Battle of Chalgrove Field
|Battle of Chalgrove Field|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Prince Rupert||Major John Gunter
Colonel John Hampden +
|1000 cavalry.||1150 cavalry and dragoons|
The Battle of Chalgrove 18 June 1643 of the English Civil War was led by Prince Rupert for the Royalists with three crack regiments and Rupert’s Lifeguard. Over 1,000 Royalist Horse engaged a similar number of Parliamentarian cavalry. Parliament’s forces consisted of three of the Earl of Essex’s troops of Horse, over 150 dragoons and 700 – 800 of Essex’s most senior officers, an approximation of 1,100 mounted troops.
It took place around 09:00 hours on the morning of 18 June 1643 in Chalgrove Field, northeast of Chalgrove in Oxfordshire. It was a Royalist victory and has become notable for the mortal wounding of Parliamentarian colonel, John Hampden, who died six days later of his wounds.
Prior to the Battle Prince Rupert’s forces had attacked the village of Chinnor killing and capturing the new levies and leaving fire and destruction behind them on their retreat to Oxford. Survivors took the alarm to Sir Philip Stapleton in Thame. Sanders and Buller’s Dragoons were sent to Chinnor and Dundasse’s Dragoons were sent out towards Chalgrove. Sanders sent a detachment back to Thame to report to Stapleton. These dragoons followed the Royalists' retreat who were by 7.30am near the village of Aston Rowant two miles from Chinnor.
The Royalists reported that a body of Rebels were discovered in Aston Rowant, referred to as ‘in the village hard upon the left hand of us, which Essex confirmed was Major John Gunter, Captain James Sheffield and Captain Richard Crosse’s Troops. These 200 troopers were soon joined by Sanders and Buller’s Dragoons and together these 300 men engaged the Royalists in a skirmish around South Weston. (The skirmish that Earl of Essex, by accident or design, confused with the Battle of Chalgrove.) The skirmishers were joined by Col. John Hampden, Sir Samuel Luke and Col John Dalbier along with Dundasse’s Dragoons. Dundasse sent a detachment to Stapleton in Thame to report that would not get to him until at least 9.30am. NB. Stapleton rounded up those fleeing from the battle. Leaving Thame after 9.30am and riding hard the six miles across country to Chalgrove with the best of horses would take 35 – 40 minutes. This timing marks the duration of the battle and confirms why the casualties on Parliament’s side were so high.
Parliament’s men ‘kept still upon the rear for almost five miles’ following the Royalists up to Clare Crossroads to where the road from Thame meets the Highway to Weston. The skirmishers could see a large body of Parliaments’ men riding with all speed to Clare Crossroads. These 700 – 800 men were Essex’s most senior officers who had been receiving their regiments' pay when the alarm came from Chinnor.
The Royalist vanguard with the foot, dragoons and prisoners were making their way into Chalgrove following the ancient bridleway from Golder Hill through Easington. (1612 Map) ‘His Highness was now making halt in Chalgrove cornfeild :’ (sic) The Royalists were beyond a great hedge watching several great Bodyes of Rebels coming from Easington and Thame being mindful of those who had before skirmished with their rear.
Parliament’s men were in turmoil. Officers who were obeyed without question and whose honour was paramount were being ordered into Troops. Prince Rupert’s Foot with the prisoners were safe with his Dragoons guarding their rear as they retreated towards Chiselhampton Bridge. The great hedge between the armies ensured that when the Royalists turned from line into column to follow the Foot their flank was safe from attack as they marched away.
Parliament’s men organised themselves into thirteen troops who, ‘advanc’t cheerfully: doubling their march for eagerness, and coming up close to us.’ Eight Cornets faced the Royalists with three troops in reserve by Warpsgrove House and two more troops higher up the hill. The eight Cornets had passed through the gap in the great hedge made by the lane that served Warpsgrove. Early into the battle this gap was closed by a troop out of Gen. Percy’s regiment trapping those on the Chalgrove side to fight near two against one.
Col. John Dulbiere, who brought up Dragoons who lined the hedge, is recorded by the Royalists to have ‘called out to his People to retreat, least they were hemb’d in by us.’ Prince Rupert jumped the hedge that parted them and his Lifeguard and his Regiment jumbled over after him and the Rebels’ dragoons that lined the hedge fled. To make his front even with the enemy Rupert called out two troops from the Prince of Wales’ Regiment. Captains Martin and Gardiner's troops of the Prince's own regiment led the charge and endured pistol shot at a distance then again at close range. Prince Rupert with his Lifeguard and those drawn out from the Prince of Wales’ regiment charged swords drawn into the melee. At very close range the Royalists picked their targets with Col. John Urrie reportedly saying, ‘that’s Hampden, that’s Gunter et al’ as each were shot. Hampden may have been the last to escape through the gap in the great hedge before a troop from Percy’s regiment closed the only exit from the Battlefield.
Parliament’s eight cornets were routed, a term meaning that the unit was not fighting under the Commander’s orders, it was every man for himself. Parliament’s reserve were blocked from joining their colleagues and watched in horror as the Royalist reserves, pistols loaded, came in at close range. Those Royalists that had been fighting were taking prisoners of quality and leading them away to Oxford. Eighty such officers from Chalgrove were paraded through the streets of Oxford. It was reported that, ‘he (Rupert) slew above an hundred dead in the place’ and the number of wounded could have been equally dramatic.
