Penruddock’s Uprising

The Royalist uprising led by Colonel John Penruddock and Sir Joseph Wagstaffe against the government of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell sought to proclaim Charles II as king and restore monarchy in England. The Royalists briefly held Salisbury, England, before moving westward, where they were defeated by government forces; Penruddock and fourteen others were subsequently executed. This episode led directly to the creation of the twelve military districts in England controlled by the major-generals.

Summary of Event

Penruddock’s Uprising was planned to be one of a series of regional uprisings designed to overthrow the government of Oliver Cromwell Cromwell, Oliver;Protectorate and (the Protectorate) and restore Charles II Charles II (king of England);Restoration of to the throne of England. A group of Royalist Royalists nobles known as the Sealed Knot Sealed Knot plotted and maintained contact with Charles and the exiled Royalists in Europe. Originally, foreign assistance from Scotland and Europe was sought, but Penruddock’s Uprising and the other actions planned to occur simultaneously on a national scale were to be perpetrated by English Royalists alone. Because of international developments, Charles could offer English Royalists no French or Spanish troops to support their efforts. [kw]Penruddock’s Uprising (Mar. 12-14, 1655)
[kw]Uprising, Penruddock’s (Mar. 12-14, 1655)
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Mar. 12-14, 1655: Penruddock’s Uprising[1830]
England;Mar. 12-14, 1655: Penruddock’s Uprising[1830]
Penruddock’s Uprising (1655)[Penruddocks Uprising (1655)]

The defeat of young Charles at Worcester (1651) Worcester, Battle of (1651) and his subsequent flight into continental exile had not been accepted by Royalists as a final defeat, and they had continued plotting. Although plagued by jealousies and divisions within their ranks, slow communication due to fear of discovery, and penetration of the Sealed Knot by Cromwell’s spymaster, Secretary of State John Thurloe, Thurloe, John the Royalists had set February 6, 1655, as the date for a series of uprisings throughout northern England (Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Lincolnshire), Wales and the vicinity (Liverpool and Shrewsbury), and southern and western England (Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Cornwall).

In December, 1654, because of information gathered by Thurloe, the Protectorate recalled troops to reinforce London, and in January-February, 1655, a number of Royalists who had been gathering weapons were arrested. Some plotters believed it best to abandon the enterprise, while other bolder men, referred to by historians as the “Action Party,” sought merely to postpone it one week until February 13, 1655. The latter faction managed to procure Charles’s assent; however, the messenger carrying this news did not reach England until February 14, 1655, and he was then held in Dover Castle until February 22, 1655. On February 12, 1655, the Protectorate banned horse races (which were often a convenient cover for Royalist gatherings), seized all horses within the vicinity of London, collected all caches of gunpowder, and stepped up patrols around London significantly. February 13, 1655, came and went with no Royalist uprisings.

Despite government vigilance, some Royalist plotters of the Action Party Action Party pressed ahead and rescheduled the uprisings for Thursday, March 8, 1655. Charles sent a close associate, Henry Wilmot, first earl of Rochester, Rochester, first earl of along with Sir Joseph Wagstaffe Wagstaffe, Sir Joseph to coordinate the uprisings; Charles also moved from Cologne to Middleburg, on the coast of Flanders, to be ready to sail to England should the uprisings be successful. On March 8, 1655, the Royalists managed only feeble efforts—the government had arrested a number of conspirators, some had fled, and others did nothing. A proposed attack on York to be led by Rochester aroused only one hundred Royalists, who quickly dispersed after gathering. Rochester eventually escaped to Europe. Planned attacks on Newcastle, Chester, Shrewsbury, and Nottinghamshire and along the Welsh border were prevented by the mere presence of freshly arrived government troops or timely arrests of Royalist leaders.

Thus, the only Royalist group to rise up was the one that coalesced in Wiltshire, near Salisbury, early on Monday morning, March 12, 1655. Led by Colonel John Penruddock Penruddock, John and Sir Joseph Wagstaffe, about two hundred men took control of the marketplace and opened the jail to gain reinforcements and confiscated horses. They took the sheriff, Colonel John Dove, Dove, John hostage, and the now four hundred rebels rode off to nearby towns to proclaim Charles II king and to enlist additional recruits. On Tuesday morning, March 13, 1655, the Royalists set Dove free, and it became apparent that hoped-for Royalist support from Dorset had not materialized.

