Siege of Oxford
The Siege of Oxford was a Parliamentarian victory late in the First English Civil War. Whereas the title of the event may suggest a single siege, there were in fact three individual engagements that took place over a period of three years.
The first engagement was in May 1644, during which King Charles I escaped, thus preventing a formal siege. The second (May 1645) had barely started when Sir Thomas Fairfax, who was never much interested in siege warfare, was given permission to stop and pursue the King to Naseby, which was more to his liking. The last siege (May 1646) was actually a formal siege of some duration; but the war was obviously over and negotiation, rather than arms, commanded chief attention. Fairfax was careful not to do too much damage, sent in food to the King's second son, James, and was happy to end it soon with easy and honourable terms before a bombardment occurred.
The city during the civil war 
Following the creation of the King's Oxford Parliament early in 1644, Oxford was the centre of the Cavalier cause and the headquarters of the King's forces. This had both advantages and disadvantages as most of the citizens were undoubtedly favourable to the Roundhead cause, but were somewhat mollified by lucrative opportunity of supplying the court and garrison. The position of Oxford gave King Charles I the strategic advantage of controlling the Midland counties but the dangers and disadvantages of the city became increasingly manifest. Despite this, any suggestions of retreating to the south west were silenced, particularly by those enjoying the comfort of their college quarters. The King was at Christ Church and the Queen at Merton. Ordnance was cast at St Mary's College, the mills in Osney became a powder factory and New College the magazine. At New Inn Hall the requisitioned college plate was melted down into "Oxford Crowns" and at Carfax was a gibbet. College life continued, albeit on a restricted and disturbed scale. Master of Arts degrees were conferred on the future kings Charles II and James II and upon many more for similar non-academic reasons. During the sieges there was much poor strategy and miserable intelligence on both sides, and there was more friendliness between the belligerents than is usually found in such wars.
The first siege 
Late in May 1644 Edmund Ludlow joined William Waller at Abingdon to "block up" Oxford. On 27 May Waller attempted to cross the Isis at Newbridge, but was beaten back by Royalist Dragoons. The following day, the Earl of Essex Robert Devereaux and his entire army forded the river at Sandford Ferry, halting on Bullingdon Green in full view of the city, while a small party of horse made a reconnaissance whilst the main body marched on to Islip, which they reached on 29 May and made quarters there. During the reconnaissance some of the Parliamentarian horse troops went up and down Headington Hill and had a few skirmishes near the Ports, although little damage was made on either side—the 'Work' at St Clement's Port made three or four great shot at them, driving them back to the main body of troops. Sir Edward Walker noted that "His Majesty at this instant was on top of Magdalen College Tower, where he did exactly view their orders and motion". On 30 May and 31 May the Parliamentarians made unsuccessful attempts to cross the River Cherwell at Gosford Bridge, and Earl of Cleveland Thomas Wentworth made a demonstration towards Abingdon, where Waller had a large force.
On 2 June Waller forced the passage at Newbridge and a large force crossed the Isis in boats. The King hurriedly held council at Woodstock, finding time to hunt and dine there, in the late evening the King heard news that Waller was within three miles of Woodstock. Islip and the passes over the Cherwell were abandoned, leaving matches burning at the bridges to deceive the Parliamentarians, the Royalists retreated to Oxford, which was reached in the early morning of 3 June. Walker, noting that there was not enough supplies to last fourteen days, wrote "to have stayed and been besieged in Oxford with the whole army had been certainly in a few days to put himself and all into their hands". It was decided the King should leave Oxford that night: the King ordered a large part of the army, with cannon, to march through Oxford towards Abingdon to provide a diversion. The King constituted a council to govern affairs in his absence and ordered all others who were to join him to be ready at the sound of trumpet. After a few hours the army returned from Abingdon, having successfully drawing off Waller.
