National, Regional & Local Narratives:
Local history has provided one of the most fruitful areas of study for historians researching the English Civil Wars in recent decades. Whereas earlier historians had tended to concentrate on presenting a chronological narrative of military events in the locality, more recent authors, stimulated by the wealth of source material available in County Record Offices, have continued to explore the relationship between national events and local society. A. M. Everitt, in his seminal 1969 book, The Local Community and the Great Rebellion, wrote that:
The allegiance of the the provincial gentry to the community of their native shire is one of the basic facts of English history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Though the sense of national identity had been increasing since the early Tudors, so too had the sense of county identity, and the later was normally … the more powerful sentiment in 1640-60: … the growth of county administration, the development of county institutions, the expanding wealth of the local gentry, their increasing tendency to intermarriage, their growing interest in local history and legal custom, the rise of the county towns as social, cultural and administrative centres; these and many other elements entered into the rise of … the ‘country commonwealths’ of England.
… Despite the well-known fact that many gentry attended the universities and some of the wealthire families spent part of the year in London, the vast majority of the country gentry passed most of their lives within a few miles of their native manor-house, in a circle often as limited as that of their tenants and labourers. The brief years at the university and Inns of Court were no more than an interlude, principally designed to fit them out for their functions as justices, squires, and landlords in their own county …
In 1640, however, local attachments were, if anything, becoming deeper rather than more superficial. For this reason the Civil War was not simply a struggle between gallant Cavaliers and psalm-singing Roundheads … This does not mean that most English people were indifferent to the political problems of the time, but that their loyalties were polarised around different ideals. … a more urgent problem was the conflict between loyalty to the nation and loyalty to the county community. This division cut across the conventional division, like a geological fault. The unwillingness of most people to forgo the independence of their shire and admit that allegiance to the Kingdom as a whole must overide it was one of the reasons why the Civil War was so long drawn out. …
In a world with poor communications and no country newspapers … most people (were) chiefly concerned with the fortunes of their local community. It was not that they never heard any national news, but that they were not continuously preoccupied with it … There were other matters of more immediate concern, and most people lived too near the bone to spare much time for political speculation. … Every decision, every loyalty was shaped, not so much by the fiat of government, as by the whole network of local society: by all the pressures of personal influence, family connection, ancient amity, local pride, religious sentiment, economic necessity and a dozen other matters …
How much were ordinary people really affected by the events of the Great Rebellion? … In the Midlands, of course, country people could not fail at times to be conscious of the fighting, and for some of them – the people of Leicester, for instance, on a May evening in 1645 – it brought horror and tragedy. Yet it would be misleading to suppose that daily life was continuously disrupted by fighting, even in the Midlands. … There is, of course, no need to minimise the impact of the Civil War upon seventeenth-century England. Its consequences for provincial society were obviously far-reaching. But we also need to see the Rebellion as one of a succession of problems to which society at the time was particularly vulnerable. The recurrent problems of harvest failure, and the malnutrition and disease that often followed in its wake were, for most English people, more serious and more persistent than the tragic but temporary upheaval of the Civil War. … During the seventeenth century as a whole, every fourth harvest, on the average, fell seriously short of requirements, and in some decades several successive years showed a marked deficiency. Those who lived through the Civil War and Commonwealth period, for example, suffered no fewer than ten harvest failures within the space of fifteen or sixteen years, … This kind of situation affected every class in the country, and for hundreds of thousands of labourers, yeomen, craftsmen and traders it might well mean ruin. …
Their experiences might go some way to explain the latent intransigence of the provincial world which, in the last resort, was one of the principal factors in the failure of both Charles I and Cromwell. … a certain dumb obstinacy towards the world at large – and not least towards the strange doings of princes and protectors.
Bath, North-East Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire:
The following documents chiefly concern the city of Bath and the surrounding area of north-east Somerset, south Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. In 1642 Bath was a prosperous walled city of some two thousand people. It livelihood was based on a lucrative clothtrade and its fame as a health resort. From the outset of the first Civil War, the Community declared its vigorous support for parliament. But how far this was influenced by the loyalties of three prominant local ‘worthies’ – John Ashe, ‘the greatest clothier in the kingdom’; Alexander Popham, the city’s wealthy MP; and William Prynne, the nationally-famous pamphleteer, has been a matter of some debate among historians. Further, related questions have been: How great was the city’s real involvement in the war? How quickly did disillusionment set in? How seriously was everyday life disrupted by local hostilities, which included the battle of Lansdown and the siege by the New Model Army? How severe was the conflict between loyalty to the state and loyalty to the local community?
John Ashe wrote A Perfect Relation from the Committee of Sommersetshire in 1642, describing how the enthusiastic recruits to the Trained Bands from north-east Somerset arrived in Bath from Chewton Mendip. These included Popham’s Regiment, which had doubled in size with volunteers. Many of them had only swords, but were ‘put into order’, despite a lack of expert soldiers and officers. They then marched over the Mendip hills a distance of four miles, until they came within sight of Wells. By the evening, they were unable to obtain provisions, and so lay all that night upon the hill, fasting and in the cold, and spent the time in prayers and singing of Psalms. Popham, with his two ‘valiant’ brothers and Sir John Horner and son, …
… with many other young Gentlemen, Captaines and others lay all night upon fursbushes in their armes in the open fields amidst the camp, the old Knight often saying that his Furs-Bed was was the best he lay upon. It was very much to be admired that the Spirits and resolutions of so great a company, and men so tenderly bred could be kept to that night, as to indure so much hunger and cold. But such was the love and affections of all the country within eight and ten miles distance, that by the the next morning daylight they sent in such provisions of all sorts in waynes, carts and on horses, that this great company had sufficient and to spare, both for breakfast and for dinner, and would not take a penny for it, nay many did carry home againe their provisions, for want of Company to eat it.
Ashe’s narrative was reprinted in pamphlet form from a letter he wrote to the Speaker. In March 1643, the royalist newspaper, Mercurius Aulicus, reported the royalist Governor of Reading’s seizure of Ashe’s supplies for London:
Certaine news also came this day, that Sir Arthur Aston had seized on seven cart-loades, one waine-load and twenty-four horse-loades of broad fine cloth, amonting in the whole to 380 cloths, and that in many of the packs were found some ‘Belts’ and ‘Bandoleers’, and great store of ‘Match’, and a considerable summe of money. All of which were sent towards London from one Mr Ashe, the greatest ‘Clothier’ in the Kingdome, as it is conceived, but of so turbulent a spirit and so pernicious a practicer in the maintaining and fomenting of this Rebellion, that he stands excepted by His Majesty amongst some others, out of His Majesty’s generall pardon for the County of Sommerset.
Clearly, there was no love lost between him and the royalists of Berkshire. The following summer, Royalist forces concentrated for a major assault on the Parliamentarian positions in the West Country. A contingent of three thousand foot, three hundred dragoons and five hundred horse under Lord Hopton was joined at Chard in Somerset on 4 June by a thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse under Prince Maurice and the Marquess of Hertford. These three were opposed by Sir William Waller, who controlled Bristol, Bath and Gloucester. He was a highly professional soldier, having learnt his trade in southern Europe. Now in his mid-forties, he was one of the most respected of the Parliamentarian generals. The Royalists decided that, despite his reputation, Waller could be and must be beaten. Hence their combined operation employing the victors of Stratton, from Cornwall, and an army from Oxford under the command of Prince Maurice. Hopton, the architect of the Stratton victory, had had no small difficulty in persuading his officers to march their men from Devonshire when Plymouth, Exeter, Barnstaple and Bideford were all in Roundhead hands, yet ripe for the taking.
Gentlemen & Generals – William Waller & Ralph Hopton:
The fact that, especially in the early years of the war, many of the generals on either side were so alike in their social and cultural personalities, indeed had often known each other well, either in parliament or in the country, and spoke the same kind of language of patriotic disinterest, must have weakened or at least tested their allegiance. Two generals who faced each other in the muderous little west country war, Sir William Waller and Sir Ralph Hopton, respectively from Gloucestershire and Somerset, and both professional soldiers, were virtually interchangeable, even in religion, where Hopton was just as much a sober Puritan as Waller, and had voted for the Grand Remonstrance. Both were in their mid-forties when the war began, and were close friends. It had only been when parliament had arrogated to itself power over the militia that Hopton had changed allegiance. Hopton was made a baronet in 1643 and became a close confidant of the king. Clarendon described him as a man…
… superior to any temptation, and abhorred enough of the license and the levities, with which he saw too many corrupted. He had a good understanding, a clear courage, an industry not to be tired, and a generosity that was not to be exhausted; a virtue that none of the rest had: but in debates concerning the war, was longer in resolving, and more apt to change his mind after he had resolved, than is agreeable to the office of a commander-in-chief; which rendered him rather fit for the second, rather than for the supreme command in an army.
