The Battle of Braddock Down – guest post by Mark Turnbull

Hi everyone!
This is a very different post for my blog, not only because I didn’t actually write it but because it covers a period of Cornwall’s history which I feel few people, including myself, know well. But that, combined with the anniversary of the battle at Braddock Down coming up, is why I decided to take up Mark’s offer and share his research here. I hope you enjoy! And I look forward to reading your thoughts.

In 1642 the fault lines which split the nation were as stark as the iconic Cornish coastline.

Every county was hotly contested when the British Civil War broke out, but Cornwall doubly so. Braddock Down was the battle which decided Cornwall’s allegiance, but, remarkably, it was also fought over in the dock, when king and parliament went to war in the Truro assizes. Both actions were fierce and the anniversary of Braddock Down, on 19th January, offered me the chance to research them.

The King and Parliament employed different methods to secure the counties, cities, towns and fortified places of the kingdom. King Charles opted for a mediaeval Commission of Array to raise troops. Parliament formed local committees in order to extract money and men. With Devon firmly in Parliament’s grip, a Somerset man named Sir Ralph Hopton rode into Cornwall with 160 horsemen and read out the King’s commission.

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King Charles I – Credit: National Portrait Gallery

Sir Alexander Carew and Sir Richard Buller of Parliament’s Cornish Committee marshalled their opposition in the Truro quarter-sessions.

An indictment was made against ‘divers men unknown, who were lately come armed into [Cornwall] contra pacem.’

Hopton stepped into the firing line and attended court to oppose them. He advanced the commission appointing the Marquis of Hertford General of the West and his own as Liuetenant-General, both signed by the King. The Great Seal of England stamped its authority and the image of the monarch looked out from the wax effigy. In the face of such arguments, the jury withdrew to settle the question of Cornwall’s conscience.

Hopton was acquitted and the jury remarked that it was, ‘a great favour and justice of His Majesty to send down aid to them …’ Going further, they described it, ‘the duty of every good subject, as well in loyalty to the king as in gratitude to those gentlemen, to join with them any hazard of life and fortune.’ Hopton seized the moment. He indicted Carew and Buller for ‘rout and unlawful assembly at Launceston, and for riots and misdemeanours committed against many of the king’s good subjects in taking their liberties from them.’

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English Civil War Society re-enactment

This time the jury instructed the High Sherriff to raise the posse comitatus (an armed escort) to disperse those at Launceston and recruited a force of 3000 men. The judicial scales tipped in Hopton’s favour when they were placed under his command, and he made ready to raise the Cornish drawbridge.

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On 19th January 1643 the two armies of King and Parliament met and this time the final verdict would be written in blood near Boconnoc.

By now, Hopton had an army of 5000. To the east, they spotted the 4000-strong army of Colonel William Ruthven, a Scotsman, and Parliament’s Governor of Plymouth. Both sides shared the aim of securing Cornwall once and for all, but Ruthven had a personal motive – to defeat the royalists and claim the laurels before his superior arrived.

At noon they drew up on Braddock Down, outside Liskeard. Ruthven, having left the cream of his army – his Scottish mercenaries – in Plymouth, was relying on raw levies (enlisted troops) and trained bands. He possessed more cavalry, however, and arrayed his army on the top of a large hill for added defence. Hopton chose a suitably equal hill within musket-shot. Between the armies lay a valley that seemed to signify the deep divisions that now pitched countrymen against each other.

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For two hours this is how it stayed. Both sides were unwilling to come down from their perches to do battle.

Hopton, using his time wisely, sent to the nearby home of Lord Mohun for artillery and was provided with two minion drake cannons. Prayers were read out to each royalist regiment while these guns were pulled into place just out of sight of the enemy, upon whom they would unleash a sermon of their own. The parliamentarian officers, stoking up fervour in the bellies of their own men, accused the royalists of engaging in catholic mass.

Hopton unleashed his cannons and the signal saw the royalists descend into the valley with such confidence that they struck a fear into Ruthven’s troops. Hopton’s cannonballs whizzed over the heads of his men in an iron storm that aimed to pelt the parliamentarians back to Devon. The shock of the cannonade was still reverberating through Ruthven’s army when the royalists began to ascend from the depths and fired a volley of musket-shot.

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But Hopton’s men barely managed to get to grips with the parliamentarians before they broke. The lines of Ruthven’s men disintegrated into a general rout with Ruthven himself fleeing to Saltash. His broken soldiers streamed into Liskeard, caught between the royalists on their heels and the hostile townsfolk.

Royalist orders were to take no prisoners, but the Cornish, as Sir Edward Hyde recounted, stated they could, “not find it in their hearts to hurt men who had nothing in their arms.”

Therefore, Hopton took 1250 prisoners, as well as four of the enemy’s abandoned brass guns which hadn’t even been manoeuvred into position when the royalists attacked. More importantly Cornwall was safely secured for the King at the cost, it was claimed, of two casualties.

All the words and images supplied by and the property of Mark Turnbull. Images are of English Civil War Society.

Go to Mark’s website HERE

If you would like to contact Mark his email address is: mark84@btinternet

Further Reading:

Men Scryfa – Ravens & Cornwall’s first graffiti artist

King Doniert’s Stone

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