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Hunting down the past - Major Mitchell

We have a very limited knowledge of Sergeant-Major Dominick Mitchell, the-some-time 2-i-c of the original Prince Rupert’s Bluecoats.

The sergeant-major, or, as we say today, major, of the regiment, was usually the third in command after the colonel and lieutenant-colonel. However, as we have shown earlier in this blog, in Prince Rupert’s Bluecoats the Lieutenant-Colonel, Russell, was the de facto commander from day to day, and Mitchell was his deputy.

We have a fair history of Russell, but there are scant sources for Mitchell. Peter Young, in his Edgehill /Marston Moor/ Naseby trilogy, refers to him several times. Lawson Nagel, in his History of the Bluecoats, also refers to him, as do several historical sources (Symonds in his diary being one of them). However, unlike Russell, or his predecessors Henry and Thomas Lunsford, there is no back-story or proper reference.

I found this very frustrating, and spoke with several ex-COs of the current regiment. They suggested several ideas for information, but all of these unfortunately drew a blank, or left us with further conjecture. All of our conversation and research in readily available books led us to believe the following:

  1. As the sergeant-major, he was probably a professional officer. Russell was quite young to run a regiment and had limited experience; he was an MP and a nobleman, not a professional soldier by trade. It would make sense for Rupert to ensure he had some good experience amongst his senior ranks of his own-named regiment.

  2. He was captured at Bolton, but was in garrison with the Bluecoats at Chester the following year, so must have been rescued once Bolton was taken. I found reference to the 18 February 1645, where the corporation of Chester authorised payment of £40 to Sergeant-Major Mitchell “for his Highness Prince Rupert’s foot regiment now resident in this garrison”.

All other research at that time drew a blank. Having pored over some very badly printed Victorian compilations of Rupert’s letters, I one day spotted that there was a letter from Russell to Rupert just after Bristol 1643. However, no-one had bothered to include the text in any of the compilations. Peter Young had, fortunately, given the exact reference for the letter, which referred to promotions after Bristol. Brigadier Young conjectured that Mitchell might have been a senior captain promoted after Lunsford and Moyles died at Bristol. Could this letter be his promotion document? However, it was on restricted access at the British Library. I chatted with some of the regiment, and then it was suggested I speak with Mike Snape, one of our firelocks. Mike is actually Professor Canon Michael Snape, Professor of Anglican Studies, and is one of the most interesting, clever and lovely people I have the privilege of knowing. Mike soon furnished me with a research letter, and I was granted access to the letter, which I could view in person at the British Library.

I went down in the summer holidays with my two avid research assistants, Alex and Jake, to see this real piece of history. It was a wet and soggy day, but this didn’t stop my excitement as I finalised my BL Reader’s card, and the three of us went through to the manuscript room. Approaching the desk, I handed in my slip, and a very old tome, probably Victorian, was brought out. “Centre desk only; don’t take your eyes off it; use the support blocks; no photos.”

We found our numbered desk, and pulled three chairs close. We were surrounded by lots of researchers. Directly opposite, an ancient lady gave us a filthy look and returned to her document, which looked so old she may well have written it herself.

We worked our way carefully through the book, which was filled with Rupert’s correspondence received. Some of it was in cipher, with the decoding underneath. Finally, we got to the letter, which was written in a crabby but legible hand. We all took in a breath, and the crone opposite gave us another filthy look, to which we all shushed each other. We then read the letter:

“May it please your highness

I am very sorry I must give your highness an account of such sad news as the death of Captain Ventris, and to know whether your highness will be pleased to bestow this company upon this gentleman which is lieutenant to this company and truly he hath the report of an honest and a stout man and withal if your highness will be pleased to make the ensign lieutenant. I shall send Captain Deane over to your highness within this few days concerning the clothes for the regiment.

I rest

Your highness most humble servant, John Russell, Bristol, this 22 Day of December”

Great letter, but no reference to Mitchell. But if it Russell was asking this of Rupert, especially the clothes, and was sending a captain to sort things out, where was Mitchell at this time? We finished the book, and gave it back in good order, leaving before we got any more looks from opposite. A dead end to this trail.

I tried contacting Lawson Nagel, to see if he had any further research. He was very gracious in his reply, but explained that he was now reaching retirement as a priest, and had stopped all his research and re-enacting when he was ordained.

All went quiet, until the August Bank Holiday muster 2017 near York. An ex-CO gave us some very old regimental magazines which went back to the early days of the regiment. In it was an article by Lawson, and it gave us our final piece of information (to date) on Major Mitchell:

“It is now known they were left to garrison Bristol (after the death of Lunsford and Moyle in 1643) and that by early September, at the latest, Prince Rupert had made the regiment his own. On 4 September, Sir Ralph Hopton wrote from Bristol to the Prince (who was besieging Gloucester): ‘I took this day a view of your Highness’s regiment here, and find it full 300 whole men, but there are but 93 armed. I humbly pray your Highness to command them speedily to be furnished, and to send us M. Mitchell who will be of great help to me here’...... The Mr Mitchell mentioned in the letter was the regiment’s sergeant-major, ‘a very stout active commander’, who was doubtless needed to help get the regiment and others in the city into first-class shape. Mitchell may have been seconded to Rupert’s staff at Gloucester because of his ability, or he may have led the contingent of musketeers from the regiment who were commanded to the siege from the Bristol garrison.”

Lawson then goes on to mention the letter from Russell to Rupert which we had found at the British Library.

So, there we have the full amount of information on the elusive Mitchell. We know more about him than we did a year ago, albeit the fact that the information had already been found by an eminent regimental historian - we just had to wait for it to turn up. However, we will continue with our research, and would welcome any further sources from our readers into this mysterious officer.

A B George

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