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Victory by cow!

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 09:48 UK time, Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Many things can bring about victory in battle or war, not least a liberal helping of luck. But victory thanks to a herd of cows? Now that really does take some beating.

Herd of cows

The English Civil War began in 1642 and was, amongst many other things, the culmination of disputes between the king and parliament.

It was a bloody and violent interlude that, like any civil war, saw brothers fighting against brothers, fathers against sons. It ended with the execution of the king and the setting up of a Commonwealth in Britain - a relatively short-lived Commonwealth, to be sure, but the only time the British state has run without a monarch at its head.

The civil war in Wales was a confused and troubled time, with people changing sides on a regular basis. One of the hotbeds of Parliamentary support and effort was South Pembrokeshire where men such as John Poyer, the Mayor of Pembroke town, and the outstanding Welsh general of the war, Rowland Laugharne, led by example.

In December 1643 and the early part of 1644 Poyer and Laugharne were holed up in the town and castle of Pembroke, not quite under siege by the king's forces but with their movements curtailed and the very real risk of death and destruction hovering in the wind.

Help was at hand, however. During that winter a feeling of resentment began to grow amongst the people of the region regarding the behaviour of many of the Royalist troops and, banking on local support, Laugharne decided it was time to take action.

On 30 January 1644 he took the fortified manor house at Stackpole and four days later moved on to Trefloyne, outside Tenby. After four or five hours of artillery bombardment his forces charged and took the house. Now all that remained were the Royalist bases in the northern part of the county.

On 23 February Laugharne crossed the Cleddau River and lay siege to the Royalist fort of Pill, just outside the modern town of Milford.

Four ships from the Parliamentary fleet aided Laugharne's artillery bombardment. They moored below the fort and added the weight of their broadsides to the battering.

The fort surrendered the following day, 300 officers and men, 18 large guns and 160 smaller weapons falling into Laugharne's hands for the loss of just one man killed.

Rowland Laugharne now decided to march on Haverfordwest. As well as being a vital market town, it was the centre of Royalist support north of the Cleddau and Laugharne knew that it must be taken. The town and its castle were well supplied, well armed, and he expected a fierce fight.

However, when he and his soldiers approached the town they were met, not by a hail of gunfire or by a phalanx of soldiers ready to give battle, but by local dignitaries who were happy to surrender the town and all its supplies.

The garrison in Haverfordwest had, simply, run away. They had heard the sound of the cannonade from the south and knew that they would be next. Then, as they waited, tense and frightened, a lookout saw dust on the horizon. Laugharne and his victorious troops were coming.

Panic seized the garrison and they abandoned their positions and fled.

Only later did they realise the dust was not caused by advancing soldiers but by a herd of bullocks, running in frenzy, frightened by the firing and by the sudden appearance of dozens of armed men. Rowland Laugharne did not care what had caused the garrison to flee. Haverfordwest was his, that was all that mattered.

Over the next few days Laugharne moved on to take the castles of Roch, Picton and Wiston. By the beginning of March not a single Royalist stronghold remained in North Pembrokeshire - and all because of a herd of frightened cows.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Fenton writing in 1811 has some interesting things to say about Stackpole during the Civil War, Phil. At that time Stackpole Court was a fortified Baronial Mansion – not at all like the grand house we knew in our youth and sadly now demolished. He quotes the Parliament forces as stating that: “the walls were so strong that the ordnance did but little execution,” but even so 60 fully armed soldiers surrendered.
    Going back to cattle, did I read somewhere that there was a Civil War skirmish at Pwllcrochan? If so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was started by cattle – I used to work on a farm near there as a holiday job when we were in school Phil, and some of the cattle there would ‘skirmish’ with anybody they didn’t know!

  • Comment number 2.

    Like you, Roger, I've been attacked by those Pwllcrochan cows - they must have been trained! But there was a skirmish at Pwllcrochan, not involving cows, in March 1648, during what is known as the Second Civil War. John Poyer, Mayor of Pembroke, learned that two companies of soldiers (soldiers of Parliament as, by then, Poyer had changed sides and was fighting for the King) had landed there. He attacked, the Parliamentarians defended themselves and fell back to the church. It became a stand-off that was only ended when Poyer agreed the soldiers could retain their arms and sail away in the transports that had brought them - on the condition that they never returned to Pembrokeshire again.


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