Battle of Stratton
The battle of Stratton in North Cornwall demonstrates that in war, while numbers and position are important factors, they do not necessarily determine the outcome of any conflict.
Elements of the Parliamentary army in Devon under James Chudleigh had scored a minor triumph over Sir Ralph Hopton’s Royalists at the end of April. Thinking to press home this advantage Lord Stamford, with a formidable force of well provisioned and armed men, perhaps 5,600 in all and with artillery firepower amounting to 13 field pieces and a mortar, moved against Hopton. Stamford had two main aims: to prevent Hopton joining up with other Royalists in the West Country, and securing the strategically and economically important Cornish tin mines for Parliament.
On May 15 Stamford moved his forces to Stratton. He chose, perfectly logically, to occupy a hill to the north of the town, giving his troops the high ground, and various enclosures and old earthworks as cover to boot. The terrain was not all in his favour, however, as the sunken lanes and high hedges meant that during the eventual assault by Hopton the attackers at many points enjoyed excellent cover themselves. It may also be that the weakness of Hopton’s forces was not seen by Stamford because of this cover. Even the great numerical advantage enjoyed by the roundheads had a negative side: their artillery may have been blocked by the weight of numbers of their own infantry in the confined space of the battle on the hill.
Hopton moved from Launceston to occupy the town of Stratton on the same day as Stamford occupied the hill, and Stamford may be blamed for allowing his opponents the shelter and comfort of the town. On the evening of May 15 then the two armies were within hearing distance of one another.
Hopton’s decision to attack Stamford was born out of desperation. Stamford had more men already, but he had others on the way – his horse had been detached to Bodmin but could be recalled at any time. And Hopton’s army was short of food and munitions.
Battle commenced at dawn, and lasted well into the afternoon. Hopton took a further gamble by splitting his men into four columns to attack from several directions. The assaults went on for ten hours or more with little serious danger to the Parliamentary position, and it seems that in the end the downfall for the Roundhead came about because of a counter attack by pikemen led by Chudleigh. Driven back by musket fire from each flank Chudleigh’s detachment retreated in disarray, and soon afterwards all the Royalist columns reached the top of the hill.
The Roundheads lost around 300 men, with another 1,700 or so taken prisoner. Worse still, the Royalists captured all their field pieces and a large quantity of supplies. Stamford had in effect rescued the cause of his Royalist enemies. And Cornwall with its tin resources was for the time being at least secured for King Charles .
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