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Bolton Massacre: Wikis


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The Bolton Massacre, sometimes recorded as the Storming of Bolton, was an episode in the English Civil War, on 28 May 1644, in which it was alleged that up to 1,600 of Bolton's defenders and citizens were slaughtered during and after its storm and capture by the Royalist forces under Prince Rupert of the Rhine.[1]



Before the start of the war there was social and economic tension between towns, which generally supported Parliament, and the landowning gentry and aristocracy who controlled the rural areas and mostly supported the King as Royalists. There was also a religious divide with some of the towns supporting dissenting Nonconformist movements. It was alleged that Bolton was known as the "Geneva of the North", a reference to the city in Switzerland which was a centre of Calvinism.

The major Royalist figure in the county of Lancashire was James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby. He was slow to take measures to secure the county in 1642 at the start of the civil war, and after setbacks in the following year (including two failed attempts to capture Bolton), he temporarily abandoned the contest in Lancashire to secure the other area in which he held major interests, the Isle of Man. The only threat to Parliamentarian control came from Cheshire to the south, where there was a Royalist force under John Byron, 1st Baron Byron. On 26 January 1644, Byron was defeated at the Battle of Nantwich by Parliamentarians under Sir William Brereton and Sir Thomas Fairfax, leaving the Parliamentarians temporarily in control of the area.


The Royalists had intended to send Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the King's nephew and foremost field commander, to the northwest to retrieve the situation early in 1644. The matter became more urgent when a combined Parliamentarian and Scottish Covenanter army laid siege to York, on 22 April. As Rupert lacked the force to proceed immediately to relieve York, it was agreed at a council of war in Oxford, the King's wartime capital, that he would first move into Lancashire to restore Royalist fortunes, use the Earl of Derby's influence to gather fresh recruits, and secure the port of Liverpool to allow communications with Royalist forces in Ireland.

Rupert, accompanied by the Earl of Derby, began marching north from Shrewsbury on 16 May. He added Byron's army to his own small force, giving him a total of 2,000 cavalry and 6,000 infantry. To cross the Mersey he had to secure crossings at either Warrington or Stockport. He chose the latter, and stormed it on 25 May.

The Parliamentarian forces in Lancashire had been besieging Lathom House. Hearing of the loss of Stockport, they retired to Bolton. Approaching the town, Rupert found the Parliamentarians still arriving in confusion, and attacked immediately.

The storming

The major Royalist source for the events is a "diary", which is probably not a contemporary account, but written by one of Rupert's entourage after the Civil Wars. It describes the capture of Bolton as follows:

"From Shrewsbury, þe P[rince] drew all the forces he could. and beat their way over þe Passe of Stopford [Stockport]. And upon that þe Enemy went from þe Siege of Latham [sic] and went to Bolton. Of wch his H[ighness] had no notice; and sent his [Quarter Master General] (Col[onel]: Tillyer) wth a Regmt of horse & foot to make Q[uar]ters there. Who found þe Enemy there before him, getting into qrs in disorder. Of wch sending þe P word, he marched wth the whole Army immediately thither. A River runs through þe Town, and þe Enemy having drawen a good line round the Town wth four or five thousand men in it and a Troop of horse under þe Command of one Shuttleworth. The P. attaqued þe Place, with Col: Ellises, Tillslyes and Warren's and [?] Regts which were all beaten off and of þe Ps Regt L[ieutenant]:C[olonel]: John Russell hurt, his Major a Prisoner & 300 men lost. So that there was but Col. Robert Broughton's Regt, who being commanded on by þe P enterd [sic] þe Town and took it. 700 got into þe Church and þe P gave them quarter.

[The next paragraph is an addition written on its side in the margin]
Which two latter [regiments] were beaten off and þe 2 former after entering þe Town were beaten out again. During þe time of þe Attaque they [the enemy] took a prisonr (an Irishman) and hung him up as an Irish papist. And after defended þe Town to þe Last wth great obstancacy [sic], ... so that a great slaughter was made of þe Enemy. [2]

Another Royalist account (the authorised Proceedings of His Majesty's Army in England under the command of His Highness Prince Rupert etc.) reads:

Upon the 28th of May the army marched towards Bolton, a large Country town in Lancashire, some 16 myles from Stopford [Stockport] as wee marched. mann'd likewise with 4,000 menn (as was informed), there the Prince intended to quarter that night, onely gates and highwayes fortified lightly, the rayne was so immoderate that it cost an howre or two dispute, but being impetuously stormed it was taken with the fall of 1,000 of the Enemy in the streetes and feilds, above 20 collours, 600 prisoners, 50 officers, 20 barrells of powder, match and armes a great quantity; [plunder of] the towne was the souldiers rewarde. [3]

The commander of the Parliamentarians at Bolton, Colonel Alexander Rigby, made his way to the Allied armies besieging York. Their commanders reported that Rigby stated that his forces at Bolton had consisted of:

...2,000 armed men and 1,500 clubmen, and [the Royalists] made a great slaughter of the defenders as the vulgar reports tell us; though Col. Rigby himself says that he conceives he lost not 200 men, nor 500 arms, the rest saving themselves by flight...


