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Bessie James
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Illustration showing a contemporary Civil War cartoon

Civil War        

In the late summer of 1644, Fowey became the setting for one of the major setbacks suffered by the Parliamentarian army during the English Civil War.

Earl of Essex Devereaux,
Earl of Essex

A force of 6,000 men and 2,000 horse, commanded by the Earl of Essex, fell back on Lostwithiel with the hope of escaping by sea from Fowey. A somewhat larger Royalist force commanded personally by Charles I (and, crucially, supported almost to a man by the Cornish populace) hemmed in the Roundheads from the north and cut off their escape by securing the blockhouse at the harbour entrance by Polruan.  



Charles I

 Charles I

On a particularly dark and stormy night, the Roundhead cavalry managed to break out and escape to Plymouth.  Essex then abandoned his remaining men and made good his own escape by fishing boat from Fowey.  His dispirited infantry made a last stand in the prehistoric earthworks of Castle Dore, just north of the town, and eventually surrendered to Charles’ army.  Despite the king’s entreaties to allow the 6,000 defeated men safe passage out of the county, only one in six of them completed the 90 mile journey to Dorset.  The standard of hospitality enjoyed by the retreating force fell sadly below today’s standards but we must remember that homes and grain stores had been ruthlessly plundered by the Roundhead army whilst in occupation.

The Roundhead forces had shown great disrespect to the people of Lostwithiel, burning the Duchy Palace and desecrating the church where they ceremoniously christened a horse “Charles” at the font “in contempt of his Sacred Majesty”. 

Polruan is now famous as the place where Charles narrowly escaped death when his fisherman guide was killed by musket fire as they reconnoitred the opposite (Fowey) shore from the Hall Walk.  The King was reported to be “unmoved”.

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