Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

William de Rossington

A Tale of the

“No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Nor in sheet nor in shroud they wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest,
With his martial cloak around him”.
Rev. C. WOLFE.

HARTINGTON, a small secluded village on the western boundary of North Derbyshire, is (besides giving the title of Marquis to the Dukes of Devonshire) much celebrated in the chronicles of the locality. On the moor adjoining the village, a bloody conflict took place between Agricola and the ancient Britons. Tradition states that, on the conclusion of the sanguinary battle, blood flowed from the moor into the village. This statement, however, considering the great lapse of time since the occurrence, cannot be received as unquestionable fact. On [sic] the same identical place, another engagement took place between the Republicans and Royalists in the time of [Page 89] the Commonwealth, when, after reciprocal bloody repulses, the Royalists were utterly defeated. It was this conflict which, in the Peak, is now denominated “the Battle of Hartington”. That this engagement actually took place, there is irrefragable evidence; bullets of lead, corresponding to the musket-bore or that time, are, after heavy rains, often found on the moor; and they are almost invariably marked with a P., the initial of Parliament or Protector. It was in this battle that William de Rossington, the loyal cavalier of the Peak, signalized himself by prodigies of bravery before he fell, bleeding from many a wound.

The unexpected march of the young king (Charles the Second) into England, in the summer of A.D. 1651, thus leaving Cromwell and his army in Scotland, far in the rear, raised the hopes of the English adherents of the Stuarts to an unwonted pitch of brightness and ardour. In the northern counties of England great numbers of the influential classes zealously and energetically used every possible means in furtherance of the young King's project. Among these cavaliers, no one was more enthusiastic in the cause of Charles than William de Rossington, a young gentleman, whose honoured and ancient family had resided near the confluence of the Wye and Derwent in the Peak, from nearly the time of the Norman Conquest. The mansion of the Rossingtons had been a convivial establishment; it was surrounded by the fertile meadows of the Wye and Derwent. There William de Rossington, in the state [Page 90] of “single blessedness”, resided with an only sister, Maude, the admiration of all who knew her. She was fair as the breath of morning; her countenance was loveliness itself, her hair black, her eyes of a sable hue, and full of intense expression. With her beloved and only brother she partook of the spirit of loyalty; and with a kind of pleasing anxiety she beheld him summoning every dependant and loyalist in his locality to unite under his command to join the adventurous Charles on his march from the north. Rossington had been two years in the army of Charles the First, but the untimely death of an elder brother was the cause of his resigning his commission, and retiring to the family mansion of his ancestors. Hence his knowledge of warfare was in this juncture of essential moment. The loyalists who placed themselves under him were daily disciplined in an extensive meadow adjoining his dwelling. Rossington was in communication with other cavaliers in the South of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. These loyal chieftains had pledged themselves to assemble their respective troops or trainbands about the middle of August, A.D. 1651, on Hartington Moor, and to march in a body thence to join Charles at Wigan, in Lancashire, where, about the twentieth of August, the royal army was expected to arrive.

The chivalrous ardour of Rossington was, a few days before marching to Hartington, at its maximum height; the day was spent in reviewing and exercising his high-spirited troup; the night in dreams of blood, slaughter, [Page 91] and triumph. Besides his amiable and beloved sister, Maude, there was another of the softer and gentler sex - those lovely beings who form and preserve the connexion of heaven and earth - who, notwithstanding her inward anxieties and fears for the result, gave him and the cause in which he was embarked her heart-offered blessings and orisons. This was the amiable and lovely Anna, daughter of Squire E_, of Hulme Hall, near Bakewell. To a thousand fascinations of mind, she added a loveliness of person extremely enrapturing. To this image of the beau ideal of beauty, Rossington had bowed, and not in vain: they loved each other with all the blissful glow of fervency, and delicious spiritual purity. But oh! the agonising fears that filled the bosom of Anna on the parting of the lovers on the night before Rossington's march to Hartington. In an arbour beside the meandering Wye, that roiled its sable flood close by the hall of Anna's father, the enamoured pair sat alone on the melancholy evening: they looked in each other's face in speechless eloquence; their souls held that sweet converse which human tongue and language are inadequate to describe.

“In a short, short time”, said Rossington, “we shall see our lawful sovereign on the throne of his fathers, and then, my love, my dearest Anna, our affection shall have its earthly consummation. O! heaven speed the happy day!”

“Ah me!” replied Anna, “I fear much blood may yet be spilled before the young king shall gain his [Page 92] rightful sceptre; and O! my Rossington, rush not, I pray, into the battle's hottest fury. - Remember, thy Anna, who could not long outlive the knowledge of thy fall! Ah! Rossington, last night I had a dream that still makes me tremble - shall I relate it? I would not wish to trouble you also with Fancy's wild, but not always false, imaginings”.

“Say on, my love, and let me hear the burden of thy dream”, Rossington rather jeeringly rejoined.

