Roundheads vs Cavaliers: Walking the English Civil War in Devizes

Quite by accident, we got news that there was a Civil War walk happening on the 13th of July, organised by the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, so we decided to go along.

Admittedly, I have very little knowledge of the English Civil Wars. (Yes plural. There were 3 between 1642 and 1651). Strangely enough I know more about the American one – mainly due to Hollywood I’m thinking and a particular PBS series.

So what happened to cause the English Civil Wars?

Well, in a nutshell:

Charles. The. First.

King Charles 1

Some historic events leading to the First English Civil War:

(Note: this is a very brief synopsis for scene setting purposes. All information listed is provided from Wikipedia.)

1603 – Queen Elizabeth 1 dies, James 1 becomes king

1605 – The Gunpowder Plot led by Guy Fawkes to blow up parliament and the king, fails.

1612 – James 1’s heir, Prince Henry, dies from typhoid. His second son, Prince Charles, is now the heir to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland.

1625 – James 1 dies and Charles becomes king as Charles 1.  Charles marries Henrietta Maria, daughter of King Henry IV of France who is also Catholic. (She wasn’t very popular with the English public).

Charles firmly believes in his divine right to be king and that God alone could question him, resulting in him conflicting with parliament in the first few years of his reign about religion and foreign policy.

1629 – Charles dissolves parliament and begins 11 years of personal rule known as the Eleven Years’ Tyranny.

1634 – He introduces new taxes including Ship Money. This was an attempt to levy ships in peace time and it is also extended to inland counties who were nowhere near the sea.

1637 – The Scots become angry with Charles after he tries to enforce his religious reforms in the form of a ‘Common Prayer Book’ there. England is invaded. Charles hastily gathers together an army to crush the Scottish rebellion, depleting his cash reserves.

1641 – Charles recalls parliament because he needs them to enforce taxes and therefore provide him with cash to fight the Scots who have now occupied parts of Northern England. There are also uprisings beginning in Ireland.

1642 – Parliament says “Ok, but only if you make a few changes and here are about 200 complaints about how you run the country”, annoying Charles, who then arrives at parliament with his army to arrest 5 prominent parliamentary leaders.

A line had been drawn – it’s the Royalists (supporters of Charles also known as Cavaliers) vs the Parliamentarians (known as Roundheads – due to their haircuts not their helmets as what is widely believed)

The First English Civil War begins.

So, on 13 July 1643, The Battle of Roundway Down happened just outside the Wiltshire town of Devizes. It was a Royalist town and under siege by Parliamentary forces who had won the Battle of Landsdown Hill near Bath about a week previously.

Our battlefield guide was historian, Julian Humphrys from the Battlefields Trust. He put everything into context by explaining how it came to this, who the main players were, described the battle in detail to us all and why it was ultimately so important to the Royalist campaign.

He was so engaging and he really brought the battle to life for us.

We also learnt a new word.

Boscage. A mass of trees or shrubs. (I think this was what Monty Python referred to as a shrubbery in The Holy Grail.)

And there were quips about Jane Austen riding in her carriage to Bath. So not all serious war talk 😊

The outcome of this battle was a Royalist victory which led to the capture of Bath and the seaport of Bristol.

I think in total we walked about 5 miles (8 km) over 3 hours. Time just flew by. It was so interesting that it has inspired me to read up a bit more on the English Civil War period.

We also had some archaeological snippets about the local area added in which were equally fascinating. Long barrows, Iron Age fortifications, burials and Roman baths! Amazing!

A very memorable day out in the Wiltshire countryside.

Roundway Down today

For more detailed information on the Battle of Roundway Down, have a look at the Battlefields Trust website and its dedicated page to the battle.

Also have a look at English Heritage website about their future guided Civil War walks across England.

The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes are raising funds to re-do the information boards in order to bring more prominence to this battlefield. For more information on this and future events, have a look at their website here

All links to other websites included above are for information only and aren’t affiliate links.

Note about the images used: the first 2 were sourced via the internet as free to re-use. The remainder are my own personal photos taken on the day.

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