Battle of Roundway Down
The preceding battle of Lansdown on July 5 1643 had weakened both the Royalist forces and the Roundheads in the West of England. Though the Royalist commander Hopton had won the day, his forces were short of supplies and munitions, had lost the charismatic Sir Bevil Grenvile, and Hopton himself had been temporarily blinded and paralysed when an ammunition wagon, possibly their last, had exploded the day after the battle. They thus sought refuge and respite in Devizes in Wiltshire.
The Roundheads under Waller pursued Hopton’s flagging force to Devizes, besieging them in the town. His troops though were not able to ring it effectively enough to prevent Prince Maurice, the younger brother of the more celebrated Rupert , breaking out with the remaining 300 cavalry to head for Oxford where they could find reinforcement and a relief force.
Lord Wilmot gathered 1,500 fresh Royalist cavalry from Oxford, and Maurice’s 300, and rode for Devizes, relieving the siege by their presence, Waller forced to abandon the siege and take the high ground of Roundway Down a mile outside the town, trusting he could defeat the oncoming divisions before the weary men in Devizes could be rallied and brought out to attack his rear.
With far superior numbers - an estimated 2,500 cavalry against the Royalist relief force of 1,800 horse, and with a little under 2,000 infantry where the Royalists had none until those bottled up in Devizes could be brought to bear, and even more advantageously benefitting from 8 field guns whereas Wilmot had just two light ‘galloping guns’, Waller seemed to have all the cards in his hand, yet he lost ignominiously.
Waller failed to take advantage of the make-up of his force. He met cavalry charge with cavalry – and it is said static cavalry at that. He allowed the Royalist horse, deployed in shallower and longer lines than his, to work around and turn his flanks. By his tactics the infantry were mere observers, and the cannon that could have been decisive were largely useless as the opposing cavalry mixed on the field, making it impossible for the artillerymen to get clean shots.
With the Roundhead cavalry defeated and driven from the field, including their heavily armoured and supposedly crack ‘lobsters’, the Roundhead infantry was left to fight off the Royalist horse until the infantry from Devizes reached the field. There was great slaughter before the Roundhead foot surrendered. All the Parliamentary guns and baggage were captured.
Roundway Down was perhaps the worst defeat for Parliament in the Civil War . The West of England fell for a time to the King; Waller was discredited as a general; the morale of the democrats was badly bruised, the jibe of ‘Runaway Down’ thrown at them by the victorious Royalists.
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