History Timeline

Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland

The first Governor of Landguard Fort – 1628 to 1648© National Portrait Gallery

Henry Rich (baptized August 19, 1590 – March 9, 1649) was the son of Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick and of Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, and the younger brother of Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick. He began his career as a courtier and soldier in 1610, swiftly becoming a favourite of King James I of England, but fell out of favour on the accession of Charles I. He was created Earl of Holland in 1624.

On Sunday, July 9, 1648, seven months prior to the execution of King Charles, the Earl and his army of approximately 400 men entered St Neots in the county of Huntingdonshire. The Earl's men were hungry and weary, following their escape from Kingston upon Thames, where the Parliamentary forces had completely overwhelmed them. Of his original army of 500, the Earl escaped with around 100 horsemen and were immediately followed by a small party of Puritan and Parliamentary horsemen. After much hesitation regarding in which direction they should flee, the Earl decided on Northampton, and the group made their way via St Albans and Dunstable. Upon the outskirts of Bedford the group turned eastward towards St Neots town. En route from Kingston, the Earl was joined by the young Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Peterborough. Colonel Dolbier, an experienced soldier and Dutch national, had also joined them. The Roundheads hated Dolbier, as he had previously served with them under the 3rd Earl of Essex until taking up arms in favour of the Royalist cause.

The field officers of Holland’s force sought only rest and safety. Colonel Dolbier called a council of war, where many officers voted for dispersing into the surrounding countryside. Others suggested they should continue northwards. Colonel Dolbier advised on the strategic position of St Neots and the fact that the joint remnants of Buckingham and Holland’s forces had increased sufficiently since the retreat from the Roundheads at Kingston. He suggested they meet and engage their pursuers. He further added that, by obtaining a victory, the fortunes of war could be turned in their favour. Due to his vast experience as a soldier, his words were listened to with respect. He further offered to guard them through the night in case of a surprise attack, or meet the death of a soldier in the defence of the town. A vote was taken and Dolbier’s plan was adopted.

The Earl of Holland who, it was said, “had better faculty at public address than he had with a sword,” joined the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Peterborough in addressing the principal residents and townsfolk of St Neots. Buckingham spoke at length, claiming “they did not wish to continue a bloody war, but wanted only a settled government under Royal King Charles.” Assurances were also given that their Royalist troop would not riot or damage the townfolks’ property. Of the latter, it is recorded that they were faithful to their promise.

Fatigued by their battle and consequent retreat from Kingston, the field officers eagerly sought rest. Colonel Dolbier, true to his word, kept watch over them.

The small group of Puritan horsemen who had pursued them had, upon reaching Hertford, met with Colonel Scroope and his Roundhead troops from their detachment at Colchester.

At 2 o’clock on Monday morning, July 10, one hundred Dragoons from the Parliament forces arrived ahead of the main army at Eaton Ford. Colonel Dolbier was at once informed, and immediately gave the alarm: "To horse, to horse!"

The Dragoons, equipped with musket and sword, crossed St Neots’ bridge before the Royalists were fully prepared. The Battle of St Neots had begun.

The few Royalists guarding the bridge quickly fell back from the superior numbers before them. The ensuing battle was now fought on the main square and streets of the town. The remaining Royalists were now fully prepared for combat. The main army of Roundheads had also arrived, and a further wave of Puritans crossed the bridge into town. The battle was fierce, with the Puritans gaining ground.

Colonel Dolbier died during the early stages of the battle. Other Royalist officers, including Colonel Leg and Colonel Digby, were also killed during the battle. Other officers and men drowned whilst attempting to escape by crossing the River Ouse. The young Duke of Buckingham, being overwhelmed by the speed of these events, escaped to Huntingdon with sixty horsemen, with the intention of continuing towards Lincolnshire. Upon realising the Roundheads were in hot pursuit, he changed plans, and via an evasive route returned to London from where he later escaped to France.

The Earl of Holland with his personal guard fought their way to the inn at which he had stayed the previous night. The gates had been closed and locked, but were quickly opened to admit him, and immediately closed again as he entered. The Parliamentarians soon battered them down and entered the inn. The door of the Earl’s room was burst open to reveal him facing them, sword in hand. It is recorded that he offered surrender of himself, his army and the town of St Neots, on condition that his life was spared.

The Puritans seized the Earl and took him before Colonel Scroope, who ordered him to be shackled and imprisoned under guard. The remaining Royalist prisoners were locked in St Neots parish church overnight, then taken to Hitchin the following morning. The Earl and five other field officers were taken to Warwick Castle, which had remained a parliamentary stronghold throughout the war. They remained prisoners for the next six months, until their trial for high treason. In London it was said "His Lordship may spend time as well as he can and have leisure to repent his juvenile folly."

The Earl of Peterborough also escaped dressed as a gentleman merchant, but was later recognised and arrested. Friends aided their escape again whilst en route to London for trial. He then stayed at various safe houses, financed by his mother, until he managed to flee the country.

