The Fall of Bristol and the Marches of the King

Following upon his defeat at Naseby in June 1645, the King withdrew to Hereford and made contact with Charles Gerard, the able royalist commander in South Wales. Gerard had been sent into the country early in 1644 to recover the royalist control there, lost by the earl of Carbery to the efficient Rowland Laugharne. Gerard's overwhelming success, accompanied by some brutality, made South Wales a potential recruiting ground for the King, and Charles was at Raglan Castle when news of Langport reached him. Initially the King planned to use Bristol as his base for future campaigns, but the fall of Bridgwater and the loss of Goring's army rendered the plan impossible. Rupert was now convinced that the King should treat with Parliament, but he was isolated at the court, the King intent upon continuing the war. His hopes lay in Montrose, but a great distance lay between South Wales and the Scottish royalists, and only on 5 August did the King march from Cardiff, with less than 3,000 men. Four days previously the royalist hold on South Wales had been shaken by a battle at Colby Moor won by Laugharne with naval help. With the collapse of most of the northern fortresses, the Scots were active further south, and the earl of Leven was besieging Hereford. Charles bypassed him, made for Lichfield, and on 18 August entered Doncaster, only to retire towards Huntingdon when threatened by Scottish troops and parliamentary forces under Sydenham Poyntz. There had been token royalist risings in Yorkshire but these were easily contained, and the despondent royalist army wended its way back to the Welsh border country and entered Hereford on 4 September, whilst Leven withdrew to Gloucester.

Fairfax, meanwhile, had approached Bristol and summoned it. Rupert, with a garrison of 1,500 men and enormous defences to maintain, had little hope of relief. On 10 September the assault went in, and Rupert was obliged to acknowledge the situation and surrender. The King, once more at Raglan Castle, was furious, and in the immediate aftermath dismissed Colonel Legge, the governor of Oxford, in favour of the reliable Glemham, the hero of Carlisle. Once more, the royalist council of war around the King toyed with the idea of the northern march to join up with Montrose, and set off on 18 September. On the 22nd he lay at Chirk Castle, where urgent requests for assistance came to him from the garrison of Chester, the side of the city towards Wales lying uninvested. The King advanced and entered the city unopposed, whilst Langdale with 3,000 cavalry crossed the Dee at Holt intending to strike the siege army in the rear. This manoeuvre was hindered by parliamentary forces which had been trailing the King, and although Langdale drove them back on 24 September, they prevented him from falling upon the siege army. Forces from the siege lines hurried to assist their comrades, whilst Langdale, drawn up on Rowton Heath near the city, secured no help from within the city. His cavalry was broken and driven back on Chester itself, where they collided with the rest of the siege army in a bitter struggle that royalist forays from the city did not alleviate. In the wake of this disaster came news of Montrose's defeat at Philiphaugh, and the King abandoned the northern march, making instead for Newark. Chester held out until February 1646. On 13 October at Welbeck fresh plans for a northern march were mooted, and the incompetent Digby was appointed to be lieutenant general in the

Philiphaugh And Map

northern counties with the more able Langdale as his subordinate. On 16 October at Newark, after the departure of Digby and the Northern Horse, the final rift between Rupert and the King occurred. Rupert was stripped of his commissions; the governor of Newark was cashiered and replaced by John Belasyse, an opponent of Rupert. To Newark came news of the defeat of Digby and Langdale at Sherburn in Elmet in Yorkshire, on 15 October, and the collapse of the Northern Horse. The King now abandoned Newark, and made for Oxford.

MAP 39

The End of the War: The Battle of Torrington, February 1646

Map Battle Torrington

Whilst the King perambulated around the Midlands, the New Model Army was following up its rout of Goring at Langport in July 1645. Devizes was taken by Cromwell on 23 September, Winchester fell early in October, and on 11 October Cromwell appeared before Basing House, still defended with considerable resolution by the marquess of Winchester. Basing House refused a summons to surrender, and on the 14th the house was stormed after a vicious and prolonged artillery bombardment. The massacre that followed was partly inspired by zeal against the Catholicism of the garrison, but it was largely unnecessary. Goring, broken by Langport, had retired overseas, and his successor was Thomas Lord Wentworth, previously Goring's field marshal. On 9 January 1646 Cromwell caught Wentworth's cavalry at Bovey Tracey to the south-west of the royalist garrison of Exeter and inflicted heavy losses on it. The Prince of Wales and his advisers promptly made Lord Hopton commander of the army and put Wentworth in a subordinate role as general of the horse. Mutiny was rife, particularly amongst the Cornishmen, but somehow Hopton cobbled together 5,000 or so fighting men and took the field, entering Torrington on 10 February.

Royalist garrisons were falling piecemeal, including Dartmouth, and Sir Thomas Fairfax sat down before Exeter in late January. On 14 February, leaving a token presence before the city, he advanced to Chumleigh, and on the 16th prepared to assault Torrington from his headquarters at nearby Ring Ash. The town was barricaded and Hopton's army well dug in, but Fairfax scattered royalist dragoons stationed at Stevenstone House nearby, and during the night of 16/17 February there were occasional skirmishes. Fairfax intended to attack next day, but suspecting that Hopton would withdraw, launched a night attack and, after bitter and protracted fighting in the streets, drove the royalists out in confusion, although several hundred parliamentarian prisoners were killed or maimed when the royalist magazine was set off. Hopton fled west hoping to recruit in Cornwall, whilst the Prince of Wales and his advisers left the mainland and took refuge on the Isles of Stilly. On 12 March Hopton surrendered himself and his army to Fairfax, Exeter fell on 9 April, and only Pendennis Castle remained unreduced.

In Oxford, the King entertained prospects of further Irish help, or intervention from Europe, but realistically ordered Lord Astley to make his way with a small army from Worcester to Oxford to strengthen the King's field force. Astley made what shift he could to evade the garrisons of Evesham and Gloucester, but when he came to Stow on the Wold on 20 March, his march was all but over. Hemmed in by overwhelming numbers, on the morning of the 21st the royalists were virtually overrun and Astley surrendered his remaining troops without demur.

From Oxford, the King's view of England and Wales was bleak. Newark, Exeter, Raglan, Harlech and other minor garrisons remained intact but vulnerable, and there were no field forces left to use. Harlech did not fall until March 1647, but its resistance was pointless. On 27 April the King slipped away from Oxford in disguise, and made his way towards Newark, to surrender himself to the Scottish army at Southwell on 5 May. Newark was yielded on the King's instructions on the 8th, and the Scottish army began to withdraw northwards. On 24 June, on excellent terms, Sir Thomas Glemham surrendered the royalist headquarters of Oxford. Pendennis, the last royalist foothold in the West, surrendered on 16 August for want of provisions, and on the 19th the fortress of Raglan yielded itself. The Parliament had won a complete military victory after four years' hard toil, aided by a good deal of luck when it was most needed—Marston Moor and Naseby being but two cases in point. The royalists had fought themselves to a standstill. The New Model was the force to be reckoned with.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment