THE 1643 CAMPAIGN
Over the winter of 1642-43 many men seem to have been lost to sickness or desertion, and by February 1st, 1643, the Lifeguard was down to about 400 men and 100 officers strong. The regiment was poorly armed, as were many in the Royalist Army at that time, even though it was assumed that they should have received preferential treatment, being the King’s Lifeguard. On that day Sir Jacob Astley, Sergeant-Major-General of the King’s Oxford Army Foot, wrote to Sir John Heydon, Lieutenant-General of the Ordinance, that of the King’s Life Guard only 190 were armed and 210 unarmed, and those being “weakly unarmed,” having little better than cudgels. It was requested that any arms brought into the arsenal were to be used to supply the Life Guard first, before any other regiment, since it was the King’s own regiment. Sir Jacob Astley’s letter was as such:
“Sir John Heydon may be pleased to take notice that the regiment of the King’s guards being very weekly Armed; as the last time his Majesty saw this garrison in Armes, where they appeared 190 armed and 210 unarmed wherefore I pray as many Armes shall be brought into the Magazine let some especial care be taken first to furnish the King’s guards before any other regiments with the number of 110 Armes or some sufficient supply.” 1
A contingent from the garrison of Oxford was with Prince Rupert at the storming of Cirenchester (2nd February 1643). This included a detachment of a strong company of about 100 of the King’s Lifeguard. William Leighton, now promoted to Lt-Colonel, and Captain Thomas Min and Lieutenant William St. John, were among those mentioned as being present the officers present, so it is logical that their two companies were there. Evidence suggests that the Lifeguard detachment may have been employed as the Forlorn Hope, as Lieutenant-Colonel Leighton’s horse was shot through the neck during the storming, and Lieutenant William St. John was shot leading the initial attack, but the contingent did not suffer significant casualties. Here’s part of the eyewitness report:
“First were thirty Musquetiers drawn out of Colonell Kirks men, for a Forlorne hope: led by Lieutenant St Iohns, who performed his part bravely.
At that hedge and the low wall beyond it, was the skirmish began: St Iohns giving faire fier, to beat the enemies out of it. There was he shot in the Legge with a Slug bullet, and not able to advance farther, bad his men goe on couragiously.
To second these thirty, Colonell Kirke by and by sent Captain Min and sixty Musquetiers more; with a Lieutenant and Sergeant. After this, the whole Regiment came down the hill, to attack their design’d Post: which was Giffords Barton house and Garden wall.
Now the rest of Kirkes Regiment, under Lieutenant Colonell Layton, Serjeant Major Windehank, Captain Wivell, Captain Gerard, Captain Radcliffe, and others, coming forwards, after some hot volleyes beat the enemy from the hedge, to the garden wall aforesaid.
And after it. Lieutenant Colonell Laytons horse, was shot thorow the neck, and Major Windebanks horse killd under him within the Towne.”
Recruiting was good for the Royalists in early February – no doubt officers had been sent home in December to raise new men. On February 18th, 1643, Sir Jacob Astley wrote that the Lifeguard had received recruits and now had 512 men, although 322 were unarmed. With officers, sergeants, corporals and drummers in ten companies, this would make a total strength of just over 600. Despite Sir Jacob’s urging, the officers of the ordinance were not able to fully arm the regiment until April, an illustration of the shortage of arms in Oxford at this phase in the war. The arms issued to the Lifeguard during this period were:
Date Muskets Pikes Total
7 Feb. 40 40 80
18 Feb. 70 30 100
14 Apr. 0 9 9
23 Apr. 0 133 133
Total = 110 212 322
Since the regiment at this time had 512 private soldiers, one would expect it to have had about 170 pikemen and 340 musketeers. However, it is evident from the issued equipment over the two month period from February to April, that the proportion of pikes to muskets in the Lifeguard (as in other Royalist regiments at this time) was far higher than it should have been by mid-17th-century standards. The ideal ratio was 1 pikeman to 2 musketeers, but a ratio of 3:2 or possibly 2:1, being more reasonable for the Lifeguard at this time. No doubt the explanation is that it was comparatively easy to make pikes locally, while muskets were “in short supply”. The pikes received were “long pike staves” (15½ feet long). Pike staves were made by Thomas Hiss “of Cheeveley parish in North Heath near Newbury”, and “long pike heads” (four-square and long types) were “made in the iron-working regions of Shropshire,” according to the Royalist Ordinance Papers.
A detachment of the regiment was evidently with Prince Maurice in his brief campaign against Sir William Waller in the Severn Valley, seeing action at the Forest of Dean (Little Dean). Major Leighton is mentioned by Captain Richard Atkyns in his account of Little Dean (11 April 1643), where he reported that some Royalist cavalry were “worsted”, but when the Parliamentarians pursued them into the town of Little Dean, “Major Leighton had made good a stone house, and so prepared for them with (Lifeguard) musketeers; that one volley of shot made them retreat…”
Major Leighton and his detachment of the Lifeguard must also have been present when Prince Maurice worsted Sir William Waller at the action at Ripple Field (13 April 1643), though details are lacking. It can therefore be assumed that the detachment during this campaign with Prince Maurice was a good company strong, and probably being made up of musketeers drawn from more than one company.
