The Splendid Spur: a study


The Splendid Spur was the last of Q’s bachelor novels, being completed shortly before his marriage to Louisa Amelia Hicks of Fowey on 22 August, 1889. He was living in London, where his wife was destined to join him. There is no reason to believe that at this time he intended living anywhere else, although London life did not suit him and was to suit his wife even less

It needs to be remembered that Q wrote to live, depending on his pen for an income. He possessed no private means, his father having left him with nothing but debts. Although his first three novels were commercially successful, the successes had not been guaranteed, with each launch engendering considerable anxiety.

The Splendid Spur opens as an Oxford idyll, no doubt reflecting Q’s own student days at Trinity College. Jack Marvell, the Q figure, is a student at the same college, but is distracted from his studies by the arrival of King Charles I and his retinue from Reading. The streets are thronged with the great and the good, while the open spaces, such as Magdalen College Grove, echo to the commands of drill sergeants and the tramp of feet.

Historical Background

The reason for the King’s arrival at Oxford on 29 November, 1642, the day on which the novel opens, is not stated in the text, yet it determines the course of the plot until the very last page, which is set on the south east coast of Cornwall in the evening of 19 May, 1643. The King’s return to Oxford was due to the rebuff his army had suffered at the hands of the Parliamentarians on the outskirts of London. This rebuff forced the King to rethink his strategy for winning the Civil War which had commenced a few months before, when Charles raised his standard at Nottingham on 18 August.

Realising that his army at Oxford was not strong enough to take London, Charles decided to concentrate his dispersed forces. This involved his Cornish army, under Sir Ralph Hopton, marching east through the counties of Devon and Somerset whose allegiance lay with Parliament. In the novel, the letter to this effect from the King to Hopton is given in Chapter I to Anthony Killigrew and, after his murder, to Jack Marvel. Although this letter is fictional, similar letters were sent and fell into the hands of Parliament. The march east was not effected until after the Royalist victories at Braddock Down and Stratton in Cornwall. Both of these battles the novel describes. The novel closes with Jack Marvel riding to rejoin the company of Sir Bevil Grenville in Hopton’s campaign in Devon and Somerset which ended in the taking of Bristol.

On the afternoon of 29 November Jack Marvel is a simple student from Cumberland viewing the King’s arrival with no notion of what awaited him. Yet darker clouds are gathering. Overlooking the bowling green of the Crown tavern he observes the form of Hannibal Tingcomb, steward of Gleys in Cornwall, who is awaiting a soldier of fortune, Captain Lucius Higgs (alias Captain Luke Settle or Mr. X). These, along with Nathaniel Fiennes, an historical character, are the novel’s figures of evil.

A sense of fortune’s mutability runs through the novel, as it had run through the life of Q from the time of his father’s death. As with Taffy Raymond in The Ship of Stars and John à Cleeve in Fort Amity, Jack Marvel has a lot of Q about him. Whether Delia Killigrew is based on Louisa Amelia Hicks is more doubtful.

Geographical Background

The plot of the novel is centred on two geographical areas:

  • From Oxford southwards to the valley of the Kennet and then westwards through Hungerford and Marlborough to Bristol
  • From Bude Bay in north-east Cornwall to Boconnoc, near Lostwithiel, and south to Pencarrow Head.

The novel is fast moving and the roads facilitate this. The east–west roads, either from Oxford to Bristol or from Exeter to Bodmin, are easy to locate. The Cornish roads to north and south are more difficult. It needs to be remembered that in the 17th century, and well into the 19th century, roads west of Exeter tended to degenerate into miry tracks and rutted lanes. There can be little doubt that Col. William Ruthen lost the battle on Braddock Down because his artillery and his ammunition wagons were mired in the lanes west of Liskeard. The Royalists later dug them out.

For military forces moving into or out of Cornwall there were three possible routes, owing to the River Tamar and its tidal estuary and to the extensive wastes of Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. The key to the south-west was the political, military and communications centre of Exeter. Campaigns into Cornwall started at Exeter and campaigns out necessitated the taking of the city. At the time of the novel it was primarily a Puritan and Parliamentary city. The battle of Stratton, which is described in Chapter XVI of the novel, was planned by the Earl of Stamford and Major-General James Chudleigh at Exeter.

