Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Skippon, Philip

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SKIPPON, PHILIP (d. 1660), soldier, was son of Luke Skippon of West Lexham, Norfolk, and his wife Anne. He took military service early, and, as he was married at Frankenthal in 1622, evidently served in the palatinate under Sir Horace Vere (Carthew, Hundred of Launditch, pp. 440–3). Skippon was wounded during the siege of Breda by Spinola in 1625, and again at its recapture by the Prince of Orange in 1637. He served also under the command of Lord Vere at the sieges of Bois le Duc and Maastricht in 1629 (Markham, The Fighting Veres, pp. 428, 436; Hexham, Journal of the Taking of Venlo, &c., 4to, Delft, 1633, pp. 9, 25, Journal of the Siege of Breda, 1637, 4to, p. 24). Skippon, who attained the rank of captain in the Dutch service, returned to England about 1639, and was recommended by the king to the artillery company for election as leader, and was admitted on 23 Oct. 1639 (Raikes, History of the Honourable Artillery Company, i. 96). According to Clarendon, he left the Dutch service on account of some scruples of conscience concerning the Book of Common Prayer (Rebellion, iv. 198). After the attempted arrest of the five members, in January 1642, the House of Commons applied to the city for a guard, and the common council appointed Skippon (10 Jan. 1642) to take command of the trained bands of the city, and to raise a guard for the defence of the parliament (Gardiner, History of England, x. 148, 154). The common council agreed to pay Skippon 300l. a year so long as he remained in the service of the city (Sharpe, London and the Kingdom, ii. 161). He had been made a freeman of the city on 8 Jan., and on 12 Jan. he was made commander of the guards of the parliament, with the title of sergeant-major-general. By the order of the House of Commons Skippon blockaded the Tower, and even attempted to obtain possession of it by surprise; but the removal of Sir John Byron put an end to the supposed danger (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1641–3, pp. 249, 265, 269). On 4 Feb. 1642 parliament passed an ordinance for Skippon's indemnity, praising his ‘great care and faithfulness’ (Commons' Journal, ii. 371, 414; Husbands, Ordinances, 4to, 1643, p. 77). On 13 May following the king ordered Skippon to attend him at York; but the two houses agreed in declaring the order illegal and prohibiting his going (ib. p. 194; Commons' Journals, ii. 579).

Skippon was not at Edgehill, but on 12 Nov. 1642, when the king threatened London, and the London trained bands marched to Turnham Green, Skippon appeared at their head. ‘He made,’ writes Whitelocke, ‘short and encouraging speeches to his soldiers, which were to this purpose: “Come, my boys, my brave boys, let us pray heartily and fight heartily. I will run the same fortunes and hazards with you. Remember, the cause is for God, and for the defence of yourselves, your wives, and children. Come, my honest brave boys, pray heartily and fight heartily, and God will bless us.” Thus he went all along with the soldiers, talking to them, sometimes to one company, and sometimes to another; and the soldiers seemed to be more taken with it than with a set formal oration’ (Memorials, i. 190 ed. 1853). Essex saw Skippon's value, and appointed him sergeant-major-general of the army, to which the common council reluctantly acquiesced (17 Nov. 1642, Raikes, i. 112).

In December 1642 a pamphlet was published narrating Skippon's relief of Marlborough and victory over Prince Rupert before it. In January 1643 there was also a report that he had taken Reading; but both rumours were false (Waylen, History of Marlborough, 1854, p. 175; Mercurius Aulicus, 2 Jan. 1643). In April he took part in the siege of Reading, and it was said that he was to be left in command of the besiegers while Essex advanced on Oxford (Good and True News from Reading, 1643, 4to, p. 6). Skippon also accompanied Essex on his march to the relief of Gloucester, and did eminent service at the first battle of Newbury (Washbourn, Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, 1825, pp. 239, 245; Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 216). In November he occupied Newport Pagnell for the parliament, and on 24 Dec. took Grafton House in Northamptonshire (Report on the Duke of Portland's MSS. i. 148; Vicars, God's Ark, p. 103). During Essex's Cornish campaign, in August and September 1644, Skippon's courage and ability were conspicuous. When Essex escaped by sea, he sent a message to Skippon bidding him make the best terms he could, and adding in a letter: ‘Sir, if you live I shall take as great a care of you as of my father if alive; if God otherwise dispose of you, as long as I have a drop of blood I shall strive to revenge yours on the causers of it.’ Skippon called a council of war, and exhorted his officers to make an effort to cut their way through as the horse had done; but failing to persuade his men to renew the fight, he was obliged to capitulate, surrendering guns, baggage, and arms (Rushworth, v. 704–10). ‘In all this trouble,’ wrote a parliamentary officer, ‘I observed Major-general Skippon in his carriage; but never did I see any man so patient, so humble, and so truly wise and valiant in all his actions as he’ (Cotton, Barnstaple during the Civil War, 1889, p. 320).

