With the daylight hours shortening and the weather taking a distinct turn to the colder side, Mr Steve and I decided to close out our shortened post-pandemic lockdown walking season by getting in another battlefield walk before the year was out; and so last month he came down to my neck of the woods to take a day to explore three key battle sites in Devon and Cornwall from the Renaissance, spanning the hundred years or so that separates the English Civil War and the Tudor Rebellion in the West Country, better known as the 'The Prayer Book Rebellion' whilst also spanning the border between the two counties over which that history is shared, starting with the ancient River Tamar.
Starting out from Chez JJ after breakfast, meant a short drive out to the M5 motorway to pick up the A30 to Okehampton before turning off to head south to Tavistock before turning west again to the little hamlet of Gunnislake that sits squarely on the Cornish side of the River Tamar that marks the boundary between the two counties.
It was here that we would start our day travelling back to the 13th January 1643 as Devon's Parliamentary forces, now reinforced with fresh troops from Dorset, prepared to invade Royalist controlled Cornwall with a crossing of the River Tamar at Newbridge (Gunnislake).
|Devon & Cornwall illustrating where the battle sites are we visited together with key places mentioned|
Having been forced to retire from Somerset and Dorset after attempting to raise Royalist supporters for the King, Sir Ralph Hopton and 160 cavalrymen fell back into Cornwall via North Devon, as men from the wider West Country headed north in August 1642 prior to the Battle of Edgehill.
|Sir Ralph Hopton, 1st Baron Hopton of Stratton|
Hopton's arrival caused the Cornish County Court, considering rival claims that each opposing side was causing a breach of the peace, to find in favour of the Royalist cause, that saw a rapid withdrawal of key Parliamentary supporters over the border and the Cornish raise a field army of five regiments of volunteers as the King's main army advanced on London in October 1642.
Boldly the Cornish crossed the Tamar, blockading Plymouth and attempting to advance on and capture Exeter in December 1642 before the arrival of Lord Stamford leading fresh forces from Somerset convinced the Royalists to retire back over the Tamar at the start of January 1643.
|Colonel William Ruthven|
As Lord Stamford moved troops into North Devon, Colonel William Ruthven, Parliamentary governor of Plymouth mustered his force and attempted to make an assault crossing from Plymouth over to Saltash on the opposite bank with boats supported by artillery and naval gunfire, but Royalist reinforcements were brought up and successfully drove the attackers off.
Newbridge (Gunnislake) on the River Tamar
|Newbridge on the River Tamar where Colonel Ruthven's men forced a crossing after a sharp skirmish with the bridge guard on 13th January 1643.|
However undaunted Ruthven's forces marched north seven miles upriver to Newbridge where they managed to cross using a nearby ford and after a short firefight between the bridge guard and the assault force the crossing was taken and the Royalists driven off.
|The likely defenders at Newbridge were dragoons based on the number of horses captured when the bridge guard was overcome|
As the Parliamentary foot exchanged fire with the enemy, dragoons and cavalry crossed at the ford and in a combined attack killed two of the guard and forced their commander, Captain Hartgill into the river where he was drowned, whilst capturing forty-one men, including a lieutenant Greenway, fifty muskets and forty horses suggesting the guard was a Royalist dragoon unit.
|This glorious old bridge is one I have crossed many times in my professional life never before realising its key role in a moment of West Country history|
The Parliamentary force suffered one man wounded, shot in the arm. The next day the main Parliamentary force crossed into Cornwall and the Royalist troops in Saltash across from Plymouth abandoned the town and fell back.
|The River Tamar is high at this time of year as it would have been in January 1643 and not an easy barrier to get across|
With the Tamar forced the Royalist abandoned it and fell back to Bodmin as Ruthven crossed with his forces and regrouped at Liskeard.
On the 17th January three Parliamentarian warships were caught in a storm and driven ashore near Falmouth with a rich cargo of weapons and money which was promptly seized by Hopton, boosting the morale of the Royalist troops, who were reequipped and payed in advance as they marched to Lostwithiel.
