On 23 March 1648 Pembroke Castle, throughout the first civil war a solid Parliamentarian garrison in South Wales, declared for the King. The motives of the governor (Colonel Poyer) were mixed, based upon frustration with the political events at London, despair at not receiving back pay, and resentment towards the New Model. On 28 April royalists and Scots under Sir Marmaduke Langdale occupied Berwick, Carlisle fell on the 29th, and in mid-May the county of Kent erupted, royalists and ex-parliamentarians co-operating to take several places, including Rochester and Dartford. The fleet in the Downs mutinied against its Indepenedent commanders. Sir Thomas Fairfax was in a difficult position, having only the New Model with which to cope with all theatres of war, and facing imminent Scottish invasion in support of the rebels. In his favour was the lack of coordination amongst the enemy—the insurrection in Wales appears to have been inordinately premature. Cromwell was sent at once into South Wales, whilst the major New Model garrisons were Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford and Gloucester, with field forces of small size in North Wales, Yorkshire and Cheshire. The revolt in Wales soon collapsed: Rowland Laugharne, a former parliamentarian commander, was defeated at St Fagan's, Tenby and Chepstow Castles fell, and by the end of May 1648 Cromwell lay before Pembroke.
On 27 May Fairfax advanced into Kent, on the 30th came to Eltham, and then moved towards Maidstone garrisoned by the earl of Norwich, a royalist, with perhaps 11,000 variously disposed in and around it. The bulk of these, however, were ill-armed, and on 1 June Fairfax brushed aside forces at Farleigh Bridge and moved on the town. The New Model vanguard was precipitate, and brought on a general engagement immediately, causing Norwich to abandon the town and most of his army after bitter fighting. The royalists pushed on to Blackheath and took Bow Bridge into London, but the city remained firm under Philip Skippon. With barely 3,000 fighting men, the earl of Norwich crossed the Thames into Essex, to link up with local royalists who, on 4 June, had seized Colchester and its castle. Sir Charles Lucas, commanding the Essex rebels, was working side by side with Henry Farr, an ex-parliamentarian militia commander.
Detaching forces to reduce royalist garrisons in Kent, Fairfax crossed the Thames at Tilbury into Essex on 11 June, and moved in force on Colchester. Dissident elements of Farr's militia had managed to prevent the rebels from gaining control of the magazine at Braintree, but Lucas, reinforced by the earl of Norwich, had turned Colchester into a formidable obstacle. He met Fairfax's advance forces outside the town, and threw back three separate assaults from the New Model cavalry, whilst his infantry held their ground effectively. A party of New Model cavalry forced their way into the town, but were thrown back rapidly, whilst the successful royalist army withdrew inside the fortifications. Attempts at immediate storm proved costly and unavailing, and Fairfax withdrew to Lexden to plan a formal siege. The garrison clearly hoped for events elsewhere to make their resistance worth while: the Scottish invasion, which if it came would have to be contained by forces under Lambert in Yorkshire, and local risings in response to the events in Essex. Cromwell was more or less tied down in South Wales fighting the dogged Poyer, and for Fairfax it was
necessary to end the Colchester business rapidly so that he could move his troops wherever they might be most useful. The breakthrough came on 11 July, however, when Cromwell took Poyer's surrender at Pembroke, and could turn his forces northwards.
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