On Saturday, while we were in town, we went to watch a display by the Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne’s Regiment of Foote, part of the Sealed Knott Society, based around the Battle of Wigan Lane,which took place on 25 August 1651, during the third phase of the Civil War. It wasn’t a major battle, but the outcome was significant. The Parliamentarians led by Robert Lilburne, the older brother of John, one of the leaders of the Levellers, defeated a force of Royalists under the Earl Of Derby. According to the BBC History website:
In August 1651, King Charles II arrived in Worcester with a mostly Scottish army and summoned all royalists to join him against the new republican government of Oliver Cromwell. The Earl of Derby raised about 1,500 royalists in Lancashire and the Isle of Man and set off south.
The Earl was met at Wigan on 25 August by the parliamentarian army of Robert Lilburne, who had about 600 infantry and 60 dragoons, but who was expecting another 3,000 men to arrive very soon……..
……….. The defeat of the royalists at the battle of Wigan Lane cut off the supply of volunteers going to join Charles II at Worcester and ensured that he would be heavily outnumbered when confronted by Cromwell a few days later. And indeed on 3 September Charles was crushingly defeated.
The Earl of Derby was wounded, but escaped. His major General, a member of the local gentry, Sir Thomas Tyldesley, was captured and executed. A monument in his memory was erected on Wigan Lane in 1679, and still stands today on the corner of Monument Road.
So, on Saturday Wigan was “invaded” by a small force of Parliamentarians who occupied the lawns on The Weind
marched behind the drums onto the old Market Place
demonstrated their pike drill
the use of their muskets
(there were even musketeers stationed on top of the tower of the Parish Church)
and mingled with the crowd, answering questions about the Civil War, the troops, their costumes and their weapons.
The event climaxed with a skirmish between a small force of Parliamentarians and a group of Royalists on the piazza in front of the new Wigan Life Centre
The Roundheads, led by Colonel Robert Lilburne,
were victorious, and Sir Thomas Tyldesley was captured
and then executed by firing squad.
The victorious Parliamentary forces then marched off the battlefield
During the Civil War Lancashire was very much a rural backwater under the dominance of the feudal lords who formed the backbone of the King’s supporters. There were some towns, like Bolton, which were Parliamentary strongholds, but Wigan was stoutly Royalist and the town’s motto – “Ancient and Loyal” – was allegedly awarded by the king in recognition of this support. Despite this Wigan was the home town of Gerard Winstanley, leader of the Diggers one of the most radical movements to emerge during the Civil War. Today, the popular sentiment is pro-Royalists, based on a simplistic, romantic admiration of the “Cavaliers”. And that was reflected by some cheers amongst the crowd for the Royalists .
Personally, my sympathies lie unreservedly with the “Roundheads” and the Levellers, the radicals in the New Model Army, led by men like John Lilburne (Robert’s Brother) and Thomas Rainsborough, and the Diggers. No “divine right of kings” for me, where everyone knows their place and thanks God for it. Without the victory of the parliamentary forces, England, and Britain, would have remained a feudal backwater. And the Levellers and Diggers are part of a true radical tradition that laid the foundation of the democratic rights we hold so dear today.
“I desire that those that had engaged in it should speak, for really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”
Thomas Rainsborough, at the Putney Debates October 1647
“Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?”
Gerrard Winstanley The New Law of Righteousness, 1649