The southern route crossed the Tamar at New Bridge, Gunnislake. This was the lowest fording place, although miles north of Plymouth, a city the Royalists repeatedly tried and failed to take. From New Bridge the road ran east to Tavistock, a communications centre with roads running north to Launceston, east to Exeter and south to Plymouth. Col. William Ruthen used the ford, the bridge having been destroyed by the Royalists, for his advance into Cornwall from Plymouth in January 1643, although Carew’s Cornish horse crossed by boat to the Parliamentary town of Saltash. Q describes Ruthen’s defeat, thanks to the information supplied to Hopton by the fictional Joan o’ the Tor, in Chapter XII.

The central route, the shortest from Exeter to Bodmin, used Polson Bridge between Lifton and Launceston. The Royalists stationed strong forces at Launceston. When Jack Marvel sees Parliamentary forces riding through Temple towards Bodmin (Chudleigh’s raid), he is dumbfounded as he believed Launceston to be garrisoned by Hopton’s army, until Billy Pottery arrives, telling him of Hopton’s move to Stratton (Chapter XV).

The northern routeway led from Bideford and Holsworthy, crossed the Tamar at Tamarstone, and joined the coast road west at Stratton. This road ran along a narrow corridor between Bodmin Moor and the Atlantic Ocean. When the Earl of Stamford marched his army to Stratton in May 1643, Hopton appears to have suspected a move along the coast road, although the nature of the roads made this improbable. As a result Hopton advanced to Stratton to the west of the shortest route and within striking distance of the coast.

Historical Sources

Q obtained his historical information from Clarendon’s The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England and reflects Clarendon’s Royalist point of view. He also reflects Clarendon’s negative attitude to characters such as Lord Mohun and his positive attitude to others such as Sir Bevil Grenville. However, Q does not absolutely follow Clarendon and at times adapts the history to suit the needs of the plot. For example, the novel dates the battle of Marlborough to 10 December when it actually happened on 5 December.

The novel opens in Oxford on the 29 November, 1642, although with references to earlier events, and closes on the 19 May, 1643, a time span of six months. Two periods of time are omitted: From the 14 December, 1642, to 13 January, 1643, when Jack Marvel lies imprisoned in Bristol Castle; and from 19 January, 1643, to 13 May, 1643, when he lies recovering from a wound at Temple on Bodmin Moor. The second period hardly detracts from the historical action as from 28 February to the 22 April a truce existed in Cornwall and Devon between the contending parties.

Q divides his characters into four distinct groups:

  1. The Royalists who stand for ‘Church and Crown’. Including Jack Marvel, Sir Bevil Grenville and Anthony Killigrew
  2. The Parliamentary military leaders who want a reformed Church and a constitutional settlement but who fear a radicalised rank and file. Such leaders include the Earl of Stamford, Col. Essex and the Chudleighs
  3. The Parliamentary rank and file and their Puritan landowning leaders who tend to Presbyterianism, independency and democracy, such as Hannibal Tingcomb, Nathaniel Fiennes and various troopers
  4. Individuals who are indifferent to the contending political and religious creeds but who are drawn into the conflict, such as Joan o’ the Tor and her father, and Sir Deakin Killigrew

All the villains come from group three.

From a novelist writing for radical publications and a Liberal activist, this possibly appears surprising. The Robartes of Lanhydrock were one of Cornwall’s leading Liberal families, with roots in the Puritanism and Parliamentarianism of the Civil War. A fellow radical was David Lloyd George, for whom Q chaired a meeting at Liskeard on 5 July, 1900. Speaking at Swansea two years later Lloyd George described himself as heir to the radical dissenters of the Civil War, standing on the ‘Bible’ against the ‘bench of Bishops’, the ‘House of Lords’ and the ‘aristocracy’. Many of Q’s political associates looked back to the very people Q castigates in The Splendid Spur.

Although Q’s radical roots went back to his Nonconformist grandfather, Dr. Jonathan Couch of Polperro, he was not sympathetic to the theological position taken by Lloyd George. Q saw society as a harmony continually threatened by the dissonant forces of wealth, power and influence. Puritanism and Presbyterianism threatened the harmony of ‘Church and Crown’, and inevitably led to military dictatorship. He believed in evolution not revolution, with Anglicanism, democracy and education as the driving forces. Although Q can be criticised for idealising the Royalist and denigrating the Puritan Parliamentarians, his purpose was to expose the real nature of their beliefs and purposes.

