In 1642 King Charles I raised the royal standard in Nottingham, sent orders to his supporters and started to quell the rebellion of the parliamentary forces and the civil war began. On the 7th of February 1643 a body of parliamentary forces stopped at Chagford for overnight billeting. It is suggested that the officers and some men stayed at Whyddon House which is now the Three Crowns Hotel.
Meanwhile a force of cavalier horse and dragoons was moving towards Chagford. Amongst their number was a 33 year old Cornish gentleman called Sydney Godolphin. He was the second son of Sir William Godolphin of Godolphin, the family was a long established and respected one of its time. Sydney Godolphin was M.P. for Helston and a noted poet and described as his commander-in-chief as being “as absolute a piece of virtue as ever our Nation bred.”
At daybreak on the 8th of February the cavalier force entered Chagford where they surprised the parliamentarian force as they prepared to leave. Some say a fierce battle ensued others describe it as a skirmish, either way bullets were exchanged. During the course of the fighting the action centred around the large stone porch of what is now the Three Crowns. It was here that Sydney Godolphin received a mortal musket shot wound, one report suggests it hit him just above the knee. What is not in question is the fact that he died of his wounds on the cold granite floor of the porch. His body was taken to Okehampton and on the 10th of February 1643 he was buried. It was said that Sydney was a soft and gentle man with very experience of warfare – he was a poet and stood little chance when it came to the harsh world of warfare.
Therefore it is hardly surprising that the sad death which brought fame to Chagford should go unforgotten. To this end the ghost of Sydney Godolphin comes back to haunt the Three Crowns Hotel. His regal figure dressed in flamboyant cavalier uniform is known to manifest itself mostly in the porch where he died, but there have been sightings in most of the other rooms.
They rode from the camp at morn
With clash of sword and spur.
The birds were loud in the thorn,
The sky was an azure blur.
A gallant show they made
That warm noontide of the year,
Led on by a dashing blade,
By the poet-cavalier.
They laughed through the leafy lanes,
The long lanes of Dartmoor;
And they sang their soldier strains,
Pledged “death” to the Roundhead boor;
Then they came at the middle day
To a hamlet quaint and brown
Where the hated troopers lay,
And they cheered for the King and crown.
They fought in the fervid heat,
Fought fearlessly and well,
But low at the foeman’s feet
Their valorous leader fell.
Full on his fair young face
The blinding sun beat down;
In the morn of his manly grace
He died for the King and crown.
Oh the pitiless blow,
The vengeance-thrust of strife,
That blotted the golden glow
From the sky of his glad, brave life!
The glorious promise gone;—
Night with its grim black frown!
Never again the dawn,
And all for the King and crown.
Hidden his sad fate now
In the sealed book of the years;
Few are the heads that bow,
Or the eyes that brim with tears,
Reading ’twixt blots and stains
From a musty tome that saith
How he rode through the Dartmoor lanes
To his woeful, dauntless death.
But I, in the summer’s prime,
From that lovely leafy land
Look back to the olden time
And the leal and loyal band.
I see them dash along,—
I hear them charge and cheer,
And my heart goes out in a song
To the poet-cavalier.
By Clinton Scollard 1833 -1908