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Civil War

The battles between 1642 and 1651 is generally called ‘The English Civil War’ but this term is misleading. Conflict between various kinds of warlords was endemic and the Scotish, Welsh and particularly Irish dimensions should not be underestimated even when the Chewton Hundred filter is applied. Furthermore, there were other battles with a national significance where there is a strong link to people or places within five miles radius of the centre of Chewton Mendip.
There was a battle at Richmont Castle in East Harptree during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda (or Maud) in the 13th century,
The Lord of the Manor of Chewton Mendip, Sir William Bonville, was a major player in the Wars of the Roses.
Civil war continued after that locally in the form of the Monmouth Rebellion and is still simmering in Northern Ireland to this day.
 The build up to the 17th century civil war was influenced by religion as much as politics and some accounts still show sympathies for one side or the other.
 The Chewton Mendip Women’s Institute (WI) wrote a brief history of Chewton Mendip in 1954. It is not clear who conducted the research but lady Waldegrave was the chairwoman of the Somerset WI at the time. The Waldegraves were royalists during the civil war and the WI account shows that. Their account is reproduced below.
“There was a brisk battle at Chewton Mendip in the course of the Civil Wars when Prince Maurice’s forces were moving towards Lansdown in the summer of 1643. Sir William Waller was the Roundhead leader, and the Marquis of Hartford, the Earl of Caernarvon, and Prince Maurice, the Royalist leaders had at this moment their headquarters in Walls. (There is still in Wells a lane known as Guard House Lane)..
This is how Clarendon describes the battle in his History of the Great Rebellion:Though Sir William Waller was still at Bath, yet the remainder of those horse and dragoons that escaped out of Cornwall after the battle of Stratton, and various other regiments, were rallied by Alexandre Popham Strowde, and with other trained bands and volunteers advanced on the enemy so that Sir William Waller retired to the Mendip Hill overlooking Wells.
The Marquis stayed at Wells, but Prince Maurice and the Earl of Caernarvon with Sir Ralph Hopton and Sir John Berkeley, and two regiments of horse, went to fight the enemy on Mendip Hill. They gained the top of the hill and beat them back until the enemy came to Chewton where they were compelled before their entrance to leave their reserve behind, so the Earl of Caernarvon charged the enemy with great gallantry and routed the whole body, but Sir William Waller who was lying in wait at Bath, sent a strong party to help the retreat, which, with the advantage of the fog had marched without being discovered.
The Earl of Caernarvon pursued the enemy and fell into Sir William’s troops, sent word to the Prince in Wells, and withdrew through the village wishing to face the enemy on the heath rather than in the narrow village. The enemy followed, and drew up a very much larger force of horse and foot.
The Prince then decided to give the enemy a brisk charge with his regiment-while the Earl of Caernarvon rallied his, and would back him up. The brief charge utterly ‘broke and routed part of the enemy’s front, but part of the enemy front wheeled round and charged in the rear.
At the same time, the Earl of Caernarvon with his rallied troops charged the rear, and then the battle resolved to hand fighting. The enemy was totally routed, and the Earl of Caernarvon chased them again and then returned to headquarters at Wells. Three or four score men were lost and three times that number by the enemy.
This battle took place on the 11th June 1643, but the strange thing is that the Parish Register of Burials for mid–June in that year makes no mention of any burying of casualties. Perhaps Clarendon rather overestimated the losses, particularly those of the enemy. It is a little hard to make out who actually won:”
The country side was mainly Royalist and the towns and citties were typicaly parlientarion but the situation appears to have been reverersed in Chewton Mendip.
Sir Edward Waldegrave, 1st Baronet was the Lord of the manor of Chewton Mendip although he may have never visited the place. He commanded a Royalist cavalry regiment in Cornwall despite being over 70 at the time.  He was captured and released after paying £50,000 in fines but died soon after.
The role of the Kingsmills who may have been  the lay impropriators or rectors of Chewton Mendip, Ston Easton, Emborough, Farrington Gurney and Paulton at the time is not fully understood. Some reports state they were committed royalists, other sources state their support of the king was more pragmatic.
They had strong links to the protestant faith and at least one member of that family went to Ireland with Cromwell’s forces.The Kingsmills may have already been the owners of the church lands but they may have acquired them when Cornelius Burges was deprived of the lands that had been confiscated from the Bishop of Bath & Wells.
