Thursday, August 31, 2017

I have been to.. Roundway Down (Part 1 - History/Background bit)

Been a while but I feel the need to walk a battlefield, so I've got Friday off and I'm going to Devizes, or more specifically, Roundway Down... so by way of a two parter, first the history, the next post will detail the visit, and hopefully, some useful pictures of the battlefield....

So Lansdown [clicky for my last visit post] was fought on the 5th July 1643, and the Royalists had managed what was at best described as a "tactical win" - the Parliamentary army had been driven back from the ridge (by the indomitable Cornish infantry), but the Royalists had lost Sir Beville Grenville in the process, and the army were spent - they were low on ammunition, they were short of cavalry (desertions during the battle) and when they had withdrawn to recover, the next day there was an explosion in an ammunition wagon which resulted in even further shortages in vital gunpowder, but even worse injured Hopton badly (he was close to the wagon when it exploded and was temporarily partially blinded, and had to be carried in a chair), ...

A decision was taken by the Royalists to withdraw towards Oxford the Kings capital during the war. It would make it much easier for them to get reinforcements and also some much needed re-supply. The Parliamentarians under Waller were theoretically in a better condition despite "losing" the battle at Lansdown.. he got reinforcements from their garrison at Bristol (even closer to Bath, than Roundway/Devizes was) and followed the Royalist army closely...

Seven hours according to Google Maps - with an army, two days'ish?
Waller caught up with the Royalist army at Devizes, and occupied the high ground that overlooked the town, known as Roundway Down, on the evening of the 8th July..

In the face of this the Royalists occupied the town and the Cornish infantry proceeded to prepare for an assault, but the 300'odd remaining Royalist cavalry under Maurice (Prince Rupert's younger brother) were immediately sent on their way to Oxford to make the King aware of the situation..

Map courtesy

Waller surrounded, and then started a bombardment of, the town; he captured an inbound Royalist ammunition train on the 12th and not surprisingly he was confidant* and demanded the Royalists surrender - what he didn't know was that the Royalist cavalry had already escaped.

*he told Parliament in one of his communiques that the next one would let them know how many standards he had taken, and would list the officers taken!

Maurice got to Oxford on the 10th, and the Royalist reinforcements were sent out at once under Wilmot, the Kings Lieutenant General of Horse - there were about 1500 horse and a few galloper guns..  they were also joined by Maurice's 300.. (that made me wonder...  so that's the better part of 2000 cavalry standard horses readily available, not the draft or dragoon lesser standard, but proper cavalry horses... impressive!)

Wilmot and Maurice made it back to Devizes, or rather just north east of it (a place called  Roughridge Hill) early on the 13th, and fired off a couple of guns to let the Royalists know they were there.

Waller, who already knew of their arrival, had abandoned Devizes and marched the Parliamentary army up on to Roundway Down - gamble time - could he defeat Wilmot and Maurice before the Royalist infantry sallied out from Devizes in his rear....?

Waller deployed as standard for the time - infantry and artillery in the centre, cavalry on the slightly higher ground on the wings (as per the map)  the Royalists deployed into two brigades (Wilmot and Lord Byron) and a smaller reserve (under Lord Crawford)....

Wilmot started off the battle by attacking the Parliamentarian right at about 3 in the afternoon - this was the wing that had Hasalrig's famous cuirassier regiment - the Lobster's. In a typical galloper vs trotters engagement, the Lobsters stopped to give fire, and were ridden over, forcing them into the second line, who all gave way and retreated in confusion and disorder...  strike one

On the other flank Byron then attacked the other flank - this time under fire from the Parliamentary foot and artillery - but with no difference in result - the Parliamentary cavalry again stodd to give fire, and  were bundled back in considerable disorder - and some were forced over a 300m precipice... strike two

Now the difference though... unlike what seemed to happen in most other battles, the Royalist cavalry under Wilmot and Byron reform ("Were Wilmot and Byron better commanders of cavalry than Rupert? Discuss...") and then turn on the Parliamentary centre/infantry - with the arrival of the Royalist foot from Devizes it's all over and the Parliamentary start running...  strike three and they're out..

In the confusion, Waller and his mounted officers galloped away towards Bristol.

Quite possibly therefore greatest Royalist victory of the war - not sure they set a foot wrong??

Casualties? Inconclusive and difficult to say, I've seen
  • "600 Parliamentarian troops were killed and some 1,000 were captured", and I've also seen
  • "withdrawal became a rout as the Parliamentarian infantry ran for the wooded eastern slopes. Hundreds were cut down or taken prisoner, many dying in an area still known as Bloody Ditch at the foot of the hillside." 
The same Bloody Ditch that earlier Byron had driven the Parliamentary cavalry over a precipice into I am assuming...

Size of the armies?

Wilmot’s three brigades of Royalist horse comprised 1,800 men with the previously mentioned (two) galloper guns. Sir Ralph Hopton’s garrison in Devizes numbered around 3,000 Cornish foot with a number of guns.

Waller’s army comprised 6 regiments of horse (approx. 2,000 men), 4 regiments of foot (approx. 2,500 men) and 8 field guns. (Source, the very good [clicky] but the battle description doesn't tally with his map above - think the got their 'left and rights' wrong.. and Heaven knows I suffer from that as well )

Looking forward to walking it again - must be 10+ years since I last went...


  1. I wonder if the superior Royalist control of their cavalry was because the terrain behind Waller's army was so precipitous that it stopped their regiments pursuing and so enabled them to be brought back in control.

    1. lewisgunner... that is entirely plausible.. but they were freshly arrived, and presumably the Parliamentary cavalry would have had a better idea of the local lie of the land already??

  2. Thanks for posting, enjoyed that. Nice map there, too!

    1. Prufrock - very few battlefield maps of Roundway Down as I found when I was doing the initial research... I think it gives a flavour...

  3. The Royalusts had just arrived from Oxford, so maybe they did not fully understand the geography, though the 300 who went to Oxford and came back should have.mThe question about s why Waller set up wit a ravine at his rear ? I suggest that the Royalist arrival from Oxford was a surprise tonWaller and that his original idea was to have the steep slope to his front. When he turned to face the Oxford Horse the slope acted as defence against troops emerging from Devizes.nMy point about control is that once the Parlt. horse are dispersed there is nowhere for the Royalist cavalry to go, they are halted by the slope which enables their commanders to get them back in order, hence they need nit be better commanders than Rupert.

    1. lewisgunner - yep - valid.. so since I went to the battlefield and had a chance to transpose the positions on the information boards to google earth, it becomes clearer.. and the ravines were really not so close.. check the next post..