The struggle between King and Parliment.
The Civil Wars of the mid seventeenth century were a result of political, constitutional, religious and social changes and disagreements, which culminated in a struggle for control of the country between King and Parliament. This civil war lasted nearly nine years, beginning with King Charles ‘raising his standard at Nottingham on 22nd August 1642, and ending with the battle of Worcester on 3 September, 1651. It led to the only state execution of monarch in British history in January 1649 and the establishment of a republican government that lasted until 1660.
How Cornwall took sides
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 Cornwall 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 Duchy 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 Duchy some families were divided, including the Arundells, the Carews and the Godolphins.
At the outbreak of the Civil War Sir Bevill Grenville had proclaimed the king’s Commission of Array at Launceston assizes, and also persuaded the grand jury of the Duchy to declare their opponents guilty of riot and unlawful assembly. In 1642 he raised an army in Cornwall to fight for the King.
Summary of military action
Though not central to the conflict, Cornwall played a significant role in the war. The main events in Cornwall were as follows:
- Unsuccessful attempts to take Plymouth in 1642
- Battles at Braddock Down (January 1643) and Stratton (May, 1643) , Sir Ralph Hopton securing Royalist control
- Expedition of the Cornish Army in 1643 through the South West as far as Landsdown (Bath) where their charismatic leader Sir Bevill Grenville was killed
- Bitter conflict in and around Lostwithiel in 1644
- Surrender at Tresillian Bridge 15th March 1646. Pendennis Castle resisted until 15th August.
- Isolated resistance continued in West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, 1648-1651
Coate, Mary (1933) Cornwall in the Great Civil War and Interregnum 1642-1660 Oxford: Clarendon Press. 2nd ed. 1963
Brown, H. Miles (1982) Battles Royal: Charles I and the Civil War in Cornwall and the West Libra Books ISBN 0950800902
Barratt, John (2005) The Civil War in the South-West Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military ISBN 9781844151462
Holmes, Richard (1989) Civil War Battles in Cornwall, 1642 to 1646 Mercia ISBN 0948087323
Duffin, Anne (1996) Faction and Faith: politics and religion of the Cornish gentry before the Civil War. University of Exeter ISBN 9780859894357
Russell, Dennis (2001) Carew: a Story of Civil War in the West Country. London: Aidan Ellis Publishing ISBN 0856282987
Peachey, Stuart (1993) Stuart Press
The Battle of Braddock Down 1643 ISBN 1858040213
The Battles of Launceston and Sourton Down ISBN 1858040191
The Battle of Stratton 1643 ISBN 1858040183
Philip Peyton “Cornwall: a History”