The Battlefield of Braddock Down
|Point 1. on the battlefield map, The view west, slightly behind Hopton's Royalist line and looking towards the ridge occupied by Ruthven's Parliamentary army.|
On the 18th January at the Lostwithiel war council, Sir Ralph Hopton was confirmed as the official commander of the Cornish Royalist army and well aware that the county was now threatened by two Parliamentary armies, Stamford in Exeter gathering his forces and Ruthven in the south of the county having crossed the Tamar, it was decided to advance and meet Ruthven's force before the two enemy armies could join together.
Setting off, the 5,000 strong Royalist army of five volunteer foot regiments (Slanning, Grenville, Trevanion, Mohun and Godolphin), and a few hundred horse and volunteer dragoons began their march to Liskeard, sighting and chasing off two troops of Parliamentarian horse and by nightfall they had arrived at Bocconoc House, the home of Lord Mohun and were encamped in the deer park ready to make a leisurely start the next day.
|Point 2. Braddock Church a veteran of the area of the battlefield and no doubt passed by Hopton's men as they advanced from Lord Mohun's deer park on their way up on to Braddock Down.|
Not waiting for the arrival of Lord Stamford's army, Ruthven's army set out from Liskeard for Lostwithiel on the 19th, believing themselves to be in pursuit of a retiring enemy army, and described as having no guides and that later that morning their scouts were surprised by Royalists emerging from
"a thick wood of a park of My Lord Mohun's joining to the way"
It seems likely that both sides were equally surprised at encountering each other.
|The Battlefield of Braddock Down showing the latest suspected sight for the battle and the parts we visited.|
Ruthven drew up his army of 4,000 men on the crest of a ridge on the eastern side of Braddock Down, and Hopton drew up his 5,000 men on a similar ridge to the west with a shallow valley in between with forces arrayed in musket range and with his two light field guns masked from view behind the small force of Royalist horse.
The two sides exchanged fire and skirmished for about two hours before Hopton unmasked his two guns which opened fire and heralded an assault by the Cornish foot led by Sir Bevile Grenville supported by horse of each flank which promptly charged the flanks of the Parliamentary infantry, which caused their front line infantry to break and flee, and as their second line attempted to hold a hedge line on the crest they too broke under the impetus of the victorious Royalist assault, leaving six-hundred prisoners including Sir Shilstone Calmady, eight colours, weapons and ammunition.
|Point 2. Braddock Church looking majestic, lit up by the mid morning sunlight|
The Royalist victory would see them once again advance into Devon, blockading Plymouth and skirmishing with Parliamentary forces under Lord Stamford around Okehampton and in the villages and towns of the South Hams west of Plymouth, but were eventually driven out of Modbury and compelled to fall back into Cornwall on the 22nd February when Hopton and Stamford agreed a truce, during which both sides reorganised their exhausted forces.
The cessation of hostilities ran out at midnight on the 22nd April 1643 and earlier that day Hopton received intelligence that the Parliamentary forces were gathered at Lifton, close enough to the Tamar to strike quickly at Royalist forces in Launceston, which is what occurred early of the 23rd April as the 3,500 strong Parliamentary army led by Major General James Chudleigh, with Stamford laid low by gout in Exeter, advanced trying to catch the Royalist forces off guard.
Hopton managed to hold Chudleigh at the strong position of Beacon Hill close to Launceston as his reinforcements arrived to allow him to eventually drive the enemy back disordered across the county border, eventually falling back from Lifton to Okehampton under the cover of darkness.