On the night of 3 June 1644 at about 9 p.m. the King and Prince Charles, accompanied by various Lords and a party of 2,500 musketeers, joined the body of horse, taking the van which then marched to Wolvercote and on to Yarnton towards Long Hanborough, Northleigh and Burford, which they reached at about 4 p.m. on 4 June. The army's Colours had been left standing and a further diversion was arranged by the 3,500 infantry left with the cannon in North Oxford. The Earl of Essex and his troops had crossed the River Cherwell and had some troops in Woodstock, while Waller and his forces were between Newbridge and Eynsham. Although without heavy baggage, the King's forces had some sixty to seventy carriages, a large troop to have got though undiscovered. The parliamentarian scouting was seriously at fault, unaided by the lack of co-operation between Essex and Waller, it led to a deplorable failure on the part of two large armies to counter the escape of the King. The escape was discovered too late and Waller, rather than Essex, was quick to pursue and managed to cut off some stragglers in Burford, but the King and his forces had got safely away and continued to march on to Worcester. A letter from Lord Digby to Prince Rupert dated 17 June 1644, gives an indication of the immensity of the lost opportunities;
If Essex and Waller had either jointly pursued us, or attacked Oxford, all had been lost. In the one case Oxford had yielded up, not having a fortnight's provisions; in the other Worcester had been lost.
Following the unsuccessful attempt by Essex and Waller to capture the King and take Oxford, Sergeant-Major General Browne was appointed command of Parliamentarian forces, with orders for the reduction of Oxford, Wallingford, Banbury, and the Fort of Greenland House. On 8 June 1644 Browne held a council of war presiding over twelve chosen men and although he greatly troubled Oxford, there was no further attempt during the 1644 campaign season.
The second siege 
In the New Year, one of the first objectives of the New Model Army was the "blocking up" and siege of Oxford, initially intending that Oliver Cromwell and Browne go to Oxford, while Fairfax marched to the west. Fairfax was in Reading on 30 April 1645 and by 4 May had reached Andover, where he received orders to prevent Prince Rupert getting to Oxford. On 6 May Fairfax was ordered to join Cromwell and Browne at Oxford and to send 3,000 foot soldiers and 1,500 horse soldiers to relieve Taunton, which he accomplished on 12 May. The Committee had ordered a voluntary contribution from Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire to raise forces to take Oxford and "not to be employed in any other service whatsoever" and on 17 May sent a letter to Fairfax about the blocking up and siege of Oxford. On 23 May the House of Commons gave the Committee of the Army orders to make provision for "such money and necessaries for the Siege of Oxford, as they shall receive from the Committee of Both Kingdoms, not exceeding £6,000" and on the same day, £10,000 was to await Fairfax at Windsor, along with the following provision for a siege:
- 2 demi cannons and 3 whole culverins (ready at Windsor and Northampton)
- 1,200 spades and shovels
- 500 pickaxes
- 300 steel spades
- 200 scaling ladders
- 500 barrels of gunpowder
- 40 tons of match
- 30 tons of bullet
- 300 great grenado shells
- 300 small grenado shells
- 1,000 hand grenades
- 20 carriages for provisions
- 200 horse harness
On 21 May Fairfax is reported to have arrived at Oxford and so "straitens the place that they can take in no further provisions", the following day raising a breastwork on the east side of the River Cherwell and erecting a bridge at Marston. On 23 May Fairfax was at Marston and his troops began crossing the river, the outhouses of Godstow House were fired, causing the occupants to evacuate to Oxford, and the house occupied by the Parliamentarians. On 26 May Fairfax put four regiments of foot soldiers with thirteen carriages by the newly erected bridge at Marston, the King's forces 'drowned' the meadow, fired houses in the suburbs and placed a garrison at Wolvercote. Whilst viewing the ongoing works, Fairfax had a narrow escape from being shot. On the following day two of Fairfax's regiments—the white and the red—with two pieces of ordnance marched to Godstow House and on to Hinksey. The Auxiliaries on duty in Oxford; the Lord Keeper, the Lord Treasurer, and the Mayor of Oxford marched before their Companies to the Guards. On 28 May Cromwell was sent to the Isle of Ely. In the evening of 29 May a "bullet of IX lb. weight" shot from the Parliamentarians warning-piece at Marston fell against the wall of the north side of the Hall in Christ Church. Meanwhile Gaunt House near Newbridge was under siege by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough with 600 foot soldiers and 200 horse. Next day the sound of firing at Gaunt House could be heard in Oxford and the following day Rainsborough took the house and 50 prisoners.
