In the spring of 1644 the Earl of Essex, the chief military commander of the Roundheads sent an army to fight the King in Oxfordshire. Essex led another army to the town of Lyme in Dorset. Lyme was under siege. As Essex approached Lyme the besieging Royalists retreated. Essex carried on to Plymouth, which was also under siege. Essex relieved Plymouth. At Plymouth Essex was told by Lord Robartes, a Cornish Parliamentarian that if he invaded Cornwall the locals would support him. In late July Essex entered Cornwall with approximately 6.500 infantry and 3,000 cavalry.
Essex had been given bad advice. The Cornish hated the Roundheads and would not support Essex. What Essex didn’t know was that the King had defeated the Roundheads in Oxfordshire. The King and his army marched on Cornwall looking for Essex. The Cavaliers from Lyme and Plymouth were ahead of Essex. With the King’s army behind him and a Cavalier army already in Cornwall, Essex was trapped.
Once Essex realised his position he made plans to escape from Cornwall with his army. Essex’s intended to march to the port of Fowey and wait to be rescued by the Roundhead navy. In early August Essex arrived at the town of Lostwithiel, near Fowey. He placed most of his army on the hills and high ground above the town.
The Royalists had 200 men and cannons in a fort overlooking the Fowey estuary. Their job was to stop Parliament’s ships from entering the port. Once the King had joined forces with his allies in Cornwall his army numbered approximately 12,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. By late August the Royalists had Essex surrounded and cut off from help.
Fighting began on 21st August. The Royalists forced Essex’s army off the high ground and drove them into Lostwithiel. On 31st August, in the early hours of the morning, 2,000 Parliamentarian cavalry managed to escape and ride to Plymouth. On September 1st Essex marched toward Fowey. His infantry commander, Sir Phillip Skippon defended the rear of the Roundhead army with great skill. But Skippon was eventually beaten back. When Essex arrived in Fowey it was obvious that there would be no rescue for his army. Essex escaped in secret by boat and left Skippon in charge. On September 2nd the Roundhead army surrendered. During the fighting the Roundheads had lost 700 men. As the beaten army were marched across the country to Southampton, 3,000 prisoners either deserted or died on the journey.
The King enjoyed his greatest victory. But in the North of England his armies had suffered a far worse defeat at Marston Moor. Essex would soon be sacked. Parliament would create the New Model Army and the King would lose the war.