The Campaign for the South West 1643
The Campaign for the South West 1643
January - July 1643
During 1643 the royalist military cause was in the ascendancy, with three major advances: in the north, in the midlands, but perhaps most important and successful was that which took place in the south west of England.
When the Royalist commander Sir Ralph Hopton arrived in Cornwall in September 1642 he set about raising a force loyal to the King. Comprised predominantly of enthusiastic but inexperienced trained bands his force of some 3,000 troops had some success and forced the Parliamentarians back into Devon. But the trained bands, as Hopton was well aware, were reluctant to leave their home county. Realising that to maintain the offensive in Devon he would need other troops Hopton, with the aid of Sir Bevil Grenville, raised an army of some 5,000 volunteers; mostly infantry but with about 500 horse. In November he crossed into Devon but his actions against Plymouth and Exeter were unsuccessful and by December he was forced back into Cornwall.
The Parliamentarian commander at Plymouth, General Ruthin, pursued Hopton into Cornwall and occupied Liskeard. Hopton retreated to Bodmin. A second parliamentary army under the recently appointed commander of the Western Army, the Earl of Stamford, was also approaching Cornwall with the intention of joining Ruthvin’s forces. Eager to engage Ruthvin before Stamford arrived Hopton advanced towards Liskeard. Morale was high in the Royalists ranks, as a sudden windfall had delivered into their hands three parliamentarian warships driven into the coast at Falmouth. Re-equipped with arms and money the Royalist forces marched from Bodmin and camped on the night of 18th January 1643 in the park at Boconnoc approximately half way between Bodmin and Liskeard. The next day Hopton was to win his first important battle, on Braddock Down.
After a brief truce, following the royalist siege of the parliamentarian garrison at Plymouth, the two sides were once again in open conflict. In an attempt to prevent Hopton’s largely Cornish royalist army from joining forces with others in Somerset, the Earl of Stafford advanced to Stratton to intercept him. The royalist victory removed the last substantial Parliamentarian field army in the South West allowing Hopton to advance through Somerset. After securing garrisons at Wells and elsewhere, but leaving some enemy garrisons in place, they advanced against Waller’s Parliamentarian army at Bath.
Following skirmishing, most notably at Chewton Mendip, the royalists began probing advances against Sir William Waller’s parliamentarian forces. In early July, attempting to retain control of Bath, Waller countered them first on Claverton Down to the south east of the city. The next day the forces faced each other on the south east side of Lansdown Hill, to the north east of the city, as the royalists moved around Bath to the east. Finally on the night of the 4th July they quartered at Marshfield, 5 miles to the north of the city. On the 5th July early in the morning Waller marched north and deployed his forces on the northern edge of the Lansdown plateau. Though he probably had more cavalry than Hopton, he was heavily outnumbered in infantry and as this was a largely enclosed landscape and thus most advantageous to infantry action he was at a severe disadvantage. However he had chosen a strong position on the hilltop and from here he attempted to draw the royalists into an engagement.
Parliament’s remaining influence in the South West, and particularly the broad wealthy territories of the lower Severn valley and England’s second most important town and port, Bristol, was largely dependent upon the success or failure of Waller’s army. Control of this region would provide the king with the secure base, with sufficient wealth, population and well defended ports, which was needed to sustain the royalist war effort. Its loss would be a massive blow to the parliamentarian cause.
Lansdown gave neither side a victory. But the royalist advance towards London continued and at Roundway Down just over a week later a combined royalist force from the South West and from the main field army at Oxford finally defeated Waller, opening up the parliamentarian garrisons of Bristol, Gloucester and beyond to the royalist forces.