Modbury has existed since at least Saxon times and takes its name from the Saxon for "meeting place" (Moot Burgh). The town is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. It was an important trading centre even then, and markets and fairs were held regularly in the town for hundreds of years.
Modbury was the site of two battles in the English Civil War. The first battle was a minor royalist victory on December 9, 1642, when a small Royalist force put to flight a smaller Parliamentarian force.
The second Battle of Modbury occurred on February 21, 1643 when the Royalists forces, expecting an attack by Parliamentarian forces assembled at nearby Kingsbridge, had fortified the town. Outnumbered approximately four to one, and running short of ammunition, the royalists retreated down Runaway Lane. This victory was largely instrumental in the lifting of the Siege of Plymouth, and the driving of the encircling Royalist forces into Cornwall.