With the arrival of Irish forces (somewhat) loyal to the King in late 1643, the Royalists had developed a strong footing in the northwest of England and were besieging the strategically important town of Nantwich. The Royalist commander Lord Byron decided to complete his conquest of Cheshire by quickly capturing Nantwich, which was being defended by Parliamentarian Sir William Brereton. However, the Parliamentarian Sir Thomas Fairfax had other plans. Showing his grasp of the whole war and not just that of his eastern England locality, Fairfax pulled together his disparate forces around Lincolnshire and marched to the relief of Nantwich. The two forces met near the present day Shropshire Union Canal on the close, flat pastures to the west of Nantwich.
Battle of Nantwich
Having deployed tightly coming out of Nantwich, Fairfax had to fight on each flank to open up space for his cavalry. On the other hand, Byron, converging on Nantwich, had to deal with over-extension. One has to imagine an inner concentric arc pushing against an outer concentric arc to understand the tension between the two forces. Fairfax was able to hold both flanks as his centre made the advance into Byron*s centre who were unsupported by their flanks due to the over-extension. Eventually, the Royalist centre cleaved in two and flanked away in opposing directions. This saved the left side, but doomed the right which fell back near Acton church.
Things went from bad to worse for Byron, as the blocking force meant to hold the Nantwich Roundhead forces at bay, failed. These Parliamentary forces proceeded to attack the Royalist baggage train near Acton church and the Royalist right flank near the present day Acton Bridge (footbridge) over the canal. In the melee, the Royalist lost many, but many more surrendered, including whole Irish regiments who felt they had been tricked into coming to England to fight for the King.
Nantwich was a clear win for the Parliamentary forces, having relieved the siege, captured the Royalist baggage train and not a few senior officers. Strategically, it kept the centre of England in play and established Fairfax as a Parliamentarian commander of national stature.
Battle of Nantwich Motorcycle Ride
Try this circular ride from Nantwich to Whitchurch and back
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.