Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28, 1644 – Parliamentarian Army Captured at Bolton

At the height of the English Civil War, the Royalist army led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine came across a disordered Parliamentarian army in retreat from the Siege of Lathom House and conquered it at Bolton in Lancashire. The battle had been almost accidental. When the Parliamentarians received news about the fall of Stockport, they left their siege and fell back to the strong Calvinist town of Bolton, nicknamed the “Geneva of the North.” A small force from Rupert’s army arrived at Bolton to secure it, and there they found the Parliamentarians still arriving. Taking advantage of the confusion and the darkness in the heavy rain, Rupert created a ring around the town and demanded surrender. With some of their troops still on the outside and communication broken, Colonel Alexander Rigby acknowledged defeat, giving up his army of approximately 4,000 as prisoners.

While historically criticized for not taking the town outright, Rupert would be lauded for his finesse at taking advantage of a military situation. Twenty-two years old at the time, Rupert had faced a problematic young life. Born in Prague in 1619 in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, he was a younger son of Frederick V (ruler of the Palatinate and a leading Protestant in the Holy Roman Empire) and Elizabeth Stuart, sister of King Charles I of England. The war turned against Frederick, and he was exiled from his kingdom, taking his family to The Hague for safety. Rupert grew from a precocious boy (nicknamed “The Devil”) to a brilliant and dashing 6 foot, four inch prince. Upon the death of his father while attempting to establish an alliance to reclaim his lost lands, Rupert was taken under the care of his uncle in England and soon became a cavalry leader. When captured while fighting in Westphalia, Jesuit priests were dispatched to convert him to Catholicism, but Rupert remained stoutly Calvinist.

Upon his release, Rupert was offered a command by Emperor Ferdinand III, but he declined and returned to England, where he would soon be taken up as a fighter in his uncle’s war against the Parliament. He was exceptionally skilled in command, particularly in quick troop movements but was notorious for arguing diplomatically with other commanders, especially when right. At the beginning of the war, Rupert had advised a fast march on London, but other Royalist suggested a slower, stronger move, which would ultimately give Parliament ample time to make the defenses of London impregnable. Instead, Charles worked to secure the rest of his kingdom, and Rupert was dispatched to Lancashire, which had become solidly Parliamentarian due to the Earl of Derby’s attention being set on the Isle of Man and Baron Byron’s defeat at Nantwich.

Gathering up the Royalist armies of Derby and Byron, Rupert’s first major altercation was at Bolton, where he very may have well acted rashly with a charge but determined to work diplomatically with his enemies, if not his allies. The Capture of Bolton gave him great fame, and even the Parliamentarians begrudgingly respected him. Soon after, Rupert was able to lead a successful siege against Liverpool, securing the port to allow English troops to return from the Irish Rebellion after King Charles had made an armistice with the Confederation of Ireland. He was then charged to lift the siege at York, where he met with the Marquess of Newcastle and managed, struggling to remain diplomatic, to persuade him to attack the Parliamentarian forces quickly. On July 1, Rupert swept the numerically superior Parliamentarians from Marston Moor and inflicted great casualties, such as Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell, who was decapitated by a pistol shot.

Having secured the west and North of England, Charles gradually began to push south, but his troops were expensive and the war could not be won quickly despite Rupert’s encouragement. He ultimately learned his own lessons in diplomacy, making a treaty with the Scots with promises of church reform and gradually reabsorbing the Confederation of Ireland, politically maneuvering factions against one another. Meanwhile, Parliament’s troops began to desert or even switch sides due to lack of payment, and on January 30, 1649, Charles declared the Civil War ended from his throne in London.

Rupert had no claim to his father’s lands even after his brother Charles Louis eventually won them back, and so he continued to serve his uncle. Charles dispatched Rupert to the New World, where he would learn skills in the Navy to complement his mastery of cavalry. During the Anglo-Dutch Wars, Rupert worked to secure every Dutch colony he could for England, and Charles rewarded him with a governorship of Surinam (formerly Dutch Suriname). Rupert proved an able statesman and polymath as well as warrior, using his connections to build industry and science in the colony. Even to this day, the northern coast of South America is noted as one of the most economically powerful and culturally advanced places in the world, despite routine French attacks during the Absolutist Period of the 1700s.


In reality, Bolton turned into a massacre. Rupert charged his army into the largely unassembled Parliamentarian force, being initially repelled but keeping up the attack until he overwhelmed them. Because the battle inside the town was not formally declared a siege, rules of war defending civilians and property were not in place, and, despite the victory with 1,600 enemies slain, Bolton would be a key example of the Parliamentarian stand against Royalist cruelty. Ultimately, the Parliamentarian cause would win against the autocracy of Charles I, who would be executed for treason in 1649. Rupert, though a genius in combat, administration, and invention, would change careers often as he faced many setbacks through life.

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