Tag: English Civil War

King Charles I Executed for Treason 30 January 1649

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was beheaded on a scaffold at Whitehall in London. The Regicide of King Charles I came after a long and bloody civil war. The country was not totally united in the killing of the king, but Parliament went to great lengths to give the judicial proceedings the force of law.


After putting the country through the English Civil War from 1642-1646 that his Royalist forces lost, Charles I launched another attempt in in 1647 which was quickly, but bloodily put down. The New Model Army, under Oliver Cromwell, which wielded enormous power at the time was furious, so when they captured Charles I, they proceeded to try him. Charles I would not answer to the court as he felt it was unfit to try him. The King claimed “No learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King… one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong.” The court proceeded anyway. They convicted and sentenced him to death on 27 January 1649.

King Charles I Executed

On the day of his beheading, it was so cold that Charles I put on two shirts to ward off the cold, lest he be thought to be trembling at his fate. Charles I dignity in his execution made him a martyr to the Royalist cause. Some subjects in England still vociferously hold that Cromwell was the traitor, not their King. Read here for the Charles I speech and actions on the scaffold.

King Charles I Executed – Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Start at Windsor Castle, ride past Runnymede (where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215)and  into central London to Buckingham Palace, along the Mall, into Whitehall, on to Parliament and ending up at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend this ride early in the morning in mid-June when the sun rises before 5 AM. You can see everything and avoid the atrocious London traffic. At the National Army Museum in Chelsea, you can find a Full English Breakfast at the nearby King’s Road and wait for the museum to open to find out more about the English Civil War.

Image Attribution – Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cromwell Delivers at Battle of Naseby 14 June 1645

If there is one obvious point in the English Civil War where Oliver Cromwell’s star emerged from mere cavalry commander to driving force in the New Model Army, the Battle of Naseby may be it. Cromwell convinced his commander, Fairfax, to move to an adjacent, more neutral hill, so as to encourage the Royalists to attack. Cromwell was so confident that he wanted to goad the Royalists, especially Prince Rupert, into a fight by giving them a better chance. That level of confidence was not misplaced. Cromwell’s actions, as well as the actions of Prince Rupert, were to confirm their reputations. Rupert was the European shock trooper with élan and Cromwell was the disciplined English soldier and stern Puritan. At Naseby, both armies put forward their “A” teams with Prince Rupert, Prince Maurice and the King himself present on the Royal side. Fairfax, Cromwell and Skippon led the Parliamentarian’s New Model Army. There would be no denying the superior force after Naseby.

The Battle of Naseby

Although the King was present, Rupert commanded the Royal lines. Rupert’s plan was to crush the Roundhead left with his signature cavalry charge, which he would lead with Prince Maurice, and then cross behind the Roundhead (Parliamentary forces) centre to turn Cromwell’s flank. All of this was to happen as the Royalist infantry tied down the middle with a quick and unannounced push (i.e. no artillery preparation). Cromwell was supposed to be kept in check by Langdale’s cavalry and a rough ground of rabbit warrens and heavy gorse. The first part went well as Roundhead Ireton’s cavalry (the Parliamentarian left) was beaten from the field. However, Rupert’s cavalry did not cross behind the New Model Army’s infantry centre, either due to battlefield congestion (the New Model Army infantry reserve?) or through their excessive exuberance. Eventually, Rupert’s cavalry ended up in the Parliamentarian rear attacking the baggage trains. One might say it was unplanned, but one must ignore Rupert’s previous actions to call it unlikely. The Royalist infantry held more than their own and actually worked through the New Model Army’s infantry, only to find the reserve behind the ridge.

