The historical context
English Heritage described the historical context in these terms:
At the Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645) the New Model Army had proved itself. The crushing defeat administered to the main Royalist army opened the prospect of Parliament achieving complete victory in its war against the King. It was now left to the commander of the New Model, Sir Thomas Fairfax, to decide how best he could exploit his success at Naseby to hasten the conclusion of hostilities.
Rather than pursue King Charles and the remnants of his beaten army, Fairfax decided to carry the war into the Royalist heartland in the West Country. Taunton, one of the few Parliamentarian strongholds in the region, was being closely besieged by General George Goring, and its relief was widely called for. Fairfax marched rapidly from the Midlands, proceeding towards Somerset via Dorset (so shortening his communications, which could now be traced from the seaports at Weymouth and Lyme). On 5 July, having joined two days earlier with the small Parliamentary Army of the West commanded by Major-General Massey, Fairfax reached Crewkerne. He now mustered 14,000 men. Goring meanwhile had raised the siege of Taunton. The Royalist priority now was to protect the Bristol Channel ports, through which they drew reinforcements and supplies from South Wales. To this end Goring took up a defensive position along the line of the River Yeo between Langport and Sherbourne. The Royalists numbered only half as many men as their opponents.
On 7 July Fairfax outmanoeuvred Goring and succeeded in crossing the river at Yeovil. This forced the Royalists to abandon the bridges at Ilchester and Long Load and fall back to Langport. Goring’s response the next day was to send General Charles Porter and a force of cavalry towards Taunton, either with the intention of surprising the Parliamentarian garrison there or simply to create a diversion. Although Porter’s command was mauled by Major-General Massey, who had been despatched by Fairfax with 4,000 men to intercept him, the thrust had the effect of reducing the number of troops at Fairfax’s disposal. This would make it easier for Goring to conduct the retreat from Langport to Bridgwater which he had now determined upon. During the night of 9-10th July the Royalists sent away their heavy guns and baggage. The next morning Goring led his army a short distance eastwards out of Langport and occupied the high ground behind the Wagg Rhyne. Here he intended to fight a delaying action and hold back Fairfax’s army, which was even then preparing to advance on Langport from Long Sutton.
[English Heritage Battlefield Report: Langport 1645, p.1] You can download the full battlefield report from Historic England’s website.
The Battlefields Trust describes the battle like this:
The New Model Army approached the small town of Langport from the east. It was a key bridging point where the major road from Somerton passed between two large areas of wet moorland. This was a logical place for the royalists to make a stand, or at least to try to hold up the parliamentarians in order to enable retreat, via Sedgemoor, to the port of Bridgwater. Goring sent his baggage and artillery ahead towards the port, keeping only two pieces of ordnance with the army. He then turned and marched out to the east of Langport, to face the parliamentarian army. Though he held a strong position, on high ground controlling the roads that approached the town from the east, his forces were still outnumbered and outgunned and were soon defeated.
Although the royalist army was not destroyed at Langport, the defeat was to have a significant effect upon troop morale. As Goring admitted: ‘the consequences of this blow is very much for there is so great terror and dejection amongst our men that I am confident at this present they could not be brought to fight against half their number’. Bridgwater fell soon after, isolating the remaining royalist garrisons in the West Country.
More information can be found on the Battlefields Trust website.
Oliver Cromwell himself was there, and his account of what happened, together with the contemporary reports written by Fairfax and Goring, are reproduced below. We are indebted to Andrew Lee for allowing us to use his transcriptions of their accounts.
Lieutenant General Cromwell, his letter to a worthy member of the House of Commons:
I now have a double advantage upon you through the goodness of God who still appears with us. And as for us we have seen great things in this last mercy, it is not inferior to any we had, as followeth.
We were advanced to Long Sutton near a very strong place of the enemy’s called Langport, far from our own garrisons, without much ammunition in a place extremely wanting in provisions, the malignant clubmen interposing, who are ready to take all advantage against our parties and would undoubtedly take them against our army if they had opportunity. Goring stood upon the advantage of strong passes staying until the rest of his retreats came up to his army with a resolution not to engage until Greenvill and Prince Charles his men were come to him. We could not have necessitated him to an engagement not have stayed one day longer without retreating to our ammunition and to conveniency of victuall.
In the morning word was brought to us that the enemy drew out. He did so with a resolution to send most of his cannon and baggage to Bridgewater which he effected but with a resolution not to fight but thinking he could march away at pleasure.
The pass was straight between him and us, he brought two canons to secure his and laid his musketeers strongly in the hedges. We beat of his canon, fell down upon his musketeers, beat them off from their strength and where our horse could scarcely pass two a breast. I commanded Major Bethel to charge them with two troops of about one hundred and twenty horse which he performed with the greatest gallantry imaginable, beat back two bodies of the enemy’s horse being Goring’s own brigade, brake them at sword point.