The Taswells became involved with Chewton Mendip after the restoration of Charles II but the records show theu were cavaliers.
What is well documented is the Hippisley family were staunch parliamentarians. Geoffrey Loxton  puts a very different emphasis on the story compared with the WI Version. Geoffrey is a respected local historian who has published a number of books on the local history of the area. One of his books, ‘Embororough Perambulation’ describes the movements of the various forces in some detail.
Firstly, one of the ‘enemy’ as described by Clarendon was John Hippisley V, Lord of the Manors of Stone Easton and Emborough the Sheriff of Somerset in 1640. He was related by marriage via the Horner family of Mells to Alexander Popham of Hunstrete. He was the son of Sir Francis Popham who was one of the wealthiest men in the county at the time. John Hippisley’s father in law was John Preston of Cricket St Thomas. The ‘enemy’ included a large number of people who should have been natural supporters of the monarchy but Charles I had a knack of creating enemies out of loyal supporters.
Some of the medieval laws about land ownership still applied. The Monarch still the ultimate owner of the land and the occupiers of the land were still obliged to pay for the right to manage the land on behalf of the monarch. This included providing military service.  John Hippisley had been a Ward of Court because he was a minor when his father died. The wardship may have been intended to protect the young heir but it had long been used as a way to extract money from the estate for the benefit of the King or the person supposed to be protecting the child. He was also supposed to have bought a knighthood when he gained control of his estate. He refused to do this and suffered financial distrait in 1631 as a result.
The role of countySheriff was largely ceremonial but the function carried the responsibility of paying the Ship Tax for the county. No taxes are popular but this one was particularly unpopular and the Sheriff was responsible for assessing and paying any tax he could not collect.  This responsibly was imposed on the Sheriff in 1634 and John Hippisley voted to abolish the tax in 1641 which saved him from financial ruin.
Religious issues were also a factor. The Archbishop of Canterbury of the time, William Laud, gave an order in 1636 that communion tables should be returned to the chancel and railed of as they had been in pre reformation times. William Laud had briefly been the Bishop of Bath& Wells and the incumbent of that post at the time, Bishop William Piers supported what was seen as a ‘popish’ change.
William Piers was appointed as Bishop of Bath& Wells in 1632 with the support of the Archbishop Laud probably because of his anti Calvinist stance. The Church wardens of Beckinton near Frome refused to move the communion table and were imprisoned for their contumacy despite appealing to the Court of Arches. This is an ecclesiastical court based in London but covers the ecclesiastical province of Canterbury. Another form of civil disobedience practiced in some parishes was the refusal to record births deaths and marriages during the period. This can be seen in the Litton registers.
There is some dispute about the casualty figures raised by the WI account  this is a common issue even in modern battles. I have used Cassell’s Battlefields of Britain and Ireland by Richard Brooks to get
additional information and this book gives some background about tactics and other details.
The extract from the WI accounte is a typically romanticised view“so the Earl of Caernarvon charged the enemy with great gallantry
This line conjures up images of royalist cavalry in their finery galloping up to the dour parliamentarians in their sombre uniforms and then conducting some horse back fencing until the vanquished enemy realised they had met a more skilled adversary and retreated. The reality was quite different. Both sides would have worn similar protective equipment if they had it and the fighting would have been more like a drive by shooting than elegant sword play.
The Royalist cavalry tactics at the time involved trotting then cantering up to a few yards of the ‘enemy’ and then firing their pistols at them. The Parliamentarians waited at a standstill and tried to shoot the attackers. The Royalist cavalry tactics were considered more effective and even allowing for a misfire rate of one in three and the inaccuracy of the weapons that engagement must have created some casualties.
There are at least two reasons why there were no burials recorded. The first is that both sides may have taken their casualties with them. Even if there were no fatalities in the battle, survival rates for the wounded could have been as low as 50%.
Another reason is that casualties were buried in unmarked graves on the ‘heath’ or the land between Nedgeand Penn Hill which was then an unfenced waste land.There is a third reason to explain the lack of burials which may be explained by a different interpretation of the two main events.
The SNAFU of 1642
This was early in the conflict when both sides were trying to literally ‘drum up support’. People join armies or mobs for various reasons and both sides present themselves as the noble cause fighting some form of evil. The riots in various cities in 2011 shows how easily it is to encourage otherwise law abiding people to join in the excitement of a mass demonstration.