“Methought, my love, that we alone were wandering near a wood; arm in arm, we paced along, talking of England's direful tribulation”. On crossing a path that seemed to lead into a shady wood, lo! there rushed therefrom the usurper Cromwell, with six or seven armed men! “Seize the cavalier Rossington”, Cromwell cried: “bind him hand and foot, and on the highest tree suspend him by the neck, he is a hostile cavalier. And oh! like eagles on the shuddering land, they darted forth and hurried thee away. With a wild and piercing shriek I awoke, and as I am a living soul, for at least one hour, a cold sweat overspread my limbs even as though I were dying!”

“Anna, my love”, said Rossington, “banish from thy mind such baseless freaks of troubled fancy; now I must away, tomorrow comes apace, one kiss and away to Hartington. Adieu, my love, my Anna!”

Morn came, yet ere the sun had tipped with gold the Peak's unnumbered hills, Rossington, armed with steel, led forth his shouting troup. On a noble charger, richly [Page 93] comparisoned, he sallied forth, filled with the glowing ardour of loyalty. Maude, his affectionate sister, looked from the highest balcony of the mansion, and in tears waved a handkerchief as her brother and the troop began to disappear in the distance. After awhile she descended to her room, where flitting and dark forebodings crossed her troubled soul in quick succession.

On the arrival of Rossington and his party at Hartington, they met with the other troops according to appointment. The whole numbered about six hundred, the command of which was given to Rossington. After some consultation it was arranged to march the following day to the rendezvous of the young king, which, according to information received from Massey, a distinguished loyalist general, would be at, or in the vicinity of Wigan, Lancashire. Filled with hopes of the success of the bold enterprise of Charles, Hartington Moor resounded with acclamations of joy. Rossington and the other leaders discussed the changes which would ensue, providing Charles were fortunate, of which they were almost assured.

Cromwell, and his army of fanatics, made forced marches in the rear of the royal army; and in the meanwhile, he dispatched Colonel Lisburn, with a regiment of horse, into Lancashire. He also commanded reinforcements to join the Colonel from Yorkshire and Cheshire. The vigilance and dissimulation which Cromwell had diffused into great numbers, rendered him, wherever he might be, cognisant of every [Page 94] movement of his enemies. Hence, he had ascertained some particulars of the body of troops intending to assist the young King that were to assemble at Hartington, and an order was given to some of the bands marching from Yorkshire to repair to Hartington, and disperse the troops there assembled, and if possible to secure the commander. In compliance with this order, Cromwell's troups reached Hartington early on that morning, while Rossington had intended to march into Lancashire. A conflict was inevitable, and both sides prepared for action.

The sun shone in splendour, when the hostile armies approached each other, determined courage was impressed on the countenances of the combatants. Rossington led four hundred men to meet the principal part of the enemy, who came leisurely on, singing and shouting. The onset was immediate; Rossington, at the head of his courageous men, displayed signal deeds of bravery. The infantry of Cromwell opened a dreadful fire, and after much terrific slaughter, the Royalists fell back. Rossington, however, placed himself at the head of the other body of his men, and renewed the charge with tenfold fury. Slight advances and repulses were continually made on both sides, and the fury of the engagement was protracted until near evening, when Rossington, bleeding from a hundred wounds, fell from his horse; on which the remnant of the loyalists fled in utter disorder. Cromwell's troups pursued the Royalists with a view of extermination, and [Page 95] if possible to capture Rossington, who, however, had fallen unobserved by his enemies, and lay among the slain, when the field was left to the dead and wounded.

The shades of evening began to mantle the scene around, when a female, mounted on a courser, and four men on horses, appeared upon the bloody scene. It was Anna, the beloved of Rossington, who had been informed by the Royalist fugitives of the fate of her lover; and also of the appalling fact that a price was set on his head. In the extremity of grief she, at the peril of life, had resolved to rescue the gory remains of Rossington from the foul hands of his enemies; and, with the aid of four devoted friends, had hurried to the battlefield. Rossington was soon found covered with blood; he had been dead some hours. One of the horsemen alighted, and the body was laid cross-wise on a horse, and the party galloped from the field in a direction opposite to the victors. Covered by darkness, they reached Hedburn Wood, near Cressbrook, ten miles from the battle-field, where the whole party alighted. At a solitary hut they procured a light, and with an instrument of husbandry they made a rude grave for the body of poor Rossington. Anna, filled with indescribable grief, kissed again and again the cold, blood-clotted face of her dead lover, before he was placed in his shallow grave.

“They buried him darkly at the dead of night,
The sods with their weapons turning
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light,
And the lanterns dimly burning”. - WOLFE.

[Page 96] Such was the fate of Rossington. Cromwell offered a reward to those who would procure his body. His friends, however, remained faithful; and very soon the identical place of Rossington's interment was unknown. It is now thirty years since a farmer at the “Hall”, near Hedburn Wood, in putting a gate-post down, found the remains of Rossington; his helmet, sword, and other armour, buttons of his garment, and some remnants of his bones. Great numbers visited the place to see the disentombed Rossington. The armour eventually came into the possession of an antiquary at Eyam.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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