The enemy charged him with near four hundred fresh horse. He set them all going until oppressed with multitudes, he brake through them with the loss not of above three or four men. Major Desborough seconded him with some other of those troops which were about three, Bethel faced about and they both ranted at swords point a great body of the enemy’s horse which gave such an unexpected terror to the enemy’s army that set them all a running.
Our foot in the meantime coming on bravely and beating the enemy from their strength we presently had the chase to Langport and Bridgewater. We took and killed about 1,000, brake all his foot, we have taken very many Horse and considerable prisoners; what are slain we know not, we have the Lieutenant General of Ordnance, Col. Preston, Colonel Slingsby, we know of, besides very many other officers of quality. All Major General Massey’s party was with him 7 or 8 miles from us and about 1,200 of our foot and 3 regiments of our horse; so that we had but 7 regiments with us.
Thus you see what the Lord has wrought for us, can any creature ascribe any thing to itself? Now can we give glory to God and desire all may do so for it is due to him. Thus you have Long Sutton mercy added to Naseby mercy. And to see this, is it not to see the face of God? you have heard of Naseby, it was a happy victory as is this, so in that God was pleased to use his servants and if men will be malicious and swell with envy we know who hath said, if they will not see, yet they shall see and be ashamed for their envy. I can say this of Naseby, that when I saw the enemy drew up and march in gallant order towards us and we a company of poor ignorant men to seek how to order battle; the General having commanded me to order all the Horse, i could not striding along about my business but smile out to God in praises, in assurance of victory because God would by things that are not, bring to nought things that are, of which I had great assurance and God did it.
Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord and declare the wonders that he doth for children of men. I cannot write more particulars now, I am going to the rendezvous of all our Horse, 3 miles from Bridgewater, we march that way it is a seasonable mercy. I can better tell you than write that God will go on. We have taken two guns, three carriages of ammunition in the chase. The enemy quitted Langport, when they ran out at one end of the town, we entered from the other. They fired that at which we should chase, which hindered our pursuit but we overtook many of them. I believe we got near 1,500 horse. Sir I beg your prayers. Believe and you shall be established.
The copy of a letter from Sir Thomas Fairfax’s Quarters read in the House of Commons on Saturday July 12, 1645:
An account I gave you in my last of our affairs, I left Goring with his whole army at Langport, since they be pleased to take a short account of our actions. Yesterday we advanced to Sutton drawing out that part of our army which we had into Sutton Field, the rest being four thousand five hundred horse and dragoons (at the least) under the command of Major General Massey were on the other side of the river, and those 8 regiments of foot which we had at Naseby field were also quartered at Martock, so Massey advanced with his horse and dragoons, having foot to back them at North Curry (being ordered to straighten the enemies quarters and to hinder them from plundering exercise). It seems 500 of them being upon a design out and having no intelligence of his being in motion, was surprised in a careless posture; fell on them, being (as I take it 9 colours, 200 prisoners and about 250 horse) slew about 30, we in the meantime were drawn up within a mile of Langport with those horse and foot the General had with him, not knowing of his engagement. And there were three rivers between him and us and the way almost twelve miles march, the last night we quartered at Sutton filed having with us but seven regiments of horse viz the Generals (formerly called Lieutenant General) Cromwell, Whalleys, Vermodeus Rich Fleetwoods and Butlers which were not in all 2,000 horse, of foot we had all but the musketeers of three regiments having sent for them the last night from Martock. Early in the morning the enemies appeared and about 7 o’clock they had made themselves masters of a pass which lay in the midst between our body and theirs, had lined the hedges with at least 2,000 musketeers so that the passage to them was extreme dangerous being so straight that four horse could hardly pass abreast and that up to the belly in water, they lying so in flanks and fronts to receive us. In that posture they stood till nigh eleven of the clock having in the interim lent away most of the train and baggage, led horse and other lumber to Bridgewater, being resolved to make good their retreat thither , which they conceived they could having such an advantageous passé thither. We understanding their intentions by some scouts and other countrymen, resolved to charge them and accordingly drew down a commanded party of musketeers to beat them from the hedges which was done with gallant resolution , advancing the same time with two regiments of horse into the lane, all that we could draw up in front was but a single troop and that commanded by Bethel, the enemy standing ready with bodies of horse of about 1,000 to charge him. He with a single troop charged and broke two of their divisions, of about 400 received the charge of the third division both in front and flank was somewhat overborne at last and forced to