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The longest siege – the Civil War siege of Lyme Regis

Michael Handy examines a blow-by-blow account of the six-week, Civil War siege of Lyme Regis by its defenders

Prince Maurice lay siege to Lyme Regis on behalf of King Charles I

The first entry in An account of the most remarkable passings that happened at the straight siege of Lyme Regis by Prince Maurice… reads thus
April 20 – The enemy appeared on Uplyme-hill, about two miles distant from Lyme Regis, and they advanced towards the town and ordered the whole body of horse and foot in view of all the town… esteemed by some at 3000, by others 4000, and somewhat more, being in all, as afterwards appeared, 4600. In the town were near 500 fighting men, more or less, who were not a jot dismayed at the sight of the enemy.
April 21 — We killed forty musqueteers that day, as they lay in the ditches and hedges shooting at us, from the line and fort.
April 22 — On Monday night the enemy raised a battery on the west side of the town, to play with their ordnance upon our west fort. Their musqueteers slew one man in the line, as was he indiscreetly looking over — such exquisite firemen were the enemy.

A musqueteer of the besieging forces takes aim

A musqueteer of the besieging forces takes aim (image: Look and Learn)

April 23 – On this day, about six of the clock in the morning, the governor drew out about 190 men who longed to fight with their enemy more than for a good breakfast, and so sallied out on the west side of the town, gave fire on the enemy ere they espied them, fell upon them boldly with the stocks of their musquets, routing them from their battery, seized on their cannon, pursuing them to the top of the hill, killing and slaying them
April 24 — Nothing done but playing with ordnance on both sides
April 25 — The enemy raised a new battery in a lane. Now powder and shot began to grow scarce in the town.
April 26 — This day Captain Marsh, the commander of a fort, was slain with a musquet shot.
April 27 — The enemy raised a new battery in the east side of the town which struck some terror in them of the town. It quickly drove Captain Nevert out of his fort, killing one or more.
April 28 – They made an offer to storm the town, blew up their trumpets, beat their drums, and sounded an alarm about the town, and approached very near the line, so that case-shot from the ordnance did great execution upon them. This time the enemy lost sixty or eighty men. One man was this day slain by the wind of a bullet (as was supposed) for no wound appeared on his body; another had his chin struck away with the same bullet.
April 29 — The enemy shot fire-arrows into the town.
April 30 — The enemy retreated.
May 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — The enemy lay quiet.
May 6 — The enemy stormed the town in three places while most of the soldiers were absent to their suppers. The enemy cried, “Fall on, fall on, the town is ours, the town is ours.” They within the town crying, “Come on, you rogues, we are ready to receive you!” The enemy was repelled from the line leaving scaling ladders, hand-grenades and pikes with grenades on the top of them, which the townsmen took. To be slain on their side in all one hundred, and that they were weakened in all four or five hundred. On the town’s part was only one man slain and another wounded.

A Royalist gunner lets fly from an elevated position

A Royalist gunner lets fly from an elevated position (image: Look and Learn)