On 12th April Lieutenant Colonel Vavasour who had been in captivity with Lindsay returned to Oxford and the regiment after some adventures. Meucurius Aulicus reports:
“This day Colonel Vavasour, who was takes prisoner at Edgehill, and had continued long a prisoner at Warwick first, and afterward at Windsor, came safely to the Court at Oxford, having escaped two or three daies before to Reading, where hee was kindly entertained and welcomed”
The regiment was then sent with others on April 23rd, 1643 to attempt the unsuccessful relief of Reading. Quartering that night at Dorchester [Oxfordshire], and “not being so careful of their watch as they ought to be, they were surprised and lost some 40 prisoners including the Captain-Lieutenant and another lieutenant.” It is not certain that all casualties were suffered by the Lifeguard, for other units from Oxford may have been represented in the total of men lost.
It is certain that the attempt to relieve Reading, that ended in the abortive action at Caversham Bridge (25 April 1643), denuded Oxford of its regular garrison. On April 24-25th, 1643, “the country men of the trained of the county, being summoned, came in and appeared here at Oxford, to receive orders about a garrison to be made of them, for the defense of the University & City of Oxford during His Majesty’s absence”, made by the Lords and commissioners of the Council of War which had been left there by the King (this formed the City of Oxford Trained Bands Regiment). After the Reading garrison yielded to Parliament (27 April 1643), all the foot and horse returned to Oxford.
Vavasour, following his escape from captivity was able to take command of the regiment in time for the action at Caversham Bridge. He did not remain in command long. He was lodging in Oxford in June when commissioned Commander in Chief “of all forces in any of the Counties of Hereford, Monmouth, Glamorgan, Brecon and Radnor.” He was to command a brigade from those parts of Gloucestershire at the siege of Gloucester and the battle of First Newbury, and on the July 17th, 1643, he received a further commission to raise a regiment of 500 horse for the King. The commissions of former Major William Leighton to Lt.-Colonel, and of former Captain Robert Markham to Major, occurred at this time. One of the lieutenants of the regiment, Charles Fox, formerly an ensign, also became a captain.
The Lifeguard remained quietly in garrison at Oxford for the next four months. On July 15th, the regiment received issue of clothing and other items, as “all the common soldiers then at Oxford were new appareled, some all in red (coats, breeches and monteros) and some all in blue.” We know from the Royalist Ordinance Papers that these 4-5000 suits were started on January 23rd, 1643, when a “great many of tailors” cut them out, and then passing them on to all other tailors within a ten mile radius of Oxford, to sew them up. They may have been issued suits earlier than July as the letter to Thomas Bushall, the great Royalist financier mentioned in 1642 implies that the Lifeguard were clothed as soon as they were in the field. It’s not clear however, and Anthony Wood does say ”new apparelled” in his July diary entry
It was with Lieutenant-Colonel Leighton as its commander that the Lifeguard, not less than 600 strong, newly clad and fully armed, marched off to take part in the siege of Gloucester in August, 1643. However, a detachment under Quartermaster Benjamin Stone seems to have remained behind in garrison until September 3rd, when it was sent to join the main army as escort to a munitions convoy, leaving only the sick and wounded in Oxford. While details of the Lifeguard’s activity at Gloucester are lacking, the unit is presumed to have taken its turn in the siege works and trenches as the other Royalist garrisons.
On July 28th Montague Bertie (still being held in London) was considered for an exchange with parliament prisoners and gained his freedom:
He was now Colonel of the Lifeguard, the second Earl of Lindsey and Lord Great Chamberlain of England. He probably rejoined the regiment before the walls of Gloucester, having arrived in Oxford from London on August 12th, 1643.
Mercurius Aulicus reports the same:
“This day there came to Towne from London The Earle of Lindsey, Lord Great Chamberlaine of England; the first took prisoner at Edgehill”
He had been treated with respect by his captors, and the House of Lords even ordered that the goods belonging to Lindsey’s sister and remaining in the Earl of Rutland’s house, should be exempted from any search “being the House of a Peer;” such was their tenderness for one of their own House, a known “person of honour”, regardless of which party he supported.
At the battle of First Newbury (20 September 1643), the Lifeguard fought in the first tertio under Sir Nicholas Byron. Byron’s tertia was drawn out to support his nephew, Sir John Byron’s, brigade of horse, in the bitter fighting against the Earl of Essex’s foot regiments for the enclosed ground of “Round Hill.” Byron’s tertia made a determined advance against Round Hill, the key to the Parliamentarian center. The Lifeguard suffered 29 seriously wounded casualties in the fierce fighting for the enclosures around Round Hill, including two officers.
The two officers could have been Lieutenants Cranfield and Godwin, whose names disappear from the records between June 1643, and January 1644, but they could have easily fallen at the siege of Gloucester. It is more likely that Lieutenant Abrie (Aubrey), whose widow and two children were living in Oxford in January 1644, was a victim of this campaign.
There is nothing to suggest that the Lifeguard did anything to particularly distinguish itself on this occasion, of which Sir John Byron claimed, “our Foot played the poltroons extremely that day.” The Lifeguard then returned to Oxford, although on the whole its losses seem to have been lighter than at the battle of Edgehill, and not as heavy as in a number of other units that fought at First Newbury. There is some suggestion that by this stage in its history, the Lifeguard’s company commanders may have tended to be professional soldiers, while their juniors were more likely to have been drawn from among the gentry.
- (Ian Roy edition, Royalist Ordnance Papers, 1642-46, Pt. I, 1964, p.195). House of Lords Journal Vol 6: 28th July 1643
- Mercurius Aulicus Aug 6th-12th 1643
- A particular relation of the action before Cyrencester (or Cycester) in Glocestershire, taken in on Candlemas day, 1642
- Mercurius Aulicus April 15th 1643