1643: Civil War in the South-West
At the end of 1642, Sir Ralph Hopton's Royalist army fell back from Devon across the River Tamar into Cornwall. In early January 1643, Colonel Ruthven, the Parliamentarian governor of Plymouth, attempted to strengthen his position by attacking Saltash on the Cornish side of the Tamar. Ruthven placed artillery on the Devon side and brought three warships into the river estuary to bombard Saltash in preparation for an assault across Plymouth Sound by infantry in boats. The Royalist governor of Saltash, Sir William Courtney, sent an urgent request for reinforcements. Sir Ralph Hopton advanced with Colonel Trevannion's regiment to reinforce the Saltash garrison, and the Parliamentarian attacks were thrown back. However, the arrival in Plymouth of Parliamentarian reinforcements from Somerset and Dorset finally enabled Colonel Ruthven to overwhelm the Royalists and force the crossing of the Tamar at Newbridge, seven miles north of Saltash. The Royalists abandoned the line of the Tamar and fell back to Bodmin while Ruthven advanced into Cornwall and concentrated his forces at Liskeard.
On 17 January, fierce storms drove three Parliamentarian warships laden with weapons and money into the Royalist port of Falmouth. The ships were promptly seized. This windfall enabled Sir Ralph Hopton to re-equip the Royalist army and even to pay his soldiers in advance. Morale was high as the Royalists marched to Lostwithiel and quartered at Lord Mohun's estate at Boconnoc.
Sir Ralph Hopton and the leaders of the Cornish Royalists were aware that Cornwall was threatened by two Parliamentarian armies: Colonel Ruthven's force at Liskeard and Lord Stamford's contingent marching into northern Cornwall. At a council of war at Lostwithiel on 18 January, Hopton's de facto position as commander of the Cornish army was formally confirmed and the decision was taken to march immediately against Ruthven before he could join forces with Stamford.
Ruthven was confident of victory over the Royalists and wanted to take the glory for himself. Against orders, he marched out to attack the Royalists before Lord Stamford and his reinforcements arrived at Liskeard.
On the morning of 19 January, the Cornish Royalists set out from Lostwithiel towards Liskeard. Around noon, the vanguard of dragoons sighted Ruthven's army of 4,000 troops drawn up at the crest of a ridge on the eastern side of Braddock Down. Hopton deployed his forces on a similar ridge within musket range of the Parliamentarians with a shallow valley separating the two armies. Sir Bevil Grenville commanded the large force of Royalist infantry in the centre, a few cavalry and dragoons protected the flanks. Hopton had two small field guns which he concealed by placing horsemen in front of them. The armies skirmished and exchanged volleys of musket fire for two hours, neither side wishing to come down from its strong defensive position to attack the other. Eventually, after leading prayers at the head of each company in turn, Hopton unmasked his field guns and ordered an attack. The guns fired a salvo as Grenville led the Cornish infantry down the slope then uphill against the Parliamentarian line. Both wings of cavalry simultaneously charged. The Parliamentarian musketeers fired off a single ragged volley against the advancing Royalists then Ruthven's whole army turned and fled.
The Parliamentarians retreated into Liskeard, only to be driven out when the townspeople declared for the King and rose up against them. The pursuing Royalists marched in unopposed. Over a thousand Parliamentarians surrendered after the battle. Five valuable cannon and a store of arms were also captured. The Royalists claimed to have lost only two men. The victory at Braddock Down established Sir Ralph Hopton as undisputed leader of the Cornish Royalists.
Hopton followed up his victory with an immediate advance towards Devon. He sent a column under Sir John Berkeley and Colonel Ashburnham against the Earl of Stamford's army, which had arrived at Launceston. Stamford turned back and retreated to Tavistock. On 22 January, Hopton's main force stormed Saltash, recapturing the town and driving Colonel Ruthven back into Plymouth. The Royalists were not equipped to mount a full-scale siege of Plymouth so blockaded the city and attacked outlying garrisons. The poet Sidney Godolphin, serving as a volunteer in Hopton's army, was killed at a skirmish at Chagford near Okehampton on 8 February. However, the Royalist occupation of towns around Plymouth meant that Hopton's forces were too widely scattered to operate effectively. On 22 February, after the Royalists were driven out of Modbury, Hopton abandoned his invasion of Devon and once again fell back into Cornwall.
The Chagford Cavalier: Legendary Dartmoor website
When the truce expired on 22 April 1643, the Parliamentarians took the initiative with an attack on the Cornish army mustering at Launceston. In the absence of the Earl of Stamford, who was suffering from gout, the Parliamentarian army of 3,500 foot and five troops of horse was commanded by Major-General James Chudleigh. Hopton had taken up a strong defensive position on Beacon Hill (now Windmill Hill) to the south of Launceston. He was still awaiting the arrival of several contingents when Chudleigh approached Launceston on the morning of 23 April. The initial Parliamentarian assault drove back the Royalist musketeers posted at the foot of the hill, but the steady arrival of reinforcements throughout the day enabled Hopton to hold the position against further attacks.
