Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Waller, William (1597?-1668)
WALLER, Sir WILLIAM (1597?–1668), parliamentary general, son of Sir Thomas Waller, lieutenant of Dover, by Margaret, daughter of Henry Lennard, lord Dacre (Hasted, History of Kent, i. 430; Berry, Kentish Genealogies, p. 296), was born about 1597. Sir Hardress Waller [q. v.] was his first cousin. William matriculated from Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 2 Dec. 1612, aged 15 (, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Wood, Athenæ, iii. 812). On leaving the university he became a soldier, entered the Venetian service, fought in the Bohemian wars against the emperor, and took part in the English expedition for the defence of the Palatinate (Waller, Recollections, p. 108; Rushworth, i. 153). On 20 June 1622 he was knighted, and on 21 Nov. 1632 he was admitted to Gray's Inn (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 180; Foster, Gray's Inn Register, p. 197).
Shortly after his return to England Waller married Jane, daughter of Sir Richard Reynell of Ford House, Woolborough, Devonshire, a lady who was to inherit a good fortune in the west. A quarrel with a gentleman of the same family who happened to be one of the king's servants, in the course of which Waller struck his antagonist, led to a prosecution, which he was forced to compound by a heavy payment. This produced in him ‘so eager a spirit against the court that he was very open to any temptation that might engage him against it’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, ed. Macray, vii. 100). As he was also a zealous puritan, Waller naturally joined the opposition, and was elected to the Long parliament in 1640 as member for Andover. At the outbreak of the civil war he became colonel of a regiment of horse in the parliamentary army, and commanded the forces detached by Essex to besiege Portsmouth. It surrendered to him in September 1642 (ib. v. 442, vi. 32; Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. vi. 148; Report on the Duke of Portland's MSS. i. 50, 61). At the close of the year Waller began the series of successes which earned him the popular title of ‘William the Conqueror.’ In December he captured Farnham Castle, Winchester, Arundel Castle, and Chichester (Vicars, Jehovah Jireh, pp. 223, 228, 231, 235). Parliament thereupon made him sergeant-major-general of the counties of Gloucester, Wilts, Somerset, Salop, and the city of Bristol, with a commission from the Earl of Essex (Lords' Journals, v. 602, 606, 617). Five regiments of horse and as many of foot were to be raised to serve under him. In March 1643 Waller left his headquarters at Bristol, took Malmesbury by assault on 21 March, and on 24 March surprised the Welsh army which was besieging Gloucester, capturing about sixteen hundred men. He then carried the war into Wales, forcing the royalists to evacuate Chepstow, Monmouth, and other garrisons, and evading by skilful marches the attempt of Prince Maurice to intercept his return to Gloucester. Immediately afterwards (25 April 1643) he also captured Hereford (contemporary narratives of these victories are reprinted in Ludlow's Memoirs, ed. 1894, i. 444; Phillips, Civil War in Wales, ii. 63–71; Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, pp. 28, 193).
In June 1643 Waller was summoned to the south-west to resist the advance of Sir Ralph Hopton and the Cornish army, and gained an indecisive battle on 5 July at Lansdown, near Bath. Hopton and his forces made for Oxford, closely pursued by Waller, who cooped them up in Devizes. One attempt to relieve them was repulsed, and it seemed probable that they would be forced to capitulate; but General Wilmot and a body of horse from Oxford defeated Waller on 13 July at Roundway Down. Waller's foot were cut in pieces or taken, and, with the few horse left him, he returned to Bristol:
Great William the Con.,
jeered a royalist poet,
So fast he did run,
That he left half his name behind him
(ib. p. 199; Clarendon, Rebellion, vii. 99–121; Portland MSS. iii. 112; Denham, Poems, ed. 1671, p. 107).