As a key member of Charles I’s council of war, Hopton was, according to Clarendon, the only man ‘of whom nobody spoke ill, or laid anything to his charge’. During a brief lull in their campaign, Hopton had written to Waller asking for a meeting. Waller had to turn him down, but did so in terms that suggested just how deeply the distress of their broken friendship went:
To my noble friend, Sir Ralphe Hopton at Wells
The experience I have had of your worth, and the happiness I have enjoyed in your friendshipp, are wounding considerations to me when I looke upon this present distance between us. Certainly my affections to you are so unchangeable, that hostility itself cannot violate my friendshipp to your person, but I must be true to the cause wherein I serve. The old limitation ‘usque ad aras’ holds still, and where my conscience is interested all other obligations are swallowed upp. I should most gladly waite upon you, according to your desire, but that I looke upon you as you are ingaged in that party, beyond the possibility of a retreat and consequently uncapable of being wrought upon by any persuasions. And I know the conference could never be so close between us, but that it would take winde and retrieve a construction to my dishonour. That great God, who is the searcher of my heart, knowes with what a sad sence I go upon this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this warre without an enemy. But I look upon it as ‘Opus Domini’, and that is enough to silence all passion in mee. … We are both upon the stage, and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this Tragedy. Lett us do itt in a way of honour, and without personall animosities. Whatsoever the issue be, I shall never relinquish the dear title of…
Your most affectionated friend,
and faithfull servant
Three weeks after this letter was written, Hopton’s army met Waller’s in battle at Lansdown, near Bath. The combined Royalist army numbered seven thousand, of which just over half were infantry. Waller’s army of approximately equal numbers, though stronger in cavalry, was deployed near to the city. But the presence of three officers whose rank justified independent command raised the thorny question of who should actually control the operations of the Royalist army. The problem appears to have been solved by allowing Hertford to command in name, while Hopton commanded in the field and Maurice concentrated his attention on the Horse, and was given a free hand with its use. The Roundhead cavalry was more than equal in both quantity and quality, but its infantry was inferior in the latter. With Waller in so strong a position, however, the Royalist strategy of splitting his army and rolling them up in two phases was easier to plan than to execute. During June they were tidying up the position in Somerset by occupying Wells, Taunton and Bridgwater, and at the end of the month they occupied the Wiltshire woollen town of Bradford-on-Avon, just nine miles south-east of Bath. The city itself was the primary objective of the royalist assault, but to attack it from the south meant negotiating the Avon under Roundhead fire and it was therefore considered more expedient to approach from the east. To do so the Royalists moved in a north-westerly direction but when they reached Monkton Farleigh and Waller had given no sign of coming up on their flank they decided to push on to a better attacking position north of the city.
The Battle of Lansdown – A Contemporary Account:
In his History of the Rebellion, begun in 1646 but not published until 1702, Clarendon gave the following extremely vivid description of the Battle of Lansdown from the Royalist perspective. It begins with Hopton’s army at rest in Wells:
After … eight or ten days’ rest at Wells, the army generally expressing a cheerful impatience to meet with the enemy, of which, at that time, they had a greater contempt, than in reason they should have; the prince and marquis advanced to Frome, and thence to Bradford, within four miles of Bath. And now no day passed without action, and very sharp skirmishes; Sir William Waller having received from London a fresh regiment of five hundred horse, under the command of Sir Arthur Haselrig: which were so completely armed, that they were called by the other side the regiment of lobsters, because of their bright iron shells, with which they were covered, being perfect cuirassiers; and were the first seen so armed on either side, and the first that made any impression upon the king’s horse; who, being unarmed, were not able to bear a shock with them; besides that they were secure from hurts of the sword, which were almost the only weapons the other were furnished with.
After some preliminary skirmishing in the area to the east of Bath, which were of the nature of light harassment, the Royalists marched another five miles, approaching Lansdown Hill, four miles to the north of Bath on 4 July. They were surprised to find Waller’s army firmly established on its summit, and temporarily withdrew to Marshfield where they camped that night. Waller’s presence was the result of his local knowledge, which had made him alert to their intentions well in advance of their approach from the east. Lansdown Hill was well known as a valuable strategic standpoint, and to prevent the Royalists from occupying it, he had marched out of Bath to occupy it himself. The armies were now just five miles apart, and there was inevitably some skirmishing between them. Very early on 5 July, Waller despatched a medium-sized force up to the Marshfield outposts to upset the Royalists as they were making their dispositions. This created considerable alarm and disorder, but Hopton soon had his men marching towards Bath, using tracks that would take them past Lansdown. As they approached the hill, they observed that the Roundheads were already strongly entrenched around it, with earthworks and wooden defences protecting their position, the whole area being screened by by flanking woods. Waller had constructed field fortifications on the northern end of the hill, thus strengthening the already formidable natural obstacle of a sharply falling hillside. Hopton and his officers decided this was neither the place nor the time to attack. They halted and skirmished, but after several clashes between the rival dragoons, the Royalists again drew off back to Marshfield, not prepared to commit military suicide. Clarendon’s account of the approaches of the two armies is as follows:
The contention was hitherto with parties; in which the successes were various, and almost with equal losses: for as Sir William Waller, upon the first advance from Wells, beat up a regiment of horse and dragoons of Sir James Hamilton’s, and dispersed them; so, within two days, the king’s forces beat a party of his from a pass near Bath, where the enemy lost two field pieces, and near an hundred men. But Sir William Waller had the advantage in his ground, having a good city, well furnished with provisions, to quarter his army together in; and so in his choice not to fight, but upon extraordinary advantage. Whereas the king’s forces must either disperse themselves, and so give the enemy advantage upon their quarters, or, keeping near together, lodge in the field, and endure great distress of provision; the country being so disaffected, that only force could bring in any supply or relief. Hereupon, … the marquis and Prince Maurice advanced their whole body to Marsfield, five miles beyond Bath towards Oxford, presuming that, by this means, they should draw the enemy from their place of advantage, his chief business being to hinder them from joining the with the king. And if they had been able to preserve that temper, and had neglected the enemy till he had quitted his advantages, it is probable that they might have fought upon as good terms as they desired; for Sir William Waller, … no sooner drew out his whole army to Lansdown, which looked towards Marsfield, but they suffered themselves to be engaged upon great disadvantage.
Waller then dispatched a thousand cavalry and dragoons to harry the retiring enemy flank and rear in the valley between Lansdown Hill and Freezing Hill. At first this went remarkably well for them, with the dragoons able to move up under cover of hedgerows and devastate the Royalist flanks; the Roundhead cavalry charged into the Royalist rear and drove into it so hard that they tangled with the unfortunate foot soldiers. Prince Maurice had introduced an interesting tactical disposition by stationing a section of foot among the cavalry. These were mainly the Cornishmen who had won the battle of Stratton and they began to give Waller’s cavalry a lot of trouble. As this great harassing sweep began to lose momentum and peter out, the Royalist cavalry began to put in two very sharp counter-attacks. Within the hour, the Royalists had driven their opponents back over Tog Hill to the base of Lansdown Hill, where they had stood despondently not so long before. It was 2 p.m., and Royalist morale was now at its peak, and the strong positions of Lansdown Hill somehow seemed less formidable than before. Hopton’s Cornish infantry, who had already killed a substantial number of Roundheads, clamoured to be allowed to make what appeared a suicidal assault on the main Parliamentarian position. They had tremendous faith in Hopton, who ordered flanking attacks by parties of musketeers while the main assault was delivered in the centre along the road which wound its way to the summit. The hill confronting the Cornish infantry was four miles long, and well wooded. The battle which took place that afternoon was a tribute to the amazing resolve of the Cornishmen. Whatever else happened, they ploughed on, supported by others, fighting alongside, but the steady rolling unrelaxed pressure which carried the day undoubtedly came from the tough Cornishmen. Clarendon gave the following account of their heroic assault on the hill-top:
It was upon the fifth of July when Sir William Waller, as soon as it was light, possessed himself of that hill; and after he had, upon the brow of the hill over the high way, raised breastworks with fagots and earth, and planted cannon there, he sent a strong party of horse towards Marsfield, which quickly alarmed the other army, and was shortly driven back to their body. … the king’s forces … when they had drawn into battalia, and found the enemy fixed on the top of the hill, they resolved not to attack upon so great disadvantage; and so retired again towards their old quarters: which Sir William Waller perceiving, sent his whole body of horse and dragoons down the hill, to charge the rear and flank; which they did thoroughly, the regiment of cuirassiers so amazing the horse they charged, that they totally routed them; and, standing firm and unshaken themselves, gave so great terror to the king’s horse, who had never before turned from an enemy, that no example of their officers, who did did their parts with invincible courage, could make them charge with the same confidence, and in the same manner they had usually done. However, in the end, after Sir Nicholas Slanning, with three hundred musketeers, had fallen upon and beaten their reserve of dragooners, Prince Maurice and the Earl of Carnarvon, rallying their horse, and winging them with the Cornish musketeers, charged the enemy’s horse again, and totally routed them; and in the same manner received two bodies more, and routed and chased them down the hill; where they stood in a place almost inaccessible.