In the early hours of the morning on 2 June the troops in Oxford made a sally and a party of foot and horse attacked the Parliamentarian Guard at Headington Hill, killing 50 and taking 96 prisoners, many seriously wounded. In the afternoon Parliamentarian forces drove off 50 cattle grazing in fields outside the East Gate. On 3 June the prisoners taken the day before were exchanged and the following day the siege was raised and the bridge over the River Cherwell was demolished. The Parliamentarian forces withdrew the troops from Botley and Hinksey, and also withdrew from their headquarters at Marston and on 5 June they completed evacuating Marston and Wolvercote. The reason for such a sudden withdrawal was that the King, Prince Rupert, Prince Maurice, and the Earl of Lindsey, Montagu Bertie and others had left Oxford on 7 May. In the meantime, Fairfax, who disliked spending time in siege warfare, had prevailed upon the Committee to allow him to lift the siege and follow the King. A letter by Fairfax to his father dated 4 June 1645 explains:
I am sorry we should spend out time unprofitably before a town while the King hath power to strengthen himself. The Parliament is sensible of this now and therefore hath sent me directions to raise the Siege and march to Buckingham. It is the earnest desire of the Army to follow the King, but the endeavours of others prevent it hath so much prevailed.
The third siege 
The King returned to Oxford on 5 November 1645 to quarter for the winter. The Royalists planned to resume the campaign in the spring and sent Lord Astley to Worcester to collect a force from Wales; on the journey back his troops were routed at Stow-on-the-Wold by Parliamentarian forces under the command of Sir William Brereton, Astley and his officers were taken prisoner. A letter from the King to the Queen dated 6 April 1646 advised her that he was expecting to be received into the Scots army. Another letter of his is dated 22 April: "I resolved—to venture breaking through the rebels quarters (which upon my word was neither a safe nor an easy task)" and that Rupert "was not forward" in the task, and that the King intended to travel in disguise to Lynn and on to Montrose by sea.
The committee in London again ordered its forces to 'straiten' Oxford. On 18 March there was a skirmish between the Oxford Horse and troops commanded by Colonel Charles Fleetwood and 2,000 Parliamentarians under the command of Rainsborough came into Woodstock. On 30 March Rainsborough's foot soldiers and all four of Fairfax's Horse were ordered to "such places as will wholly block up Oxford" and make the inhabitants "presently to live at the expense of their Stores". On 3 April Browne, the Governor of Abingdon, was ordered to send fifty barrels of gunpowder to Rainsborough. On 4 April Colonel Henry Ireton was given orders by Fairfax to take three regiments of horse and one of dragoons to join those forces assembling for the 'straitening' of Oxford. On 10 April the House of Commons referred to the Committee on the issue of "Stricter blocking up of Oxford, and guarding the pass between Oxford and London", the Committee was directed to draw up a general summons to ask the King's garrisons to surrender under a penalty for refusal. On 15 April the sound of cannon firing against Woodstock Manor House could be heard in Oxford, and at about 6 p.m. Rainsborough's troops attacked but were beaten back, losing 100 men, their scaling ladders were taken and many others wounded. On 26 April the Manor House was surrendered, its Governor and his soldiers, without their weapons, returned to Oxford in the evening. There are two letters from Colonel Payne, commander of the garrison in Abingdon, to Browne—one dated 27 April reporting intelligence that the King went in disguise to London, making use of Fairfax's seal "which they had gotten cut in Oxford"; the other is dated 29 April and provides a circumstantial account of the King's flight:
News is confirmed by all that come from Oxford that he went out disguised in a Montero with a hat upon it. Sir Thomas Glemham at his parting bade him "Farewell Harry" by which name, it seems he goes. He was accompanied by the Earl of Southampton Dr. King and Mr Ashburnham. After his going a great meeting in Oxford, at which Sir Thomas got some blows among the rout, and narrowly escaped with his life. Rupert and Maurice disbanded: Governor fain to keep a strong guard about him.
