Sir Gervase Lucas' Company - The Belvoir Cormorants.

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“Sir, I am no less distrustful of Providence than you are: and return you answer, that I was not placed here by the King to surrender to rebels: and for the effusion of blood you mention, the crime will be your own, not mine: therefore I will not give one inch of ground I am able to maintain with my sword, against all your attempts made against this place, and your servant, Gervase Lucas.”

The reply of Sir Gervase Lucas, Governor of Belvoir Castle, to the summons from Sydenham Poyntz on Thursday, 20th November 1645.

Gervase Lucas was Master of the Earl of Rutland's Horse. Before the outbreak of the English Civil War he had served the Earl for a number of years but the beginning of civil hostilities found his own loyalties at odds with those of his pro-Parliament master. He is credited as being one of the first adherents to the Royalist cause of Charles I, raising a company of Horse at his own expense in Leicestershire in 1642.

On 28th January 1643 Lucas scored a major success for the King's fortunes in Leicestershire through the audacious capture of the Earl's ancestral home of Belvoir Castle. On this date Lucas arranged for a window in the castle wall to be left open. With a small party of eight men he then crept up to the walls of the castle and cast a rope around a balcony. They thus ascended the wall and opened the gates from within to the rest of their soldiers, taking the Earl's garrison of 100 men completely by surprise.

During this daring attack Lucas was accompanied by the ubiqitous rector of Southwell, Mr Mason who appeared personally in arms at the head of a troop of Dragoons, the only recorded incident of a clergyman so acting in the Civil Wars.

Belvoir held a key geographic position and was to form one of the outer defences for Royalist Newark. From its lofty height Lucas' swooped on Parliamentary supplies en route for London and local garrisons via the Great North Road, the Fosse Way and the roads linking Leicester, Melton Mowbray, Grantham, Newark and Lincoln. These lightning descents coupled with damaging raids deep into the strategic heartlands of the surrounding counties earned Lucas' the soubriquet of the Belvoir Cormorants.

In November 1643 Lucas received information that the Parliamentarian Committee for Leicester was in Melton Mowbray to assess the surrounding countryside. Summoning aid from Lord Byron in Newark Lucas arrived in the town at dawn on the 28th with a force of 300 horse and dragoons. The Parliamentarians were taken completely by surprise. A single Parliamentarian Lieutenant was killed and among the prisoners were four captains of Horse, four Dragoons, one of Foot, four Lieutenants, three Cornets, all the under officers of Horse and Foot, 300 soldiers and the entire Committee. Among them one Captain Hacker who had previously made a vow to pistol his own brother “because he was loyal, and refused to turne rebel”. Captain Hacker now found himself at his brother Roland's mercy on his way to detention at Belvoir. Only one Parliamentarian Cornet escaped the net. Also included in the haul were all the Parliamentarian Colours, their ammunition and baggage, nearly 400 muskets and over 300 horses.

This action severely weakened the Parliamentarian influence in Leicestershire. Lord Grey was forced to request 400 replacements and £500 from London to make good his losses. Despite a setback on Sproxton Heath where Captain Plunkett, a friend of Prince Rupert's was killed by Lieutenant Allen of Wayte's Horse, and Lucas himself severely cut in the face, the Belvoir Cormorants were in the ascendancy. Only two instances of successful opposition to Lucas' raiding activities (of which there were many) are recorded for the rest of 1643.

The action at Sproxton Heath gave rise to a local legend that accords very closely with the known facts. Apparently Captain Plunkett's body “the vilest villain among all the Cormorants of Belvoir Castle or Newark either” was taken from the field to the nearby Angel inn to await collection. Sometime later on hearing of his friend's death Prince Rupert vowed to revenge himself upon Allen. On the very heath where Plunkett had died a second action was again fought in which Lieutenant Allen charged the Prince in a manner to pistol him but on the misfiring of his piece cried out to the Prince for quarter whereupon Rupert immediately shot him dead. Lieutenant Allen's body was taken to the very same Angel inn where it in turn awaited its interment.

Following the Parliament's directive for the taking of the National Covenant Lucas' took a principle role in attempting to capture such clergy as had taken the Covenant at Leicester with the aim of enforcing their retractions before they were able to return to their parishes.

In November 1644 Lucas' ran out the garrison at the ousted Royalist Erasmus De La Fontaine's house in Kirby Bellars following Sir Marmaduke Langdale's defeat of Colonel Rossiter's forces at Melton Mowbray on the way to Relieve Newark.