retire to the General’s Regiment which was about 100 yards behind Desborough, with the General’s troop sheltered him by his flank to rally and charge up himself with about 200 horse of the General’s Regiment disposed of the enemy and set them all a running, gained freedom by it for all our horse and foot to draw into bodies, sent the enemy running not being able to endure another charge. The General, Lieutenant General and some other officers upon the hill, beholding the gallant charges commended it for the most excellent peice of service that ever was in England. We had them in chase almost to Bridgewater having put them to the clean rout that ever any enemy were put to, what the number of slain be I cannot tell you being just come from the chase. The prisoners come in already are 900 and I conceive there will come in as many as will make 2,000 and 12,000 horse at least, for colours I am uncertain, I dare say at least 40, the arms at least 4,000, 2 pieces of Ordnance |I saw and divers carriages of ammunition and to make it a compleat victory he pursued the enemy through Langport having gained the garrison and though they fired the town just at the Bridge to hinder the chase, yet we followed the victory through the fire . The success of this victory must be ascribed next unto God, to the good conduct of the General and Cromwell’s following the chase through Langport where he himself passed through the fire flaming on both sides of him. The enemy cried out, they are now utterly undone and that the King must now go into Ireland. This victory was opportune, in regard, had they stayed but three days longer Goring would have had a reinforcement of six thousand horse and foot from Greenfield and the King they being transporting their forces as fast as can be to Minehead Watchhead and Uphill, there being 1,500 landed at Uphill came to Bridgewater yesterday. Sir this is all \at present from your affectionate and humble servant,
Langport July 10th, 7 at night.
The report of the Scout that brought the aforesaid letter which is here placed by way of postscript for further satisfaction.
On Wednesday the ninth of July 1645 there were 1,500 of the enemies commanded by Lieutenant General Porter who lay at Abbots Isle on whom Major General Massey fell before the enemy were aware of it. With Massey were Lieutenant Bull, Major Sanderson, Colonel Webb and some other officers who with the common soldiers behaved themselves gallantly. The enemy about 3 o’clock grazing their horses and having made works about Abbots Isle (“Aberfile”) church and in exceedingly good quarters little thinking Massey so near, has set a small guard of foot at the towns end. Major General Massey drew his men into two divisions for each end of the town one, himself commanded one and Captain Gutteridge the other which was but a small party for Massey commanded the main body himself. Massey’s men marched with green boughs in their hats. Captain Gutteridge coming to the town’s end found the hedges lined with with musketeers at the southwest end of the town. Captain Fransway a Dutch Captain, commanded a party to fall on one side of the ambuscadors and Captain Gutteridge the other. The Dutch Captain when he was charged by the enemy began to face about which impeded Captain Gutteridge’s prosecution of the business, yet the rest of the officers and soldiers with the wisdom of Captain Gutteridge ended the business so well that they beat up the ambuscadors for all that and drove them quite away. In the meantime Major General Massey marched up to the other side of the town, Colonel Cook having the command of the forlorn hope who in like manner had lined the hedges at that end of the town and Massey with Colonel Cook and the rest raised them and those with the rest at the other end of the town followed so hard upon the enemy that they drove them all from the town pursuing them within two miles of Langport and took many arms in Abbots Isle. Major General Massey’s word was Wales the enemy stayed not to give any word at all.
On Thursday the 10th of July Sir Thomas Fairfax marched towards the enemy discovered them where he was with his body by the windmills between Langport and Somerton, the enemy were then on the hills at Langport field about two miles and a half off the water being between them and us. About eleven of the clock they drew out and about one of the clock Major Bethel charged the enemy. The fight was very hot and lasted about two hours. About three of the clock Goring was got himself to Bridgewater, Prince Charles being gone thence before and the Lord Hopton with him to Barnstaple with three troops of horse to raise what forces they could in those parts to join with those which were to come from Greenvil. Rupert was gone to the King before, also to send the strength he could to join with them and Greenvils horse as appeared afterwards, were then upon their march towards Goring and also Sir John Barkly was before drawn off upon some discontent or other towards Exeter but is believed to be returning with Greenvil. Sir Thomas Ashton was then with Goring who hath a regiment in which are good store of papists but he ran away like a bare coward and the greater part of the regiment are taken of which the poor countrymen are not a little glad for they have been extreme cruel in plundering. Sir Lewis Dives was then in Sherbourne, it seems he loves a garrison better than the field and holds it more secure. The cavaliers seem to be very sorrowful for their loss, we perceive by them that they have lost some considerable men but will not be known who they are.