News of the rising had reached Cromwell on Monday night, March 12, 1655, and he ordered Major-General John Desborough Desborough, John to put it down. Major-General William Boteler, Boteler, William in Bristol, had received news of the rising and marched toward Salisbury and Shaftesbury, where he awaited Desborough’s forces. Penruddock, Wagstaffe, and their men moved further west with a government cavalry unit from Exeter in hot pursuit. The Parliamentary cavalry caught them at the village of South Molton in Devonshire on Wednesday, March 14, 1655, and after a street battle of several hours, the Royalists either fled or were captured. Penruddock surrendered, but Wagstaffe escaped and eventually made his way overseas.

Desborough sent a letter to Thurloe noting that 139 men were jailed in Exeter and that some lower ranking Royalists had not even been jailed. The breakdown of prisoners according to social status revealed forty-three gentlemen and officers, eight yeomen, nineteen husbandmen, ten servants, two innkeepers, and fifty-seven small craftsmen. Cromwell allowed trial by jury and only about one third were tried. Of the thirty-nine men condemned to death, only fourteen or fifteen were executed, including Penruddock; a number of others, perhaps as many as seventy, were transported to Barbados as punishment.


Reasons adduced for the uprising’s failure include the strength of the Protectorate’s troops, the government’s intelligence on Royalist activities, division among the Royalists, continual postponements of the uprising, lack of finances, lack of support from the great Royalist nobles, failure to mobilize the full Royalist strength, inability to engender widespread popular support by tapping into broader political, financial, social, and religious grievances, which many had against the regime, and not seeking to ally with other disaffected groups, such as radical Levellers and the Fifth Monarchy Men. It has been noted by historians that many Royalists knew of the uprisings planned for 1655 and kept the secret; however, only a few would engage in active plotting and fewer still would actively participate in the actions they had plotted. Such was the respect for and fear of the government’s power and the reluctance to risk lives and fortunes.

The immediate result of the uprising was the division of England into twelve military districts, or associations, each headed by a major-general. A decimation tax of 10 percent was assessed on Royalist property. The rule of the major-generals was to provide greater security for the government and introduce godly Puritan reforms. Desborough was appointed major-general of the west. Taxation;England

Such a heavy-handed military government was extremely unpopular and never worked effectively with local leaders, and the decimation tax was a severe burden for the Royalists. This situation caused a very strong animosity toward standing armies, which became an important feature of English politics for many years afterward. When a taxation measure needed to continue the system of major-generals was defeated in Parliament in January, 1657, the system of major-generals slowly came undone. The attempt to introduce godly Puritan reform was not successful and helped create the view of Puritans as killjoys and people who meddled in people’s private lives.

Further Reading

  • Button, Andrea. “Penruddock’s Rising, 1655.” Southern History 19 (1997). An article updating earlier treatments of the episode.
  • Durston, Christopher. Cromwell’s Major-Generals: Godly Government During the English Revolution. New York: Manchester University Press, 2001. Delineates the formation of the policy to create the military districts governed by major-generals that resulted from Penruddock’s Uprising.
  • Gardiner, S. R. 1653-1655. Vol. 3 in History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate. London: Longmans, Green, 1903. Reprint. Gloucestershire, England: Windrush Press, 1989. Chapters 38 and 39 give a detailed account of Royalist plotting against Cromwell’s government and of Penruddock’s Uprising.
  • Hardacre, Paul. The Royalists in the Puritan Revolution. The Hague, the Netherlands: Nijhoff, 1955. One of the first comprehensive studies of Royalist attitudes and activities, this work places Royalist plotting and Penruddock’s Uprising within a broader context as it investigates the Royalists in England and in exile.
  • Underdown, David. Royalist Conspiracy in England, 1649-1660. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960. Reprint. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1971. Underdown places the uprising within the context of Royalist attempts to restore monarchy. Chapter 7 offers a detailed description of the 1655 uprisings.
  • Woolrych, Austin H. Penruddock’s Rising 1655. London: The Historical Association, 1955. This short pamphlet offers an excellent treatment of the subject.

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