The Corbett One Name Study


SIR VINCENT CORBET, HIS DRAGOONS

A Provisional History of the Regiment
by Stephen Pickstock©
(Dragoon: a mounted infantryman armed with a musket.)

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Vincent.jpg (124955 bytes)

Sir Vincent Corbet the first baronet of Morton Corbet was born 13th June 1617. The first son of Sir Andrew Corbet and Elizabeth (nee Boothby), he went to Queen's College, Oxford and was a member of Lincoln's Inn from 1638. In 1640 when the King recalled Parliament Sir Vincent was elected MP for Shropshire, replacing his father who had died three years earlier. His colleague in the house at that time was a Mr Pierrepoint.

Once the King had raised the royal standard at Nottingham, he was received with welcome arms by the gentry of Shropshire, which unlike neighbouring Cheshire was staunchly Royalist.

At the start of the war Sir Vincent was nominated Captain of the Horse and a defence of Shrewsbury, in particular, and Shropshire in general was organised.

After the first battles of the war, notably Edge Hill in Warwickshire, the country realised that this affair would not be a short one, consequently moves got afoot to organise bigger and better armies.

On 5th December a commission was issue to Sir Vincent to raise a regiment of one thousand dragoons. So on the 20th of the same month at Battlefield, near Shrewsbury, a muster was held to raise the said regiment. The muster obviously promised much, Arthur Trevor wrote on the 29th December that they would exceed the number and raised two thousand. However it emerged later, by the end of 25th January, that the regiment was under-strength and the original muster raised only sixty dragoons, literally a single troop. Despite this, efforts were made to increase the number of soldiers available.

Events began to move rapidly, to counter Parliamentarian moves in Cheshire, Corbet was ordered to move from Whitchurch on 20th January to Tarporley. Respectfully he refused, he had not sufficient strength. Sir Thomas Aston appeared in the county on his way to Cheshire. He asked for as many troops as he could to counter not only the ensconced rebels in Nantwich, but a force heading towards Cheshire, under Sir William Brereton. Sir Vincent could only offer sixty, but given two days he said, they could raise another two hundred. This seems to suggest what may be borne out by other evidence, that the dragoons, after the initial poor showing, were being recruited at various places all round the county.

We know from letters that Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Edward Baldwin was near Ludlow and Aston set off on a grand tour of the county to gather men. Whether Sir Vincent went with him is not known at this time, but on the 28th January they set off towards Nantwich.

Aston had sent to Chester for a hundred and fifty musketeers to be sent to the town, so the expedition rode up to the town's defences expecting a friendly greeting. However what they received was powder and shot. Orlando Bridgeman, the royalist controller of Chester had not sent a man. According to the Parliamentarian pamphlets reporting the incident, and the degree to which they are to be believed, will be illustrated later, Aston and Corbet then set about organising an ambush that was betrayed to the advancing troops. In the resulting fight both commanders are portrayed as taking flight, in shameful manner, leaving the rebel force victorious. In truth the only reason that Brereton's forces could count this as a victory, was that when all the fuss had died down they were where they wanted to be.The most familiar account of the fight was written up by John Vicars who wrote for the parliamentarian press, it is fair to say that he has embellished the account freely, and an account of the same action by Sir William Brereton himself gives a much more balanced story.

In the darkness of the skirmish, the experience of Brereton’s men under his subordinate, Major Lothian, was a distinct advantage over the inexperienced Shropshire men. Even so it leaves us on the 29th with Aston at Whitchurch berating all soundly, while Sir Vincent is at Market Drayton. Sir Vincent wrote to Sir Francis Ottley (the Governor of Shrewsbury) that while it had been bad, it had not been as bad as it could have been, and please may we have as many surgeons as possible. This seems to give the lie to the supposed fight with a nary a blow exchanged. There now begins the most well documented phase of their operations.

From Market Drayton, at the beginning of February, the dragoons moved to Whitchurch to carry out more offensive operations, which unfortunately were hampered by the refusal of the Cheshire royalists to have the Salop troops in the county.Their strength began to build. Captain Baldwin with his Ludlow troops joins after the middle of the month and an undated note in papers in a private collection of Documents pertaining to Sir Thomas Aston at Aston near Runcorn, probably dating from the middle of February to early March has a list of other troops coming in. By the end of February the regiment probably numbered four hundred plus, possibly as many as six hundred, if a group from the County Trained Band was included as seems to have been.

