Roundway Down and the Fall of Bristol

On 10 July Sir William Waller, having pursued the royalists to Devizes, faced them drawn up on Roundway Hill, but Prince Maurice abandoned his position and withdrew into the town. Waller moved forward and established his army to the north. The royalist commanders decided to split their army, sending the horse to Oxford, whilst the wounded Hopton held Devizes with the foot. Prince Maurice moved rapidly, entering Oxford on 11 July after a night march, to find reinforcements already on their way west. Whilst Waller bombarded Devizes, the royalist cavalry returned under Henry Wilmot, the intention being to synchronise an attack on Waller by relief forces and garrison. Advised of Wilmot's approach, Waller drew off from the siege, but the garrison commanders declined to march out in pursuit of him, thus obliging Wilmot to face 4, 500 parliamentary troops with a mere 1,800 of his own. The parliamentarians marched onto Roundway Down, Sir Arthur Hesilrige's 'impenetrable' regiment on the right wing of cavalry. After initial skirmishing, Wilmot charged, and Hesilrige, who blocked his own cannon's line of fire, saw his famous regiment broken and outflanked. The parliamentarian cavalry abandoned the field in large numbers, leaving the foot to fight it out. Within Devizes, Hopton finally overcame the reluctance of his fellow commanders, and the Cornish infantry left the town to join the action on the Down. The parliamentary foot were broken up, and Waller's potentially fine army had been destroyed. The royalist cavalry had again proved their worth.

Two days after the battle, on 15 July, Prince Rupert left Oxford to reinforce the western army, which had occupied Bath, although Wilmot had returned to Oxford. Waller fled to Gloucester and so made his way back to London to report his 'dismal defeat'. Under Rupert, the western army moved on Bristol, a crucial port giving access to Ireland, and the city was summoned to surrender on 24 July. Nathaniel Fiennes, the commander, refused, trusting in his formidable fortifications and the disposition of his numerous pieces of artillery. Rupert ordered a storm, although some of the western army were reluctant to commit their men to such an audacious and probably costly venture which might not succeed. The date was fixed for 26 July, the initial assault to go in at dawn, but the Cornishmen facing Temple Gate went in too early, and the storm began prematurely as a consequence.

The royalists were beaten off with heavy losses from Priors Hill Fort, and their commander, Grandison, killed, whilst the attempt on Windmill Hill failed for want of ladders to scale the walls. The sector of wall between Windmill Hill and Brandon Hill, however, was carried by a determined assault, and the royalists broke through, pulling down the defences with their bare hands. The defending infantry were paralysed with indecision, and a cavalry charge failed to dislodge the royalists who were steadily being reinforced. Elsewhere, the Cornish foot suffered heavy losses, particularly in officers, but failed to make any impact on their sector of the defences. By midafternoon only the initially successful attackers were within the defences, but they made good ground after reinforcement with cavalry. Forced to a stand at Frome Gate for about two hours, the royalists finally broke through despite heavy casualties and began to infiltrate amongst

the houses. Fiennes, the governor, sent an offer to surrender to Rupert to forestall any further loss of blood, and marched out with his garrison. In London he faced court-martial and was barely saved from execution by political influence. The fall of Bristol was a serious blow to the Parliament, and it seemed as if the South-West was going to fall effortlessly into royalist hands. Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland fell and Dorset was overrun, with the exception of Lyme. Prince Maurice and the western army moved off to deal with Exeter and Plymouth.

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