Saturday, October 04, 2008

I have been to... Cheriton

Battle of Cheriton - 29th March 1644

Background to the battle - the Campaign for the South 1643-1644

The following may help when tracking the locations mentioned in the following - click on this (or any of the other pictures in this post) for a bigger view...After the failures in the summer of 1643 at Lansdown (Bath) and Roundway Down (Devizes) both which I've visited but not got round to blogging about, Parliament ended up losing Bristol (a triumph for Rupert as I remember).

The Parliamentary commander, Sir William Waller, had fallen back towards London while the Royalists established additional garrisons at Donnington castle near Newbury, Basing House near Winchester, and Arundel (which Parliament promptly besieged). The general view is that during the winter of 1643-4 neither side had an advantage. Royalist and Parliamentarian command centres were in Oxford and London respectively, and capture of either one of those cities would give either side a distinct advantage, as it could bring about the end of the war by negotiation rather than force.

Charles looked to his Western Army commanded by Sir Ralph Hopton to secure the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire and advance as close to London as possible - this (gigantic!) task was to be accomplished with little more than 3,500 troops. After reverses during the previous December culminating in the Battle of Alton, Hopton had withdrawn to Winchester to regroup and recruit. He was joined here by a detachment from the King's main "Oxford Army" to bring the strength of his army at Winchester up to around 3,500 foot and 2,500 horse. The reinforcements were led by the Earl of Forth, General-in-Chief of the King's army and Hopton's senior officer, perhaps indicating that the Oxford commanders had lost confidence in Hopton after the setbacks of the previous winter. Either way Forth was badly afflicted with gout so in effect command fell to Hopton.

Parliament had also formed a new army, the South-Eastern Association, Waller's Army had been reinforced by detachments from the main Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex, and the London Trained Bands, to bring its strength up to 6,500 foot and 3,500 horse, so they significantly outnumbered the Royalists. This army was advancing westward from their winter quarters near Arundel (which we've heard of before as part of the post I did on my local castle at Warblington).

By March 1644 the weather had settled sufficiently to allow both armies to resume actions in the field. Forth and Hopton determined to seize New Alresford, thus placing themselves between Waller and London. Waller with some 10,000 troops advanced towards Winchester, which had been taken by the Royalists in October. On learning of his enemy's movements Hopton moved quickly to intercept him and finally bring him to battle. Sir Ralph Hopton's Royalist army reached Alresford, to the north east of Winchester, on 27th March. Hopton deployed his troops (technically they were under the command of Forth) on the downs south of Alresford, approximately one mile to the east of the village of Cheriton. Waller's forces camped for the night close to Hinton Ampner, just to the south of Cheriton.

The Battle

It's worth noting that there's some doubt about the actual site of the battle - in total there are three ridges running east/west; some sources say that it was south of the middle ridge, some say it was north of the middle ridge. The Battlefields trust site (see URL at the end) have gone for the northern battle position; the local information boards have gone for the southern position. I've read that some battlefield archaeology shows evidence of large quantities of musket balls on the northern/traditional site so that's the one I (and the Battlefields trust) go for - it also seems to make more sense to me terrain'wise… so the following is described from that view.

The two armies drew up facing one another on opposite sides of a horseshoe-shaped ridge near the village of Cheriton in Hampshire. Forth and Hopton occupied the northern ridge:

This is a panoramic shot I took from roughly the centre of the Royalist position, looking first at Cheriton Wood, and then swinging round to the Royalist right - with the Parliament held ridge in the far distance.

Cheriton Wood:Parliamentary position:Waller occupied the slightly lower southern ridge (I took this from the bottom of the valley, midway between the two positions):
This is their view of the Royalist position, which was on the far ridge:

The Parliamentarian troops were deployed just behind/on the ridge line with a hedge along their front - these are the positions they held - just behind the hedge line on the ridge - first picture is looking west:
..second picture is looking east, just behind Cheriton Wood:
The ground between the two armies sloped down into a bowl-shaped hollow with the extensive woodland of Cheriton Wood on higher ground to the east. These three pictures show the "bowl" - left, center & right respectively. The one showing the right shows Cheriton Wood in the distance and clearly indicates what a threat it was to either side if there were enemy troops in there:

The battle was divided into clear phases (and I've numbered them on the map):

1. The Fight for the Wood
The first stage of the battle involved attempts to secure Cheriton Wood, which potentially provided an approach to the enemy's lines that didn't involve having to cross the bottom of the bowl. At dawn, under cover of mist, Waller sent an advance guard drawn from his London regiments under Colonel Walter Leighton to occupy the wood - they drove back a Royalist outpost under the command of Colonel George Lisle. Hopton also realised the importance of the wood though and positioned artillery to cover its edges and fire on the Parliamentarians as they emerged, which forced them back under cover of the trees. As the rising sun burned off the mist, Hopton then sent in Colonel Matthew Appleyard with 1,000 musketeers to clear the woods. The fighting was fierce & confused as both sides wore a scrap of white in their hats as a mark of recognition, and both had adopted the cry 'God with us'! In the end Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hopton (was he a relation to the commander I wonder??) led a column of Royalist musketeers, supported by artillery, in a flanking manoeuvre that succeeded in driving the Parliamentarians out of Cheriton Wood.

