This post is part of a series of letters from parliamentary soldier Nehemiah Wharton during the English Civil War, which will be posted on the anniversary of the day they were written. For more information see the introduction. To find the rest of the series, use the “wharton letters” tag. The original of this letter is held by the UK National Archives, reference SP 16/491/133, ff. 309-10. The text of the letter is out of copyright. Images are available for non-commercial use only at Flickr (click on folio numbers for individual page images).
This week, Wharton takes part in a mutiny, poaches a deer, goes into battle for the first time, and meets an old friend.
Coventrey August the 26th 1642
Worthy S[i]r august the 17 our companies after they had taken sixe delinquents and sent them to London returned to Alesbury this day wee received [2?] feild peeces and 2 troopes of horse with other nessessaries for warre wensday morninge a warwick shire minister which the Calvalleres had pillaged to the skin gave us a sermon after noone our regiment marchd into the feild and skirmished
Thursday morninge another sermon was given us after noone our regiment marched into the feild but by reson of foule weather were immediatly dismissed this night our regiment were commaunded to march the next morninge by 4 of the clock under our leiftenant Colonell but our sargeants resolved to surrender their halberts and the soildiers their armes and not to march
Fryday very early in the morninge our leiftenant Colonell was Cashered for which I give you harty thankes and sargeant Major Quarles imployed in his roome wherat both commaunders officers and soildiers excedingly rejoysed this morninge wee cherfully marched towards Buckingham in the reare of Colonell Chomleys regiment by reason wherof wee could get no quarter there but were constrained to quarter our selves about the cuntrey wherupon I and 3 gentlemen of my company visited that thrice noble gentleman S[i]r Richard Inglisby where his owne table was our quarter and Sargeant Major Barrif and his sonne captaine Inglisby and severall other noble gentlemen were our comrades
saturday early in the morninge I departed hence and gathered a complete file of my owne men about the cuntrey and marched to S[i]r Alexander Dentons parks who is a malignant fellow and killed a fat buck fastened his head upon my Halbert and commanded 2 of my pikes to bringe the body after mee to Buckingham with a guard of musqetteeres comminge theither with part of it I feasted my Captaine captaine Parker Captaine Beacon and Colonell Hamdens sonne and with the rest severall Leiftenants Enseignes and sargeants and had much thankes for my pains this day Sargeant Major [inserted above line: our] Generall came unto us and declared the commaund given him over our Regiments
Sunday morninge wee marched from Buckingham in to northampton shire a longe and tedious jorney wantinge both bread and water and about 10 at night came unto Byfeild in dispight of our enemies at which [f. 309v] Towne we could get no quarter neither meate drinke nor lodginge and had we not bin suplyed with 10 cart loade of provision and beare from Banbury many of us had perished this night our company was commaunded to guard the towne all night which after a longe and tedious march unto mee was very grevious
Munday morninge wee marched in to Warwick shire with about 3000 foote and 400 horse untill we came to Southum in the way we tooke 2 Calvaller Spies this is a very malignant towne both minister and people we pillaged the minister and tooke from him a drum and several armes this night our soildiers wearied out quartered themselves about the towne for foode and lodginge but before we could eate or drinke an alarum cryed arme arme for the enemy is comminge and in halfe an hour all our soildiers though dispersd were [compleete?] in armes ready to encounter the enemy cryinge out for a dish of calvalleres to supper our horse were quartered about the cuntrey but the enemy came not wherupon our soildiers cryed out to have a breakefast of Cavallers. we strongly barecadoed the towne and at every passage placed our ordinance and watched it all night our soildiers contented to lye upon hard stones
in the morninge early our enemies consistinge of about eight hundred horse and three hundred foote with ordinance led by the Earle of northampton the lord of Carnarvan and the Lord Compton & captaine Legge and others intended to set upon us before wee could gather our companies together but beinge ready all night early in the morninge wee went to meete them with a few troopes of horse and sixe feild peeces and beinge on fier to be at them wee marched thorow the corne and got the hill of them wherupon the played upon us with ther ordinances but they came short our gunner tooke ther owne bullet sent it to them againe and killed 2 horse and 2 men after we gave them eight shot more wherupon all their foote companies fled and offered ther armes in the townes adjacent for twelve pence a peece ther troopes whelinge about toke up ther [f. 310r] Tooke up their dead bodies and fled but the horse they left behind them some of them havinge ther [guts?] beaten out on both sides the number of men slaine as themselves report was fifty besides horse. one drummer beinge dead at the bottom of the hill our Knapsack boyes rifled to the shirt which was very lowzy an other drummer we fownd 2 miles of with his armes shot of and lay a diinge sever[al] dead corps wee found in corne feilds and amongst them [a?] trumpeter whose trumpet our horsmen sounded into Coventry wee toke several prisoners and amongst them Captaine Legge and captaine Clarke
from thence we marched valiantly after them toward Coventry and at Dunsmore heath they threatned to give us battaile but we got the hill of them ordered our men and cryed for a messe of Calvalleres to supper as wee had to breake fast but they all fled and we immediately marched unto Coventry where the Countrey met us in armes and welcommed us and gave us good quarter both for horse and foote
in this battell I met with your horseman Davy and he and I present you and my mistris with our most humble service desiringe you to pray for us and doubt not but both of will valiantly fight the Lords battaile thus with my service to Mrs Eelizabeth Anna John and Samuell and my love to all my fellow servants I rest
Yours in all good services
I pray present the humble service of Gregory Kent and my selfe unto Mr Molloyne with my best respects to Mr Henry Hickman and informe him that I have received his booke and shall acknowledge my selfe ingaged for the same I would have written unto him and others my kindred and frends but I want time and therfore must humbly in treate you to informe them therof I earnestly desire to heare from you whether you received a letter dated August the 17th or [not?]
To his much honored frend Mr George Willingham marchant at the golden Anchor in St Swethins Lane
There’s an uncertain word in this letter that I think is ‘compleete’, as in ‘all our soildiers though dispersd were compleete in armes’, but any better suggestions would be welcome. Ellis transcribed it as ‘were cannybals in armes’, which is funny but definitely wrong (I was quite disappointed). Other bizarre misreadings include ‘retained’ for ‘received’, and ‘definished’ for ‘dismissed’.
It’s interesting that the protest was successful and apparently didn’t lead to any punishments apart from the cashiering of the lieutenant-colonel. It looks like there was consensus that he was no good. Willingham’s lobbying on behalf of Wharton may also have had an influence. Willingham seems to have been very well connected. The British Library holds letters sent to him by Oliver Cromwell and John Bastwick (Sloane 2035B). It could even be that Wharton’s letters ended up in the State Papers (which is an odd place to find documents like this) because Willingham passed them on to someone in Parliament. The passages about problems with the lieutenant-colonel have been highlighted by lines drawn around them.
Major William Barriffe was a member of the Honourable Artillery Company and author of an infantry drill book, Military Discipline, or, The Yong Artillery Man, which was reprinted many times.
The battle described in this letter is usually known to historians as Southam
Dunsmore Heath, although Wharton implies that most of the action was somewhere else.
Davy was David Avys (or possibly Avyes, I keep changing my mind about the spelling), another servant of George Willingham. He joined the cavalry with a horse and equipment worth £27, provided by his master (see my George Willingham post for more details).
Next letter on 30 August.