Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Battle of Wigan Lane 1651

Sir Thomas Tyldesley 1612-1651 was slain at the Battle of Wigan Lane on Monday 25 August 1651. A monument to Sir Thomas was later erected on the spot by his former Cornet, Alexander Rigby. The battle was described by Ernest Broxap in The Great Civil War in Lancashire [FN1]:
It was a gallant company of royalists who rode out of Wigan that August afternoon to make their last stand for the King in Lancashire. In command was the Earl of Derby, the uncompromising enemy of the Parliament; and with him were Sir Thomas Tyldesley, the hero of many fights, the perfect exponent of all the cavalier virtues; Lord Widdrington, "one of the most goodly persons of that age, being near the head higher than most tall men, and a gentleman of the best and most ancient extraction"(1) ; Sir William Throgmorton, who had been Major-General in Newcastle's Yorkshire army; Colonel Boynton, some time Governor of Scarborough for the Parliament, and their chief instrument in the discovery of the Hothams' plot to betray Hull; with many others of equal bravery but of less note. Opposed to them were the stern, well disciplined cavalry of the Cromwellian army. The two forces were absolutely typical of the opposing armies of the Civil War. It is said that when Lilburne's men saw that they must fight they turned on the country people who had come out to see their march and dispersed them with harsh words.

The two forces were nearly equal in cavalry, for the Earl of Derby had by now 600, and Lilburne his own regiment, which would be 600 if the ranks were full; and Lilburne also had about 60 horse and dragoons which Birch had mounted for him from the Liverpool garrison. The royalists were superior in foot, having 800 to the Cromwellians 300; but the advantage was not so great as it appeared, for the Manxmen whom Derby had brought over with him were poor fighters; and moreover the battle was essentially a cavalry engagement, in which infantry played only a subordinate part. Wigan Lane was then a broad sandy lane bordered by hedges, and was thus as unsuitable a position for manoeuvring cavalry as could be imagined; but the time was too short for Lilburne to choose any other ground. Placing his musketeers behind the hedges, he awaited the royalist onset. The place had other memories for him, and perhaps for some of his men; for it was here that he had driven in Hamilton's rearguard in the campaign of 1648.
Difficult as the ground was, the combat which ensued was the fiercest of all the 10 years fighting in Lancashire. So furious was the royalist charge that they drove back the Cromwellians far along the lane. In the confined space no manoeuvring was possible, and for nearly an hour the cavalry fought at close quarters. At length at the third charge Lilburne brought up a small reserve, and the superior steadiness of the veterans of the new Model prevailed over the impetuous bravery of the cavaliers. The royalists wavered and began to give ground; Widdrington fell dead, Tyldesley was unhorsed and shot down as he attempted to extricate himself from the press, Derby himself was wounded, and Lilburne's men chased the now broken royalist squadrons down the hill into Wigan. The pursuit and slaughter continued through the streets and town. The rout was complete; Throgmorton and Boynton were also among the slain which numbered 300; 400 prisoners were taken, and the rest of the force melted away. In an hour the hopes of the royalists in Lancashire had been destroyed.
The Earl of Derby, who had fought with his accustomed bravery, was surrounded by six of his men and succeeded in reaching the town, where he slipped in through an open door of a house in the Market Place and lay concealed until nightfall. He had a number of slight wounds about the arms and shoulders, and his beaver which he wore over a steel cap was picked up afterwards in the Lane with thirteen sword cuts upon it. In the middle of the night he left his place of refuge disguised in a trooper's old coat, and accompanied only by Colonel Roscarrock and two servants, made his way out of the town and rode away to join the King.

1. The Great Civil War in Lancashire, Ernest Broxap, 1973 (2nd edition)