Battle of Maidstone
Though Parliament controlled the country by 1648, major pockets of Royalist sympathisers remained, and with the very real threat of invasion from Scotland diverting Roundhead energies and thoughts towards the North, it took little to ignite the fires of an uprising in pro-Royal Kent. The spark in this case was a petition by local gentry for the return of the King to power, and for the standing down of the feared New Model Army.
In mid-May 1648 these same Kent gentry, their wishes spurned by the authorities in the county, rose, seizing strategic towns and fortifications throughout the area: Dartford , Deptford , Walmer, Deal and Sandown all fell rapidly, the last three under threat of fire from the sea after a mutiny in the Parliamentary fleet.
Faced with the possible reinforcement of the rebellion by Surrey and Essex , Parliament rapidly sent Fairfax with 8,000 men to counter the Kentish army headed by the Earl of Norwich. Fairfax left London and bypassed Rochester and Aylesford , where part of the rebel forces had been garrisoned, Rochester in particular seen as a stronghold likely to provide serious resistance and delay his force should he attack it. He headed for Maidstone, where Norwich placed 3,000 soldiers in the town, and mustered his main force of 7,000 outside.
It is tempting to highlight the relative ease with which Fairfax won the day at Maidstone, his force of tried and tested fighters inevitably overwhelming the untrained men before them, but those who had the courage to remain fought bravely, only ceding ground street by street, yard by yard once Fairfax had committed his full force. Until the evening of June 1 Fairfax, having turned Norwich's field force to open the way to Maidstone itself, intended to wait for the following day to take the town. Events intervened, however, light skirmishes by advanced guards in the outskirts developing into serious fighting until he determined it was sensible to push on that same night and finish the thing then and there if possible.
The Royalists in the town fought hard, defending barricades and using artillery to good effect. Eventually they retreated to Gabriel's Hill, then back up Week Street, finally making a stand in the churchyard of St Faiths , where they kept up their resistance until past midnight. Some 300 Royalists died, 1400 being taken prisoner. Fairfax lost just 80, a testament to the professionalism and prowess of the Parliamentary army. Their last attack, according to legend, was a brilliantly timed one, a charge being made immediately the Royalist cannon had fired, reaching the rebels before another cannonade could be made.
Norwich escaped with a decent sized force, but this dwindled quickly when it became clear London would not welcome the rebels. Norwich and just a few hundred loyal men reached Essex to support efforts there. The Kent forts seized by the Royalists were re-taken, though Deal did not fall until late August, and Sandown held out until early September
More famous dates here
8416 views since 1st March 2007
On this day: