Battle of Great Torrington
By 1646 the game was more or less up for the Royalist cause, though in the West Country there remained the tiniest hope of a revival.
A small army under Sir Ralph Hopton occupied and fortified the small Devon town of Great Torrington. Hopton should have been supported by Sir Richard Grenville as his subordinate in charge of the foot soldiers, but Grenville took umbrage against Hopton, and refused to serve under him, another sign if one were needed of the Royalist collapse.
Great Torrington was turned into a stronghold, with earthworks thrown up around its perimeter and barricades built at points of entry, the only hope for the Royalist force of perhaps 5,000 men awaiting Fairfax and 10,000 men of his New Model Army. Hopton's force was not in fact ideally suited to urban warfare, given that 3,000 of his troops were mounted.
Originally when Fairfax arrived in the early evening of February 16 he intended waiting for the next day to begin the battle, but he used Cromwell 's dragoons to test the Royalist defences and the affair spiralled out of control from there until a full night battle was underway, the two forces fighting street by street.
This already unusual clash ended suddenly when a chance spark exploded the Royalist gunpowder store in the town's church. The majority of casualties from this event were, however, Parliamentarian, some 200 prisoners held at the church blown to pieces along with a few of their captors. The force of the 80 barrels of gunpowder exploding nearly caught Fairfax himself located nearby.
With the bulk of their powder gone, and in the confusion after the massive detonation, Hopton's remaining troops escaped with little chance of immediate pursuit, but this was delaying the inevitable: Hopton was forced to surrender to Fairfax at Truro the following month.
The town remembers the battle on its anniversary with a torchlit procession and musket volley among other events, the final act being to "retire in good order to the ale house".
More famous dates here
7377 views since 16th February 2009
On this day: