|Contemporary account of the Battle of Hopton Heath, the most significant battle in Staffordshire during the Civil War,
19 March 1643
©Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service
Following the capture of Lichfield Close by the Parliamentarians on 5 March 1643, the Royalist troops were allowed to withdraw from Lichfield. They marched to Stafford and were joined by the Earl of Northampton and his troops, who had not arrived in time to prevent the loss of Lichfield.
The Parliamentarian commanders, Sir John Gell and Sir William Brereton were already planning an attack on the county town because of its strategic importance. However Gell was intercepted at Hopton Heath by the Royalists who overwhelmed his troops largely by the use of a 29-pounder canon, ‘Roaring Meg’. The Earl of Northampton was killed and it was an inconclusive victory for the Royalists. Brereton arrived on the scene with infantry later in the day but the battle ceased as night fell and the Parliamentarian troops withdrew overnight.
Upon our march towardes Stafford on Fryday 15th March intelligence was brought us that some 200 of the Rebells were takeinge up their quarters in a place called Heywood whither wee marched and a party under the commaund of Maior Scudamore was appointed to enter the towne by the way of the bridge, the rest of the army under the commaund of the Earle of Northampton and General Hastinges kept above the towne in severall places upon the hills thereby the better to intercept any that should offer to escape by flight but the inclosed groundes were soe many betwixt us and the other endes of the towne that all the horse escaped by their tymely runninge but the foote were all taken or slayne and above 80 prisoners sent away by our Generall to safe custody, this night wee lodged in their quarter and the adiacent villages, the next day beinge Satturday wee marched with our whole body of horse and foote to Stafford. Upon the Sunday followeinge about 11 of the clocke intelligence was given us of the Rebells beinge seene upon Hopton heath not above 4 miles from Stafford, whereupon with all possible speed our forces drew our of the towne, but it was neare three of the clocke ere wee could gett together from all our quarters, for that the towne of Stafford was not able to receave halfe our Army, though I conceave it did not consist of about 1000 horse and foote, for the Enemy beinge twice as many, they beinge first in the field had the advantage of chooseinge the ground which they did soe that they had not only hedges and old walls which served them for breast workes and were by them soe lyned with musquetteeres that they stood too secure, besides their maine body of musquettes and pikes stood upon a warren full of Cunney holes* where horse could not charge without greate danger and hazard. They had 8 Drakes* and 3 greate peeces all upon the advantage of a hill which to come unto had moorish ground to hinder our approaches on the right hand and on the left their hedges and walls lyned with shott as I said before. All which disadvantages hindered us not nor any whit daunted our courage, but after wee had drawne our men into a body within halfe cannon shott, wee made a stand for halfe an houre or thereaboutes. In which tume wee drew out some dragooners*, and sent them to enter the closes and beate of their musketts which lay in the hedges which they performed with greate resolucion. Att this tyme alsoe wee drew up our Cannon which was one very good piece and did great execucion for the first shott killed six of their men and hurt foure and the next made such a lane through them that they had little minde to close agayne.
All this tyme their Cannon and Drakes played as fast as they could upon our men and did noe greate execuion, for wee were soe nigh that their greate pieces shott over us. Wee charged them with our horse soe furiously that theyrs beganne to runne and ours followed th'execution (I feare) too too farre, for the Earle himselfe flew into the chiefest of them where by the fallinge of his horse hee had the misfortune to come into their handes. True it is that his horse receaved a shott but himselfe had not then receaved any hurt, though (it is bee feared) hee was most barbarously butchered by them. Att this first charge wee gained their Cannon and here Sir Thomas Byron left some few Dragooners and a guard of horse which hee noe sooner quitted (with intencion to fetch up some more to make a stand and to stopp the rest from further pursuite) but those horse came of and some of the Rebells reserve of horse came up and regayned their Cannon But our horse were agayne gathered togeather in a body and charged and beat them the 2nd tyme from their Cannon, and here their horse fell soe foule upon their foote that they were soe much disordered that the Pikemen stood with their pikes ordered and did not soe much as charge but some of them strake with them, and att this tyme Sir Thomas Byron receaved 2 hurtes the one with a Carbine the other with a sword and both towardes the lower part of his back that of the Carbine went through his body from the bottome of his Armour and out att the Groyne. Hee beinge hurt togeather with the misse of the Earl of Northampton did dishearten our men that they could not bee easily perswaded to pursue that advantage which wee had gayned though Generall Hastinges and the rest of the officers with perswasions and expressions befittinge men and their honnour and condicions made appeare in a very high and noble way their resolucions to lead them on agayne, but with much labour they were gotten togeather into a body and made a stand with intenction to charge agayne But the truth is it was soe late that nothinge could bee donne without hazard of greate confusion in the darke nor was our Cannon or amunicion drawne of as yett Wherefore order was given first to drawe of our Cannon with the 8 Drakes wee had taken of theirs which was accordingly donne and a guard of Dragooners sent with them unto the towne, the rest of the Army retired but quitted not the feild that night. The Enemy made greate hast home and for feare of another charge left some amunition of powder and shott with other carriages and it is beleeved all their ordnance for that wee found the forwheeles of them the next morning upon the place Theis wee brought to Stafford but could not finde their Cannon but wee conceave they were cast into some poole adiacent, and wee hope to heare of it. wee tooke many prisoners, but none of quality, there are few of that Condicion amongst them. Sir William Brereton and Sir John Gell were in the feild, but never appeared only kept in the arreare of their forces and quitted the feild betymes carryed the Earles body away with them and beinge by a trumpeter sent unto for it, their barbarisme and inhumanity was such that they refused to returne itt without the restitucion of their 8 Drakes with their amunicion and prisoners wee had taken of theirs, an unparralel'd and unchristian like accion befitting none but such as are Rogues in their acciones to the liveinge and dead and rebells both against God and man, and ignorant of what belonges to the honnour of a souldier, they lost tenne men for one of ours But true it is one of ours is worth 100 of theirs, their amazement in their flight was such as made them cry out upon the way that they mett with divells and not men, for they came up unto their Cannon mouthes (an action which they are never likely to bee guilty of) and to say truth soe farre are they from it that they would not stand the charge of a pistoll, but fled ere wee could gett close unto them, And if wee had beene but maisters of 2 or 300 foote wee had not left a man of them. Neverthelesse there was soe much donne by us as would have crown'd the accion a glorious and greate victory, had not wee lost that unparrelel'd man of honnour the Earle, which losse clowded our worke but will cause his memory to shine and live in succeedinge ages to the honnour of his posterity which are already growne up to that ripenes of perfeccion that undoubtedly they will approove themselves branches of that stocke whence they came soe that the honnour of his acciones shall not be buiried in his ashes. His 2 eldest sonnes were in this accion, and gave great testimony of their valour, for the now Earle receaved a shott in the legge and had his horse killed, the second slew a Captayne of theirs and had beene slayne himselfe had not his armour beene very good, for his Coate was fired with a muskett shott on the backe. I have sent you a list of those that were slayne and hurt of ours and what prisoners wee have taken, what were slayne of the Rebells cannot certenly bee knowne, for that they threw hundredes of them into pooles and pittes thereby to conceale their losse, but confident I am they will have litle stomack to meete us agayne upon any conditions if they can prevent it.
Cunney holes - rabbit holes (cony/coney - rabbit)
Drakes - small type of cannon
Dragooners - dragoons were mounted infantry armed with carbine and sword