1643: Lansdown Hill and Roundway Down
The defeat of the Earl of Stamford at the battle of Stratton left Parliament with no field army in Devon or Cornwall. Sir Ralph Hopton sent detachments to blockade Parliamentarian garrisons at Plymouth and Exeter then marched east with the Cornish army to rendezvous with the Marquis of Hertford and Prince Maurice who had marched from Oxford. The two armies joined forces at Chard in Somerset on 4 June 1643.
Despite his lack of military experience, Lord Hertford was the senior officer and overall commander of the combined Royalist army, but Hopton acted as field marshal and Prince Maurice commanded the cavalry. The strength of the Royalist force was 4,000 foot, 2,000 horse, 300 dragoons and a train of sixteen field guns. There was suspicion and occasional brawling between Hopton's Cornish veterans and the Oxford cavalry. Hopton himself was critical of Maurice's lax discipline over the cavaliers and of their propensity to plunder. During early June 1643, the Royalists secured Somerset by establishing garrisons at Taunton, Bridgwater, Dunster Castle and Wells then advanced with the main Royalist army against Parliament's Western Association forces, commanded by Sir William Waller.
Following his defeat at Ripple Field and failure to penetrate into Wales, Waller consolidated his position at Gloucester. In late May 1643, he advanced on Worcester but his initial attack was driven off and he withdrew upon receiving reports that troops were marching westwards from Oxford. With Hopton also advancing from the south-west, Waller concentrated Parliament's Western Association army around Bath.
Waller arrived at Bath on 8 June. During the following days, he sent eight troops of horse and a regiment of dragoons to cover the retreat of Sir Edward Popham from the vicinity of Taunton. Popham was threatened by a pursuing force of cavaliers commanded by Prince Maurice. Around 12 June, Popham's rearguard was scattered at Chewton Mendip by Royalist cavalry under the command of Lord Carnarvon. The Parliamentarian reinforcements arrived in time to drive the Royalists back beyond Chewton, only to come under attack themselves when they ran into Maurice's main force. The Prince led a charge that routed half the Parliamentarians before they had time to array themselves, but the remaining troops wheeled around and attacked the rear of the Royalists. During the mêlée, Prince Maurice was wounded and taken prisoner. He was rescued towards evening by Carnarvon's cavalry after several determined charges.
During June 1643, Sir William Waller gathered all available Parliamentarian forces at Bath in Somerset. He was joined by cavalry that had been part of the Earl of Stamford's army in Devon, and also by Sir Arthur Hesilrige's newly-raised regiment of cuirassiers that became known as the Lobsters. Although Waller mustered around 2,500 horse and dragoons, he remained short of infantry. He requested reinforcements from the Parliamentarian garrison at Bristol, but Colonel Fiennes sent only 500 men. By early July, Waller could muster no more than 1,500 foot.
Towards the end of June, Lord Hertford's Royalist army advanced to Frome. Despite harassing raids by Waller's cavalry, the Royalists entered Bradford-upon-Avon on 2 July. The bridge across the Avon gave Hertford a clear march to Oxford and the option to approach Bath either from the south or by skirting around to attack from the north. Waller countered by arraying his army on Claverton Down, two miles east of Bath. Colonel Robert Burghill was sent with a body of horse and dragoons over a ford near Claverton House where the Parliamentarians had built a defensive redoubt. Early in the morning of 3 July, Burghill attacked Royalist outposts on the eastern side of the Avon. Sir Ralph Hopton marched with a detachment of Cornish foot to drive back the Parliamentarians. After fierce skirmishing at Monckton Farleigh, Burghill made a fighting withdrawal to the fortified crossing-point at Claverton House. The Parliamentarians defended the crossing for the rest of the day, then withdrew to Waller's main camp when darkness fell. The Royalist commanders Hertford, Hopton and Prince Maurice agreed to continue their turning movement in the hope of securing high ground to the north of Bath, thus interposing their forces between Waller's army and Bristol. Waller was also aware of this possibility and withdrew into Bath before marching out on 4 July to occupy the high ground for himself.
Waller took up a commanding position on the top of Lansdown Hill, five miles north of Bath. The Parliamentarians built breastworks of earth and stone to protect their musketeers and artillery pieces. Each flank was covered by thick woods where more musketeers were posted. The Royalists approached on the morning of 5 July and, after some initial skirmishing, established themselves on Freezing Hill, immediately to the north of the Parliamentarians on Lansdown. The two armies faced one another for two hours, with occasional skirmishing and cavalry probes. Realising that Waller had no intention of abandoning his impregnable position, the Royalists began to withdraw towards the nearby village of Marshfield.
