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Civil War

With a shared background and similar beliefs, Ralph Hopton and William Waller were typical of the men who fought in this 17th -century clash. Julian Humphrys tells the story of a war without an enemy


Equipped with long, iron-tipped spears, pikemen provided the muscle in both sides’ armies. Red-coated regiments could be found in the armies of both King and parliament.

When Sir RalphHopton took his seat in what would later become known as the Long Parliament, he would have found it hard to believe that in just two years’ time, he would be fighting for his King in a bloody civil war. The son of a Somerset landowner, Hopton was the MP for Wells and, like the vast majority of his fellow MPs, he arrived in Westminster in 1640 not seeking to overthrow the King, but nevertheless determined to put right what they saw as the abuses of the previous 11 years, when Charles I had ruled without parliament. Hopton proved a vocal opponent of Charles’s government and denounced the Earl of Strafford, the King’s chief minister.

But as time went on, and the House of Commons began to propose more and more radical moves to limit royal power and reform the Church of England, he and a substantial minority of MPs began to think that this parliament was now a greater threat to England’s laws and liberties than Charles had ever been. In January 1642, Hopton defended the King’s attempted arrest of five leading MPs and in March, he opposed a parliamentary declaration against the King’s actions so vehemently that the Commons voted to commit him to the Tower of London for two weeks.

Hopton was now a committed Royalist and when war broke out later that year, he returned to Wells in the company of the Marquess of Hertford and tried to raise troops for the King. But popular opinion was against them. Confronted by a huge crowd of pitchfork-wielding locals, they were forced to make themselves scarce. Hopton ended up in Cornwall, where he raised an army of about 5,000 men to fight for the King. For six months, there was a military stalemate as Hopton’s little army repelled every Parliamentarian invasion of Cornwall, but was itself driven back every time it tried to advance across the Tamar. Finally, in May 1643, he defeated the Earl of Stamford’s Parliamentarian army at Stratton near Bude, and moved into Devon. The following month, he linked up again with the Marquess of Hertford and advanced into Somerset, where he was faced by a Parliamentarian army under Sir William Waller.


Sir Ralph Hopton and Sir William Waller (below) had been friends since they had fought together as young men, but they found themselves fighting on opposite sides during the British Civil Wars.

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About BBC History Revealed

This is the December 2017 issue of History Revealed.