Redshanks and the Colchester Siege


Flag_of_Ulster.svgBy November 1688, Enniskillen and Derry were the two garrisons in Ulster that were not wholly loyal to King James. The elderly Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim, was ordered to replace them with a more trustworthy force – about 1,200 Scottish Catholic “Redshanks” then set out for Derry. On 7 December, with the army a short distance away, thirteen apprentice boys seized the city keys and locked the gates…

Forty years prior…

The siege of Colchester occurred in the summer of 1648 when the English Civil War reignited in several areas of Britain. Colchester found itself in the thick of the unrest when a Royalist army on its way through East Anglia to raise support for the King, was attacked by Lord-General Thomas Fairfax at the head of a Parliamentary force. The initial Parliamentary attack forced the Royalist army to retreat behind the town’s walls but was unable to bring about victory, so settled down to a siege. Despite the horrors of the siege, the Royalists resisted for eleven weeks and only surrendered following the defeat of the Royalist army in the North of England at the Battle of Preston (1648).
On 21 May 1648 the county of Kent rose in revolt against Parliament. Lord-General Fairfax led Parliamentary forces to Maidstone and on 1 June recaptured the town. Remnants of the Royalist forces commanded by the Earl of Norwich fled the county to join the revolt in Essex.
On 4 June the Essex County Parliamentary committee in Chelmsford was taken prisoner by a riotous crowd. Colonel Henry Farre and some of the Essex Trained Bands declared themselves in support of the King. Sir Charles Lucas took command of the Essex regiment and on 9 June he was joined by the Earl of Norwich, Lord Capel, Lord Loughborough, Sir George Lisle and about 500 of the Royalist soldiers from Kent. The next day Lucas marched with what was now a total force of around 4,000 troops to Braintree where the county magazine was located. Meanwhile, however, Sir Thomas Honywood, a member of the Essex county committee, had secured the weapons with the northern Essex Trained Bands, who had remained loyal to Parliament. Lucas continued to Colchester, arriving on 12 June, where he intended to raise more troops before continuing to Suffolk and then Norfolk, hopefully to raise those counties in support of the King.
Fairfax and his Parliamentary forces from Kent and the Essex forces under Sir Thomas Honywood were joined outside Colchester by Colonel John Barkstead’s Infantry Brigade from London on 13 June. In total, Fairfax now had more than 5,000 experienced troops and over one thousand cavalry. He decided to re-use the same tactics as he had recently employed against the Royalists in Maidstone by launching an immediate and full-scale assault.

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