Monmouth’s retreat to Bridgwater
28 June to 5 July 1685
Why did Monmouth retreat to Bridgwater?
All through the night, the Whig Army trudged through the mud into Frome. The last to arrive was Wade’s Regiment at around 8 o’clock in the morning. Although they had won a good victory over the Government’s force, the rain, exhaustion and news of a General Pardon had dampened spirits. Monmouth needed to push on to London but his men had to rest and repair weapons and mend equipment. The Duke was also faced with growing the discontent that was spreading amongst some of the senior leadership. This was fuelled by Colonel Venner and Major Pearsons, with Argyll defeated, they argued that it was time to give up the expedition. They proposed that the officers and cavalry should flee to the coast and sail back to Holland, leaving the Foot to take up the General Pardon. They were opposed by Lord Grey and others who stated that if they left now, the people would never trust them, destroying the cause forever. Monmouth sides with Lord Grey, and the following morning Colonel Venner and others slipped out of the camp.
The Whigs stayed two nights in Frome and on 30 June they started towards Warminster on the London Road. However, not long after the vanguard had departed scout reported that Feversham was at Trowbridge, and some Government cavalry had entered Warminster blocking the Road east. Therefore, it was with a heavy heart that Monmouth ordered that the Army should retire to Shepton Mallet. This was due to not only the approach of the enemy but also because their money had run out and Monmouth was not prepared to pillage the populous. They would pull back to Bridgwater where enough of the Army had friends and family nearby to provision the rest of the soldiers. From Shepton Mallet the Whig marched to the City of Wells. Here they found Government supplies and weapons left by Churchill a week earlier. As the city was pro-James, the gloves came off and the soldiers pillaged lead and bed cord from the Churches to make musket balls and match, and stripped the Gold and Silver from the Cathedral. This was enough to pay the Army for another week. From Wells, Monmouth took his Army across the Kings Great Sedgemoor, where his men camped overnight. The good news was that the rain had stopped, and the Government Army was staying a day’s march away.
Monmouth arrived in Bridgwater on 3 July but not to the cheering crowds of just a week earlier, this time the mood was sombre. With an eye to the future, the Duke ordered the old Civil War fortifications and ditches should be rebuilt, and the bridge over the Parrett barricaded. However, it was noticeable that the seaport was empty of sea going merchant ships. The Army then settled into the garrison routine of training, cleaning weapons, and guard duty. The Whigs were aware that the Devonshire Militia was at Wellington south of Taunton, and cavalry patrols were covering the Sedgemoor in the direction of the enemy. It was on 4 July that the next clash of arms took place.
Why didn’t Feversham rush after Monmouth?
After the reverse at Norton St Philip, Feversham realised that his men needed tents, especially the infantry. Without tents, his Army would be tied to towns, and would be at risk from surprise attack by the Whigs. Therefore, once the Tower Artillery Train arrived at Westbury, on 30 June he ordered the Militia under the Earl of Pembroke to march to Frome and then followed with his Army. On 1 July, Pembroke marched to Shepton Mallet covering Feversham’s force at Frome. From this position, the Government Army could march north to cover Bristol or south to block the Salisbury to London Road. However, he knew that Monmouth would need to retire into friendly land to rest and resupply. With the Devonshire Militia close to Taunton, Bridgwater was the obvious location. While Monmouth’s men slept on the Sedgemoor on 2 July, Pembroke was 10 miles away at Glastonbury, Feversham at Shepton Mallet where the needed tents arrived from London. With the Militia moving to Charlton on the edge of the Sedgemoor, the main Army marched to Somerset, where the Infantry slept under canvas for the first time on 3 July.
On 4 July Feversham was ready to start pressing the Whigs, his first move would be to move the Militia to Middlezoy to cover the road to Bridgwater. To cover this move, a troop of dragoons was sent out towards Bridgwater. However, when they got to within half a mile of Bridgwater, early that morning the Dragoons were attacked by a party of Whig cavalry. With the Militia at Middlezoy and intelligence that Monmouth was fortifying Bridgwater, orders were sent to Bath for the siege mortars to be sent to Bridgwater. With the Militia at Middlezoy and Wellington the roads to the east and south were blocked. While a strong Militia force that including a new regular Infantry Regiment were at Bristol. Behind Feversham, was a large Infantry Brigade, fresh from Holland, was marching to Amesbury. Monmouth was trapped in Bridgwater, and Feversham sent orders to his Brigadiers to ready the Army to march in the face of the enemy.
