Parliamentary Generals in the 1640s - Sir John Merrick Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Parliamentary Generals in the 1640s - Sir John Merrick

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The son of Sir Francis Merrick, John Merrick was born in 1584. John was knighted in 1625 and was elected the Member of Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme on 25 March, 1640, then elected to the Long Parliament on 13 October the same year. When the Civil War of 1642 - 1646 broke out, Sir John was appointed Sergeant-Major-General in the Parliamentary Army commanded by the Earl of Essex.

He commanded his own infantry regiment, Sir John Merrick's Foot, which first saw action at Edgehill. After the Battle of Stratton, he was appointed general of the Artillery, leading them at the Battles of Gloucester and Newbury. He married twice before his death in 1659 and his first marriage with Alice Fitton of Gawsworth produced a son and two daughters. His second wife, the widow Jane Wyche, bore him no children. Sir John is depicted in a portrait in Bush church dressed in black armour.

The Sir John Merrick's Regiment

It all started in the spring of 1642 when Parliament decided to raise five new infantry regiments to put down the Irish uprising. These new regiments were commanded by:

  • Lord Walton
  • Charles Essex
  • Thomas Ballared
  • William Bamfield
  • Lord Kerry

After a long delay only one regiment was sent off to Ireland, this being Lord Kerry's. The remaining four were transferred to the command of the Earl of Essex, forming an army of some twenty regiments1. The other new regiments were commanded by:

  • The Earl of Essex
  • The Earl of Stamford
  • The Earl of Peterborough
  • Lord Robarts
  • Lord Brooks
  • Lord Mandervill
  • Lord Rochford
  • Lord Oliver St John
  • Lord Saye and Seles
  • Sir John Merricks
  • Sir William Fairfax
  • Sir Henry Chomlies
  • Sir William Constables
  • Thomas Grantham
  • John Hampdens
  • Denzill Holies

On Thursday 28 July, 1642, recruitment began, with London and Southwark men volunteering for service in the first three regiments. On 8 August a force of three regiments was sent north to Warwickshire, and Sir John Merrick was sent south to take Portsmouth from King Charles I. During the period of 16-21 August, another seventeen regiments were authorised to be raised in the London area. After taking Portsmouth, Sir John Merrick's was sent north on 17 September, and was the garrison of the King's Castle in Shropshire by 9 October.


Along with the regiments of The Earl Of Stamford, Lord Oliver St John and Thomas Grantham, John Merrick's regiment was at the battle of Edge Hill on 23 October, 1642. The Earl of Essex commanded the parliamentary forces, with Sir John Merrick commanding the infantry. Sir William Balfour was the commander of the right wing of the cavalry, while the left wing was under the control of Sir James Ramsey. The Earls of Peterborough and Hampdens were also at Edge Hill but were in garrison or artillery guard and missed the main fighting.

Parliament had a little over 15,000 troops, 2,850 cavalry, 12 foot regiments and 700 dragoons and 16 cannon. This was an ill-disciplined army, worse than the King's Army. However, it was far better equipped, thanks to the fact that parliament had secured control of the main arsenals and of the main production sites of munitions and military equipment. The King's Army was of very similar strength, although it had two fewer cannons.

The Campaign in the West (1642 - 1643)

The next move for Merrick was to join up with Lord Oliver St John's regiment, which was now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Tom Essex due to the death of St John at Edge Hill. Tom Essex set out for Bristol in December 1642. It appears that Merrick left two companies under the command of Lloyds and Lowers at Gloucester. Tom Essex was recorded as being in charge of Parliament's forces of Bristol and Bath in April 1643, while Merrick went west through Devon and Cornwall.

After his victory at Braddock Down, Sir Ralph Hopton turned on Devon. His first battle was against the Earl of Stamford at Launceston, causing a retreat to Tavistock. On 22 January, Saltash was taken and the commander, Colonel Ruthin, was forced back to Plymouth, which was blockaded and had its outer garrisons were attacked. Hopton's forces were stretched too far and as a result Hopton lost his grip on Plymouth, with his forces retreating to Cornwall in early February 1643.

On 28 February, Hopton and the Earl of Stamford agreed a truce in Devon and Cornwall. When the truce expired on 22 April 1643, the Parliamentarians decided to attack the King's Army at Launceston. The Parliament forces failed and were forced to fall back, but a rout was avoided by the appearance of Merrick's regiment.

Merrick's men served well in the south-west area against the army of Lord Hopton until 1643. In May, 1643 Henry, Earl of Stamford's regiments were at the Battle of Stratton in the Bude area.


The Battle of Statton was fought on 16 May, 1643 to prevent Hopton joining up with Prince Maurice in Somerset. The commander for Parliament was Henry Grey, 1st Earl of Stamford.

For Hopton's Royalists, the battle turned out to be a major victory over a force twice their size which had been better equipped and prepared. The battle lasted all day, with the leadership of the Royalist force carrying on against the odds. The Parliamentarians left behind 320 dead and 1,650 prisoners as well as cannon and provisions, while Hopton secured Cornwall, with income and ports, for the King. Major-General James Chudleigh, who was taken prisoner at Stratton, defected to the Royalists.

Merrick's regiment suffered badly at Stratton, and surrendered on terms when Exeter fell. The survivors of the regiment were allowed back to London and were incorporated in Henry the Earl of Stamford's regiment. This was the end of the regiment, a short but gallant history.


  1. Sir John Merrick's uniform was a light grey coat with a white lining showing at the cuff turnbacks. Merrick's men were therefore also known as the 'London Grey Coats' or 'Sir John Merrick's Regiment Of London Grey Coats'.

  2. They may have used the flag of the trained bands of Southwick. The Colonel's flag is reported to have been a plain white background. The company colours all followed the same pattern, each having a St George's Cross in the top corner nearest the flag staff along with company colours and between one and five black orb devices. The more devices there were on the flag, the lower the seniority of the company, with the devices being laid out on the flag as on playing cards. For instance, Sergeant Majora's company flag would have a canton and pile wavy, which bore resemblance to a flame coming from the bottom corner of the canton2, along with the orb devices. Each flag would be carried by a soldier called an ensign.

  3. Owing to shortages of kit, many men fought in civilian clothing until as late as September 1642.

  4. Although it was proposed that Merrick's regiment should be 1200 men strong, records from October 1642 show the strength at 950, and this seems to have remained constant until Stratton.

1Note that not all the regiments fought in all the battles or campaigns.2The canton is the upper quarter of the flag nearest the flagpole.

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