Battle of Chalgrove Field
|Battle of Chalgrove Field|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Prince Rupert||Major John Gunter|
|1000 cavalry.||1150 cavalry and dragoons|
|Casualties and losses|
|Besides few common men, no officers of note, but some hurt ||
Colonel John Hampden - Mortally wounded at Chalgrove, dying 6 days later at Thame
The Battle of Chalgrove 18 June 1643 of the English Civil War was a meeting engagement, or in 17th century English Civil War terminology a fight, that occurred when a Royalist body of horse (cavalry) commanded by Prince Rupert met a similar sized Parliamentarian mounted force under the command of Major John Gunter. Colonel John Hampden put himself in Captain Richard Crosse's troop and fought as a trooper. Rupert commanded three regiments of his Lifeguard (with a combined strength of about 1,000), while the Parliamentarians fielded three of the Earl of Essex’s troops of horse, over 150 dragoons and 700 – 800 of Essex’s most senior officers (in all about 1,100 mounted men).
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 (Cavaliers) victory of such magnitude the Parliamentarian army (Roundheads) was forced to leave Oxfordshire. Among the many senior officers killed at Chalgrove Colonel John Hampden, Essex's second in command, member of the Committee of Safetie and Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire was the most notable. Hampden's name became synonymous with Chalgrove because 100 years after death his name and reputation for truth and honesty was used as a political exemplar. The supposed exhumation of John Hampden by Lord Nugent in July 1828 ensured that his name endured.
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 Parliamentarians 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 Colonel John Hampden, Sir Samuel Luke and Col John Dalbier along with Dundasse’s Dragoons. Captain Dundasse sent a detachment back to Stapleton in Thame to report on the number of Royalists and that he had met with the 300 troops under Major John Gunter's command. This detachment would not report to Sir Philip Stapleton until at after 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 to 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.
Prelude to Hyde’s footnote : MS written in June 1643
The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England was begun in the Year 1641 but was first compiled and printed 1702 in Oxford. The Manuscript (MS) of the History found at the source under appears, from statements in the Manuscript’s text, to have been written one or two weeks after the battle.
Edward Hyde was in Oxford attending the King when Rupert, on Hurry’s advice, decided on his expedition to Chinnor. Edward Hyde would have witnessed 2,000 Royalists marching out over Magdalen Bridge and their triumphant return. He was there to count the captured Standards and Ensigns being paraded through the streets of Oxford. There followed 200 prisoners many of note with near 500 horses with all their tack and laden with bounty taken from Chinnor. Edward Hyde’s account of how Parliament’s most senior officers came to be at Chalgrove without their regiments was taken from those ‘best officers’, who were attending the Earl of Essex. Hyde would have had access to the ‘Late Beating Up’ before publication and with the Parliamentarian prisoners testimony the footnote is a near verbatim account.
Records show that a pay convoy arrived in Thame in the early hours of the 18th June 1643. Officers in the presence of the Lord General collecting their regiment’s pay were required to be dressed for battle. The alarm came to Thame from Chinnor at around 7am which prompted Stapleton to send two companies of dragoons to Chinnor. The returning detachment relayed to Stapleton that 2,000 Royalists were retreating towards Chiselhampton Bridge. Essex’s officers charged out of Thame to cut off the Royalist’s retreat. They met Gunter’s 300 men, who had skirmished with the Royalists at South Western, at Clare Crossroads. The Royalist’s foot and dragooners with the prisoners were crossing Warpsgrove Lane a mile ahead of cavalry as they headed down Golder Hill towards the Chalgrove battlefield.
The details of Edward Hyde’s account of the battle of Chalgrove concurs with
Oxoniensia Vol. 80 pub. Dec. 2015, pp. 27 – 39 ‘The Military and Political Importance of the Battle of Chalgrove (1643)’. The inserted comments and references in the manuscript are linked in various ways to this source.