Why did Monmouth plan to march North?
That evening in Bridgwater, Monmouth was aware that his enemy was closing in but also that he needed his Army to be full of loyal, motivated soldiers. His Army Council had discussed the options and it was agreed that they would march north the next day. The route agreed would take them over the north moors to Axbridge, with the objective being Keynsham Bridge. On 5 July, the Whigs baggage train started crossing the Parrett and moving into the Castlefield, where the Infantry had mustered the day before. At around noon, scouts came in with the news that the main Government Army was marching this way, and that enemy cavalry were at Westonzoyland just 5 miles away. If his men started on the road north they would risk being attacked and therefore he ordered the column to stand at arms, while more intelligence was gathered. Over the next hours it became clear that the Government Army was intent on encamping on the western edge of the village. Monmouth had no tactical choice but to wait until dark to restart the march north along the narrow paths to Axbridge.
The Whig commanders agreed to leave Bridgwater at dusk and cover the march with a strong force of Infantry and most of the Horse. Monmouth was keen to know if the enemy were entrenching and throwing up earthworks so sent out agents. It was when one of these returned with the news that no effort was being made to fortify the Infantry lodgement that Monmouth went up the Church Tower to see the position for himself. Using his spyglass, the Duke could just make out the camp along the low ridge. In that moment the experienced officer saw an opportunity for victory that could end the campaign. After discussing his plan with his senior officers Monmouth modified his orders, rather than cover the march his men would surprise the enemy. They would march out in silence that evening. Once they reached Peasey Farm the wagons and a large baggage guard would continue north, while his Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery would attack the enemy encampment. By midnight, 6 July, Monmouth’s Army of 31 Infantry companies, 11 Cavalry troops and three light guns had started down the lane into the Sedgemoor.
Why did Feversham march to Westonzoyland?
Earlier the same morning, Feversham had sent out his acting Adjutant General with a strong cavalry force to identify the Army’s encampment. The Adjutant General arrived at Westonzoyland in the late morning and after posting vedettes the best area for the lodgement was selected and laid out by the Quartermaster General. This was on a low ridge with a water-course running across its front. On either flank were crossing points out onto the wide moor and the Adjutant General took his cavalry out on a wide arc about 1,000 paces from the camp, placing vedettes to give warning of attack. Behind him as each Infantry Regiment arrived, they were directed to their camping ground where tents had been pilled, and the Regimental Quartermaster busied the soldier with erecting tents and placing guards. There were six Infantry Regiments camped along the ridge, facing the Bridgwater road was the Artillery Train and out on the left camped the combined Grenadier battalion. The remaining cavalry and dragoons were billeted in the village.
Feversham arrived at Westonzoyland with the intelligence that Monmouth had crossed over the River Parrett. Based on this and that the Whigs had fortified Bridgwater, he sent a trumpeter out to summon the town to surrender. In all Feversham had 15 troops of horse, 32 companies of foot, and 16 artillery pieces. While just 3 miles away at Middlezoy were two Militia regiments and 4 Militia troops of horse. To cover the Army, the General deployed a detachment of musketeers in Penzoy pound covering the main road into the village; a cavalry detachment was positioned to cover at entrance into the moor from Fowlers Plot; while a large squadron of cavalry under Major Compton cover the right flank. At dusk with sentries posted and guard-houses setup, a cavalry patrol under Oglethorpe was sent out to make a wide sweep of the roads that headed to Bristol. Feversham then set out with his Adjutant General to check his detachments stationed on the outer perimeter, ending with Compton. The General finally returned to his headquarters in the village around 1 o’clock on the morning of 6 July, to await Oglethorpe’s reports.
The next move is the Battle of Sedgemoor
This account is based on a more detail description of the Earl of Argyll’s & the Duke of Monmouth’s campaign of 1685 available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.