On 30 April the House of Commons, having heard of the King's flight the previous day, issued orders that no person was to be allowed out of Oxford, on pass or otherwise, "except upon parley or treaty regarding the surrender of some garrison of fort, or otherwise advantageous for the reduction of the garrison at Oxford". On 1 May Fairfax returned to Oxford and at once commenced preparations for the siege. On 2 May Parliamentarian foot soldiers entered the villages adjacent to Oxford and the head-quarters were fixed at Headington, with a rendezvous point at Bullingdon Green. On 3 May the Parliamentarians held a council of war where it was decided that a "Quarter" on Headington Hill should be made to hold 3,000 men. It was also decided to build a bridge over the River Cherwell at Marston, where Rainsborough was put in charge of a quarter. A quarter was made in north Oxford, where most of the foot soldiers were assembled to begin the 'approaches' and another quarter was placed under Colonel Herbert at Cowley and the train of artillery was placed at Elsfield. Meanwhile the towns of Faringdon, Radcot, Wallingford and Boarstall House were completely 'blocked up' and isolated from Oxford. Under cannon shot from the city, Fairfax's men began to construct a line from the 'Great Fort' on Headington Hill round St Clement's, lying outside Magdalen Bridge.
On 6 May the magazine for provisions in Oxford was opened and from then on 4,700 were fed from it, "being more by 1,500 than upon a true muster the soldiers were". On 11 May Fairfax sent in his summons with a trumpet:
I do by these summon you to deliver up the City of Oxford into my hands, for the use of the Parliament. I very much desire the preservation of that place (so famous for learning), from ruin, which inevitably is like to fall upon it, except you concur. You may have honourable terms for yourself and all within that garrison if you reasonably accept thereof. I desire the answer this day, and remain
THO: FAIRAX
On 13 May the first shot was fired from the 'Great Fort' on Headington Hill, the shot falling in Christ Church Meadow. The Governor (Sir Thomas Glemham) and the officers of the garrison of Oxford gave the opinion to the Lords of the Privy Council that Oxford was 'defensible'. On 15 May the Governor of Oxford, under direction of the Privy Council sent a letter to Fairfax offering to treat on the Monday (18 May), asking for safe conduct for his commissioners, and for a place to be named. Fairfax, in council of war, sent a reply the same day, agreeing to the time and naming Mr Unton Croke's house at Marston as "convenient for the commissioners entrusted on both sides to treat", offering safe conduct as asked and to send him names of the commissioners. The Privy Council ordered that all their books and papers of parliamentary proceedings transacted in Oxford were to be burned. On 16 May the Governor gave the Privy Council a sort of ultimatum; he delivered a 'paper' to the Lords to obtain from them a declaration that they "had power to raise and disband forces, fortify and give up garrisons, and conduct other warlike actions &c. during His Majesty's absence". The declaration was needed to justify his associating himself further with the treaty; on 17 May the Governor and all the principal officers of the garrison issued a manifesto "disliking the Treaty" and declaring it was forced upon them by the Lords of Council:
OXON. For the Lords of His Majesty's Privy Council May 17. 1646.
We, the Officers of the Garrison of Oxford do hereby declare upon our several reputations, that it is absolutely against our wills and opinions to treat, &c.
But upon the Governor intimating that he had received orders from the King to observe what the Privy Council should determine in his absence, have in obedience to H.M.'s order been forced by the Privy Council to this Treaty.
And do further declare to the World, that what inconvenience soever should arise to the King's Cause, or his friends upon this Treaty is not in our hands to prevent.
This disclaimer of responsibility did little to delay the progress of the Treaty, the civilians, with a better sense of the situation, thought that delay "might be of ill consequence". The same day the Governor sent his acceptance and names of his commissioners to Fairfax.
The Treaty 
Some discussion followed about the numbers of the commissioners of each side, amicably settled at thirteen, and Fairfax allowed the Oxford commissioners to bring a Mr Davidson as their secretary, the first session took place on 18 May, as originally agreed, in the afternoon. A letter from N.T. (whose identity is unknown) in Marston on 20 May complains about the 'lumbering at Oxford' and the procrastination of the Oxford commissioners, the letter concludes:
God knowes when we shall have Oxford by Treaty if they come on no better than hitherto they have seemed; but however the Generall goes on to be in readinesse to take it another way: for we do not desire to drall here but do the work we are sent about.