Prince Rupert’s men and horses desperately tired after being in the saddle for 18 hours wanted to finish the action. Parliament’s men were hemmed in, as Dulbiere stated, and were unable to flee the battlefield. The 350-strong Parliamentary reserve added to the battle’s survivors were still a dangerous force should the Royalists decide to walk away. Parliament’s men, ‘wholly rowted’ were forced or maybe agreed to be rounded up and chased through the gap in the great hedge. The Reserves in the Close by Warpsgrove House were pursued with the others back again over Golder Hill to Easington, the place of the first encounter. Sir Philip Stapleton who had come from Thame drew the retreaters up into a body. Prince Rupert master of the Battlefield left Chalgrove for Oxford. Prince Rupert received a heroes welcome parading 200 prisoners and booty that included three of Essex’s Colours and another three of Sir Samuel Luke’s and one Col. Melves’ Dragoons added to four foot regiments’ colours.
The Battle of Chalgrove was not a battle on such a grand scale as Naseby or Marston Moor although the outcome of Chalgrove was as equally profound. Essex’s diseased army after Chalgrove was leaderless, poorly supplied and unable to defend itself. Essex removed his army from Oxfordshire to London not to return to battle order until September. Queen Henrietta Maria was waiting in Newark Castle with a large shipment of arms and supplies for the King in Oxford. On receiving the news of Essex’s defeat the convoy made ready and left Newark on the 27 June 1643. The Earl of Newcastle relieved of his duty to protect the Queen went north to find Lord Fairfax’s Army of the North. On the 30 June 1643 at the Battle of Adwalton Moor Fairfax’s army was destroyed. Before the Queen got to Oxford the Royalists won the [Battle of Lansdown] 5 July and [Devizes] 13 July. The Port and town of Bristol was taken by the Royalists 26 July. The politics following Chalgrove became extremely bitter with accusations against Essex’s competence. It has been conjectured that Oliver Cromwell’s star began to rise because of Essex’s disastrous defeat at Chalgrove, and that this was when the Self-Denying Ordinance and the New Model Army were conceived.
Poor Hampden is dead ... I have scarce strength to pronounce that word.
After Chalgrove, Colonel Hurry led another raid a week later which swept around Essex's army and plundered Wycombe. This led to sharp criticism of Essex in London, and he offered his resignation, which was refused.
Myths and Legends
Death of John Hampden
Col. John Hampden had put himself in Captain Crosse’s Troop and early in the battle was shot through the shoulder with two carbine balls. Hampden’s wounding was reported in Essex’s Letters and was published while Hampden was still alive. The story of Hampden’s pistol exploding shattering his hand and his supposed exhumation in 21 July 1828 is fully explained in ‘The Controversy of John Hampden’s Death’.
Siting of Battlefield and Monument
George Nugent-Grenville, 2nd Baron Nugent commonly known as Lord Nugent erected John Hampden’s Monument said to be close to the battlefield. The explanation of why the Monument was erected a mile away from where Nugent thought the battle site was located is explained in "The Military and Political Importance of the Battle of Chalgrove". Nugent’s economy with the truth has led others to locate the Battle of Chalgrove incorrectly.The argument of whether Chalgrove hosted a skirmish or battle began in 1881. Ordnance Survey’s cartographers came to Chalgrove for the first time in 1880. Reading the legend engraved on John Hampden’s Monument, ‘Within a few paces of this spot he received the wound of which he died’, placed their crossed swords in the nearest cornfield. Renn Dickson Hampden had donated the plot on which the Monument was erected. Lord Nugent believed the battlefield was over a mile away and having promised his subscribers to erect the Monument where Hampden met his fate had to be economical with the truth. The Aylesbury News, Saturday, May 27, 1843 carried Nugent’s advert ‘Hampden Celebration on Chalgrove Field'. Later when the OS cartographers came along, in 1880, they believed from the words on the Monument "within a few places of this spot...." that the battle took place in the field next to the monument and therefore placed the site of the battle here and called it "Chalgrove Field" the name coming from the published articles in the press at the time of the unveiling of the monument. In subsequent revisions of the maps the site of the battle and name "Chalgrove Field" have been moved 400 yards northwards into the next field. The latest research as published in Oxoniensia places the battle a further 300 yards north at SU648978.
The complete explanation of the confusion of the skirmish or battle argument is documented in ‘The Military and Political Importance of the Battle of Chalgrove Field 1643’ (Note: this links to the author's own copy of the article as published in Oxoniensia, since the Oxoniensia article is not available free on-line).
Legacy of Robert Parslow
A legend circulating in Watlington of a military chest being left at the Hare and Hounds prior to the Battle and never called for after which allowed one Robert Parslow the landlord to leave a legacy. A plausible explanation is found at Military Chest Parslow.
The area is legally protected being a registered battlefield with English Heritage. It is marked by the Hampden Monument, a stone obelisk erected for the battle's bicentenary in 1843. However it should be noted that the monument does not actually mark the site of the battle. The main focus of the battle was 770 yards North of the monument.
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