The Fight, March 13. 1655

An account of the rebellion and ride across Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset and Devonshire by Colonel Penrudduck and divers other Cavaliers in March 1655.

from Covent Garden, March 13. 1699 (ns)

My lord,

In my last, I left you on the evening of March 11, in Clarendon Park. Here Penrudduck’s association had mustered, and I shall now give you account of the uprising that saw cavaliers ravage four counties of England.

The party in Clarendon Park, were joined by Sir Joseph Wagstaff, who as General, took command of the force that now numbered nearly 200 men. They waited until 2 in the morning, before riding into Salisbury. They started by securing the ale houses, and then entered the stables to secure all the horses. Next, they moved to the town gaol which was full of prisoners awaiting the assizes. Here the cavaliers broke down the doors and let out the convicts. Their final act was to strike at the heart of government by breaking into the rooms of the Chief Justice Rolle and Judge Baron Nicholas. Then seized High Sheriff Dove in his quarters. By 4 O’clock Salisbury was under the control of the Scotch King.

During the day, as more cavaliers came in, Wagstaff dragged Rolle, Nicholas and Dove into the market square. Here he intended to hang them as common murderers but seeing the damage this would do to the cause, Penrudduck convinced Wagstaff to refrain from such an act. Instead, he tried to force them to proclaim for Charles II but all three refused to perform this act of treason. As the day drew on, the local populace became hostile, so the leaders elected to ride west to gather an Army. After letting Rolle and Nicholas go free, Wagstaff dragged Sheriff Dove along as a hostage.

From Salisbury the party split into two groups. The first band travelled through Shaftsbury and Sherbourne, proclaiming in each town for the Scotch King. The other party under Penrudduck, headed to Blandford but found the town-crier here as unwilling to support the cause as Dove. This forced Penrudduck to call out Charles II’s proclamation which was; ‘the true Protestant Religion, the liberty of the subject, and privilege of Parliament’. The same cry our friends used thirty-years later against the Scotch King’s brother, James II. From Blandford the cavaliers rode to Dorchester where they broke open the gaol, before rendezvousing with the first group at Yeovil for the night.

Across Somerset and Devon, as word spread of the uprising, the towns-folk took it upon themselves to muster the militia. Now on the morning of March 13 the west was in arms against Penrudduck. Our old comrade Colonel Bovett, stood together with over 3,000 guarding Taunton, whilst in Devonshire a similar number gathered at Exeter under Colonel Copplestone. From the east Major Butler arrived in Salisbury with four troops of horse, and Desborourgh had been made Major General of the West by Cromwell.

In Yeovil, it was found that a good number of the cavaliers had returned home overnight. Seeing the county against them, the leaders now agreed to release Dove, and the party of some 200 men, rode west into Devonshire. However, at Honiton they learnt that the road to Exeter was blocked by a large body of militia under Copplestone. Disheartened, the leaders elected to head north towards Minehead, and from here they would find a boat to Wales or the Continent. It was early evening when they reach South Molton and took up quarters.

Meanwhile, Captain Upton Croke, with a troop of 60 veteran horse left Exeter and headed to Honiton. Here Croke discovered that the rebels had ridden North and follows their trail through Cullompton, Tiverton and towards South Molton. In the early evening, Croke launches a surprise attack on Penrudduck’s quarters. During the brief firefight that breaks out, Wagstaff with about half the force escape into the night. Outnumbered and surrounded, Penrudduck surrenders with about fifty of the remaining cavaliers.

With this last fight, the uprising is over, and hundreds of men find themselves at the mercy of the Lord Protector. Most are taken to Exeter, or on to Salisbury. That my lord is the story of the 1655 uprising. In my next, I shall give you a list of those that took part and their fate.

Yours in the cause of liberty and property,

William Savage