Nicholas Slanning

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Arms of Slanning: Argent, two pales engrailed gules over all on a bend azure three griffin's heads or

Sir Nicholas Slanning (1 September 1606 – July/August 1643)[1] was an English soldier and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1640 to 1642. He was a Royalist army officer active in the West of England, during the English Civil War.


Slanning was the son of Gamaliel Slanning of Hele, Devon, by his wife and cousin Margaret Marler, daughter of Edward Marler of Crayford, Kent. The Slanning family is first documented in 1538 and spanned nine generations until the extinction of the male line in 1700. THe Slannings were granted or acquired land in Bickleigh, Walkhampton, Maybury, and Roborough, all near Plymouth.


In 1612 he inherited the Devonshire manors of Maristow, Walkhampton, and Bickleigh[2] all near Plymouth. He attended Exeter College, Oxford and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1628. However, he left the next year for the Low Countries "to learn the arts of war".

Military activities[edit]

Slanning returned to England and was knighted on 24 August 1632 at Nonsuch Palace.[3] He was appointed to the Commission for Piracy in Devon and Cornwall and as Vice-Admiral of the Southern Shores of both counties. He was subsequently appointed in 1635 Governor of Pendennis Castle, which castle guards the entrance to Falmouth harbour, in succession to William Killigrew (1606–1695). During this time he was resident at Trerose in the nearby parish of Mawnan.

In February 1639 Slanning embarked with 13 guns and 100 officers bound for Cumberland to take part in the abortive First Bishops' War. It is possible that the men and guns were intended for the defence of Carlisle, but Slanning headed for York to command a company in a regiment of foot "appointed to guard the king's person", with the rank of Sergeant Major. He returned home following the Treaty of Berwick in June 1639 and by March 1640 had been appointed Recorder of Plympton St Maurice, Devon.

Parliamentary activities[edit]

In April 1640 Slanning was elected Member of Parliament for Plympton Erle, Devon, for the Short Parliament in what appears to be an unresolved double return.[4] Slanning was Lieutenant-Colonel of a trained band of 157 men, two-thirds musketeers and the remainder pikemen. He and Sir Francis Bassett of Tehidy were given the responsibility for levies from the West of Cornwall for the Second Bishops' War. After the Treaty of Ripon he hurried back to stand for Parliament.

In October 1640 Slanning was elected for both Plympton Erle and Penryn to the Long Parliament (in a way which was to give rise to charges of bribery), and chose to sit for Penryn.[4] His was among the 59 names of the members posted for voting against the Bill of Attainder of Strafford. Seven other Cornish MPs also voted against the Bill, including Godolphin, Trevanion, and Richard Arundell of Trerice, who later married Slanning's widow Gertrude Bagg.

In June 1641 he returned to Cornwall to resume his governorship of Pendennis Castle, but was back in London that winter, and in January 1642 was called to attend the House of Commons for sending letters to Francis Bassett in Cornwall for the arrest of the "Five Members", should they try to embark from a Cornish port, a charge that Slanning denied. He was still in the House in February and supplied it with information concerning "four Scottish merchants lately arrived in Cornwall", but probably left for Pendennis in April when many MPs withdrew. He was certainly in Cornwall when, on 9 August, he was barred from the Commons and ordered to attend the House as a "delinquent".

Civil War[edit]

On 25 August 1642, the Royalist commander Hopton entered Cornwall after separating from the Marquis of Hertford following their failed attempts to secure Wiltshire, Dorset, and Somerset. Hopton first visited Sir Bevil Grenvile at Stowe, Kilkhampton, then after brushing aside Bullers's Militia, headed for Pendennis on 24 September to confer with Slanning. Hopton appeared voluntarily before the assizes at Truro and after successful defence of his actions, began recruiting. In November 1642, Slanning formed one of the five Cornish regiments foot which was known as "the Tinners".[5] The other regiments were formed under Colonel William Godolphin, Sir Bevil Grenville, Colonel John Trevanion and Warwick Mohun, 2nd Baron Mohun of Okehampton. Slanning and the first three of these were known as the "Wheels on Charles's Wain". A seventeenth century ode included the distich:

"Gone the four wheels of Charles's wain,
Grenville, Godolphin, Slanning, Trevannion slain"

Slanning was released from his governorship of Pendennis Castle in 1643 and was succeeded by Sir John Arundell.

Hopton first used his forces to make an unsuccessful attempt on Exeter then fell back on Plympton, took it, and invested Plymouth on 1 December. Later that month they took Alphington, Powderham, and Topsham but failed to capture Exeter in a night attack. Their first field battle was Braddock (actually Pinnock) Down in January 1643 when Ruthin's forces were forced to flee back through Liskeard and on to Saltash, while the Earl of Stamford withdrew from Launceston. Slanning's regiment, along with those of Grenville and Trevanion and half of the horse and dragoons, pursued Stamford while the rest followed up Ruthin.

Hopton, after some futile negotiations, invested Plymouth again and this led to Slanning's sole command in battle, but not until after the first "wheel" was lost when the court poet Sydney Godolphin died of a wound received in a skirmish at Chagford, Devon. In February 1643 Slanning, in command of a detachment consisting of his own and Trevanion's regiments, was attacked at Modbury, Devon, by Chudleigh. He was able to execute a fighting withdrawal against superior forces, but at the cost of 250 killed or wounded, 1,000 muskets and five guns.

The Cornish forces now left Devon and things remained quiet until the encounter battle of Polston Bridge, Launceston, in April, when the arrival of Slanning's and Trevanion's regiments proved decisive. Two days later there was another encounter battle, the "Western Wonder" of the Cavalier ballad, at Sourton Down, where in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, Chudleigh was able to hold the field and Hopton again retreated to Launceston.

Slanning and his men had a brief sojourn at Saltash before rejoining the rest in a rendezvous with Grenvile's foot. They brushed aside a small force at Week St. Mary on 13 May and at 5.00 a.m. on the 16 May attacked the forces on Stratton (now Stamford) Hill, Stratton. This produced their most spectacular victory when, after ten hours of fighting uphill against twice their number of much better equipped enemy with a dug-in battery, the Royalists gained the position, killing 300 and capturing 1,700 with fourteen guns, £300 and plentiful provisions, at a cost of 80 men. Slanning and Trevanion commanded the westernmost of the four columns.

The Cornish Royalist army then received orders to rendezvous with Prince Maurice's men, whom they met at Chard in Somerset in June. This combined force now took Taunton, Bridgwater, Dunster Castle and Wells. Their first contact with the Parliamentarian commander William Waller was a cavalry skirmish at Chewton Mendip. Waller was driven out of Monkton Farleigh on 3 July 1643 and on 5 July, two days later, the Royalists won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Lansdowne. Slanning was described as "advancing from hedge to hedge at the head of his men, in the mouths of muskets and cannons, insomuch they thought him immortal, as indeed he was that day"[2] whereas Sir Bevill Grenvile, the next "wheel", fell at the battle. The foot were now besieged in Devizes but witnessed the destruction of Waller's forces at Roundway Down.

Storming of Bristol and death[edit]

The Western Royalists took Bath, and after joining Prince Rupert on 26 July 1643 they stormed Bristol. Slanning commanded one of the three tertia of the Western Army which attacked the South Eastern defences at 3.00 a.m. Bristol fell after some thirteen hours fighting, Slanning and Trevanion were both mortally wounded. Slanning's leg was broken by a musket ball, and he died a few days later,[6] quipping "that he had always despised bullets, having been so used to them, and almost thought they could not hurt him", and professing "great joy and satisfaction in the losing of his life in the King's service to whom he had always dedicated it".

No record remains of where Sir Nicholas Slanning was buried. The Sir Nicholas Slanning buried at St Mary the Virgin at Bickleigh, Devon was this Sir Nicholas's grandfather, but Slanning's body may have been returned there for burial since some of his arms reached Bickleigh and his funerary helmet and gauntlet may still be seen, by arrangement, at the church.

Marriage & progeny[edit]

In 1625 Slanning married Gertrude Bagge, a daughter of Sir James Bagge of Saltram,[7] in the parish of Plympton, Devon. She survived him and re-married to Richard Arundell, 1st Baron Arundell of Trerice. By his wife Slanning had two sons and two daughters, including:

  • Sir Nicholas Slanning, 1st Baronet (1643–1691), granted a baronetcy by the restored King Charles II.[2]
  • Elizabeth (died 1724), who married Sir James Modyford, 1st Baronet, Deputy Governor of Jamaica and had issue: her descendants were to inherit the Slanning estates.
  • Margaret, who married Sir John Molesworth, but had no children.

The younger Sir Nicholas left one son and heir Sir Andrew Slanning, 2nd Baronet. Andrew was murdered by John Cowland after a drunken brawl in a Convent Garden tavern in 1700. He was the last of the Slannings: his estates passed to the heirs of his aunt Lady Modyford.

Modern commemoration[edit]

The name of Sir Nicholas Slanning and his men lives on in the guise of "Sir Nicholas Slanning his regiment of foote", a part of The Sealed Knot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Date of birth and death given by ODNB article by Mary Wolffe, ‘Slanning, Sir Nicholas (1606–1643)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [1], (accessed 5 Dec 2007) :"26 July 1643; he was mortally wounded and died a few days later".
  2. ^ a b c Burke's "A genealogical and heraldic history of the extinct and dormant baronetcies" (1838), pages 489-490 "Slanning of Maristow", on Google Books.
  3. ^ Knights of England
  4. ^ a b Willis, Browne (1750). Notitia Parliamentaria, Part II: A Series or Lists of the Representatives in the several Parliaments held from the Reformation 1541, to the Restoration 1660 ... London. pp. 229–239. 
  5. ^ Stoyle, Mark (2002) West Britons: Cornish identities and the early modern British state, University of Exeter Press ISBN 0-85989-688-9; pp. 205-207 (lists the officers of the regiment 1642-1646)
  6. ^ Date of death stated as "a few days after" the day of the battle by ODNB.
  7. ^ "Little Saltram", per Prince, John, (1643–1723) The Worthies of Devon, 1810 edition, London, p.716, note 2

External links[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Plympton Erle
With: Richard Strode
Sir Thomas Hele, 1st Baronet
Michael Oldisworth
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Hele, 1st Baronet
Hugh Potter
Preceded by
Sir Richard Vyvyan, 1st Baronet
Joseph Hall
Member of Parliament for Penryn
With: John Bampfylde
Succeeded by
John Bampfylde