Also about this time Captain Thomas Piggot joins the regiment. At the age of forty-three, it is believed he brought troops from around the Market Drayton area. However the need for experienced men to command was still sorely felt, and on the 17th while the regiment was at Malpas, a letter was sent asking for the secondment of a Captain Rainsford. It is possible that this was granted as he turns up again later at the capture at Shrewsbury castle. On the 19th March the regiment was engaged, under the earl of Northampton at Hopton Heath. They seem to have improved in quality as Brereton wrote in his letters the Shropshire dragoons 'came on in good order'. The victory for the Royalists was soured when the old earl was slain and his body held for ransom.

Back in Shropshire, troops from the regiment under Piggot at Whitchurch went back to Malpas in Cheshire which they occupied for a while. This was the only notable occupation of this isolated village in the war.

Piggot seems to have been placed under the command of Sir Thomas Scriven, Sir Vincent’s second cousin, and on the 12/13th April a mixed party of troops went over to Audlem and raided the house of Captain Massie. On the way back they were intercepted by some of Brereton's troops and lost some of their plunder.

However the rest of the troops in Malpas were not having a picnic either because on the same day Corbet writes from Malpas asking Shrewsbury for chirurgeons for injuries to the troops. Operations at this time were severely hampered by the reluctance of Orlando Bridgeman at Chester to allow the Shropshire troops into the county, hindsight suggests that he would have saved himself many problems later if he had.

At the beginning of May, possibly Mayday, or the 2nd or 3rd, the regiment retired on Market Drayton where Piggot rejoined them. Immediately they started building defences about the town, 'mud walls' or earth ramparts. However before these defences were complete, just before dawn, on Thursday 4th May 1643, Brereton attacked and the 'Battle of Drayton' took place.

The main source for this event is Mercurius Civicus, in the first issue of which, appears the lurid description of the shocking defeat of Corbet's dragoons. However although there is supporting evidence for the event, and there seems no doubt that it actually did take place, the casualties listed may not have been as bad as suggested. For example Ambrose Kynaston, the regimental quartermaster, was sufficiently recovered from his 'death' that by the 19th June he was fulfilling his duties again. The other Kynaston in the regiment at that time, Edward, also appears to have not been overly affected by his death. Captain Robert Sandford also seems to have made a miraculous recovery, so much so that he was taken alive (again) at Shrewsbury Castle.
However spurious some of the action was soon after this Thomas Piggot resigned his commission, and returned home to his house at Chetwynd, where he lived the rest of the war quietly, being fined for taking arms against Parliament in 1649.

By the 19th June the regiment was at Caynton. On the 17th of the same month a commission is issued for Corbet to raise a thousand foote. This regiment never materialised, although some sources, not original, state that it did, labelling it the 'Shrewsbury foote', although there are other units who have better claim to this title.

The next occurrence of major note was the battle of Loppington on 28th September. Loppington was part of the operations mounted against the town of Wen by Arthur, Lord Capel. It is quite likely Corbets were involved in some way, just as they were probably involved in the rest of the same operation which culminated in a series of battles lasting three days - the battles of Wem and Lea Bridge. These eventually led to the defeat of the royalists, the death of Sir Thomas Scriven and the sacking of Capel from his post as commander in Shropshire.

Salop then saw the arrival of John, 1st Lord Byron, who immediately began a series of operations to reduce the main parliamentarian headquarters in the area, this campaign culminated in the 2nd Battle of Nantwich, 1643/4. 1644 was a particularly busy year for Corbet’s regiment, they fulfilled many important military duties. These included an attack by Prince Rupert on parliamentarians stationed around Market Drayton and a number of other raids. Their duties also included the garrisoning of various houses. One of these was Moreton Corbet, which despite the impression given in Gough’s History of Myddle, changed hands several times, at least three times. They were also engaged on the collection of supplies from the various villages and hamlets around Shrewsbury.

In July they were engaged in the siege and battle for Oswestry where Captain Robert Sandford was injured.By the beginning of September the dragoons were probably deeply involved in the campaign around Montgomery, which could quite easily have been a Royalist victory, but which marked the beginning of the end for the royalists in Salop.

From the evidence it seems one troop at least was definitely elsewhere. On the night of 8th September Lt-Col Reinkling took Moreton Corbet Castle. It seems probable that the castle was not burned at this time. Gough, in the history of Myddle, gives several names as being involved in the Parliamentary Garrison. However, listed in the prisoners taken are two named officers, Major Bridgeman and Captain Maurice. The Aston papers put Major James Bridgeman, of the Chester Bridgemans, at Taunton on this date, which rules him out despite some claims to the contrary, and there is a possibility that Captain Maurice should actually be Morris. Also taken at Moreton Corbet were one Lieutenant, one sergeant, one quartermaster, two horse colours, at least eighty troopers, thirty good horses and other equipment.

The numbers of soldiers suggest this was a troop, probably what was known as the Major's troop. It would have been well up to strength because he was the Major and it was Moreton Corbet garrison. That the castle fell by virtue of a 'cunning plan' is no dishonour to him or his troopers.

Deprived of his home base Sir Vincent led his men to Shrewsbury first, and from there at about 'Hallowtide', 1st November to High Ercall house. At High Ercall Corbet and his troops were placed under the command of the Governor of the house, Captain Nicholas Armourer. Armourer was a commander of horse under Sir William Vaughan, the renowned ‘Devil of Shrawardine’. One or possibly two of the troops of dragoons may have been left at Shrewsbury Castle - Captain Sandford's troop and possibly Captain Rainsford's troop. At High Ercall the dragoons earned themselves the name Ercall or Arkle Dragoons.

The garrison at this time is placed at 200 foote and 40 horse which suggests it was not a large one.

On 22nd February 1644/5 Shrewsbury Castle was captured by the infamous Reinkling. The officers captured, Captains Sandford and Rainsford, and Cornet or Guidon Sandford, were taken as prisoners to Nantwich. The parliamentarians were less happy to issue their prisoners with paroles by now, as the royalists were giving their paroles and then ignoring them.

With Shrewsbury neutralised the Parliamentarians could begin to apply pressure to the remaining Royalist garrisons in the county. On 17th March 1644/5 Prince Rupert, and his brother, Prince Maurice, progressed through the county. They relieved Beeston Castle on 18th March. At Holt on the 19th Rupert ordered thirteen prisoners hanged in reprisal for the execution of two 'Irish' troops. One of the prisoners due to be hanged was Philip Littleton, whom Gough describes as an former employee of Sir Vincent ‘s family. His case was brought to Sir Vincent, who listened to his plea and successfully got his sentence commuted.

