Parliamentary Generals in the 1640s: The Earl of Stamford Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Parliamentary Generals in the 1640s: The Earl of Stamford

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Born in 1599, Henry Grey was the eldest son of Sir John Grey and Elizabeth Nevill and succeeded his paternal grandfather, another Henry Grey, as Baron Grey of Groby. In July 1614, he married Anne Cecil, the daughter of William Cecil, the 2nd Earl of Exeter. It was from her family the title of 'Stamford' was to come, making Henry the 1st Earl of Stamford. He was later to be the father of nine children.

A Short Military Career

In March 1628 just prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War, Henry was created Earl of Stamford. King Charles I had his opponents, and Henry was counted among them. As he was loyal to Parliament he was appointed as Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire.

The Civil War began on 22 August, 1642 with the raising of Charles I's standard at Nottingham. Conflict began in the late autumn of 1642, when Parliament decided to recruit new Regiments of foot to deal with the matter of the King. The new regiments were as follows1:

  • The Earl Of Essex
  • The Earl Of Stamford
  • The Earl Of Peterborough
  • Lord Waltons
  • Lord Robarts
  • Lord Brooks
  • Lord Mandervill
  • Lord Rochford
  • Lord Oliver St John
  • Lord Saye and Seles
  • Sir John Merricks
  • Sir William Fairfax
  • Sir Henry Chomlies
  • Sir William Constables
  • Charles Essex
  • Thomas Ballared
  • William Bamfield
  • Thomas Grantham
  • John Hampden
  • Denzill Holies

After some operations around Leicester the Earl of Stamford occupied Hereford and, when compelled by Royalist forces to abandon the city, he marched his forces into Cornwall.

War in the South-West

After his victory at Braddock Down, Royalist leader Sir Ralph Hopton turned on Devon. The first battle occurred against the Earl of Stamford at Launceston, resulting in a Parliament retreat to Tavistock. However, Saltash was taken on 22 January, and Parliament's commander Colonel Ruthin was forced back into Plymouth.

Plymouth was blockaded and the outer garrisons were attacked. However, Hopton's Royalist forces were stretched too far and as a result he lost his grip on Devon, and retreated to Cornwall in early February 1643.

On 28 February, Hopton and the Earl of Stamford agreed to a truce between their forces in Devon and Cornwall. When the truce expired on 22 April, 1643 the Parliamentarians decided to attack the King's Army at Launceston. The Parliamentry forces failed and were forced to fall back, though a rout was avoided by the appearance of Sir John Merrick's regiment.

Merrick's men served well in the southwest area against the army of Lord Hopton until 1643. In May 1643, Henry's regiments were at the battle of Stratton in the Bude area.

The Battle of Stratton, Cornwall

On 16 May, 1643, a battle was fought to prevent Hopton joining up with the Royalist forces commanded by Prince Maurice2 in Somerset.

Henry, Earl of Stamford positioned the Parliament forces in a defensive position on a hill to the north of the town. With much of his Royalist force on garrison duty, Hopton could gather only 2,300 foot soldiers and 500 horsemen to counter Henry's force. The Parliamentarian cavalry were elsewhere that day, but Henry Grey still outnumbered Hopton's force by nearly two-to-one. However, Hopton was still determined to take advantage of the situation and attack Henry's lines.

By the standards of the day, the Battle of Stratton was very long and took most of the day. However, there came a turning point when, presumably without Henry's orders, Major-General James Chudleigh took his pikemen on a counter-attack charging downhill and smashing into Sir Bevil Grenville's forces. Unfortunately for Henry and the Parliamentarians Chudleigh was taken prisoner3. At this point the Royalists started to push up the hill and Henry's men began to give ground; this is an indication of the quality of the Royalist force, who succeeded in moving uphill at press of pike.

Despite the best efforts of Sir John Merrick's and Colonel Sir John Northcott's regiments, the collapse of the lines could not be prevented and the Royalists fought on and gained the top of the hill. The defeat of Henry, Earl of Stamford was total, and Henry blamed Chudleigh and his reckless charge for this disaster. The Parliamentarians fled the field, leaving 300 dead while over 1,700 men were taken prisoner. The capture of cannon and a quantity of gunpowder, ammunition and provisions by the Royalists was a boost in the west for the king's forces.

After Stratton, Henry and his troops were chased into Exeter. Henry was forced out of the city on the 7 September, 1643 after a siege of about three months.

Parliament's army returned to London after the battle of Stratton and the surrender of Exeter. The regiments of the Earl of Stamford and Sir John Northcott at Stratton were well below strength. Meanwhile, Sir John Merrick's regiment was so depleted in strength that it was disbanded and the men were amalgamated into other regiments.

The End Of A Short Military Career

The Earl, who was not the best general, almost faced a charge of cowardice and took no further part in the military operations of the war, although he was once or twice employed on other parliament business. The Earl of Stamford's Regiment thus endured without Henry until the end of the first Civil War when the order to disdand came in 1647.

The Royalist's fines and reprisales exhausted Henry's wealth and as the House of Commons did not trust him, Parliament was reluctant to support him. After a period of retirement possibly because of his handling by Parliament, Henry declared for Charles II during a rising in August 1659 and was arrested, but was soon released.

He died on 21 August, 1673, having outlived his eldest son Thomas, Lord Grey of Groby who had died in May, 1657.

1Note that not all the regiments fought in all the battles or all the campaigns.2Prince Maurice (1621 - 52) was the fourth son of Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate, and his wife Elizabeth was the sister of Charles I.3Major-General James Chudleigh then defected to the Royalists.

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