The storming was a particularly brutal episode in the Civil War and several factors may have contributed to the nature of the action.

Unlike a formal siege, usually preceded by parleys and often ended at some point by a negotiated surrender, Rupert appears to have attacked suddenly. He was in haste to gather forces for the relief of York and perhaps believed he could not afford to waste time in lengthy sieges. Also, by the account of his "diary", he learned that the Parliamentarians were in temporary disarray, and took advantage of their disorder. Without any possibility of negotiation, there was little protection from the "laws" or contemporary conventions of warfare, for any of the garrison who did not surrender or flee immediately.

To the extent that fighting took place in the streets of the town itself, the citizens would have been caught up in the fighting, whether or not they took up arms. From the second account above, it seems that the victorious troops were allowed to plunder the town as their reward, and no doubt some citizens would have died in the ensuing rapine.

Two of the Royalist regiments noted in the first account above (Warren's and Broughton's) were English regiments which had been sent to Ireland in 1641 in the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and returned to England as a result of the "cessation", or ceasefire negotiated there by the King. They had already committed several acts of indiscriminate killings on English soil such as the massacre at Barthomley Church. (Prince Rupert's own regiment, under the wounded Lieutenant Colonel Russell, was partially raised in Somerset. Tyldesley's regiment was recently recruited in Lancashire; little is known of Ellis's). [4] Although the "Irish" Royalist regiments were in fact English, they may have recruited locally in Ireland, though probably among Protestant communities. Nevertheless, Parliamentarians seem to have believed them to be Irish Catholics, which may explain their attitude towards them. The mistaken or deliberate hanging of one of their captured men (if indeed it took place) would have enraged the troops and also provided a pretext for many excesses.

Finally, there may indeed have been a vengeful spirit on the part of the Anglican Royalists (and perhaps even of some Catholics among them) towards the dissenting townspeople of Bolton. The Allied commanders at York played heavily on the threat represented by the "Popish gentry of Lancashire".

Effects and subsequent events

From Bolton, Rupert advanced on the port and city of Liverpool, capturing it on 11 June after five days' bombardment. Here, there was a formal siege declared, and no record of any wanton killing during or after the storming.

The only Parliamentarian foothold in Lancashire was now the city of Manchester, which was heavily defended, and would require a prolonged siege to capture it. Rupert now received a letter from King Charles, instructing him to hasten to the relief of York. Rupert took his army across the Pennines and relieved York on 1 July, but offered battle to the besieging armies the next day and was decisively defeated at Marston Moor, losing almost all his infantry and cannon. He withdrew into Lancashire, and subsequently went south to rejoin the King. Lord Byron was left to hold the northwest. On 19 August, Byron's cavalry were defeated by Parliamentarian forces at Ormskirk, and the Royalists abandoned Lancashire.

Bolton was recaptured, without any noteworthy fighting, in September. Parliamentarians under Sir John Meldrum recaptured Liverpool on 1 November, removing the last Royalist presence from Lancashire. (Meldrum spared the garrison, including soldiers returned from or recruited in Ireland, despite a Parliamentary ordinance which stated that they were to be executed.)

With the end of the Civil War brought about by the Parliamentarians' victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, Stanley, who had been present at the battle, travelled north. He captured near Nantwich and given quarter. Stanley was tried by court-martial at Chester on the 29 September and his quarter was disallowed and he was condemned to death. His appeal for a pardon was rejected, he escaped but was recaptured by Captain Hector Schofield and taken back to Bolton. Stanley spent his last hours at Ye Olde Man and Scythe public house before being beheaded in Churchgate on 15 October 1651.[5]


  1. ^ John Tincey, Marston Moor 1644: The Beginning Of The End: Osprey Publishing (March 11, 2003) ISBN 1-84176-334-9 p 33 "the `massacre at Bolton' became a staple of Parliamentarian propaganda"
  2. ^ Peter Young, "Marston Moor 1644:" p. 196
  3. ^ Peter Young, "Marston Moor 1644:" p. 193
  4. ^ Peter Young, "Marston Moor 1644:" p. 49
  5. ^


  • Young, Peter Marston Moor 1644: The Campaign and the Battle (Kineton: Roundwood, 1970) ISBN 1-900624-09-5
  • Warburton, Eliot Memoirs of Prince Rupert and the Cavaliers 2nd volume (London: 2003) ISBN 978-1-4212-4940-7
  • Royle, Trevor Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660 (London: Abacus, 2004) ISBN 0-349-11564-8

Further reading

  • Clarke, Allen: John o'God's Sending or The Lass at the "The Man and Scythe" Bolton Print Co. Ltd 1988 (originally published 1891) ISBN 1-871008-04-2
Fictional story written about the events of the Bolton Massacre

Coordinates: 53°34′42″N 2°25′48″W / 53.5784°N 2.4299°W / 53.5784; -2.4299



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