The Splendid Spur is a romantic as well as an historical novel. Four women, to a greater and lesser extent, fall in love with Jack Marvel. A fleeting kiss satisfies the chambermaid of the Three Cups, but a kiss leaves the jailer’s daughter of Bristol unconsoled as she knows another has his heart. Joan of the Tor serves Marvel as no other, taking his letter to Hopton, hiding him from the Parliamentary horsemen and tending him when convalescing, but when she realises that she can never have him she takes his bullet and dies in his arms.

The central love story is that of Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew of Morlaix. He first glimpses her riding in a coach along the Hungerford road and is first introduced when in the Three Cups tavern. From there on their lives intertwine. He is the first to recognise the affinity, declaring his love while they are hiding in the hold of theGodsend. But her feelings are deeper and take longer to mature. There is little question, at the close of the novel, that she will love him until he dies. Marvel’s primary commitment is to the regiment of Sir Bevil Grenville and the prosecution of the war. One wonders what Q’s wife, Louisa Amelia Hicks, thought of this.

The conclusion of the novel is arguably its least satisfactory aspect. Much of the dramatic tension, whether military or romantic, is left unresolved. The Royalist army had won two battles but not the campaign. Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew had fallen in love with little prospect of marriage. We know from the close of Chapter XVII that Marvel lived to see the Restoration, but where and in what condition is left undisclosed.

It appears likely that Q was intending to write a second volume. All we have is the short story ‘Margery of Lawhibbet’ from The Laird’s Luck of 1901. Sir Bevil Grenville and his regiment are mentioned, as is Sir Ralph Hopton, along with the battles of Lansdowne and Bristol which followed on from the victory of Stratton. Even Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock and Lord Mohun of Boconnoc make an appearance. But of Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew we hear nothing.

Q's Use of his Sources

As with all of Q’s historical novels, The Splendid Spur is based on historical and geographical fact. The geography stems from his own observations. The history appears to come from W.D. Macray’s 1888 edition of Clarendon’s The History of the Rebellion and the Civil Wars in England. The edition of 1888 might well have stimulated the novel of 1889.

While Q keeps strictly to the geography of southern Britain, from Oxford to eastern Cornwall, the history is adapted to the requirements of the plot. Furthermore, Q tends to adopt Clarendon’s perspective.

The novel is fast moving and the movements of the characters are facilitated by identifiable roads and sea-lanes. The murder of Sir Deakin Killigrew and the capture of Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew, from Chapters IV to IX, occur on the roads from the Royalist centre of Oxford to the Parliamentary stronghold of Bristol. Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew escape from Bristol to Bude Bay along the sea-lane of the Bristol Channel. From Chapter X onwards, the action takes place to the north and south of the Launceston-Bodmin road, the present A30.


The novel pivots around four battles, two of which happen ‘off stage’:

1 The rebuff of the Royalist army at Turnham Green on 13 November, 1642, which showed Charles that he was sufficiently strong to take London without uniting his forces. On the King’s return to Oxford, Anthony Killigrew is given a letter for Sir Ralph Hopton at Bodmin, ordering him eastwards for a second attempt at the capital. After Killigrew’s death the letter passes to Jack Marvel.

2 The Battle of Marlborough, in Wiltshire, which in the novel takes place on 10 December, 1642, but which historically took place five days earlier. The battle impedes Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew on their journey westwards, leading to their capture by Parliamentary troopers fleeing from the town.

3 The Battle of Braddock Down, in Cornwall, on 19 January, 1643, where the Royalist army is saved by information provided by Jack Marvel through Joan of the Tor.

4 The Battle of Stratton or the Battle of Stamford Heath, in north-east Cornwall, on 16 May, 1643, where Jack Marvel and Billy Pottery fight in the regiment of Sir Bevil Grenville. This battle clears the way for the eastwards advance of the Royalist forces as ordered in the letter carried by Jack Marvel after the death of Anthony Killigrew.

Historical Figures

Q includes a number of well known figures from history in his narrative. These have been taken from Clarendon and appear to reflect his perspectives. On the Parliamentary side are the Earl of Stamford, Col. Essex, Nathaniel Fiennes and Sir George and James Chudleigh. After the Battle of Stratton the Chudleighs changed sides. On the Royalist side are Sir Ralph Hopton, Warwick Lord Mohun, about whom Clarendon was dubious, Sir Bevil Grenville and Princes Rupert and Maurice.