The Royalist cavalry were halted by a storm of fire poured down on them from above, but Sir Bevil Grenville’s Cornish pikemen struggled to the crest, where they held their ground in the face of Waller’s cavalry. They needed all the drive and resolve they could muster as they came up through the woods, meeting frontal musket fire, cross-fire and some heavy artillery, which the Roundheads had placed on top of the hill. They paid dearly for their success, but they made their enemy pay more, some regiments finding the fire so hot that they slipped away through the concealing woods. Some of the Royalist cavalry who were caught in plunging fire rode back to Oxford where they gave an account of the battle which indicated how wise they were to come away. They had of course been been badly handled and misused but it was not an excuse the Cornish infantrymen would have accepted. For had the cavalry stayed and stuck it out, they could have completed the victory when at last the pikemen and the musketeers had reached the last barricade. The Parliamentarian troops abandoned their field works and retreated to the protection of a stone wall which spanned four hundred yards of the summit. Hopton’s army captured Waller’s hilltop position, along with guns and prisoners but at savage cost to his troops and officers. Again, Clarendon provides us with his own vivid description of this final phase of the battle:
On the brow of the hill there were breast-works, on which were pretty bodies of small shot, and some cannon; on either flank grew a pretty thick wood towards the declining of the hill, in which strong parties of musketeers were placed; at the rear was a very fair plain, where the reserves of horse and foot stood ranged; yet the Cornish foot were so far from being appalled at this disadvantage, that they desired to fall on, and cried out, ‘that they might have leave to fetch off those cannon’. In the end, order was given to attempt the hill with horse and foot. Two strong parties of musketeers were sent into the woods, which flanked the the enemy; and the horse and other musketeers up the road way, which were charged by the enemy’s horse, and routed; then Sir Bevil Grenville advanced with a party of horse, on his right hand, that ground being best for them; and his musketeers on the left; himself leading up his pikes in the middle; and in the face of their cannon, and small-shot from the breast-works, gained the brow of the hill, having sustained two full charges of the enemy’s horse; but in the third charge his horse failing, and giving ground, he received, after other wounds, a blow to the head with a pole-axe, with which he fell, and many of his officers about him; yet the musketeers fired so fast upon the enemy’s horse, that they quitted their ground, and the two wings, who were sent to clear the woods, having done their work, and gained those parts of the hill; which they quickly did, and planted themselves on the ground they had won; … the enemy retiring … behind a stone wall upon the same level, and standing in reasonable good order. …
The costs of taking the hilltop to the royalist forces were immense. Of the two thousand who had ridden up the hill, only six hundred were left alive in the pyrrhic victory. Of the two hundred infantry who had died in the attack on the hilltop was Grenville, another friend of Waller’s, who was pole-axed at the summit. Hopton himself was badly slashed in the arm. There were still many Roundheads in force behind the stone wall, and neither side had the strength for a last clinching effort. Both armies were by now close to exhaustion, ammunition was short and a high proportion of Royalist officers had fallen in the assault. Both sides were anxious to maintain their position rather than undertake fresh attacks, so the fighting petered out in an exchange of musket fire. As darkness fell and neither side had the strength, ammunition or the will with which to renew the struggle, both commanders debated what to do next. If the Roundheads had counter-attacked, the exhausted Royalists might have tumbled down the hill and been utterly routed, but equally, had the Royalists put in a final assault at dawn, the route to Bath would have been open to them. As it happened, with the wisdom of an experienced campaigner rather than simply a battlefield commander, shortly after midnight Waller gave the order to withdraw to Bath, leaving lighted matches and bristling pikes on their last position as feints to cover his withdrawal. At dawn, finding their enemy gone, the Royalists retired to Marshfield. Clarendon’s description of the night on the hill-top is full of eye-witness detail, which must surely have come from the Royalist officers and soldiers themselves, perhaps from Hopton himself:
The king’s Horse were so shaken that of the two thousand which were upon the field in the morning, there were not above six hundred on the top of the hill. The enemy was exceedingly scattered too, and had no mind to venture on plain ground with those who had beaten them from the hill; so that, exchanging only some shot from their ordnance, they looked upon another until the night interposed. About twelve of the clock, it being very dark, the enemy made a show of moving towards the ground they had lost; but giving a smart volley of small-shot, and finding themselves answered with the like, they made no more noise: which, the prince observing, he sent a common soldier to hearken as near to the place where they were, as he could; who brought word, “that the enemy had left lighted matches in the wall behind which they had lain, and were drawn off the field”; which was true; so that, as soon as it was day, the king’s army found themselves possessed entirely of the field, and the dead, and all other ensigns of victory: Sir William Waller being marched to Bath, in so much disorder and apprehension, that he left great store of arms, and ten barrels of powder, behind him; which was a very seasonable supply to the other side, who had spent in that day’s service no less than fourscore barrels, and had not a safe proportion left.
It should have been a moment of tremendous triumph for the Royalists. Although Grenville had been killed, they had won the hill against almost impossible odds. But then, in the moment of elation, came an appalling setback. While Hopton was inspecting prisoners the next day, an ammunition wagon exploded, burning and temporarily blinding Hopton, so that he needed to be carried in a litter, knowing that at any time Waller’s troops, defeated but rested at Bath, might swoop down on his battered and bedraggled army. For a while, Hopton could neither speak, walk nor see and apparently dying, he was carried off the battlefield past his dismayed army. At this stage, it would have been limitless folly for him to press home his advantage against Bath. Reluctantly, but not slowly, the Royalists abandoned their hard-won position and set off back in the direction of Oxford. Behind them, on Cold Ashton, Tog Hill, Freezing Hill and on the slopes of Lansdown itself, there were several thousand men who would never fight again on that or any other. At the time, Lansdown was an inconclusive and costly battle, but it was eventually entered into the annals of Royalist victories, especially by Edward Hyde (Clarendon):
In this battle, on the king’s part, there were more officers and gentlemen of quality slain, than common men; and more hurt than slain. That which would have clouded any victory, and made the loss of others less spoken of, was the death of Sir Bevil Grenville. He was indeed an excellent person, whose activity, interest, and reputation, was the foundation of what had been done in Cornwall; and his temper and affections so public, that no accident which happened could make any impression in him; … In a word, a brighter courage, and a gentler disposition, were never married together to make the most cheerful and innocent conversation. Very many officers and persons of quality were hurt; as the lord Arundel of Wardour, shot in the thigh with a brace of pistol bullets; Sir Ralph Hopton, shot through the arm with a musket … and many others, hurt … with swords and pole-axes. But the morning added much to the melancholy of their victory, when the field was entirely their own. For Sir Ralph Hopton riding up and down the field to visit the hurt men, and to put the soldiers in order, and readiness for motion, sitting on his horse, with other officers and soldiers about him, near a waggon of ammunition, in which were eight barrels of powder; whether by treachery, or mere accident, is uncertain, the powder was blown up; and many, who stood nearest, killed; and many men were maimed; among whom Sir Ralph Hopton and sergent major Sheldon were miserably hurt.
Devizes & The Battle of Roundway Down:
A week later, on Roundway Down outside Devizes, Hopton’s army, despite its general being more or less unable to see or ride, again triumphed, this time overwhelmingly. Hopton had been insistent on being carried to councils of war, still refusing to leave his post while the royalist forces remained threatened by Waller’s still unbroken army. Hopton’s forces had taken up a defensive position at Devizes, just over the county border in Wiltshire. They were seriously short of ammunition and food supplies, and the council of war decided to send Hertford and Maurice and the remainder of their cavalry back to Oxford as fast as possible with an urgent plea for reinforcements. As the infantry followed them in the same direction, the Royalists felt frustrated and dejected. Apart from the blow of losing such inspiring leaders as Grenville and Hopton to death and injury respectively, they had other troubles as well; the people of the surrounding countryside seemed to be against them as they sought victuals. They had rested at Chippenham for two days and then moved on to Devizes, by which time Waller’s cavalry was harassing their rearguard. The Royalists were therefore glad to get into the town where they could collect their thoughts and decide on their next course of action. But Royalist morale plummeted further as for the next or two or three days, Waller tried to bombard Devizes Castle into submission, and he had drawn up his army at Roundway Down, three miles north of the town, but Hopton refused to take up the challenge and on 10 July they declined battle with the Parliamentarian army.
Instead, they prepared the town for a siege, withdrawing their artillery to Devizes Castle and erecting barricades across the approach roads. Hopton was now able to speak but not to walk and approved a plan by which his infantry and artillery would defend the town while the cavalry would break out in a bid to raise a relieving force from Oxford. Before the town was fully encircled the Royalist cavalry under the Marquess of Hertford and Prince Maurice succeeded in this, and after a night-ride of forty-four miles, Maurice and Hertford reached Oxford on 11 July to find that steps had already been taken to aid Hopton. On both the 9th and 10th, cavalry forces had been dispatched westwards as reinforcements, with the first under the Earl of Crawford also conveying an ammunition train. This was captured, however, and Crawford’s six hundred troopers scattered by Waller’s forces, but although shaken, the Royalist cavalry was able to rendezvous with Lord Wilmot and the rest of the relief force at Marlborough. As Devizes was being held with hastily constructed outer defences, and Prince Maurice having evaded Waller’s troops to reach Oxford, time was no longer on the side of the Parliamentarian besiegers, for the Royalists would soon be rushing reinforcements to help Hopton’s trapped army. Waller’s forces still outnumbered those of the Royalists, however, and as he redoubled his efforts to capture Devizes, he also sent in surrender terms. Hopton appeared to be considering them, but in fact, was waiting for the relief force he felt could not be far away. He was right, as Marlborough was only fourteen miles away. It was a force comprised entirely of cavalry, but also had two light guns.