Bodl. MS.Clar.112 Fol.366 - 367 was accurately transcribed into footnote 3 under
E. Hyde, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, Vol. 7 (1717) footnote 3 pp. 74 - 76
The Life is here resumed at p. 224, for pp 75 – 79 ; while the MS. of the Hist. continues as follows :-
‘At the same time when the earl of Essex began his march from Reading, (Early June 1643)  colonel Hurry, a Scotchman, who had served in that army from the beginning with great reputation, (as he was an excellent commander of horse,) till the difference that is before spoken of between the English and Scotch officers, (after which he laid down his commission, though, out of respect to the earl of Essex, he stayed some time after with him as a volunteer, and now,) came to the King to Oxford, having before given notice to the earl of Brainford that he meant to do so. He came no sooner thither, than, to give proof that he brought his whole heart with him, he proposed to prince Rupert to wait on him to visit the enemy’s quarters, and being well acquainted with their manner of lying and keeping their guards, undertook to be his guide to a quarter where they least expected : and the prince, willingly consenting to the proposition, drew out a strong party of one thousand horse and dragoons, (350 dragoons commanded by Lord Wentworth & 50 Lieu-Colonel Lisle) , which he commanded himself, (4/500 musketeers Commanded by Col. Lunsford)  and marched with colonel Hurry to a town four or five miles beyond the head quarter, (The attack on Postcombe at 3am came before the raid on Chinnor)  where were a regiment of horse and a regiment of dragoons, and about daybreak fell upon them, and with little resistance, and no loss of his own men, he killed and took the whole party, except some few, who hid themselves in holes or escaped by dark and untrodden paths. (These survivors took the alarm to Thame)  From thence, in his way back, according to purpose, he fell upon another village, where some horse and a regiment of foot were quartered, where he had the same success, and killed and took and dispersed them all. (This is the attack on Postcombe)  So he having fortunately performed all he had hoped, his highness hastened his retreat as fast as he could to Oxford, having appointed, a regiment of foot to attend him at a pass in the way of security. (This refers to Chiselhampton Bridge)  But the alarum had passed throughout all the enemy’s quarters ; (Reference to Gunter, Crosse, Sheffield, Sanders and Buller, 300 men, skirmishing at South Western is not mentioned)   so that before the prince could reach the pass where his foot expected him, he found the enemy’s whole army was drawn out, and a strong party of their horse, almost equal to his own number, so hard pressed him that, being then to enter a lane, they would disorder his rear before he could join with his foot, which were a mile before. He had very little time to deliberate, being even at the entrance into the lane. (The Prince had entered Upper Marsh Lane at Chalgrove)  If he could have hoped to have retired in safety, he had no reason to venture to fight with a fresh party, excellently armed, and in number equal, his own being harassed and tired with near twenty miles’ march and laden with spoil and prisoners, scarce a soldier without a led horse : (The New Bedfordshire levies dragoons in Chinnor my have lost 3/400 horse.)
Note: Essex was desperately short of horse and provisions. His army was diseased, hungry and dressed in rags. Chinnor had that week been reinforced with fresh troops and supplies. Essex lost a complete dragoon regiment including 3/400 horses and these on the retreat to Oxford had 120 prisoners tied to them and were laden with the bounty. At Chalgrove eighty of Essex’s most senior officers were led away as prisoners on their horses. The gallant and unequal fight left over a 100 dead, it was reported. These overwhelming losses left Essex unable to defend himself and his army being exposed to total annihilation. To save his army Essex retreated to London. Essex’s army was saved because the King demanded the arsenal of supplies be brought to Oxford. Queen Henrietta Maria, on receiving the news of Essex defeat at Chalgrove, left Newark Castle to join her King in Oxford to present him with a huge arsenal of arms. Newcastle went north and at Adwalton moor 30th June 1643 wiped out the Fairfax’s Army of the North. The military and political ramifications of Essex’s loss at Chalgrove include the disbanding of the Committee of Safetie in favour of the Committee of Both Kingdoms and the rise of Oliver Cromwell’s power.
but the necessity obliged him to stay ; and after a short consideration of the manner of doing it, directing as a convoy as was possible to guard the prisoners, and to hasten with all the unnecessary baggage and led horses, he resolved to keep the ground he had in the plain field, and after a short pause, to charge the party that advanced, lest the body might come up to them. (This scenario can be read in the Late Beat Up)  And they came on amain, leaving it only in his election, by meeting them to have the reputation of charging them, or by standing still to be charged by them. Hereupon they quickly engaged in a sharp encounter, the best, fiercest, and longest maintained that hath been by the horse during the war ; (The timing of the battle is found by locating Sir Philip Stapleton)   for the party of Parliament consisted not of the bare regiments and troops which usually marched together , but of prime gentlemen and officers of all their regiments, horse and foot, who being met at the head quarter, upon the alarum, and conceiving it easy to get between prince Rupert and Oxford, and not having their own charges ready to move, joined themselves as volunteers to those who were ready, till their regiment should come up ; (The pay convoy had arrived in the early hours 18 June and officers were with Essex when the alarm came from Chinnor)  and so, the first ranks of horse consisting of such men, the conflict was maintained some time with confidence. In the end, many falling and being hurt on both sides, the prince prevailed, the rebels being totally routed, and pursued till the gross of the army was discovered ; (The battle raged for over an hour)  and then his highness, with the new prisoners he had taken, retired orderly to the pass where his foot and former purchase expected him ; and thence sending colonel Hurry to acquaint the King with the success, who knighted the messenger for his good service, returned, with near 200 prisoners, seven cornets of horse and four ensigns of foot, to Oxford. (By deduction 80 prisoners of quality with their horses were taken from Chalgrove as 120 men were captured at Chinnor.) On the King’s part in this action were lost, besides few common men, no officers of note, but some hurt : on the enemy’s side, many of their best officers, more than in any battle they fought, and amongst them (Mercurius Aulicus reports, ‘he slew above an hundred dead in the place)  (which made the names of the rest less inquired after by the one and less lamented by the other) colonel Hambden (sic), who was shot into the shoulder with a brace of pistol bullets, of which wound, with very sharp pain, he died within ten days, to as great a consternation of all that party as if their whole army had been defeated and cut off.’