For reasons unknown, the Puritan and Parliamentary House of Gleys is associated with a family bearing the name of Killigrew. Although Killigrew of Gleys died in July 1642, his steward, Hannibal Tingcomb JP, wishes to preserve its political and religious character and is in direct contact with the Parliamentary army. Historically, the Killigrew family were Anglicans and Royalists and resided in Arwennack in Falmouth. Sir Peter Killigrew or ‘Sir Peter the Post’ was the King’s most trusted messenger. Sir Henry Killigrew went into exile following the defeat of the King. There were a number of Puritan and Parliamentary families whose names he could have used: Robartes of Lanhydrock, Rous of Halton, Buller of Shillingham and Morval etc. 

The most prominent Puritan and Parliamentary ‘House’ in Cornwall was Lanhydrock, the home of the Robartes. Coate notes that Clarendon described John Lord Robartes as ‘sour’, ‘surley’ and ‘imperious’ but modifies this by adding that he fought at Edgehill and Newbury, had religious opinions based on study, and became a field marshall in the army of Essex. Because of his Parliamentary activities his plate was confiscated, his children were imprisoned and his house was occupied by Sir Richard Grenville (Coate, 1933, pp.160 and 161). At the time Q was writing The Splendid Spur the Robartes were a leading Liberal family.

Hannibal Tingcomb, steward of Gleys, can possibly be compared with John Tregeagle, steward of Lanhydrock. The Robartes were the head of a Puritan network extending throughout Cornwall, including the Bullers of Shillingham and Morval. The Buller papers contain two letters from Tregeagle to Sir Richard Buller. The first, dated 29 August, 1642, is a fragment above which the editor has labelled Tregeagle as ‘notorious’. The second, dated 26 September, 1642, contains a body of military and political information, including references to Sir Bevil Grenville and Lord Mohun, which reflect the sort of information delivered by Hannibal Tingcomb to Jack Marvel in Chapter XIV. Stewards were often related to their employers and this could possibly be true of Tingcomb.

The Splendid Spur suggests that the Royalists and Parliamentarians in Cornwall had nothing in common. In fact they knew each other, went to the same university and were influenced by the same trends. Neither Ralph Hopton nor Sir Bevil Grenville were uninfluenced by Puritanism, which made the deflection of the Chudleighs from Parliament to Crown easier. The differences related to the balance of Crown and Parliament and to the degree of Church reform.


It is perfectly appropriate for the novel to open in Oxford, because what was being fought out on the ground in Cornwall had previously been fought out in the lecture and debating halls of the university. What made Cornwall singular in its conservatism, as the novel correctly indicates, was the linguistic and cultural link with Brittany. Billy Pottery, the captain of the Godsend, traded regularly with Brittany and almost certainly with Iberia, making him aware of the parochial nature of Puritanism. At the centre of the plot is the marriage of a cradle Puritan and a Catholic Breton.

Q recreates the activity and atmosphere of wartime Oxford with the authority of one who had walked its streets and visited its taverns. The reader knows precisely where Hannibal Tingcomb and Captain Luke Settle plan the murder of Anthony Killigrew, which church Jack Marvel passes on the way to the Crown tavern and which streets he ran through to evade Master Short of the night watch after the murder had taken place. We also learn, and quite correctly, that the famous physician Dr. William Harvey walked the streets with his friend Lord Falkland of Great Tew and that Master Davenant, father of the poet and courtier Sir William Davenant, kept the Crown tavern in the Corn Market.

Jack Marvel’s subsequent journey can be followed on a map. He leaves Oxford by the South Gate intending to take the Oxford to Bath road via Faringdon. At the same time, Sir Deakin and Delia Killigrew are travelling on the Reading to Bath road, intending to meet Anthony at the Three Cups inn beyond Hungerford. Luke Settle, having abandoned his post at Royalist Abingdon, is also at the inn. Marvel arrives inadvertently at the Three Cups having missed the Faringdon turning. The rest of the journey of Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew takes them along the valley of the Kennet. After Marlborough they are captured by Parliamentary troopers retreating Bristol-wards from the Battle of Marlborough. From Bristol Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew escape by sea aboard the Godsend, eventually landing at Bude Bay in north-east Cornwall.

