Saturday, 18 May 2013

Great Slaughter at Ashby Street

Felpersham May 1643

Thomas Fletcher, printer's apprentice and Parliamentarian sympathiser, has learned to keep his political beliefs to himself this past year, given that he lives and works in a city that has declared for the King.

A few days ago there was much talk in the taverns of the Roundhead army's excesses in the villages near Felpersham, some not five miles from the city walls. Only three mornings ago he witnessed more than a thousand cavaliers leave the city by the Fishergate, followed by a lesser number of foot, all of them musketeers, clad in the blue uniforms of the Earl of Grantham's lifeguard and the yellow coats of Sir Charles Moncrief's regiment of foote.

Now many of those horseman are lying broken and bleeding in the City's hospital, a former convent that passed into the Earl of Grantham's estate in the reign of Elizabeth.

Fletcher drinks in 'The Golden Pheasant', a tavern off Pudding street, and one frequented by Moncrief's men. There he strikes up a conversation with one of the musketeers who marched out of Felpersham to fight the Roundheads.

That night he writes by candlelight of what he has learnt  and in the morning passes it to a man he knows only as Master Nuttall, a travelling peddler, who seems much troubled this day.

The gist of Fletcher's report, for that is what it is considered by the Parliamentarian Scoutmaster General, is thus: there was a great slaughter of Royalists at Ashby Street and many gallant men fell but just as the battle seemed lost and the King's army appeared broken, a few score cavaliers and dragoons fell upon the Roundhead artillery train and baggage. The Roundhead guns were spiked and their baggage train sacked, the powder and shot blown up, and the treasure pillaged.

The King's cavalry have been dealt a great blow, it will be many months before his supporters could consider going over to the offensive, but equally it appears that Parliament's men have lost their siege train and with it the means to force a decision in the county...

Full DBR After Action Report to Follow

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Fight at Ashby Street

Ashby Street is a small village five miles due east of Felpersham in Borsetshire. In the spring of 1643 it was the scene of a battle between Parliamentarian forces led by Edward Dighurst and a Royalist army under the command of the Earl of Grantham.

The Parliamentarians were seeking to secure the villages and towns around Felpersham, the main Royalist base in the county, in order to invest the city. A skirmish between Parliamentarian dragoons led by Captain Harbottle Grimstone and a detachment of cavaliers under the command of Charles Marchmain preceded the main battle.

The clash was was one that modern military professionals would describe as an 'encounter battle', both sides having  liiterally 'marched to the sound of the guns' on hearing of the skirmish between Harbottle and Marchmain's forces, and deployed off that march to fight.

In other words a game of DBR is scheduled for this weekend...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Battle of Hazelhurst: Aftermath

Dragoon officer

The defeat of the Royalist army at the River Perch appeared comprehensive, Parliament's men had taken few casualties whilst the King's men had broken in their bid to force the Roundhead position. The immediate aftermath of the battle was something of a let off for the Royalists however, as their opponents failed to press the advantage and pursue the broken Cavaliers.
As the Royalist army fled the field the Parliamentarian commander and local dignitary Edward Dighurst was minded to order a general advance, and such a move would doubtless have led to yet more Royalist casualties, but it did not happen. Dighurst was dissuaded from pursing his enemies by the cautious and taciturn Scottish mercenary Alastair  Begby. Begby had masterminded the Roundhead deployment at the crossing of the Perch, specifically it was he who had managed the movement of the artillery that had lent such strength to Dighurst's position. Not a man to gamble, Begby was reluctant to send the Parliamentarian horse across the river, despite the obvious disarray of the Royalist cavalry. To a professional like Begby, it was inexplicable that the King's men had attacked such a strong position and he feared that their retreat was a ruse and that the main body of a much larger Royalist force was waiting to strike once the Roundheads had abandoned the security of their position.

Of course, no such force existed. The Royalist commander on the day, Gareth Williams, had mounted an improvised offensive in a bid to surprise the defenders of Borchester. He had failed and lost the bulk of his horse, and their brave colonel Rufus Dancy, in the attempt. Parliament's failure to pursue had allowed the infantry,and what was left tof the cavalry to escape.

As the last days of winter gave way to spring Borchester was secure. At the beginning of March a letter arrived from the Earl of Essex commending the Borsetshire Parliamentarians on holding the town. Strategically Borsetshire was important to both sides, its proximity to the Welsh marches meaning that it lay astride the King's recruiting grounds in South Wales and his base at Oxford.

Essex urged Dighurst to march on Felpersham, the Royalist base in Borsetshire, and further tighten the Roundhead grip on the county. Begby, once again urged caution. Spies in Felpersham reported that the town walls had been reinforced by earthworks and the Royalist's were plentifully supplied with food and ammunition.

There followed a few weeks of indecisive manoeuvres and skirmishes, largely carried out by the cavalry and dragoons of both sides, until Dighurst finally decided on a strategy of investment rather than close siege. Such an approach required him to secure the outlying villages of the county town, and so it was that in the first week of April 1643 a detachment of Dragoons under one Harbottle Grimstone, a plain man and Godly Protestant, clashed with a troop of cavaliers. The King's men were routed in the enclosures surrounding the village of Ashby Street and Grimstone lost no time in sending a messenger to the main body of the Parliamentary army that the settlement was open to capture.

Once again Begby counselled caution, arguing that Dighurst should wait for his artillery train before committing to an advance on Ashby. By the time the Roundheads were in sight of the village a Royalist force had marched out of Felpersham. The two armies were set to clash head on.

A map of modern Borsetshire can be accessed here: