Laurence Spring, The Armies of Sir Ralph Hopton (Helion, 2020)
Laurence Spring introduces us to Sir Ralph Hopton, a veteran of the Thirty Years War and a solid soldier, but not much of a commander if results determine those things. Hopton joined the Marquess of Hertford’s army, then commanded three of his own during the English Civil War. He won one significant battle but lost all his major engagements. Spring narrates Hopton’s career and describes the processes for forming and maintaining an ECW Royalist Regiment.
Spring starts his survey with a general overview of army organisation but with Hopton’s armies in mind. A close look at Royalist officers follows, and from there to the men and recruitment. At first the soldiers were mostly volunteers, but that well ran dry until conscription became the usual method. Once recruited they were called to muster for the regiment, trained to fight, and given clothing with varying degrees of uniformity. Spring turns to the arms and armour of the Royalist soldiers. These were difficult to get and expensive. Many weapons were imported, while the aristocracy furnished some, which created a problem with a lack of standard measurements. All the accoutrements of war had to be bought, manufactured, or recycled, adding to the expense of war. The Regiment also required colours. Spring examines discipline and punishment, covering issues such as desertion and proper conduct. Keeping with administration, Spring reviews pay and provisions with the burden for the latter falling on hard-pressed parishes. He addresses casualties next, which makes grim reading as you might expect.
Hopton’s three armies are considered in the second half of the book. These chapters follow Hopton’s operations, including skirmishes, sieges, and proper battles. Hopton’s first army operated in the West in 1643, highlighted by the battles of Stratton and Lansdown Hill. Hopton was wounded while at Bristol but stayed busy organising his second army under orders to clear Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. He made the classic mistake, however, of dividing his army in the face of the enemy, led by Sir William Waller, in late 1644 and managed to lose a large portion of it in the process. Worse followed in March 1645 when Hopton lost to Waller at Cheriton, and with it the rest of his army. Hopton took command of his third army at the siege of Taunton in May 1645. Despite the Royalist cause becoming a losing proposition, Hopton continued into 1646, commanding about 7,000 men. Then Halifax defeated him at Torrington and Hopton surrendered soon afterwards before fleeing to Europe. He died in exile in 1652. Spring follows that with the fates of some of Hopton’s men through the Restoration and beyond. He adds four appendices, including a useful list of regiments that fought for Hopton.
If nothing else, Sir Ralph Hopton was committed to his cause, and he has found a solid military biographer in Laurence Spring. Indeed, Spring weaves Hopton’s story into a broader picture of the Royalist armies in the west very well. His nuts and bolts description of the Royalist regiment is useful for readers wanting to peek behind the generalist curtain, and his superior use of limited sources is supported by tables, charts, maps, and some attractive colour plates of soldiers. In addition, this volume of Helion’s excellent Century of the Soldier series dovetails nicely with other books in the series to help establish a mesh of works looking at ECW campaigns from different angles.