Philip Skippon

Major General Philip Skippon, commander of the London Trained Bands

Major General Philip Skippon, commander of the London Trained Bands

Philip Skippon was born c.1600, the son of a Norfolk gentleman, and chose a military career. He was serving under Sir Horace Vere's command in the Palatinate (now largely part of southern Germany) by 1623, and his service on the continent continued until after the siege of Breda in 1637. By then he had attained the rank of captain in the Dutch army and, according to the royalist historian the Earl of Clarendon, had ‘the reputation of a good officer’.

In 1639 he was appointed Captain-Leader of the Society of the Artillery Garden in London, responsible for training the officers of the City's militia regiments. In January 1642 he was made a freeman of the City and within days was given command of all the London militia. This was a crucial time in the crisis that preceded the Civil War, and although his attempt to seize the Tower of London failed, the pressure on the Lieutenant, Sir John Byron, was such that he surrendered his command soon afterwards. Skippon did not join the king after he had left London and in October and November 1642 was responsible for the extensive preparations to defend the capital from a royalist attack. He commanded the militia regiments that joined the Earl of Essex’s army at the battle of Turnham Green on 13 November.

Soon afterwards Essex appointed him Sergeant-Major General. Skippon served at the siege of Reading, the relief of Gloucester and the first battle of Newbury in 1643. On 2 October 1644, having been deserted by Essex, he negotiated the surrender of the parliamentarian infantry at Lostwithiel in Cornwall, the cavalry having broken through the royalist army and escaped. He rejoined the parliamentarian armies in time to fight at the second battle of Newbury on 27 October. When the New Model Army was formed in December he was appointed its Sergeant-Major General. He was badly wounded at Naseby on 14 June 1645 and did not serve in the field army again during the First Civil War. He was made governor of Bristol in December 1645 and of Newcastle-upon-Tyne a year later, convoying the first instalment of the money to pay off the Scots, and taking charge of the king.

In 1647 he refused to join the Presbyterians in London who attempted to raise a counter-revolution against the army and its allies, and in 1648 took a firm grip on the capital, ensuring that there was no rebellion there in support of the royalist uprisings and Scottish invasion. But he did not sit as a member of the court which, in January 1649, tried and condemned the king.

Skippon was elected as a Member of the Long Parliament in 1647 and also sat in the Protectorate Parliaments of 1654 and 1656. Oliver Cromwell appointed him to the Council of State in 1653 and in 1657 made him a member of the upper house of Parliament. In 1659 he was again given command of the London militia. He died in the summer of 1660. His authorship of three devotional books in the mid-1640s and his fine book collection contradict Clarendon’s assertion that he was 'altogether illiterate', but his opinion that Skippon’s Puritanism derived from his time in Holland may be closer to the truth.