge as a symbol of this unity.  He granted Berwick its charter of 1604 which still governs much of what we do.

James died in 1625 to be succeeded by his son, Charles.  Not many records concerning Carolingian Berwick survive.  One gives some insight to the state of the garrison in the town.  James had all but depleted the garrison (he left 100 infantrymen) and this document gives some small insight.  It tells us of:

“certaine old Men named the foot Garrison who were allowed pay for picking [picketing, guarding] the Walls and keeping them clean”

The guarding of the medieval walls by the scout watch is described:

“[the] skoot [scout] nightly of shott [men armed with guns] and Pikemen that lay about the Walls  to give warning if any enimie approached by shooting of a small piece.  Then there was a Cannon called the Alarum Gun discharged within the Towne and the common Bell rung out…”

An amusing description is the punishment for sleeping while on duty:

“…to hang over the Wall in a Baskett and there to stay for certain course, with bread & Water for his food & a penknife to cut the rope after the time of his punishment was expired, and so he fell into a Stanke [ditch] without danger of Drowneing.”

Better than being suspended from a noose which had been the punishment laid out in the 1560 Statutes!

Charles I arrived in town on 2nd June on his way to be crowned King of Scotland at Scone.  He stayed for ten days before continuing on his journey.  He returned to London, stopping in Berwick on 16th July.  He must have believed that the Anglo-Scottish wars were over—the last pitched battle had been that at Pinkie Clough some 90 years previously in 1547—as he ordered all the cannon from Wark castle to be removed.  

“Certifies that by his Majesty’s command sixteen pieces of brass and iron ordnance were fetched to Berwick from the Castle of Werk, belonging to Lord Grey. The brass pieces are to be sent to London, and the iron to be kept at Berwick for defence of the place.”

Another letter dated the 17th July to the Mayor of Berwick gives further instructions regarding the ordnance and suggests that there has been untoward goings on by the garrison!

“The King, being informed that the officers of that town had in charge arms, ammunition whereof no account had been given, and that the Iron Gates of the Town, with a great Bell belonging to the Bell Tower, had been sold without account, the Mayor is to search out particulars to prepare an account for the officers of the Tower [of London]. Ten pieces of brass ordnance remaining upon the walls of Berwick are also to be sent on to London, together with the ordnance from Norham and Wark.”

The cannon were finally dispatched to Norfolk on 23rd December 1633 on board a ship called Gift of God.  (An interesting aside is that a ship of that name was the first ship to take settlers to Quebec.  Whether they are one and the same is still to be determined.)


Replica of the Grace of God, built to celebrate Quebec’s 300th anniversary in 1908.

Conflict in Europe—The Thirty Years War

In some ways the English Civil War that was to come was more than even the Wars of the Three Nations as it is sometimes now known; it could be said to have been a continuation of the Thirty Years War with raged between Protestant and Catholic Nations in Europe between 1618 and 1648.  Charles’ reluctance to take side in this conflict was seen as a sign that he was a Catholic sympathiser.  He had been dispatched by his father, James, on a “diplomatic” mission to marry Maria Anna of Spain in an attempt by James to bring peace in Europe.  The failure of the match led him to be married to Henrietta Maria of France, another Catholic, instead.


Henrietta Maria and King Charles I with Charles, Prince of Wales, and Princess Mary by Anthony van Dyck, 1633.

While the Reformation of the traditional church in England during the 1530s had given rise to Protestantism, Scotland did not embrace the new church.  This was to change in the 1560s.  The Scottish Reformation, led by John Knox, whose first position as a minister after his exile during Mary Tudor’s short Catholic reign was at Berwick between 1549 an 1551.  The main difference between the English and Scottish Reformations was that in England, the bishops of the traditional (Catholic) church were retained (Episcopalism) while in Scotland, the new church replaced them with “councils” (Presbyterianism).

The Bishops’ Wars

Charles’ ultimate fate started in 1639 when he attempted to impose bishops on the Church of Scotland.  A new prayer book was imposed on the Scots in 1637 which led to the National Covenant being drawn up in defence of Presbyterianism, now formally adopted as the national religion.  Despite the disagreement, the Scots still swore allegiance to the king.


Riot against use of prescribed prayer book, 1637.

