The site of the Battle of Chalgrove 1643, a largely cavalry battle, which ended in the defeat of the Parliamentarian horse by the Royalists under Prince Rupert and the death of Sir John Hampden, a leading Parliamentarian proponent of the First English Civil War.
Reasons for Designation
The site of the Battle of Chalgrove 1643, is included on the Register of Historic Battlefields for the following principal reasons:
* as a largely cavalry battle it is unusual in the English Civil Wars and is illustrative of cavalry tactics employed, both in terms of the battle itself and in the events immediately preceding it;
* it resulted in the death of Sir John Hampden, a leading Parliamentarian MP and may have had strategic consequences for the war disproportionate to the relatively low numbers of troops involved.
* the landscape retains its predominantly rural character and some historic landscape features, such as the ‘great hedge’ survive.
* the battlefield has not been the subject of extensive archaeological survey and investigation and it, therefore, has the potential to contain archaeological remains associated with the battle.
* with the Grade II-listed C19 memorial to Sir John Hampden included in the designated area.
The Civil Wars of the mid-C17 were a reflection of profound political, constitutional, religious and social conflict which was expressed in a struggle for control between King and Parliament.
The campaigning of 1642 had produced stalemate in the central theatre of war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. Neither army, based on Oxford and London respectively, had gained a significant advantage. By the beginning of the 1643 campaign, however, matters appeared set to change. The Earl of Essex, the Parliamentarian commander, now enjoyed a distinct numerical advantage over the King's forces. On the Royalist side, Queen Henrietta Maria had landed a large consignment of arms and gunpowder from the Continent in February 1643, which had been taken to York Castle. In April, Essex captured Reading and the way was clear for an advance on Oxford. However, before the slow-moving Essex, hampered by disease in his army, could exploit the opportunity, on 16 May the King received 136 barrels of gunpowder from York enabling offensive operations around Oxford.
By the middle of June the Earl of Essex had advanced no further than Thame (South Oxfordshire). The lack of progress and loss of confidence in Essex's leadership led to desertion becoming a major problem. One soldier in the Parliamentarian ranks, Colonel John Urry, a Scotsman, decided that his talents might be better employed by the Royalists. He took with him knowledge of the scattered quarters of the Parliamentarian army and also, possibly, the information that a convoy, bearing £21,000 with which to pay Essex's troops, was shortly expected in the Parliamentarian camp.
Armed with this information, on the afternoon of 17 June Prince Rupert led a mixed force of around 2,000 horse, foot and dragoons out of Oxford to harry the Parliamentarian outposts to the east of Oxford and, possibly, intercept the convoy. In the early hours of the next morning Rupert surprised enemy quarters in Postcombe and Chinnor, capturing 120 men, but failed to discover the convoy. He decided to withdraw to Oxford with his prisoners and booty; by now his rearguard was under pressure from pursuing Parliamentarian cavalry leading to a skirmish with 300 Parliamentarians at South Weston. Rupert sent his infantry on ahead to secure the river crossing at Chiselhampton and, four miles to the east, drew up his cavalry to face his pursuers and give time for his foot to get clear.
DESCRIPTION OF MILITARY ACTION
Our knowledge of what occurred at the Battle of Chalgrove on the morning of Sunday 18 June 1643 is derived from a limited number of contemporary sources. From these it is apparent that Prince Rupert drew up his three regiments of horse and his Lifeguards, around 1,000 men, in the Chalgrove cornfield, initially separated by a ‘great hedge’ from the converging Parliamentarian forces approaching from the east down Golder Hill, shielding his foot and the prisoners from his raid retiring westwards to Chiselhampton. Rupert's dragoons lined the route back to Chiselhampton, to maintain communications and to lie in ambush should the opportunity present itself. The Parliamentarian force was similar in numbers, also comprised largely of horse but with about 150 dragoons. The exact make-up of the Parliamentary horse is a matter of some dispute. In his original manuscript Clarendon notes that the Parliamentarian horse was largely composed of officers detached from their units, both horse and foot, from the quarters around Thame. However, in the published version of his work it states that the force included many principal officers 'who, having been present with the Earl of Essex when the alarum came stayed not for their own troops but joined with those who were ready in the pursuit'. Essex himself was not present at the battle having remained at his headquarters in Thame.