By the morning of 13 July, Lord Wilmot was approaching Devizes with eighteen hundred Horse from the king’s main army, but no infantry under his command. Between his cavalry and Hopton’s three thousand besieged infantry lay a Parliamentarian force of two thousand horse and 2,500 foot. They had kept Devizes under artillery fire for the previous twenty-four hours. Waller still held the initiative since he could turn on Wilmot’s cavalry and deal with them in a pitched battle, in which he would outnumber them, or he could draw them off with a portion of his army while he used the remainder to complete the capture of Devizes. He must not, of course, allow himself to be trapped between Wilmot’s horse and Hopton’s infantry, even though his forces still outnumbered the combined Royalist troops by over a thousand. What he could not have expected was that the Devizes ‘garrison’ would stand idly by, in spite of Hopton’s urgings, and let him annihilate Wilmot’s cavalry. Unaware of the fate in store for him, Wilmot continued along the old road from Marlborough to Devizes, which ran north of the present road and is the track which skirts to the south of Heddington today. This road was and is still today, crossed by another which runs south-west to Devizes, and the crossroads were right in the middle of Roundway Down where Waller had tried to tempt the entire Royalist army to battle just before they entered Devizes. It was, of course, a perfect place for a cavalry battle. To the north were Morgan’s Hill and King’s Play Hill, and to the south was Roundway Hill, then known as Bagdon Hill.
Waller had withdrawn most of his army away from the siege of Devizes to meet Wilmot’s advance and he deployed his force in the shallow valley bounded in the north by King’s Play Hill and Morgan’s Hill and in the south by Roundway Hill. Hopton’s beleaguered army had observed Waller’s withdrawal and heard Wilmot’s signal guns, which were fired from Roughbridge Hill, but the council of war summoned to analyse these developments suspected a Parliamentarian trap and refused to march out of Devizes. Their shortages of ammunition, including ‘match’ (cord) for their musketeers also prevented their direct engagement in the battle. Hopton had ordered that all the bedcords in Devizes should be collected and boiled in resin; this ingenuity solved the ‘match’ problem but there was still a grave shortage of powder and ball. Hopton, still beset by his wounds, was unable to alter its opinion, so they did not join the battle until it was in its later stages. The scene was set for one of the most dramatic battles of the Civil Wars; a cavalry force tired by a long approach was about to attack an army of horse and foot which outnumbered it by nearly three-to-one. As Wilmot crossed the Wansdyke, a few miles from where the decisive battle of Ellandun had been fought over eight hundred years earlier, Waller’s army came into view over Roundway Hill. Wilmot had no doubt that Hopton’s army from Devizes would be coming up fast to catch Waller in the rearguard and calmly made his battle dispositions accordingly. Facing his left flank he could see a very formidable force, Sir Arthur Haselrig’s ‘Lobsters’, named after their close-fitting armour as cuirassiers, glinting in the sunlight.
Wilmot quickly realised that if they fought in isolation both Royalist forces would be outnumbered and that their only hope of victory would rest on a combined attack on the Parliamentarian army. Wilmot’s essential problem, however, was how to arrange for a concerted attack to strike the Parliamentarians at the same moment. The Royalist cavalry had brought two small cannon with them and Wilmot had decided to fire these as a signal to alert Hopton’s artillery that he was attacking. But a messenger sent to inform Hopton of the plan was captured and, in the event, despite Wilmot’s foresight, the two Royalist forces acted independently for the major part of the battle. Wilmot attacked, expecting Hopton’s infantry to come out of the town to support him. The Parliamentarian army had deployed in a conventional style with the infantry in the centre of the line and the cavalry on both flanks. Wilmot’s line consisted of his own brigade and that of Sir John Byron, with Crawford’s brigade in reserve. As Wilmot’s troopers advanced, Sir Arthur Haselrig, on the right of the Parliamentarian line, led his squadron to meet them. Wilmot, being a cavalryman, turned his attention to these wings and hit both simultaneously with vigorous charges. The visceral hand-to-hand combat which followed was described by Richard Atkyns, a cavalier who took part in the charge on Haselrig’s right wing, and fought with the general himself:
‘Twas my fortune in a direct line to charge their general of horse; he discharged his carbine first, and afterwards one of his pistols, before I came up to him; and missed with both; I then immediately struck into him and touched him before I discharged mine, and I am sure I hit him for he staggered and presently wheeled off from his party. Follow him I did and and discharged the other pistol at him; and I’m sure I hit his head for I touched it before I gave fire and it amazed him at that present but he was too well armed all over for a pistol bullet to do him any hurt, having a coat of mail over his arms and a headpiece musket proof. … I came up to him again and having a very awift horse stuck by him for a good while and tried him from the head to the saddle and could not penetrate him or do him any hurt; but in this attempt he cut my horse’s nose that you might put your finger in the wound and gave me such a blow on the inside of my arms amongst the veins that I could hardly hold my sword; he went on as before.
As the running fight continued, Atkyns was shot in the shoulder but not seriously wounded. During the ensuing melée of charge and counter-charge, Haselrig’s ‘Lobsters’ broke and fled. They were soon followed by Waller’s Brigade, furiously pursued by Byron’s troopers. In the course of the engagement, Waller’s cavalry had been so badly swung out of order that their only means of escape was to the west. As the majority of the beaten cavalry took flight in this direction, covering nearly a mile and a half, hoping to find a point to regroup, they suddenly realised that the gentle plain on which they galloping was a mere plateau and that they were now at its edge. To their horror, they found that the ground before them fell abruptly for three hundred feet in a treacherous slope. Unable to rein in, many of Waller’s troopers plunged downwards out of control crashing into the ‘Bloody Ditch’ at the foot of the slope. Down that deathtrap hill they rode, slithered and fell, and many of their pursuers with them. It was, indeed, a bloody ditch. Not since the battle of Ashdown in 871 had their been a scene like it, and even that was less dramatic. The unbelievable had happened: Waller’s invincible cavalry had been put to flight by a force of half their number, and at the end, it had not merely been beaten, but literally smashed to pieces.
This left the Roundhead infantry in the middle standing by inactive and unharmed apart from the occasional stray musket-ball finding a target in their ranks. They could not take part in the battle themselves since the wings were an indistinguishable fighting melée. They were mere spectators of the catastrophe which befell their cavalry, for with no opposing infantry to fight there was little they could do to support their cavalry. The musketeers could not intervene in the cavalry action for hear of hitting their own men, and as they disappeared from the field, the Parliamentarian infantry were left on a deserted battlefield to await events, having no conception of the disaster which had befallen their cavalry. They were not given long to speculate upon their fate, for the growing noise of battle had at last persuaded Hopton’s infantry to march out of Devizes, urged on by their wounded general. As they came out, they assumed that they would be saving Wilmot’s cavalry from too severe a defeat, or perhaps to change probable defeat into narrow victory. As they breasted the hill all they could see was the Roundhead infantry, still uncommitted. On its flanks, Wilmot’s cavalry had regrouped to deal with this last target. The isolated Roundheads had no hope at all. Assailed from the north by Wilmot’s victorious cavalry and from the south by three thousand fresh Cornish infantry, the Parliamentarian foot were soon overwhelmed and forced to surrender or flee. The total rout of Waller’s army must therefore be credited to Wilmot’s leadership and the tremendous courage of his cavalry, which included Byron’s and Maurice’s and the Earl of Crawford’s regiments as well as his own. The Royalists claimed to have inflicted six hundred casualties and taken eight hundred prisoners, a fitting end to a most extraordinary day.
Bath, Bristol & Gloucester; Sieges, Garrisons & Councils:
The Royalists had certainly achieved their most decisive victory of the Civil Wars. Most of Waller’s forces that escaped death or capture quietly melted away, many to their homes, and he took the remnant first to Gloucester, then to Evesham, and finally back to London. To all intents and purposes, Waller’s army had ceased to exist. Wilmot returned to Oxford after his victory, but as he did so Rupert set out with a very substantial force to join the western army, which had already occupied Bath. Rupert’s objective was Bristol, however, and on 24 July he summoned the city to surrender. Nathaniel Fiennes, its governor, refused, though his garrison of fifteen hundred foot and three hundred horse was insufficient to man the three-mile circumference of its defences. Two days later, on 26 July, the walls of Bristol, thought to be impregnable, were stormed by Hopton’s Cornish army and the city, and Fiennes surrendered to Prince Rupert in the early evening. He had defended the city for as long as was reasonably possible against determined assailants and did not deserve to be court-martialled and sentenced to death, but Essex, to his honour, secured his reprieve. The loss of Bristol, however, was a very severe blow to the parliamentarians, as it was to Rupert and the Royalists three years later. It led to the reduction of the Parliamentary garrisons in Dorset, Devon and Somerset. Plymouth, Exeter, Lyme Regis and two or three other outposts remained in their hands, but almost the whole of the rest of the West to the south of Gloucester lay under the King’s control.
