An Investigation into Welsh involvement in the ‘Protestant’ side of the Thirty Years’ War

This week, I’m delighted to welcome a guest blogger to the site! Victoria Yee of the University of St Andrews has uncovered some fascinating material about the Welsh involvement in the Thirty Years War. This is a conflict that’s always fascinated me – indeed, I taught it for a time, to A-level students – so I’m really pleased to be able to facilitate this.


Traditionally it has been assumed that the British in general played an unimportant role in the international conflict of the Thirty Years’ War, recent scholarship, notably from Steve Murdoch, however, has overturned that assumption.[1] The role of the Welsh, however, is still one which is often still overlooked or assumed to be negligible. Once one begins looking, however, it becomes obvious that there is a much greater contribution than might have been imagined.

There has been almost nothing written on this topic in the past save one article, written more than forty years ago.[2] What is possible here is merely a brief analysis, compared both to the amount of source material and to the research that still can and should be done on the topic.

The Welsh and the English are often considered together as a result of Wales being a principality of the English crown. However, the Welsh were not English: their customs, history and, above all their language can attest to that. Ordinary foot soldiers of non-noble birth perhaps could not even communicate with their English counterparts. Therefore it  seems only right to investigate their contribution separately.

There are, however, many difficulties in researching specifically the Welsh in the seventeenth century. Most prominent is that, for many commentators, the identifier “English” may be applied to a Welshman with just as much validity as “Welsh”. Furthermore, names can often be misleading as to nationality as well as being adapted or misunderstood in different national contexts: for example, Pierre la Boorre, mentioned in a document in the Rotterdam Archive, might be mistaken for a Frenchman if not specifically identified as a “Walsman” [‘Welshman’].[3] Conversely, there are also those with names which appear to be of Welsh origin who in fact are Scottish or English such as William Gwyn who’s name was actually Gunn and he came from the Highlands. It must be admitted that in writing on this topic, it has been necessary to make some assumptions of nationality based on names; while generally accurate there is a considerable margin for error which must be kept in mind.


It is possible to see a significant contribution from the Welsh in many of the European conflicts of the age which has been largely underappreciated heretofore. For example, Jacob Matheusz (probably a Dutch transcription of the surname ‘Matthews’), originally from Cardiff, is recorded to have died participating in the siege of ‘s-Hertogenbosch of 1629  during the Eighty Years’ War,[4] two brothers from Wales are said to have served in Sweden’s campaigns against Russia in 1609-1610,[5]  and there also appears to have been a great number of Welsh soldiers who participated in the wars in France and the religious wars in the Netherlands.[6] Closer to home, there have been some indications that the Welsh military presence in Ireland was impressively substantial: it has been calculated that in the seven years between 1595 and 1602 Wales sent 8,241 men over to Ireland.[7] The sheer volume of soldiers recruited for service in Ireland may indeed have had something to do with proximity, but nonetheless, this, taken with evidence of Welsh involvement in many other European conflicts of the time, paints a picture of a valued and experienced military contingent coming from the Welsh counties.

This is further supported by the research conducted on the Welsh in the Civil Wars in Britain which took place during the time of the Thirty Years’ War which depict the Welsh as loyal and fierce fighters.[8] Even their women were seen as fierce fighters, with one commentator fearing that there were Welsh women among a royalist force with “knives neere half a yard long, to effect some notable massacres with.”[9] Indeed, their value is shown by the fact that there appear to have been several Welshmen entrusted with high positions of authority on both sides of the Civil War with, for example, John Jones of Maes-y-Garnedd, serving as a colonel for the Parliamentarians[10] and Sir Henry Stradling of St Donat’s, Glamorgan, appointed by the Earl of Newcastle as the Royalist governor of the castle, city and citadel of Carlisle and commander of the foot brigades there, under Colonel Gray.[11] The faith in both Welsh soldiers and commanders perhaps indicates a certain level of military experience previous to the wars on British soil, perhaps gained in the Thirty Years’ War.