From 30th March to 15th April High Ercall underwent its first siege. It would appear that most of the time High Ercall was under 'leaguer' which differs from a siege in a set of technicalities. Basically it is possible to enter and leave a place if
it is ‘under leaguer’ but it becomes far more difficult if it is under siege. High Ercall village was razed to the ground to give clear fields of fire all round and the earth ramparts around the house were improved to include the church. Today the church is outside the line of the walls but its position in the 17th century was improved by the fact that there was a lake in front of it. This was drained in the 18th century for the farmland but it would have acted then as a natural moat.
The house at High Ercall underwent at least four sieges, at different levels of intensity, the second was ‘relieved’ by Sir William Vaughan as a result of a cavalry attack that left the parliamentarians with eight cart-loads of wounded.
On display at the church at the foot of the bell tower, on the opposite side from the doorway, are the worn stones which they used to sharpen their pikes. It is also possible to see where the cannon balls struck the tower leaving hemispherical depressions in the stone work.
On 14th June 1645 the King's army suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the rebels at Naseby field and some sources put Sir Vincent himself there with the Shrewsbury foote. It is unlikely that either Sir Vincent or the dragoons were there but whether they were or not, the Shrewsbury foote - the remains from three of the king’s regiments from Ireland - fought valiantly on that awful day. It was the decisive action of the war.
With the king's field army beaten and in some cases scattered, all Parliament had to do was mop up the centres of resistance.
One of these was Chester to which city the king went in September. His army followed only to beaten at Rowton Moor.
His majesty left Byron, who commanded the defence of the city with the instruction to hold out as long as he could, meaning a few days, weeks at most. Literal Byron took his instructions seriously. The task then fell to the Salop royalists to help keep Chester supplied, representing as it did a centre of resistance to the overwhelming advance by the parliamentarians.
Consequently we find a number of Dragoons at Denbigh Green on 1st November. Tentative numbers place then at 20 but it was possible there were more.
The 'Arkle' dragoons, as they are referred to, at one stage counter-charged the on-coming Parliamentary horse, a feat unheard of normally in Dragoon actions during the Civil War. Despite this they were defeated and Chester went unsupplied.
On 4th December, with Captain Armourer at Bridgnorth for a conference, Sir Vincent took command of High Ercall. That winter the garrison seems to have indulged in the favourite sport of garrisons throughout the war, 'beating up quarters', as they raided other enemy positions. On 3rd February 1645/6 they
raided a parliamentarian's house and on 15th February badly mauled the force of one Captain Halford, and severely affrighted the garrison at Bentham. The final siege of High Ercall took place over the period of 1st to 28th March 1645/6 and ended with Sir Vincent surrendering. He led some troops to Bridgnorth while others, the majority went to Worcester.
One story from the final siege of the house is that a Roundhead drummer used to beat out a challenge every day to the garrison until a royalist marksman put an end to his impudence. The garrison troops were living in the roof of the house in what became, known as the 'barracks'.
Incidentally the incumbent of High Ercall at that time, Matthew Fowler, DD, marched out with the troops.
The Parliamentarians could now see the end of the whole affair. Three days later on 31st March Bridgnorth town was taken, although fired by its garrison in the process. The castle and its gallant defenders, including many other prominent Shropshire royalists, held out for twenty six days before it too surrendered.
All of the surrendering officers were paroled and with the war virtually at its end it seems they did not break their word. In 1649 during the second civil war apparently Moreton Corbet was held for the King again though less effectively than before.

ENGLISH CIVIL WAR DRAGOONS

The organisation of the troops was as follows:
Commander either a Captain or if the commander was a field officer such as a Colonel, Lt colonel or Major then there would also be a Captain-Lieutenant
Lieutenant Cornet (sometimes referred to as a Guidon, who carried
the troop guidon or colour)
Quartermaster - who was counted as an officer carried a sword. One letter in the Ottleiana collection says that some of the Dragoons in Corbet’s may have been armed with clubs at first.
The reference to glowing match lights at 1st Nantwich seems to suggest that the troopers had matchlock weapons at first, though these were probably gradually replaced with more reliable flintlocks or flint lock weapons. Officers had their own arms, normally a good sword and a pair of pistols.

SIR VINCENT CORBET'S DRAGOONS
Sir Vincent Corbet’s Dragoons is a unit in the Sealed Knot Society of Cavaliers and Roundheads. The main aim of the Sealed Knot Society is to further the knowledge and study of the English Civil War, and re-enact battles from the period. Its aims are to entertain and educate and help raise money for charity in the process. Although only small at the moment, we have some 50 members, we aim to portray accurately a dragoon unit of the period, in dress, weapons and tactics. Members of the unit will be trained in the use of firearms, and sword, so that these may be used on the battlefield. We also hope to achieve as many riding members as possible, passing the Sealed Knot Cavalry test so that we can ride to battle as well as march.
Membership of the Sealed Knot at the moment is over 6000 and both Individual, Family and Associate membership are available. Membership runs from January to December and entitles members to free camping at the 'Musters' or battles
throughout the season and a bi-monthly journal entitles 'Orders of the Day'. Membership has always been on a 'do as much as you want to' basis and many people join as much for the scholarly opportunities and the social life as much as for the actual battles. If you feel like becoming a member feel free to ring me and talk about it. I can be reached most evenings on

01928 561367.
Steve Pickstock,
16 Waterloo Rd.,
Runcorn,
Cheshire.
WA7 1JU.

Additionally there is a website the Sealed Knot, an English Civil War Re-enactment Society


The Corbett Study Group is grateful to
Barbara Coulton, Frances Corbet and Steve Pickstock
for allowing us to publish their writing without charge.