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The Siege of Bristol - On Christmas Steps

I won't lie to you, the temptation to start this article off by flexing the old creative writing muscles was a very genuine concern. There's something about the breach of the city of Bristol, during that first siege in 1643, that warrants a bit of pomp and spectacle.

Bristol, at this point, was the second city of the country. Charles was determined to get control of a decent port through which he could ship in reinforcements and mercenaries from abroad (the abysmal state of the Royalist Navy notwithstanding). Following Royalist successes in Bath and the south-west, Bristol was the next logical choice. And so the brothers Palatine made their way towards Bristol, Prince Maurice with his Cornish army approaching from the south, Prince Rupert with his Oxford army approaching from the north-east.

Maurice was invested along the south side of the Avon, in land designed for siegework, and Rupert was invested along the northern side, which was most definitely not siege territory. Maurice was all for a long and traditional siege investment - Rupert wanted a quick and decisive storming. After a brief argument, the elder sibling (and dangerous, campaign-deciding action) won out.

Two of Rupert's commanders, Colonels Washington and Wentworth, won the day, finding a space on the defensive wall that was blocked from the Parliamentarian volleys. Use of grenades and explosives blew a breach into the defensive line of fortifications around Bristol. From here, the Royalists moved into an inner ring of defences, battering up against the Frome Gate.

It was a bloody work. Slanning and Trevannion were shot dead. Bassett, Astley and Slingsby were heavily wounded. None of these were light names in the Royalist army. Rupert's own horse was shot out from underneath him when trying to rally an assault on one of the forts. Indeed, whilst the Parliamentarians were happy to sue for peace, Rupert was just as keen - it was probably best to preserve some of the Royalist army for later campaigning.

After breaching the wall, Rupert set up a command post, sending Wentworth and Lunsford further in to attack the Frome Gate. Lunsford's regiment fought through enclosed streets under heavy fire from the Parliamentarians in the houses above. I recently had the privilege to walk through part of that route, up the Christmas Steps, later renamed Lunsford's Steps.

It's a steep walk, whilst I'm not the fittest of people, and the footing's not great. This was on a Saturday morning in light traffic. The houses come together very close overhead, almost blocking out the natural light. This is where the Parliamentarians were stationed, directly over the invaders, picking them off as they made their bloody way inwards.

Lunsford died here, shot in the head as he fought his way up the steps at the lead of the regiment. He died instantly. The 2iC, Lieutenant-Colonel Moyle was shot heavily, wounded beyond hope. He died several days later. This was the circumstance that led to the new leadership in the regiment - Rupert and Russell. The regiment had proved themselves through their bloody workmanship and, despite the hideous losses, were still considered worth saving by the higher ups.

Bristol is a place, a moment, that has a huge significance for Rupert's Bluecoats. I haven't delved into the real depths of the siege of Bristol - there are far more stories, far more quirks of fate to look into. The Sealed Knot is re-enacting the 375th anniversary of the Siege of Bristol, 1643 on May 26th-28th.

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