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English Heritage Battlefield Report: Chalgrove 1643
Chalgrove Field (18 June 1643)
District: South Oxfordshire
Grid Ref: SU 646978
The campaigning of 1642 had produced stalemate in the central theatre of war between the Royalists and
Parliamentarians. Neither army, based on Oxford and London respectively, had gained a significant advantage.
By the beginning of the 1643 campaign, however, matters appeared set to change. The Earl of Essex, the Parliamentarian commander, now enjoyed a distinct numerical advantage over the King's forces. In April, Essex captured Reading and the way was clear for an advance on Oxford. However, before the slow-moving Essex could exploit the opportunity a convoy of munitions arrived for the Royalists from the north, greatly improving their defensive capability. By the middle of June the Earl of Essex had advanced no further than Thame. Given such uninspiring leadership it is perhaps not surprising that one soldier in the Parliamentarian ranks, Colonel John Urry, a Scotsman, decided that his talents might be better employed by the Royalists. He deserted and took with him the information that a convoy, bearing £21,000 with which to pay Essex's army, was shortly expected in the Parliamentarian camp.
The opportunity was too good to miss. On the afternoon of 17 June Prince Rupert led a mixed force of almost 2,000 horse, foot and dragoons out of Oxford to try and intercept the convoy and generally harry the Parliamentarian outposts to the east of Oxford. In the early hours of the next morning Rupert surprised enemy quarters in Postcombe and Chinnor but failed to discover the convoy. He decided to withdraw to Oxford; by now his rearguard was under pressure from pursuing Parliamentarian cavalry. Rupert sent his infantry on ahead to secure the river crossing at Chiselhampton and, four miles to the east, drew up his cavalry in Chalgrove Field to face his pursuers and give time for his Foot to get clear. Rupert's dragoons lined the route back to Chiselhampton to maintain communications and to lie in ambush should the opportunity present itself.
Location and Description of the Battlefield The field on which, on Sunday 18 June 1643, Prince Rupert administered a severe rebuff to a body of Parliamentarian cavalry, lies between the hamlet of Warpsgrove and the village of Chalgrove, about ten miles south-east of Oxford. The bulk of the battlefield remains under cultivation, although in the past few years parts of the surrounding area have undergone development. To the north-east of the crossroads at which stands the monument to John Hampden an industrial estate has grown up: this is known, suitably enough, as the 'Monument Industrial Park'. A second business park, the 'Tower Estate', is situated beyond it. The Martin Baker Chalgrove Airfield, which impinges on the battlefield's western edge, is of longer standing. To the east of the battlefield are a number of low hills, over which the Parliamentarians approached the waiting Royalists.
Landscape Evolution An estate map of 1679, just 36 years after the battle, provides useful evidence of the landscape of the battlefield + in the seventeenth century. A long and curving hedge defines the edge of the open field known as Sand Field.
The same hedge is prominent in another estate map, this dating from 1822, when Sand Field remained unenclosed while to the north was shown a series of small hedged enclosures. It seems reasonable to infer that the land-use had remained stable in the intervening period, and therefore that the battlefield comprised pasture amongst hedged fields to the north-east and probably a fallow open field to the south-west.
The first 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey map of the battlefield, dating from 1881, shows the area largely unchanged from what it had been nearly 240 years before. True, Warpsgrove Manor House, an important landmark during the battle, had by then burned down and been only partially rebuilt. The hedge system, of equal importance during the battle, proves relatively straightforward to reconstruct even on a map of this date.
It is only during the last fifty years or so that major change to the landscape has occurred. Chalgrove Airfield was constructed in the Second World War. This necessitated the diversion of the old B480 from the route that took it past the Hampden Monument. A new road, a quarter of a mile further south, was built. Part of the long, curving hedge was removed. After 1970 two farms - Hitchcox Poultry Farm and Monument Farm - grew up alongside the Chalgrove-Warpsgrove road. These have been followed more recently by the industrial estate and business park, referred to above, which occupy ground to the east of the Warpsgrove road.
Our knowledge of what occurred at the Battle of Chalgrove Field is derived from a limited number of sources.
