By David Flintham
Contrary to public opinion, the British Civil Wars were fought not so much in the open fields and moors, but in trenches and on ramparts and walls – a fact that caused the Earl of Orrey to comment: “We make war more like foxes than lions, and you will have twenty sieges for one battle.” More recently, Christopher Duffy described the conflict as “a war of trenches, ramparts, palisades, bombardments and blockades”.
But this is a fact not reflected in the written word: far more has been published about battles than about fortifications and sieges, and if something does happen to be written about sieges, it tends to focus on the First Civil War (in other words, the fighting between 1642 and 1646-7). The sieges of the Second Civil War (1648-9) and the Third Civil War (1649-52) have been largely overlooked. Yet sieges dominated the Second and Third Civil Wars. The Second Civil War had six battles, but an estimated 45 siege-type actions; the Third Civil War had 15 battles, but 121 sieges. Between the end of the Third Civil War and the Restoration, there were a further 46 siege actions – mostly abroad.
Many of the sieges between 1642-7 were concentrated in a relatively small geographical area, in the heart of England. However, between 1648 and 1660, there were sieges in regions relatively untouched by the First Civil War: most notably south-east England and south Wales (although they also took place in areas already scarred by the first war, such as Yorkshire). Sieges occurred in eastern Scotland and throughout Ireland. They reached England’s outlying islands and, during the 1650s, as far afield as Flanders, and even the West Indies.
For a number of years, my own academic research has largely focused on London during the 1640s and 50s, particularly its defences, but – having reached a conclusion with Civil War London: A Military History of London under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell (to be published by Helion this autumn) – it is time to move on and look at fortress warfare between 1648 and 1660 in more detail.
My study will focus on the full breadth of British fortresses and sieges during the period, covering the Second Civil War in Wales, south-east England, and northern England; the Third Civil War in Ireland, Scotland, and those remaining Royalist outposts in England; and finally, 1652-1660, which witnessed the Protectorate citadels in Scotland and wars against the Dutch and Spanish.
Understandably, it is the major sieges which will be most prominent, but this will take little away from the smaller and more minor siege-type actions. Although they might not be discussed in great detail, their contribution at a tactical and strategic level will be considered.
Given its breadth, this is unique study entails a great deal of research, including fieldwork, and the resulting book (which is currently planned to be published by Helion in late 2020) will be an important addition to the study of fortress warfare during the mid-seventeenth century – filling a major gap on the bookshelves of students of the civil wars and those with a broader interest in seventeenth century military engineering. As its completion is relatively long-way off, regular updates on progress will appear at http://www.vauban.co.uk/kingdoms-under-siege .
David Flintham will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Wenceslaus Hollar & 17th century warfare’ at Helion’s Century of the Soldier Conference 2017 in Shrewsbury on Saturday 23rd September. Tickets cost £30 for the full day, inclusive of lunch and unlimited drinks. Book here now.