«Historical Context After a year of Civil War the strategic centres of the rival war efforts were still to be found at Oxford and London. In terms of ...»
English Heritage Battlefield Report: Cheriton 1644
Cheriton (29 March 1644)
Parishes: Cheriton, Bramdean and Hinton, Ampner, Bishops Sutton
Grid Ref: SU 597293
After a year of Civil War the strategic centres of the rival war efforts were still to be found at Oxford and
London. In terms of ending the fighting through a negotiated peace, if not through capitulation, the capture of
either centre might prove decisive. Certainly, the Royalists would be justified in hoping that the occupation of London would lead to the rapid attainment of their war aims. The problem for the King in 1643 was how to co-ordinate his supporters in a campaign which would overwhelm the Parliamentarian field armies and secure the approaches to London. Yet as the campaigning season drew to its close a solution to this problem was still no nearer. The Oxford army was precisely where it had been at the start of the year and the Royalist northern and western armies were stalled in Yorkshire and Devon respectively.
In an attempt to regain the initiative a Royalist council of war at Oxford at the end of September 1643 decided to form a new western army. Its strength would be small, only some 2,000 Foot and 1,500 Horse, but it was given the ambitious task of securing Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire and of advancing as close as it could towards London. Under the command of Sir Ralph Hopton this force took the field late in the campaigning season in November. Hopton's principal opponent was Sir William Waller at the head of an army drawn from a new South-Eastern Association comprising the counties of Hampshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
In the south, the Autumn campaign of 1643 began with Winchester as the centre of attention for both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. A Royalist force led by Sir William Ogle captured the town in October.
This success required a response from Waller who left Farnham on 3 November to march towards Winchester.
On hearing that a Royalist force was moving to cut his communications, Waller changed the direction of his march and advanced upon the Royalist garrison of Basing House. Basing was well defended by two regiments of Foot under the command of the Marquess of Winchester. Two attempts at storming the House failed and Waller, learning that Hopton was in the field and not more than six miles from Basing, lifted the siege and withdrew to Farnham. Hopton, now reinforced and commanding some 5,000 troops, followed and confronted the Parliamentarians at Farnham at the end of November 1643. Waller refused to be drawn and kept his army in close rein under the guns of Farnham Castle.
After failing to bring the Parliamentarians to battle at Farnham Hopton dispersed his army to winter quarters in Winchester, Alresford, Alton and Petersfield. He rounded off the year by capturing Arundel, but Waller responded with a raid which decimated the garrison of Alton, and with the recapture of Arundel Castle in January 1644. Operations were brought to an end by a period of severe weather, but Hopton, who had been reinforced by 800 Horse and 1,200 Foot under the Earl of Forth, was still anxious to bring Waller to battle and even went so far as to issue a formal challenge. At the end of March 1644, Waller, with some 5,000 Horse, 600 dragoons, and 5,000 Foot moved on Winchester from the east, and Hopton and Forth, after failing to entice the Parliamentarians into battle at Warnford, determined to make contact again at Alresford on the main Winchester to London road.
© English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Cheriton 1644 If the Royalists could occupy Alresford they would be across Waller's line of communication with London and a race developed for possession of the town. Hopton won and having placed the town in a state of defence with barricades across the entrances he concentrated the Royalist army on Tichborne Down to the south of Alresford.
Waller camped for the night near to Hinton Ampner, to the south of the present A272 and in advance of a line from Bramdean Common to Cheriton.
Location and Description of the Battlefield
Within the broad sweep of ground stretching some two miles to the east of Cheriton and largely bounded in the north by Cheriton lane and in the south by the A272 lies the location of the battle which occurred between the armies of Sir William Waller and Sir Ralph Hopton on 29 March 1644. Where precisely within that area the rival armies deployed and certain episodes of the battle took place is more difficult to determine. Historians have generally accepted that the bulk of the fighting centred on the area designated in Ordnance Survey maps as the site of the battle, but John Adair, in the only full length study of Cheriton1, has concluded that it took place further south in an area between Cheriton Wood and the A272.
The traditional site of the battle was first espoused by S R Gardiner2 in 1893 in his History of the Great Civil War after a visit to Cheriton in which the scene of the fighting had been pointed out to him by a local guide.
Gardiner's lead was followed by historians such as Colonel A H Burne3, and it was not challenged until Adair put forward his view. Even then Brigadier Peter Young and Richard Holmes4, and to a lesser extent William Seymour5, remained unconvinced by the new location. Cheriton was a confused battle which progressed through error and mishap, and despite the number of contemporary written sources that are available it is difficult to clarify the exact location and extent of the fighting. There is no extant contemporary plan or map to help solve these problems. However, careful consideration of all the available evidence, including landscape archaeological, does permit a firm conclusion.
We know that on the morning of 28 March, the day before the battle, the Royalists were camped south of
Alresford on or adjacent to Tichborne Down and that the Parliamentarians:
....had taken theire quarters in a low field joyning to the Lady Stukeley's house [in Hinton Ampner] not a myle and halfe from our Army so as there was but a little hill and a little vale between us;
the hill they endevoured to keepe, because it cover'd them from us, and gave them the advantage of looking into us.6 Hopton thus presents a scene in which the two armies are separated by a valley and a hill, with the Parliamentarians holding the high ground above their bivouac. Cheriton lies just to the north of the springs that provide the source of the River Itchen and close to the evocatively named Hinton Marsh. Although it appears to have been unseasonably hot in March 1644, the possibility of late flooding in the low ground along the Itchen's course was very real, and troops deploying for battle would naturally be drawn eastwards to the higher ground which runs in a series of spurs or ridges from Cheriton Wood towards Cheriton. The ridges are separated by sloping valleys and each ridge, to a greater or lesser degree, represents a military crest.