A first draft of the Articles was referred by Fairfax to the House of Commons, presented by Colonel Rich on 22 May. The Journals of the House record that the House did "upon the very first view disdain those Articles and overtures" and left Fairfax to "proceed effectually according to the trust reposed in him for speedy gaining and reducing the garrison of Oxford to the obedience of Parliament". On 23 May the commissioners returned to Marston and according to William Dugdale's diary "the adverse party pretended our Articles to be too high and said they would offer Articles" and the Treaty was broken off. On 25 May a Committee of nine Lords and nine of the Commons was constituted to consider honourable conditions for Oxford's surrender. A conference of both Houses met upon a letter from the King, written from Newcastle, dated 18 May, enclosing a letter for Glemham, the debate continued into the following day, the Lords were keen to send the letter to Fairfax, but the Commons refused. The King's letter regarding Oxford stated:
Trusty and well-beloved we greet you well. Being desirous to stop the further effusion of the blood of our subjects, and yet respecting the faithful services of all in that City of Oxford which have faithfully served us and hazarded their lives for us: we have thought it good to command you to quit that City, and disband the forces under your charge there, you receiving Honourable Conditions for you and them.
The letter was not sent on to Fairfax and on 15 June the heads of conference with the Commons viewed the King's letter of 18 May and another from the King, dated 10 June, which was similar in terms, but added a "Warrant to the Governors of all his Garrisons" to surrender, referring to Oxford, Lichfield, Worcester, and Wallingford. The heads of conference wanted the warrant sent to Fairfax and for him to forward it on. In the Commons it was ordered that the warrant of 10 June be sent sent to all Governors "for preventing of the further effusion of Christian blood".
Dugdale's diary for 30 May records "This evening Sir Thos. Fairfax sent a Trumpet to Oxford with Articles concerning the delivery of it". Rushworth, who was Fairfax's secretary at the time stated that Fairfax drew up the Articles, however the Committee of the two Houses appointed on 25 May may have had a hand in them. The Treaty was renewed, the Oxford commissioners taking the stance that "they submitted to the Fate of the Kingdom, rather than anyway distrusting their strength of the tenableness of the Garrison". The resumption of the Treaty coincided with a seemingly random exchange of cannon fire, Oxford loosing 200 shot in the day, managing to land a great shot in the Leaguer on Headington Hill, killing Colonel Cotsworth. A sutler was killed in Rainsborough's camp, while the Parliamentarian "cannon in recompense played fiercely upon the town and much annoyed them in their works and Colleges", but made little material damage and a cessation of 'great shot' was agreed upon on both sides.
On 1 June Fairfax was prepared to take the city by storm if necessary, and one of the outworks, called "Charles Fort" was surrendered to Colonel Weldon. On 3 June Oxford forces made a sally from East Port, and 100 horse troops attempted drive in some cattle grazing by Cowley, but the Parliamentarians horse troops countered them in skirmishes. On 4 June the commissioners met again in Marston to consider the new articles offered by Fairfax. On 8 June various Oxford gentlemen delivered a paper of particulars to the Privy Council, which they wanted to add into the Treaty, asking to be informed of the proceedings and to be allowed attendance with the commissioners. On 9 June the commissioners were sworn to secrecy over the talks and forbidden to say anything about their proceedings. By 10 June the Treaty seemed to be going well and Fairfax sent a present of a "Brace of Bucks, two muttons, two veals, two lambs, and six capons" into Oxford for the Duke of York (James II). A letter from Fairfax to his father, dated 13 June states:
Our Treaty doth still continue. All things are agreed upon concerning the Soldiers, and they are satisfied with it. The Article which took up the greatest debate was regarding compositions: we have accepted of 2 years' revenues: so that is concluded to. We think Monday will conclude the rest. I think they do really desire to conclude Articles.
