Siege of Gloucester
The Siege of Gloucester was an engagement in the First English Civil War. It took place between 10 August and 5 September 1643, between the defending Parliamentarian garrison of Gloucester and the besieging army of King Charles I. The siege ended with the arrival of a relieving Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex. The Royalist forces withdrew, having sustained heavy casualties and had several cannons disabled as a result of sallies made by the defenders.
|Siege of Gloucester|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Colonel Edward Massey|
1,500 regular troops|
unknown local militia later 15,000 reinforcements
|Casualties and losses|
|3,000+ killed or wounded||50 killed or wounded|
The siege took place after a run of Royalist successes, known as the "Royalist summer". After the fall of Cirencester, Gloucester was one of the few remaining Parliamentarian strongholds in the west. During a council of war at Bristol, the King faced a decision to either attack a weakened London, or to consolidate the South Western Royalist stronghold by attacking the small garrison at Gloucester. Although the reasons for his decision are not known, Gloucester's position cutting the overland route between Royalist-held Wales and Cornwall made it a favourable target, and with the city having only a very small garrison the King may have believed that Gloucester would fall quickly.
Five days before the arrival of the Royalist army the defenders had discovered they were to be attacked and messengers were sent to London to ask Parliament for assistance.
On 10 August, the Royalist army arrived at Gloucester and promptly demanded that Colonel Edward Massey surrender. Massey refused and Royalist forces began digging in and setting up artillery batteries around the south and east gates of the city and severed or diverted water pipes. The defenders burned houses and other obstacles outside the city walls. The bombardment of the city began.
However, over the next days, the defenders made several sallies from the gates, attacking and disabling Royalist artillery, taking prisoners and tools. Breaches in the wall were filled with cannon baskets and wool sacks. The Royalists made attempts to drain the city moat and fill it in at places.
As the siege was prolonged, the King requested his favourite, Prince Rupert, who was currently holding the newly captured port of Bristol, to acquire a newly built cannon from his friends and associates in the Low Countries. This was done post-haste and this huge cannon was shipped over to Bristol and escorted up the Severn Channel to Gloucester, to be positioned just outside the city walls (actually on the high wall of Llanthony Secunda priory in Hempsted), aimed at the cathedral itself.
Unfortunately for the King, his gunners had no experience of firing the brand new gun, especially one larger than they had ever used before, and, on its initial firing, the cannon exploded. With this failure and the excessive time spent trying to take Gloucester, the King had given Parliament enough time to gather huge London forces to march to its relief.
On 26 August the Earl of Essex left London with an army of 15,000 men to relieve the City. Meanwhile, the Royalist army began tunnelling to place a mine under the East Gate, but a sudden spell of bad weather flooded the tunnel, leaving enough time for the Earl of Essex to arrive and reinforce the city.
By the end of the siege, Massey had only three barrels of gunpowder left for the defence of the city.
With the Arrival of the Earl of Essex, the Royalists forces withdrew and began to march on towards London. They intercepted Essex's army at the First Battle of Newbury, but failed to destroy it. For the remainder of the war, Massey's force based in Gloucester continually threatened the lines of communication between Oxford, the King's wartime capital, and Wales and the West Country.
Following the return of Charles II to the throne, the king took his revenge upon the city by having its walls torn down. The foundations of the wall, however, are still visible in parts of the city today.
For centuries afterwards, the lifting of the siege was marked by an annual Gloucester Day. This died out in the nineteenth century but was reinstated in 2009.
The modern Gloucester Day has recently included a parade by the Mock Mayor of Barton, an office created after Barton was moved outside of the limits of the city following the restoration of Charles II.
- Whiting, J.R.S. Gloucester besieged: The story of a roundhead city 1640-1660. Gloucester: City Museum & Art Gallery, 1975. (2nd edition 1984)