The counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, formed into the Eastern Association on 20 December 1642, saw little real fighting, coming early and easily under parliamentarian control. Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire were the battlegrounds, where the southward thrusts of the earl of Newcastle were resisted, although Lincolnshire was a markedly royalist county. In early December 1642, Newcastle had garrisoned Pontefract in Yorkshire, and sent forces out to garrison Newark on Trent, a crucially strategic point for north-south communications. In January, the earl depleted the Newark garrison, now reliant on local forces under Sir John Henderson. An attack on the town by Thomas Ballard on 27 February with substantial forces was decisively beaten off, and Newark remained henceforth almost unassailable. From Newark on 23 March royalists under Henderson and Sir Charles Cavendish took Grantham, and on 11 April won the battle of Ancaster Heath against Lord Willoughby of Parham. Alarmed by these successes, the Eastern Association had to react, in fear of Newcastle making a march south with a huge army, reported to be at least 15,000 strong. Oliver Cromwell occupied Peterborough on 22 April and on the 28th stormed Crowland, a minor royalist garrison. On 9 May, in response to alarmed orders from London, Cromwell and forces from Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, rendezvoused at Sleaford preparatory to an attack on Newark. They proved somewhat dilatory, however, enabling Cavendish and Henderson to meet secretly with their forces near Grantham for an intended pre-emptive action.
On 13 May the royalists destroyed three parliamentarian cavalry troops at Belton, and then turned to face the main army close to Grantham itself. After a brief exchange of fire, Cromwell charged the royalist horse and seems to have driven them from the field, but his own casualties may well have been heavy, leading to abandonment of the Newark march. The risk of a southward march by Newcastle remained unabated, however, and by late May 1643 the parliamentary troops began to gather in strength around Nottingham. They did nothing, however, to prevent the march of the Queen and her escort towards Oxford, which had entered Newark unopposed and left again on 21 June. On 2 July the royalists took Burton on Trent. The Queen's departure had relieved the earl of Newcastle of a major handicap, and he at once took the field to clear Yorkshire of the Fairfaxes. Sir Charles Cavendish, detached from the Queen, was also active again in Lincolnshire, and laid siege to Gainsborough, taken on 20 July by parliamentary forces under Willoughby. Cromwell and his probable mentor, Sir John Meldrum, were ordered to relieve Gainsborough, and drew up their forces at North Scarle, on 27 July. On the 28th, advance guards of both armies clashed north of the River Lea, and the royalists fell back on their main body. In the bitterly fought action which followed, Cavendish was killed and the royalists broken. Gainsborough was relieved, but the advance of a substantial royalist army (rumoured to be but small) belatedly coming to Cavendish's aid, obliged the parliamentarians to retreat into Lincoln. The earl of Newcastle bombarded and took Gainsborough, and caused the reduction of Lincoln. Cromwell, meanwhile, had fallen back to the Isle of Ely. In August, however, Newcastle marched back into Yorkshire to besiege Hull, and his enemies could move freely again. The new
commander in chief of the Eastern Association army, the earl of Manchester, took Lynn on 16 September, and on 5 October sent 500 men to Hull to strengthen it. Joining with Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax at Boston, the earl of Manchester waited upon events. Cavendish's successor as royalist commander, Sir William Widdrington, was advancing with forces from Newark and elsewhere towards Bolingbroke where Manchester had laid siege, and the royalist advance was covered all the way. On 11 October the two armies met at Winceby, resulting in a decisive and costly defeat for the royalists. Newcastle abandoned the siege of Hull partly in consequence of this setback. Gainsborough was evacuated, and Lincoln was taken by parliamentary troops, in the wake of Winceby. Newark remained solidly royalist, however, and an important focal point for subsequent resurrection of royalist activities in the area.