Waller left Bristol just before the siege by Rupert began, and returned to London to raise fresh forces. In spite of his disaster his popularity had suffered no diminution, and the citizens at a meeting in the Guildhall resolved to raise him a fresh army by subscription. On 4 Nov. 1643 parliament passed an ordinance associating the four counties of Hants, Sussex, Surrey, and Kent, and giving them power to raise troops to be commanded by Waller. The city was also authorised to send regiments of the trained bands and auxiliaries to serve under him (Husband, Ordinances, 1646, pp. 281, 310, 320, 379, 406, 475). The commission given Waller caused a dispute between him and Essex, which ended in October with a threat of resignation on the part of Essex and a vote placing Waller under the lord-general's command (Lords' Journals, vi. 172, 247). In December 1643 Waller defeated Lord Crawford at Alton, taking a thousand prisoners, and Arundel Castle fell into his hands on 6 Jan. 1644. By these two successes the royalist attempt to penetrate into Sussex and Kent was definitely stopped. On 29 March 1644, in conjunction with Sir William Balfour, Waller defeated the Earl of Forth and Lord Hopton at Cheriton, near Alresford, thus regaining for the parliament the greater part of Hampshire and Wiltshire (Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 254, 322; Hillier, The Sieges of Arundel Castle, 1854; Old Parliamentary History, xiii. 15). In May Essex and Waller simultaneously advanced upon Oxford, Essex blocking up the city on the north and Waller on the south. Charles slipped between their armies with about five thousand men, and, leaving Waller to pursue him, Essex marched to regain the west of England. Waller proved unable to bring the king to an action until Charles had rejoined the forces left in Oxford, and when he did attack him at Cropredy Bridge, near Banbury, on 29 June, he was defeated and lost his guns (Walker, Historical Discourses, pp. 14–33; Fairfax Correspondence, iii. 105). The disorganisation of Waller's heterogeneous, unpaid, undisciplined army which followed this defeat enabled Charles to march into Cornwall. In September 1644 Waller was sent west with a body of horse to hinder the king's return march towards Oxford, but he was too weak to do it effectively. At the second battle of Newbury on 27 Oct. 1644 he was one of the joint commanders of the parliamentary forces, attacked in company with Cromwell and Skippon the left wing of the royalists, and joined Cromwell in urging a vigorous pursuit of the retreating king (Gardiner, ii. 36, 46; Money, The Battles of Newbury, ed. 1884, pp. 221–3). In February 1645 Waller was ordered to march to the relief of Taunton, but his own men were mutinous for want of pay, Essex's horse refused to serve under him, and Cromwell's horse declined to go unless Cromwell went with them. Cromwell went under Waller's command. They captured a regiment of royalist cavalry near Devizes, and attained in part the purpose of the expedition. The self-denying ordinance passed during his absence put an end to Waller's career as a general, and he laid down his commission with great relief, saying that he would rather give his vote in the house than ‘remain amongst his troops so slighted and disesteemed’ as he was (Gardiner, ii. 128, 183, 192). In December 1645, when it was proposed to appoint him to command in Ireland, he rejected the offer, telling a friend ‘that he had had so much discouragement heretofore when he was near at hand that he could not think of being again engaged in the like kind’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 237).
Waller now became one of the political leaders of the presbyterian party. Hostile on religious grounds to liberty of conscience, he was a firm supporter of the covenant and the league with the Scots. ‘None so panting for us as brave Waller,’ wrote Baillie when the Scottish army was about to enter England; and Waller's zeal for the imposition of presbyterianism on England was not abated by the growing strength of the independents. He thought that the toleration the army demanded meant that the church would come to be governed, like Friar John's college in ‘Rabelais,’ by one general statute, ‘Do what you list’ (Baillie, Letters, ii. 107, 115; Vindication of Sir W. Waller, pp. 25, 148).