Around 9am the battle began with eight troops of Parliamentarian horse (around 600 men) passing through the ‘great hedge’ opposite Warpsgrove House, into the field beyond to confront Prince Rupert’s horse, leaving five troops in reserve (some 3-400 men) around Warpsgrove House. The two forces were still separated from each other by a smaller hedge, over which Prince Rupert led his troops, scattering the 100 or so Parliamentarian dragoons firing on him from it, and engaged the main body of Parliamentarian horse beyond. After a protracted melee, during which Sir John Hampden was mortally wounded, the Parliamentarian horse were routed and were pursued, along with their reserves, to the east. The battle lasted around an hour. Shortly after the end of the fighting, Prince Rupert resumed his march back to Oxford. The Royalists took some 80 men prisoner with probable battlefield dead of between 10 and 45 Royalists and between 45 and 100 Parliamentarians. The amount, and significance, of Parliamentarian officer casualties is a matter of some debate.
The significance of the Battle of Chalgrove is also a matter of some debate. It is notable in part for the death of Sir John Hampden, a leading Parliamentarian politician in the lead-up to the Civil War. Although a relatively small scale battle, there are claims, not universally accepted, that it had a disproportionately influential effect on the course of the war. Firstly, that it contributed to the Earl of Essex’s decision to abandon his advance on Oxford, for reasons of a decline in morale and possibly, the loss of a disproportionate number of officers at Chalgrove (although this is disputed by some interpretations of the available evidence as noted above). There were, however, certainly other factors involved in this decision including the fact that Essex’s forces had already been severely depleted by disease and desertion. Secondly, the defeat of the Parliamentarians at Chalgrove may have provided the opportunity - again along with other factors such as the defeat of the northern Parliamentarians at Adwalton Moor (West Yorkshire) on 30 June 1643 - for Queen Henrietta Maria to reach Oxford from Newark with the reinforcements and the significant convoy of arms she had landed from the Continent at Bridlington on 13 February 1643, greatly strengthening the King’s military position at that time.
The battlefield site lies between the hamlet of Warpsgrove and the village of Chalgrove, about ten miles south-east of Oxford. The bulk of the battlefield remains under cultivation, although in the past few years parts of the surrounding area have undergone development. To the north-east of the crossroads, at which stands the monument to John Hampden, an industrial estate has grown up. The Martin Baker Chalgrove Airfield, which lies to the west of the battlefield, is of longer standing, dating to the Second World War. To the east of the battlefield are a number of low hills, over which the Parliamentarians approached the waiting Royalists.
The most prominent feature associated with the battle is the memorial to Sir John Hampden, erected in 1843 (listed at Grade II). This is sited at a crossroads in the south-east corner of the registered area, some distance from the probable location of the battle. Warpsgrove House no longer exists but an illustration shown on William Webb’s map of 1612 indicates that it was located near the site of the church marked on Ordnance Survey maps since 1881. This lies in the field to the south-east of Orchard Cottage on the north-east boundary of the battlefield. A geophysical survey carried out by Abingdon Archaeological Geophysics in 2014 was inconclusive but suggested evidence of the church and, possibly, the house. The probable site of the house has been added to the area of the entry (in 2019) as it was a feature mentioned in contemporary accounts of the battle and provides a practical reference point in the modern landscape, aiding the interpretation of the deployment of the two armies and the course of the battle. The ‘great hedge’ probably once marked the parish boundary between Chalgrove and Warpsgrove parishes and is identifiable on the battlefield as running in a north-west to south-east direction along an unnamed road which joins Warpsgrove Lane at the site of the former Hitchcox poultry farm. The main action of the battle took place in the fields to the south-west of the 'great hedge'.
The battlefield has not been the subject of extensive archaeological survey and investigation. There are no finds or features relating to the Battle of Chalgrove recorded in the Oxfordshire Historic Environment Record (HER). Although no finds have been recorded, there is potential that stray finds relating to the battle might be discovered within and around the designated area.
DEFINITION OF AREA
The battlefield is located in farmland to the north-east of Chalgrove village and comprises an area of some 96 hectares. Its western boundary is defined by the perimeter track of Chalgrove Airfield and to the south-east by Warpsgrove Lane. To the north and north-east the registered area is less well marked by features in the present landscape but largely follows current field boundaries.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment to the Selected Sources on 11/08/2020