Disaster for the King’s Forces

The Battle of Naseby was an unmitigated disaster for the King. Virtually all of his northern infantry was captured or killed. He could never recover from the loss of such a force this late in the war. The war would drag on, but the cause was militarily lost on those Northamptonshire fields. Unfortunately for the Royalists, Cromwell also performed to stereotype. After working through the rough ground on the Royalist left, Cromwell attacked and dispersed Langdale’s cavalry. Then Cromwell worked over the Lifeguard who had come to the aid of the cavalry only to join the flight. However, rather than pursue the Royalist cavalry off the field, Cromwell held a blocking position as his cavalry reserve completed the encirclement of virtually the entire Royalist infantry. The King watched the whole thing unfold. He and Rupert tried to rally his cavalry for a counter attack, but thought better of it as he watched his infantry surrender. To add insult to injury, Cromwell’s cavalry harried them all the way to Leicester.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try this ride to and from Northampton that criss-crosses the battlefield north of the village Naseby. There are two major monuments on these roads with the main one, due north of Naseby on the Sibbertoft Road, giving a sweeping view of the battlefield and an interpretative board.

Battle of Chalgrove 18 June 1643

In the English Civil War, the Battle of Chalgrove is famous mainly because one of Parliament’s main political figures, Colonel John Hampden, was wounded in the action and died days later. Hampden was one of the “Five Members” that the King had tried to arrest in Parliament, setting off the war.

The action itself was little more than a skirmish, but brings out the differences between the two armies at this stage of the war. Royalist cavalry commander Prince Rupert was establishing his reputation as a leader of great daring. Rupert was also using newer cavalry tactics that relied on the shock of rapid and decisive action with horse, whereas the Parliamentarians were still relying on firepower and tighter formations with their horse.

The Battle of Chalgrove

Prince Rupert had surprised several Parliamentary encampments in the area around Chalgrove overnight and in the early morning. As part of this action, the main body of Parliamentarians had been alerted to Rupert’s presence in the area due to his flaming of the village of Chinnor. The Parliamentarians set to finding Rupert and cutting him off from the safety of Oxford. Rupert, realizing that he was being trailed, sent his infantry to secure the bridge at Chislehampton and place his dragoons along the escape route, then turned to face the music with his cavalry. As the Roundheads aligned for battle, Rupert feigned a retreat which enticed the Parliamentarians into a chase. However, Rupert spun his forces around and leapt a hedge to take to the attack. The Parliamentary cavalry got off quite a few shots and Rupert’s forces took a significant number of casualties. However, in the melee, Hampden was mortally wounded and the shock of the action drove the the Roundheads from the field.

Prince Rupert

Rupert’s actions at the Battle of Chalgrove were characteristic of him and this time of the war for the Royalists. The Royalists had fought in skirmishes and at least one set piece battle at this point in the war and were coming off as the better force in several of the engagements. Rupert’s cavalry were showing themselves to be of continental calibre in cavalry actions and this confidence was leading Rupert to push for an early and final assault on London to end the war. The young man did not get his wish, but maybe he should have for the sake of the Royalists’ cause. Marston Moor, far away from London, Oxford, and their Royalist support, was to come the following summer.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

This map runs to the actual battlefield and then takes a run at some of the better roads in the area. H-Cafe (former location of Fox’s Diner), near the Berinsfield Roundabout on the A4074, is the local biker hang out. Ordnance Survey Landranger 164 is a good map of the area.

The Battle of Cropredy Bridge 29 June 1644

Just three days before the disaster of Marston Moor for the Royalists, King Charles I himself directed a rebuff to a prowling Parliamentary army under William Waller at the Battle Cropredy Bridge, near Banbury.

Waller had been observing the King’s movements for some time when he spotted an opportunity to strike over the River Cherwell near the present day Oxford Canal as it passes through the village of Cropredy. The King had allowed a gaping hole to develop between his lead / centre elements which were near Hays Bridge and his rear which was more than a mile behind. Seeing his chance to bite off a whole chunk of the King’s rear end, Waller pounced.