Waller had been a member of the committee of both kingdoms from the time of its origin, and in 1647 he was one of the committee for Irish affairs to which parliament delegated the disbanding of the new model and the formation from it of an army for the recovery of Ireland. In March and April 1647 he was twice sent to the head-quarters at Saffron Walden to persuade the soldiers to engage for Irish service, and attributed his ill-success to the influence of the higher officers rather than any genuine grievances among their men (ib. pp. 42–94; Clarke Papers, i. 6; Lords' Journals, ix. 152). By his opposition to the petitions of the army he earned its hostility, and came to be regarded as one of its chief enemies. In July 1647, when eleven leading presbyterian members of parliament were impeached by the army, Waller was accused not only of malicious enmity to the soldiery, but also of encouraging the Scots to invade England and of intriguing with the queen and the royalists (the articles of impeachment, together with the answer drawn up by Prynne on behalf of the accused members, are reprinted in the Old Parliamentary History, xvi. 70–116). At the end of July the London mob forced the parliament to recall its concessions to the army, and Waller was accused of instigating and arranging the tumults which took place. From all these charges he elaborately, and to some extent successfully, clears himself in his posthumously published ‘Vindication’ (pp. 44–106; cf. Recollections, p. 116). When the presbyterians determined to resist by arms, Waller was made a member of the reconstituted committee of safety, and ordered to attend the House of Commons, from which, with the other accused members, he had voluntarily withdrawn himself. On the collapse of the resistance of London he obtained a pass from the speaker and set out for France, was pursued, released by Vice-admiral Batten, and landed at Calais on 17 Aug. 1647 (Vindication, pp. 186, 201; Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, iii. 349). On 27 Jan. 1648 Waller and his companions were disabled from sitting in the present parliament, but on 3 June following these votes were annulled (Rushworth, vii. 977, 1130). Returning to England and supporting the proposed treaty with the king, Waller was one of the members arrested by the army on 6 Dec. 1648, and, on the charge of instigating the Scots to invade England, he was permanently retained in custody when the rest were released (Gardiner, iv. 275; Old Parliamentary History, xviii. 458, 464, 466; Walker, History of Independency, ii. 39). He describes himself as ‘seized upon by the army as I was going to discharge my duty in the House of Commons, and, contrary to privilege of parliament, made a prisoner in the queen's court; from thence carried ignominiously to a place under the exchequer called “Hell,” and the next day to the King's Head in the Strand; after singled out as a sheep to the slaughter and removed to St. James's; thence sent to Windsor Castle and remanded to St. James's again; lastly, tossed like a ball into a strange country to Denbigh Castle in North Wales (April 1651), remote from my friends and relations’ (Recollections, p. 104; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651, p. 151). He remained three years in prison, untried and uncondemned. During the Protectorate Waller was in a very necessitous condition. The 2,500l. which parliament had promised to settle upon him he had never obtained. Winchester Castle, which was his property, had been dismantled by the government to make it untenable, and his estates had suffered considerably during the war. He possessed by grant the prisage of wines imported into England, but legal disputes prevented him benefiting by it (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1652–3 p. 167, 1656–7 p. 269, 1657–8 pp. 62, 109). On 22 March 1658 he was again arrested on suspicion and brought before the Protector. ‘He did examine me,’ writes Waller, ‘as a stranger, not as one whom he had aforetime known and obeyed; yet was he not discourteous, and it pleased the Lord to preserve me, that not one thing objected could be proved against me; so I was delivered’ (Recollections, p. 116). These suspicions were not unjust; for Waller was already in communication with royalist agents, and in the spring of 1659 no one was more zealous in promoting a rising on behalf of Charles II. Charles expressed great confidence in his affection, and (11 March 1659) ordered Waller's name to be inserted in all commissions. Waller received this mark of confidence with effusion, kissed the paper, and said, ‘Let him be damned that serve not this prince with integrity and diligence.’ Some presbyterian leaders wished to impose terms upon the king, and Waller was obliged to support them, though assuring Charles that the first free parliament called would remove them (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 429, 437, 444, 446).
When Sir George Booth's insurrection broke out, Waller was again arrested (5 Aug. 1659), and, as he refused to take any engagement to remain peaceable, was sent to the Tower. He obtained a writ of habeas corpus, and was released on 31 Oct. following (Recollections, p. 105; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1659–60, pp. 107, 135). Waller joined Prynne and the other excluded members in their unsuccessful attempt to obtain admission to their seats in parliament on 27 Dec. 1659 (Old Parliamentary History, xxii. 30). On 21 Feb. 1660 Monck's influence opened the doors to them all, Waller returned to his place, and two days later he was elected a member of the last council of state of the Commonwealth. In that capacity he promoted the calling of a free parliament, and was useful to Monck in quieting the scruples of Prynne and other presbyterians (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 647, 657; Ludlow, ed. 1894, ii. 235, 249; Kennett, Register, p. 66).