May 7 — The enemy craved a parley for the burial of the slain, which was granted, on condition the town might have all such arms as were to be found in the field where the dead lay.
May 11 – Slain in Captain Davie’s fort three men, as they were singing a psalm with the minister at the request of an honest man
May 14 – The enemy lay very silent
May 17 – Fired: sixteen pieces of ordnance on the Cobb
May 20 – A piece of ordnance in Deyes’ meadow was found to have a broad nail driven into the touch-hole thereof and primed upon it, and when fired the nail appeared; there were ten or twelve musquets that had their touch-holes primed with sticks and pins; others had their scouring rods stolen; another his sword bowed and thrown aside – which argues the town is not clear of traitors.
May 22 – The defendants lost Captain Pyne, mortally wounded, a very valiant man; such a man is rarely found
May 24 – Prince Maurice sent a message into the town to have his prisoners there well dealt withal about their victuals
May 27 – About three o’clock in the morning the body of the said Captain Thomas Pyne was interred in the chancel of the parish church; his body was honoured with a volley of shot round about the town. Presently the enemy blew up their trumpets, and appeared for to storm the town. Forthwith the enemy’s ordnance began to batter on the houses, they showed forth their scaling ladders and made a breach in the line, but to as they dared not to be so bold as to enter the town. The enemy came on thinly, but fiercely, and were  entertained with like valour by the townsmen.
May 28 – There were landed for the relief of the town three hundred mariners.
May 29 – About twelve o’clock, having made a breach in the line near Marsh’s fort, the enemy came on with ladders, six or eight abreast. The mariners, many of them, were at first very fearful, and would have withdrawn, but the rest of them very courageously stood to it, reprehending some of them for their timorousness. The fight continued for nearly eight hours. They of the town stripped the dead corpses of their enemies, in one of whose pockets is found a letter of —— , who is of the  queen’s bed-chamber: it was a very wanton letter, and written to the Duchess of Richmond.
May 31 – Word came that a party of 500 horse were prepared to come to relief. The enemy shot fire-arrows into certain houses, which were consumed to ashes.
June 1 – The enemy fired the west end of the town in two or three places, and consumed twenty dwellings in two several streets and fired three or four pieces of ordnance, and with one shot struck off both the hands of a woman as she was carrying a pail of water, and struck off one arm of another.
June 2 – The enemy lay very quiet. About noon arrived Captain Hawks with an especial command of the committee of both kingdoms: “Gentlemen, We have received an account of your straights, and have appointed relief for you both by sea and land and be assured in a very short time forces shall march towards yon as shall, by the blessing of God, raise the siege. We understand, by intercepted letters, that the enemy have little ammunition left. Signed by your very loving friends, Northumberland, Maitland, Derby House, May 30, 1644.”
June 5 – There came into the town a serjeant and a corporal from the enemy’s quarters, being weary of their employ that side. They said they were deluded men, brought out of Ireland. They informed the governor that the enemy did almost despair of ever taking the town, and therefore resolved to burn it if they could and for this purpose they had procured a witch, who had undertaken to fire the stone-built houses by devilish art and practice, which caused the governor to command certain thatched houses to be uncovered, to prevent them in their purpose (not for fear of the said witch, or devilish practice).

 The rearguard of the Royalist forces with their baggage wagons departed on 15 June 1644 (image: Look and Learn)

The rearguard of the Royalist forces with their baggage wagons departed on 15 June 1644 (image: Look and Learn)

June 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 –   Little was done
June 11 – The enemy, to fire the town, shot red hot halls and iron bars. That they might hang on whatsoever they lighted, they were crooked at the ends, one of which kindled a house where the ammunition was.
June 12 – The townsmen determined to remove the enemy from a platform they were erecting near the line; the combat was not extraordinary, yet it was not the least for hurting the town, there being many killed.
June 13 – In the afternoon sixteen or twenty mariners, without command, sallied out on the enemy, and beat them from their hedge in the east
June 14 — There came from the enemy into the town Captain Phere, with his wife and maid-servant, and twenty-five common soldiers. They brought news that the enemy was preparing to raise the siege.
June 15 — About two o’clock in the morning the enemy had quitted their works. This being known, every one issued out, some for pillage, others to view the enemy’s works; others went into the fields and green meadows to refresh themselves after so long a siege, and to enjoy the benefit of the fresh air.

The town's preachers kept morale up during the siege

The town’s preachers kept morale up during the siege

One act of cruelty was committed by the mariners, who finding an old Irish woman of the enemy looking out for her friends, not supposing them to be gone, drove her through the streets to the seaside, slashed and hewed her with their swords, and having robbed her of twenty or forty shillings, cast her dead body into the sea, where it lay till consumed.
June 16, being Sunday, and the day for returning thanks for the town’s deliverance, Mr Peters preached in the forenoon, chose the 23d verse of the 136th Psalm for his text, and in the afternoon the 7th verse of the first chapter of St. Luke. ◗

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