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Check the Source!


I have begun work on my British cavalry research project, however, difficulties lie ahead as I no longer have access to the research resources I had when doing my PhD. In particular databases like Early English Books Online. This has a digital copy of every English Language book published before 1700. Now a lot of stuff has been quoted and published in secondary sources, but it is always advisable to go to the original source if at all possible. There are two main reasons for this, first, if a source contains one thing of interest there might be more. Secondly, you cannot be sure that the transcription of the source is accurate. Let me give an example.

The skirmish at Powick Bridge, one of the first actions of the English Civil War, was, according to one book, described as follows. ‘We let them [the Royalists] come up very near so that their horses’ noses almost touched those of our front rank, before our’s gave fire, and then their’s gave fire, and very well (to my way of thinking with their coolness). But all of a sudden we found all the troops on both sides of us melted away.’ Now, to me, that tells me that the opposing cavalry units were very close before the Parliamentarians fired first, followed by the Royalists. This firing seems to have settled the outcome of the engagement in favour of the Royalists.

However, in another book the account is given as follows. ‘As soon as Sir Lewis Dive’s troop [Royalists] had discharged upon us, we let them come up very near that their horses’ noses almost touched those of our first rank before ours gave fire, and then they [the Parliamentarians] gave fire, and very well to my thinking, with their carbines, after fell in with their swords pell mell into the midst of their enemies, with good hope to have broken them (being pretty well shattered with the first charge of their carbines). But of a sudden we found all the troops on both sides of us melted away, and our rear being carried away with them’. That is a very different account.

In the first version, both sides fire at very close range and the implication is that the fight is decided by firepower. In the second the Royalists seem to have fired at some distance and then advanced. The Parliamentarians fired at very close range and considerably disrupted the Royalists. this was followed by s period of hand to hand combat with swords before the Parliamentarians retreated.

Which is correct? Knowing the two works in question I would put money on the second, but it has to be checked, and who knows what other little gems there are in that account about cavalry combat?


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