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But where was the Royalist army in terms of the geography of the battlefield? John Adair believes that it was deployed on the southern ridge overlooking Hinton Ampner, while others would argue that it was positioned on the reverse slope of the central ridge, facing south, close to the battle symbol on the OS map. Whichever ridge he held, Hopton was in a difficult situation for he now had Waller's musketeers flanking the left of his line. To counter this threat he ordered Colonel Matthew Appleyard, with 1,000 musketeers in four divisions, to advance and clear the wood. To get into the wood Appleyard needed to climb and breast a hill, yet if his musketeers were already deployed on the southern ridge they would simply have wheeled to their left and attacked along the crest. If, however, the Royalist army was north of the central ridge as the traditionalists claim, then Appleyard's men, attacking either in an easterly or southerly direction, would have had to gain higher ground to get into the wood. Even had they been on the reverse slope of the southern ridge as Adair claims, it is difficult to categorise their movement forward to the crest as climbing a hill.
To support the traditional view of the battle's location we must accept that with Waller's musketeers moving to occupy Cheriton Wood, the remainder of his army began to deploy on the southern ridge facing north. Indeed the movements of the Parliamentary army until almost the start of the fighting appear to indicate an unusual degree of confusion. At a council of war on the evening of 28 March the Parliamentarians decided to retreat during the night. This decision did not, according to his eulogistic biographer, find favour with
Lieutenant-Colonel John Birch:
While the army was at that posture a councell of warr was called, at which it was resolved, as I have heard (upon the defeat of the Parliament's forces at Newarke and in the North), to make fiers and retreat : which being sore against your mind, whoe then was capten of the watch, you used these words to Sir Arthur Haselrieg, that surely wee did care whither that were God's cause wee had in hand; for did wee asuredly beleeve it, when hee dalled us to fight with his eneimes, wee should not run from them: for mans extremitie is Gods oppertunitie. Yet, notwithstanding that order of the councell of warr, you disposed it so, being then captain of the watche, that the parties on both sides were in the night soe engaged that there was noe marching off without a palpable discovery. Therefore, according to your desire, the army kept their ground, and the next morneing, by breake of the day, drew into batalia, your place being with our regiment in the maine battle. And presently 1000 muskateeres were drawne out, to make good the wood on the right wing: and, contrary to your desire, put under the comand of Leiftennant Collonel Layton, whome you said did sweare tood hard to have God
with him. However, hee went and tooke possession of the wood: but stayed not above half an hower before the enemies foot, under Collonel Appleyard, beat them clearly out, and tooke possession, pursueing our men, whose heells then were their best weapon, to the amazement of our whole army. 12 In this version of events Birch kept the outposts of both armies in such a state of alarm that retreat was impossible, and by daybreak the Parliamentarians were already deployed for battle. Certainly, Waller did countermand the order to retreat and instead sent the party of guns and musketeers into Cheriton Wood under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Leighton. Waller's army may also have changed direction in order to ascend the southern ridge, and Captain Robert Harley hints as much when he remarks that Their was on the right hand of us - as wee were now faced, - a wood which we did conceave might be of greate advantage to us if it were maintained....13 Did Waller's troops initially take up defensive positions facing west or north-west towards Cheriton, expecting that a Royalist attack would be delivered along the Alresford to Cheriton road?
With Hopton's troops on the reverse slope of the central ridge the two armies were now separated only by the crest of the ridge itself and by the intervening valley. This area was known as East Down. East Down Farm, although no longer standing, can be located in the nineteenth century in the valley between the central and southern ridges. Captain John Jones, writing the day after the battle mentioned that '....the enemy lay in Sutton Down, we lay in Lumbourne field, we fought in East Down between Cheriton and Alresford'14. This implies that although Captain Jones and his regiment spent the night before the battle in Lamborough fields, they fought the Royalists on East Down (i.e. between the southern and central ridges), and were to some extent north of Cheriton and south of Alresford.
Adair, however, argues that neither Gardiner nor Burne used the letter written by a Parliamentarian cavalry officer, Captain Robert Harley, which makes it clear that Waller's troops began the battle with 'a little village' on their left. Adair is convinced that this could not be Cheriton, for if it were Harley would have referred to it by name as he knew of 'Cherrytowne', and that it must therefore be Hinton Ampner. This is rather negative evidence, but if John Adair's interpretation of this phrase were to be accepted then it would seem that Waller's position at the start of the battle would have to be south of the A272 and close to Hinton Ampner. It could be argued, however, that if the Parliamentarian line began the day facing west or north-west, before swinging north to ascend the southern ridge, then Hinton Ampner would again have been 'a little village' on the left. Waller's deployment was undoubtedly anchored on the right on Cheriton Wood, and it would have been peverse for the Parliamentarian line to run across the ridge and down to Hinton Ampner, rather than along it and down towards the village of Cheriton. It would have been equally unusual to place 1,000 musketeers in an exposed position 800 yards ahead of the main Parliamentarian position if there was no intention of closing up to this body. The insertion in Cheriton Wood must have been the precursor to the occupation of the southern ridge by Waller's troops.
In support of the Hinton Ampner-East Down location for the battle Adair cites the general agreement that the London regiments were quartered in Lamborough fields, and argues that nineteenth century tithe maps and the 1810 Ordnance Survey map show that these fields stretched along the Itchen stream beneath Hinton Ampner.
He then appears to conclude that since the London Regiments were camped in Lamborough fields they must necessarily have fought close by. There is no dispute as to the site of Waller's bivouac, but it seems unduly restrictive to assume that the Parliamentarian army fought more or less where it had slept and did not manoeuvre before the fighting began, particularly as Waller took the trouble to occupy Cheriton Wood.