An army starting in the north, below Tichborne Down, and moving south towards Hinton Ampner would encounter three identifiable ridges. From the first, or northern ridge, the ground falls away onto Cowdown, then rises again to form the central ridge on East Down, before falling and then rising once more to reach the southern ridge overlooking Hinton Ampner. A crucial problem in deciding the location of the fighting on the day of the battle is identifying which ridges the rival forces occupied and which valley separated them.
The day before the battle was spent in skirmishing and Hopton records that:
Wee disputed that ground that day with little partyes, and loose skirmishes, but towards the evening we gott the topp of the hill, and the view of the Enemye's quarters, where they encamped as is
said before in a low field enclosed with a very thick hedge and ditch and theire ordnance planted upon the rysing of the hill behind them.7 Although Waller's troops were holding one of the ridges on the morning of 28 March, the Royalists it appears secured a lodgement during the day and could then look down upon the Parliamentarian lines. From Hinton Ampner the ground rises towards Cheriton Wood and the southern ridge and it would seem therefore that it was this final ridge which had been occupied by some of Waller's troops. Once the Parliamentarians had been displaced Hopton did not occupy the whole ridge, but placed a picket under Sir George Lisle in a copse on top
of the ridge:
Both the Generalls viewing the advantage of the ground they had gotten, and that there was a little wood on the top of that hill with a fense about it, plac'd Sir George Lisle therein with 1000.
Muskettiers, and a guard of 500 horse upon the way by him....8 We can safely conclude that Lisle remained an advanced and somewhat isolated picket throughout the night of 28/29 March for Hopton reports that together with Lord Forth he:
....layed out the quarters for the whole army upon the same hill where they had stood in armes the night before, with command to every horseman to rest by his horse, and every footeman by his
armes, and every officer in his place. And so the Lo: Brainford, by the importunity of the Lo:
Hopton, and the rest of the officers retyr'd to his lodgeing in the Towne, and the Lo: Hopton tooke his quarters in the head of the Army in his coache.9 Thus the mass of the Royalist army remained where it had camped on the night of 27/28 March close to Tichborne or Sutton Downs; only Lord Forth retiring into Alresford. Hopton was well aware of Waller's reputation for surprise night marches and he would wish to keep some distance between his army and the Parliamentarian lines. As extra precautions he saw that his troops were ready for instant action and deployed Lisle well forward as a trip wire.
What is not certain is whether Hopton's 'little wood on the top of that hill with a fense about it', was indeed Cheriton Wood, as the evidence would suggest, or some other wooded area which existed in 1644. The wood must have been substantial enough to provide a battleground for some 4,000 troops. Cheriton Wood figures prominently not only in the fighting itself but also in the preliminary manoeuvres, for it provided the tactical opportunity to enfilade any deployment on the southern and central ridges, and to some extent in the valley between them.
As the early morning mist cleared on 29 March, the day of the battle, Hopton discovered that during the night the Parliamentarians had occupied a wood (always assumed to be Cheriton Wood) on high ground on the right
of their bivouac:
The morning was very misty, so as he could not make a cleere discovery till the sun was neere his two howers up, and then he found that the Enemy was not drawing off, but that they had in the darke of the night possest themselves of a high woody ground that was on the right hand of theire owne quarters, and plac'd men and cannon in it, that commaunded the hill where Sir Geo: Lile was....10 The wood occupied by Waller's troops commanded the position held by Sir George Lisle's picket. Hopton
informed Forth of this alarming development and together they took action to counter it:
Of this he presently advertized the E. of Brainford; who (notwithstanding his indisposition came instantly out to him): and, seing the posture the Enemy was in, commanded the Lo: Hopton to drawe the whole Army and cannon up to him to that ground, which he did accordingly: And placing the foote and horse that the E. of Brainford brought with him on the right wing, © English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Cheriton 1644 himselfe with his owne foote and horse drawe to the left, which was over against that woody ground that the Enemy had newly possest, and where they understood themselves (as indeede they were) upon a great advantage under the covert of the wood, and having lin'd the hedges next to us with store of muskettiers. This the Lo: Hopton observing tooke his advantage likewise of the ground he was on, and drew all his horse and foote in order on the side of the hill that was from the Enemy, and being there within muskett shott, and yet secured commanded Coll. Appleyeard (now Sir Mathew Appleyeard) to draw out of the foote a commanded pa(r)ty of 1000 muskettiers, which he did, and devided them into 4 devisions, and in that order (as he was commanded) advanced towards the Enemy....11 Forth ordered Hopton to 'drawe the whole Army and cannon up to him to that ground'. Thus the Royalists advanced from their camp to the ground from which their generals were observing the Parliamentary dispositions. What happened to Lisle is not clear but for the traditionalist thesis to work it must be assumed that he fell back to join the main body of the Royalist army. Given Lisle's now exposed position this would have been entirely sensible. The Royalist picket reported hearing movement in the Parliamentarian lines during the night and Lisle assumed that this was a precursor to a retreat by Waller's troops. Thus Lisle or his patrols were reasonably close to the Parliamentarian lines. What is harder to understand is why, if the Royalist picket was indeed deployed in Cheriton Wood overnight, the movement of Parliamentarian guns and infantry into the same wood was not discovered sooner.