As the Royalist army began to move off, Waller sent a large force of horse and dragoons to attack its flank and rear. Parliamentarian dragoons advanced under cover of hedgerows until they were within musket range. Sudden volleys caused panic amongst the Royalist cavalry, who recoiled in disorder, ploughing through the Cornish musketeers who had been posted to cover the withdrawal. However, the Cornishmen held their ground and succeeded in holding off the Parliamentarian attack until Lord Carnarvon's cavalry came up to support them.
Realising that his troops had gained a tactical advantage, Sir Ralph Hopton seized the initiative and ordered a frontal assault on the main Parliamentarian position on Lansdown Hill, supported by flanking attacks on the east and west slopes. The infantry advanced under cover of the woods and hedges, with the Cornish pikemen under the command of Sir Bevil Grenville spearheading the attack. The assault faltered when the Royalists reached the top of the hill where they were exposed to the full force of musket and artillery fire from the Parliamentarians behind the breastworks. Grenville formed the pikemen into a defensive stand and succeeded in holding off three counter-attacks by Heselrige's cuirassiers. During the third charge, Grenville himself was grievously wounded by a halberd blow to the head.
Unable to dislodge the Royalists and outflanked by the musketeers in the woods, Sir William Waller ordered a withdrawal of 400 yards to the shelter of a stone wall that ran laterally across the level ground on the hilltop. The Parliamentarians set up their guns and made loopholes in the wall to defend the new position. The Royalists had also succeeded in hauling artillery up to the hilltop; they took cover behind the breastworks that the Parliamentarians had just abandoned. By this time, darkness was falling. Both sides were exhausted from the battle and no further fighting took place after nightfall. The Royalist position near the edge of the slope was precarious, but Waller regarded his own position as equally hopeless. Under cover of darkness, he ordered the Parliamentarian army to withdraw to Bath, leaving lighted match and stands of pike to simulate a watchful army.
The Royalists were left in possession of the field, but their casualties were heavy with around 250 killed and many more wounded. The Parliamentarian losses were lighter, with 20 dead and 60 wounded. Sir Bevil Grenville died of his wounds, which was a heavy blow to the morale of the Cornish infantry, though his fifteen-year old son John Grenville is said to have been hoisted into his father's saddle and acknowledged head of the Grenville family by the Cornishmen. A further setback occurred on the day after the battle: Sir Ralph Hopton was seriously injured when an ammunition wagon was blown up by a stray spark from a lighted match, leaving him badly burned and temporarily blinded and paralysed.
Despite the marginal Royalist victory at Lansdown Hill, Lord Hertford's army was in low spirits owing to heavy casualties, the death of Sir Bevil Grenville and serious injuries to Sir Ralph Hopton. Most of the Royalist cavalry had scattered during the battle and the army was short of supplies and ammunition. After regrouping at Marshfield, the Royalists marched towards Oxford, halting for two days at Chippenham in Wiltshire. Meanwhile, Sir William Waller summoned reinforcements from Bristol and set off in pursuit of the battered Royalist army with an overwhelming force of nearly 5,000 men.
On 9 July, Waller's advance guard of cavalry caught up with the Royalists and attacked them as they approached Devizes. Prince Maurice's cavalry and Lord Mohun's regiment of foot fought a rearguard action at the village of Rowde that held off the Parliamentarians and gave the Royalist infantry time to get into the town. At a council of war on 10 July, Sir Ralph Hopton agreed to defend Devizes with the infantry and artillery while Prince Maurice rode to Oxford for reinforcements with Lord Hertford and Lord Carnarvon. Maurice broke out at midnight with 300 cavalry, riding south-east to evade Waller's patrols before turning north for Oxford.
Prince Maurice and his companions rode the forty-five miles from Devizes to Oxford in a single night. When they arrived, they found that most of the Oxford army was in the Midlands with Prince Rupert and the Queen. A convoy of gunpowder and ammunition had been sent to re-supply the Western Army after Lansdown under the command of the Earl of Crawford, but troopers of Waller's own regiment of horse under Major Dowett ambushed the convoy on 11 July. The Royalist cavalry escort was scattered and the convoy captured. While no infantry could be spared from Oxford, a relief force of 1,500 horse was detached under the command of Lord Wilmot, supported by Sir John Byron and the Earl of Crawford. Prince Maurice, Lord Carnarvon and the 300 horse that had ridden from Devizes also joined the column. Two brass field guns and a supply of gunpowder and ammunition were requisitioned. The relief force rendezvoused at Marlborough on 12 July and approached Devizes on the afternoon of the following day.
