Guest writer David Ruffle finishes his three-part series marking the 375th anniversary of the Siege of Lyme
THE afternoon of April 25 brought mixed feelings for the townspeople. A ship in the harbour which had been pressed into service as a temporary prison was seen to hoist sail and make for Weymouth, the inmates had obviously wrested control from their keepers.
Any dejection Lyme felt was short-lived, for shortly thereafter two ships arrived. Captain Man offered to the town “anything he had on board”.
The following day the Royalist forces set up a new battery on the eastern side of the town. As a result of this, Davey’s Fort had to be hurriedly strengthened. Prince Maurice was well aware that Davey’s was strategically the most important defensive fort Lyme possessed, to take it was to take the town. A further consequence of this new Royalist battery was the abandonment of Newell’s Fort.
May 28 saw a ferocious assault on the town. Waves of Royalist soldiers stormed Lyme, but were met with such a barrage of shot that the assault was checked very quickly, and in the process, Maurice may have lost upwards of 80 men.
The ships, Mary Rose and the Ann and Joyce arrived with much-needed supplies of ammunition, along with beef, pork, butter, wood, cheese and, most welcome, beer! One hundred men also disembarked to assist in the defence of “poor Lyme”.
The next few days were a quiet affair as the weather played its part, being extremely stormy. On Monday, May 6 the storms gave way to a thick fog which enveloped the town. All was quiet and the besieged took the opportunity come evening to remove themselves from the line for supper.
This was what the Royalist’s had expected and they attacked the town in three different spots. Heartened by the unexpected scarcity of sentries, they pressed on shouting “the town is ours”. An hour later, far from the town falling, the attack had been beaten back with further considerable loss of life for the royal army.
Further skirmishes followed and on May 10 and 11 and further ships came to the aid of the town, bringing with them 300 men. A demi-cannon from one of the ships was then utilised on a new platform to considerably enhance the town’s defence.
The next move by Maurice and his commanders was to relocate their big guns from Colway to Holm Bush fields with the intention of preventing the landing of supplies in the harbour.
More soldiers arrived (120) on May 15 and a new platform was raised below Davey’s Fort (probably where East Cliff now lies). May 16 saw the Royalists open up a steady fire on the Cobb, managing to damage several ships in the harbour. Sorties were made to the western and eastern enemy works by the defenders to good effect.
May 21 saw a bold attack upon the Cobb, 60 of the enemy stormed the harbour burning some 20 of the barges which lie there. Although initially beaten back, they once more entered the Cobb and yet more destruction ensued.
On May 23, Earl Warwick, Lord High Admiral of England, arrived with a squadron of eight ships with more supplies and man power. At a Council of War, it was decided that Warwick’s squadron would set sail as if to go to Charmouth. This, it was hoped, would draw off some of Maurice’s troops, who would expect to confront Warwick’s men when they disembarked.
Maurice, supposing that some of the garrison would be aboard the ships, then launched another attack, this time from the west with 1,000 bearing down on Lyme. The defenders held firm and the women of the town came into their own, filling places in the line and firing muskets at the foe.
After these assaults, there was a period of calm where the only sign of activity from the enemy was the launching of fire-arrows into the town. Warwick busied himself petitioning parliament for ammunition, match and powder, for supplies were dangerously low. Relief was on the way by land too. The Earl of Essex had arrived in Blandford with a considerable body of men en route to Lyme.
Prince Maurice now realised that the siege had to be raised. The townspeople joyously watched as tents were taken down and ordinance drawn off.
On June 15, two or three of the besieged fired at the enemy’s works. They were met with silence. The siege of Lyme was over.