The virgins of Norwich, hearing of the Cavaliers' violent outrages committed upon their sex wheresoever they get the victory, are so sensible of their reputations that they have readily contributed so much money as hath raised a goodly troop of horse for their defence, which is called the Maidens' Troop. (12)
In June 1644, the Earl of Essex embarked on a campaign to gain the south west of England from the Royalists that would see Blackwell's command, painstakingly assembled over the previous two months, dismantled with heart-breaking speed. Blackwell recorded eight horses either dying on the march or being so exhausted and lame that they had to be abandoned en route. One mount died in its London stables before the troop even marched. Each of these horses had cost London's women £5 of hard-earned money.
In the early hours of 31 August, under cover of darkness, Blackwell's troop was among the Parliamentarian cavalry that escaped through the Royalist cordon, desperately heading for the nearest Parliamentarian garrison at Plymouth. Not all made it: nearly a quarter of the Maiden Troop were lost at Lostwithiel - some through sickness before the breakout, others being captured and having their horses taken from them 'contrary to the Articles made with the enemy' (20). Some of these troopers appear to have been subsequently remounted, but 'divers of them had their horses killed & tired breaking through the enemy' (21). Despite this, the bulk of the Maiden Troop succeeded in reaching Plymouth, where they were subsequently besieged by Royalist forces under Sir Richard Grenville.
The troop spent the following month at Plymouth, garrisoned by Essex's second-in-command, Lord Robartes. On 4 October the garrison attempted to seize back the initiative from the Royalists by launching an attack to take Saltash, on the opposite side of the river from Plymouth, hoping to threaten the Royalist lines of communication. They withstood two Royalist counter attacks before Grenville retook Saltash three days later. Most of Blackwell's men managed to escape but seven are recorded as having been captured. Grenville had a reputation of dealing brutally with prisoners, of hanging first and asking questions later. This reputation was borne out in the fate of Blackwell's troopers: the seven men were imprisoned in Lydford Castle on the edge of Dartmooor. Five of them are believed to have starved to death there (22).
1. Mercurius Civicus, 11-18 April 1644. Thomason Tracts, British Library, E. 43 (10)
2. Greer, G. Shakespeare's Wife (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), p.84
3. Lawrence, Women in England, p.10, quoted in Greer, p.170
4. John Locke, Journal, quoted in Greer, p.159
5. Proverbs, 31 (KJV)
6. The National Archives, Commonwealth Exchequer Papers, SP28/15, f.49
7. House of Lords Journal, vol. 6, p.25
8. Mercurius Civicus, ibid.
9. House of Lords Journal, vol. 4, pp.295, 312. For more detail on John Blackwell junior see Aylmer, G. E. “John Blackwell (1624-1701)”, in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
10. Letter of John Blackwell, SP28/14, f.96
11. ibid., SP28/15, f.47
12. Nehemiah Wallington, Historical Notices (London, 1869) vol. 2, p.171
13. Carlyle, T. The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (London 1904), vol. 1, pp.145-146
14. Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 2 May 1644; SP28/15, f.47
15. SP28/15, f.49
16. SP28/22, f.279
17. SP28/14, f.96
19. The Weekly Account, 23-30 May 1644, Thomason Tracts, E. 49 (36)
20. Blackwell's account of his troop's equipment losses is found in SP 28/22, f.278
22. ibid; for Grenville's attrocities in Cornwall see Long, C. E. (ed.) Richard Symonds's Diary of
the Marches of the Royal Army (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p.127
23. SP28/22, f.278
24. Hazard, W. D. (ed.) Register of Pennsylvania, vol. 4 (Philadelphia, 1829)