The Civil War
Like many of Somerset’s fast-changing cities and towns, Bath’s population was deeply divided in the years leading up the Civil War. It was a division based on social, economic and religious grounds. The local gentry joined with Bath’s merchants and cloth-makers in their revolt against the tax-raising whims and religious edicts of an aloof and Catholic king. The Royalists were determined to prevent the Puritans from dismantling the Church and State and to stop what they saw as extreme Puritan religious reforms. By the summer of 1643, two great rival armies occupied Somerset’s two Episcopal cities only twenty miles apart – the Royalist army had marched to Wells and the Puritans held Bath.
The Battle of Lansdown
In July 1643, the two armies met at Bath. A huge Royalist force had marched form Wells and taken Bradford-on-Avon. By securing Bradford’s vital bridge, they threatened to encircle and destroy the smaller Parliamentary army barracked in Bath, just a few miles down-river .On the morning of July 5th, the massive Royalist army approached Parliament’s forces entrenched on Lansdown Hill. Led by the ‘Conqueror’ Sir William Waller, Parliament’s army slipped out of the city to take up a stronger defensive position on the steep slopes of Lansdown by an Iron Age hillfort. So impregnable seemed Parliament’s position on Lansdown Hill that the Royalist army saw no no option but to retreat. Seizing their opportunity, Parliament’s cavalry charged down the hill to attack the retreating Royalist horses and routed them. Some galloped all the way to Oxford; but the Royalist Cornish infantry stood firm. Somehow the Cornish pikemen held , Parliament’s charging horses, winning time for their army to turn around and re-engage. The pikemen forced Parliament’s cavalry back up the and then attacked. With astonishing bravery, they advanced up the steep slope into Parliament’s great guns and took Lansdown. It was a Pyrrhic victory: Parliament was defeated but Royalist losses were appalling.
The Monmouth Rebellion
Just 42 years after the bloody Battle of Lansdown, the cloth-makers and merchants again rose up against taxes and royal religious edicts, supporting the Protestant Duke of Monmouth in his claim for the throne. As Monmouth marched through Somerset, his ranks swelled from the 80 men who landed with him from Holland to four whole regiments. Within two weeks his swelling Puritan army reached Bath, where the royal army was barracked. Monmouth’s herald called up to the city walls for the Royalists to surrender but was quickly answered with a well-aimed bullet to the head. Monmouth skirted Bath and stayed the night of Friday June 26th in the George Inn at nearby Norton St Philip. He was surprised on the very next day with a Royalist attack. The royal army stormed the town, threatening to overrun the barricade that Monmouth had erected to protect his headquarters in the George Inn; but in a brilliant ambush, the rebels managed to flank the royal force. Harried and surrounded on three sides, the King’s troops scrambled through hedges and small lanes to where their big guns waited. Royal losses were mounting when torrential rain forced Monmouth to pull back.