Sir Thomas Fairfax quartered that night at (Oller?) Aller, four miles from Bridgewater, Major General Massey is joined with him where he blocked up that side of their Garrison , Lieutenant General Cromwell making a speech in the head of the army, declaring how the enemies passage by water might be stepped up, whereupon a party of 1,500 horse and dragoons were sent to block up the west side for the same purpose.
A list of Major General Massey’s victory at North Curry on Wednesday 9th July 1645:
1,500 routed which were surprised by Massey
9 Colours taken from the said party of 1,500
Lieutenant General Porter, of Lieutenant General Goring’s horse taken prisoner
2,500 horse and arms taken from them at the same time
2 serjeant majors taken prisoner and 6 captains
200 of their inferior officers and common men taken prisoner
A list of the particulars what was taken and how many slain as the routing of Goring by Sir Thomas Fairfax at Langport on Thursday 10th of July 1645:
300 slain and left dead upon the place
Divers officers carried dead and some wounded into Bridgewater
6 Colonels some of which are notorious incendiaries
14 Lieutenant Colonels and Serjeant Majors
100 Captains and other officers of note
2,000 prisoners whereof divers inferior officers
40 colours of horse and foot
2 pieces of Ordnance
6 cart loads of ammunition, powder match etc
All their bag and baggage which they had left in the field.
The loss on our side:
2 Captains, one of them a Dutch man both slain
Colonel Butler’s Captain Lieutenant slain and his cornet let fall his colours but they are honourably regained
Colonel Butler a slight cut on the arm
Colonel Edward Cook shot on the mouth, only on the upper lip, the hurt not much.
Goring’s view of the battle was recorded by one of his companions Bulstrode who later published his own book on the Civil War that encompassed this account of the battle.
The day before we engaged the General sent Lieutenant General Porter with three brigades of horse on the other side of the river farther from the enemy than we were, and in a race champagne who had his own quarters beaten up at noon day by General Massey for want of scouts being out, the Lieutenant General being then in his utmost debauches with some of his officers. The enemy was seen coming from the hills a mile before them and yet was upon our men before they could get to their horses who were feeding in the meadows.
The alarm being brought to General Goring he immediately marched in person to his succour rallied the horse that were flying, stopped the enemies career who were eagerly pursuing and made a handsome retreat without which the best part of our army had been lost that day. And when our General met Lieutenant General Porter in the rear flying with the rest, His Excellency turned to me and said “he deserves to be punished for his negligence or cowardice” but being the General’s brother in law that fault was soon forgotten and pardoned; and yet I have often heard the General say that his brother in law Lieutenant General Porter was the best company but the worst officer who ever served the King.
After this beating up of Lieutenant General Porter’s quarters, Fairfax with his army marched directly to us from Evil (S/be Yeovil) where being a plain and rising ground the enemy’s army was drawn upon it with a great march and bog between both armies which hindered the enemy from attacking us except by a passage in the bottom of the hill, between our armies; which passage was narrow and our General had placed there two regiments of foot to guard that passage, which were Colonel Slaughter’s and Colonel Wise’s regiments lately raised in Wales. General Goring himself with all his horse was drawn up upon the hill at the mouth of the passage with the infantry on his right hand near Langport to succour those two regiments in case of attack upon the pass which the General hoped to make good at least til midnight that then we might retire with less loss being unseen. In the meantime General Goring commanded me to send away all baggage and cannon except two field pieces which he commanded should be drawn to the top of the hill at the head of the pass and bid me order Sir Joseph Wagstaff from him who commanded the foot near Langport That in case the enemy should force the pass upon him, that then Sir Joseph Wagstaff should retire with all his foot to Langport and there pass the river to Bridgewater and burn down the bridge behind him, which was a drawbridge, over the river.
And in the morning when I had orders to send away the baggage and cannon I sent them that way for their greater security otherwise they had all been lost; yet so soon as the enemy had put their army in order of battle upon the top of the hill on the other side of the bog, which we thought was there whole army, they opened and drew to their right and left advancing towards the pass whilst another great body came up in their place, by which their army was more than double our number.
However our General neither lost his courage nor conduct but still remained at the head of the pass with his own Guards of Horse commanded by Colonel Patrick Barnwell, a very brave Irish gentleman son to the Lord Barnwell; next to him was the General’s own regiment of horse commanded by Colonel Charles Goring, his Excellency’s brother who was also seconded by Sir Arthur Slingsby with his regiment of horse and the rest of the horse army behind him.
But the enemy advancing very fast down the hill with horse foot dragoons and cannon much overpowered us in number and our foot that were drawn down to guard the pass not doing their duty, many of them deserting and shooting against us, the enemy thereupon gained the pass. The General charged the enemy twice but being much overpowered in number we were at last beaten off and obliged to a very disorderly retreat.