1642-1643 : War in the Centre
Following upon the battle of Edgehill, the King's army took Banbury on 27 October, and then made for Oxford, which became the royal headquarters. From Oxford, the army moved to Reading on 4 November, whilst Essex's army entered London four days later to bolster resistance. On 12 November Prince Rupert attacked Brentford, took the town and inflicted heavy losses on its garrison. London armed rapidly, and the next day 24,000 men under Philip Skippon were drawn up at Turnham Green. The King declined to fight and withdrew to Hounslow, thence to Oxford, occupying neighbouring counties. The university town was extensively fortified, and garrisons set up at Reading, Wallingford, Abingdon, Banbury, Brill, Faringdon and Burford. Both armies appear to have anticipated a quiet winter, but on 5 December Wilmot took Marlborough from the parliamentarians, and the latter under Waller stormed Winchester on the 12th. Essex controlled the Thames valley. Early in 1643 both sides won victories: Rupert took Cirencester on 2 February, Waller seized Arundel and Chichester, becoming commander of the Western Association formed on 11 February. The royalists appeared on the defensive, threatened by Essex from Windsor, with Waller to the west who had taken Malmesbury and broken the marquess of Worcester's small personal army at Highnam on 24 March. The first major action, however, was fought at Hopton Heath on 19 March, where the earl of Northampton, en route to relieve Lichfield, confronted parliamentarian forces under Sir John Gell and Sir William Brereton. The parliamentary troops advanced on Stafford, where the earl hastily prepared to receive them. The battle, although it cost the earl of Northampton his life, was a royalist victory, largely due to ineptitude on the part of Gell and Brereton. Prince Rupert hastily sought to repair the damage of the earl's death, taking Birmingham on 3 April and capturing Lichfield on 21 April, removing a threat to Oxford's communications. Rupert's brother Maurice, however, sought to break Waller's army, which was enjoying successes in South Wales: he failed to do so at Little Dean, and Waller joined Edward Massey, governor of Gloucester, in time to take Tewkesbury on 12 April. Prince Maurice pursued, crossed the Severn, and took up position at Ripple on 13 April, blocking Waller's advance to Worcester. Although cautious, Maurice was an able tactician, and when Waller began to withdraw, delivered a mighty blow as the parliamentarian force moved along a narrow lane. Waller's men fled almost to Tewkesbury, where fresh troops halted royalist pursuit. Maurice then marched to Oxford, to assist in saving Reading from the earl of Essex, who nevertheless took the crucial town on 25 April. Thereafter, Maurice and the marquess of Hertford were despatched to the West Country, and Waller with his army also shifted that way, relieving pressure on Oxford.
From Reading on 10 June Essex marched to Thame. Rupert with a small force sought to capture Essex's army pay-train near Chinnor, but failed. Withdrawing, he was threatened by parliamentarian pursuit, and drew up in Chalgrove Field near Chislehampton Bridge, which he secured. The battle was a royalist victory, and led to the death of the MP, John Hampden, and to growing dissatisfaction with the earl of Essex at London. The King now moved against Gloucester, summoning it on 10 August and then laying siege. The earl of Essex left London to relieve the city, and brushed aside an attempt to stop him at Stow on the Wold early in September. The King abandoned the siege, and Essex now had somehow to return with army intact, to London. He reached Cirencester on 15 September and Swindon on the 17th, the royalists marching parallel with him. On the 18th the earl was held up at Aldbourne Chase by Rupert and, moving very slowly, entered Newbury where royalist cavalry at once made a brief stunning raid. The battle of Newbury, fought on 20 September took place south of the town, with King Charles in personal command of the royalist army, and Newbury itself in his hands. The battle was a stalemate, but the King withdrew towards Oxford and the earl of Essex, harried by cavalry, reached London safely. Nevertheless, Essex's survival was the only bright spot for Parliament in 1643, for elsewhere the royalists had scored major strategic successes, and on paper at least appeared poised to win the war by a concerted assault on the Home Counties and London from north, north-west and west.
