The Civil War in Wales (Kindle)
The Scouring of the Nation
The Civil Wars of the seventeenth century had a devastating effect upon Wales and the Marches, stripping the country of its human resources and ruining whole communities. This book explores the years of conflict between 1642 and 1649, detailing the campaigns, sieges and battles which took place in every corner of the country, presenting information from a wide variety of sources to paint a wide-ranging picture of the nation at a significant turning point in its history.
The Civil War in Wales by Terry John is a well-structured comprehensive history of the Civil War as it affected Wales. Note my slight adjustment at the end of that sentence. The book doesn’t just cover what happened in Wales, it also covers Chester and the movement of Welsh armies in England.NetGalley, Colin Edwards
The book gave me fresh insights into the war. There were very few people, other than the upper classes, who probably cared enough to want to fight on either side. The majority of foot soldiers were effectively pressed into fighting as counties were told to provide a fixed number of men. They didn’t want to fight; were scared; and were happy to run away if the chance arose. (I would definitely have been in that cohort.) Quite often, they would turn up for a campaign using whatever they had as a weapon, e.g. pitchforks, cudgels and scythes.
It’s fair to say the majority of the Welsh were not in favour of the war. Sir Thomas Dabridgecourt wrote to Prince Rupert, “[…] if your Highness shall be pleased to command me to the Turk, or Jew, or Gentile, I will go on my bare feet to serve you; but from the Welsh, good lord deliver me.” The people wanted to provide neither men nor money but both Charles and Parliament needed money to continue. John occasionally gives us some details of the pay that was owed to the soldiers. It’s quite staggering that some mounted Parliamentary troops were owed 43 weeks pay in 1647.
The book handles the flows of people across geography and over time as well as it can. It’s not easy to discuss how Colonel X’s army marched from Wales into Cheshire, down to Shropshire and back again during 1642-1643, say. John structure the book into a chapter per year and then geographical sections within each chapter, e.g. Chester, January and February; North Wales, January to December; and sometimes specific towns, if he wants to focus on a particular siege or battle.
The final chapter, looking at the aftermath of the war, is excellent. Because so many animals had been taken to feed troops on both sides, it took years for the numbers of cattle and sheep to creep back to pre-war levels. Castles, houses (big and small) were either demolished or at least slighted. The destruction of a castle or manor meant unemployment for maids, grooms, stewards, carpenters, etc.. That, combined with the number of injured soldiers, placed a huge strain upon parish resources. The better-off, who would normally contribute to those resources, had themselves seen a drop in income and/or wealth. I can see why John states that the effects of the war on Wales lasted well into the eighteenth century.
This is definitely a book to which I shall return.