Storming of Bristol
|Storming of Bristol|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Nathaniel Fiennes||Prince Rupert of the Rhine|
|Casualties and losses|
The Storming of Bristol took place on 26 July 1643, during the First English Civil War. The Cavalier (Royalist) army under Prince Rupert of the Rhine, King Charles's nephew and lieutenant general, captured the important city and port of Bristol from its weakened Roundhead (Parliamentarian) garrison. The city remained under Royalist control until the second siege of Bristol in September of 1645.
During the mid-17th century, Bristol had been one of the most important cities in England, second only to London in wealth. The Royalists had failed to secure it when the civil war began, leaving it under Parliamentarian control although there were many Royalist sympathisers within the city. In July 1643, the city's garrison was weakened when several of its units were detached to reinforce a Parliamentarian field army under Sir William Waller. On 13 July, Waller's army was destroyed at the Battle of Roundway Down.
The Royalists quickly realised that this presented them with a great opportunity to capture important Parliamentarian-held towns in the south-west of England. Only two days after the battle, Prince Rupert marched from Oxford, the Royalists' wartime capital, with a large army. He also sent orders to the Royalist western army which had been victorious at Roundway Down, now under the command of his younger brother Prince Maurice, to march against Bristol from the south while he himself advanced on the city from the north.
The Parliamentarian defenders of Bristol were commanded by Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes. His garrison consisted of 300 cavalry and 1,500 infantry, plus some poorly-armed town militia. The fortifications consisted of an inner line immediately surrounding the city and resting on the River Avon and River Frome, and an outer line about 500 yards outside the inner line. To the south and east the outer line was a continuous curtain wall and ditch on low-lying ground; to the north and west, it consisted of a chain of forts and batteries resting on the high ground overlooking the city, linked by a low earth wall. A total of 100 guns were distributed along the defences.
Rupert personally led a reconnaissance of the defences to the north of the city on 23 July. There were some clashes between Royalist parties left on Clifton Hill and Parliamentarian sorties. The Parliamentarians were beaten off.
The Royalists invested Bristol on the morning of 24 July. Rupert formally summoned the city to surrender, but the summons was refused. He then crossed the Avon to confer with Maurice and his officers. There was some dissension. Maurice, with his Cornish infantry faced the stronger defences south of Bristol and preferred to undertake a formal siege and bombardment. Rupert however, believed that the defences to the north were vulnerable to a storming attempt, given the weak state of the garrison. Eventually, Rupert prevailed, and the attack was planned to begin early on 26 July. The signal for the attack was to be a salvo from a Royalist battery facing the Prior's Hill Fort at the northern point of the defences.
In the event, the attack was disjointed. The eager Cornish infantry attacked prematurely at 3:00 a.m., forcing Rupert to fire the signal to attack earlier than he intended.
The Cornish infantry attacked in three columns. They rolled carts and wagons into the ditch in front of the wall to fill it and allow them to cross. The ditch was too deep for this to succeed, but the Cornish used faggots and scaling ladders to continue the attack. They nevertheless suffered heavy casualties, with all three attacking column commanders being killed, and were eventually driven back.
Rupert's attackers consisted of three brigades of infantry, with some dragoons. Lord Grandison's brigade attacked the Prior's Hill Fort and a nearby redoubt at Stokes Croft, but was repulsed. Grandison himself was killed. Sir John Belasyse's brigade also was unsuccessful at Colston's Mount. Rupert had a horse killed under him while rallying some of Belasyse's infantry.
The brigade under Colonel Henry Wentworth was more successful. Led by dragoons under Colonel Henry Washington, they penetrated up a re-entrant between the Brandon Hill and Windmill Hill forts and found that once against the defences between these two forts they were in "dead ground", safe from fire from the forts. They threw grenades over the wall to drive back the defenders, while they pulled down the wall using halberds and partisans. Once they were inside the defences, Fiennes's cavalry tried to counter-attack, but flinched when they faced Royalists wielding "fire-pikes"; pikes to which large fireworks were attached, an early form of flamethrower.
Wentworth's brigade pushed forward towards the inner defences, followed by Belasyse's brigade and Colonel Arthur Aston's regiment of cavalry. They captured another strongpoint, the "Essex Work", when the defenders panicked. There was severe fighting for two hours around the Frome Gate, part of the inner defences, as some of the townswomen tried to improvise a barricade of woolsacks behind the gate.
Surrender and aftermath
Rupert had sent for the Cornish infantry to reinforce the attack, but at about 6:00 p.m., Fiennes asked for terms. Rupert granted easy conditions; the defenders were allowed to march out with their personal property, while their officers (and the cavalry troopers) were allowed to keep their arms. Undisciplined Royalists nevertheless plundered the defenders when they marched out on 27 July.
The Royalists secured immense amounts of booty, in particular munitions of war. Eight armed merchant ships were captured, which later formed the nucleus of a Royalist fleet. The workshops of Bristol eventually re-equipped the entire Royalist army with muskets.
Fiennes was tried by Parliament and sentenced to death, but reprieved.
- "1643: Lansdown, Roundway Down and Bristol". British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638–60 website. David Plant. 2001–2008. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Young & Holmes, p.138
- Young & Holmes, p.139
- Rogers, pp.92-93
- Young & Holmes, p.140
- Rogers, p.93
- Young & Holmes, p.141
- Rogers, p.94
- "Nathaniel Fiennes, Parliamentarian, 1610–69". British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638–60 website. David Plant. 2001–2008. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Battles and Generals of the Civil Wars 1642-1651, Colonel H.C.B. Rogers, Seeley Service & Co. Ltd, 1968
- The English Civil War Peter Young & Richard Holmes, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2000 ISBN 1-84022-222-0