The Battle of Lostwithiel 31 August - 1 September 1644
Reasons for Designation
The land over which the battle of 31 August - 1 September 1644, part of the Lostwithiel Campaign, was fought is registered for the following principal reasons:
* Historical importance: it was 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 battlefields remain largely undeveloped and permit the course of the battles to be appreciated;
* Archaeological potential: metal detection surveys have identified a clear concentration of C17 battlefield finds on the Castle Dore ridge and it is likely that further archaeological evidence will survive within the registered landscape;
* Group Value: the battlefield has group value with Castle Dore (scheduled monument), other designated assets near to the registered landscape associated with the Civil War actions, and the registered battlefield over which fighting occurred on the 21 August 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 royalist forces in the south west, while the other part of the army, 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 defeated 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
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 outcome of the action on 21 August resulted in the establishment of a half-moon cordon of royalist forces to the north and north-east of the town. Grenville had control of Restormel Castle and the surrounding high ground, Prince Maurice the hills, including Druids Hill, to the north-east and the Oxford army had set up camp on Beacon Hill. 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. On 24 August the King sent General George Lord Goring and Sir Thomas Bassett to St Blazey to the south-west side of Lostwithiel to block the bridge over the river Par with the aim of preventing parliamentarians access to this useful port. On 30 August Essex came to the realisation that his position in Lostwithiel was no longer tenable and planned to make his escape.
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 aid an understanding of the likely progression of the fighting. On the royalist side these sources include accounts from Sir Edward Walker, 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.
At around 3am on 31 August 1644 Essex ordered Sir William Balfour to take the bulk of the cavalry and use the road to Liskeard to make their escape to Plymouth. This took them through the royalist cordon; however, despite some advance warning, the royalists were not organised enough to make an effective chase and so the cavalry managed to break through and head east. Following the effective execution of this escape the parliamentarian foot soldiers put their second phase of escape into action. After plundering the town, including blowing up the parish church, they withdrew to the south in the direction of the town of Fowey. At 7am the royalists, having seen the withdrawal of the parliamentarians from their high position, marched into Lostwithiel. There was a small altercation with parliamentarian soldiers who had been left behind to destroy the medieval Lostwithiel Bridge. A royalist advance army set off after the retreating Essex. The conditions underfoot were very poor and the parliamentarians' rear-guard had to abandon some of their heavy weaponry on route. Walker’s account indicates that Essex’s men drew up in the fields beyond the town before continuing their withdrawal. This formed withdrawal began around high ground to the south of Lostwithiel, with the royalists chasing the parliamentarians for two to three miles, pushing them back hedge to hedge.
Symonds notes that ‘being come near that narrow neck of ground between Tywardreath Bay and St Veep pass the rebels made a more forcible resistance’, the rear-guard, led by Major General Philip Skippon, turned to confront their pursuers, and force the royalists back two or three fields, in order to give Essex time to establish his new line of defence further to the south. At 11am the Queen's troop moved to support the Royalist foot and charged the parliamentarians forces, beating them back to their original line of defence. Captain Brett led this troop and was knighted in the middle of the fighting after incurring a near-fatal wound. It has been suggested that this altercation may have taken place near the modern 109m contour around OS NGR: SX10264 56391. This action probably involved around 2,500 parliamentarians infantry and 200 cavalry of the Plymouth horse and, based on our understanding of similar civil war battles, the parliamentarians would have covered a front of less than 700m.
At this point, around midday, the royalist advance halted to await the arrival of the rest of the army and an expected attack to the west across the river par form St Blazey by Goring with the horse and Basset's infantry brigade, which, according to Walker, occurred at about 2pm. Symonds reported further fighting between the foot for much of the afternoon as the parliamentarians continued their withdrawal, with the royalists steadily gaining ground. At around 4pm the Plymouth horse again attacked the royalist foot, but withdrew on the approach of the King’s lifeguard of horse, allowing the royalist foot to advance once more.
Symonds notes that eventually the royalist forces got possession of the high hill just in the narrowest passage of land between Tywardreath parish church and the passage over the river, which runs by Lostwithiel (Fowey). This is probably the hill near to Trebathevey Farm around half a mile north of Castle Dore. Here and toward Castle Dore, the B3269 runs along a narrow neck of land, which falls away, to the east and more steeply to the west. This would probably have left most of the parliamentarians’ rear-guard regiments to the east of the road. At this point Essex’s men attacked and again forced back the royalists before being counter-attacked. There was further fighting to the east of Castle Dore, which resulted in Colonel Weare’s and Essex’s regiments, positioned on the right flank, deserting their posts which opened up the parliamentarian line for the royalists to exploit, allowing them to get behind the position and threaten any further retreat to Fowey, Menabilly or Polkerris. The remnants of the army withdrew to Castle Dore Hillfort (scheduled monument). Reports of fighting in this area may indicate the royalists also have advanced along the lane running through Milltown and Lantyars to the east of the B3269 which eventually joins the Tywardreath-Golant road in order to flank the parliamentarians.
Some shooting continued into the night. That evening the King and his troops lay under a hedge in a field near to the parliamentarian line. Following a council of war, which agreed the impracticality of trying to withdraw the parliamentarian army to the coast, early on the morning of 1 September Essex, Sir John Merrick, the General of the Ordnance, and Lord Roberts escaped by sea. Major General Skippon was left to treat, and surrender terms were agreed on 2 September. These allowed for the parliamentarians to march away once the cannon and the arms and ammunition of the rank and file had been surrendered. From contemporary reports it appears that the action on 31 August resulted in no more than 200 killed and taken prisoner on both sides; however other accounts suggests that the parliamentarian losses may have been around 500 men. Royalist losses are likely to have been significantly smaller.
The main focus of activity was along the narrow ridge which runs north to south between the villages of Tywardreath and Golant. The terminus of the ridge is Castle Dore, an Iron Age fort that is still prominent feature in the landscape, where the retreating parliamentarians based their new line of defence. The area around the fort is largely still enclosed field systems, as they would have been in the C17 when the military action was noted for the hedge-to-hedge fighting. Robert Kearsley Dawson’s map of 1805 shows that since the early C19 a small number of farms have been built on the ridge and the surrounding land. Despite these small scale developments, the registered landscape this been subject to little major change. In the late C19 a railway line was routed along the north end of the ridge. However, the land within the registered area has undergone remarkably little change. It continues to exist largely as it would have at time of the battle and continues to allow a good appreciation of the terrain over which the battle was fought.
The most prominent feature associated with the battle is the long ridge which runs between the villages of Tywardreath and Golant. The modern road to Fowey, now the B3269, is likely the same route as the historic route to Fowey which would have been used by the retreating army as their route of escape. The ridge rises to the south up to Castle Dore, an Iron Age hill fort (scheduled monument). The hill fort has a modern plaque which relates the history of Castle Dore and includes a description of the use of hill fort as the position of the parliamentarian defensive line.
Records suggest that civil war relics were found during the excavation of Castle Dore Hillfort in the mid-C20, and cannon balls have been found in various parts of the area. The most systematic work undertaken with regard to the Lostwithiel Campaign has been in the form metal detection surveys in recent years to the fields to the south of Lostwithiel. Part of this work has occurred in the fields which run along part of the Castle Dore ridge, and has located a high concentration of shot and other C17 finds on either side of the B3269 around Castle Dore, including the fields to the north and a smaller concentration to the south.
DEFINITION OF AREA
The battlefield area is the ridge which runs south to the Iron Age remains at Castle Dore and includes the fields immediately to the west and east of the B3269, continuing south until the road reaches crossroads with the Tywardreath to Golant road.