Emboldened by his success and now with a mustered force of some 3,000 foot, 300 dragoons and 300 horse Hopton began his own advance on the 25th April, however Chudleigh, alerted to the offensive was able to prepare a reception for the Royalist army at Sourton Down, which saw a successful ambush by Captain Thomas Drake at the head of just over one-hundred Parliamentary horse charging into the lead elements of Hopton's column on the northern edge of Dartmoor, a battle I looked at here on JJ's back in May 2016.
|JJ's Wargames - Battle of Sourton Down|
The combination of Chudleigh's resolute and quick thinking command coupled with Captain Drake's bold leadership on the field of battle, mixed in with a clever bit of cunning that saw Chudleigh have his men drape lighted matches among the gorse as he arranged for his smaller force to fall back to warm billets in Okehampton, whilst leaving Hopton and his men to endure a cold wet night on the edge of Dartmoor, only relieved when they spotted the matches all gone out in the rain storm that was soaking them, left Hopton with little choice but to recuperate his force by falling back to Launceston to regroup and dry out.
Intending to relaunch his offensive into Devon, Hopton's plans were put on hold as he learnt of Stamford's return to command in Devon and appraised of a Royalist plan to unite the forces of Hopton with Prince Maurice had mustered every available man across the county to deal with the Cornish royalists once and for all in a decisive battle for the county.
|Henry Grey, 1st Earl of Stamford|
On the 15th of May 1643, Stampford headed north with 5,400 foot, 200 horse and 13 guns, crossing the Cornish border, heading for Stratton to attack Grenville's force of about 1,500 men, whilst at the same time detaching Sir George Chudleigh with 1,200 Parliamentary horse to make a dash for Bodmin where the sheriff was holding a posse comitatus to raise more troops.
The balance of Royalist troops were spread around the county with Lord Mohun and 900 men at Liskeard, Slanning with 1,000 men at Saltash and Trevanion with 700 men at Launceston. It was on the 12th of May that Hopton got news of Stamford's plans and thus was able to gather his forces in time to head north himself to join Grenville at Stratton, arriving on the evening of the 15th May.
The Battlefield of Stratton
|The Battlefield of Stratton (Stamford Hill) and the viewing points from where our pictures were taken|
Stamford arrived in the area the same evening and deployed his force atop a large hill about half a mile to the north-west of Stratton on which stood an ancient earthwork. The eastern slope of the hill is and was thickly wooded and too steep for an assault and the Iron Age earthworks offered a handy second line of defence should the crest be taken.
|Point 1. The gate well signed and directing the visitor to the path up the northern slope of Stamford Hill towards the information board and the memorial to the battle.|
Hopton called an immediate council of war and despite being outnumbered two to one decided to attack early the next day and take best advantage before George Chudleigh could return with the enemy horse.
In addition Grenville's local knowledge of the area enabled the Royalist troops to get into their positions during the night ready to launch their dawn attack, and with Hopton dividing his force into five groups, four assault groups each with two guns and a reserve under John Digby as described by Hopton himself in his post war memoir describing himself in the third person;
' . . . the Cornish Army was drawen over likewise, and the foote being about two thousand fowre hundred, dyvided into fower parts, and the cannon being eight peices equallie distributed to every part.
The first part commanded by the Lo:Mohun and Sir Ralph Hopton, undertooke to assault the Enemies Campe upon the south side, next Sir John Berkeley and Sir Bevile Grenvile upon the Avenue next to them upon the left hand, Sir Nicholas Slanning and Coll. Trevanion the next Avenue to that upon the left hand of [all] and Sir Thomas Bassett and Coll: Godolphin upon the left hand of all, Mr. John Digby with the horse and dragoones being then about five hundred, stoode upon a Sandy-Common where there was a way leading up to the Enemyes Campe, with order to charge anything that should come downe that way in a body, but els to stand firme in reserve.'