 Another factor of human nature that does not change is the tendency to exaggerate so there is no way of identifying how accurate the number of 12,000 people who assembled Chewton Mendip really was.  To put things in perspective, that is about 12 times the number of the modern population of the village. Whatever the true number was, only a few would have been ‘hard core’ combatants. The majority would have been a mixture of the curious and opportunist.
The mob did not stay in Chewton Mendip but somewhere in the open. Penn Hill is a possibility but the main Wells to Bristol road did not exist at the time so they may have been further along the ridge at the top of Rookham on what is now the Old Bristol Road. A number of the mob would have slunk away faced with the prospect of a night in the open especially as they had not been fed. This is what a modern soldier may call a typical SNAFU or “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up”. Some soldiers may use a different word for the ‘F’ in the acronym.
The date given for this event is Friday 5th August 1642 but sleeping out outside without tents is no fun even in mid summer so quite a few more people would have returned to the warmth of their homes. Waking up cold and hungry would have encouraged yet more to leave but their spirits would have rallied once they were belatedly fed.
No doubt some of the number had been sent on foraging parties to obtain supplies form the locals by what ever means were necessary. Even if you halve the number of people in the mob, there would still have been a multitude of biblical proportions. They did  not have divine help so they would have needed more than five loaves and two fishes so they would have needed dozens of cartloads of provisions.
Some cannon shots were fired which is another reason to place the ‘camp’ at Rookham which gives a better view of Wells. The artillery pieces were not very powerful at the time and they needed ‘line of sight’ which means you have to see the target you are shooting at like firing a rifle or shot gun. As a former artilleryman myself, I know that firing cannons is a specialist skill so these gunners may have been ‘professionals’. This is one way of saying they were mercenaries who fought for pay, not a cause. They may have been novices because there is no record of them hitting anything.
A memorandum was sent to the Royalist Commander, the Marquis of Hertford, to release any prisoners and disband his troops. John Hippisley was one of the signatories and he had a personal motivation. His father in law, John Preston, was one of the prisoners having been captured in an earlier skirmish at Great Elm near Street or Glastonbury. The Marquis took the hint and made what may be termed a strategic withdrawal. He may have had a similar mix of proficient soldiers and uncommitted novices.
Some of the Parliamentary forces were motivated by religious believe and had maintained their commitment by spending the night “in prayer and singing psalms” now had the chance they were looking for and indulged in some iconoclastic rioting in Wells. Images of the Virgin Mary were paraded on pikes as evidence of the ‘papistry’ in the BishopsPalace.

The FUBAR of 1643

 This is the ‘brisk battle’ described by the WI in 1954.  The location near Chewton Mendip on Nedge
plain makes sense when the road network at the time is understood. What was then the main road is now a foot path and farm track that runs from Nedge in the direction of Priddy.  The action may have taken place anywere from Nedge to Eakers Hill or Red Quarr. The troops now involved were battle hardened veterans but they were still prone to human frailties. The Royalist army were mainly Cornishmen and the Parliamentarians were well supplied from Bristol and included personnel from Devonshire, London and other parts of the country.
This time it was the Parliamentarians who were retreating and they were heading to Bristol or Bath. Even the small cannons of the day were heavy things to pull around the country and were relatively rare so they would have been high profile targets. The gun teams needed to follow the roads such as they were because they could not cross rough countryside.  This constraint would have made the gun teams a simple quarry to hunt. The gunners may have been professionals but the horse drivers were civilian contractors and were not paid, or equipped, to fight.
The accounts of the ‘Battle of Chewton Mendip’ do not specify the number of guns involved but the following Battle of Lansdown involved about 6500 Royalist troops with  about 10 or 12 guns and about 4500 Parliamentarians with an unknown number of artillery pieces.
This incident is one possibility for the source of the name Kings Hill which is part of Chewton Mendip that forms part of the ridge that separates Chewton Mendip from Chewton Plain. This is a possible site for the King’s men to have captured the guns but most references to Civil War forces in the area for Parliamentarians. There are other stories of fields near Chew Down being named after a wounded ‘king’s man’  but that is also consistent with the effect of  ‘fog of war’.
