Robert Venables

Robert Venables

Robert Venables, c.1613-87, was a soldier during the English Civil War.

English Civil War

Son of a gentry family from Antrobus, Cheshire, Venables volunteered for service in the Parliamentarian army in 1642. He served under Sir William Brereton in Cheshire and Lancashire throughout the First Civil War, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in Brereton's own regiment and fighting with distinction in the defence of Nantwich in 1644. Despite being badly wounded, Venables played a prominent role in directing the long-drawn out siege of Chester, and was a signatory of the articles of surrender in February 1646. Brereton recommended Venables for the post of governor of Chester, but Parliament appointed him commander of a force sent to reduce remaining Royalist outposts in north Wales. Venables retained his army commission and was also active as a civil commissioner in Cheshire during 1647-8. In December 1648, he was summoned to army headquarters in London and appointed chairman of a committee of junior officers called to discuss procedure for bringing the King to trial.

In Ireland

In April 1649, Venables was promoted to colonel. He raised a new regiment in Cheshire for service in Ireland and joined Colonel Michael Jones at Dublin in July 1649. Venables took part in Jones' spectacular victory over the Royalist and Irish Catholic forces under Marquis of Ormond at the battle of Rathmines the following month. Oliver Cromwell landed in Dublin just weeks after the battle to begin the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Venables marched south with the main contingent of Cromwell's army. He led the second storming of the breach at the Siege of Drogheda on 11 September 1649, and his troops seized the drawbridge across the River Boyne, thus allowing the Parliamentarians to cross into the northern part of the town and slaughter the Royalist defenders. After the capture of Drogheda, Cromwell sent Venables with a brigade of three regiments to join forces with Sir Charles Coote in Ulster. Dundalk, Newry, Carlingford and Belfast surrendered to Venables as he marched to join Coote at Derry. In December 1649 Venables and Coote routed the Scottish Royalists at the battle of Lisnagarvey. In June 1650, Coote and Venables again joined forces to defeat the Ulster Confederates at the battle of Scarrifholis. In August, Charlemont, the last Confederate stronghold in Ulster, surrendered to them. However, Venables spent a further four years in Ireland, embroiled in bitter guerilla warfare against the Irish "Tories" in Connacht and Ulster who continued to resist the occupation. He was involved in the implementation of the harsh Act of Settlement 1652 before returning to England in May 1654 to lobby for arrears of pay on behalf of his troops.

Caribbean expedition

Venables' return to England coincided with the secret preparations for Cromwell's Western Design against Spanish territories in the West Indies. Cromwell had admired Venables' tenacity on the Irish campaign of 1649 and recommended him as commander of land forces for the Caribbean expedition. Venables shared command with General-at-Sea William Penn, as well as with a body of civilian advisers. The expedition sailed in December 1654 and arrived at Barbados in January 1655. Given a free choice of target, the joint commanders chose to attack Hispaniola, but by this time Penn and Venables were quarreling. It had also become apparent that the expedition was inadequately supplied and that the troops were inferior. The attack on Hispaniola went disastrously wrong. They arrived and ported their ships in the southern city of Haina (Bajos de Haina) at the river's mouth. The troops retreated back to their ships on the third night as they were surrounded by the troops of the army of Hispaniola. Local history in Haina (Bajos de Haina) recalls that no army was mustered but instead, it was the Fiddler crabs coming across the forest leaves near the river where they were camped. Hearing the migration of thousands of crabs was understood to be the army coming to attack them and being of limited number they left in fear of annihilation.

Although Venables successfully directed the capture of the less desirable island of Jamaica as a means of saving face, the expedition could only be regarded as a failure. Both commanders were briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London when they returned, without orders, to England and were then stripped of their commands.


The disgrace of the failure of the Western Design effectively ended Venables' career. He retired to Cheshire and lived quietly with his second wife Elizabeth in a loveless marriage. In 1662, he published a successful book on angling: "The Experienced Angler". Venables died at Wincham, Cheshire, in 1687.


This article incorporates text under a Creative Commons License by David Plant, the British Civil Wars and Commonwealth website

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