Sunday, 22 February 2009

Redcoats repulsed. The battle of Philip's Norton 27 June 1685

Image search Norton St Philip
You asked for it! Here's an extract from my unpublished book 'The Days of King Monmouth'
Finally at Bath the various elements of the Royal army assembled. Kirke and Churchill from the south, the Guards from the east and the Portsmouth artillery train with Trelawney's from the south along with many militia units. After assembling his force of about 2,500 at Kingsdowne Hill, Feversham marched off from Bath in pursuit of the Rebels writing 'We shall follow the rogues very closely at the heels'. Splitting his command into two bodies, Feversham placed himself with the vanguard. This consisted of most of his horse, his dragoons and a detachment of 500 musketeers including 5 companies of grenadiers. The artillery train was still on its way, due at Westbury soon but Feversham felt his force was large enough to probe the Rebels with relative confidence.
On arriving at the outskirts of Norton St Philip Feversham received rumours that the Rebels were leaving and he decided to probe them in force in order to ascertain their intentions. He sent forward a party of 45 Grenadiers. Feversham claimed in an apologetic letter to James II later that they were so confident they advanced quickly in close order and found themselves 'at the entrance of the place within the very hedges, where was a barrier'.
Monmouth had made his usual precautions (fearful perhaps of another cavalry raid as at Keynsham) and had the main approach to the town guarded by a barricade and 50 musketeers under Captain Vincent. Feversham wrote 'I halted the party which I had sent to draw the enemy's fire, and as but two or three shots had been fired, I ordered my Lord Churchill to move forward a company of grenadiers...the Duke of Grafton commanded the detachment and showed great courage...for he marched at the head of the grenadiers company of his regiment of foot-guards of which Hawley is captain, and which advanced to the entrance of the village, where they encountered a very heavy fire'.
Wade describes the battlefield as taking place among the hedgerows bordering a lane that ran into the town - 'there is a long lane that leads out of a ploughed field into the town being near a quarter of a mile long. On each side the inclosures are surrounded with good thick hedges.' He goes on; 'The Grenadeers which were the forlorne hope of the King's army advanced through the lane up to the Barracade, which the Duke having notice caused his own Regiment to march through the Gentleman's court up to the side of the lane and attaque them in the flank, which was done, and the regiment being much superior in numbers wee fell with a good part of them into theyre reare so that they were all surrounded on all hands save the left flank by which way through the hedge many of them escaped'. Holmes' regiment was ordered to attack troops flanking Wade pushing them back 'from hedge to hedge'. On the Royal side, seeing that the Grenadiers were cut off and being shot to pieces troops were moved up to support them. Feversham noted among the Rebels 'five white standards and a battalion of pikemen, but all protected by hedges'.
'When' continued Feversham, 'I saw that the affair was serious and those ahead were certainly in great danger, I ordered the Horse Grenadiers to pass the barrier and cover their retreat, as this seemed absolutely necessary; and at the same time the musketeers to line the hedges. I was at the barrier when they told me of the Duke of Grafton's danger. I hurried on the Horse Grenadiers, who had already passed the barrier and they arrived just in time. For there was a considerable body of Monmouth's cavalry, who were approaching by another way to cut off their retreat'. These troopers though 'halted and even retired rapidly before the grenadiers'. The Quartermaster of Ashill fame led in the first 20 of the Oxford Blues and offered the Duke of Grafton his own mount as a replacement but the Duke mounted another, wounded horse.
Monmouth's cannon were originally drawn up before the George Inn in the town centre by the Market Cross (no longer there). These guns may have been leaving the town by the time of the first shots as Feversham states it took two hours for the guns to be brought into action.
Monmouth was already leaving Philip's Norton at the head of his column when the action started. Pessimistically Venner urged ('against all reason' stated Wade) Monmouth to withdraw and this was hotly debated and the decision overturned with gaps in the hedges cut to facilitate the advance of Monmouth's regiments. However as the Rebels prepared to attack, being able to take advantage of the rainy weather to balance out their lack of firearms, the Royal army began to withdraw from its position on the ridge heading off to Hinton Charterhouse. Lack of confidence in their cavalry prevented the Rebels from pursuing.
Excusing his retreat to the King Feversham said 'I once thought of remaining face to face with the enemy all the night but we had very heavy rain which would have caused much inconvenience, as we had no tents; so I decided, with the concurrence of the Colonels that the very best thing we could do was to march, which we did. Leaving Oglethorpe with 80 Horse dragoons to collect intelligence'.
So, with some sadness, at 11 pm the tired Rebels made great fires to make it appear that they were staying and slipped away from Frome. The Royal army retired to lick its wounds at Bradford on Avon. Casualties had been light on the Rebel side - estimated at 18. Many of them officers of the Green Regiment. Colonel Holmes lost a son and an arm which he reputedly amputated himself in the kitchen of the George Inn. The Royal army lost about 80 men. According to local reports many of the dying crawled off through the cornfields, their bodies to be found at harvest time.
One humourous anecdote: A rebel, a Frenchman, known as 'the Shevalier', who was a gamester and a ne'er do well was shot in the back by his own side. On being discovered dying by a Royal officer he is said to have said in broken English 'This was none of my foe that shot me in the back' to which the officer retorted 'By God, it was certainly none of your friends'.
According to local legend the lanes around Norton St Philip ran with torrents of blood as the rain poured down, washing over the doorstep of houses at the bottom of the hill.


tradgardmastare said...

Let's have some more - I really enjoyed your account of the battle...

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Nice report... I drove through Norton St. Philip on my way to walk the Sedgemoor battlefield last year... fascinating stuff...