On 17 June there was a general cessation of arms and extensive fraternizing between the two armies, the Privy Council did not dare meet in the Audit House as was usual "in regard of the mutinous soldiers, especially reformadoes". The following day the clergy with others reproached the Lords of the Privy Council for the terms of the Treaty, the next day, the Lords of the Privy Council walked with swords on, fearing their own safety. On 20 June the Articles of Surrender, finally agreed at Water Eaton, were signed in the Audit House of Christ Church on behalf of both sides, by the Privy Council and Governor of Oxford on the one side, and Fairfax on the other.
On 21 June the Lords of the Privy Council held a meeting with the gentlemen of the town in the Audit House, at which the Lord Keeper made a speech about the need to conclude the Treaty, and read them the authority of the two letters from the King. A copy of the Moderate Intelligencer was produced along with an account of the Scots "pressing the King's conscience so far that his Majesty retired and wept", which affected the lord Keeper similarly. On 22 June Princes Rupert and Maurice, along with 300 gentlemen, were allowed to leave Oxford, the Princes setting out or Guildford, but contrary to the terms of the Articles, went as near to London as Oatlands. The matter was debated in the House of Commons on 26 June, the Princes were commanded "forthwith to repair to the Sea coast, and depart the Kingdom within 10 days". Prince Rupert sent a long letter arguing that he did not violate the terms of the Treaty, but offered to submit if his argument failed.
On 24 June, the day set for the Treaty to come into operation, the evacuation of Oxford by the Royalists began. It was not possible to withdraw the entire garrison in one day, but under Article 5 a large body of the regular garrison, some 2,000 to 3,000 men, marched out of the city with all the honours of war. Those living in North Oxford went by the North Port, and some 900 marched out over Magdalen Bridge, on to Headington Hill between the lines of the Parliamentarian troops, and on to Thame where they were disarmed and dispersed with their passes. The form of pass issued by Fairfax was:
You are to suffer the Bearer — who was in the City and Garrison of Oxford at its Surrender, and is to have the full benefit of the Articles &c., quietly and without interruption to pass your Guards with his Servants, horses, arms, and goods and so repair to London or elsewhere upon his necessary occasions. And in all places where he shall reside or remove, he is to be protected from violence to his person goods or estate according to these Articles, and to have full liberty within 6 months to go to any convenient port, and transport himself with his servants, goods and necessaries beyond the Seas, and in all other things to enjoy the benefit of the said Articles.
Hereunto you are to give obedience, as you will answer the contrary.
Although 2,000 passes were issued over a few days, a number of people had to wait their turn. On 25 June the keys of the City were formally handed over to Fairfax; with the larger part of the regular Oxford garrison having left the day before, he sent in three regiments of foot soldiers to maintain order. The evacuation subsequently continued in an orderly fashion, and all was quiet in Oxford.
See also 
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2012)|
- Plant 2004. Oriel hosted the Privy Council of the King's Oxford Parliament, which would seem to disagree with Grose's summary of the work by Varley and perhaps is a typo/misprint for "Ordinance was cast...".
- ...to the south-east of the city, between Horspath and Cowley
- Varley 1932, p. 132.
- Rigaud 1845, p. 376.
- Grose, Clyde L. (December 1932), The Journal of Modern History 4 (4): 624–625 Review of the book by Varley 1932. Reference for the lead and city sections.
- Plant, David (7 December 2004), British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638–60, retrieved 15 November 2008 Text "The Oxford Parliament " ignored (help)[self-published source?][better source needed]
- Rigaud, Gibbs (1845), The lines formed round Oxford, with notice of the part taken by the University in behalf of the Royalist cause, between 1642 and 1646, "The Archaeological Journal", The Archaeological Journal (Royal Archaeological Institute (London)) 1: 366–382
- Varley, Frederick John (1932), The Siege of Oxford: An Account of Oxford during the Civil War, 1642–1646, Oxford University Press The three chapters on the sieges on pages 121—149 provide reference for each of the three siege sections.
Further reading 
- Kemp, Anthony (1977), "The Fortification of Oxford during the Civil War", Oxoniensia (The Oxfordshire Architectural 7 Historical Society, Ashmolean Museum) XLII: 237–246
- Oxford crown in the Ashmolean Museum Heberden Coin Room.
- Siege of Oxford (1646) painting by Jan de Wyck.