As was usual during the Civil War both sides attempted to either minimise a setback or trumpet a success by publishing its account of a recent action in a newsletter or pamphlet. Thus when Parliamentarian sources endeavoured to disguise the extent of their reverse at Chalgrove in the pamphlet1 A True Relation of a Gret Fight Between the Kings Forces and the Parliaments, at Chinner neer Tame on Saturday last, and were only a little more candid when Two Letters from his Excellencie Robert Earl of Essex was published on 23rd June2, the Royalists at Oxford felt that their own version of events should be aired. This led to the fullest account of the action at Chalgrove in the pamphlet3 His Highnesse Prince Ruperts Late Beating up the Rebels Quarters At Post-comb & Chinner in Oxford shire And his Victory in Chalgrove Feild [sic], on Sunday morning June 18 1643.
The True Relation actually tells us little that is worthwhile about the Parliamentarian reaction to the raid. Lord Essex's letter from Thame dated 19 June to the Speaker of the House of Commons is more enlightening. The
raid on Chinnor having taken place:
+ Map held in Magdalen College, Oxford: the assistance of the Chalgrove Battle Group in obtaining map evidence is gratefully acknowledged.
...the Alarm came where Major Gunter lay with three troopes (viz.) his own, Captain Sheffields, and Captain Crosses, whom he presently drew out and marched towards the Enemy; Colonell Hampden being abroad with Sir Samuel Luke and onely one man, and seeing Major Gunter's Forces, they did go along with them, Colonel Dubeir the Quarter-master Generall did likewise come to them: with these they drew neare the Enemy, and finding them marching away, kept still upon the Reare for almost five miles. In this time there joyned with them Captain Sanders Troop, and Captain Buller, with fifty commanded men, which were sent to Chinner by Sir Philip Stapleton, who had the Watch here that night at Thame, when hee discovered the fire there, to know the occasion of it, he likewise sent one Troope of Dragoones under the command of Captain Dundasse, who came up to them. There were likewise some few of Colonell Melves Dragoons that came up to them: at length our men pressed them so neer, that being in a large pasture ground they drew up, and not withstanding the inequality of the numbers, we not having above 300 Horse, our men charged them very gallantly, and slew divers of them; but while they were in fight, the Enemy being so very strong, kept a Body of horse for his reserve, and with that Body wheel'd about and charg'd our men in the Reare, so that being encompassed and overborne with multitude, they broke and fled, though it was not very far; For when I heard that our men marched in the Reare of the Enemy, I sent to Sir Philip Stapleton, who presently Marched toward them with his Regiment; & though he came somewhat short of the Skirmish, yet seeing our men Retreat in that disorder, he stopt them, caused them to draw into a Body with him, where they stood about an hour: Whereupon the Enemy marched away. In this skirmish there were slain forty and five on both sides, whereof the greater part were theirs.
The Royalist account of what happened is rather fuller:
His Highnesse was now making halt in Chalgrove cornefeild: about a mile & half [sic] short of Chesel-hampton bridge. Just at this time (being now about 9 o'clock) we discerned severall
great Bodyes of the Rebells Horse and Dragooners, coming down Golder-hill towards us:
from Esington and Tame: who (together with those that had before skirmished with our Reere) drew down to the bottom of a great Close, or Pasture: ordering themselves there among the trees beyond a great hedge, which parted that Close from our Feild... The better to intice them on, the Prince with his Horse made show of a Retreat: whereupon the Rebells advanc't cheerfully: doubling their march for eagernesse, and coming up close to us. Then we discern'd them to be eight Cornets of Horse, besides about 100 commanded Horse, and as many Dragooners of Colonell Mills (Melves, my Lords Relation writes him) his Regiment, now led by Captaine Middleton. We were now parted by a hedge, close to the midst whereof the Rebells brought on their Dragooners; and to the end of it came their Forlorne hope of horse. Their whole Body of 8 Cornets faced the Princes Regiment and Troop of Lifeguards, and made a Front so much too large for the Princes Regiment that two Troops were faine to be drawn out of the Prince of Wales Regiment, to make our Front even with them. And this was their Order. Besides which, they had left a Reserve of 3 Cornets in the Close aforesaid among the trees, by Wapsgrove house, and two Troops more higher up the hill, they were in sight of one another by 9 a clock in the morning.
