Now, in May 1648 all Wales, both north and south, was in a ferment. Everywhere, men might be seen wearing blue and white ribbons in their caps, with the words, "We want to see our King," written upon them. As Cromwell marched upon them, the people fled from their houses to the mountains. They took their goods with them, and destroyed what they could not carry away. "If you would give forty shillings for a horse-shoe, or a place to make it, it is not to be had," says one writer, so desolate was the land.
By Monmouth, Chepstow, Swansea and Carmarthen, Cromwell marched, fighting as he went, until he reached the castle of Pembroke.
On a high ridge thrust out into the sea, which washes it on two sides, Pembroke Castle stands, looking out upon Milford Haven, one of the finest natural harbours in the world. Curving into many creeks and bays it stretches ten miles inland. Here the largest ships may pass with ease, and sheltered by the surrounding hills the whole British fleet might safely anchor.
Many times in English history Milford Haven has played a part. It was from here that Henry II. sailed forth to the conquest of Ireland. It was here that Henry of Richmond landed on his way to win the crown of England, on Bosworth field. Here, now, are Royal dockyards, where war vessels of all sizes are built. But although Milford Haven is such a fine harbour it does not grow great as a trading port, for it lies too much out of the way of the chief highways of commerce.
Yet it is certain that Milford Haven will one day come to greater importance, for it is about two hundred miles nearer America than either Liverpool or Southampton, and by starting from here the most dangerous part of the voyage would be missed. Then its splendid harbour, which has neither shoals nor bar, will be valued as it ought to be.
Though ruined now, Pembroke Castle, when Oliver came to besiege it, was very strong, having both an outer and inner wall. Cromwell had no great cannon fit to shatter these walls. So for six weeks his army lay before the castle waiting for hunger to do its work.
Outside the walls, in Cromwell's camp, things were bad enough. The country was poor and deserted, and there was little to be had for the men to eat but bread, and nothing to drink but water. They had only a few small cannon, which Oliver says he "scraped up." Yet with them he succeeded, at last, in doing some damage to the massive walls.
Within the castle things were much worse. The men were starving. They hated their leader, and were ready to mutiny and kill him. At last the weary, hungry men could hold out no longer, and in the beginning of July they yielded to Cromwell.
The three chief Royalists were condemned to death. But Cromwell afterwards decided that only one should die. It was settled by lot who should live, the lots being drawn by a child. Upon two of the papers was written "Life given by God." Upon the third was nothing. He to whom the third lot fell, died.
As soon as Pembroke Castle was taken, Cromwell marched back into England, to help Lambert against the Scots. His men were ragged and almost barefoot. They had had but little to eat while in Wales. They had not been paid for months. But they were tough and strong-hearted, and as unconquerable as ever. And now, if they had only known it, the fate of the whole kingdom was in their hands. For the Scots and English Royalists were twenty-one thousand strong, and if they once reached London there was little doubt that the King would be King again.
But Cromwell knew this, and so he pushed on in haste to prevent them marching to London. At Leicester, his barefoot army was supplied with boots sent from Northampton, and with stockings from Coventry. Then he joined Lambert at Knaresborough, in Yorkshire. Together their forces numbered only eight thousand men, horse and foot.
And with this small force Cromwell had to keep watch across two counties. For whether the Royalist would march to London through Lancashire or through Yorkshire, he did not know. The Royalists, however, decided to go through Lancashire, for they hoped by that way to join other Royalists, who had risen in North Wales and in Hereford. As soon as Cromwell was sure of the way that they would go, he came by quick marches to Skipton and Gisburne, and down the valley of the Ribble to Stonyhurst, to stop the path.