English Civil War battlefields of Lostwithiel given protected status by English Heritage

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It’s great to hear that two Civil War battlefields sites near Lostwithiel have become the first additions to English Heritage’s Register of Battlefields, according to a list published by the government body.

The fighting around Lostwithiel took place in 1644 at a crucial juncture in the first English Civil War – it marked both the high point of the Royalist cause, with several notable victories, and also the period when the Parliamentarians feared they were losing the conflict.

The image displayed here is of Restormel Castle, one of the scenes of the intensive running battles between King Charles’s forces and those of the Parliamentarian general, the Earl of Essex.

English Heritage’s report on Lostwithiel states:

The Lostwithiel Campaign was the culmination of a long-running conflict enacted in Devon and Cornwall between the Parliamentarian force led by the Earl of Essex and the Royalists led by King Charles I. In the summer of
1644 Essex had secured the town of Lostwithiel in the north of Cornwall, giving him a connection with the navy for resupply and support. On 21 August the Royalists won the Parliamentarians’ defensive positions on the high ground to the north of the town – including Restormel Castle – and to the east. The two armies engaged in small-scale skirmishes over the next few days as the King tried to starve out Essex’s men, and on 31 August Essex had no option but to retreat to the south towards the River Fowey and the coast, with the Royalists in pursuit. Along Castle Dore ridge the two forces engaged in a running battle culminating in a standoff at the Castle Dore hill fort, where Essex set up his position within the ancient defences. Essex and his officers escaped by sea on 1 September, leaving the remaining Parliamentarian forces, under the command of Major General Skippon, to surrender. The battles which took place at these sites were among the worst defeats suffered by a Parliamentarian army during the War, and among the Royalists’ greatest successes

All the historic buildings and sites on EH’s post are from the Designation Yearbook 2013-14, a free to download pdf which features casework undertaken by English Heritage’s Designation Department.

It’s not just the battles that are worth studying – where they took place is important too. While Cornwall supplied many of King Charles’ most ardent supporters it was, in the same way as the rest of the country, divided.

Cornwall’s MPs and major landholders were divided. Some were tied closely to the Crown through the institution of the Duchy of Cornwall, but in some quarters others had become now firmly Protestant and Anglicised – particularly in the South-East of the County and both groups sought the right to raise a militia to fight for their cause. Lesser gentry and yeomen farmers – the bulk of the Cornish – were firmly behind the King. Loyalty to local gentry was not always the deciding factor in how the Cornish felt.

Loyalty to the Duchy and their own cultural and religious beliefs were the telling factors. (In the later war years there was a feeling that the Cornish may have been seeking semi-autonomy under the leadership of the Duke of Cornwall.

Lord Robartes’s tenants were firmly Royalist despite his Parliamentary views. The people of Stratton were largely Parliamentarian – in common with their near neighbours in Devon, despite the Royalist sympathies of the Grenvilles of nearby Stowe. Royalists won the argument throughout the county and Parliamentary supporters turned to the largely Parliamentary Devon and especially Plymouth.

Notable Royalists included Bevil Grenville of Stowe, Jonathan Trelawney of Trelawne, John Trevanion of Caerhays, Jonathan Rashleigh of Menabilly Francis Bassett, of St Michael’s Mount,Lord Mohun of Boconnoc,John Arundel of Trerice, the Vyvyans of Trelowarren. Parliamentarians of note were Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock, John St Aubyn of Clowance, Nicholas Boscawen of Tregothnan. As elsewhere in the country some families were divided, including the Arundells the Carews and the Godolphins.

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