The Battle of Cropredy Bridge

Waller sent Lieutenant General Middleton’s cavalry (including Battlefield Biker favorite, Haselrige’s “lobsters”) to make contact with the King’s rear. This was a raging success, but as so often happened with successful cavalry charges of the time, the pursuit went too far. The Royalist rear guard commander, the Earl of Cleveland, took the opportunity to wade into the Parliamentary foot and guns which had been left behind by Middleton at Cropredy Bridge. Middleton’s cavalry realized what had happened and returned to scatter Cleveland’s cavalry, but not until after they captured the Roundhead guns and their commander Colonel Wemyss (unfortunate name for an artillery commander). Cleveland did not get all of his own way in Middleton’s absence as the Roundhead infantry stood their ground, crucially keeping Cropredy Bridge.

In the meantime, Waller with cavalry crossed the Slat Mill ford and attacked uphill near Williamscott and was promptly sent packing by the Earl of Northampton’s cavalry. Waller decided that discretion was the better part of valor and retired to Bourton Hill to over-watch continuing skirmishes around the bridge. Finally, the result was Parliamentary forces staring down the King’s forces from Cropredy Bridge for the better part of two days. The King stole away when he learned of re-enforcements coming to Waller.

The Battle of Cropredy Bridge was a Lost Parliamentary Opportunity

Although a tactical stalemate, at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge the King kept most of his Oxford army to fight another day and Waller’s opportunity to hurt Charles significantly was lost as Waller’s army disintegrated with mutiny and desertion soon thereafter.

Ride Recommendation

This ride rides takes in battlefield area around the eponymous town and bridge and then opens up into some great A roads to Daventry, Southam and Banbury. Finally, I’ve included a short finish on the farm lanes around the older battlefield of Edgcote, where a major battle of the War of the Roses was fought.

Use Ordnance Survey Landranger 151. The battlefield is centred on SP 477460. If using a road map, the battlefield is located east and northeast of Cropredy Bridge.

Hopton Takes Waller at the Battle of Lansdown Hill 5 July 1643

In the English Civil War, the Royalists had been gathering strength throughout the west in early 1643, but there were still several Parliamentary strong points that needed to be neutralized, before the Royalist rear would be secure enough to mount an all out assault on London. With this aim, Sir Ralph Hopton set out to draw his old friend William Waller out to battle, so that the Royalists could take the Parliamentary town of Bath. The two met north of Bath on Lansdown Hill.

Battle of Lansdown Hill

Waller had had time to prepare, so had used the existing Saxon-times quarry pits and embellished them into a formidable network of trenches and gun emplacements. Seeing Waller on top of a nearly impregnable position, Hopton thought better of the situation and retreated in good order. However, Waller wasn’t having it and sent a substantial amount of cavalry down the hill to maul the Royalists as they retreated. The Parliamentary cavalry did a good job and almost broke the retreat, but Hopton held on and rallied his forces to reverse the attack and flank the attacking cavalry some ways back up the hill.

With their blood up, Hopton’s infantry made their way up the hill and eventually took over the crest from Waller’s infantry. Unusually, Hopton had sent the infantry up the hill to protect the cavalry flanks, but his cavalry had been pushed back and the infantry had to carry the attack. Hopton lost one of his troops’ most beloved leaders in the melee, in Sir Bevill Grenvile. The Royalists now held the breastworks on top of the hill but could not really secure their flanks and were running low on ammunition. Waller’s troops had reformed behind a stone wall about 400 yards south on the plateau. With darkness falling, neither side had the strength to close the battle.

Neither side had won a decisive victory. The Royalists had taken a tactical stronghold from the Parliamentarians by force, but they had lost their ability to threaten Bath, so strategically it had hurt them.

Battle of Lansdown Hill Ride Recommendation

This ride really comes into its own when all of the steep, curvy farm tracks are taken around the battlefield itself. Note, try to avoid Bath during heavy traffic and watch the debris on the farm tracks around the battlefield. It finishes off with a scoot over to the next (chronologically) battlefield of Roundway Down.

Use Ordnance Survey Landranger 172. The battlefield is centered on ST 723703. If using a road map, the battlefield is located north of Bath, near the racecourse.