The Royalist vanguard with the foot, dragoons and prisoners were making their way down the ancient bridleway from Golder Hill through Easington. (1612 Map) into the parish of Chalgrove, quoted in the Late Beating Up as, "His Highness was now making halt in Chalgrove cornfeild:" (sic) The Royalists were beyond an impenetrable great hedge watching several great Bodyes of Rebels coming from the directions of Easington and Thame, a sweeping arc of 90 degrees, that gave evidence to the Parliamentarian's disorder. Besides this sweeping arc of troopers Prince Rupert noted 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. (viz a fighting unit of around 70 men) Prince Rupert’s Foot with the prisoners were safe his Dragoons guarding their rear as they retreated towards Chiselhampton Bridge. The impenetrable 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. The Royalist's retreat took them a 1,000 yards westwards along a track that was bounded by the famous hedge which Prince Rupert jumped.
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 of the great hedge forcing them into an unequal fight of nearly two against one.
Colonel John Dalbier, 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 Colonel 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's 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 Rupert "slew above an hundred dead in the place" and the number of wounded could have been equally dramatic. Clarendon reported in a footnote, 'If he (Prince Rupert before the Battle) could have hoped to have retired in safety, he had no reason to venture to fight with a fresh party, excellently armed, and in number equal, his being harassed and tired with near twenty miles' march and laden with spoil and prisoners, scarce a soldier without a led horse'  The 80 prisoners with their horse and other loose horses taken after the battle added to the Royalist's bounty taken from Chinnor.
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 Colonel Melves’ Dragoons in addition 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 on 5 July and Devizes on 13 July. The port and town of Bristol were 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
There was disagreement over the manner of Hampden's death between Lord Denman who favoured the exploding pistol theory and Dr. Grace who attended 22 July 1828 an examination of the exhumed body with Mr Norris a local surgeon. On the 28th July 1828 'The Times'  printed Lord Nugent's account of the exhumation. On 9 August 1828 Dr Grace wrote to Richard Cumberland at the Exchequer with a full account of this examination. Prof. John Adair wrote in his 1976 biography of Hampden, (Page 236) 'The two balls bit deep into the flesh behind the shoulder blade.' dismissing unequivocally the myth of the exploding pistol that was expounded after Hampden's supposed exhumation 21 July 1828.  John Adair wrote in History Today, October 1979, 'The Death of John Hampden', in which he which favoured the exploding pistol theory. D Lester and G Blackshaw's book, 'The Controversy of John Hampden's Death' (2000) has on the rear cover Prof John Adair's review in which he states, 'Now at Last.... we have a really thorough and satisfactory account...'. The book reveals who wrote the story of the exploding pistol and why 107 years later the Earl of Buckinghamshire gave permission to exhume John Hampden. Detractors stated that the authors of 'The Controversy dismissed the evidence of an exhumation that took place in July 1828, partly on the grounds that there was no conclusive proof that the body exhumed was that of Hampden, and even if it were that of Hampden, the development of forensic science was in its infancy and misinterpretation of the evidence was all too likely (indeed the authors accuse some of those involved in the exhumation of lying about what they found). The lead lined coffin had remained airtight for 231 years and had it not been so the body would have completely decomposed. Quote from Nugent's account in 'The Times', 'Here a singular scene presented itself. The worm of corruption was busily employed, ..... upon which we discovered a number of maggots and small red worms on the feed with great activity...'; really after 231 years!  "The lines, '.....Colonel Hampden put himself in Captain Cross his troop, where he charged with much courage, and was unfortunately shot through the shoulder'; [were] written by the Earl of Essex to Parliament while Hampden was not only still alive, but expected to live". There were too many witnesses to the event of Hampden's wounding and had it been that Hampden's pistol had exploded and Essex had given a false account even while John Hampden was alive the truth would have been promptly published.
A description of the church and tombs entitled 'Hampden Magna' was written between 1663 and 1675, while Mr. John Yates was rector, this recorded the names and location of the graves and monuments, and indirectly refers to the location of John Hampden's tomb. Comparing 'The Times' narrative to 'Hampden Magna' reveals that it was William Hampden who was exhumed, not Col. John Hampden.
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.
Legacy of Robert Parslow
A legend circulated 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 Parslow's Military Chest.
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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