Indeed, it is clear that there was extensive recruiting taking place in Wales for soldiers for the Thirty Years’ War, although the records have not been fully investigated. There is a brief mention of a levy in a passage from the Acts of the Privy Council of England on the 8th of June 1630: “his Majestie hath beene graciously pleased to give permission to our verie good Lord the Lord [James] Marquis Hamilton for the levying and transporting of six thousand English Voluntiers, to be imployed in the service of the King of Sweden” which includes permission for Captain Roger Powell and Captain John Powell to recruit soldiers in Monmouth, Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Brecknock (Brecon) and Montgomery as well as permission for a Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Valentine  to recruit in Brecknock, Cardigan, Radnor and Pembroke.[12] Similarly, there also appears to be a commission issued to a Captain Thomas Davies, written in Dutch, to recruit men from Wales for service in the Dutch Republic.[13] Additionally, there is a letter from the Privy Council to John Egerton, the Earl of Bridgewater in 1635 which instructs him to raise “sixe hundrede & fourty footemen” with an attached list of places in which he was to recruit; for example, ninety men should come from Carmarthen, seventy from Flint and one hundred and fifty from Glamorgan among several other Welsh counties.[14]

Although it has been difficult to confirm the arrival of these troops on the continent, there is plenty of evidence that there were certainly Welsh soldiers who did arrive. For example, Laurence Howell is listed as a captain in Danish service,[15] while Robert Ellice is said to have served under Gustav II Adolf during the Thirty Years’ War[16] and Listian Owen is recorded to have served under Robert Stuart, also in Swedish service.[17] There also some wonderfully unmistakable Welsh names which appear in the muster rolls in Sweden, for example, Lewis Ap Hugh who served in William Ramsay’s company in 1629.[18] Most of the Welsh soldiers serving in Sweden, however, seem to have served in the regiment of George Fleetwood: to name but a few, these include, Walter Jones, a drummer,[19] Thomas Wynne, a reformado Ensign[20] and Thomas Edwards, a Lieutenant under Fleetwood between 1629-32.[21] Fleetwood’s regiment, indeed, were present at many of the decisive battles of Thirty Years’ War: having fought at Stralsund in 1628 in Danish service, the regiment then transferred into Swedish service, where they participated in the invasion of Pomerania and at several important battles in German lands, such as the Battle of Frankfurt an der Oder in 1631 and the Battle of Breitenfeld later in the same year. Furthermore, although Fleetwood departed in September 1635, it has been argued that the regiment itself stayed in Sweden and became integrated into the Army of the Wesser, meaning that the Welshmen in the army in all likelihood also took part in the Battle of Wittstock in and the siege of Leipzig both in 1636.[22]

Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau's painting of a scene from one of the great battles of the Thirty Years War, Rocroi 1643

Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau’s painting of a scene from one of the great battles of the Thirty Years War, Rocroi 1643

The most famous Welshman of the war merits his own discussion, however. Sir Charles Morgan of Pencarn, a related branch of the Morgans of Tredegar, had an extensive military career, spending much time in Dutch service[23] as well as famously taking a regiment of around 6,000 men to aid Christian IV’s campaigns in Germany even though it arrived after the battle of Lütter in 1626 and was therefore, from Christian’s point of view, too late.  He continued to fight for the Danes until he was forced to surrender the garrison of Stade to General Tilly in 1628. While it is significant in itself that a Welshmen was of such a high rank and making a decisive difference in the course of the war, it is also important to note that many of the soldiers in his command were likely to be of Welsh extraction also. Most notably, Colonel Thomas Davies of Gwysaney, Flintshire who wrote that “all our kindred are well that are with me” referring to his comrades from Flintshire,[24] implying that there were many more Welshmen serving in Charles Morgan’s regiment than the surviving records can specifically name, indeed it is plausible that some may even have followed him back into Dutch service following the Danish exit from the conflict.

Moreover, in Monro’s famous account of the Thirty Years’ War,  Sir Francis Trafford’s company in Danish are specifically identified as “being Welsh” and serving with their Scottish comrades[25] Far from being uninvolved militarily, then, it seems that there were Welshmen present at many of the crucial battles of the Thirty Years’ War; and certainly they seem to have been present in not only Dutch service, which had a previous history of Anglo(including Welsh)-Dutch military forces, but also in both Danish and Swedish service as well.

Aside from the military sphere, there is also evidence of Welsh participation in many other aspects of the Thirty Years’ War. Information is harder to come by for these aspects, however, which means that this section is more cursory out of necessity rather than by choice.

