Battle of Maidstone

Maidstone, East Farleigh Bridge

Maidstone, East Farleigh Bridge

Towards the end of May, 1648, with Charles I imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, with the threat of invasion from the Scottish Engagers coming South, and Cromwell having to quash an uprising in Wales, the New Model Army was divided in two. Many accompanied Cromwell to take care of Wales, and the remainder under command of Sir Thomas Fairfax were to march North to head off the Scottish attack.

Plans changed abruptly when small pockets of Royalist supporters rose in support of the King, fearing the New Model Army and demanding their removal, with the reinstatement of Charles. This rebellion was assisted and gained momentum and support when ships crews under Cromwell, moored off Dover split and declared for the King. Bolstered by local support around Kent, they quickly took major towns, including Gravesend and Rochester, and Dover Castle.
Fairfax changed his plans, and on hearing the rebels were congregating near Maidstone under the Earl of Norwich, ready to march on London, abandoned the defence from the Engagers, and set off on May 27th with 8000 of his Parliamentarian veterans to stop the Royalist uprising, leaving remaining forces under Major Skippon to go to London, and barricade themselves inside the city walls to defend the Capital, and Colonel Barnstead moving to defend Southwark to the South.

Norwich, with his untrained band of “Cavaliers, citizens, seamen and watermen” reached the outskirts of Maidstone on the 29th, and around 3000 set about barricading themselves around the town, whilst the Earl divided his remaining 7000 men into key areas outside of the town. Fairfax reached the outskirts of Maidstone at around four o clock in the afternoon on 1st June, but instead of marching straight into the town, he circled his man around the perimeter, away from the rebel stronghold, and after crossing the Medway unchallenged, laid plans, which in the end never came to be used, to attack the next day. That evening in a thunderstorm and torrential downpour, an advance guard came under attack from the rebel forces, and Fairfax chose to retaliate by driving straight through the middle, head-on into the main town centre.

Maidstone Memorial

Maidstone Memorial

Despite initial surprise resistance from the considerably weaker Royalist supporters, Fairfax and his men soon had them on the defensive, taking first one barricade and then another, pushing the small hotch-potch army ever backwards, until they were backed up into the Churchyard of St Faith’s Chapel. Around 300 Royalist supporters met their end in this final defence. After securing their victory a little after midnight, Fairfax, with the loss of only 80 men was taken by surprise when the Chapel doors opened and around 1000 Royalists emerged to offer their surrender. Fairfax allowed these men to return to their homes, in exchange for no further participation in rebel activity.

Norwich meanwhile escaped with around 3000 of his force to attempt London before Fairfax could send word. The rest of his army dissipated quickly and quietly, no doubt aware of their good fortune in being spared death or imprisonment, however as the reduced force neared Blackheath, it became obvious that the gates of the city were closed to them and Major Skippon with a force to defend their attack, most of the remaining rebels fled, and left Norfolk with a small group of around 500 die-hard supporters who re-routed to Chelmsford.

Phoebe