On February 27, 1649 the Earl of Holland was moved to London for trial. He pleaded his crime was not capital, and claimed that he had surrendered St Neots town on the condition that his life would be spared.

It was stated at the time that in 1643 Earl of Holland had joined Parliament and in the same year had changed sides and joined the Royalists. He was with the King at the Battle of Chalgrove – Oxford – but stole away during a dark night before the close of battle. On March 3 the Earl was condemned as a traitor and was sentenced to death.

His brother, the Earl of Warwick, and the Countess of Warwick petitioned Parliament for his life, as did other ladies of rank. The Puritan Parliament divided its vote equally. The speaker gave the casting vote for the sentence to stand. The petition had succeeded only in deferring the execution for two days. The Earl was dangerously ill during these days and neither ate nor slept.

On the morning of his execution on March 9, before Westminster Hall, the Earl walked unaided, but spoke to people along the way, declaring his surrender at St Neots was on condition that his life would be spared. At the scaffold he prayed. He then gave his forgiveness to the executioner and gave him what money he still had on his person, which was approximately ten pounds. Upon laying his head on the block, he signalled the executioner by stretching his arms outwards.

His head was severed by one stroke of the executioner’s axe. Very little blood flowed, due to his weakness, and the strong feeling was that, even had the execution not taken place, he probably would not have lived for long.

The second rising of the English Civil War had culminated in the Battle of Preston during August 1648, with the Roundheads marching two hundred and fifty miles in twenty six days through foul weather and conditions, to defeat and ensure the Royalists would never re-form as an army.

The townspeople of St Neots, who apparently were neutral during the entire conflict, continued their peaceful existence.

Benjamin Gifford Esq. 1652-1655 (Governor)

Benjamin Gifford was appointed Governor of the Fort in June 1652 upon the death of Colonel Ireton. He was, of course, a follower of Cromwell, and, presumably, a sound puritan, for, writing in 1652 concerning his appointment to governorship, he says "though unworthy, yet I trust the Lord will enable mee to a due discharge of the trust reposed in mee."
Gifford was still Govenor on September 28, 1655, but as in February of the following year we find mention made of Major Cadwell as Governor, it may fairly be assumed that Gifford did not retain the post beyond the end of 1655 or thereabouts. Nothing more is known of him.

A Soldier of the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot 1664
Also known as the Admiral's Regiment, the first to be specially formed for sea service and the forerunner of the Royal Marines. As they were mainly recruited from the Trained Bands of London the soldier is shown against a background of the Tower. Yellow was the favourite colour of the Lord High Admiral from whom the regiment derived its title.

No.1 in the Royal Marines Weapon Series

The Admiral's Regiment repulsing the attack by the Dutch on Landguard Fort near Harwich, July 1667. Showing the Matchlock Musket in action.

The Admiral's Regiment were the forerunners of today's Royal Marines.

A series of reproductions of paintings by Charles Stadden are in the Royal Marines Museum, Portsmouth.

Captin Philip Thicknesse, Governor 1753-1766

Thicknesse was born in Staffordshire in 1720 and at the age of 17 joined the army. After a period in the South of England he became Governor of Landguard Fort, between 1753 and 1766. Thicknesse was unpopular during his time at the Fort, being argumentative and a tyrant.

In September 1761 a Court Martial held in the fort had found a Captain William Lynch not guilty of being absent without leave during wartime. This verdict annoyed Thicknesse who had pressed the original charge and in court his behaviour was such that he had to be reprimanded for his loss of temper. In spite of the court's reprimand Thicknesse would not keep quiet and turned his anger on Colonel Francis Vernon, who held the Presidency of the trial. For this libellous outburst Thicknesse found himself in court at Bury St. Edmunds assizes in August 1763. This resulted in a three month jail sentence, £100 fine and an order to find sureties for seven years good behaviour.

When Thicknesse returned to the Fort, after his enforced absence, he had not mellowed and he brought Court Marshal charges against an officer who had been in command while he was away. Things went from bad to worse and eventually more charges were brought against Thicknesse. At a trial held in July 1765 he was found guilty on two charges and sentenced to be publicly reprimanded.

Thicknesse returned to Landguard in September 1765. He was subsequently informed by the War Office that in their view he was unfit to command and that he should not reside at the Fort. In 1766 Thicknesse resigned his position.

Although most accounts refer to the bad side of Thicknesse, an account in a Gentlemen's Magazine in 1809 stated, 'In point of person he was extremely handsome; his conversation was entertaining, his talents undisputed, his manners elegant and fascinating; he excelled in all the accomplishments of the day.' So perhaps there was another side to the Governor.

Thicknesse was a good friend of Thomas Gainsborough, who had a painted a picture for him which hung above the fireplace in his quarters.

Thicknesse died near Boulogne on November 22 1792, as a parting shot his will stated 'I leave my right hand, to be cut off after my death, to my son, Lord Audley, and I desire it may be sent to him in hopes that such a sight may remind him of his duty to God, after having for so long abandoned the duty he owed his father who once affectionately loved him.'

Governor Lord George Beauclerk
Governor of Landguard Fort – 1753 – 1768
b. 26 December 1704, d. 11 May 1768, Lord George Beauclerk was the son of Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans and Lady Diana de Vere. He was born on 26 December 1704. He was, therefore a grandson of Charles II and Nel Gwynne.
A career soldier entering the army as an ensign in 1726 rising to Colonel and aid-de-camp to King George II in 1745 and Major General, commander of HM forces in North Britain in 1756. He represented Windsor in Parliament 1741 – 1754 & 1768.

He lived at Winchfield House, Hampshire, England.

Colonal Charles Augustus West

Last Lieutenant Governor of Landguard Fort 1811 – 1854

Childhood page of honour to King George III
Ensign in 3rd reg. of Foot guards 1784
Married secretly at Gretna Green in 1788 due to his service as a page and inability to ask the King for permission.
Captain by 1804. Service in Ireland, Holland, Egypt, Germany, Denmark and The Iberian Peninsular.
Captured by French and then rescued at the battle of Talavera July 1809.
Invalided home and was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of 1st Royal Veteran Battalion in 1811.
Eldest son severely wounded leading company of 3rd Foot Guards at Waterloo.
Other two sons killed in military service.
Described as the most distinguished soldier to hold the post.

From 1875 Landguard’s Forts (main) casemated battery was armed with 4 x 12.5” 38 ton R.M.L. (Rifled Muzzle Loaders) and 3 x 10” R.M.L. 18 ton guns. The 12.5” shells weighed 800 Lbs and came in three types Common, Shrapnel and H.E. (high Explosive). The shrapnel was used for raking the decks of warships or against enemy troops.

A detachment of seventeen men were required to fire the 12.5” gun, three of which worked in the magazine. In times of emergency they would have slept around the gun and in the barrack room to the rear of the casemate. Although the Victorian Fort never saw action against hostile forces there were frequent drills making them some of the best gunners in the world. The guns were fired electrically by a gunnery officer positioned on the roof of the Fort.

By the turn of the century muzzle loading guns were replaced by breech loaders, however the main casemated battery armament remained in the Fort till around 1902. They were used for ‘Running Past’. Each gun was loaded with a cylinder containing up to 90 steel balls, they were set to fire at pre-determined ranges and locations. Like shrapnel they would have peppered warships trying to enter the harbour.

Landguard’s old R.M.Ls are believed to lay somewhere under the Felixstowe Docks.

Darrells Battery

This Battery is north west of the fort and was the site of Beauclerks Battery and a later saluting battery. Originally called Minefield Battery its name was changed in 1904 to Darells after the Commander of the fort who in July 1667 defeated the Dutch attack on Landguard.

Around 1901 a new battery was constructed at a cost of 2,798 pounds. It was armed with two 4.7" PL (breach loader) guns. The ready for use ammunition for the guns was stored in recesses either side of them and because this would not be a sufficient supply in an action, a door was cut in the side of the Caponier (a Caponier is a chamber or sheltered passageway which projects into the moat, allowing flanking fire). This allowed access to the magazines within the fort. A rather unsuitable distance to cover if under fire.

In 1940 with the need to protect the harbour against attack by 'E' boats the battery was rebuild to take two twin six pounder guns. Whilst the reconstruction work was being carried out, two 12 pdr guns were mounted each side of the battery to give some protection to the area until the work was completed. Although the new works were quite considerable, parts of the old battery can still be seen. Between the two emplacements the shelter survives with its plaque commemorating Darell and some of the ammunition recesses remain on the up river side of the battery.

The battery consists of two fire and searchlight control towers, magazines and shelters for the gun detachments. Remains of the camouflage paint from the last war can still be seen on the walls of the battery. The magazine ammunition hoists for the twin six pounders no longer exist, but one of the control panels for them does. It was built by a lift company named Evans. This company is still operating and was able to supply a copy of the original plans for the lifts.


Work started in June 1997 by Ingram Smith, English Heritages contractors to repair, renovate and make safe the Fort. By June 1998 renovation was mostly complete.

The culmination of the main work was the raising of the Fort's flag pole on 27 May 1998 at noon. A 120 ton mobile crane was required to raise the sixty foot pole to its original position on the roof of the Keep. The lifting operation and positioning of the flag pole went very smoothly, which was more than could be said for the weather! It rained virtually non-stop during the whole morning.

Since 1998 Landguard Fort Trust volunteers have looked after the decoration and general maintenance of the Fort with English Heritage still overseeing projects for further renovation and development as visitor numbers increase.