William Waller

Sir William Waller (c. 1597 – 19 September 1668) was an English soldier and politician, who commanded Parliamentarian armies during the First English Civil War, before relinquishing his commission under the 1645 Self-denying Ordinance.


Sir William Waller

Sir William Waller by Cornelius Johnson.jpg
Sir William Waller, ca 1643
Member of Parliament
for Middlesex
In office
Member of Parliament
for Andover
In office
1640 – 1648 (suspended)
Personal details
Knole House, Kent
Died19 September 1668(1668-09-19) (aged 69–70)
Osterley Park, London
Resting placeWestminster Chapel
Spouse(s)Jane Reynell (1622–1633)
Lady Anne Finch (1638–1652)
Lady Anne Harcourt (1652–1661)
RelationsEdmund Waller (1606–1687)
Sir Hardress Waller (1604–1666)
ChildrenRichard (1631–1636); Margaret (1633–1694); William Waller (1639–1699)
ParentsSir Thomas and Lady Margaret Waller
OccupationSoldier and politician
Military service
Allegiance Venice 1618–1619
Palatinate 1620–1621
Years of service1617 to 1621, 1642 to 1645
RankMajor General
Battles/warsUskok War
Thirty Years War Bohemian Revolt
Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638–1651
Roundway Down; Basing House; Alton; Arundel; Cheriton; Cropredy Bridge;

Elected MP for Andover in 1640, then 1642, in June 1647 he was one of the Eleven Members accused of destabilising the kingdom. He was suspended in Pride's Purge of 1648, and arrested several times between 1650 and 1659. At the 1660 Restoration, he was elected to the Convention Parliament, but retired from politics when it dissolved. He died at Osterley Park, London in September 1668.

Waller was one of many who served in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms with great reluctance, but did so based on deeply held religious or political principles. He is perhaps best remembered by a letter written in 1643 to his close friend and Royalist opponent, Sir Ralph Hopton.

That great God who is the searcher of my heart knows with what a sad sense I go upon this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy;... We are both upon the stage and must act such parts as are assigned us in this tragedy, let us do it in a way of honour, and without personal animosities.[1]

Biographical detailsEdit

William Waller was born in Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, son of Sir Thomas Waller and his wife Margaret Lennard, the daughter of Margaret Fiennes, 11th Baroness Dacre. He attended Magdalen Hall, Oxford, but did not graduate.[2]

He married three times; Jane Reynell (1622–1633), Lady Anne Finch (1638–1652), and Lady Anne Harcourt (1652–1661). In all, he had three sons and three daughters.[3]


Sir Horace Vere; Waller served with him in Venice and Holland

The Waller family held various offices in the 16th century, including constable of Dover Castle and MP for Dover, but lost their money. Waller became a professional soldier, and in 1617, he joined the army of the Venetian Republic, where he met the English mercenary leader, Sir Horace Vere. In 1620, he and Sir Ralph Hopton were members of the personal bodyguard for Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, sister of the future Charles I. After her husband Frederick was defeated at White Mountain in November, they escorted her to safety in Frankfurt.[3]

On his return in 1622, he was rewarded with a knighthood, while he inherited the right to wine import duties from his grandmother, which brought him the then substantial sum of £1,000 – £3,000 per year. This allowed him to marry Jane Reynell, from a wealthy Devon family; she died in 1633, followed by her father in 1634, then their son Richard in 1636. Waller inherited most of her estates, and he purchased a quarter-share in the Providence Island Company.[4] A devout Presbyterian, this directly connected to others who shared his beliefs, and later became prominent supporters of Parliament, among them John Pym, Henry Darley, Lord Saye, and Lord Brooke.[5]

His second wife, Lady Anne Finch, was related to another influential Kent politician, the Earl of Winchilsea, and shared his religious beliefs. They purchased Winchester Castle in 1638, and lived a 'retired life' in the country, but as the political conflict between Charles and Parliament increased, Waller felt it his duty to participate. In April 1640, he was elected to the Short Parliament as Member of Parliament for Andover, then re-elected to the Long Parliament on 3 May 1642.[6]

The Civil WarEdit

Roundway Down
Copredy Bridge
Waller's war, England & Wales, 1642–1645

A firm supporter of Parliament, when the First English Civil War began in August 1642, Waller was appointed a colonel, capturing Portsmouth, Farnham, Winchester and other key locations in southern England. At the beginning of 1643, Waller was promoted Major-general and placed in charge of operations in the region of Gloucester and Bristol.[7]

He was then called upon to oppose the advance of his old friend Sir Ralph Hopton, leader of the Royalist Western army, After the inconclusive Battle of Lansdowne on 5 July, Hopton linked up with Prince Maurice, and their combined force destroyed William Waller's Western Association army at Roundway Down on 13 July. The biggest Royalist success of the war, it secured the West Country, apart from isolated garrisons in Plymouth and elsewhere.[8]

Although defeat at Roundway had little impact on Waller's military reputation, there were increasing signs on all sides of war weariness, including anti-war demonstrations on 7 to 9 August in London. At a strategy meeting in Oxford, the Royalist high command agreed Prince Rupert would capture Gloucester, the last major Parliamentary position in the west, then move against London.[9] This would be supported by Hopton advancing into Hampshire and Sussex, whose iron foundries were Parliament's main source of armaments.[10]

To counter this, Waller assembled a new army at Farnham Castle, consisting of Trained bands from the South-Eastern Association of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, bolstered by others from London.[11] Throughout the war, both sides relied on these militia; service was normally limited to 30 days, within their home area, but as the largest and best equipped, London units were often used by Parliament to fill gaps. Waller's army included several regiments mustered to repel Prince Rupert's advance on London, which ended at Newbury in late September. An attack on Basing House in November failed, with many shouting 'Home! Home!'.[12]

Under instructions from the Earl of Essex to retake Alton, then Arundel, Waller persuaded the London Bands to help him capture Alton on 13 December. When he asked for their help with Arundel, they refused, and were sent home on 15 December.[13] However, he successfully captured Arundel on 6 January, before a heavy snow fall ended operations for the next few weeks.[14]

By the end of February, Waller's army had been increased to 5,000 infantry and 3,500 horse; he was ordered to slip past Hopton and retake the west. One of his commanders, Sir Richard Grenville, deserted in early March, and shared this with the Royalist command, who sent Hopton reinforcements. Waller defeated him at Cheriton on 29 March 1644, ending the Royalist threat in the south-east, then joined Essex to threaten the Royalist capital of Oxford.[15]

Ralph Hopton, Waller's close friend and opponent

To avoid being trapped in Oxford, a Royalist field army nominally commanded by Charles retreated to Worcester; Essex ordered Waller to follow him, while he went west to relieve the siege of Lyme Regis. On 29 June, Waller clashed with Charles at Cropredy Bridge; his losses were minimal, but his men were demoralised. His army disintegrated, causing panic in London, and allowing Charles to pursue Essex into the West Country.[16]

In September, Essex and his army were trapped at Lostwithiel; 5,000 infantry were forced to surrender, although Essex and the cavalry escaped. At Second Newbury on 27 October, the Royalists lifted the siege of Donnington Castle; lack of co-ordination among the Parliamentary forces under Waller, Essex and Manchester allowed Charles to re-enter Oxford.[17]

Parliament was split into peace and war factions. The 'Peace Party' was dominated by English Presbyterians, with Scottish support; concerned by political radicals like the Levellers, they wanted an immediate, negotiated settlement. The 'War Party' fundamentally mistrusted Charles, and saw military victory as the only way to secure their objectives. They also objected to the Scottish alliance, especially the demand for a unified, Presbyterian church of England and Scotland; Oliver Cromwell claimed he would fight, rather than accept such terms.[18]

This conflict became public in recriminations over the failure to exploit Marston Moor, Essex' capitulation at Lostwithiel, and Manchester's alleged unwillingness to fight at Second Newbury; Waller supported these criticisms.[19] In December, Sir Henry Vane introduced the Self-denying Ordinance, requiring any officers in the army or navy who were also members of Parliament to resign from one, or the other. This automatically removed Manchester and Essex, since they could not resign their titles, although later amended to allow them to be re-appointed, 'if Parliament approved.' Waller supported the Ordinance, and resigned his commission in April 1645.[20]

Later life and deathEdit

Considered for command in Ireland, Waller also briefly explored returning to Venetian service, but this ended his active military career. Although he backed the creation of the New Model Army, like other Presbyterians, he came to see it as a threat, and supported attempts to disband it when the war ended in 1646. In June 1647, he was one of the Eleven members accused by Cromwell and other Independents of 'plotting to destabilise the kingdom', and fled abroad in August.[21]

He stayed in The Hague, where he renewed his acquaintance with Elizabeth of Bohemia, before returning home in June 1648. He was arrested in 1650, allegedly for conspiring to restore Charles II, then released in early 1652. He purchased Osterley Park in 1654, and while frequently questioned under the Protectorate, avoided implication in the 1655 Penruddock uprising.[3]

At the 1660 Restoration, he was elected for Middlesex to the Convention Parliament, but subsequently retired from political life. He spent some of his time writing A Vindication of the Character and Conduct of Sir William Waller, which was not published until 1793.[3]

He died on 19 September 1668, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.[22]


  1. ^ Waller 1793, pp. xiii–xiv.
  2. ^ Waller 1793, p. 22.
  3. ^ a b c d Donagan 2008.
  4. ^ Kupperman 1982, p. 46.
  5. ^ Duinen 2007, p. 531.
  6. ^ Henning 1983.
  7. ^ Firth 1911, pp. 79-80.
  8. ^ Royle 2004, pp. 243–245.
  9. ^ Royle 2004, p. 275.
  10. ^ Wedgwood 1958, p. 281.
  11. ^ Wanklyn & Jones 2005, p. 139.
  12. ^ Nagel 1982, pp. 145–148.
  13. ^ Nagel 1982, p. 150.
  14. ^ Wanklyn & Jones 2005, p. 140.
  15. ^ Wanklyn & Jones 2005, pp. 142–143.
  16. ^ Wedgwood 1958, pp. 330–331.
  17. ^ Wedgwood 1958, p. 385.
  18. ^ Rees 2016, pp. 118–119.
  19. ^ Cotton 1975, p. 212.
  20. ^ Wedgwood 1958, pp. 398–399.
  21. ^ Royle 2004, p. 406.
  22. ^ "Sir William Waller". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 11 March 2020.


External linksEdit

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Francis Gerard
Chaloner Chute
Member of Parliament for Middlesex
With: Sir Lancelot Lake
Succeeded by
Sir Lancelot Lake
Sir Thomas Allen