Battle of Stratton, Cornwall, 16 May 1643 II



British Battles

Instead of marching directly upon the city he first set about securing his position by taking Taunton Dene – which surrendered under the threat of being stormed – and then Bridgewater and Wells. At the latter place the Royalists received the disturbing but not unexpected news that Sir William Waller was concentrating his own army from the Severn valley and what remained of the Western forces at Bath. Notwithstanding the fact that Stamford’s foot had been well beaten at Stratton, Waller probably mustered about the same number of infantry as Maurice. As for the cavalry, Stamford’s 1,200 horse and dragoons were still available for service. In addition Waller also had his own veteran regiments of horse and dragoons, Colonel Robert Burghill’s regulars and a newly raised regiment of cuirassiers commanded by Sir Arthur Hesilrige.

Some sort of reconnaissance in force was obviously called for so Maurice took Caernarvon’s Regiment out on the 10th to have a look at them. As frequently happens in this sort of affair, he ventured too close and was promptly attacked by some horse and dragoons. Caernarvon’s men evidently did not put up much of a fight, for they were promptly beaten back into Chewton Mendip where Maurice was wounded and captured. The rest of the Royalist army was moving into its quarters when the unhappy news came through and a rather odd argument ensued. Some officers of Maurice’s own regiment held that they were under his direct orders to take up their quarters, and that should they attempt to rescue him they could be court-martialled for disobedience! Captain Richard Atkyns, however, announced himself willing to take the risk and set off at the head of his squadron.

Happily, he almost at once ram into the Earl of Caernarvon who professed himself heartily glad to see the Captain and readily gave him orders to attempt a rescue. Thus reassured, Atkyns pushed on and ran into some dragoons, but providentially (or so he says), a thick mist suddenly descended and under cover of it the dragoons mounted up and fell back. If this was true they cannot have fallen back far for Atkyns and Caernarvon then encountered two squadrons of Waller’s Regiment, flanked by dragoons lining some hedges. Nothing daunted Atkyns promptly charged the left-hand squadron commanded by Captain Edward Kightley:

The dragoons on both sides, seeing us so mixed with their men that they could not fire at us, but might kill their own men as well as ours; took horse and away they run also. In this charge I gave one Captain Kitely quarter twice, and at last he was killed: the Lord Arundel of Wardour also, took a dragoon’s colours, as if it were hereditary to the family to do so; but all of us overran the Prince, being a prisoner in that party; for he was on foot, and had a great hurt upon his head, and I suppose not known to be the Prince. My groom coming after us, espied the Prince, and all being in confusion, he alighted from his horse, and gave him to the Prince, which carried him off: and though this was a very great success, yet we were in as great danger as ever; for now we were in disorder and had spent our shot; and had not time to charge again; [i.e. to reload] and my Lieutenant and Cornet, with above half the Party, followed the chase of those that ran, within half a mile of their army; that when I came to rally, I found I had not 30 men; we then had three fresh troops to charge, which were in our rear, but by reason of their marching through a wainshard before they could be put in order: I told those of my party, that if we did not put a good face upon it, and charge them presently, before they were in order, we were all dead men or prisoners; which they apprehending, we charged them; and they made as it were a lane for us, being as willing to be gone as we ourselves.

Having suffered ‘two shrewd cuts’ on the head, and then having been ridden over by his own men, rather slowed Maurice down, and it was not until 2 July that his outriders readied Bradford-on-Avon, about five miles south-east of Bath. Waller was already waiting for them, covering Bath in a strong position on Claverton Down, so the decision was taken to swing farther east in an attempt to outflank him. This turned out to be a surprisingly delicate operation for Maurice was clearly determined not to take any unnecessary risks. As a first step Hopton was sent with a detachment of Cornish foot to dislodge a covering party from Monkton Farleigh. This was accomplished without much difficulty and the Parliamentarians were then driven back through Batheaston and on to the southern slopes of Lansdown Hill, a long steep-sided ridge running north-west from Bath. At the same time Maurice successfully crossed the Avon only to find Waller retiring into Bath. That evening the Royalists decided to continue their turning movement in the hope of seizing Lansdown Hill and thus interposing their forces between Waller and Bristol.

Unfortunately, Waller was equally alive to this possibility, and next morning the Cavaliers were dismayed to find his whole army occupying Lansdown. Judging the position to be too strong to force, they then drew off to Marshfield, some six miles north of the city. There they were well placed both to act against Wailer’s communications with Bristol and to receive supplies and reinforcements from Oxford. Waller, however, had no intention of being turned out of Bath without a fight and began digging in on top of the ridge.

Early on the morning of 5 July this fact was discovered by a party of Royalist horse led by Major George Lower, but he allowed himself to be driven off so vigorously that the Cavaliers turned out expecting a full-scale attack. Some desultory skirmishing then followed. Preceded by dismounted dragoons, the Royalists pushed forward and eventually established themselves on Freezing Hill, immediately to the north of Waller’s opposition astride the Bath Road where it crosses Lansdown. At this point it was decided to call it a day, since too much ammunition was being expended to little purpose and the decision was taken to return to Marshfield.

Had Waller been content to let them go, things might well have turned out differently, but at about 3pm Colonel Robert Burghill moved forward with some 300 horse and a large body of dragooners. At first he met with some success, and the Royalist withdrawal became disorderly. Maurice had earlier ordered Hopton to provide detachments of musketeers to interline the cavalry squadrons, but far from strengthening the horse they only got in the way. Relations between the Cornish foot and the Oxford horse were already bad enough, and the necessary happy cooperation between the two was consequently non-existent. Unable to coordinate any counter-attacks, the cavalry fell back, and some even ran as far as Oxford, abandoning the musketeers to their own devices. They for their part very bloody-mindedly held on to their positions amongst the hedgerows and momentarily brought the Parliamentarian advance to a standstill.

Granted this brief respite Caernarvon at last managed to fight back. First the Marquis of Hertford’s own Lifeguard troop, commanded by Lord Arundell of Trerice, put in a charge, and in the melee Robert Burghill was badly wounded. Caernarvon then tried to second this success by leading forward his own regiment and, although he succeeded in driving the Parliamentarians into the valley separating Freezing Hill from Lansdown, he in his turn was wounded when Waller committed reinforcements of his own. Nevertheless, the Parliamentarians were unable to clear the valley bottom and soon retired back up the hill.

So far so good. The Royalists might now have retired to Marshfield in safety, but finding that his Cornish infantry had worked themselves up into something approaching hysteria, Hopton decided to give them the heads and, without bothering to consult Prince Maurice, he ordered a frontal assault on the Lansdown position.

Not surprisingly, this hasty attack quickly came to grief. Hopton began by employing his favourite tactic of pushing a column of pikemen straight up the Bath Road, while:

… sending out as they went strong parties of musketeers on each hand to second one another, to endeavour under the cover of the enclosed grounds to gain the flank of the enemy on the top of the Hill, which at last they did …

As the Royalist pikemen went up the road, they marched into a blizzard of fire from both entrenched guns and Parliamentarian musketeers alike which at first stopped them dead in their tracks. The attack might have stalled altogether were it not for Sir Bevill Grenville who rallied the pikemen, placed some musketeers on one flank – where they very prudently established themselves behind a stone wall – and got some horse to cover his right. Again pushing up the road, littered by now with dead and wounded men, Grenville gained the brow of the hill before being halted by a succession of cavalry charges – three according to Hopton. The last of them seems to have been most successful for Grenville, and many of his men were cut down and in the end the Cornish pikemen may only have held because Grenville’s fifteen-year-old son was hoisted into his father’s saddle.

In the meantime, relief was at hand in the shape of some cavalry led by Sir Robert Walsh and Richard Atkyns:

As I went up the hill, which was very steep and hollow, I met several dead and wounded officers brought off; besides several running away, that I had much ado to get up by them. When I came to the top of the hill, I saw Sir Bevill Grinvill’s stand of pikes, which certainly preserved our army from a total rout, with the loss of his most precious life: they stood as upon the eaves of an house for steepness, but as unmoveable as a rock; on which side of this stand of pikes our horse were, I could not discover; for the air was so darkened by the smoke of the powder, that for a quarter of an hour together (I dare say) there was no light seen, but what the fire of the volleys of shot gave; and ‘twas the greatest storm that ever I saw.

Unable to dislodge Grenville’s men and threatened by the Royalist musketeers working their way up on either flank, Waller meanwhile pulled back to what Atkyns describes as a very large sheep-cote surrounded by a stone wall. From there it proved impossible to dislodge him and both sides settled down to shoot it out until nightfall. During the night the Royalist commanders decided upon a withdrawal for their losses had been terrible and they were almost out of ammunition. In preparation for this their guns were sent away, but at about one in the morning some suspicious activity inspired them to send forward a scout who made the happy discovery that Waller was gone. As a Royalist Colonel named Slingsby afterwards remarked: ‘we were glad they were gone for if they had not I know who had within an hour …’

The Royalists may have been left in possession of the field, but to all intents and purposes it was they and not Waller who had lost the battle – a quite unnecessary one brought on by Hopton’s insubordination. At daylight they began retiring to Marshfield and might have taken up their old quarters there had not Hopton been badly injured when a precious ammunition cart blew up. Waller’s army was in much better shape and, having called up reinforcements from Bristol, he quickly got on their trail and hustled them straight through Marshfield. They then halted at Chippenham for two days, but with Waller now pressing hard on their retreat, they set off again and reached Devizes on the night of 9 July. Maurice tried to make a stand on Roundway Down next day, but finding the army had neither the stomach nor the ammunition for another battle, he pulled it back into the town. That night a Council of War agreed that the foot would stand a siege there while Hertford, Maurice and the horse broke out and rode for Oxford to bring relief.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s