The Battle of Lostwithiel 21 August 1644
Reasons for Designation
The land over which the battle of 21 August 1644, part of the Lostwithiel Campaign, was fought is registered for the following principal reasons:
* Historical importance: it was the one of the two key actions in the Lostwithiel campaign, which culminated in the worst defeat suffered by a parliamentarian army during the war and the royalists’ greatest success;
* Topographical integrity: while the agricultural land management has changed since the battle, the battlefield area remains largely undeveloped and permits the course of the battles to be appreciated;
* Archaeological potential: given the nature of the fighting at Lostwithiel, and the lack of major development, the land over which the battle was fought has the potential to provide significant insights into the nature of hedge fighting in the C17;
* Group value: the battlefield has group value with Restormel Castle (scheduled monument), St Nectan's Chapel (Grade II*), other designated assets associated with the Civil War within and near to the registered landscape and the registered battlefield over which fighting occurred on the 31 August and 1 September 1644.
The Civil Wars of the mid-C17 were a reflection of profound political, constitutional, religious and social conflict which was expressed in a struggle for control between King Charles I and Parliament. The warfare that took place in the mid-C17 is still popularly known as the English Civil War, although in fact the various actions which took place occurred in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England. The first military action was in the Bishops' Wars, between Scotland and England in 1638 - 1640, culminating in the Battle of Newburn, Northumberland. This was followed by the Catholic Irish rebellion. Finally England fell into open warfare with the King raising his standard in Nottingham on 22 August 1642, beginning the most intensive period of warfare in English history.
By 1644 the Civil War had been raging on for over a year and neither side was able to claim a victory. In March 1644, the parliamentarians, under Sir William Waller, had defeated the royalist army at Cheriton south of their base in Oxford. Although not present at Cheriton, parliament’s commanding general was the Earl of Essex. After their victory at Cheriton, Essex decided to divide his forces. He headed towards the royalists in the south west, while the rest, headed by Waller, were left to pursue a royalist force which had left Oxford with the King when Essex threatened to besiege the city. This division would prove to be ill-conceived as, at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge (1644), the royalists fought off their pursuers. Following this victory, the Oxford forces chased after Essex. This ended with the Campaign of Lostwithiel which occurred when Essex secured a hold over the town of Lostwithiel in the north of Cornwall and other points along the Fowey River in order to establish a connection with the navy for resupply and support.
There were three main royalist armies involved in the Lostwithiel campaign. The Oxford army, including those troops belonging to the King and Queen, is likely to have totalled around 4,500-5,000 cavalry and about 5,000 foot soldiers. The Western Army commanded by Prince Maurice, numbered approximately 1,500 troopers and almost 4,600-5,000 infantry. Sir Richard Grenville’s force, based at Lanhydrock to the west of Lostwithiel, consisted of around 500 cavalry and just over 2,500 infantry. This would put the combined totals of the three armies at a little over 12,000 foot and up to 7,000 cavalry. The Earl of Essex’s parliamentarian army is estimated to have been around 10,000 strong.
Essex was based in Lostwithiel but had placed part of his army on Beacon Hill to the east and Restormel Castle, to the north, along with other forces positioned on the Fowey River. The royalists planned to lay siege to the town with the hope of trapping Essex and cutting off his means of escape. Prince Maurice, the King's nephew, was called upon to head south to support the King and joined the Oxford army approaching Lostwithiel from the north-east. The King set up his base at Boconnoc House, an estate on the north-east side of the town. Sir Richard Grenville, stationed at Lanhydrock House, was enlisted to approach the town from the north-west.
DESCRIPTION OF BATTLE
There are number of contemporary accounts that largely agree with one another and provide details which help to locate fairly accurately the key positions where the battles took place and help to explain the likely progression of the fighting. On the royalist side these sources include accounts from Sir Edward Walker, the King’s Secretary of War, the diary of Richard Symonds, a trooper in the King’s Lifeguard of Horse, and Mercurius Aulicus, the royalist news book published in Oxford and London. On the parliamentarian side the accounts include a letter from the Earl of Essex to Sir Philip Stapleton dated 3 September 1644 at Plymouth, as well as the Attestations of parliamentarian officers serving in Cornwall.
The campaign of Lostwithiel involved a number of clashes, including skirmishes throughout August 1644. Two main conflicts have been identified in which formal fighting was engaged. The first of these was on 21 August when the royalists made an organised attack on the high ground around the northern side of Lostwithiel with the aim of either bringing the parliamentarians to battle or making their positions untenable. Both royalist and parliamentarian sources agree that this plan was put into execution early in the morning of 21 August when the King’s (Oxford) and Prince Maurice’s army drew out in battle formation, infantry in the centre and cavalry on the flanks, in the mist onto heathland to the west of the Boconnoc Estate. The Oxford army moved onto Beacon Hill which was at the time a heathland area with field enclosures surrounding it. Prince Maurice positioned his force on a nearby hill. Essex describes this as being to the left of Beacon Hill, which, looking from Lostwithiel, would place him on Druids Hill. Mercurius Aulicus notes that in the course of the day the King ‘fastened his army within enclosures on the wings of theirs within musket shot of each other’. Reports indicate that this would have involved the capture of enclosures adjacent to Beacon Hill and across the high ground between this location and Druids Hill (likely to include the hill adjacent to St Nectan’s Chapel (Grade II), where a small parliamentarian force had already been positioned). It appears that the initial royalist attack met with little resistance from the parliamentarian outposts who all quickly fell back from these key positions. However, there are reports of resistance after this initial attack. Essex states that he placed Lieutenant Colonel Ingoldsby and 400 musketeers in the fields at the base of Beacon Hill and positioned his own regiment and more of the parliamentarian forces on this same line beneath Prince Maurice’s position. This account is corroborated by the Mercurius Aulicus. It seems likely that parliamentarians would have used the enclosures to the west of these hills in between the royalists and Lostwithiel as well as those between Beacon Hill and the modern A390. Symonds recounts that there was constant exchange of fire between Prince Maurice’s men and the parliamentarians, and that the houses on the side of the hill north of the A390 where this action took place were set on fire by Essex’s units.
