Extracts from the Historical Collection of John Rushworth, Part iv., vol. ii., 1701:—
“The Post Letters from the North were this Week intercepted. From Belvoir Castle June 30 came as followeth ‘The Enemy at Pontefract Castle still go on at pleasure, taking and plundering whom they please, and yet please to deal so with none but those who have been most active for the Parliament. Having quitted the Isle of Axholme, they came towards Lincoln and [JuIy 3rd] yesterday Entered the City, plundered the House of Captain Port, who is now in arms in Northumberland for the Parliament, & may do as much for them and many others, to the great Damage if not Ruine of them. They have Prisoners Captain Bees, Captain Pines and others; Colonel Rossiter was at a distance. They went further on and took Prisoner Mr. Ellis, they brag they have 3000 listed in Lincolnshire; but there are divers Thousands in Leicester, Derby, Rutland and Lincolnshire who are ready to join against these.
“They killed one Mr. Smith in Lincoln belonging, to the Sequestration” [p. 1174]
“Letters this day [July 8th] to the House from Col. Rossiter from Nottingham July 6. That he had met with the Pontefract Forces upon their return after their Plundering Voyage, and engaged them at a Place called Willoughby-Field, routed their whole Party, consisting of about 1000, took 600 Horse and their Riders, the Commander in Chief and all his officers, all their Bag and Baggage, the rest routed but not many slain; Colonel Rossiter unhappily wounded in the Thigh. Captain Harwood who brought the letters had £100 given him by Order of the House”
It will be observed that in the first paragraph of the foregoing report the fight is stated to have taken place on Tuesday, 5th July, 1648; whilst in the next paragraph Wednesday is named as the day: the latter day is the correct one, for not only did the 5th July in that year fall on Wednesday, but it is obvious from the context that the fight ensued on the same day that Colonel Rossiter “commanded out the forlorne hope,” to pursue the Royalist troops, which is correctly stated to be on Wednesday. This, however, is a small matter, and immaterial beyond ensuring accuracy.
Sir Philip Monckton, Knight, of Cavil and Hodroyd, co. York, who commanded the Cavalier force on this occasion, was the eldest son of Sir Francis Monckton, who married Margaret, daughter and co-heir of Thomas Savile, of Yorkshire. Sir Philip was knighted at Newcastle in 1644, and was a loyal supporter of both King Charles I. and King Charles II. He was several times imprisoned, twice banished, and also fined during the Civil War. He married, in i658, Anne, daughter of Robert Eyre, Esq., of Highlow, Derbyshire, and represented Scarborough in Parliament at one period. His opponent at Willoughby carried him off and held him prisoner at Belvoir Castle after that encounter, but on the 9th October following, Colonel Rossiter wrote to Lord General Fairfax, and advocated his release on parole, “being assured he is so much a gentleman that he will not infringe his friends engagement or falsifie his own worde.”
A letter from Colonel Rossiter to Lord General Fairfax from Belvoir Castle, dated October 9th, 1648
“May it Please your Excellencye—
“I have received your two lovinge letters—Phillip Monckton, now prisoner in Belvoir Castle, in assurance of whom I doe beg leave to represent your Lordship with his qualitie and his rank and his condition. His command was great, being by the enemy styld generall of the forces gotten together after the unfortunate surprisal at Ponte fract. He commanded in chiefe of the Yorke forces, which came thence into this country and was afterwards taken in the fighte at Willoughby; and since his imprisonment his carriage has manifested very much Civility, and arising in me that beeleefe, that your honowr may in safety gratifie his wishes and his request to your Lordship, without prejudice to your interest, being assured he is soe much a gentleman, that he will not infringe his friends’ engagement or falsifie his own worde. My Lord, there is alsoe prissoner with him, one Colonel Byron being taken up, who craves a like favor upon goode security, which I humbly submit to your Excellencie and remaine my Lord,
Your most humble Servant
Linc. 9th Octr
Colonel Sir Philip Monckton.
A portrait of Sir Philip, by Vandyck, is in the possession of Lord Galway, the present day representative of the Monckton family, and by his courtesy the portrait here given is rendered available.