The first attack went in at about 5am, with the four groups continuing to attack for nearly ten hours and with the Royalist supplies of ammunition running dangerously low, but seeing Hopton keeping that information to himself as he prepared to make one more final push with pike and sword and it was during this advance that Major General James Chudleigh, eldest son of Sir George led a charge against Grenville's foot as Hopton recalled;
'It fortuned that on that Avenew where Sir Bevile Grenvile advane'd in the head of his Pikes in the way, And Sir Jo: Berkeley ledd on the muskettiers on each syde of him, Major Generall Chudleigh with a stand of Pikes charg'd Sir Bevile Greenvile so smartlie, that there was some disorder, Sir Bevile Greenvile, in person overthrowen, but being presently relieved by Sir Jo: Berkely and some of his owne officers, hee reenfore'd the charge, and there tooke Major Generall Chudleigh prisoner'
The capture of Chudleigh seems to have prompted a Parliamentarian collapse as Hopton goes on to describe;
'In fine the endeavours of all the 4 parts of the foote succeeded so well, as growing nearer together as they ascended, and the Enemy giving way, and leaving the possession of some of their dead and some of their cannon to them between 3 and 4 of the clock the Commanders happened to meete altogether in one ground neere the Topp of the Hill, where having joyfully embraced one another they pursued their victorie, and recovered the topp of the Hill, which the Enimy had acquyted in a route.'
|Point 1. The information board occupies a discreet point on the hedge line at the top of the slope behind which lies the battlefield memorial,|
The Parliamentarians fled leaving 300 dead and 1,700 prisoners, 13 cannon and a large quantity of ammunition and provisions.
|Point 1. Modern construction has gradually encroached on the approach routes used by Hopton's army|
The Earl of Stamford fled first to Barnstaple and then to Exeter amid accusations of bungling and inept generalship.
Sir George Chudleigh returning from a successful expedition to Bodmin with the Parliamentary horse soon learned of the disaster and successfully managed to avoid interception by Royalist horse to make his way back to Exeter, only to learn later of the defection of his son to the Royalist cause.
|Point 1. The views out from Stamford Hill to the beaches at Bude help explain the desire to build on its western slope.|
|Point 2. One of the 'avenues' described by Hopton looking much as it must have done in 1643, this approach route used by Bassett and Godolphin.|
The result of the Battle of Stratton was a disaster for Parliament's cause in Devon with garrisons left holding Plymouth, Exeter, Bideford and Barnstaple, but with no effective field army to contest the advance of the Royalist Cornish army through Devon, which followed on 21st May with Hopton summoning Stamford to surrender Exeter, which was promptly refused as it to was blockaded as the Royalists marched on into Somerset where on the 4th of June 1643 Hopton would join forces with Maurice at Chard.
The combined Royalist army in the West amounted to 7,000 men, with 4,000 foot and 2,400 horse.
|Point 3. Steve and I had intended to take lunch in Sir Bevil Grenville's former HQ, The Tree Inn, but it was disappointingly closed for refurbishment, but we were granted a peek inside at this gloriously old pub|
|Sir Bevil Grenville|
Our visit to Stratton was a great way to conclude a series of recent battlefield visits to Lansdown and Roundway Down which followed the adventures of Sir Ralph Hopton and his Royalist army on through Somerset into Wiltshire, and it was a pleasure to finally cross this particular battle site of my 'must see' list, remembering that this and Braddock Down was where things got started and where it finished for Hopton when Tom and I visited Torrington back in 2016.
You can see those Battlefield posts in the links below:
|The Tree Inn has an amazing history and with a return to more normal times I can easily see a return visit. The church mentioned at the bottom of the notice was on the list of places to visit but was in use for a large funeral at the time.|
Suitably refreshed with a spot of lunch in Stratton, it was time for Steve and I to wend our way back over the Tamar into Devon and to leave the English Civil War history behind us as we travelled back another hundred years previously to 'The Commotion Time' or more commonly known as the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, when the West Country rebelled.
The Uprising at and Battle of Sampford Courtenay
Tudor England has a reputation for stability after the Wars of the Roses, and indeed popular rebellion was rather rare with only six serious ones taking place in the Tudor period, however each Tudor monarch faced one.
