I want to start this article with the first words on the Wikipedia page for the Capture of Wakefield in 1643: “For the battle in 1460 during the Wars of the Roses, see Battle of Wakefield”. These few words almost condemn ‘The capture of Wakefield’ to an insignificant role in Yorkshire history, an also-ran. No doubt even amongst the present local population, few are aware of it ever taking place.
Parliamentarians vs the Royalists
From early 1642, Yorkshire had been at the centre of the increasing hostilities between parliament and the Royalists. Sir John Hotham had refused entry to Charles I and his large entourage through the Beverley Gate into Hull, explaining that he was “intrusted by the Parliament, for the securing of the Town for his Majesty’s Honour, and the Kingdoms use, which he intended by God’s help to do”. He had though, offered entry to the King and a small number of his men!
By spring 1643, the first English Civil War had been in full blown progress for several months, with King Charles I declaring the Earl of Essex, and parliament, to be traitors, bringing to the boil almost half a century of simmering ‘religious, fiscal and legislative’ tensions.
In February 1643, Queen Henrietta Maria the wife of Charles I arrived in Burlington (Bridlington) after she had been in Europe trying to raise finances and military support for the Royalist cause. Landing at Bridlington she and the town later came under fire from Parliamentarian vessels. After resting for several days, she moved to the Royalist stronghold of York.
The Parliamentary forces proceeded to lose the Battle of Seacroft Moor at the end of March resulting in some 800 of their men being captured. A decision was made to attack the Royalist town of Wakefield, which Fairfax thought was defended by some 900 troops under George Goring. They could then be captured and traded for the return of Parliamentarian forces. The true number however is thought to have been nearer 500 cavalry and 3,000 foot soldiers, with four guns.
The Merrie City of Wakefield
Now Wakefield is not known as the ‘Merrie City’ for nothing. According to Dr Nathaniel Johnston (1627–1705), a doctor of medicine and an antiquarian sometimes of Pontefract, on 20 May, the day before the attack, Goring and other senior Royalist officers in Wakefield were hosted by Dame Mary Bolles at her home, Heath Hall, just to the east of the town.
While playing bowls and other games, the Royalists “drank so freely … as to be incapable of properly attending to the defence of the town”. Goring had long had a reputation for his heavy drinking and womanising. Ok, so how much of this is truth, fantasy or a mixture of the two is unclear, but it’s certainly in keeping with present day rulers!
Around midnight on the evening of the 20th, Parliamentarian troops stationed in Leeds, Bradford and Halifax met at Howley Hall near Morley, a total of 1,500 men. Advancing towards Wakefield, they overcame two troops of cavalry at Stanley, on the outskirts of the town. The Royalist troops in Wakefield must have been aware of the approach of the Parliamentary force. Alas for them, most of the officers and the governor (Sir Francis Mackworth) were either still at the all-night bowls party, half an hour or so from the centre of the town, or heavily hungover.
The capture of Wakefield
Royalist foot soldiers assumed defensive positions amongst the hedgerows outside Wakefield and barricades were hastily built in the town’s main streets. The Royalist musketeers however, were driven back into the centre of the town and further offensives were launched via Northgate and Warrengate, the eastern entrance to Wakefield.
The attack was sharp and short, concluding with the storming of the barricades against fierce resistance. Nevertheless, the Royalists were driven backwards with the Parliamentary troops capturing a cannon and using it on the garrison. With the demolition of the barricades, Sir Thomas Fairfax and Sir Henry Foulis charged with their troops, clearing the streets of Royalists.
General Goring, who it is claimed rose from his sick bed with fever, but more likely was now back from the bowling party at Heath House, led a counterattack that did nothing but result in his own capture. In the market place, the Parliamentary attackers found three troops of men and offered them surrender terms, which were rejected. They opened fire with the captured cannon and the Parliamentary horses charged the Royalist troops, driving them out of Wakefield in disarray.
The battle was all over by 9am. Many troops were captured including Goring who was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a year, until he was swapped in a prisoner exchange.
Well, there it is, short and sweet. The Capture of Wakefield 1643. And for once it was not the Parliamentarians doing the drinking!