At the Restoration Waller obtained nothing, and, what is more surprising, asked for nothing. He was elected to the Convention as member for Westminster, but did not sit in the next parliament (Old Parliamentary History, xxii. 216). He died on 19 Sept. 1668, and was buried with great pomp on 9 Oct. in the chapel in Tothill Street, Westminster. No monument, however, was erected to him, and the armorial bearings and other funeral decorations were pulled down by the heralds on the ground of certain technical irregularities in them (Wood, Athenæ, iii. 817; cf. letter from Thomas Jekyll to Wood, Wood MS. F. 42, f. 303, and Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1668–9, p. 23).
Of Waller as a general Dr. Gardiner justly observes: ‘If he had not the highest qualities of a commander, he came short of them as much through want of character as through defect of military skill. As a master of defensive tactics he was probably unequalled on either side’ (Great Civil War, ii. 192). Clarendon mentions Waller's skill in choosing his positions, and terms him ‘a right good chooser of vantages’ (Rebellion, vii. 111). During his career as an independent commander he was perpetually hampered by want of money. ‘I never received full 100,000l.,’ he complains, adding that the material of which his army was composed made it impossible for him ‘to improve his successes’ (Vindication, p. 17). He saw the conditions of success clearly, though he could not persuade the parliament to adopt them, and was the first to suggest the formation of the new model (Gardiner, ii. 5). Waller waged war, as he said in his letter to Hopton, ‘without personal animosities,’ and was humane and courteous in his treatment of opponents (cf. Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. 1894, i. 451; Webb, Civil War in Herefordshire, i. 263; Memoirs of Sir Richard Bulstrode, p. 120). He could not restrain his unpaid soldiers from plundering, and regrets in his ‘Recollections’ his allowing them to plunder at Winchester, holding the demolition of his own house at that place by the parliament an appropriate punishment (p. 131). At Winchester, and also at Chichester, he allowed his men to desecrate and deface those cathedrals without any attempt to check them (Mercurius Rusticus, ed. 1685, pp. 133–52). Probably he regarded iconoclasm as a service to religion.
Waller married three times. By his first wife he had one son, who died in infancy (Berry, Kentish Genealogies, p. 296; Recollections of Sir W. Waller, p. 127), and a daughter Margaret, who married Sir William Courtenay of Powderham Castle (Vindication, p. ii; Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, vi. 266); he married, secondly, Lady Anne Finch, daughter of the first Earl of Winchilsea (ib. iii. 383; Recollections, pp. 104, 106, 119, 127); thirdly, Anne, daughter of William, lord Paget, and widow of Sir Simon Harcourt (ib. p. 129; Collins, iv. 443). Copious extracts from this lady's diary are given in the ‘Harcourt Papers’ (i. 169), and an account of her character is contained in Edmund Calamy's sermon at her funeral (The Happiness of those who sleep in Jesus, 4to, 1662). By his second wife Waller had two sons—(Sir) William (d. 1699) [q. v.] and Thomas—and a daughter Anne, who married Philip, eldest son of Sir Simon Harcourt, died 23 Aug. 1664, and was the mother of Lord-chancellor Harcourt (Collins, iv. 443).
A certain number of Waller's letters and despatches were published at the time in pamphlet form, but none of his literary or autobiographical productions appeared till after his death. They were three in number:
- ‘Divine Meditations upon several Occasions, with a Daily Directory,’ 1680; a portrait is prefixed.
- ‘Recollections by General Sir William Waller.’ This is printed as an appendix to ‘The Poetry of Anna Matilda,’ 8vo, 1788, pp. 103–39. A manuscript of this work is in the library of Wadham College, Oxford.
- ‘Vindication of the Character and Conduct of Sir William Waller,’ 1797. Prefixed to this is an engraved portrait of Waller from a painting by Robert Walker in the possession of the Earl of Harcourt.
Waller also left, according to Wood, a ‘Military Discourse of the Ordering of Soldiers,’ which has never been printed.
Engraved portraits of Waller are also contained in ‘England's Worthies,’ by John Vicars, and in Josiah Ricraft's ‘Survey of England's Champions,’ both published in 1647. A portrait by Lely, in the possession of the Duke of Richmond, was No. 766 in the National Portrait Exhibition of 1866, and an anonymous portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.