Being an account of the BAD War-games Club’s refight of Cropredy Bridge at Partizan in Newark, in May 2017.
The “smart battaile” at Cropredy Bridge, which was fought on Saturday, June 29th, 1644, was one of the Royalist highlights in the Civil War campaigns of that year. Fought only three days before the shattering Northern defeat of the hitherto invincible Prince Rupert at Marston Moor (July 2nd), by which it has been overshadowed, but the favorable consequences of this victory for the Cavaliers’ fortunes in the South were of even greater far-reaching importance.
Background to the Battle
On June 6th, 1644, in a meeting between the Earl of Essex and Sir William Waller, it was decided by Essex that in addition to crushing the King’s Army when it had slipped out of the Royalist capital at Oxford as the two armies of Essex and Waller closed in, the task of relieving the town of Lyme Regis, which was besieged by King Charles’ younger nephew, Prince Maurice, and his Army of the West, was of equally pressing importance. The Earl of Essex then decided that he would proceed with his army to relieve Lyme, while ordering Sir William Waller to continue pursuing the King’s Oxford Army, and attempt to bring it to battle and crush it once and for all (it is important to note that at this time the King’s Oxford Army was not as strong or large as it would later become prior to the battle of Cropredy Bridge).
In mid-June 1644 the King marched his army to Witney where he met the Oxford garrison, absorbed it into his field army and moved on across Oxfordshire.
On 28th June 1644 Sir William Waller was near Banbury with his Parliamentary army while the King was at Brackley in Northamptonshire. Hearing of Waller’s approach, the King marched back to Banbury to seek battle with Waller. Each side took up a strong position on either side of Banbury and skirmishing began in an attempt to bring the other to action on favourable ground.
The Battle of Cropredy Bridge
After a day in position, at around 8am on 29th June 1644 King Charles I set his army marching away from Banbury on the road towards Daventry to the north, his purpose being to draw Waller away from the favourable position he was occupying. The Royalist advance guard was commanded by the Earl of Brentford (newly elevated from the title of Lord Forth). The King led the main army. The cavalry brigades of Lord Cleveland and Lord Northampton with 1,000 Foot formed the rearguard.
Soon afterwards Sir William Waller’s army set off following the Royalists by marching north along the road to the west of the Cherwell river which led to Southam. The two armies were marching north on parallel roads. Both armies comprised about 9000 men,
Waller reached Bourton Hill, on which are Little and Great Bourton villages, three miles to the north of Banbury. From this vantage point Waller could see the Royalist army on the far side of the River Cherwell approaching a point level with Cropredy.
The Cherwell could be crossed in the area at three points; a ford at Slat Mill immediately to the east of Great Bourton village; Cropredy Bridge to the east of Cropredy; and Hay’s Bridge to the north east of Cropredy on the Daventry road.
In order to secure his flank King Charles I detached a party of Royalist Dragoons to hold the Cropredy Bridge and Ford until his army had passed. At about the same time the Royalist advance guard was ordered to press on and cross Hay’s Bridge to intercept a force of Parliamentary Horse that was reported to be approaching from the north with the intention of joining Waller’s army.
The effect of the King’s order was to speed up the rate of march of the advance guard and the main body. The rearguard was unaware of the change and continued at the previous pace so that a gap opened between it and the main body. From his vantage point on Bourton Hill Sir William Waller observed the gap opening between the rear and main bodies of the King’s army and resolved to cut off the Royalist rearguard.
At around 11am Waller moved with 1,000 musketeers to Slat Mill ford and dispatched Lieutenant General John Middleton with a mixed horse and foot command to Cropredy.
Middleton’s Horse dispersed the Royalist Dragoons holding the Bridge and attacked the rear of the Royalist main body pursuing it as far as Hay’s Bridge where they were finally checked by musketeers positioned in the road behind an upturned cart.
At the rear of the Royalist army Waller was across Slat Mill Ford when he was fiercely attacked by Lord Northampton’s four regiments of Horse and the Parliamentary musketeers driven back across the Cherwell River. The other brigade of the Royalist rearguard, Lord Cleveland’s, did not wait for orders but charged the Parliamentary Foot that had crossed at Cropredy as part of Middleton’s force and threw them into disorder.
Meanwhile the advance guard and the main body of the Royalist army had halted on the north side of the Hay’s Bridge crossing point. Lord Bernard Stuart with the King’s Life Guard re-crossed the river and attacked Middleton’s regiments of Horse, which had returned to counter-attack Lord Cleveland in flank, driving them back to Cropredy Bridge.
The remnants of General Middleton’s Horse and Foot was driven back across the Cherwell into Cropredy, while a force of Parliamentary artillery comprising fourteen guns and the commander Colonel Wemyss was overrun and captured on the east side of the river by the triumphant Royalist Horse.
The main Royalist army had re-crossed the Cherwell at Hay’s Bridge and now assembled in the village of Williamscot on the Cropredy road. Waller withdrew his troops to Bourton Hill leaving the crossings manned by Dragoons and Foot where they were subjected to a full attack by the Royalist army.
The Tower Hamlets Regiment of the London Trained Bands and the Kentish Regiment supported by two small drake canon held Cropredy and repelled the attack.
Towards the end of the day’s fighting King Charles I sent a message to Sir William Waller inviting him and his army to submit and return to their allegiance to the Crown. Waller replied that he had no authority to negotiate on behalf of Parliament.
The Royalist army remained in position during the next day, but on the following day receiving a report that Major General Browne had arrived in Buckingham with 4,500 Parliamentary troops and was marching to join Sir William Waller, the Royalist army left the severely mauled Parliamentary army on the battlefield and marched westwards towards Evesham.
The battle was a refought by the BAD Club at the excellent Partizan show in Newark in May 2017.
It was refought in a 25mm scale, using largely Warlord plastics, but with a lot of older metal figures as well. Rules used were Field of Glory Renaissance.
Many of the Club helped out with the game, big shout out to Ray Boyles for putting together some excellent interpretation panels.
The key players were:
- King Charles I – Peter Gregory
- Earl of Cleveland – Steve Holt
- Earl of Northampton – Paul Freeman
- Sir William Waller – Ian Wilson
- General Sir John Middleton – Any Dumelow
Early parts of the refight went largely as anticipated:
(1) Middleton drove North, almost reaching Hay’s Bridge but being stopped by some determined Royalist infantry
(2) Initial attempts by Waller to move north from Slat Mill were frustrated by Northampton
(3) The London Brigade took up a strong position both sides of Cropredy Bridge.
But then the pace of the battle changed. Cleveland and Northampton’s cavalry shot their bolt and retired north. Similarly Middleton, once repulsed, fell back behind the London Brigade. The latter went on the offensive, routing isolated units of Royalist foot. And during this time both Waller and the Kind were bringing the bulk of their armies to bear for the conclusion.
Alas, there was no conclusion! As the main armies lined up to face each other, night fell, leaving the outcome inconclusive (although in truth Parliament had performed better than their historic counterparts).
A fun re-enactmen, and one I’d be pleased to refight again!