Lord Lieutenant of Essex
Lord High Admiral
The eldest son of Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick and of his wife Penelope Rich.
Rich inherited the title Earl of Warwick from his father in 1619. He was the
great-grandson of Richard, first Baron Rich, Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII,
who had gained great wealth when the monasteries were dissolved and established
the family home at Leighs Priory, north of Chelmsford.
He was educated at Emmanuel College; Cambridge but unusually for a young nobleman chose to go to sea as an adventurer. Adventurers were speculators or businessmen looking for gain. Warwick belonged to the companies which established the colonies of New Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where he gained both land and money. More profit came from privateering expeditions.
Robert Rich was active in colonial ventures, he joined the Bermudas, Guinea, New England and Verginia Companies. His enterprises involved him in disputes with the East India Company (1617) and with the Verginia Company, which in 1624 was suppressed through his action. In 1627 he commanded an unsuccessful privateering expedition against the Spaniards. His Puritan connections and sympathies, while gradually estranging him from the court, promoted his association with the New England colonies. In 1628 he indirectly procured the patent for the Massachusetts colony, and in 1631 he granted the “Saybrook” patent in Connecticut. Compelled the same year to resign the presidency of the New England Company, he continued to manage the Bermudas and Providence on the Mosquito Coast.
When Charles I became king in 1625 the earl, nearly 40 years old, was settling down to spend more time on his Essex estates. Soon, however, he was leading opposition to the king over forced loans and ship money and was removed from the position of Lord Lieutenant.
As the largest landowner in Essex, Warwick had the right to appoint the clergy in many parishes. He chose men of ability who were puritan in outlook. Some had attended Felsted School, founded by the Rich family in Tudor times. In 1626 the earl made Martin Holbeach its headmaster. Holbeach, a puritan clergyman and scholar, made Felsted the leading puritan school in England. Many boys taught by him went on to become puritan clerics but his most renowned pupils were the sons of Oliver Cromwell.
When Parliament was recalled in 1640 Warwick organized opposition to the king in Essex. He used his authority to influence voters ensuring that all eight Members of Parliament from Essex, including his eldest son, were strongly behind Pym and Hampden. He was re-appointed Lord Lieutenant of the county but despite his age went to sea with the fleet. The navy chose to support Parliament rather than the king and in 1643 Warwick became its Lord High Admiral and Governor-in-Chief of all the colonies.
Why did such a powerful and wealthy nobleman with so much to lose in a civil war choose to support Parliament? Was it his personal convictions in religion and politics which made him oppose his king?
When the trained bands of Essex gathered at Brentwood on 7 June 1642 their officers drew up a petition ending with a promise to defend to the death the 'high court of Parliament ...and therein his majesty's person and authority.' Parliamentary statements in 1642 invariably linked the safety of the King's person with defense of Parliament and the law. In 1642 the commander of the Parliamentary army was another great nobleman, the Earl of Essex who believed his task was to rescue the king from evil advisors and act as his protector until the country returned to reasonable government under the monarchy. If the Earl of Essex saw his responsibility as commander of Parliament's army in this way, was this the view also of the Earl of Warwick, commander of Parliament's navy?
The first great battle of the English Civil War began in the afternoon of 23 October 1642 at Edgehill in Warwickshire and by nightfall 5,000 men had been killed. It was a desperately fought battle but neither king nor parliament gained victory so both had to accept the prospect of a long war. It was not a war against a foreign country. The commanders and soldiers on each side were not mercenaries but men from every part of Britain and Ireland. In wars today it is impossible to understand why people of the same country take loyalties to the point of bitter, unforgiving conflict. It happened in 1642 and, as in war torn nations today, every person and place was part of it. Essex experienced no battles or campaigns other than in the summer of 1648 when a Royalist army seized Colchester but it was still involved in the war. The county and its people were vital to Parliament's military strength and eventual victory over the king. Control of London was Parliament's great asset and in 1642 the king tried to bring a swift end to rebellion by a determined onslaught along the Thames valley. Had London also been threatened from the east the parliamentary cause would have been in great danger but Essex protected that approach and there was never any doubt that as a county it would be loyal to parliament. Essex commanded the Thames estuary and east coast ports. If Charles had obtained help from Holland and France his war effort would have been immensely more effective, but Parliament was in command of the navy and prevented any foreign help arriving. Essex's loyalty was invaluable in maintaining this advantage and in 1643 Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, the county's most important nobleman, was appointed Lord High Admiral. East Anglia, with London, was the wealthiest region in England largely due to trade with the continent. Parliament was sure of a regular source of income from this region, something denied to the king who was forced to mortgage land and even pawn the crown jewels to help pay for his campaigns. In 1643 Essex became part of the Eastern Association, a group of East Anglian counties combined to organize their own defense and also raise troops for parliament's campaigns elsewhere in the country. From this association the New Model Army emerged to gain the final parliamentary victory over the king. From the beginning of Charles' reign the Members of Parliament for Essex, influential landowners and all the towns of the county all objected to forced loans, forest fines and ship money as misuse of royal power. Puritan ideas were held fervently in many Essex parishes which resisted the king's attempt to impose a new uniformity in worship. When war with the Scots and rebellion in Ireland plunged the king's government into crisis there was intense interest in Essex in the bitter debates in parliament. Closeness to London meant that national news quickly reached the major towns of Essex and even distant villages. By 1642 when it was clear king and parliament would not be reconciled without war, individuals in those towns and villages were choosing their sides. The most influential people in Essex were already for Parliament and against their king. On 4th January 1642 Charles I entered the House of Commons with an armed guard, determined to arrest five leading Members of Parliament whom he accused of treason. The five, led by John Pym and John Hampden, had been warned and made their escape. To many people the king's use of force on this occasion was the moment when civil war became inevitable. In the following months leaders of both sides continued to talk but for every conciliatory gesture there were as many preparations for armed conflict.
As war approached both king and Parliament tried to place their supporters in positions of authority in every county and town. Even one respected local person could influence the half-hearted or those racked with doubt about who they should support. It was also the way to obtain an army because the only organized troops in England were the trained bands. These were formed by ordinary men of every village and town who provided their own weapons and turned out regularly for training by a professional soldier called a muster master. In each county they were commanded by the Lord Lieutenant so king and Parliament competed for his allegiance. On 5 March 1642 Parliament passed a Militia Ordinance naming new Lord Lieutenants. They were to appoint Deputy Lieutenants who were to raise all the trained bands ready for war as Parliament directed. The king condemned this ordinance in a proclamation in which he revived a practice called a Commission of Array. This gave authority to groups of men in each county, usually Justices of the Peace, who were to array loyal subjects for military service for the king. Though a Commission was proclaimed for Essex in June 1642 it came to nothing for by that time the Essex trained bands were firmly loyal to Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, the most powerful landowner in Essex and the key man in bringing it so strongly to the side of Parliament.
In March 1642, Parliament appointed Warwick Admiral of the Fleet against the King's wishes. His appointment ensured Parliament's control of the Navy. Even before the First Civil War broke out, Warwick's ships transferred arms and ammunition from the northern arsenal at Hull to London. Realizing the strategic importance of control of the sea, the King attempted to dismiss Warwick from command but, with dissent from only two captains, the fleet accepted Warwick as Admiral and declared for Parliament in July 1642.
On 6 July 1642 both Houses of Parliament voted to raise an army of 10,000 to be placed under the command of the Earl of Essex. By autumn this force was in the Midlands ready to block the king's advance on London. Parliament's leaders were aware of the danger of a swift change of direction by the king and decided to have a reserve force defending the capital. The Earl of Warwick was summoned from the fleet on 22 October 1642 and made captain-general of an army to be raised in the city and adjacent counties. It came to be known as Warwick's 'second army'.
The second army included trained bands and volunteers from London as well as men from the Fleet, but most of the troops came from Essex. Two days after receiving his command Warwick held a general meeting at Chelmsford at which the gentry and freeholders agreed to raise and pay for a substantial force of volunteers. It was a tribute to Warwick's high prestige in his own county which, said a newsletter of the time, wished 'to show their zeal to Parliament and love to the earl of Warwick'.
On two occasions early in November the second army prepared to withstand major attacks. Immediately after the battle of Edgehill the first Parliamentary army withdrew to Warwick leaving open the way to London. Royalist forces advanced as far as Reading but then hesitated. On November 12th the Royalist cavalry attacked outposts even closer to London at Brentford but Warwick's army and the trained bands confronted them next day at Turnham Green. The danger passed for Parliament when the arrival of the main army under Essex caused the withdrawal of the king to Oxford. Once that happened the earl of Warwick resigned his commission so that he could return to the fleet.
Parliament had hoped to keep much of Warwick's army in service but many Essex soldiers were deserting and heading for home. Lack of pay and poor organization encouraged their departure as well as rumors of a sea-borne invasion of Essex by foreign mercenaries and 'most unspeakable cruel' cavaliers. Warwick caused annoyance too by trying to place professional soldiers, mostly Scots, in positions of command. The Essex-born officers took this as an insult, claiming that their men would serve only under those they knew. 'You have withdrawn from you the hearts of the Essex soldiers', they told their commander.
This was the major difficulty in keeping a Parliamentary army in the field. Warwick's concern for his own county had enabled him to form his army of Essex soldiers but now it seemed they were being asked to put Essex second to Parliament's interests and the majority were not willing to do that. By the end of November most of the Essex men had returned home.
Under Warwick's command, the Navy intercepted ships carrying supplies to the Royalists and supported military operations on land, notably at the siege of Hull in 1643 and Lyme 1644. In April 1645, however, Parliament decided to extend the Self-Denying Ordinance to include naval officers, and Warwick stepped down from his command. He was appointed chairman of the 12-man Admiralty Commission which replaced the office of Lord High Admiral.
In May 1648, just as the Second Civil War was erupting, the Fleet mutinied against the appointment of the Leveller Thomas Rainsborough as Admiral, and a number of warships defected to the Royalists. Warwick was re-appointed Admiral of the Fleet and sent to ensure the loyalty of the remaining ships. In August 1648, Warwick confronted a Royalist fleet commanded by the Prince of Wales in the shallow waters of the Thames estuary. The Prince avoided a battle and sailed back to Holland, with Warwick in pursuit. He blockaded the Royalists in the neutral Dutch port of Helvoetsluys, where Prince Rupert took over command. Unable to attack in neutral waters, Warwick maintained the blockade for several months, during which three of the Royalist ships defected back to Parliament. Reluctant to spend the winter off Helvoetsluys, Warwick returned to England with his entire fleet in November 1648. This allowed Rupert's fleet to escape to Kinsale in southern Ireland and begin raiding Commonwealth shipping.
The new republican government in England regarded Warwick's actions against the Royalists as over-cautious. His brother the Earl of Holland was at this time facing trial for fighting against Parliament in the Second Civil War. It was impossible to allow Warwick to retain control of the Navy. In February 1649, his commission was revoked and he was replaced by the three Generals-at-Sea Popham, Blake and Deane. Thereafter, Warwick retired from public life.