Adair is on more positive ground when he asserts that there is no evidence to support Gardiner and Burne's assumption that Lisle must have pulled back from his position on the southern ridge, thus allowing Waller to deploy there. If Lisle did not withdraw then the Royalist army must have joined him there before the battle © English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Cheriton 1644 began, and Waller would have deployed elsewhere, most probably across the valley close to Hinton Ampner.
Hopton's Bellum Civile is not straightforward on precisely where the Royalist army formed up for battle. When Hopton discovered, on the morning of 29 March, that Lisle's position was flanked by the Parliamentarians in Cheriton Wood, it is clear that Lisle was on a different hill to the remainder of the Royalist army: 'that commaunded the hill where Sir Geo: Lile was.' Forth and Hopton then considered the position and Forth ordered that 'the whole army and cannon' should be drawn up 'to him to that ground'. This suggests that the army, including Lisle, deployed on the ground from which Hopton and Forth were surveying field. This is identified by the traditionalists as the central ridge on East Down.
While the balance of probability supports the traditional view of the site of the battle, the case is not clear cut.
Sufficient imponderables remain for it to be unwise to dismiss John Adair's thesis out of hand. At a number of points in the battle particular actions could have taken place in the locations proposed by Adair, and the ambiguity of the available sources argues against dogmatic judgements. It is only when assessing the overall shape of the fighting that the traditional view develops greater conviction and strength.
The Landscape Evolution
A survey of 1560 and the SMR record, together with landscape evidence, give a good indication of what the landscape was like at the time of the battle.
The quality of evidence allows a picture to be painted of the landscape which stretched before the Parliamentarian army. The troops occupying the western edge of Cheriton Wood (not in leaf in March) would have commanded the open ridge and had good all round views across downland and arable fields, crossed by lanes the hedges of which would have given good cover. Beyond would have been the hedged enclosures of small fields around Cheriton, the meadows in the valley below Hinton Ampner, arable fields and small pockets of woodland such as at the present Dark Copse on the ridge to the north.
Cheriton Wood did not extend northwards as far in 1644 as it does today; narrow enclosures survive within Tenant Woods, for example, which show that part of the field system has become overtaken by woodland since the battle. An earlier line of Cheriton Lane is traceable along what was then the northern edge of the wood. The right-angled bend of the Lane near Common Farm is a tell-tale sign of realignment around the later plantation of Tenant Wood.
The regular pattern of fields now evident over the battlefield are an indication that the landscape took on its present character as a result of Parliamentary enclosure in the early 19th century. Farmsteads such as Middle Farm were part of this reorganisation of the landscape. However, underlying the whole landscape, although only surviving in visible form in Cheriton Wood, is a prehistoric of Roman field system which demonstrates the continuity of farming in the landscape over at least two millennia.
The Battle: its sources and interpretation
The Battle of Cheriton is unusually fortunate in the sheer number of eyewitness accounts penned by both officers and soldiers. Hopton recorded his view of the fighting in some detail, as did the always interesting and usually perceptive Colonel Walter Slingsby. On the Parliamentarian side, Roe's biography of Colonel John Birch provides an account that contains a good deal of personal bias, but a letter from Captain Robert Harley to his brother contains useful if at times perplexing detail of the fighting.
As we have seen the traditional approach to the battle begins with Hopton's Royalist forces deployed on a ridge to the north of Cheriton Wood with the Cheriton-Alresford road on their right. Musketeers line the hedges right up to Cheriton village. The Parliamentarian army holds Cheriton Wood and is deployed along the southern ridge. The Royalists with some 6,000 troops are outnumbered almost two to one by 10,000 Parliamentarians, yet they are eager to attack. Responding quickly to the danger posed to any advance by his left flank by the
Parliamentary musketeers in the wood, Hopton has Colonel Appleyard clear the plantation.
Having consolidated this tactical victory Hopton sent a report to Lord Forth who in reply expressed the wish that the whole army should now stand on the defensive while the Parliamentarians dissipated their strength in
The Lo: Hopton haveing carefully placed all his guards both of horse and foote upon all the Avenues of that ground which he had from thence a faire way to fall upon the flancke of theire whole army, sent Sir Jo: Paulet and Coll: Hayes to the E. of Brainford to give him an accompt of the successe he had had, and of the advantage, he conceive'd, he had at the pressent, and that, if his Excellence were so pleased, he would with 1000 horse, and 1000 muskettiers charge the flancke of the Enemye's Army. The E. of Brainford return'd his answeare with civilityes of great favour and encouragement for what he had done, but, that having now possest all the ground of advantage on our side, his opinion was that wee should not hazard any farther attempt, for that he conceived the Enemy would now be forced, either to charge us upon their disadvantage, or to retire. The Lo: Hopton remayn'd extreamely satisfyed with that solid advice....15 Unfortunately this patient and, in view of the imbalance of forces, wise strategy was overturned by a Royalist infantry officer, Sir Henry Bard, who led his regiment forward to attack the Parliamentary Horse on the right.
As Hopton returned to the centre to confer with Forth he was apparently surprised to discover this movement:
And haveing settled all guards and orders upon the left whing, went himselfe towards the right whing to confer with the Lo: Generall. And being neere the midd-way upon the brow of the hill he saw troopes of the right whing too farr advanced, and hotley engaged with the Enemy in the foote of the hill, and so hard prest, as when he came to the Lo: Brainford, he found him much troubled with it, for, it seemes the engagement was by the forwardness of some particular officers, without order.16 Whether Bard's action was really taken on his own initiative and without any order is unclear. Slingsby explicitly states that both flanks of the Royalist army were ordered to advance and Bard's only fault was in
moving too far too quickly: