An earlier Washington holds Worcester for the king against heavy odds

July 19, 2012

King Charles I with a letter in his hands

Sir William Washington of Packington married a sister of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, a favorite of Charles I of England

One of the direct descendants of the grantee of Sulgrave was Sir William Washington, of Packington, in the county of Kent. He married a sister of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the unfortunate favorite of Charles I. This may have attached the Sulgrave Washingtons to the Stuart dynasty, to which they adhered loyally and generously throughout all its vicissitudes. One of the family, Lieutenant-Colonel James Washington, took up arms in the cause of King Charles, and lost his life at the siege of Pontefract Castle. Another of the Sulgrave line, Sir Henry Washington, son and heir of Sir William, before mentioned, exhibited in the civil wars the old chivalrous spirit of the knights of the palatinate. He served under Prince Rupert at the storming of Bristol, in 1643, and when the assailants were beaten off at every point, he broke in with a handful of infantry at a weak part of the wall, made room for the horse to follow, and opened a path to victory.

Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, one of several English Civil War battles. Painting by John Barker.

He distinguished himself still more in 1646, when elevated to the command of Worcester, the governor having been captured by the enemy. It was a time of confusion and dismay. The king had fled from Oxford in disguise and gone to the parliamentary camp at Newark. The royal cause was desperate. In this crisis Sir Henry received a letter from Fairfax, who, with his victorious army, was at Haddington, demanding the surrender of Worcester. The following was Colonel Washington’s reply:

Sir Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron

Sir—It is acknowledged by your books and by report of your own quarter, that the king is in some of your armies. That granted, it may be easy for you to procure his Majesty’s commands for the disposal of this garrison. Till then I shall make good the trust reposed in me. As for conditions, if I shall be necessitated I shall make the best I can. The worst I know and fear not; if I had, the profession of a soldier had not been begun, or so long continued by your Excellency’s humble servant,

Henry Washington.

The Battle of Worcester. Engraving by Barlow, 1750.

In a few days Colonel Whalley invested the city with five thousand troops. Sir Henry dispatched messenger after messenger in quest of the king to know his pleasure. None of them returned. A female emissary was equally unavailing. Week after week elapsed, until nearly three months had expired. Provisions began to fail. The city was in confusion. The troops grew insubordinate. Yet Sir Henry persisted in the defense. General Fairfax, with 1,500 horse and foot, was daily expected. There was not powder enough for an hour’s contest should the city be stormed. Still Sir Henry “awaited his Majesty’s commands.”

At length news arrived that the king had issued an order for the surrender of all towns, castles, and forts. A printed copy of the order was shown to Sir Henry, and on the faith of that document he capitulated (19th July, 1646) on honorable terms, won by his fortitude and perseverance. Those who believe in hereditary virtues may see foreshadowed in the conduct of this Washington of Worcester the magnanimous constancy of purpose, the disposition to “hope against hope,” which bore our Washington triumphantly through the darkest days of our revolution.


Washington Irving, Life of George Washington (New York: The Co-operative Publication Society, Inc., n.d.), Vol. I, pp. 37-39.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 196 Editorial comment: —

The fortitude and unwavering loyalty displayed by this earlier member of the Washington family are most beautiful and edifying.
Yet they come with an admirable nuance: the utter absence of pecuniary interest. Colonel Washington was the military governor of a city besieged by the armies of a victorious opponent. His King, Charles I, is now in the hands of his enemies. Soon to be beheaded by the latter, the sovereign is in no position to reward Col. Washington’s defense of Worcester. The Colonel’s reward is not pecuniary in nature, but totally spiritual: an untarnished honor and the glory of having held out against increasingly desperate odds until a clear order came from the King that he was to surrender his charge.
We can only admire the strength of the bond between this noble officer and his King.


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