Battle of Keynsham
25 June 1685
Why was there a Battle at Keynsham?
On 21 June, in Whitehall, the King’s eyes were focused on Bristol. Both Bath and Bristol were manned by Militia, and he had ordered Feversham to make haste and leave his Infantry on the road to follow. However, there was a bridge at Keynsham over the Avon. This sat midway between the two cities and he now sent couriers racing west with orders to destroy that crossing. The following morning, the Tower Artillery Train with five companies of the First Regiment of Foot trundled westwards. On the road ahead of them, the Guards marched out of Maidenhead, while there was no news of Churchill.
On June 21, Monmouth marched from Taunton to Bridgwater and again his men were welcomed as liberators. Then at the High Cross, Monmouth’s Declaration was read to the crowd before the mayor once more proclaimed Monmouth as King. That night the Army enjoyed the party spirit that followed the Whigs. Early the next morning, the Army took to the road once more heading to Glastonbury. On the way the English weather turned to heavy rain, soaking the soldiers, and turning the roads into mud. After taking shelter in the town and abbey ruins, on June 23 they marched through the rain to Shepton Mallet.
The Army Council that evening had to decide the next move. They had two choices, the first was march on Bristol, which reports indicated was open and undefended. The second was to press on to London, but there was information that Feversham with 2,000 Guards were on the road between London and the city. With Churchill’s small force seen arriving at Somerton, Monmouth could not risk being attacked from both flanks.
After receiving assurances that Bristol would rise for him, and that it was poorly garrisoned, he gave the order for the Army to march north. With the rain still pouring down, they reached Pensford that night with a perfect view of the city of Bristol. The Whig plan was to cross the Bridge at Keynsham and assault Bristol, the following day, from the Gloucestershire side which was open and unfortified. Behind them, Churchill with 500 Infantry, 300 Cavalry and 8 small guns entered Wells.
What happened at the Battle of Keynsham?
During the night Monmouth received intelligence that Militia were attempting to destroy Keynsham Bridge. The Duke ordered a detachment out to seize and repair the crossing. At dusk, the Whigs attacked the Militia, and quickly secured both sides of the bridge. However, one span was severely damaged and rapid repairs were made just in time for the first Regiments to cross at noon.
Over the course of the afternoon, in the heavy rain, Monmouth’s Army of nearly 10,000 carefully crossed the Avon. By late afternoon, with the wagons still struggling to cross, it became clear that the attack on Bristol would need to be postponed. Monmouth sent Wade’s men back over the bridge into the town to rest, as they would lead the assault early in the morning. At the bridge, the wagon was still attempting to cross but was in disorder.
Feversham had moved rapidly to Bristol arriving on the evening of 23 June and after checking the city was secure, he returned to the comfort of Bath. During the day he’d sent out Colonel Oglethorpe to locate the enemy and Churchill, to return with the news that Monmouth was at Pensford. Fearing the worst, Feversham raced back to Bristol with his cavalry and ordered Oglethorpe back out to find Churchill and watch the enemy. Once back in Bristol, Feversham set about fortifying the Somerset side of the city and waited for Monmouth to attack.
Meanwhile, Oglethorpe had located the vanguard of Churchills Brigade and took these with him to find the Whigs. As he reached Keynsham, the Colonel could see Wagons and disorganised soldiers on the rise above the bridge and ordered his Horse Grenadiers under Captain Parker to attack. As they charged in amongst the Whigs, they cut down one of the officers and pushed back the rest. However, alarm had now been raised and a squadron of Whig cavalry under Captain Brand moved to cut off the Horse Grenadiers.
From his vantage point, Oglethorpe could see the threat to Parker, who was being pressured by the Brand’s horse and the Whig Infantry. The Colonel ordered Captain Wyndham to rescue the Horse Grenadiers, but the Captain took a wrong turn. Instead of charging towards the bridge, his men went into the town where Wade’s men waited for them. With musket fire coming from the windows and a stand of pike blocking the road, Wyndham sent half his troopers to find an alternative entrance into the town.
Back at the bridge, Parker’s position became dangerous, leaving no alternative for Oglethorpe but charging to the rescue with his own troop of Lifeguards. Leaving a troop of Militia cavalry to cover his rear, the Colonel reached Parker just in time. Oglethorpe’s men opened the path for the Horse Grenadiers and together they withdrew back to the rear-guard. Meanwhile, Wyndham’s attack on the town had also failed, and his men came streaming back in disorder.
On the other side of the Avon Monmouth heard the gun fire. The Duke ordered his horse and Grey to follow him as he galloped off to find out the situation. As he crossed the bridge, he spurred his mount on and up the slope to where the wagons and wounded lay on the ground. In the distance he could see the Government force withdrawing back towards Bristol. After questioning the prisoners, Monmouth learnt that Feversham was in Bristol with an Army of 5,000. With the information, Monmouth abandoned his plans to attack the city. Instead, with both Feversham and Churchill behind them, the Whigs had an opportunity to advance on London. By the next morning, Monmouth’s vanguard had reached the hills above Bath.
This account is based on a more detail description of the Earl of Argyll’s & the Duke of Monmouth’s campaign of 1685 available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.