Although there is distinctly less primary evidence readily available for the naval sphere than for the military sphere, there are some tantalising indications that there may have been a more substantial Welsh naval contribution than may be apparent at first. There are indeed some indications from the Civil War period that the Welsh participated in a naval capacity: for example, Sir Henry Stradling, mentioned above, was appointed the Vice-Admiral in 1642 of the ships which were sent “to lie upon the Coast of Ireland.”[26] Most of the references to Welsh seamen, however, are in relation to the Dutch East and West India Companies, as both sailors and soldiers. For example, to name but a few, there are references to an Evert Jorisz (possibly Morris), Eduart Price Rednocher  and Jan Morgam all of Wales (described as being Wales in England) who, among others, were ready to pledge their service to the Dutch East or West India Companies.[27] Although these sailors were not directly involved in the Thirty Years’ War, it can be argued that they had an impact on the events of the war: these trading companies proved crucial to funding the war effort of the Dutch Republic and contributed significantly to their power and prestige in the world.[28] Furthermore, it has been suggested that during the course of the Thirty Years’ War “Asia became a major theatre of battle as each side sought to disrupt the trade of the other.”[29]

There are also indications that the Welsh were involved in the political and diplomatic sphere of the Thirty Years’ War, although here, it must be admitted that their involvement seems less crucial, with most occupying lower positions or playing more peripheral roles. For example, Richard Mostyn is noted to have accompanied Prince Charles along with Buckingham to Spain for the attempted Spanish Match[30] and James Howell, who is listed as a secretary to Leicester in 1632 during his embassy to Denmark and can be found in correspondence organising his travel.[31] Similarly, a Thomas Jones was recorded as a servant of Robert Anstruther accompanying him on his diplomatic missions in 1627; he is given permission in February of 1627 by the Privy Council to “crosse the seas into the Lowe Countryes” taking “three trunks for their master.”[32] The exception to this perhaps is Sir Sackville Trevor, whose actions may indeed have changed the course of British history when, having accompanied Charles to Spain in 1623, he is alleged to have rescued the prince from drowning in Cadiz harbour.[33]

There is naturally also political involvement in any decision made by Parliament through the presence of Welsh Members of Parliament. Following the Acts of Settlement, each county and shiretown in Wales obtained a Member of Parliament (except for Merioneth which had no borough MPs and Monmouthshire which had two knights of the shire) and, following the appointment of a Member of Parliament to Haverfordwest in 1543, Wales had a total of twenty-seven MPs.[34] Even though this provision was less than the number of MPs supplied for English counties it is important that there was still Welsh representation in Parliament and therefore a contribution towards political decisions made regarding the war on the continent as well as in domestic affairs of the time. A certain level of engagement and interest is certainly visible among the Welsh MPs; most notably Herbert of Cherbury, who wrote extensively on the events of the Thirty Years’ War and other conflicts of the day, particularly writing on the Expedition to the Isle de Rhé.[35] The Wynn family also keep up an interest in events as they developed on the continent; for example, Sir Richard Wynn writes in June 1621 to inform his father that “the King and Queen of Boehmia are still at the Hage [Hague] to the great dishonour of our nacion” and that “the king of france has a great armie going towards Rochell the only strong towne the protestantes hold in france.”[36] It is certainly evident from these letters that there is not only an interest but an involvement and concern for the events unfolding on the continent; they are not the letters of a mere casual observer.

Furthermore, there is evidence that there was a certain amount of arms manufacturing located within the Welsh counties. Although much of this evidence comes from the Civil War period, there are a few indications that these industries may have been in place prior to the outbreak of Civil War and may therefore have been in use for the Thirty Years’ War. For example, Oliver Cromwell writes to the Committee of Carmarthen in 1648 informing them that he desired that “we may have your furtherance and assistance in procuring some necessaries to be cast in the Iron-furnaces in your county of Carmarthen, which will the better enable us to reduce the Town and Castle of Pembroke.”[37] This explicitly informs us that an iron-furnace which could be used to cast “Shells for our Mortarpiecce,” “cannon-shot” and “culverin-shot” was in existence prior to the Civil War.[38] Similarly, it is recorded that in 1643 Robert Dolben was tasked with manufacturing gunpowder in North Wales, [39] while a Captain John Young and his associates were appointed gunpowder makers in Glamorgan.[40] Peter Edwards suggests that these furnaces were in place beforehand and were simply repurposed as Royalists were pushed south: the Royalists were able to utilise “a number of ironworking sites that could be geared up to produce ordnance and munitions,”[41] implying that these were working centres of ironmaking before the Civil War. Indeed, Morgan Rees argues that the centres of the iron industry, Glamorgan and Monmouthshire, were established during the second half of the sixteenth century, estimating that blast furnaces and forges began to appear in the Taff Valley sometime between 1564 and 1600.[42] Although it is unsure whether the purpose of these foundries was to produce arms and ammunition it is certainly a possibility that they did. The development of this industry also meant that the iron created in Wales could be conveyed to other areas of Europe; although Rees suggests that, certainly before the Thirty Years’ War, the iron was mainly distributed to various places within the British Isles rather than abroad.[43]

