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The regiment, then and now

Wardlaws are a regiment of Waller’s Brigade in the Army of Parliament, part of the Sealed Knot Society. We recruit primarily in the west of England whilst our sister company, Rowland Laugharne's is based in west Wales.

The Regiment

James Wardlaw

Born on the 14th of August 1603, James Wardlaw was the fifth surviving son of Sir Henry (later Baronet) Wardlaw of Pitreavie Castle in Fife, Scotland. He began his military career at a relatively early age and by 1629 he was a Major in the service of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus. In 1632 he was sent, with several other Scottish officers on a mission to Russia where he took part in reforming the imperial Russian army according to the western European model. Wardlaw was subsequently part of the Russian army that unsuccessfully laid siege to Polish-held Smolensk in 1634. Wardlaw returned to the British Isles in 1641, now a Lieutenant Colonel, seemingly with the intention of joining the Covenanter army in his native Scotland. He was unfortunate, however to be on a ship that was blown off-course into Royalist held Newcastle and he was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in York. Wardlaw was released after four months and in 1642 he found employment with the parliamentary army under the Earl of Essex where his roles included a place on the Earl’s council of war and the colonelcy of a newly raised regiment of Dragoons.

Wardlaw’s Dragoons in the 17th Century

The role of Wardlaw’s regiment of Dragoons in the early stages of the civil war, and the Edgehill campaign in particular, has been open to differing interpretations in the centuries since the original events unfolded. For some time it was thought that the regiment had fought poorly at the battle of Edgehill on the 23rd October 1642, where they were said to have fled from the enemy and sacked their own baggage train. Further research into the composition of parliamentary dragoon units and their recorded losses during and after the battle of Edgehill has placed the performance of the regiment in a more positive light. The research suggests that Wardlaw’s Dragoons were not present at Edgehill as they fit the description of a dragoon unit that was assigned to guard the parliamentary baggage train, which had lagged behind the main army. Coupled with the fact that the regiment recorded no losses at the battle this suggests that they were not involved in the fighting. There is, however, reason to suspect that Wardlaw’s dragoons were involved in the battle of Brentford on the 12th of November as the recorded strength of the regiment is significantly reduced shortly after this date. Accounts of the battle describe how a unit of parliamentary troops who stoutly held their position until being eventually overwhelmed and severely mauled by the advancing Royalists defended the lanes around the house of Sir Richard Wynne. There is nothing concrete that positively identifies these troops as Wardlaw’s Dragoons but the holding action they undertook (a typical use of dragoons at the time) and the heavy losses sustained mean that it is not unreasonable to think that they might have been. The day after the battle at Brentford, there was a standoff between the main field armies at Turnham Green. This confrontation has traditionally been considered a bloodless affair, with Charles viewing the massed ranks of the parliamentary army, swollen with volunteers from nearby London and considering it wiser to retire to Oxford for the winter. However, there is evidence to suggest that some skirmishing took place at the northern end of the battlefield as the two forces jostled for an advantageous position. This appears to have involved parliamentary troops driving royalists out of the hedgerows on their flanks – another task for which Wardlaw’s Dragoons would have been considered well suited. It is recorded that two of the regiment’s company commanders, Captains Forbes and Hamilton, were captured by the royalists on the day of Turnham Green, suggesting that their companies were involved in the fighting, although in what capacity we cannot be certain. What is known for certain is that Wardlaw’s Dragoons are no longer mentioned in any accounts after the winter of 1642, the implication being that they were disbanded after heavy losses rendered the regiment untenable as a fighting unit.

Wardlaw after 1642

With his regiment gone, Wardlaw sought fresh employment and in September 1643 he was sent to the parliamentary port of Plymouth, which had been holding out against a royalist siege for many months. After strengthening the town’s defences and building up stocks of provisions, Wardlaw oversaw the successful defence of the town against a major assault from the Royalist Western Army commanded by Prince Maurice, nephew of king Charles I. The key battle on Sunday the 3rd of December 1643 would become known as the Sabbath day fight and although the defender’s success owed much to Wardlaw’s preparation it was his subordinate, Colonel William Gould, who would garner most of the praise for saving the town after his timely intervention at a crucial point in the battle. During his time as governer of Plymouth, Wardlaw wrote several letters to Parliament to request supplies and to inform them of the towns continued resistance to the Royalist siege. You can view a copy of one of these letters, written shortly before the Sabbath Day Fight, here.

Wardlaw left Plymouth in early 1644, seemingly disgruntled with his treatment there and returned to his native Scotland. Details of his life after this are scarce although it is possible that he returned to Russia to take part in the successful siege of Smolensk in 1654 and may have lived out his days in the service of the Russian Tsar.

Wardlaw's Dragoons Today

The modern regiment was formed in 1972, going from strength to strength, and becoming well-known for the accuracy and quality of its dress and drill, as well as its skill in skirmishing. In the early nineties the Regiment formed the core of the Society's first mounted dragoon actions.


Colonel John OkeyAs a part of the Parliament army, Wardlaws' Dragoons have a second identity for those musters where the New Model Army is being portrayed. (The New Model Army was created in 1644 by Parliament, as a way of drawing disparate forces together into a single field army. It had a common coat colour – Venice red – and was renowned for its professionalism. It was the New Model Army that defeated Charles at Naseby, and saw the end of the war.) In this guise the Regiment becomes Colonel Okey's Dragoons.

These troops appear to have acted as the scouts and sentinels of the New Model Army for most of the 1645-6 campaign. At Naseby it lined hedges on the Royalist right flank and, towards the end of the battle acted as cavalry, charging the broken Royalist troops. Elements of Okey's Dragoons went on to serve in all of the New Model's campaigns up until its conversion to a cavalry unit for the later campaigns in Scotland and Ireland.

Dragoones The role of the dragoon is to act as fire support for the cavalry in battle, to ride ahead of the army as pickets and scouts. They were widely favoured by garrison commanders as their mobility and firepower enabled them to control an area very effectively.

However, not everyone liked them. One early seventeenth-century French general said that ‘Dragoons spoil the infantry, every man now desiring a nag that he might be better able to plunder.' When horses became scarce, as they often would in a campaign, the dragoons would have had to give up their mounts to the cavalry, and become in effect units of musketeers. Our role within the Sealed Knot reflects this latter aspect of the dragoon. Although we have on occasion ridden as part of the display, dismounting in front of the enemy to engage them, whilst the horses went back to be recycled as cavalry mounts, more often we are on foot.

Without our own body of pike, and with our relatively small numbers, we rely on skirmish tactics, using musketry to harass and discomfort our enemy. When there is not the space for our tactics, or when the script does not call for it we join up with the other musketeers of the Western Association and fight as regular musketeers.

© 2011 Col. James Wardlaw's Dragoones