For a short time after the fall of Bristol towards the end of July, Gloucestershire was the key theatre of the war. Urged by his generals to exploit parliament’s disarray and advance on London, King Charles instead turned aside to eliminate the last parliamentary garrison at Gloucester. Charles appeared in person to summon Gloucester itself on 10 August, but the governor, Edward Massey defied him. Enthusiastically supported by its townsfolk, the garrison held out for six weeks, until it was relieved by the Earl of Essex. This also denied the king the chance to end the war quickly, as for the next two years, Gloucester remained a parliamentary enclave in royalist territory. The royalists failed to prevent the garrison from ‘raiding’ the county under its energetic commander, Edward Massey, who slowly extended the parliamentary enclave until almost the whole of the county was under parliamentarian control. But in 1643, as the summer wore on, Gloucester’s precarious resistance was the one bright spot in what for parliament was a very bleak picture. Study of the war in a single county helps illustrate the variety of national and local issues that determined loyalties. For example, the textile areas of north-east Somerset were more likely to be parliamentarian in sympathy.
Three years after the Royalist victories at Lansdown and Roundway Down, in June 1646, villages near Bath were making claims to the parliamentary commissioners for the damage caused during the summer of 1643, and the costs to farmers and villagers for supplies and free quarter provided to the armies. The Bath Chamberlain’s Accounts from October 1643 to February 1646 make useful and reliable historical sources for assessing these real impacts of the war. At the end of this period, the local Council agreed that a peticion shall be preferred to the houses of Parliament for release of ffree quarter. In line with Everitt’s aguments about the importance of local communities in the war, the proloned military intrusion experienced by north-east Somerset, south Gloucestershire and Wiltshire brought considerable personal suffering to the civilian population. But the local sources also suggest that most aspects of everyday life in agriculture, religion, education, trade, routine maintenance, social and charitable activities, were not completely disrupted even during the Royalist occupation between 1643 and 1645, though the city councillors had clearly been unimpressed by the use of the city made by the occupiers. It is also clear that by February 1646 the people of Bath had become completely disillusioned with both sides in the war. Bath and its corporation were largely parliamentarian in political outlook. But the city fathers wrote to Sir John Harington of Kelston, to ‘beseeche’ him to advise his son…
… touching our cities distress at this present time, that he may in such wise get favour from the commander to spare further levies, as we hear the troops are coming onward for our city, and our houses are emptied of all useful furniture, and much broken and disfigured; our poore suffer for want of victuals, and rich we have none. God assist your love and friendship to us, and favour your good will herein. Your son hathe good interest in the army, and we doubt not will use his endeavours to succour and save his poore neighbours. Warrants are come to raise horse, but we have none left; Colonel Sandford doth promise his assistance, as much as he is able. We have now four hundred in the town and many more coming; God protect us from pillage. …
Captain Harington was able to assist the people of Bath by ordering his company to go into the city to prevent disorder which would often follow from the quarterings of troops. The company ‘behaved well’, as a letter from Robert Jones to Harington confirmed:
Major Hewlet got in the levies as commanded, in such manner as the rate observed all over the west. Many citizens had no monies ready, and were threatened with pillage. Eighteen horses were provided at the market house, and delivered up, as you desired; but the men required were excused on your desiring, nor was any seizure made, or plunder, except in liquors and bedding. The town-house was filled with troops that came from Marlborow in their march westward. … God preserve our Kingdom from these sad troubles much longer! …
The troops from Marlborough were less orderly, however, according to Jones:
Our meal was taken by the Marlborow troop, but they restored it again to many of the poorer sort. Our beds they occupied entirely, but no greater mischief has happened as yet … We have no divine service as yet … We have no divine service as yet; the Churches are full of the troops, furniture and bedding. Pardon my haste, as I have sent this by a poor man who may suffer if he is found out, and I dare not send a man on purpose on horseback, as the horse would be taken.
The historian John Wroughton, writing The Civil War in Bath and North Somerset in 1973, concluded that although the City Council was largely parliamentarian in its sympathies, and it continued to return puritan MPs like Popham, Ashe and Prynne to Westminster, it nevertheless contained an active group of royalists. The members of this group continued to sit side by side with the parliamentarians no matter which army was actually in control of the city. They were after all, close neighbours and friends, and all were just as concerned that the daily life of the city should not be be too greatly disrupted by the national crisis. They were mostly drawn from the wealthier class of traders, craftsmen and innkeepers who were interested in maintaining the flow of business … Although they begged to differ over national issues, they were equally anxious to work together on local matters of common concern. When the first war ended, there seemed to be even more reason for continuing this close relationship. Certainly the debates recorded in the Council Minute Books give no indication of any intention to remove the royalists from their midst, at least not until 27th September, 1647. On that day the Corporation decided quite suddenly by a majority of eighteen votes to ten that Sergent Hyde shall be removed from his place and a new Recorder chosen. The important office of Recorder had been held for several years by Robert Hyde, a member of the ‘notorious’ royalist family which Edward Hyde, later the Earl of Clarendon, was also a member of. During the war, Robert had served in person with Prince Rupert.
Even so, the Corporation’s action had been taken only after Parliament had passed an Ordinance on 9th September requesting the removal royalists from local government. Most of the local councillors were more than happy to forgive and forget – a fact vividly illustrated when, three weeks later, they agreed to quash their original decision and that there shall be no election for a new Recorder, but the Sergt. Hyde shall stand. The Commons, however, thought otherwise. On 4th October, they therefore passed a more precise and forceful Ordinance, which put irresistable pressure on local authorities:
Be it declared, ordered and ordained by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled that no person whatsoever that hath been in arms against the Parliament, or hath been or is sequestered, shall be elected, constituted Mayor, Alderman, Bailiff, Sheriff, Justice of the Peace Steward of any Court, Constable, or any other officer … And in case any such persons as aforesaid … the Lords and Commons do declare all such elections to be void and null.
Faced with this ultimatum, Bath Corporation had little choice. On 13th December, 1647 they agreed to expel the royalist group en bloc. All seven of them, including Robert Hyde, relinquished their places, four of them being present when the decision was taken. William Prynne was then elected as the new Recorder, gaining eighteen votes against the four received by the other candidate, John Harington. However, one of the excluded royalists, Robert Fisher, was reinstated in 1651 and shortly after the Restoration, he was joined by four others, including Robert Hyde, who returned to his former office. There is evidence both here and in the previous documents that support Everitt’s assertion of a conflict between loyalty to the nation and loyalty to the county community. However, at the Restoration, sequestered land throughout the kingdom reverted to its previous owners, and the most prominent parliamentarian landowners forfeited all their lands for their activities against the king. These included Alexander Popham, whose family held lands in Wiltshire.
Gloucestershire & Herefordshire – Counties Divided:
At the outbreak of the war, adjacent Gloucestershire was deeply divided. As in other parts of the country, religious persuasion played an important part in deciding allegiances. The Anglican Cotswolds and Catholic Forest of Dean naturally inclined towards the Crown, while the Puritan vales and valleys were strongholds of parliamentary support. That support was strongest in the City of Gloucester and the towns. Accounts from the port of Bristol of ‘rebel’ atrocities against Protestants in Ireland reinforced anti-Catholic prejudices to the benefit of the Parliamentary cause. Anti-royalist sentiment in in the north of the county was also fed by the king’s attempts in the 1630s to destroy the local tobacco-growing industry in order to protect the interests of planters in the colonies of Virginia. Though a majority of the county gentry supported the Crown, Gloucestershire had few great landowners; the county therefor lacked obvious leaders, and both sides were slow to organise for war. The parliamentary leaders eventually proved more able at this than the royalists, who allowed personal rivalries to interfere with their war effort. They failed to capitalise on their early advantages gained at and after the battles of Lansdown and Roundway Down, allowing the parliamentarians to recover from their reverses. A strong ‘third party’ of ‘clubmen’ also emerged, determined to have nothing to do with the fighting. The royalists in particular proved ineffective in meeting this threat, enabling the better organised parliamentarians to gain overall control of the county.
Neighbouring Herefordshire had enjoyed peace since the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross during the Wars of the Roses in 1461, when Edward of York (later to be proclaimed Edward IV) defeated Owen Tudor. This county only became a fighting ground again in September 1642, the beginning of the first Civil War. Herefordshire, Wales and Shropshire were mainly Royalist, with Gloucester being the only Parliamentarian stronghold at the beginning of the conflict in Herefordshire’s neighbouring counties. Unlike a war against a foreign enemy, the Civil War pitched neighbours against neighbours – as for example, the Harleys against the Crofts in the north-west corner of Herefordshire; or even two branches of the same family – for instance, the Scudamores of Holme Lacy against the Scudamores of Kentchurch Court. In some cases the war split the family, as for example the Hopton family from Canon Frome, where one son fought for the Cavaliers while his brother fought for the Roundheads. In the largely conservative county, there there was a long tradition of loyalty to King and Church, the bishop and his priests had some influence over people’s opinions. Bishop George Coke (1636-46), whilst not an active supporter of Laud’s reactionary changes in the Church of England, still supported the King. The religious question of whether to retain or to abolish bishops was widely debated in Herefordshire. James Kyrle was keen on abolishing bishops, but none of his fellow JPs in Herefordshire would sign a petition. In response, two priests circulated a petition in support of bishops at the Hereford Quarter Sessions in January 1642, and all but James Kyrle and Edward Broughton signed. Viscount Scudamore is said to have been the first to sign.