Colonel Rosseter was a Lincolnshire man, and a pedigree of his family will be found in Gibbons’ “Notes on the Visitation of Lincolnshire,” 1634. From this source it appears he was Colonel Sir Edward Rosseter, M.P., of Somerby, near Brigg; he was General of all the Lincolnshire forces under Cromwell, and was knighted at the Restoration. He married, as his second wife, Lady Arabella Holles. In his will, dated 15th August, 1668, and proved 23rd March, 1669, he desired to be buried in the church or chancel of Somerby.1 There is a portrait of Colonel Rossiter in Cornelius Brown’s History of Newark,” vol. ii., page 77.
In reading the foregoing narrative, one cannot fail to admire the enterprise shown by Colonel Rossiter, and the tenacity with which he pursued his adversary, and finally engaged him on horses which must have been jaded by several days of arduous marching, and had that morning made a considerable march, the latter part being made at a “full trot.” It is true his movements were not impeded with the presence of foot soldiers, as was the case apparently with the Royalist force. The result amply rewarded his efforts, for, according to this “impartiall and true Relation” transmitted to Parliament, the Cavalier force was computed as “consisting of 7 or 800 at least,” and of this number “44 gentlemen of quality” and “500 Common Souldiers” were taken, to say nothing of any that were killed, which, it is admitted, were few. It makes the reader doubt if the writer of the report, in his ecstasy, did not exaggerate the result of the victory and minimise the loss on the Parliamentarian side when he adds that there were “not more than 30 of Rossiters men slaine upon the place.”
Captain Champion’s promptness, with his small command of 150 horsemen, was such that after a pursuit of seven miles he overtook the rearguard of the Cavalier force. Assuming the route taken from Bingham was by the Fosseway (and as to this no doubt seems possible), the point where the Royalists first became aware of their pursuers’ presence would be about where the house generally known by the name of “Widmerpool Inn” stands. From this place to Willoughby is about two miles, so it may be inferred that the strength of Champion’s “forlorne hope” was insufficient by itself to compel their opponents to a “stand or halt,” until that distance had been covered and the party had been re-inforced, desultory rearguard skirmishing going on all the way.
It is impossible, at this distance of time, to locate the exact site of the bean field1 in which the stand was made by the Royalists to resist the pressure now brought to bear by their pursuers, by this time augmented by the contingent under Colonel Rossiter himself. It is manifest that the Royalists had leisure sufficient to form up, and so experienced a leader as Colonel Monckton would not fail to select ground adapted for best resisting the impending attack. This surely would not be in the meadow near the church, as reputed, with the disadvantage of the ground against him and a stream behind him; moreover, if he had been in the vicinity of the church and village, it would seem probable be would have occupied the buildings with his dismounted men, and not aligned them with his cavalry, as he seems to have done.
A visit to the locality suggests that Colonel Monckton, whose destination as Loughborough or Kegworth, recognised Willoughby Church as the place where he should leave the Fosseway for his destination, turned off the Roman road by an old track (still in existence, but now only used as an occupation lane, and marked as Bryans Lane on the ordnance map) across the level ground that lies between the Fosse and Willoughby village: if this was so, it was on this level ground that he probably formed up his men when he was “over taken in the feuds of Willoughby,” and the encounter took place. It is probable also that this stubbornly contested fight, after the first impact, swayed towards the village, from whence there are roads to Loughborough and Kegworth, which afforded a line of retreat to the fugitive Royalists, and that any fighting that may have taken place in the meadow near the church was at a crisis when the Royalists were broken, retiring, and being pursued. In the village there is a narrow alley known as “Mob Lane,” down which, it is said, the soldiers ran.
The narrative rendered to Parliament differs in many particulars from the account given by Colonel Monckton in his Memoirs. In them he mentions no village; he states his force was so out-numbered, that no reserves could be formed; he had, therefore, to place all his men in the fighting line, which became much disordered after the first impact, and fell a prey to Rossiter’s reserves.
COLONEL MONCKTON’S NARRATIVE.