These journeys are not without their problems. Firstly, the Killigrews could have travelled from Brittany to Cornwall in a few hours, by boat, thus avoiding war-torn England. Secondly, the anchorage for Bodmin, where Marvel believed Hopton to be, is the Camel estuary, Bude Bay being many miles to the north-east.

The Civil War in Cornwall

The second half of the novel is based on the Civil War in Cornwall from January to May 1643. A full appreciation of the novel depends upon a grasp of the military situation in the south-west. Launceston is the military key as it stands on the main route into and out of Cornwall. Between January and May 1643 it repeatedly changed hands, with unfortunate consequences for Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew.

In the latter part of 1642, when the novel concentrates on Oxford and Bristol, the Cornish Royalists were across the border threatening Plymouth and Exeter. A failed assault on Exeter, the key to the whole south-west, on 1 January, 1643, results in the retreat of Sir Ralph Hopton’s forces to Launceston. With the arrival of Parliamentary forces under the Earl of Stamford on 6 January and a body of Parliamentarians at Plymouth under Colonel William Ruthen, Hopton abandons the whole of the Tamar line and withdraws to Bodmin. In the novel, this is where Hopton is deemed to be when Stamford and Essex are discussing the coming campaign in Bristol Castle on the evening of Marvel’s escape. It is from Stamford that Marvel learns of the location for the delivery of the King’s letter which he is fortunate enough to repossess.

When Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew disembark at Bude Bay on the night of 17 January, 1634, Marvel was cognisant of the Parliamentary advance from Taunton, owing to conversations overheard in Bristol Castle (Chapter IX). But he was unaware of the abandonment of the Tamar line by the Royalists. Marvel and Killigrew travel south through the night (B3254), until they see a hill with a castle – Launceston – and skirt to the west, coming out onto the main road to Bodmin (A30), near Tremorrow, where lies an inn. This they enter only to find a Parliamentary outpost, commanded by Captain Luke Settle, with instructions to close the road. Delia is taken prisoner, while Marvel, wounded in his escape, gallops westwards, ending up at Temple Tor Farm in the hamlet of Temple on Bodmin Moor.

With Polson bridge, below Launceston, in Parliamentary hands, along with the ford at New Bridge (A390), the bridge having been destroyed, Stamford is positioned to effect the pincer movement he had outlined in his conversation with Col. Essex. The pincers were to close at Bodmin, with Ruthen advancing through Liskeard (A38) and himself through Launceston (A30), where the Royalists were prey to divided councils. Q follows Clarendon in always seeing Mohun as the conflicting voice.

Hopton’s timely move from Bodmin to Lostwithiel on 18 January, a move known to Joan of the Tor, was obviously strategic and based on information received. By hiding his army in the woods of Boconnoc, he must have been hoping to catch Ruthen’s forces strung out along the Liskeard to Bodmin road, probably in the narrow Glyn Valley. To get from Bodmin to Lostwithiel he had to pass Lanhydrock House. It is quite possible that John Tregeagle, the steward, sent a message to Ruthen, resulting in the Parliamentary forces diverting left at Dobwalls onto the Lostwithiel road (A390) so as to confront Hopton at Lostwithiel. Unfortunately for Ruthen, his forces took all morning traversing the five miles west from Liskeard, with his guns and ammunition trains immersed in mud. The meeting of the opposing forces at Braddock occasioned a mutual surprise (Barrett, 2005, p.23).

On the morning of 19 January, with the fictional Joan at Braddock, Jack Marvel lay helpless at Temple Tor farm in expectation of hearing the sounds of battle. In this he is disappointed because neither side was ready to engage. The Parliamentarians had no guns and little ammunition, while the Royalists, according to the account provided for Fuller by Master Tredui (Nichols (ed.), 1811,  pp. 228 & 9), had no choice but to drag two ‘Mynion-Drakes’, presumably ornamental pieces from a former age, from Boconnoc House. Eventually, Marvel hears the sound of musketry as a ‘Forelorn of Musketeers’ opened fire, followed by the rumble of the ‘Mynion-Drakes’, which no doubt to the surprise of Lord Mohun does more damage to the Parliamentarians than to the gunners. Being unable to make reply, the Parliamentarians flee leaving their own guns and ammunition trains in the lanes for the Royalists to haul out. Marvel has the satisfaction of seeing the moor flecked with retreating Parliamentary soldiers.

