Sunday, 3 March 2013

Civil War in Kent, 1643

By July 1643 England was 11 months into an increasingly bitter civil war between the supporters of King Charles I (the Royalists), and Parliament (the Roundheads). In some cases this pitched brother against brother, but as a very rough approximation, the cities favoured Parliament, and the countryside the King. This was the case in Kent, mainly Royalist, but next to the huge Roundhead stronghold of London.

Kent was important for three reasons, as a source of Royalist troops, for communications to Dover and the Continent, but also for the Wealden iron working industry. It's hard to see today, but the Weald, an area of about 500 sq miles in Kent and Sussex, was a major source of iron as it had the ore easily available, and trees to provide charcoal. The whole area was dotted with furnaces, and many of the cannon and cannon balls used in the Civil War came from there. The village of Horsemonden, for example, had a furnace employing over 200 men, supplying cannon to the army and navy (and both sides in the Civil War!).

Of course, all this iron had to be moved around, and to get it to London much was shipped along the river Medway. This trade had been become so important that the navigable length of the river had been increased in the 1630s as far as Yalding, although material still had to be transhipped to get past Aylesford bridge downstream. So far therefore the little village of Yalding had mainly experienced the economic benefits of the war - it was about to experience the war at first hand.

The July Expedition into Kent

In July 1643 Parliament in London sent as expedition into Kent, and their report back can be found online at .

 Richard Browne (abt 1648)

Approximately 4,000 men, mainly from around Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Faversham had assembled at Sevenoaks and to quell the "insurrection" London sent 1,800 troops and two troops of Horse, led by Colonel Richard Browne. Even the offical report admits they were joined by few ("but valiant") Gentlemen of Kent. After a failed negotiation at Sevenoaks, the Royalists retreated towards Tonbridge, where on July 24th they made a stand. As the Roundheads approached they found themselves under sniper fire...

"the Londoneres following them; who when they came within two miles of the Towne, heard Muskets goe off, and the bullets flie about their eares, but saw no enemy, for they had hid themselves in the Woods and Hedges, whereupon the Parliament Forces made severall shot at the Woods and Hedges which frighted them away".

The Royalists now formed up in regular formation in front of the town, near Hilden bridge. After they failed to drive them off by cannon fire ("they discharged a little Drake or two, but to little purpose") the Roundheads under Colonel Browne resorted to musket fire, and although it took a "very hot fight", soon the Royalists broke and fled into Tonbridge, where 200 were captured. The rest fled along the line of the Medway to Yalding, pursed by the Parliamentarian cavalry, "and good execution was done upon them".

At Yalding (Yawling in the text) the surviving Royalists, approximately 600 now, again made a stand. The Roundhead commander, Sir Miles Levesey, surveyed the scene and

"drew such forces of horse and foote as he had together, and planting his Ordnance for battering the Towne, drew neere himselfe with his power. His Ordnance were so planted, that hee might have beate the Towne upon the enemies heads, but being unwilling so to doe, if by treaty he could bring them to accord; hee summoned them, promising they should enjoy the benefit of the Parliaments Declaration, if they would submit and lay downe Armes."

Levesey's artillery set up on Burgess Bank, across the river from Yalding church, and despite his claim to have spared the town, at least a few cannon balls have been found in the Royalist positions. Initially the Royalists refused to surrender, but some slipped away as night fell, and next morning Levesey sent a Master Godfery to negotiate. Outgunned, outclassed and outnumbered, 300 of the Royalists fled and the rest surrendered, .

Participants and forces


An account from the Parliamentarian tax collector in the area, Thomas Weller of Tonbridge, describing his (very personal!) version of the lead up to the battles here can be found at

The Parliamentary expedition consisted of 1,800 men and two troops of horse. The vast majority of the Parliamentarian troops seem to have been Londoners, probably from the London Trained Bands. Trained Bands were militia, technically part time soldiers, but those from London were some of the best troops available in 1643, well equipped and trained by professional soldiers. With the onset of war 6 regiments had been formed, distinguished by their colour of their flags: Red, White, Yellow, Green, Blue and Orange.

Richard Browne was Colonel of the Dragoons of the London Trained Bands, and senior Captain of the Orange regiment. It seems likely therefore that the troops were at least in part from the Orange regiment, and the Horse were dragoons. The year after the events described here Browne was made Serjeant Major General of the Counties of Oxon, Berks, and Bucks and by 1649 he was Sheriff of the City of London. However, he became disillusioned with Cromwell's Protectorate and he was one of those who welcomed back Charles II, eventually resulting in his being awarded a baronet in 1660.

Sir Miles Levesey seems to have been more Kent based. In 1644 he is recorded bringing a regiment of horse from the county to assist the siege of Arundel Castle and in 1648 he won a battle at Kingsdon against the Duke of Buckingham. In 1649 he seems to have been in charge of the forces in Kent, as it was he who was ordered by Parliament to disband most of the military there.


Despite the attempts of Weller, especially, to portray the Royalists as bandits, some at least seem to have stood up well to the London Trained bands, and to have been equipped and trained as a proper army. Levesey captured at Yalding..

 "a good quantity of Muskets, gilt Swords, Pistols, Pikes, and Collivers, enough to arme six hundred men, besides seveteene pieces of Ordnance mounted, and as many dismounted, many barrels of Gunpowder, and foote Colours, he tooke one hundred and fifty good horse, besides those conveyed away, but since disclosed."

There seem to have been no cavalry, or if there were, they didn't hang around to protect the army after Tonbridge. There was also no clear commander, which was probably part of the problem. One of those who took part was Thomas Farnaby, scholar and former solider in the Low Countries. He was captured later and imprisoned in Newgate prison, but released in 1645.

This was more or less the end of military activity in Kent in the Civil War, until the great revolt of 1648, but that's another story.

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