2. The Unplanned Royalist Attack
Hopton was now anxious to attack the vulnerable Parliamentarian right flank (presumably via the wood), but the Earl of Forth preferred to stand on the defensive and wait for the Parliamentarians either to attack the strong Royalist position or to retreat. As Forth was senior to Hopton, his plan prevailed.

It seems like the tension of waiting was too strong for some - either out of eagerness, or something else (artillery fire??), Sir Henry Bard *, acting without orders and for reasons unknown, led his infantry regiment (Pinchbeck's) in an unsupported charge down into the hollow towards the Parliamentarian left flank. In response, Sir Arthur Haselrig led his regiment of cuirassiers (the lobsters) in a well-timed counter-charge that blocked the Royalist retreat and quickly overwhelmed Bard's regiment, so that every man was either killed or captured. In the pictures of the bowl above, the tractor would have been about where the engagement took place - I would have wandered down for a closer look but he was muck spreading!! :o)

The Royalist cavalry on the right wing tried to provide support, but were forced to make disjointed attacks along narrow lanes and were defeated in turn. Witnessing the fight from the ridge above, Forth sent a second regiment to help Bard, which met with a similar fate.

3. Out of Control

From this point, the battle appears to have spiraled out of Forth & Hopton's control, with Royalist regiments making uncoordinated charges down into the hollow without mutual support, only to be overpowered one by one. The confused fighting continued for several hours with Parliamentary infantry regiments also being drawn in. The fight for control of Cheriton village was particularly fierce amongst the lanes and hedges (both sides going for the covered flank again - opposite side of the battlefield this time).

Hopton sent some Royalist horse from the left wing under Sir Edward Stawell to make a better prepared attack, but they were also defeated.

Haselrig's regiment now attacked the Royalist foot moving up in support, and drove them back. The Parliamentarians also attacked the Royalist left, which had been denuded of its horse, and regained Cheriton Wood.

By mid-afternoon, the Parliamentarians' weight of numbers and defensive advantage were telling. The decisive blow was struck when an enterprising Parliamentarian colonel led his regiment in an outflanking manoeuvre (via Cheriton?) against the Royalist right flank on the northern ridge, which was weakened after so many troops had gone to join the fight in the centre.

With the cavalry shattered and the infantry under severe pressure, Hopton and Forth broke off the action and ordered a withdrawal towards the village of Alresford. Under Hopton's direction, the Royalists succeeded in escaping from the battlefield with most of their artillery and baggage, and Alresford was set on fire to cover the retreat. Despite being in combat for over eight hours, the Royalists made Basing House that night largely unhindered. The following day, Hopton and Forth retreated to Oxford while Waller advanced to Winchester where the city, though not the castle, surrendered to him.


Casualties were fairly light, around 300 Royalists were killed, including the King's cousin and several senior officers. Sir Henry Bard lost an arm and was taken prisoner. Parliamentarian losses were reported as being around 60! The general view is that the victors also issued the casualty numbers, and that this is early propaganda - it was more likely to have been about 300-500 a side... :o)

The remnants of Hopton's army were subsequently absorbed into the King's Oxford army as Waller's victory at Cheriton ended all hopes of a direct attack on London. The Earl of Forth returned to the Royalist capital at Oxford, but in November Prince Rupert finally superceded Forth as commander of the King's armies.

* An interesting character. In the attack most of his regiment were killed, and Bard lost an arm and was captured by the parliamentary forces. He was given the title of 1st Baronet Bard of Staines in October (one wonders why!). On securing release from Parlimentary custody he returned and took command of his regiment again, being appointed the governor of Campden House, in Gloustershire. When the garrison was withdrawn from the house it is probable that Bard ordered the house to be burnt down, to deny its use to enemy. Following this, Bard was at the storming of Leicester in May 1645. Apparently he was the first man over the defences - not bad for a man with only one arm! He's also credited, somewhat less honourably, with ravishing two women of the town, still with only one arm, but there's some doubt about this. Bard's war ended in June 1645 when his regiment was destroyed (again) at the battle of Naseby. He was elevated to the peerage in July 1645 when he was made 1st Baron Bard of Dromboy, and the 1st Viscount Bellamont - Irish peerages.

You've got to love the internet for turning this stuff up!

Other references:

Leaflet on the walk:

Battlefields trust site (recommended):

Brilliant account of the battle with lots of original sources - was Bard's advance the result of an ambiguous command??:

Ordnance Survey Map:

Hopton's career:

Waller's career:


  1. Thanks, Steve, for this review of the battle (and some of the people in it).

    As I've mentioned before, at some point I want to get into the ECW. I've already got some books on it . . . however it is not at the top of the list (WSS in 15mm is ahead of it . . . as is painting more 28mm SYW troops for our Wars for Arcadian Glory).

    -- Jeff

  2. Warwick Louth07/11/2008, 08:57

    Nice review of the battle. I'm currently doing a article for a journal on the actual basttle and the surrounding archaeology. Any chance of some of these brilliant photos.

  3. Warwick - feel free to use any that you wish.... a mention would be nice but not compulsory.. :o)

    PS. Which Journal?

  4. Great blog! Have just linked to it on my own blogs facebook page!