This week sees the anniversary of the first battle of the Cornish army in the seventeenth century civil wars – the battle of Braddock Down.
In the autumn of 1642 when the wars began it wasn’t at all certain who would rally Cornwall behind them. Would it be Royalists or Parliamentarians? The greater gentry in Cornwall were fairly evenly split. Eastern gentry such as the Bullers, Carews, Corytons, Eliots and Robartes made up a puritan ‘godly network’ supporting Parliament. Others, especially in the west, the Bassets, Godolphins and Vyvyans, together with Lord Mohun at Boconnoc and Bevill Grenville in the north, declared for King Charles. In the meantime, Somerset and most of Dorset, along with Plymouth, Exeter and other Devon towns, had already sided with Parliament.
The scales were decisively tipped in Cornwall in favour of the King by the call to arms to the trained bands in October 1642. According to Mark Stoyle, a ‘vast and somewhat unruly Royalist mob’ of up to 10,000 men had volunteered to defend Cornwall against a small Parliamentarian force that had lodged itself at Launceston. Moving east, they forced the outnumbered Parliamentarians to seek the safer sanctuary of Plymouth.
By November 1642 the two forces were glaring at each other across the Tamar. The Cornish army was encouraged by their military commander, Sir Ralph Hopton, to sally towards Exeter. This they did – twice. But each time the city proved to be too well defended. After the second attempt, at the end of December, the Cornish army fell back in some disarray towards the Tamar, a serious mutiny breaking out on the way back.
While the demoralised Royalists scurried westwards, a reinforced Parliamentarian force led by Colonel Ruthin re-entered south east Cornwall, retaking Saltash and occupying Liskeard. It was on January 18th that Hopton was able to persuade his army to confront these Parliamentarians. This was made easier by the fortuitous capture of three Parliamentarian ships, driven into Falmouth by gales and carrying arms and money. Some of the latter was used to encourage the reluctant foot soldiers.
Thus fortified, Hopton’s force met the Parliamentarians a day later at Braddock Down, a few miles east of Lostwithiel. Ruthin had advanced from Liskeard, not waiting either for his handful of cannon to be brought up, nor for a second Parliamentarian force that was on its way. He was confident after the poor showing of the Cornish Royalists in Devon at the end of 1642. The two armies faced off for a couple of hours while musketeers fired the occasional round at each other. Ruthin occupied rising ground and could afford to wait. Hopton wasn’t so sure of his somewhat more unpredictable and fractious men and knew Parliamentary reinforcements were only a day or two away.
The Cornish foot soldiers, mainly pikemen, were ordered to attack. Led by Bevill Grenville, they charged down a slope and up towards the Parliamentarians. The sight of an advancing horde of screaming Cornishmen apparently ‘struck a terror’ into the raw Parliamentary foot soldiers who, simultaneously assailed on their flanks by Royalist cavalry, panicked and broke. A Parliamentarian officer wrote: ‘both our horse and foot were suddenly routed, and every man divided and dispersed, ran and rode as fast as fear could carry them towards Saltash’.
Two hundred Parliamentarians had been killed for very little loss on the Royalist side. Over 1,000 prisoners were taken, as well as five guns and ammunition. Another 140 prisoners and 20 guns fell into Royalist hands when Saltash was re-taken three days later.
The morale of the Cornish army was lifted by the victory, Hopton’s reputation as a commander enhanced and Cornwall made safe for the king.
4 thoughts on “The battle of Braddock Down”
You give the impression that ordinary Cornish folk were primarily Royalist. But is this really so? What do we really know of their allegiances? What benefit would being Royalist, or Parliamentarian, bring the ordinary woman and man in a feudal system?
There were obviously some ‘ordinary Cornish folk’ on the side of Parliament, and some who would have been tenants of the Parliamentary gentry. But the historical consensus is that they were vastly outnumbered by the numbers that rallied to the Royalist side at the posse comitatus in September/October 1642. See Mark Stoyle, ‘Pagans or paragons?’, English Historical Review, 1996 or Anne Duffin, Faction and Faith, 1996, p.212. Or my own Cornwall: A Concise History, 2007, p.85. And note the reaction of the country folk to Essex’s parliamentary army in 1644, both before and after its defeat. And that was in east Cornwall, not the west.
I always tick the box which says notify me of new posts by email. Does this refer to posts like yours above? Sometimes I forget to check back and then I forget what I posted on or not and then it takes time to review older articles you have put up. I would really like to know directly if a response has been made to my response.
For example I also asked if you have done any research into the de Tremurs but I don’t know if you got back to me on that, etc.
Love your work and would love to meet you if at all possible to discuss some research I am doing. Cathy
Hi Cathy, This all sounds very confusing. Incidentally, I replied to your comment on the Tremurs on the 16th – you can find the comment immediately below yours. It sounds as if the email alert just applies to the posts and not to the comments. However, when replying I always reply directly to the comment so any reply should always be directly underneath the original. If there’s none it means I’ve probably missed it! Hope this helps.