Overall, the evidence presented here gives an indication of the extent of Welsh involvement in almost every sphere of the Thirty Years’ War from soldiers of all levels of seniority to political involvement both in Parliament and accompanying diplomatic missions abroad. Although the sheer numbers of Welshmen involved with the wars in central Europe are likely to be less than the numbers of Scots or even, perhaps, English, what can be demonstrated is that they should not be ignored or generalised away entirely. This research should be seen as a starting point for a reassessment of the role of the Welsh in the seventeenth century political world. For too long the Welsh have been assumed to have been merely spectators, if they were aware of what was happening at all. The sources thoroughly disprove this: not only were there many Welshmen who took an interest in the events of the day and took the time to write letters to friends and relatives to discuss them, but there were also many who were deeply involved with the events themselves, with many even participating in the most crucial battles of the war. Indeed, it has only been able to touch upon the Protestant side, and indeed there is likely to be much more to be said on Welsh involvement in the Catholic armies.[44] The work of a reassessment of the significance of Welsh participation is, by no means, complete, and there remains much scope for future research.


Victoria Yee

University of St Andrews



[1] See for example Marks, Adam, England, The English and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), phd thesis, (St Andrews, 2012)  and Murdoch, Steve (ed.), Scotland and The Thirty Years’ War 1618-1648, (Leiden, 2001.

[2] Tucker, Norman, ‘Volunteers in the Thirty Years’ War’, National Library of Wales Journal, Vol 16, no. 1. (1969).

[3] Stadsarchief Rotterdam, ONA Rotterdam, 190/37/53

[4] A document in the Rotterdam Archive records his brother as co-heir along with his widow: “Antony Matheusz van Kaerdif, gelegen in Wals Engelandt, broer van wijlen Jacob Matheusz, gesneuveld in het leger voor ‘s-Hartogenbosch, als diens mede-erfgenaam, en Janneken Gillisdr van der Goude, weduwe van de overledene”, ONA Rotterdam, 184, 88/157.

[5] SSNE nos. 1401 and 1402

[6] See Trim, David J. B., Fighting ‘Jacob’s Wars’. The Employment of English and Welsh Mercenaries in the European Wars of Religion: France and the Netherlands, 1562, 1610, PhD Thesis, King’s College, University of London (2002), p. 336.

[7] Morgan, Rhys, From Soldier to Settler: The Welsh in Ireland, 1558-1641, PhD Thesis, (Cardiff, 2011), p. 26.

[8] See for example, Evans, Robin, ‘The ‘Loyal Unknown Soldier’: Wales and the English Civil War’, History Review, no. 53, (December 2005).

[9] 31st March, 1643, Ingler, William, Certaine informations from Severall parts of the kingdome, <>, p. 87

[10] Jones, John Graham, The History of Wales, (Cardiff, 2014), p. 81.

[11] Glamorgan Archives, D/DXGC/109/1 and D/DXGC/109/2.

[12] Acts of the Privy Council of England, Vol 43, (1630-1631), <>, pp. 376-7.

[13] Mentioned in Tucker, ‘Volunteers’, p. 62.

[14] National Library of Wales MS 9062E/1622

[15] SSNE no. 212.

[16] See the Dictionary of Welsh Biography entry: <>.

[17] SSNE no. 3238.

[18] Krigsarkivet, Rullor 18, 1629, ff. 229-230

[19] Krigsarkivet, Rullor 1631, Preussen feb. vol 13 among others.

[20] Krigsarkivet, Rullor, 1630, Preussen, Okt, vol 31 among others. .

[21] Marks, Adam, England, The English and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), phd thesis, (St Andrews, 2012), appendix 7, p 198.