On the same day as the fighting on the east side of Lostwithiel, further action occurred to the west around Restormel Castle (scheduled monument), and the passage over the Fowey River below. Sir Grenville’s royalist army, an advance party of 700 foot according to Symonds, assaulted Colonel Weare’s troops, based at Restormel Castle, from the north, taking the castle and the river crossing. The reports indicate that Weare’s forces did not put up much resistance. However, Grenville’s soldiers were counter-attacked in the afternoon by both parliamentarian horse and foot. According to Symonds and Walker, this attack was thrown back by the royalists who were supported by elements of Sir George Vaughan’s cavalry regiment. As Vaughan’s command was part of the Oxford army it appears Grenville’s force had been reinforced from the east.
The outcome of this day's fighting was a half-moon cordon of royalist forces to the north and north east of the town. Despite the exchange of fire, the number of casualties from the action on 21 August is judged to have been very low. Grenville had control of Restormel Castle, the nearby passage over the Fowey and the surrounding high ground. Prince Maurice and his men were positioned on the hills, including Druids Hill, to the north east. The Oxford army had set up camp on Beacon Hill and to consolidate their position here they constructed a small redoubt overnight on 22 August, ‘between our hedges and the enemy’s hedges’ according to Symonds, from where the royalists could fire cannon on the Parliamentary positions. From this position the two armies engaged in small-scale skirmishes over the next few days as the King tried to starve out Essex’s men. It also seems likely that fighting encroached toward the hedged fields to the west of this high ground, which were held by the parliamentarians, and this may have been an area of skirmishing in the following days as well as a target for the royalist artillery operating on Beacon Hill.
Although the area to the north of Lostwithiel has been subject to some changes since the C17, the overall the landscape survives very well with little major development. The first phase of the action occurred on the enclosed hills and heathland that surrounded Lostwithiel to the north and east. Robert Dawson's map of 1805 shows the Fowey Peninsula and this identifies topography which may be similar to that over which the campaign was fought. This historic map shows enclosed fields surrounding Lostwithiel with a curving line of hills surrounding it to the north and east. The map shows an area of heathland stretching across Beacon Hill and continuing north round to Druids Hill which is in keeping with the description of the battle. This area is now almost entirely an enclosed agricultural landscape. Beacon Hill in particular is now covered by enclosed fields. There are two disused silver mines on top of the hill and a timber yard has been built on its western slope. The other major landscape change is the Lostwithiel Golf Course, which has been laid out over the landscape opposite Restormel Castle, along the valley on the east bank of the Fowey and up onto the hillside to the east. The proliferation of small-scale housing development and the expansion of Lostwithiel to the east and north, has also led to an increase in the number of buildings scattered across the landscape. Nevertheless, the landscape within the registered area has been subject to relatively few significant alterations and continues to provide a good appreciation of the terrain over which the battle was fought, particularly in terms of the contours of the ground.
The most prominent features associated with the battle which are still evident are the hills which were taken by the royalist advance, in particular Beacon Hill, Druids Hill and Restormel Castle. The Fowey River which runs through the battlefield is also still a present and important feature in the landscape, this being the communication and access route which the parliamentarians were so bitterly defending.
The ruined Restormel Castle still survives and is a visitor attraction, and the on-site interpretation includes reference to the 1644 civil war battle. The castle is a prominent reminder of this defensive position and there is still a crossing point below which is the location of the pass which the royalists fought to secure in order to improve communication between the right and left flanks. On the opposite side of cordon St Nectan’s Chapel is also a prominent building associated with the fighting (the tower is understood to have been damaged by parliamentarian fire).
A redoubt was constructed on Beacon Hill shortly after it was secured by the royalists on 21 August. This work is mapped on the 1805 Dawson map and on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map. The site is no longer visible as an earthwork; however, a sub-square mound measuring 23m by 25 m is visible as a crop mark on aerial photographs and the feature has been mapped as part of the National Mapping Programme for Cornwall.
There has been extensive metal detection survey to the areas to the south of Lostwithiel. These have revealed a high number of musket shots and other small civil war finds. While the area to the north has not been surveyed it is expected that these fields also have the potential for similar finds.
DEFINITION OF AREAS
The registered battlefield is divided into two areas. The first is the high ground around the north and north-east of Lostwithiel, including Beacon Hill, the hill at St Nectan’s Chapel, Druids Hill, the area of high ground to the north of the modern A390 and the fields on the slopes to the west and south. The second is Restormel Castle and the fields to the north and south.