The West Country: overview

During the early stages of the English Civil War, King Charles sent William Seymour, Marquis of Hertford, as his lieutenant-general into the West Country. Hertford's efforts to recruit a Royalist army in Somerset and Dorset were thwarted by local Parliamentarians, so he crossed the Bristol Channel to raise forces in south Wales, leaving Sir Ralph Hopton with a small force of cavalry in Somerset.

Hopton marched westwards through north Devon into Cornwall, where he joined forces with Sir Bevil Grenville and the Cornish Royalists. After unsuccessful attempts to capture Plymouth and Exeter, Hopton drove back a Parliamentarian advance into Cornwall then defeated the Earl of Stamford at the battle of Stratton in May 1643, which secured most of the West Country for the King. Hopton's Cornish army next joined forces with Lord Hertford and Prince Maurice against Parliament's Western Association army, commanded by Sir William Waller. After a marginal victory at the battle of Lansdown, the Royalists destroyed Waller's army at Roundway Down in July 1643. Prince Rupert reinforced the victorious western army and marched to storm and capture the vital port of Bristol at the end of July.

After the fall of Bristol, Prince Maurice took command of the western Royalists. He captured Exeter and Dartmouth but was driven back from Plymouth at the end of 1643. During the spring of 1644, Maurice became bogged down at the siege of Lyme in Dorset, which he abandoned in June at the approach of the Earl of Essex's relieving army. Acting against orders, Essex was determined to seize control of the West for Parliament. He relieved Plymouth then advanced into Cornwall, unaware that the King's army was marching in pursuit. After joining forces with Prince Maurice and Sir Richard Grenville, the King trapped Essex at Lostwithiel in Cornwall. The Parliamentarian army was forced to surrender after Essex made an ignominious escape in a fishing boat.

Early in 1645, Charles, Prince of Wales, was appointed nominal commander of Royalist forces in the West. After the decisive Parliamentarian victory at Naseby in June 1645, however, the western Royalists could do little to prevent the relentless advance into the region of the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax. Lord Goring's army was defeated at Langport in July, then Fairfax stormed and captured Bristol in September. Early in 1646, Lord Hopton advanced into north Devon in an attempt to relieve the pressure on Exeter, but he was defeated by Fairfax at the battle of Torrington in February. Having ensured the Prince of Wales' escape from England, Hopton surrendered to Fairfax at Truro on 14 March 1646, agreeing to disband the western army and to go into exile.