At the second battle of Newbury (27 Oct. 1644) Skippon had his revenge; for the chief success of the day fell to the troops under his command, who recaptured six of the guns they had lost in Cornwall. ‘Never,’ he wrote to the committee of both kingdoms, ‘did men perform so dangerous a service, nor came through so difficult a work with more undismayed spirits than the poor handful of my lord general's old foot’ (Rushworth, v. 723). Like the other commanders of the joint army, he was severely blamed for not preventing the king's relief of Donnington Castle (9 Nov.), but based his defence on the disorganised condition of the army, and the impossibility of collecting a sufficient force in time to give battle (ib. v. 733).

When the new model was organised Skippon was appointed sergeant-major-general to Fairfax, and his influence was of the greatest value in persuading the old soldiers of Essex's army to enrol themselves in the new army. In an ‘excellent, pious, and pithy hortatory speech’ he pledged his word to the men for good usage and constant pay, ending, ‘As I have been with you hitherto, so upon all occasion of service to God and my country I shall, by the help of God, be willing to live and die with you’ (Vicars, Burning Bush, p. 133; Rushworth, vi. 8, 17). Skippon took the field with Fairfax in May 1645, and while the general blockaded Oxford, he endeavoured to take Borstall House in Buckinghamshire, but was repulsed with loss (ib. vi. 36). At Naseby he marshalled the foot of the parliamentary army, taking post himself on the left centre. He was dangerously wounded by a shot in the side towards the close of the fight, but declined to leave the field, telling Fairfax he would not go off as long as a man would stand (ib. p. 45; Whitelocke, Memorials, i. 448). The commons sent down a physician to attend him, and he received letters of thanks from the speakers of both houses (ib. i. 452, 456; Lords' Journals, vii. 450). He was brought up to London to be treated, narrowly escaping with his life, through an accident to his litter on the way, and lay for some weeks in great danger (Vicars, England's Worthies, 1647, p. 56). On 2 Dec. 1645 parliament passed an ordinance appointing Skippon governor of Bristol, and he was then sufficiently recovered to accept the post, which he found an extremely troublesome one (Lords' Journals, viii. 153; Seyer, Memorials of Bristol, ii. 466). He rejoined Fairfax at the siege of Oxford (1 May 1645), where he undertook the construction and management of the forts and entrenchments erected by the besiegers (Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, ed. 1854, pp. 255, 258).

In December 1646 Skippon was recommended by Fairfax to be made governor of Newcastle, and to command the convoy which was to take the Scots the 200,000l. voted them by parliament, on the withdrawal of their army from England (Rushworth, vi. 389, 398; Lords' Journals, viii. 700; Tanner MSS. lix. 632, 690, 695). On 29 March 1647 the House of Commons summoned him to resume his duties with the army, and a week later (6 April) he was appointed by parliament to command the intended expedition to Ireland, with the title of marshal-general. He begged hard to be excused. ‘I am so sensible,’ he wrote to the speaker, ‘of my own exceeding indisposedness of mind, inability of body, and distractedness of estate and family, that I ingenuously confess myself most unfit, and unable to undertake or undergo such an employment’ (Lords' Journals, ix. 122, 138). But the parliament pressed Skippon hard, and on 29 April he signified his acceptance of the Irish command (Lords' Journals, ix. 138, 158). The same day he took his seat in the House of Commons as member for Barnstaple. The soldiers who had served under him at once applied to him to represent their grievances to the house, and on 30 April the ‘agitators’ of eight regiments of horse presented him with a letter of appeal, which he at once laid before the commons. He was forthwith ordered to repair to the army with Cromwell and other officers to inquire into the origin of the letter and to appease the rising discontent (Rushworth, vi. 463, 472–4; Cary, Memorials of the Civil War, i. 201). Skippon assembled the officers at Saffron Walden, heard their complaints, explained his reasons for accepting the Irish command, and urged them to acquiesce in the decision of parliament and enlist for Ireland (ib. i. 205, 207, 214; Clarke Papers, i. 28, 33–78, 94; Rushworth, vi. 480, 484). But even men who had been at first willing to serve if Skippon were commander, now declined to do so unless their grievances were redressed. The army refused to disband, derided the concessions of the parliament as insufficient, and when at Triplow Heath (10 June 1647) he made a final effort to win them to obedience, he was answered by a universal cry for ‘justice’ (ib. vi. 556). Skippon's attempt to mediate between army and parliament exposed him to imputations of treachery from the presbyterians, which were rendered more plausible by his refusal to take part in the attempted resistance of the city to the army at the end of July, and his entry into London with Fairfax in August (Holles, Memoirs, ed. Maseres, pp. 241, 242, 251, 283; Walker, History of Independency, ed. 1661, i. 45).

On the outbreak of the second civil war (18 May 1648) Skippon was made commander-in-chief of the London militia, while his salary of 300l. a year was raised by the common council to 600l. (Rushworth, vii. 1099, 1101, 1118). On 3 July 1648, when a royalist rising in London seemed imminent, Skippon was further commissioned by the House of Commons to raise a regiment of horse, an extension of his authority which led to a dispute between the two houses, and was loudly complained of by the presbyterians (Commons' Journals, v. 622, 648, 677; Walker, History of Independency, i. 121, 131, 136). At the same time the royalists falsely imputed to him a part in what was known as Captain Rolfe's plot to assassinate Charles I, basing the charge on the fact that Skippon had a son-in-law of that name. The House of Commons vindicated Skippon on his complaint to them, and ordered their votes to be posted up throughout the city (ib. i. 116; Commons' Journals, v. 614, 630). In the face of all these suspicions and attacks Skippon, while eager for a treaty with Charles I, effectively maintained the peace of the city, and prevented the London royalists from giving armed assistance to the risings in Kent and Essex (Gardiner, Great Civil War, iv. 209).