The most common cause of popular rebellion was heavy taxation, which on previous occasions had caused the Peasants Revolt in 1381 and the Cornish Rising of 1497, but heavy taxation rarely fell on the ordinary people, normally only being paid by the relatively wealthy.
|King Edward VI of England - 1537 to 1553|
Edward was the son and heir of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour,
and England's first monarch to be raised as a Protestant
The English Reformation added a potential new cause: religion
Between 1534 and 1559, successive governments made the most ambitious attempts in English history to affect what people believed and how they worshipped. Papal power was abolished, Protestantism introduced, Catholicism restored and finally Protestantism re-established, causing resentment, though never universally.
King Henry VIII had died in 1547 leaving his heir, the ten year old Edward VI. While Henry's Protestantism could be described as Catholicism without the Pope, Edward's was altogether a more fiery and radical faith.
Under the guidance of his uncle, the Duke of Somerset, Edward approved a new Book of Common Prayer that set down which services were allowed to be performed in English churches. The new law stated that only those services could be celebrated and that no local variation would be allowed.
In Cornwall and Devon most people had been content with the old services and there was none of the fervour for Protestantism that held sway elsewhere in the country and the changes coincided with a crisis in government finances that necessitated the debasing of the currency and also with a crop failure. Thus the new Prayer Book became the focus of opposition to the government of the Duke of Somerset.
|Point 2. St Andrew's Church, Sampford Courtenay|
On Whit Sunday 1549 the parish priest of Samford Courtenay, William Harper stood up to begin his service according to the new rites, which caused much muttering among the parishioners, but nothing more serious. The next day Whit Monday saw another church service along with the festive gathering for the village fair in the square to enjoy games, entertainments and church ale, but this time Harper was set upon and roughed up, tearing up his new book and forcing him to continue according to the traditional Latin rituals.
|A very old church door, if the wood could only speak of the events it has witnessed over the centuries|
|Looking up, the entrance to St. Andrews has a splendid wood carved panelled ceiling to the entrance porch.|
News spread and four gentry came to the village to remonstrate with the crowd, but in view of the ugly mood withdrew. A yeoman farmer, William Hellyons (there is some historic dispute over this man's exact name), then harangued the crowd, by now far from sober, with the result that he was dragged to the Church House, where he met with the would-be leaders of the revolt in the rooms upstairs, and realising the futility of his attempt and the danger he had placed himself in, tried to leave.
|Point 1. The Church House, with Mr Steve standing in for William Hellyons as I sharpen my bill.|
A crowd of angry villagers had assembled outside the Church House and as Hellyons made his way down the exterior steps, one of them, Robert Lethbryge, hacked at his neck with his bill. Hellyons cried out for mercy, but others in the crowd stepped forward and;
'cut him into small Pieces; which they gathered together, and buried in the Church there, but contrary to the common Manner, laying his Body North and South, as deeming him an Heretick.'
|The old village square opposite the Church House, now tarmacked and given over to parked cars.|
The die of rebellion was now cast and the first blood of the Prayer Book Rebellion had been spilt.
The Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 led to the battles of Fenny Bridges and Clyst St Mary (Bishops Clyst on the map) with the rebel forces of Devon and Cornwall estimated to have raised around 10,000 men, led by the staunchly Catholic Sir Humphrey Arundel, governor of St Michael's Mount, mustering at Sampford Courtenay, before advancing past Exeter, which closed its gates to the rebels, to meet the advancing Royalist army, led by Lord John Russel.
Lord Russel is estimated to have commanded 4,000 likely better trained troops but by no means better armed, as England did not have a standing army at this time and the government would be forced to resort to raising local county levies supplemented in time by foreign recruited mercenaries that would have seen Genoese arquebusiers under Paolo Batista Spinola and Lord Grey de Wilton at the head of 400 mercenary horse (demi-lances and reiters) and possibly two ensigns of Landsknechts up to 800 men strong.