Parliament Defeats Royalists at Battle of Langport 10 July 1645

English Civil War Wraps up in the Southwest

By July 1645, Royalist fortunes were on the wane and Lord Goring was using all of his strategic wiles to evade the confident New Model Army under Lord-General Fairfax. Knowing that Fairfax outnumbered him nearly two to one, Goring sent 3 cavalry Brigades under Lieutenant General Porter to threaten the nearby Parliamentary town of Taunton, probably as a diversion, in the hopes of dividing Fairfax’s force. However, Fairfax caught up to Goring after capturing most of Goring’s cavalry diversion between Langport and Taunton. Fairfax came to the battle weaker than ideal, but still with the determination to break up Goring’s force for good.

Battle of Langport

Goring took up an easterly facing position on Ham Down northeast of Langport overlooking the Wagg Rhyne, a small stream running generally north to south. Fairfax approached from the east (follow Tengore Lane for a good simulation of the movement) and occupied a westerly facing position on Pitney Hill, also overlooking the Wagg Rhyne. The two positions straddle the present day B3153. There was an obvious “pass” and/or ford over the Wagg, which both forces identified as the key terrain to own. There are 3 credible geographic points (on the A372, on the B3153 and an ancient footpath near the railway underpass) for the pass and academic debate is far from settled on the issue. Up to this point in research and on the ground viewing, Battlefield Biker reckons it is the middle one near the present day railway underpass. There is a footpath that leads right through the likely pass and up Ham Down.

Goring placed artillery, cavalry and musket over-watching the pass, the narrowness of which gave him confidence of holding. Wasting no time in taking the obvious action, Fairfax took out the Royalist artillery with his own and then ordered Cromwell to take the pass and press the attack up Ham Down. The pass only allowed a 4 horse abreast attack. Under fire from Goring’s over-watch, the lead troops of Cromwell’s cavalry, led by Major Bethel were able to secure the pass and deploy on the slopes of the Down. The Roundhead infantry followed and established the fighting in earnest.

After some fairly fierce fighting on the Down, the Royalists were broken and they retreated whilst setting Langport alight. This did not stop Cromwell, who chased the fleeing Royalist through Langport and beyond.

Ride Recommendation

Here is a nice, relaxing ride of 33.4 miles. The route leads down to Langport and its environs. On the Wagg Drove you are bisecting the battlefield. Around Langport you can get several viewing angles of the battlefield from Ham Down, Wagg Drove and Pitney Hill. The ride finishes at the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton. Use Ordnance Survey Explorer 129. The battlefield is centred on ST 441276. If using a road map, the battlefield is located 15 miles east of Taunton.

Royalists Win Battle of Roundway Down 13 July 1643

Roundway Down

Roundway Down may have one the most dramatic geographical features of any battleground, bar the cliffs at Pont du Hoc on the Normandy coast. The escarpment that falls away from the back of Roundway Hill is a sheer drop off and was the scene of a desperate retreat in the English Civil War that ended with many cavalrymen and their horses going over the cliff.

After the stalemate at Lansdowne Hill a few days earlier, Waller wanted a decisive engagement with the Royalists that were working the area, so he set siege on Devizes in Wiltshire. Royalist Hopton, who had been injured in an accidental gunpowder explosion after the Lansdown Hill battle, knew he needed help, so he sent Prince Maurice on a end run to Oxford to get more forces to come to his aid. Those forces, under Lord Wilmot and Sir John Byron, approached from Oxford and Waller met them on the sweeping expanse of Roundway Down with a numerically superior force. Waller had what he wanted.

The Bloody Ditch

The battle opened with a cavalry charge by Sir Arthur Haselrige’s cuirassiers or “lobster” cavalry that was beaten back on the Parliamentary right flank after two tries. Haselrige was lucky to have his beating early when several escape routes were still available to him and he took one from the field. The other flank was just as decisively engaged with charges and counter-charges swirling around the flanks of Waller’s lines. Waller’s infantry could only watch as their cavalry flanks were decimated by determined Royalist charges. Finally, to the horror of everyone watching, Parliamentary forces were cornered and fled over the cliff to their deaths in “Bloody Ditch,” the steep escarpment off the back of Roundway Down. Some Royalists were in such hot pursuit that they followed the Roundhead cavalry over. After such a fight, Waller’s infantry was left stunned and almost defenseless to the Royalist cavalry and a large detachment from Devizes that had marched to the sound of the guns, but arrived late.
What had begun as an overwhelmingly favourable position for Waller, ended up with one the most decisive Royalist victories of the war. Roundway Down would affect Waller for years to come and made him overly cautious in future battles, especially those with his old friend, Hopton.