Q realised that Hopton must have been acting on some form of military intelligence and introduces the fictional Joan of the Tor who rides to Boconnoc with Marvel’s information. She informs Hopton of Stamford’s advance to Launceston and Ruthen’s to Liskeard. After the battle a group of Royalist captains ride to Temple to thank Joan. This service of Joan and Marvel is remembered by Hopton when Marvel and Pottery appear at Stratton on the 16 May with another battle in prospect.

At the beginning of Chapter XIII, Q gives an account of the immediate consequences of the Royalists’ victory: the capture of men and munitions, and the advance of the Royalist forces to the stubbornly Parliamentary town of Saltash and to the strategically important communications centres of Launceston and Tavistock. In brackets, and for reasons which are not obvious, Q mentions the capture of the Devonian Sir Shilston Calmady. This capture was reported in a letter written by Sir Bevil Grenville at Liskeard on 19 January (Coate, 1933, p.43). The family of Calmady appear to have been part of a Puritan network running out from Shillingham, because Thomasine Calmady, possibly Sir Shilston’s  mother, was formerly a Buller (Stoyle, 1994, pp. 56–7). Curiously, on the 23 April, 1643, a Lieutenant Calmady, possibly a son, fought under Sir George Chudleigh, another Devonian, at Polson bridge (Coate, 1933, p. 60). While Stoyle (1994, p.138) gives him as a Parliamentary supporter throughout the Civil War.

Following Braddock Down, Royalist Cornwall and Parliamentary Devon face each other in military deadlock. On 29 January, 1643, Hopton, Mohun and Col. Godolphin sign a ‘Truce’ with Stamford, Francis Buller of Shillingham and Sir George Chudleigh. It fails to hold but is renewed, along with the taking of the ‘Sacrement’, on 29 February. This is the ‘Truce’ heard of by Jack Marvel at Temple. It lasts until 22 April, at which point Marvel is largely recovered.

With the ending of the ‘Truce’ Hopton marches eastwards from Launceston but is defeated on Sourton Down, near Okehampton, on 25 April. His correspondence, including the King’s letter ordering him eastwards, falls into the hands of Stamford at Exeter. In the novel, Q brings this forward to 12 December, 1642, with the handing of Jack Marvel’s letter from the King to Hopton from Col. Essex to the Earl of Stamford in Bristol Castle.

Marvel appears not to have heard of the ending of the ‘Truce’ on the 22 April when he visits Bodmin fair on 14 May and Gleys on 15 May. As he is leaving Gleys, Hannibal Tingcomb gives him the unwelcome news of the advance of Stamford to Stratton.

Following the discovery of the King’s letters after Sourton Down, Stamford matured his plans at Exeter and concentrated his forces at Torrington. With 5,400 foot and 1,500 horse, (not the 20,000 suggested by Tingcomb), the Parliamentarians marched along the present A388 to Holsworthy and then along the A3012 to Stratton, in north-east Cornwall, arriving on 14 May. By the 15 May they had consolidated their position on a spur of high ground now called Stamford Hill. Stamford was sufficiently confident to have detached a force of 1,200 horse, under Sir George Chudleigh, to ride south from Holsworthy to Launceston and to penetrate the Royalist line in order to disrupt a ‘posse comitatus’ at Bodmin. It is this force that Jack Marvel and Joan observe, in Chapter XV, moving west along the Launceston to Bodmin road.

R.W. Cotton (1889, p.168) is one of the few commentators to question why a battle was fought in an area of no political or military value. In taking his forces to Stratton, Stamford had left the door open for Hopton to fulfil the King’s command, take a poorly defended Exeter and unite with Prince Maurice for an attack on Bristol. Stamford would have been left to follow his line of communications and supply occupied by the enemy.

Nor is it easy to see why Hopton followed him, drawing up forces from as far south as the Rame peninsula. Remaining at Launceston would have given him the command of the vital Exeter to Bodmin road. Yet on 12 May Hopton abandoned Launceston, thus allowing Sir George Chudleigh to raid deep into Cornwall. Even then Hopton could have moved west, destroyed Chudleigh and waited for Stamford on ground of his own choosing.