Russel, with his small army attempted to negotiate rather than fight, but when this proved impossible and the two armies met at Fenny Bridges on the 28th July, with the rebels driven back to a strong position in front of Exeter at Bishops Clyst where after vicious fighting on the 3rd August and a massacre of rebels that followed, the rebellion looked broken as many took the opportunity to slip away to their homes as Russel made a triumphant entry into Exeter and Arundel retired back to where it had all started, the village of Sampford Courtneay.
|Point 3. Weirford Lane, Sir William Herbert led Royalist troops in pursuit of the rebels that fled back to the village from their camp. His battle entered the northern end of the village probably along this lane.|
On the 10th of August when Sir Humprey Arundel mustered the remaining rebels, only 2,000 of those motivated primarily by religion and unwilling to compromise were left.
The religious underpinning of the rebellion meant that the likely treatment of those captured would have been severe and Arundel and the other rebel leaders would have known that their own fate on capture was very likely execution and thus the men gathered at Sampford Courtenay probably expected to die one way or another.
Arundel set to work fortifying the village for a last stand to face Lord Russel's army.
By dawn on the 17th August the Royal army had arrived before the village and attacked the rebel camp constructed on the hill above the village.
|Looking further along Weirford Lane towards the fields beyond from which the rebels broke back to the village with Royalist troops in hot pursuit.|
|Herbert's men had a fierce fight at the top of the lane as they came up against defensive ramparts, and a Welsh Gentleman named Ap Owen was killed leading a small group of men in the assault over them|
|Walking down through the village, the modern day visitor would have no idea of the bloody history played out here nearly six hundred years ago with its chocolate box thatched cottages and Devon long houses little changed since then.|
By dawn on the 17th August the Royal army had arrived before the village and attacked the rebel camp constructed on the hill above the village.
Arundel had decided on a ruse to draw the Royal army against his fortification whilst he led a small force hidden in the village out to make a flank attack of Russel's men.
Unfortunately for him the camp was unable to resist the Royal troops for long and fled back to the village before Arundel had an opportunity to make the best opportunity of his surprise attack and the whole rebel force was driven back in rout into Sampford.
|Looking back up the village high street with the spire of St Andrews peeking over the roofs.|
|Point 4. A small brook runs between the village and the fields beyond where the battle was fought|
Arundel managed to escape with a small contingent managing to make his way back to Launceston, but was there betrayed by his servant who had been in the pay of Lord Russel throughout and taken captive there on the 19th August.
He was taken to London and together with three other rebel leaders tried at Westminster Hall on the 26th November 1549 and convicted, all being held in custody until executed on the 27th January 1550, by being hung, drawn and quartered as traitors to the crown.
There is no written record of the trial except the verdict.
In future posts I am planning to look at the other battle sites of this very peculiarly local West Country campaign, with battle sites I have been familiar with all my time living here but still to take a more focussed look at. Who knows, perhaps a new figure collection awaits!
Steve and I had a great day out touring these sites with a lot of driving rather than walking, which is not our preferred way to spend the best part of the day, but it was really great to cross these very key West Country battle sites off the must see list and we look forward to resuming our exploring in the New Year.
Sources referred to:
Battlefield Walks in Devon - Rupert Mathews
Revolt in the West - John Stuart
The Commotion Time, Tudor Rebellion in the West, 1549 - E.T. Fox (Helion)
The Battle of Braddock Down 1643 - Stuart Peachey
The Battle of Stratton 1643 - Stuart Peachey
The English Civil War 1642-1651 - Philip Haythornthwaite
The English Civil War Atlas - Nick Lipscombe
Next up: I'm off to a show this weekend and I can't wait to get back into a massive part of my, and I know others, hobby, that for me has been missing since February 2020 when I last attended one, specifically PAW 2020 in Plymouth .
So I'm really looking forward to travelling up to the Royal Ascot Racecourse tomorrow in the company of Steve M, Bob and Vince to join the Wargames Association of Reading at their annual show 'Warfare', now moved to this new venue which I hope will have all the benefits of an airy open display hall in the grandstand, with plenty of easy parking, that we experience going to Newbury for Colours.
As always the camera will be travelling with me and I will look to present here on the blog my personal highlights in terms of games and other interesting stuff, together with an impression of the new home for Warfare, so more anon.