Meanwhile at Devizes, Waller had deployed his forces on the eastern side of the town and set up a battery on Coatefield Hill. Sir Ralph Hopton initiated treaty negotiations on 11 July, which gained a day's respite, but Waller suspected that he was playing for time and proceeded with preparations for an assault. Although short of gunpowder and ammunition, the Royalists set up their artillery in the remains of Devizes Castle, barricaded the streets with tree trunks and carts, and lined the hedgerows and embankments around the town with musketeers. The Parliamentarians attacked on the morning of 12 July, supported by artillery fire from Coatefield Hill. The Royalists resisted fiercely; although some of the outworks were overrun, the main Parliamentarian attack was repulsed.
The battle of Roundway Down, 13 July 1643
Waller was planning further attacks on Devizes when his scouts reported the approach of Wilmot's relief force during the morning of 13 July. Waller drew off his entire army and regrouped on Roundway Down to the north of Devizes, leaving a few troops to guard his artillery and baggage wagons. The Parliamentarian army consisted of around 2,500 foot and between 2,500 and 3,000 horse and dragoons, supported by eight field guns. Waller deployed his troops conventionally, with five regiments of foot in the centre guarded by cavalry on each flank and artillery covering the gaps between. The Parliamentarian army was double the size of the Royalist relief force, which consisted of 1,800 horse with no infantry. Wilmot hoped that Hopton would send out the 3,000 Royalist foot stationed in Devizes to support his cavalry, but Hopton was persuaded to delay by his officers, who suspected that Waller's withdrawal was a stratagem to tempt them to leave the town.
Wilmot deployed the Royalist cavalry in three brigades. He personally led the brigade on the right while Sir John Byron commanded on the left. The Earl of Crawford kept a third brigade in reserve.
The battle began at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon of 13 July. As the Royalists moved forward, a Parliamentarian forlorn hope advanced to harass them. Major Paul Smith of Wilmot's regiment led a Royalist forlorn hope to counter-attack, and the Parliamentarians were thrown back. Sir Arthur Heselrige on the Parliamentarian left wing advanced his formidable cuirassier regiment to support the fleeing troopers. Heselrige's troops were arrayed six deep in close order; his charge was met by Wilmot's brigade which advanced at a trot three deep in extended order. When the opposing ranks met, Wilmot's line overlapped Heselrige's and the Parliamentarians gave ground. Heselrige rallied his men for a second charge but seeing the second Royalist brigade ready to support Wilmot, the cuirassiers broke away and fled.
With Heselrige's Lobsters routed, Sir William Waller advanced with the right wing of horse flanking his infantry. Byron's brigade charged Waller's horse, steadfastly ignoring the covering fire from the Parliamentarian foot and artillery. Byron ordered his troopers not to fire their pistols until they were among the Parliamentarian horse. Supported by Lord Crawford's reserve, Byron swept the Parliamentarian right wing from the field. The triumphant Royalists pursued the fleeing Parliamentarian cavalry, a number of whom were driven over the edge of a precipitous slope on the edge of Roundway Down.
The Parliamentarian infantry were left stranded. Their cavalry were routed but Waller remained on the field and formed the infantry into defensive squares. For over an hour, the Parliamentarians fended off attacks by Wilmot's cavalry. The attacks became heavier as more Royalist horse returned to the field. When the 3,000 Cornish infantry finally marched out of Devizes and advanced towards the battlefield, Waller ordered a retreat eastwards.
The Parliamentarian infantry began to march off in good order but lost cohesion when Byron's men opened fire on them with captured cannon and advanced to attack. In the confusion, Waller and his mounted officers galloped away towards Bristol. The withdrawal became a rout as the Parliamentarian infantry ran for the wooded eastern slopes. Hundreds were cut down or taken prisoner, many dying in an area still known as Bloody Ditch at the foot of the hillside. All Waller's artillery, ammunition and baggage was taken. Parliament's entire Western Association army had been wiped out in the most sweeping victory of the civil wars.
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C.E.H. Chadwyck-Healey (ed), Bellum Civile (Somerset Record Society 1902)
English Heritage Battlefield Report: Roundway Down 1643 PDF format (English Heritage 1995)
Glenn Foard, Lansdown Battle and Campaign (The Battlefields Trust 2004)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i (London 1888)
Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)
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Devizes Heritage site
Lansdown Hill : Roundway Down (under development) : UK Battlefields Resource Centre