Tuesday, 24 December 2019

'This war without an enemy': Civil conflict in Somerset and Wiltshire in 1643 (Thursday 23 January)

The lecture originally planned for Thursday 23 January, on international diplomacy between the two world wars, has had to be cancelled. In its place the Bath branch of the Historical Association is pleased to welcome Julian Humphrys of the Battlefields Trust to speak on 'This war without an enemy': Civil conflict in Somerset and Wiltshire in 1643.

Sir William Waller (1597-1668) and Lord Ralph Hopton (1596-1652) were close personal friends. During the English Civil War Waller became a leading general on the side of the Parliamentarians while Hopton led soldiers loyal to King Charles I. Their friendship endured. Even as they prepared to face each other as rival commanders at what became the Battle of Lansdown (5 July 1643) and the subsequent Battle of Roundway Hill (13 July 1643) they wrote letters to each other as friends. In a letter to Hopton Waller wrote ...
That great God who is the searcher of my heart knows with what a sad sense I go upon this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy ... We are both upon the stage and must act such parts as are assigned to us in this tragedy, let us do it in a way of honour and without personal animosities.
The English Civil War was fought in three phases, which some scholars regard as three individual wars: 1642-1646 and 1648-1649 when the forces of Parliament faced those of King Charles I, and 1649-1651 when the combatants were Parliament or 'the Commonwealth' and supporters of 'King Charles II'.

Charles I's refusal to call a Parliament between 1629 and 1640, his imposition of taxes without Parliament's consent, his ill-judged support for favourites, his Catholic wife, his encouragement of moves towards 'High Anglicanism' in the church, and his belief in the Divine Right of Kings were bound to cause unease and opposition among Members of Parliament and their supporters.

Charles's attempt to introduce a High Anglican version of the Book of Common Prayer in Scotland, his other kingdom, led to armed conflict. Needing money for an army Charles finally summoned Parliament. Parliament would grant no taxes until the grievances of its members were addressed. Charles attempted to arrest five leading members of the House of Commons.

In January 1642, with tensions high and rising, Charles left London with his family. On 22 August 1642 Charles raised the royal standard at Nottingham and started to gather support. Parliament began to recruit an army of volunteers and appointed Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, as its commander.

The first major skirmish took place near Worcester on 23 September. Exactly a month later the first pitched battle of the Civil War was fought, inconclusively, at Edgehill in Warwickshire.

Royalists and Parliamentarians each took control of extensive areas of English and Wales. By May 1643 Lord Hopton's Royalist army had captured most of the South West of England. Sir William Waller's Parliamentary forces held Bath and the route to London.

As the Royalists closed on Bath Waller withdrew to a strong position on Lansdown Hill. On 5 July Hopton attacked and the Battle of Lansdown ensued. The Royalists were repulsed and retreated to Devizes. The Parliamentarians followed them and by 8 July occupied the high ground to the north of Devizes, Roundway Down. Waller's soldiers surrounded the town and demanded its surrender, but on 13 July a Royalist relief force appeared near Roundway Down. With Royalist soldiers now in front of and behind his own troops Waller was unable to take advantage of his higher position. The Royalists attacked. The Parliamentarians were defeated. Roundway Down came to be regarded as the greatest cavalry victory of the English Civil War.

To lead us through these tumultuous events we are fortunate to have as our guest speaker the historian, writer, lecturer, broadcaster and tour guide Julian Humphrys. Julian is the Development Officer of the Battlefields Trust and chairs the trust's Wessex region.

We hope to follow this lecture with a guided walk around the Lansdown battlefield during the summer of 2020.

Mike Short