Royalist Conspiracy and the Risings of 1655

The battle of Worcester marked the end of royalist hopes of success through a Scottish alliance. The field army was gone, Charles II barely escaped to Europe, and the earl of Derby was executed. The Isle of Man fell to the government on 31 October 1651, Jersey and Guernsey fell in December. The Parliament began to move towards reconciliation, the Act of Oblivion of February 1652 inaugurating a policy that Cromwell personally favoured. In France, the court in exile was riddled with intrigue, the Louvre group, the Old Royalists, and the Swordsmen, bickering amongst themselves, although the Louvre group was in eclipse after Worcester. (The Louvre group were mainly Catholics and favoured a Scottish alliance; the Old Royalists were mainly Anglicans and opposed a Scottish alliance; and the Swordsmen were associates of Rupert and had no clear policy.) In 1653, as William Cunningham earl of Glencairn raised the Highlands of Scotland for Charles II, a conspiratorial council of old royalists was formed in England—the Sealed Knot. Its advocate at the court in exile was Edward Hyde, and its politics rendered it opposed to the Louvre group and the Swordsmen of Prince Rupert and Charles Gerard. Yet the first real plots, in the winter and spring of 1654, originated from the Swordsmen. The Gerard Plot, or Ship Tavern Conspiracy, had North Welsh overtones and was broken by good government espionage. In May 1654 a second Gerard Plot to kill Cromwell between Hampton Court and Whitehall was foiled when Cromwell changed his route. The assassination was postponed to 21 May but was betrayed. Two leaders were sentenced to death by the High Court of Justice. The Swordsmens' precipitate action drove the Sealed Knot into temporary withdrawal, and the Action Party appeared, extremely militant and hoping for alliance with Presbyterians and disgruntled New Model commanders. The Knot had also entertained such hopes, even of the Levellers and military commanders like Overton, governor of Hull. The Action Party was preparing a widespread rising and looking to Thomas Fairfax and others to take a part, but caution or lack of real sympathy forced the Action Party to rely solely on royalists, and thus the rising of March 1655 was entirely based upon old cavaliers and a new generation nurtured in royalist principles. The government was well informed of what was happening, broke the arms distribution network in January 1655, and arrested many leaders in February. The localised pattern of risings planned for March failed through lack of effective support. In the North-East, plots to seize York, Hull and Newcastle upon Tyne were laid, but the real royalist authority in the area, that of Marmaduke Langdale, was absent with Langdale in Europe. On 8 March conspirators gathered on Marston Moor to enter York but dispersed. The royalist plan to take Newcastle petered out with a muster at nearby Duddoe, whilst Warwick and Worcester further south and west were untroubled. On the Welsh border, royalists gathered at Llandrinio to take Shrewsbury which was weakly garrisoned, and there was a muster at Llanymynech, but determined action by Shrewsbury's governor broke the rising before it was under way, and Chirk Castle remained in government hands although its owner, Sir Thomas Myddleton, had genuinely plotted with the royalists.

Penruddock's rising in Wiltshire may have surprised the authorities. In February a royalist muster there at Salisbury had dispersed and led to a wave of arrests, but the conspirators intended to strike at Salisbury on 12 March where the judges of assize were to sit. In the early hours, royalist cavalry entered the city, led by Sir Joseph Wagstaffe and John Penruddock, armed the prisoners in the gaol, and seized the Sheriff and the judges. About 400 strong, the aim was to ride in search of recruits. A projected attack on Marlborough from Ludgershall was abandoned by conspirators under Sir Henry Moore. Pursued by forces from Bristol, Exeter and Taunton, shortly to be reinforced by Major General Disbrowe from London, Wagstaffe entered Devonshire on 14 March. At South Molton the royalists were broken by forces from Exeter after limited fighting. Wagstaffe escaped abroad, Penruddock and others were executed, and hundreds were transported to the West Indies.

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  • Haylom
    What was happening in 1655?
    8 years ago

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