© English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Chalgrove 1643 The Princes battaglions were thus ordered. His Highnesses own Regiment, with the Lifeguards on the right hand of it, had the middle-ward: the Prince of Wales his Regiment making the Left-wing, and Mr Percyes having the Right. Both these Regiments were at first intended for Reserves: though presently they ingaged themselves on the incounter. 'Twas diverse of the commanders counsells, that the Prince should continue on the retreat, and so draw the Rebells into the Ambush, but his Highnesse judgment oversway'd that; for that (saith he) the Rebells being so neere us, may bring our Reere into confusion, before we can recover to our ambush.
Yea (saith he) their insolency is not to be endured. This said, His Highnesse facing all about, set spurrs to His Horse, and first of all (in the very face of the Dragooners) leapt the hedge that parted us from the Rebells. The Captaine, and rest of His Troop of Life-guards (every man as they could) jumbled over after him: and as about 15 were gotten over, the Prince presently drew them up into a Front, till the rest could recover up to him. At this the Rebells Dragooners that lyned the hedg fledd having hurt and slaine some of ours with their first vollie. Meanetime Lieutenant-Colonell O'Neale having passed with the Princes Regiment beyond the end of the hedge on the left hand, had begunne the encounter with 8 Troops of Rebels. These having before seene ours facing about, took themselves of their speed presently, and made a faire stand till ours advanc't up to Charg them. So that they being first in order, gave us their first Vollie of Carbins and Pistolls at a distance, as ours were advancing: yea they had time for their second Pistols ere ours could charg them. The hottest of their charg fell upon Captain Martins, and Captain Gardiners Troops, in Prince Ruperts Regiment: and indeed the whole regiment indured the chief shock of it. To say the truth; they stood our first charg of Pistols and Swords, better than the Rebells have ever yet done, since their first beating at Worcester; especially those of their Right-wing: for their Left gave it over sooner: for that the Prince with his Lifeguards, with Sword and Pistoll charging them home upon the Flanck (not wheeling about upon their Reere, as the London Relation tells it) put them in rowte at the first encounter. By this time also was Generall Percy with some Troops of his Regiment fallen in upon that Flanck, and followed upon the execution. As on the other wing did Major Daniel with the Prince of Wales his Regiment: so that now were the Rebels wholy rowted. Some of ours affirme, how they over heard Dulbire (who brought up some of the Rebells first Horse) upon sight of the Princes order and dividing of his Wings, to call out to his People to retreat, least they were hemb'd in by us.
The Rebells now flying to their Reserve of three Colours in the Close by Wapsgrove House, were pursued by ours in execution all the way thither: who now (as they could) there rallying, gave occasion to the defeat of those three Troopes also. So that all now being in confusion, were pursued by ours a full mile and quarter (as the neighbours say) from the place of the first encounter. These all fled back again over Golder hill to Esington: and so farre Sir Philip Stapleton with his Regiment was not yet come. And if he stopt and drew the Retreaters up into a body, and made a stand for an hower with them (as the London Relation tells us) 'twas surely behind and beyond the great hill where ours could not discern them. Yea plainly our two Prisoners since their returne affirm, that 'twas two miles from the place of fight ere he met them, nor yet could he stay the Parliamentiers from running. Before this, and in time of the fight, some three Cornets of them were observed to wheele about; as if they intended either to get betwixt us and Chesel Hampton bridge, or to charge us upon the reere, which being observed by Lieutenant Colonell O'Neale, he borrowed two Troopes of Generall Percyes Regiment, and made out after them: which they perceiving, turn'd bridles about, and made hast back again to their fellowes.
It was nine o'clock on Sunday morning when the Royalists, drawn up in Chalgrove cornfield, saw additional bodies of Parliamentarian Horse and Dragoons ride down Golder Hill and join the three troops of cavalry under Major Gunter which, for the past five miles, had shadowed their retreat from Chinnor. The enemy rode forward to the bottom of an enclosed pastureland and ordered themselves, according to the Royalist account of the battle, 'among the trees beyond a great hedge, which parted that Close from our Feild'.