In August His interception by the Scots whilst on his way to join Montrose turned the King to a wild thrust south into the heart of the Eastern Association, staying with Lucas at Belvoir on the night of the 22nd en route for Hereford. The tide had turned. After the mauling at Rowton Heath Lucas sheltered Gerard's regiment within the still defensible wall of Belvoir.

In October Prince Rupert and Maurice sheltered within Lucas' walls whilst trying to join the King and assemble a last viable force from His remaining garrison troops. By this time however the King's cause was militarily beyond redemption and although Lucas and his stronghold remained determined to fight on the King took flight after his last stay at Belvoir on November 3rd.

On November 9th Major General Poyntz surveyed the 400ft hill on which Lucas' castle sat. The village of Belvoir having previously been burned in an unsuccessful attempt to bring the Belvoir garrison to terms in 1645. Lucas had weathered the storm and was in bullish mood as Poyntz's forces spread out to invest Belvoir. While Poyntz surveyed the defences the garrison made a sally, shooting the General's horse out from under him and tearing the coat from his back as he beat a hasty retreat.

While Belvoir held out, as Lucas well knew, it would not be possible for Parliament to close the siege of Newark. Early Parliamentarian estimates of the duration of a siege proved ambitious - Lucas' were to hold Belvoir in the teeth of repeated assaults for a further two and a half months. The disgruntled Poyntz, a German mercenary, opted eventually to starve out the Cormorants, ordering all prisoners executed. The garrison was eventually forced to surrender on terms due to lack of victuals and water. They marched out of Belvoir with all their arms and colours flying bound for Lichfield on 3rd February 1646 leaving behind them a single piece of field ordnance.

Colonel Sir Gervase Lucas was among the most notorious of all the Royalist “Rob Carriers”. His hold on Belvoir and his continuous military activities had maintained a safe corridor for the Royalist from Oxford to Newark and provided a thorn in the side of Parliament's attempts to supply London. The eventual fall of his castle stronghold was greeted with widespread acclamation in the capital. Following the surrender Lucas, ever the opportunist, escaped to France via Newcastle taking with him many of the Earl of Rutland's valuables, most notably his highly prized ancestral bed!

The location of Lucas' at the Battle of Edgehill, the first major engagement of the English Civil Was, is not known although it is likely that a detachment of Lucas' Horse may have been with Prince Rupert's cavalry. The Belvoir Cormorants also fought in the actions at Leicester, Newark, Melton Mowbray, Kirby Park, Sproxton Heath, Rowton Heath, Burghley House with Henry Hastings and Wilne Ferry.

As a flying column the Belvoir Cormorants were engaged in constant harassing and raiding actions - the far more numerous and dirty everyday conflicts of a civil war. At various times secondments of Lucas' were made to various notable commanders for specific actions or miniature, localised campaigns. A number of Horse and Dragoons of Lucas' were among the amalgamated squadrons of local garrison troops active in the Naseby campaign. Their Colours were blue and gold divided diagonally by a natural band bearing the motto “UT REX SIT REX” ∼ “Once King Always King”.

It seems probable that, like most under strength Royalist regiments, Lucas' would number less than 500. A ratio of one pike to one musket can be assumed for Foot due to the shortages of modern arms in Royal armies. It should however be noted that the Belvoir garrison is recorded as also being equipped with the brown bill, a more practical weapon when operating within the confines of a castle or raiding. Lucas' remarkable manoeuvrability though owes more to the use of Horse and Dragoons.

Notables to bear arms in Lucas' Regiment include Mr Mason, rector of Southwell, and Muckle John, the King's jester who was attainted after the first civil war for striking a Parliamentarian Captain on the head during a skirmish, resulting in his death.

Following the Restoration many disenfranchised Royalists came forward to seek some reward or office for their loyalties. These so called “Men Of The Sword” included many professional soldiers of ignoble origins who had learned their trade in the King's wars against his Parliament. The incorrigible Lucas was among them. Although some were knighted and a very few raised to the peerage, it was not deemed appropriate or necessarily desirable to ennoble all of this warlike multitude with the accompanying rights and privileges of such promotion. Many were appointed to offices abroad or in the Colonies. So impoverished was Lucas that he was prepared to accept the far off commission of Governor of Bombay in India. The now “Honourable Sir Gervase Lucas” served in this role from November 5th 1666 until his death on 21st May 1667.