But the most influential people in the county were members of the local gentry, many of whom were moderate in their political outlook. In fact one man, Sir John Kyrle of Much Marcle, changed sides three times. In a series of articles on Herefordshire in the civil wars, Toria Forsyth-Moser (2003) has pointed out how it is easier to judge from subsequent events how broad the support for the Royalist cause was in the county. According to Jaqueline Eales, there were many shades of commitment: The permanence of parliamentarian influence in Herefordshire after December 1645 raises questions about the real strength of royalist feeling in the county during the earlier stages of the war. Moderates from both sides were hoping for a compromise but gradually, as their positions became more entrenched, it was apparent that civil war was almost unavoidable. Even though there was some support for the Parliamentarian cause in the county, most of the landed gentry were Royalist in sentiment and, when it mattered most, supported the king. And, as it costs money to arm men and to fight a war, it was the support of the gentry which was to ultimately ensure the declaration of Herefordshire for the king. On 30 September 1642 the Parliamentarian commander the Earl of Stamford, with 1,000 foot soldiers and four troops of horse, arrived at the gates of Hereford. The pretext for this action was recorded in Parliamentary proceedings:
“Information was given to the House by letters, that 340 soldiers were come out of Herefordshire to his Excellency the Earl of Essex to serve the King and Parliament; and that the City of Hereford had sent to his Excellency stating their good affections to the Parliament, and their desire to be secured against the Cavaliers, whom they much feared would come thither, and there being a malignant party in the city, those that were well affected durst not shew their kindness as much as they would.”
It is not surprising therefore that the army which arrived to take Hereford received a mixed reception. The soldiers were kept waiting outside the city walls whilst a furious debate took place inside. Some councillors were all for holding out for Royalist reinforcements, but in the end, the Mayor was persuaded to open the gates. Nehemiah Wharton, a Parliamentarian officer, describes the take-over of the City of Hereford:
… the gates were shut against us, and for two houres we stood in dirt and water up to the middle legge, for the city were all malignants, save three, which were Roundheads, and the Marquesse of Harford had sent them word the day before that they should in no wise let us in, or if they did we would plunder their houses, murder their children, burne their Bibles, and utterly ruinate all, and promised he would relieve them himself with all speede; for which cause the citizens were resolved to oppose us unto the death, and having in the city three peeces or ordinance, charged them with neyles, stones, etc. and placed them against us …
But support for the Roundheads within the city walls was very much in the minority. Many citizens were in favour of defending and it seems they even loaded three pieces of ordinance (cannons or artillery pieces). The unwritten rule of war was that if a city held out and opted to defend, if then captured, the soldiers would be at liberty to plunder and destroy. Therefore, the decision as to whether or not to open the gates had to be taken quickly and much depended on how well fortified the city was and how long they thought they could hold out. The decision was made to open the gates and the Parliamentarians took over. They left a garrison of a regiment of foot soldiers and two troops of horse. The Royalists mounted several small-scale counter attacks, to no avail. The Earl of Stamford and his men, however unpopular, remained in charge until December. To supplement their meagre (and often outstanding) pay, the soldiers took to plundering the homes of known Royalists both in the city and in the surrounding countryside. Plundering and pilfering were common on both sides, but considered a perk for poorly paid and poorly fed soldiers. The logistics of supplying this unwanted garrison, in a town mainly hostile to it, took their toll, however, and in December the Parliamentarians decided to withdraw to Gloucester.
If Hereford surrendered easily the first time, it certainly did not overexert itself during the second Parliamentarian attack, led by Sir William Waller in April 1643. After the Parliamentarians left for the first time in December 1642, the Royalists tried to improve the fortifications of the city so that it would be better prepared to withstand a siege in the event of a return of the Roundheads, but again, the citizens were not very forthcoming in their support. Waller’s men attacked shortly after dawn on the 25th April. As part of this attack the Roundheads aimed a saker (a cannon, 3.5 inches (89mm) in diameter and 9 feet (2.77m) long) at Widemarsh Gate and fired shot weighing 6lbs (2.73kg). The first round breached the gate and decapitated an officer. Mr. Corbett, a chaplain in Waller’s army, described this incident:
To help forward the capture of the city, Massie [one of Waller’s staff officers] drew up two sakers in a straight line against Wide Marsh gate, not without extreme hazard of being shot from the walls, and himself gave fire, and the first cannon-shot entered the gate and took an officer’s head from his shoulders and slew some besides. More shot were made, each of which scoured the street and so alarmed the enemy that they presently sounded a parley which was entertained by Sir W. Waller.
Early in the afternoon, when the defenders saw how easily the gates were breached, they offered to enter into negotiations to surrender. Ironically, Waller was at this time under orders to join the siege of Reading and if there had been better resistance from the Royalists, he would have had to retreat. However, the Parliamentarians once again took the City of Hereford. The second surrender of Hereford was of little strategic importance in that it did not affect the outcome of the war in the long run, however, it had a demoralising effect on the Royalists. The Royalist high command in Oxford called for an investigation and put Sir Richard Cave, the governor of Hereford Castle who had escaped from Hereford, on trial. When Waller and his men moved on less than a fortnight later, the city fell into Royalist hands once again. As a result of their ignominious capitulation, however, the Royalist high command appointed Sir William Vavasour as governor of Hereford and Sir Henry Lingen as sheriff of Herefordshire. To boost morale, they launched an attack on Brampton Bryan Castle, the main Parliamentarian stronghold remaining in the county. The city of Hereford itself did not see serious action again until the siege by the Scottish Army in 1645. After the departure of Sir William Waller’s troops, the Royalists in Hereford had a period of two years to reassess and strengthen their position. During the early summer of 1644, the King commanded that Hereford should be fortified. As the Royalists had been having trouble recruiting men and gaining supplies, the King gave full authority to the governor of Hereford to impress men, seize all arms, billet and quarter soldiers as required and levy contributions. If people would not support the Royalist army voluntarily, they would be forced to do so.
County ‘Clubmen’ & the Battle of Ledbury, Spring 1645:
Naturally, such measures among the civilian population produced a backlash. By the early spring of 1645, a movement of popular unrest was arising in many areas of the south-west Midlands and the West Country that was having a significant effect on the conduct of the war. Prince Rupert was one of the first to encounter it. In March 1645 he was sent to relieve Chester, which was being seriously threatened by Bereton, reinforced by Leven’s dispatch of five thousand Scots under David Leslie. But Rupert was forced to fall back by a popular uprising in Herefordshire which threatened his rear. It was neither for parliament nor the king, but a spontaneous act of exasperated countrymen, who had formed an association to defend themselves against, as they saw it, lawless, plundering soldiers, whichever side they fought for. They were called ‘Clubmen’ because most of them were armed only with cudgels and farm implements, though some had firearms. Clubmen had first appeared in Shropshire in the previous December, and in March they rose in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. At this stage they were mostly yeomen and husbandmen, together with other small landowners and members of the lesser gentry. The Herefordshire men were particularly aggressive; an estimated fifteen thousand virtually laid siege to Hereford, firing on its royalist defenders and demanded the withdrawal of all but local troops from the county. Massey marched out of Gloucester to offer them support, but to his disgust they would have nothing to do with him. To have allied with him would have compromised their objectives, but their decision resulted in their being crushed by Rupert’s and Maurice’s combined forces, and the county was punished by Rupert’s quartering of his troops there and allowed them free reign. For the time being, the movement in the Marches was stamped out by force of arms, but further Clubmen risings followed throughout the West Country.
No fewer than four civil war battles were fought at Ledbury, a market town in Herefordshire, lying east of Hereford, and west of the Malvern Hills. Throughout the first war, it was a bastion of royalism. The most significant of these battles was before the Naseby campaign in April 1645 when Prince Rupert was on his way from Hereford to Shrewsbury with his army. When he reached Leominster, he heard that Colonel Massey, the Governor of Gloucester, had advanced to Ledbury with a considerable body of horse and foot. The Prince determined to surprise him there, and, having marched all night, reached Ledbury on the morning of 22nd April. Massey had barely time to raise a barricade of carts in Homend Street to check the advance of his impetuous adversary (Massey, in his account, wrote that eight of his scouts were intercepted by the Royalists). Here the attack was made by Lord Astley’s and Colonel Washington’s foot, and after desperate fighting the barricade was opened, and Lord Loughborough, at the head of the cavaliers, charged down the street and encountered the roundhead cavalry, led by Massey in person. Meanwhile another body of cavaliers passed along the back of Homend, and after an encounter in the church-yard, attested to by bullet marks still visible on the church walls and the presence of slugs and bullets lately extracted from the north door of that edifice, pushed forward across the grounds now forming Mr. Biddulph’s park, to cut off the enemy’s retreat towards Gloucester.
