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The Battle of St Fagans

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 12:37 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

On Monday 8 May 1648, at the village of St Fagans to the west of Cardiff, over 10,000 men clashed in a life or death contest that was, quite probably, the largest battle ever to take place on Welsh soil.

It was one of the final acts in the long running English Civil War, a conflict that eventually saw King Charles 1st executed and a republican Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell established in Britain.

The Battle of St Fagans was, from the beginning, an uneven contest. By 1647 it seemed as if the Civil War had come to an end but rows and disputes over unpaid wages, as well as Parliament's demand that the various generals should now stand down their armies, meant that a new conflict was inevitable.

Many Parliamentarian generals, upset and dissatisfied with the way things were going, soon changed sides, among them Rowland Laugharne, John Poyer and Rice Powell. They all now declared their loyalty to the king, despite having spent the previous five years trying their best to defeat him in battle.

Parliament was taken by surprise and the king's supporters quickly gained the upper hand in Wales. It was a short-lived success although, for a while, it seemed as if they were unstoppable and Laugharne, the most renowned and successful of the turncoat generals, found himself at the head of an army marching on Cardiff. Laugharne was reluctant to press too far, too quickly.

He knew that his position was not as strong as it seemed and the bulk of his army, though large, consisted mainly of 4000 eager but amateur volunteers. They were referred to as "clubmen" - quite literally, untrained soldiers armed only with clubs and billhooks. Opposing him were the highly professional and well-equipped Parliamentary forces of Colonel Horton. Knowing he had to seize the initiative, Laugharne decided on a surprise attack.

Shortly after 7am on the morning of May 8 he hurled 500 of his infantry against the Parliamentary outposts. It was something of a forlorn hope and the well-trained Parliamentarians quickly threw them back. Thereafter the battle degenerated into a hit and run affair, the Royalist forces trying to make stands behind the high hedges and the ditches of the area. Gradually, inexorably, the Parliamentary infantry and dragoons advanced and panic began to set in amongst the Royalist forces.

It was inevitable that the makeshift Royalist troops would break and within two hours, despite a desperate cavalry attack led by Roland Laugharne himself, the battle was over. Approximately 300 Royalists were killed, over 3000 were taken prisoner. Laugharne and his senior officers fled west where they barricaded themselves into Pembroke Castle, enduring an eight-week siege before Cromwell himself battered them into surrender.

Visitors to the modern museum at St Fagans can still walk the fields of the battle, even though the topography has changed somewhat over the years. Historical artefacts such as musket balls and buttons have been found in the area but the speed of the Parliamentarian victory and the nature of the battle, one of movement rather than a set piece slogging match, has meant that they are few and far between. Don't let that stop you looking as you walk the field of battle - you never know what you might find.

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  • Comment number 1.

    As a Northumbrian exile and self confessed 'history dabbler'I find it fascinating to read around the more unusual histories of my 'new' home. I'll be showing this Blog to my Kids who are in danger of seeing St Fagans as just another school trip. On our next visit my pocket luggage may just include one or two round 'shot' objects for them to discover and refuel their interest and imagination.
    Thanks Phil


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