By evening, the Cornish army was fully assembled and Hopton prepared to counter-attack. He regrouped his infantry into three separate columns commanded by himself, Sir John Berkeley and Major-General Basset, then charged the main body of the Parliamentarians. Weakened and exhausted from losses sustained during the day, the Parliamentarians fell back in disorder. Fortunately for Chudleigh, Sir John Merrick had arrived that evening with 700 London Greycoats sent by the Earl of Essex as reinforcements. At the head of the Greycoats, Chudleigh covered the retreat, personally harnessing the teams of oxen to save his artillery. The explosion of a powder wagon discouraged the Royalists from further pursuit while the Parliamentarians fell back into Devon.
Sir Ralph Hopton and the Cornish army pushed forward towards Okehampton as the Parliamentarians retreated from Launceston. Hopton was determined to strike a decisive blow before the enemy had time to regroup, but he moved too quickly into Devon, without proper reconnaissance. As Hopton drew closer to Okehampton, Major-General Chudleigh led a small force of cavalry to ambush the Royalists at Sourton Down on the edge of Dartmoor. Captain Drake led a charge against the advance guard of Royalist dragoons, who panicked and fell back in disorder, colliding with the troops behind. The Parliamentarians pressed home their attack and routed half the Royalist army. Lord Mohun and Sir Bevil Grenville made a stand to defend the artillery while Hopton sent orders to Sir Nicholas Slanning to bring up the rearguard.
The Parliamentarian attack was eventually driven back and the Royalists took up defensive positions among ancient earthworks on the moor. Reinforced by 1,000 foot from Okehampton, Chudleigh continued to threaten the Royalists. As sporadic skirmishing continued into the night, a violent tempest broke over the battlefield, drenching the combatants and adding to the confusion and terror. Eventually, the Royalists withdrew in considerable disorder, leaving behind weapons, stores and gunpowder. In the confusion, the Parliamentarians also captured Sir Ralph Hopton's portmanteau, which contained letters from the King ordering the Cornish army to join forces with the Marquis of Hertford and Prince Maurice in Somerset.
Aware of the Royalist plan to combine the armies of Sir Ralph Hopton and Lord Hertford, the Earl of Stamford mustered all available Parliamentarian forces at Torrington in Devon and prepared to march against Hopton before he could rendezvous with Hertford. On 15 May, Stamford sent the bulk of his cavalry under Sir George Chudleigh (father of Major-General James Chudleigh) on a diversionary raid on Bodmin while Stamford himself marched into Cornwall with a force of 5,400 foot, 200 horse and thirteen guns. He advanced to Stratton and took up a strong defensive position on a hill now known as Stamford Hill to the north of the town. With units of the Royalist army engaged in garrison duty at Bodmin and in containing Colonel Ruthven at Plymouth, Sir Ralph Hopton could muster only 2,400 foot and 500 horse to counter Stamford's invasion of Cornwall. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, however, Hopton was determined to attack Stamford's encampment while most of the Parliamentarian cavalry was absent.
The Parliamentarians were positioned around an Iron Age hill fort on the summit of Stamford Hill. The eastern slope of the hill was thickly wooded and too steep for an assault. When Hopton approached early in the morning of 16 May, he divided his infantry into four columns of about 600 men each to attack the hill from different directions in a great arc. Hopton and Lord Mohun led the first column from the south, Major-General Basset attacked from the north, Sir Bevil Grenville and Sir Nicholas Slanning led their columns from the west. The Parliamentarians were forced to defend the hill with their backs to the impregnable eastern slope. Hopton's 500 cavalry under Colonel John Digby were kept in reserve.
The assault began at dawn. The Cornish infantry fought their way relentlessly up the steep slopes in the face of determined resistance from the Parliamentarian defenders. Neither side gained a clear advantage and by mid-afternoon the Royalists were running short of ammunition. At this crucial point, Major-General James Chudleigh led a counter-attack of Parliamentarian pikemen in a downhill charge that smashed deep into Sir Bevil Grenville's column. Grenville himself was knocked over, but Sir John Berkeley rallied the Royalists and made a desperate counter-charge that turned the tide of the battle, inspiring the Royalists to greater efforts. Chudleigh was taken prisoner and the Parliamentarians began to give way. Finally, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, the Royalist flanking columns reached the top of the hill. The Parliamentarian line collapsed as the Royalists pushed on to the summit.
The Parliamentarians fled, leaving 300 dead and 1,700 prisoners. The Royalists captured the thirteen Parliamentarian cannon and a quantity of gunpowder, ammunition and provisions. Hopton's victory secured Cornwall for the King. The Earl of Stamford fled to Barnstaple and then to Exeter; Sir George Chudleigh and the Parliamentarian cavalry abandoned Bodmin and retreated into Devon. The Parliamentarians maintained garrisons at Plymouth, Exeter, Bideford and Barnstaple but had no effective field army in Devon. Chudleigh's son, Major-General James Chudleigh who was taken prisoner at Stratton, defected to the Royalists. Blockaded at Exeter, the Earl of Stamford laid the blame for the defeat at Stratton on Chudleigh.
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C.E.H. Chadwyck-Healey (ed), Bellum Civile (Somerset Record Society 1902)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i (London 1888)
Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)
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Braddock Down : Stratton : UK Battlefields Resource Centre