MAP 10 1642-1643: War in the West
The marquess of Hertford, the King's commander in the West, had been active in Somerset since the end of July 1642, but early in August parliamentarian pressure obliged him to concentrate at Sherborne, where he recruited and waited upon events. A desultory siege was laid to the town by the earl of Bedford's forces on 3 September, but the cavaliers were too eager for the earl, who first tried to talk his way out, and then marched precipitately away, under constant attack, on 6 September. The royalist defeat at Babylon Hill on the 7th briefly halted their momentum. Hertford withdrew towards Bristol, but disputes in the royalist command split the army, the marquess moving away to join the King, and Hopton taking a smaller force into Cornwall. Bedford, confident all was contained, likewise gave up and went to rejoin the earl of Essex. Hopton's arrival in Cornwall on 25 September, however, gave the local royalists impetus, and they took Launceston and held the Tamar, looking across into Devon. Hopton planned to assault Plymouth, but he needed Devonshire men, and a conjunction was thwarted at Modbury on 6 December by the parliamentary commander, Ruthin. Hopton turned against Exeter, but was again out-manoeuvred by Ruthin who secured the city, causing the royalists to fall back. Unable to cross the Tamar, Ruthin waited for reinforcements under the earl of Stamford, but these proving dilatory, he advanced and occupied Liskeard. Hopton rallied, routed Ruthin at Braddock Down on 19 January 1643, and took Liskeard. Cornwall secured, the royalists advanced again into Devon, stormed Saltash on 22 January, and prepared to blockade Plymouth. The parliamentarians rallied, took Modbury on 21 February, and obliged Hopton to draw his army together and retreat on Tavistock. A forty day truce was then concluded, by which Hopton at least hoped to take some advantage. Lord Stamford and the main parliamentary army lay at Exeter when, on 22 April, the truce ended and a contingent advanced on Launceston. An inconclusive action at Beacon Hill nearby preceded the battle of Sourton Down on 25 April where the royalists were heavily defeated and forced to fall back on Bridestowe. Captured letters revealed royalist plans to join Prince Maurice in Somerset, and the earl of Stamford ordered a general rendezvous at Torrington prior to advancing into Cornwall to settle with Hopton once and for all.
The engagement that followed, the battle of Stratton fought on 16 May, was crucial for the Cornish royalists, and Hopton's tactical genius secured a sweeping victory. Launceston was occupied, and Hopton advanced to Chard in Somerset to join Prince Maurice and Hertford on 4 June, leaving Plymouth and Exeter partially blockaded. This sizeable royalist force was ostensibly under Hertford's command, but he lacked the skill of Hopton and Maurice, the latter having already dealt with their new adversary, Waller, at Ripple Field. Waller lay about Bath, and the royalists moved against him, the fight at Chewton Mendip on 10 June ushering in their appearance at Bradford on Avon six miles from the city on 2 July. On 3 July Hopton and Maurice advanced, driving Waller's forces back on Bath, but the royalist force was in two bodies, and Waller had time to draw up in position on Lansdown Hill, an easily defended promontory. The royalists fell back to Marshfield, but on 5 July they moved to engage Waller. After initial hesitancy, which Waller sought to capitalise on, the royalists drew up in the afternoon at the foot of Lansdown Hill and attempted to storm it, but were repeatedly driven back until Sir Bevil Grenville and his Cornishmen made a vigorous charge and withstood all attempts to dislodge them. Grenville himself was killed. The royalist cavalry had broken, however, and only Waller's decision to disengage saved the royalist army from itself retreating in disorder. Hopton's own wounds, caused by exploding powder, incapacitated him and the royalist army, in a demoralised state, retreated to Marshfield and Chippenham, entering Devizes on 9 July. Sir William Waller, anticipating a more sweeping victory, pursued them, and appeared before Devizes as the royalist rearguard entered the town. Prince Maurice commanded the army to be drawn up for battle on Roundway Hill.
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