The Covenant precipitated the first Bishops’ Wars.  Sir Jacob Astley rode north to gain intelligence for the king.  On the face of it, Berwick was neutral in the matter.  On Astley’s arrival the town was relieved, believing he was bringing a garrison.  The Mayor, William Fenwick swore allegiance to the Crown.  Ashley learnt of the Covenanters aim to take Berwick and that there were many sympathisers in town.  The Mayor strongly refuted this:

“There are no Covenanters here, for there are no Scots but one young man, whom we told you of, and two others, who are mostly in Scotland on business.  We are arming, but with old armour lying in the town, for the purpose of simply defending ourselves.  Both north and south, we hear of armies approaching; therefore we are intending to strengthen our position as well as we can.”

Word was sent to London and the Earl of Essex brought 600 men north, reaching Berwick in April 1639 but were somewhat surprised to find there really was no enemy anywhere in sight.  Charles followed, leading an army which reached Berwick on the 28th May.  The Journal of John Aston  an attendant to the king, describes the scene:

“Hence wee went to Barwick […] and found the towne soe thronged that wee had much adoe to get lodging.  The king was yet in towne at an ould ruined house of his owne called the Castle, but his privy counsell, I believe, were jealous of [worried about] his safetie there, or els of disorders in the campe [near Yarrow Haugh, 2 miles west of Berwick] if his majestie were not present in it.
Soe upon the Thursday following being the 30th of May the kings pavillion was pitched; and hee himself went to lodge in the army, and continued in it from that time till it broke up.”  

(A further description of the defences is at the end of this post.)

Edward Norgate, a servant to the king wrote in vivid terms about the progress north and the state of Berwick:

“We have met no enemies but what are constant to this place—snow, hail, and violent northern winds, which keep back the main part of our victuals and ammunition. We shall have some leisure to repair the ruins time hath wrought here.”

“Morpeth is our first remove, then Alnwick and Belford, all poor contemptible villages. The fields bare and desolate, extremely cold and unhealthy, and if a disease begin in the army we will need no Covenanters.”

“This night I took up my lodgings upon the rushes on a good hard floor. I cannot hope for straw; it is too precious; here is nothing cheap but fish. The King lodges in his pavilion, but the town is full of soldiers and troopes, who possess all houses, that the King’s servants are nothings. There is scarcity of provisions in Berwick, soldiers snatching people’s dinners from them.”

The Scots army was well trained with many veterans from the Thirty Years War.  Common sense prevailed, a party was held, and what might have been a bloody battle was averted and a treaty, The Pacification of Berwick, was drawn up.

That autumn, for two months, the garrison was hit by an outbreak of disease.  They recovered by winter and improvements were made to Berwick’s defences.  A drawbridge was added outside Cowport, a new gate was provided at the St. Mary Gate and at Scotsgate.  A wall of considerable height was built on top of along Gillies Braes between Tweed Street to Meg’s Mount.

The peace was short lived.  Charles insisted upon forcing episcopacy on the Scots and in 1640 the second Bishops’ Wars broke out with the Scots defeating the English army at Newburn near Newcastle.

Royalists and Roundheads

In 1642, the English Civil War broke out and, in the absence of any dependable garrison, the Guild set about forming a militia of burgesses to set up guards and patrols.  Initially, Scotland remained neutral but, in 1643, the Covenanters sided with the Parliamentarians.  In March 1643, news reached Berwick that Royalist forces were determined to take the town.  The order went out that:

“all persons that have any towns muskitts, culvereens, or fowling-pieces of their own shall forthwith provide themselves with poulder, bullets, and other furniture so that they might be ready if occasion required.”

A standoff between the Royalists and the Mayor ensued for three months.  The Earl of Warwick provided some support by providing a warship at the port.  Entreaties for support from England were met with silence and eventually the town asked the Council of Scotland for aid.  Negotiations were tense as the Mayor wanted guarantees that the Scots would be acting only in their capacity as supporters of the Parliamentary cause.  Eventually, the Scots provided a garrison for Berwick.  They defended the town against an attack by the Earl of Newcastle but the town eventually fell to the Royalist, Sir Marmaduke Langdale in April 1648.


Sir Marmaduke Langdale, (1598–1661)

The town seemed relieved when in September that year, Oliver Cromwell rode north and succeeded in negotiating a surrender of the town.  He stayed at Mornington House. Throughout this period, the townspeople had suffered with the soldiers of whichever side enjoying free lodging in their house.  Cromwell’s occupation was no different.  He garrisoned the town with a regiment of foot and later, a regiment of horse.  Incidentally, there is no truth to the story that he used the parish church as a stables!


Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Colonel George Fenwick was made Governor of Berwick.  His appointment meant there was some relief to the town at last.  New cannon were brought up to defend the walls and provisions supplied for the town.  Amongst other things, he was responsible for building, between 1648 and 1650, the present Holy Trinity Parish Church, the only extant Cromwellian Church.


Left:  Detail of map (c.1570) showing the old Holy Trinity Church.  
Right: The Cromwellian Holy Trinity Church.

The King is Dead, Long Live The King of Scotland?

The first Civil War ended when Charles I was defeated in 1646 and surrendered himself to the Scottish Covenanter army.  Ironically, the Scots changed allegiance, fearing Parliament would not permit Presbyterianism in Scotland and indeed, threaten Scottish independence.  Eventually, they were unable to persuade Charles to take the Covenant and handed him over to Parliament in January 1647.  Charles was executed in 1649.  The king’s death ushered in the Commonwealth in England but in Scotland, the exiled Charles II was proclaimed sovereign.  


A king in exile: Charles II painted by Philippe de Champaigne, c. 1653

While he found the idea of the Covenant distasteful, Charles II knew that signing an agreement was the only game in town.  He landed in Scotland at Spey in June 1650.  The only problem was this agreement with the Scots left him deeply unpopular in England.  Charles was crowned King of Scotland at Scone in 1651.

And so the wars raged on.  In summer, 1650, Berwick must have been the busiest it had been for many years.  As had been the case in the medieval Anglo-Scottish wars, Berwick was used as a supply centre, this time to supply Cromwell’s troops in Scotland against the Covenanters!  Vast amounts of food, tents and other supplies passed through Berwick.  Cromwell came to Berwick, again using Mornington House as his headquarters.

Charles attacked England in 1651 but was crushed at the Beatle of Worcester.  Famously, he evaded capture by hiding in an oak tree and escaped to Normandy.

Berwick endured a strict Puritan life until the Restoration.  Cromwell died in 1658 and he was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son, Richard.  This was short-lived and Charles II returned from exile to be crowned King of England.

A description of Berwick from The Journal of John Aston, 1639

There was aunciently a castle on the north west side of the towne, but King James bestowed it on the earle of Dunbarr, who began to build a stately house in the very place where the auncient castle stood, out of its ruins and left it unfinished.  The seate serves properly for a defence to the towne still, and soe it was now used, there being two bulwarkes made upon the side walls by filling their inward parts with earth, on the one was three iron peeces mounted, on the other two.  The castle hath a very deepe dry ditch about it and a gate over it leading it out of the towne.
The walls of the towne were not soe slighted but that with small cost they were now made very strong and usefull, and received to fitting purpose good store of cannon (and might well have been furnished with more if neede had required).  Upon the line comming from the Lord Dunbarrs house was one iron peece.
The Mary Gate northward [near the junction of Castlegate/Northumberland Avenue] had two iron peeces over it, a great chamber in the mouth of it, and a little distance from the gate was a new redoubt, four square, made with pallisadoes round it, and a continull watch of musquetiers lay in it.
On the same line tending towards the east was annother bulwarke with three iron peeces planted on it.
Further eastward annother little bulwarke with three iron peeces.
On the same line eastward a watch tower.  [The Bell Tower]
By it a little bulwarke new raised, with three iron peeces on it.
Next that a greate bulwarke with seven iron peeces on it.
Next to that allmost due east seven brasse peeces whereof two were very faire gunns.
The Cow-gate three small brass peeces in the mouth of the port.
On the bulwarke by the windmill on the same line seven iron peeces.
On the corner bulwarke south east eight iron peeces.
The Shoare-gate southward.
The Bridge-gate southward.
On the great bulwarke south west [Meg’s Mount] neare the greate gate called New-gate [Scotsgate] seven iron peeces.
Besides the walls that encompasse the towne there runns a line within, acrosse from the watch towre north east [Brass Bastion] to the New-gate south west, which is very strong and hath good batteries on it.
The totall of all the cannon upon the walls and in the ports were, besides the murdering peece, fifty-six.
The government of this towne was now committed to the earle of Lyndsay, who had a strong regiment of 2,500 men and good able captains to command, besides which the Earle of New-Castle with allmost 200 horse was quartered in the towne, and kept watch day and night upon the bound roade a mile or 2 out of towne.


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