[22] Marks, The English and the Thirty Years’ War, appendix 8, p. 201; cf. SSNE no. 2208.

[23] See SSNE no. 89.

[24] NLW MSS 1593E

[25] Brockington, William S. (ed.), Monro, His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment Called Mac-Keys, (Connecticut, 1999), p. 96.

[26] Rushworth, John, Historical Collections Containing the Principal Matters which Happened from the Meeting of the Parliament, November the 3rd, 1640 to the end of the year 1644, (London), Volume IV, part three, p. 777.

[27] ONA Rotterdam, 293, 50/64; ONA Rotterdam, 373, 57/120; ONA Rotterdam, 302, 96/198.

[28]For a discussion of the reasons for the origins of the Dutch East India Company see Enthoven, Murdoch and Williamson , The Navigator, (Leiden, 2010), pp. 4; 59 cf. Boxer, C. R., The Dutch Seaborn Empire, 1600-1800, (Middlesex, 1973), p. 4.

[29] Ibid., p. 69.

[30] Tucker, ‘Volunteers in the Thirty Years’ War’, p. 67.

[31] SSNE no. 1355; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1631-3, <>, pp. 382, 390, 409, 412.

[32] Acts of the Privy Council of England, vol 42, 1627 Jan-Aug, <;, p. 65.

[33] Dictionary of Welsh Biography, The Trevor family, Sir Sackville Trevor, <;

[34] Jones, J. Gwynfor, Early Modern Wales, c. 1525-1640, (Hampshire, 1994), p. 176.

[35] NLW GB 0210/E5/2; NLW GB0210/E5/4/13; NLW GB0210/E5/4/18

[36] NLW MS 9057E/959

[37] Carlyle, Thomas, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches with Elucidations, Vol IV, (New York, 1845), p. 240

[38] Ibid., p. 240

[39] NLW Wynn Papers, no. 1723

[40] Edwards, Peter, Dealing in Death: The Arms Trade and the British Civil Wars, 1638-52, (Gloucestershire, 2000), p. 116.

[41] Ibid., p. 97.

[42] Rees, D. Morgan, Mines, Mills and Furnaces: An Introduction to Industrial Archaeology, (London, 1969) p. 52

[43] Ibid., p. 53

[44] For example see the section on Catholic exiles from Wales in Davies, John, A History of Wales, pp. 247-9.


1 Comment

  1. RIF WINFIELD says:

    Dear David,Happy New Year to you! Frank Fox has emailed me in connection with his list of participants at Barfleur, which he mentions that you have for inclusion in your blog this month: “Happy New Year, Rif, Thanks for the beautiful Christmas card.  My revised Anglo-Dutch Barfleur/La Hogue fleet list is to be published on J D Davies’s blog site tomorrow morning.  I haven’t seen the WordPress version yet; usually my carefully constructed tab stops become a mishmash which neither I nor David have learned how to correct.  I hope it is in time for you to use it.  If you ever find a list of the French frigates and fireships for that battle, please let me know and we can blog it together.

    Best regards, Frank” I should be grateful if you would email me a copy of Frank’s list, together with any comments you care to make. You will appreciate that this is for the ‘prequel’ volume on French Warships that Steve Roberts and I are just completing, which will cover all French vessels from 1626 to 1786. You will certainly find of interest the consolidated (but still provisional) compendium of participants in French naval battles and other actions which I attach to this email. This is what I am endevouring to hone before it goes for publication; I should be grateful if you can add to or correct any of the lists for the events covered in this draft. Besides Barfleur/La Hougue, I am particularly keen to have a corrected list for the Battle of Lagos in 1693 (attack on the Smyrna convoy). Many thanks,Rif

    From: J D Davies To: Sent: Monday, 12 September 2016, 10:29 Subject: [New post] An Investigation into Welsh involvement in the ‘Protestant’ side of the Thirty Years’ War #yiv1359563984 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1359563984 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1359563984 a.yiv1359563984primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1359563984 a.yiv1359563984primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1359563984 a.yiv1359563984primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1359563984 a.yiv1359563984primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1359563984 | J D Davies posted: “This week, I’m delighted to welcome a guest blogger to the site! Victoria Yee of the University of St Andrews has uncovered some fascinating material about the Welsh involvement in the Thirty Years War. This is a conflict that’s always fascinated me – ind” | |


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