Even more curious is the route Hopton took. Instead of taking the road that is now the B3254, which would have placed him across Stamford’s communications at Red Post in a matter of hours, he descended into the lanes and mires of North Petherwin (13 May), Week St. Mary (14 May) and Marhamchurch (15 May). One can only suspect that Hopton feared a descent by Stamford along the coast road to the Camel, a notoriously difficult route, and so endeavoured to cover both the B3254 to Launceston and the A38T from Stratton westwards. It is not surprising that once his army reached Stratton, it was without supplies and Hopton was forced to attack – a superior force in a prepared position. Furthermore, if Sir George Chudleigh had turned north after penetrating the Royalist line at Launceston, possibly along the A395, he would have placed himself in Hopton’s rear. The campaign appears to have been fought in defiance of military logic.

The Battle of Stratton on 16 May, 1643, represents the historical, but not the dramatic, climax of the novel. Chapter XVI is based on Clarendon’s account which is now disputed in some of its aspects.

Jack Marvel and Billy Pottery arrive at Stratton at about 4 am on 16 May to discover Hopton, Grenville and Mohun at the Tree inn, where historically the Royalists planned their attack (photo, see Barrett, 2005, p.32). They are faced with a steep incline topped by an earthwork and dotted with ordnance, as Q relates. Clarendon believed the Royalists to have attacked from four sides (for maps see Barrett, p. 31, and Coate, p. 67). Barrett dismisses Clarendon’s belief, claiming an attack in four columns from the south-west (pp. 31, 34 and 35). Barrett gives Hopton at the southern tip of the spur, with Grenville, Slanning and Bassett along the western slope. Coate gives Mohun and Hopton at the tip, with Grenville and Berkeley, then Slanning and Trevanion (1933, p.68). Q gives Grenville and Mohun commanding the same troop. The battle opened at 5 am and closed at 4 pm.

There appear to be two accounts of the battle, both deriving from Hopton. One can be found in Coate (p. 68), the other in Fuller and provided for him by Hopton’s secretary, Master Tredui (1811, pp. 228–9). Together they provide a reasonably clear picture of events, particularly the close of the battle.

The novel creates the correct impression of repeated sallies by the Royalists against a virtually impregnable Parliamentary position. These continued from 5 am until 3 pm with few casualties on either side. This suggests sporadic sallies to avoid the 13 pieces of brass ordnance which the Parliamentarians possessed, as the novel indicates. At about 3 pm, the Royalists found themselves virtually without powder, a fact concealed from the soldiers (Hopton in Coate p.68). A general attack has to be ordered, and apparently from more than one direction. The novel gives Sir Bevil Grenville as the instigator but the order must have come from Hopton.

The novel describes Grenville’s charge and the counter-charge by the Parliamentarians in which Sir Bevil is grounded but helped back to his feet by Jack Marvel. Curiously, Q gives this counter-charge and its repulse by Sir John Berkeley as happening earlier in the battle. The counter-charge was led by Major-General James Chudleigh, although Q does not state this, and a ‘stand of pikes’ against Sir Bevil Grenville’s advance, beating him to the ground and driving back his men. It was Sir John Berkeley who ordered his musketeers to line the hedges to either side of Chudleigh’s pikes and to open fire when they were sufficiently exposed, which they did to devastating effect. Chudleigh was captured and his men decimated, with a hole resulting in the Parliamentary line on the spur. This Sir Bevil Grenville led his men into. The Parliamentarians, having lost their effective leader, fled the field with Stamford in the van – according to Clarendon. At 4 pm the Royalist met at the summit of the hill in a moment of triumph.

The defeat of Stamford at Stratton results in the immediate retreat of Sir George Chudleigh’s horse from Bodmin. This retreat is unknown to Marvel and Killigrew as they journey over Bodmin Moor to Gleys and hear the sound of a bugle. They are chased across the moor to Temple where the Parliamentarians are diverted by Joan of the Tor. Joan takes the bullet intended for Marvel and dies in his arms.

While this is going on the Royalists are preparing for the march eastwards which will end in the decimation of the Cornish army in the Royalist victory at Bristol. At the close of the novel Jack Marvel turns from Delia Killigrew so as to rejoin the regiment of Sir Bevil Grenville on what will be Grenville’s last campaign.




Bibliography: The Splendid Spur