Recommended Ride

Good ride here. Take the A361 Northeast out of Devizes to Beckhampton, where you turn left onto the A4 and go to Calne. Take a left onto the A3102 to Chittoe. Near Chittoe, take a left on the A342 and go to Rowde. Just after Rowde take the lane to Roundway. At Roundway, take the farm lane north to a “Y” and take the left fork. This fork will give away to a very good, solid gravel road where you can view the whole of the battlefield on the down. You can also park up and walk about 500 yards to Oliver’s castle and look over the edge into “Bloody Ditch.” If you have the time, try the A360 from Devizes to Salisbury across the Salisbury Plain (additional 27 miles).

Waller Defeats Hopton at Battle of Cheriton on 29 March 1644


In the summer of 1644, the Royalist forces were threatening London in the English Civil War with the Parliamentarians. The Royalists confidently blocked a Parliamentarian force near Winchester and forced a battle. They would regret it. The battle was a turning point in the southern campaign and suddenly stopped the Royalist pincer strategy on London by destroying the lower jaw of it.

This is one of my favourite local rides. The battlefield is highly accessible by bike and foot with multiple farm tracks and lanes. Additionally, this part of Hampshire is beautiful and the lanes and good “A” roads around here make it a great Sunday morning ride.

The Battle of Cheriton

Around 27 March 1644, the Royalist forces of Lord Hopton, joined by the Earl of Forth had succeeded in halting Hopton’s old friend William Waller’s Parliamentary forces from securing Winchester by blocking the main road between London and Winchester near Alresford. Two days of skirmishing in the area left Waller’s army near the village of Hinton Ampner and Hopton’s army northeast of Cheriton with pickets on a ridge overlooking Hinton Ampner to the south.

Hopton’s pickets and Waller’s patrols skirmished in the night of 28/29 March. Waller had flanked Hopton’s pickets on the south ridge to the point of making it untenable. Thus the day of the battle began with Waller on the south ridge and Hopton on the north ridge. Upon seeing the ground between the two forces, Waller saw that Cheriton Wood would be the key to Hopton’s left flank and dispatched 1,000 musketeers there. Understanding this threat, Hopton countered with 1,000 musketeers of his own under Colonel Matthew Appleyard. The two forces met in the dense Cheriton Wood and by all accounts fought a fierce hand-to-hand melee with Appleyard’s forces securing the ground. Hopton had been frustrated by previous attempts to bring his old friend, Waller, to battle, due to Waller’s pessimistic nature and previous defeats, most notably Roundway Down and Lansdown Hill. Alas, Hopton would be frustrated, but not by Waller this time.

Although intending to hold their position on the north ridge, one of Hopton’s lieutenants, Royalist Sir Henry Bard, on his own initiative, led his regiment on a ill-starred attack from the right on Sir Arthur Haselrige’s regiment of horse, known as the “lobsters” for their 3/4 armour suits. Haselrige made Bard pay for his folly and destroyed the entire regiment in plain sight of the Royalists. The Royalists were so horrified by what they saw in front of them that they felt compelled to send re-enforcements to Bard. However, they were sent piecemeal without supporting fires or flank protection. The Roundheads met the challenge and soon the entire front became engaged between the two ridges.

Parrying between the two forces ended up in close quartered fighting along the hedges. Meanwhile, several cavalry actions played out over a period of hours with the Parliamentary cavalry gaining the upper hand. Finally, Waller’s infantry enveloped the flanks and forced Hopton to salvage his troops and guns with an orderly retreat up today’s Scrubbs Lane towards Basing House, passing the point where the commemorative stone sits today.

