«English Heritage Battlefield Report: Chalgrove 1643 Chalgrove Field (18 June 1643) Parish: Chalgrove District: South Oxfordshire County: Oxfordshire ...»
This last comment is very useful in helping to place the action that follows. When, shortly afterwards, the Parliamentarians - emboldened by Prince Rupert's feigned retreat - advanced, they 'left a Reserve of 3 Cornets [i.e. three troops] in the Close aforesaid among the trees, by Wapsgrove house'. This establishes that the trees around the close, amongst which the Parliamentarians first dressed their lines and where they subsequently left their reserve, were by Warpsgrove House (where Warpsgrove Manor House Farm now stands).
When the Parliamentarians advanced towards the Royalists from the vicinity of Warpsgrove House, in which direction did they move? Where were Prince Rupert's men drawn up? Where was the 'great hedge', which not only parted the 'Close' from Chalgrove cornfield, but lay between the opposing bodies of horsemen? The prevailing belief amongst historians appears to be that, in closing with the Royalists, the Parliamentarians headed south-westwards. The plan of the Battle of Chalgrove Field amongst the Peter Young papers in the National Army Museum shows the two sides facing each other south-west of Warpsgrove4. A bird's-eye view of the battle reproduced in John Adair's biography of John Hampden also depicts the clash occurring in this area5, as do the sketch plans in an article on Chalgrove Field by John Stevenson and Andrew Carter published in Oxoniensia in 19736.
Topographical and map evidence supports this consensus. West of Warpsgrove there is a depression in the ground created by a small tributary of Haseley Brook. It would have been in both sides' interest to avoid this.
The 1822 map represents Sand Field - still a large open space at that time - lying to the south-west of Warpsgrove, where the airfield is now situated, with a hedge at its margin and numerous hedges beyond. The only alternative orientation would have the Royalists south-east of Wapsgrove rather than south-west, but here the hedgerow evidence fits less well and the military logic is implausible because Rupert would risk being cut off from Oxford. If the battle had been any further west the three troops of Parliamentarian Horse left amongst the trees near Warpsgrove House would no longer have been within supporting distance of their colleagues.
Further conclusions about the dimensions of the battlefield can be reached from a consideration of the numbers engaged at Chalgrove Field. Brigadier Peter Young, in unpublished work on the battle amongst his papers, calculated Prince Rupert's cavalry as numbering between 1040 and 1280. The infantry and dragoons, who had been sent ahead and were not involved in the fighting, totalled another 750 men. Young believed that the Earl of Essex, in putting the Parliamentarian forces engaged at Chalgrove at only 300 men, underestimated their number7. The Royalists reported seeing eleven cornets of horse (i.e. troops), plus dragoons, by Warpsgrove and the hedge. Essex's own despatch mentions the names of seven unit commanders, both cavalry and dragoons.
Since a Parliamentarian troop had an establishment of 70, and Essex's army had as yet seen little fighting, the number of units present suggest that the Parliamentarians could have fielded perhaps 600 men.
The Royalist cavalry, schooled by Prince Rupert to rely on shock action, deployed three deep. Allowing five feet per man, the 1,000 plus Royalist cavalry would have had a frontage of at least 600 yards. The intervals between sub-units and the probable excess in their number suggest that 800 yards would fairly represent their front.
© English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Chalgrove 1643 In contrast, at this stage of the war, the Parliamentarian cavalry tended to adhere to older tactics, ranging themselves up to six deep and relying on firepower to disrupt the enemy's charge. The Royalist account of the battle mentions the fusillade that they encountered: the Parliamentarians '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 charge them'. Nevertheless, the Royalist account also states that the eight troops of Parliamentarian Horse behind the hedge 'made a Front so much too large for the Princes [Rupert's] Regiment that two Troops were faine to be drawn out of the Prince of Wales Regiment, to make our Front even with them'. This implies that the Parliamentarians did not array themselves six deep on this occasion. Perhaps, realising that they were outnumbered, the Parliamentarians spread themselves as thinly as they dared. If so, the 400 Parliamentarian Horse at the hedge might have managed a front of 300-400 yards.
Despite the flexibility of their tactics and the spirit that they showed, the overmatched Parliamentarians could not resist the Royalists' charge. They fled. The fight had been short and sharp. According to the Earl of Essex, 45 were killed on both sides, the majority Royalists. Naturally the Royalists disputed the figure. They put the Parliamentarian dead at 45 and admitted the loss of ten or twelve of their own men.
Indication of Importance
To call Chalgrove Field a battle in the same sense as, say, Marston Moor or Lansdown Hill would be something of a misnomer. On the Parliamentarian side around six hundred men were engaged. The Royalists numbered something over a thousand. In strict terms of scale, Chalgrove Field was a skirmish. Innumerable engagements of similar size were fought during the English Civil War and these have almost invariably been long forgotten.
Why should Chalgrove be any different?
The explanation is, for the most part, a simple one. John Hampden might not have been a soldier of distinction but he had been an immensely important politician. Hampden was one of the Five Members; he had a long record of defiance towards King Charles I. The fact that he was mortally wounded during the fight at Chalgrove may therefore be sufficient in itself to elevate the events at Chalgrove to a different plane. To writers whose interest in the Civil War is primarily political, Chalgrove is quite as significant as many of the larger battles. Nineteenth-century political reformers had no doubt about the place of John Hampden in the pantheon of dissenting heroes: the impressive monument to Hampden unveiled two hundred years after the battle by parliamentary luminaries of a different generation is testament to that.
It is largely on this basis that Chalgrove Field continues to claim its place in the majority of books published on English battlefields. But there are other reasons for which Chalgrove can be seen in a different light from other, relatively small-scale actions. The tactics of Rupert, for example, are at the same time indicative of more forethought than is usual for a skirmish and yet characteristically impulsive. As testimony to the differing tactics of the two sides at this stage of the Civil War, the battle is also instructive. Although on a smaller scale than some Civil War battles, therefore, Chalgrove Field warrants inclusion on the Register of Historic Battlefields.
The battlefield area boundary defines the outer reasonable limit of the battle, taking into account the positions of the combatants at the outset of fighting and the focal area of the battle itself. It does not include areas over which fighting took place subsequent to the main battle. Wherever possible, the boundary has been drawn so that it is easily appreciated on the ground.
© English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Chalgrove 1643 The line of the 'Great Hedge' which separated the two forces having been identified, and with Warpsgrove Close anchoring the battlefield to the north-east, the placement of the battlefield boundary becomes a matter of finding practical reference points in the modern landscape. The boundary therefore follows the lane south from Warpsgrove to the later Hampden monument on the eastern side. On the western side, the line of the airfield perimeter track provides just sufficient space for the Royalist deployment. To the north and south, the boundary makes use of what few markers exist to join these points into a circuit.
Notes 1. Thomason Tract E.
55(11) in the British Library.
2. Thomason Tract E.55(19) in the British Library.
3. Copies of this pamphlet are in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
4. Papers of Brigadier Peter Young DSO, National Army Museum 9010-31-287.
5. Adair, J A Life of John Hampden The Patriot (1594-1643) (London 1976) pp238-9.
6. Stevenson, John and Carter, Andrew 'The Raid on Chinnor and the Fight at Chalgrove Field, June 17th and 18th, 1643'. Oxoniensia 38 (1973) p351.
7. Papers of Brigadier Peter Young DSO, National Army Museum 9010-31-174; 9010-31-286.