“Having an invitation in to Lincolnshire, where wee weere promised a conjunction of forces out of Norfolke, Leicestersh & that Country, wee marcht to Lincolne where wee tooke the Pallace by storme with two hundred men and a good quantity of arms & ammunition, with which we marcht towards Kegworth in Leicester-sh where wee were promised a conjunction of forces of that Countrey, and Darby-sh Lincolne-sh and Norfolke having failed us; But wee weere over taken in the feilds of Willoughby by Coll Rossiter who soe over numbered us that wee were forct to draw all the men we had in to one front, and haveing noe reserves though we forced those we charged, to recoyle, yet his reserves stoode firme & advanced upon us, and routed us beeing disordered with the charge wee made upon his first line, which fought obstinately.”
From the foregoing it is obvious that Colonel Monckton did not commit the error of remaining at the halt to receive the onset of his enemy, as is implied in the official record.
Colonel Monckton was still suffering from a wound in his right arm, that he received at the battle of Rowton Heath, and so had to manage his horse with his left, until he was wounded in that limb and taken prisoner.
It was a misfortune for Colonel Monckton that he was compelled to place all his men “into one front” on this occasion, for when the mounted portion advanced to charge, as it is stated they did, the foot soldiers and musketeers would be left isolated bodies at the mercy of Rossiter’s superior numbers.
The foot soldier of those days would be armed most likely with a 10ft. pike, but no firearms, whilst the musketeer would carry a caliver or light arquebuse and a sword.
There is, in the church, an oval brass plate, with the following inscription:
“Here lyes the Body of
Collonell MICHAELL STANHOPE
who was slayne in Willough
-by Feud in the Month of
July 1648 in the 24th
Yeare of his age being
a Souldier for King
CHARLES the first.”
In Colonel Rossiter, Cromwell had found a reliable and zealous leader. His merit was duly recognised, for in Rushworth’s “Historical Collection, 1701, Proceedings in Parliament,” there appears:—
“1648 Wednesday November 15th Col. Rossiter coming to-day into the House, they ordered that the thanks of the House should be given to him for his great services to this Kingdom and for all the hazard undergone and blood that had been shed for them and accordingly Mr Sparkes gave him the hearty thanks of the House.”
“Tuesday November 21st The Lords concurred for £2,000 for Col. Rossiter and that all the forces lately raised in Lincolnshire be disbanded except the Colonel’s own Troop.”
From the Borough Records of Nottingham, it appears that Colonel Rossiter and Captain Champion were frequent visitors to that town during the years 1644-1648, for instance the following items appear :—
“1644-5 For Colers given to Colonell Rossiters souldiers iiili xiiijs xd.”
“Presents and rewards
“Wyne presented to Colonell Rositer and other commanders at severall times xxxijs jd.”
Extract from the Chamberlain’s account:—
“1647-8 wine and beare when Col. Rossiter was in the towne 00 • 10 • 10.
“Expenses of soldiery quartered in the towne paid to Captain Champion for six weekes pay to the soldiers att Pontrefact the summe of 17 • 11 • 09.”
Next after the battle of Stoke Field, which took place at the close of the War of the Roses, some fifteen miles farther north, on the same Fosse Road, on 16th June, 1487, the fight at Willoughby was probably the most important encounter that has ever occurred on Nottinghamshire soil. There is no doubt that it was more than a skirmish, and for a time the fighting must have been of a strenuous character. A great deal, moreover, depended on the result, for had the Royalists prevailed, the way would have been cleared for Colonel Monckton to have raised the siege of Colchester, whilst gathering adherents as he proceeded there.
In compiling this narrative, I desire to acknowledge the kind co-operation of Mr. T. M. Blagg, who lent the War Tract; Major G. C, Robertson, who lent his copy of the Monckton Papers, and also accompanied me to Willoughby; Mr. F. W. Dobson; Mr. E. L. Guilford, and the late Mr. J. T. Godfrey.
Map of Willougby Field.
(1) Or corn field, in the Perfect Diarnal, a London news sheet of the period, July 5th-10th.