In the streets of Ledbury the combat raged fiercely; Prince Rupert and Colonel Massey, both of them conspicuous for unflinching courage, took part in the fray as though they were as irresponsible as their troopers, and each had his horse killed under him. But Massey knew his men were beaten, and in his account of the battle, he says, we made it good against them (the enemy) so long till my foot might retreat a secure way to Gloucester. Massey was driven out of the town and his army broken up; some retreated through Dymock, others by Redmarley, and Massey himself with eighty horse got away to Tewkesbury. The pursuit was entrusted to Colonel Thomas Sandys. In Prince Rupert’s account of the battle, he says, Massey was soundly beaten yesterday, his foot quite lost, and his horse beaten and pursued within six miles of Gloucester, and generously adds that he himself and some of his officers made a handsome retreat. Of the rebels, a hundred and twenty were killed, amongst them Major Backhouse and Captain Kyrle of Much Marcle. Very many were wounded,and near 400 taken prisoners, including 27 roundhead officers. Massey alleged Prince Rupert’s army to be 6,000 or 7,000 horse and foot, and that his own force was about 5,000 foot and 350 horse; but it is believed these numbers are over-stated. Prince Rupert allowed his weary soldiers to rest at Ledbury on the night following the battle, and then resumed his march to Ludlow.
Later that year, on 12 November, about sixty of Scudamore’s Horse (from Hereford) pushed out to Ledbury to prepare for a larger force, and were charged through the streets in ‘gallant style’ by parliamentarian troopers a quarter of their number under Major Hopton, who was returning from Leominster, and who subsequently dispersed a party of thirty Royalists in charge of about a hundred head of cattle, which they had plundered from drovers.
The Siege of Hereford, June 1645 – an Eye-witness Account:
That the city of Hereford was still a Royalist stronghold in the summer cannot be doubted. King Charles chose Hereford as a safe haven after his troops were routed at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645 and stayed for two weeks. The king’s presence galvanised the governor into action and decrees were sent to all parishes with requests for men and arms. The Scots army under the leadership of Alexander Leslie, First Earl of Leven, had about 8,000 foot soldiers and 4,000 cavalry. By the time the army descended on Hereford on July 31st 1645, the men were hardened and experienced, yet perhaps also weary and certainly insufficiently supplied. Most contemporary descriptions omit an important part of most large armies, namely the hundreds of women and even children who travelled with the baggage train. These women would have nursed injured soldiers and cooked and washed for their menfolk. If the soldiers weren’t paid, then their own families would go hungry too. Committees were set up in areas the army had to pass through to feed and supply the army, but the Earl of Leven complained to Parliament that his soldiers were not sufficiently provided for in Herefordshire. He also commented on the terrible state of the roads:
” … the Army is not able to march above eight miles a day, though they begin to march at the Sun rising, and continue till ten at night … the county is unwilling to afford us anything, and the committees give us no assistance.”
The population of Hereford was about 4,500, and in addition to the regular inhabitants there were a number of Royalist gentlemen who had had to leave their own areas when these were occupied by the Roundheads. Altogether there would have been around 1,500 soldiers and armed townsmen defending the city. A series of letters passed between the leaders of the besieging army, who requested Hereford to surrender, and the governor of Hereford, Colonel Barnabas Scudamore, who rejected outright any suggestion of handing over the city to the Scottish army. The siege itself was fierce and all manner of military techniques and practices common to this period were applied. The walls were attacked with cannon, mines were laid, and at the same time the Royalists staged several sallies to wreak havoc with the besiegers. Breaches in the walls were instantly repaired by the courageous townspeople who worked under enemy fire. Sieges like this were even more demanding than battles. An excellent source regarding the siege from the defenders’ point of view is a letter written by Sir Barnabas Scudamore which was eventually published in the form of a pamphlet. Many pamphlets were published during the Civil War by both sides, as a means of propaganda and dissemination of information. In this letter to Lord Digby, Scudamore praised the efforts of the common soldiers and townspeople, both men and women:
A numerous and active army close besieging us hath rendred me, and those engaged with me … incapable of presenting your Lordship with an exact Relation thereof: …
On the 30th July, I sent out a party of twenty horse over Wye-bridge, who discovering their Forlone-hope of horse, charged them into their maine Body; and retreated in very little disorder, and with losse only of one trooper (taken prisoner), some of the Scots falling. Immediately after this, their whole body of Horse faced us, about ten of the clock in the morning within the reach of our cannon, and were welcomed with our mettall; good execution being done upon them, their Foot as yet undiscovered. About halfe an houre after, I caused a strong Party of Foot (seconded with Horse) to line the hedges, who galled them in their passage to the Fords, after whose handsome retreat, I began to ensafe the Ports, which I did that night. In the morning appeared their body of Foot, and we found ourselves surrounded. I injoyned the Bells silence, lest their ringing, which was an alarm to awaken our devotion, might chime them together to the execution of their malice. For the same reason, I stopt our clocks and hereby though I prevented their telling tales, to the advantage of the Enemy, I myselfe lost the punctuall observation of many particulars, …
Before they attempted anything against the towne, they invited us to a Surrendry, and this they did by a double Summons, one from Leven, directed to me; the other from the Committee of both Kingdoms (attending on the affaires of the Army) sent to the Mayor and the Corporation: … This not giving that satisfaction they desired, they began to approach upon the first of August, but very slowly and modestly; as yet intending more the security of their owne persons, then the ruine of ours: but all their Art could not protect them from our small and great shot which fell upon them. Besides this, our men galled them handsomly at their severall sallies, over Wyebridge, once beat them up to their maine guard, and at another demolisht one side of St Martin’s Steeple; which would have much annoyed us at the Bridge and Pallace; this was performed with the hurt only of two men, but with losse of great store of the Enemies’ men. … but upon our refusall to stoup … they were much incensed that they had been so long disappointed, and having all this while continued their line of communication, they raised their Batteries, commencing at Wyebridge, from whence they received the greatest dammage, but instead of revenging that losse upon us, they multiplied their owne, by death of their much lamented Major Generall Crafford, and others that fell with him. This provoked them to play hot upon the Gate for two days together, and battered it so much … that it was rendered uselesse, yet our men stopt it up with wooll-sacks and timber, and for our greater assurance of eluding their attempt, we brake an arch, and raised a very strong Worke behind it.
The Enemy frustrate of his hopes here, raiseth two severall Batteries, one at the Fryers, the other on the other side of the Wye River, and from both these, playes his Ordinance against the corner of the wall by Wye side, but we repaire and line our walls faster than than they can batter them, whereupon they desist. … About the 11th of August, we discover a Mine at Freingate, and imploy workmen to countermine them. When we had stopt the progresse of that Mine on one side of the Gate, they carried it on the other; which we also defeated by making a Sally-Port: and issuing forth did break it open and fire it. About the 13th, they raise Batteries round about the town, and make a bridge over Wye River. The 14th, Doctor Scudamore is sent by them to desire admittance for three Country Gentlemen, who pretended in their letters to import something of consequence to the good of the City and County, free leave of ingresse and egresse was allowed them, but being admitted, their suggestions were found to us so frivolous and impertinent, that they were dismd not without some disrelish… About the 16th, they discover the face of their of their Battery against Frein-gate, with five severall gun-ports, from hence they played foure cannon jointly at our walls, and made a breach, which was instantly made up; they doe the like on the other side with the like successe. The 17th, a notable Sally was made at St Owen’s Church with great execution, and divers prisoners taken with the losse only of one man, at which time little boyes strived, which was performed to some purpose, and so it was at the same Sally-port once before, though with a fewere number, and therefore with lesse execution. …
… from the 20 unto the 27, there was a great clme on all sides, we as willing to provide ourselves, and preserve our ammunition for a storme, as they could be industrious or malitious to bring it upon us: yet I cannot say that either side was Idle; for they ply’d their Mine at Saint Owen’s, and prepared it for scaling, we countermined, imploy’d our boyes day and night to steale out and fire their Works, securing their retreat under the protection of the Musquetiers upon the wall, and what our fire could not perfect, though it burnt farre, and suffocated some of their Miners, our water did, breaking in upon them and drowning that which the fire had not consumed, and this saved us the pains of pursuing a mine, which we had sunk on purpose to render theirs in that place ineffectuall.