Skippon was appointed one of the king's judges, but never attended any of the meetings of the high court of justice. During the Commonwealth and protectorate he held high office both military and civil, but exercised little political influence. On 19 April 1648 the commons had voted him lands to the value of 1,000l. a year, but the act carrying this vote into effect was not passed till 8 July 1651 (Commons' Journals, vi. 237, 599, v. 537; Ludlow, Memoirs, i. 241). When Cromwell marched against the Scots an act was passed (25 June 1650) appointing Skippon commander-in-chief of all the forces in and about London (Commons' Journals, vi. 431). He was also elected a member of the first, second, third, and fifth councils of state which existed during the republic. Though he was not one of the Little parliament, and did not sit in the council appointed by the officers of the army after the dissolution of the Long parliament, he was a member of each of the two councils appointed by Cromwell. The Protector commissioned Skippon to command the forces to be raised in London in February 1655 to suppress the intended rising of the royalists; and when the major-generals were instituted, Skippon was appointed major-general for London and the district (Cromwelliana, pp. 151, 155). In the two parliaments of 1654 and 1656 Skippon represented Lyme, but he rarely opened his mouth in their debates. Yet in 1656 indignation at the blasphemies of James Naylor roused Skippon to unwonted eloquence. ‘The growth of these things,’ he declared, ‘is more dangerous than the most intestine or foreign enemies. I have often been troubled in my thoughts to think of this toleration. … If this be liberty, God deliver me from such liberty. … I was always of opinion in the Long parliament the more liberty the greater mischief’ (Burton, Parliamentary Diary, i. 24, 48, 101, 218). The Protector summoned Skippon to sit in his House of Lords (December 1657), and he was so generally respected that even the republican pamphleteers found nothing except political inconsistency to allege against the choice (Harleian Miscellany, iii. 478). When the Protector died, Skippon was one of the dignitaries who signed the proclamation of Richard as his successor (3 Sept. 1658), but he was so little identified with the Cromwellian régime that the restored Long parliament reappointed him major-general of the London militia (27 July 1659), and commander-in-chief of all the forces within the limits of the weekly bills of mortality (2 Aug. 1659; Commons' Journals, vii. 707, 745; Cromwelliana, p. 176). Age and infirmity prevented him from taking any active part in the revolutions of the next few months, and he died about the beginning of March 1660. His will, dated 20 Feb. 1659–60, was proved on 25 Oct. following (Carthew, p. 440).

Skippon was the author of three religious books: 1. ‘A Salve for every Sore, or a Collection of Promises out of the whole Book of God, and is the Christian Centurion's infallible Ground of Confidence,’ 1643, 12mo. A second enlarged edition, entitled ‘A Pearl of Price, in a Collection of Promises,’ &c., appeared in 1649. 2. ‘True Treasure, or Thirty Holy Vows, containing a brief sum of all that concerns the Christian Centurion's conscionable Walking with God,’ 1644, 12mo. 3. ‘The Christian Centurion's Observations, Advices, and Resolutions, containing matters divine and moral, collected according to his own experience, by Philip Skippon,’ &c., 1645, 12mo. All three are practical works of devotion addressed to his fellow-soldiers, with rude verses of his own interspersed. The third contains some recollections of his service in Holland. Skippon's other writings consist of despatches printed in pamphlet form during the civil war.

Skippon married twice: first, Maria Comes at Frankenthal in the Netherlands, on 14 May 1622; she died on 24 Jan. 1655, aged 54, and was buried in the chancel of Acton church, where a monument to her memory was erected (Carthew, Hundred of Launditch, p. 438; Quarles, Hist. of Foulsham, pp. 80, 97; cf. Commons' Journals, vi. 535). Skippon's second wife was Katherine Philips, widow. Skippon left a daughter Susanna, married to Richard, eldest son of Sir William Meredith, bart., on 5 April 1655 (Carthew, p. 441). His will also mentions two other daughters. Skippon's son by his first wife, Philip Skippon, was knighted on 19 April 1674 (Le Neve, Knights, p. 298).

Portraits of Skippon, with short memoirs annexed, are given in John Vicars's ‘England's Worthies,’ 1647, p. 50, and in Ricraft's ‘England's Champions,’ 1647, p. 55. A list of others is given in the ‘Catalogue of the Sutherland Collection’ in the Bodleian Library, ii. 114.

[In 1648 a poem was published entitled Truths Triumph, or a Just Vindication of Major-Gen. Skippon, 4to; Carthew's Hundred of Launditch; Noble's House of Cromwell, ed. 1787, i. 398; other authorities mentioned in the article.]

C. H. F.