The basic events are that the Royalist cavalry came across the Parliamentarians baggage train which included some artillery pieces somewhere near Chewton Mendip. The difference between cavalry and dragoons was very significant at that time. Proper cavalry were on the best horses and were used as shock troops and for speed. Dragoons were mounted infantry who were used for reconnaissance and to get infantry into the right place quickly. They had to make do with whatever horses or ponies the cavalry did not want. Dragoons were equipped as infantry so they lacked the breastplates that heavy cavalry wore.
 The Royalist cavalry may have been used as a ‘snatch squad’ to capture the artillery pieces or reconnaissance patrol stumbled across them. Either way, the civilian carters would have done the sensible thing and ran away leaving the Royalists to loot the baggage train and capture the guns.  Some of Royalist cavalry or dragoons chased the fleeing Parliamentarians which is when casualties would have been inevitable. One of the roles of cavalry was to pursue men running away in disorder and to hack them down with their sabres. A man running away on foot is an easy target for a man horse even if it was some old nag. Some of the Royalist horsemen were too enthusiastic in the chase  and behaved in a ‘cavalier fashion’ until they met some of the Parliamentarian heavy cavalry when the tables were turned and the Parliamentarians counter attacked.
The mention of fog may be a metaphorical as well as literal reference and may provide the ‘F’ in the acronym for ‘Fogged Up Beyond All Recognition’.  Both sided fought with skill and bravery at Lansdown so the encounter should have been more effective. Parliamentarians should have protected their rear echelon personnel better and the Royalists should have capitalised on the rout more effectively. Nobody really wins battles. Both sides are the losers but one side may do less badly than the other. My reading of the accounts is that it was a FUBAR for both sides but if anyone did ‘win’ it was the Royalists if they retained control of the captured guns.  One suggestion is that both commanding officers may have overstated  the weather to justify their failings.
Paul Clayton, a local metal detectorist discovered a cast lead alloy cap in the vicinity of Chewton Mendip. This has been inspected by finds officer at TauntonMuseum who had described it as a powder measure cap. The date range given is from 1500 to 1800 so it is possible that it was used in any of the actions specified. However, the single find is stronger evidence that nothing really happened rather than evidence of military action.
The Chewton Mendip Vestry records in my possession start just over 50 years after the events describe and they record how people were paid a bounty for killing vermin. The scarcity of musket balls found by Paul and his colleague are further evidence against any significant battle or perhaps they have been looking in the wrong place. The WI 1954 history contains another account which may provide a clue.
“At the Taunton Museum there is an edition of Collinson’s “Somerset” much enlarged by the addition of illustrations, newspaper cuttings etc., which have been added from time to time. The following, taken from a newspaper of October 10th, 1835, is an account of a ghostly apparition on what was evidently Eaker Hill:The interesting natural phenomenon witnessed on Agar, one of the Mendip Hills, on Sunday the 20th ult., was first observed about five o’clock in the evening, and represented an immense body of troops, mounted and fully accoutered which appeared to move along, some times at a walking pace, and at other times at a quick trot, with drawn swords at the carry. At other times the figures appeared six abreast, after which they gradually diminished to two or files. The illusion, we are informed, was so complete that the bridles and stirrups were clearly distinguishable, whilst the horses feet were seen to move in a perfectly natural manner. The whole body appeared in one uniform; of a dark hue, approaching nearly to black. It was observed for upwards of an hour, and the cottagers around the foot of the hill, were, for a considerable time in a state of consternation, imagining that the troops could be no other than a hostile force. With respect to the cause of these strange appearances philosophers differ, but the most received opinion is that they are owing to the extraordinary refraction which the rays of the sun undergo in passing through masses of air in contact with a surface greatly heated: this may seem to account for their frequency in the deserts of Arabia, where they more commonly assume the appearance of lakes of water or trees, but which are really miserable shrubs that do not afford any shelter. This magnifying of objects is produced by the slight vapour which rises when the heat is greatest. This illusion was occasioned by the Bath troop of yeomanry cavalry, which was assembled on the day in question at Twerton, a distance of 15 miles from the place where it was witnessed.”
Perhaps too much cider combined with some half remembered folk memory was the explanation for the aspiration but Eakers Hill is a sensible place for troop movements if not the actual ‘battle’ of 1643.
 There are other records of troop movements at the end of the war and  some disgrntled form soldiers had to be dealt with. They had not been paid and relied upon ‘donations’ from the populace for their food which they encourage by the use of wooden clubs which earned them the name ‘clubmen’.
 Richard Loxton. 2013.
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