English Civil War Scarborough Castle

Scarborough Castle Walls

Scarborough Castle Walls

English Civil War Scarborough Castle

In September 1642, at the outbreak of the English Civil War (1642–1651), Sir Hugh Cholmley occupied the castle as a Parliamentarian loyal to Oliver Cromwell but swapped sides in March 1643.  The castle was refortified on Cholmley’s orders, including the establishment of the South Steel Battery for artillery.  After Cholmeley’s defection, Scarborough Castle, with its garrison of 700 Royalist soldiers, the town and its strategic supply port were on the side of Charles I. (reigned 1625–1649)

Scarborough North Bay from Castle

Scarborough North Bay from Castle

The Parliamentarians saw Scarborough as a valuable Royalist target because it was the only port not under their dominion.  On 18 February 1645, Sir John Meldrum took the town from the Royalists, cutting off any escape routes by land or sea and delivering the port for Parliament.  The same day, Cholmley retreated into the castle and refused to give in, so the Parliamentarians prepared for what would be a five-month siege – one of the most bloody of the Civil War, with almost continuous fighting.  The Parliamentary forces set up what was then the largest cannon in the country, the Cannon Royal, in the 12th-century St. Mary’s Church below the castle, and proceeded to fire 56–65 pounds (25–29 kg) cannonballs that pounded the castle’s defences.  In turn, the church was extensively damaged over the three days of fighting.  The bombardment partially destroyed the castle keep, but the outer walls were not breached.  The Parliamentary forces were unable to take the castle and there followed a period of particularly bloody hand-to-hand fighting around the barbican gateway in which Sir John Meldrum was killed.  By July the tide was turning in the Parliamentarians’ favour: bombardment, scurvy, lack of water, perhaps a shortage of gunpowder and the threat of starvation and only 25 men fit to fight meant that the castle surrendered on 25 July 1645.  Only about half of the original 500 defenders emerged alive.

Scarborough Castle Keep

Scarborough Castle Keep

Subsequently the castle was repaired and rearmed for Parliament with a company of 160. Matthew Boynton, the castle’s new governor, declared for the king on 27 July 1648 when the soldiers went unpaid.  This led to a second siege which brought the castle back under Parliamentary control on 19 December, when the garrison was defeated as much by the oncoming winter as by the Parliamentary forces.

The castle changed hands seven times between 1642 and 1648.

The castle was later used as a prison for those who were deemed to be enemies of the Commonwealth of England, the country’s brief period of republicanism; the shell of the keep survives, minus the west wall, which was destroyed in the bombardment. The castle was returned to the Crown following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.