Ride Recommendation

This is a good ride with the tour of the battlefield in the middle of the ride along the farm lanes northeast of the village of Cheriton. Use Ordnance Survey Landranger 185. The battlefield is centred on SU 598294. If using a road map, the battlefield is located northeast of Cheriton village. It is 42.8 miles beginning and ending near Winchester, Hampshire. There is a National Trust property at Hinton Ampner, a good pub called the Flower Pots in Cheriton, a Husqvarna dealership (Husky Sport) in Cheriton and a BMW Motorrad dealer (Bahnstormer) at Lower Faringdon.

Google Map Link

Battle of Marston Moor 2 July 1644

Having relieved the siege at York by out manoeuvering the Parliamentary Army, Prince Rupert wanted to engage Parliament’s Allied Army. Rupert believed (controversially) that he had orders from the King to do so. The Parliamentary backed Allied Army of the Eastern Association, local Yorkshire forces along with the Scots under the Earl of Levin accommodated him between York and Knaresborough. Rupert was outnumbered, especially, because he could not get the siege-relieved forces at York to get the lead out until the last minute. The Marquess of Newcastle, who had held York through the siege, was against offering battle at Marston Moor, going so far as to remind Rupert of one of his past failures due to hasty decisions. Rupert prevailed, but even with the mainly infantry forces from York, Rupert mustered only 18,000 to the Allied Army’s 28,000.

The two forces squared off late in the midsummer’s day after having had spent the better part of the afternoon so close to each other that insults were being traded across the lines. Persistent rain showers and the lateness of the day had convinced Rupert that battle would not begin that day. However, for debatable reasons, the allied front surged forward around 7 PM and the fight was on. Rupert could have felt vindicated to choose battle at first as Goring’s cavalry on the Royalist left broke through and routed Sir Thomas Fairfax’s right of cavalry and infantry. Goring’s forces pushed on and took the Allied Army’s baggage train behind the southern ridge. The Allied Scots’ infantry, however, doggedly held the line in the centre. Meanwhile, a wounded Cromwell pushed Rupert’s cavalry back in the vicinity of present day Kendal Lane on Tockwith*s eastern edge. After winning the cavalry engagement, Cromwell’s disciplined forces turned right and flanked the Royalist infantry. This envelopment turned the tide and the Royalist forces were reduced to the last stand by Newcastle’s best infantry, the Whitecoats, who defied Cromwell, until Scottish Dragoons came to finish off the battle near White Sike Close.

Ride Recommendation for the Battle of Marston Moor

This ride runs right through the battle area, which is centred on grid SE 491522 in between Long Marston and Tockwith. (Ordnance Survey Landranger map 105)

Check out the Battle of Towton from the War of the Roses not too far from Marston Moor.

The English Countryside, Military History and Motorcycle Touring

Having lived and worked in the United Kingdom for the last 12 years, I’ve had a good chance to see a lot of the countryside of the UK on my motorcycle rides to various history sites. I’ve travelled the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Wales. I’ve not made it to Northern Ireland on a bike yet, but someday!

However, my recent rides around the English Civil War battlefields have given me a new perspective on the countryside and how much of it remains. There is still a good amount and it is beautiful… and much against my gut, civil planning may have made this the case.

I am torn over the level of civil planning required to build in the UK. The liberal in me says, if you own the land, you should be able to do what you want to with it. However, the pragmatist in me knows that the countryside would be quickly overrun by the hordes building houses all over the place. Whilst it is understandable and even agreeable for this to be the case in place like the US, it is open to much more debate in a place the size of Oregon and a population of 60 million. Back on the other hand, why should urban dwellers be subjected to high housing prices and cramped, mid-20th century standards of living just because someone wants to see a 400 year old hedge retained instead of a string of houses. I think, in the balance, I still come down on the side of much less restrictive planning, but not as wholly as I might have at one time

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