The 29th, Leven (a merciful Generall) assayes the Towne againe by his last offer of honourable conditions to surrender, but he found us still unrelenting, the terror of his cannon making no impression at all upon our spirits, though the bullets discharged from them had done so much against our walls: this … drives their greatest spirits into a passionate resolution of storming. And to that purpose, August 31st and September 1, they prepare ladders, hurdles, and other accommodations for the advancing of their designe … and played very hot with their cannon upon Bysters gate, and the halfe moon next Saint Owen’s gate, intending the morrow after to fall on, presuming as they boasted, that after they had rung us this passing peale, they should presently force the Garrison to give up her Loyall Ghost, but the same night His Majesty advancing from Worcester, gave them a very hot alarum, and drawing a little nearer to us, like the Sunne to the Meridian, this Scottish mist beganne to disperse, and the next morning vanished out of sight. …
I should give your Lordship an accompt of the valor of our common souldiers and townesmen, that would hazard themselves at the making of breaches, to the astonishment of the Enemy, till their cannon played between their legges, and even the women (such was their gallantry) ventured where the musquet bullets did … what frequent alarums we gave them by fire-balls, lights upon our steeple, by dogs, cats, and outworne horses, having light matches tyed around them; and turned out upon their works, whereby we put the enemy in such distraction, that sometimes they charged one another. … that providence that brought these to us, at last drove our Enemies from us, after the destruction of four or five Mines, … the expence of three hundred Cannon shot, besides other Ammunition spent with muskets, the losse by their owne confession of twelve hundred, and as the Country sayes two thousand men, we in all not losing about twenty-one by all casualties whatsoever. Thus, craving your Lordship’s pardon for my prolixity, I take leave and rest,
Your Lordship’s most humble servant
Nevertheless, after withstanding the tremendous onslaught for nearly six weeks in 1645, the city would have been overrun, had the news not reached the Earl of Leven that the King’s troops were rushing to lift the siege of Hereford. The Scottish army broke camp and retreated to Gloucestershire. Hereford entertained the King and celebrated. Sir Barnabas Scudamore praised the city’s ‘officers, gentry, clergy, citizens and common souldiers’ who ‘behaved themselves all gallantly upon their duty, many eminently’, adding ‘to particularize each would be too great a trespasse’. But we can particularize at least one of these loyal defenders, ‘even’ one of the ‘gallant’ women he also referred to in his letter to Digby quoted above.
The Warrior Women of Herefordshire:
In a recent article, Lloyd Bowen has introduced us to Jane Merricke of Hereford. Although women did not have a formal role in the Civil War armies, recent research, including that of project member Professor Mark Stoyle, has highlighted the role of female camp followers as well as women who dressed as men and served in royalist and parliamentarian forces. Moreover, there are several high profile cases of women participating in military encounters during the Civil Wars, perhaps the most famous being Brilliana Harley’s defence of Brampton Bryan in Herefordshire during the royalist siege. She was praised by one of her captains for her ‘masculine bravery’ in the face of the enemy. Most evidence of women in military contexts concerns high status figures like Harley who were left to defend the homestead while their husbands served elsewhere. Sir Robert was in London, without any way to reach home and her sons were Ned and Robert were in Waller’s army and, she hoped, safe. Most of the godly clergy and their families had long since fled, many to Gloucester, which was holding out against a royalist siege. Her friends’ abandoned houses had been gutted and vandalised, and the lands themselves forfeit to the king. Defending Brampton behind its fourteenth-century gatehouse were fifty musketeers, attempting to protect another fifty civilians, including her her family physician, her godly lady friends and her three youngest children. By late July 1643, seven hundred foot soldiers and horse troopers were camped around Brampton, building breastworks close to her garden from which they could fire cannonballs and musket shot at the house. There was nothing much that Brilliana could do except pray, wait and inspect her own defensive works.
The siege, when it began in earnest, went on for six and a half weeks, with daily bombardments, the defenders being reduced to using hand-mills to grind their grain into flour to make bread. The roof of the hall was smashed in, but despite the relentless regularity of the the fire few were killed, though Brilliana lost her cook, another servant and one of her woman friends. Apart from these losses, Brilliana was most upset by the perpetual enemy cursing coming from the breast works in our gardens and walks, where their rotten and poisoned language annoyed us more than their poisoned bullets. Throughout the siege Brilliana remained in regular contact with the besiegers, who themselves hoped for a negotiated end rather than having to storm the house, and she kept them talking as a ploy, while hoping for some relief from parliamentary troops. Eventually, in September, the royalists were called away to reinforce the siege of Gloucester, and left her still the mistress of Brampton Bryan. She set about levelling the earthworks and replanting her garden and orchards. She also badly needed to restock the estate with cattle and took tem from neighbours who had become enemies. The pious puritan lady herself became a plunderer. In October, she fell ill quite suddenly and died, to general shock and grief. Spurred on by Brilliana’s example, the defenders of Brampton Bryan continued to hold out against further attacks until April 1644, when they finally gave up the house to troops acting in the name of the governor of Hereford, Barnabas Scudamore, the viscount’s brother and author of the letter quoted above.
The Brilliana Harley story makes Jane Merricke’s petition all the more interesting as it shows participation in a Civil War siege by an obscure and relatively low status woman. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that Jane describes herself as the wife of Henry Merricke; there is no indication that he has died at the time the petition was composed and one would expect her to be described as ‘widow’ if this were the case. It seems that Jane was not content to be a demur wife who left engagement with the local authorities to the putative head of the household. Rather she devised her petition on her own initiative and with her own agenda. Jane Merricke’s petition was addressed to the mayor and justices of the city of Hereford. This was a wholly separate jurisdiction to the county of Herefordshire and made its own provision for poor relief. Merricke’s petition was presented to the authorities after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, detailing her service in his father’s cause during the siege of the city. In her petition Jane Merricke described how, ‘when the Scotts beleaguered’ the city she had been ‘sorely wounded in severall parts of her bodie & limbs’. She was injured while ‘casting up worke for the defence of the … Cittie, which is not unknown to the whole Cittie’. It was clearly all hands to the pump as the royalists of Hereford scrambled to shore up their position against an impressive Scottish army. Female military support was not that unusual in the siege of a major urban centre, however. When the nearby city of Worcester was besieged in 1643, for example, it was reported that ‘the ordinary sort of women, out of every ward of the city, joined in companies, and with spades, shovels and mattocks’ went ‘in a warlike manner like soldiers’ to destroy parliament’s offensive works.
Jane Merricke’s petition had a colourful and compelling narrative underwriting her request for money. She maintained that when Charles I came to the city after its relief in September 1645, Merricke was brought before him at the marketplace. The king, ‘comiseratinge her sad mishap … out of his gracious favour then promised [her] … that shee should be cared for’. This paints a remarkable scene. It suggests that Merricke’s fortitude and bravery were particularly noteworthy and that she had been brought before the king as an example of Hereford’s resolute royalism. Perhaps this was why she noted that the ‘whole cittie & the inhabitants thereof’ knew of her actions. Charles’s gratefulness and generosity towards the city was particularly marked at this point as the royalists were struggling elsewhere in the country. On 4 September the king granted an augmentation to the city’s arms praising effusively the Herefordians’ ‘loyalltie, courage and undaunted resolution’ during the siege as they, ‘joineing with the garrison and doing the duty of souldiers then defended themselves and repell’d their fury and assaults’. Merricke seemed emblematic of such commitment and loyalty and, given the king’s buoyant mood, he may have promised Merricke she would be looked after.
Raising the siege of Hereford was one of a diminishing number of military bright spots for the royalists in 1645. The city finally fell to parliamentarian forces under Colonel John Birch on 18 December that year and the parliamentarian tide swept that over Hereford engulfed the rest of England and Wales in the following months. There was little prospect of Jane Merricke receiving any recompense until the restoration of monarchy in 1660. Even then, however, she claimed to have petitioned the authorities several times without success. Undeterred, she wrote another entreaty requesting consideration of ‘her sad condicon & her poore estate’. Merricke asked for an annual pension from the city elders to look after her and her children. An endorsement on her petition which now resides among the corporation’s papers at the Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre merely recorded that she was given twenty shillings from the moneys the city administered as a charitable bequest from one Mr Wood. It seems almost certain that this was a one-off gratuity rather than the annual pension she had requested. It is likely Merricke would have been disappointed with this meagre sum; it was hardly a generous return on a king’s promise. Jane Merricke’s determined pursuit of compensation means she is one of the few non-elite women involved in military service during the Civil Wars who can be identified by name. The reason others are not found in the archive of welfare petitions seems clear. The legislation which established both the parliamentarian and royalist compensatory systems envisaged a clear distinction between male combatants and female dependants. This was a rigorously patriarchal society and the systems of military welfare, particularly that of the royalist side, reflected this. Perhaps emboldened by a royal promise, Jane Merricke broke ranks to request her due as a female military veteran. She was, however, a singular case among the thousands of petitioners in post-Civil War England and Wales.
Conclusion – The Local World of the Civil Wars:
The ‘unearthing’ of cases like that of Jane Merricke is, nevertheless, a significant product of the focus on the local history of the civil war period begun by historians such as A.M. Everitt, Valerie Pearl, David Underdown, and Clive Holmes. Moreover, the application of statistical analysis to historical problems has enabled historians like David Underdown and Blair Worden to support their theories with ‘hard’ evidence. Long-held generalisations based on the ‘national’ British narrative have been seriously modified in the face of evidence produced by these local studies. At the same time, research into local documents, family papers, Council Minute Books, etc. has highlighted the the feelings, problems and needs of ordinary, largely anonymous people, whose world was far removed from those of King Charles I or even ‘King’ John Pym.
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John Wroughton (1980), Documents and Debates: Seventeenth Century Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education Limited.
Austin Woolrych (2002), Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Philip Warner (1976), Famous Battles of the Midlands. Glasgow: Fontana.
David Smurthwaite (1984), The Ordnance Survey Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain. Exeter: Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited.
Simon Schama (2001), A History of Britain: The British Wars, 1603-1776. London: BBC Worldwide Ltd.