To all intents and purposes the Royalist Northern Army had been destroyed. Its commander, the Marquis of Newcastle, had fought at Marston Moor simply as a volunteer and afterwards, pressed to regroup his forces on Tyneside, he took the extraordinary decision to go into exile. In an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to continue the fight Rupert even offered to stay in the area and help him to ‘recruite in ye West Riding and form an Army’. This was in direct contradiction to his orders, but no one at York yet knew that those orders were out of date. The ‘miraculous conquest in the South’ had begun at Cropredy Bridge on 29 June.
It was a remarkable turnabout, for the year had begun very badly indeed. The Newbury campaign left the Oxford Army exhausted. In the coming year it was to act on the defensive until reinforcements arrived. Lord Byron was sent northwards to establish a military corridor for the expected reinforcements from Leinster, while in the west, Exeter was taken by Prince Maurice on 4 September and Dartmouth on 6 October. Plymouth and Lyme were still held by Parliament, but only the Royal Navy hindered the passage of troops from Munster. However, in order to cover Maurice, and to maintain pressure on London, it was decided to form a new Southern Army.
The man selected to command it was Sir Ralph (now Lord) Hopton. The choice turned out to be a less than happy one. Hopton had still not recovered from the injuries he received at Lansdown when he was summoned to a Council of War at Oriel College, Oxford on 29 September 1643. There he was informed that:
… being reasonably well recovered of his hurts, he should draw into the feild for the cleering of Dorsettshire, Wiltshire and Hamshire, and so point forward as farr as he could go towards London.
In order to accomplish this he was assigned only 1,580 horse and 2,000 foot. Even then it soon became apparent that rather too many of them existed only on paper. In mid-October he moved into Wiltshire, and some of his troops were engaged in besieging Wardour Castle when fresh orders arrived from Oxford. Sir William Ogle had surprised Winchester and it was considered imperative that he be supported. Hopton accordingly despatched some of his own dragoons under Major Philip Day and 600 foot under Sir Allen Apsley. Then on 4 November he received an intelligence report that Sir William Waller had just moved out of Windsor with a new army of his own.
The formation of this new army had been delayed by political infighting and the Earl of Essex’s dislike of Waller, but during September it began to come together. Like Hopton he was rather scraping the barrel and it comprised three distinct elements. The first was built up around a cadre of officers and men who had survived his earlier Western campaign. The second was regiments raised by the Southern Association, Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and Hampshire; and the third was a brigade of London regiments. Waller was never particularly happy with this army. There were obvious difficulties in recruiting his own Western Association regiments in competition with Essex and Manchester, the Southern Association was extremely reluctant to acknowledge his authority and produce their quota of troops, while the London regiments simply wanted to go home.
Consequently, he limited his initial objective to the capture of the great Royalist fortress of Basing House, rather than seeking out Hopton with an untried army. Even this proved too much for them. Advancing from Farnham on 7 November he had scarcely arrived before Basing than the Westminster Liberty Regiment mutinied. Two days later an attempted escalade foundered when the whole London Brigade followed suit. He had no alternative but to retreat without having accomplished anything.
Hopton meanwhile had received further reinforcements from both Reading and Bristol. On the 27th he moved forward with 5,000 men and the intention of fighting Waller. However, finding him unwilling to come out from under the protection of the guns of Farnham Castle, Hopton incontinently gave up, turned around again and sent his army into winter quarters. This lack of enterprise was then compounded by the decision to disperse the greater part of the army between Alresford, Alton and Petersfield.
Then Sir Edward Ford, who happened to be High Sheriff of Sussex as well as a Colonel of horse, suddenly decided to emulate Ogle by taking Arundel. Accordingly, he and Colonel Joseph Bampfield moved forward from Petersfield, took the town but failed to capture the castle as well, until Hopton himself brought up reinforcements on the 2nd. It was a useful little victory, but it left the Royalists even more over-extended and was only inviting trouble.
The first setback occurred a few days later when Richard Norton’s Horse beat up a Royalist outpost at Romsey, scattering Sir Humphrey Bennet’s Horse and Sir William Courtney’s Foot. Matters were not helped by the fact that both commanding officers were absent,9 but worse was to follow.
Waller had designs on Alton, held by a weak brigade of cavalry under the Earl of Crawford and a small infantry brigade led by Colonel Richard Bolle. Hopton claimed afterwards to have been particularly concerned about the safety of this post, and to have repeatedly warned Crawford and Bolle to evacuate the town if Waller advanced from Farnham. In the event Waller managed to surprise them both. On the evening of the 12th he moved out of Farnham with 5,000 men. Crawford had vedettes out on the roads, but he avoided them by marching his men across country and attacked the town next day. At the last minute the Royalists realised what was happening and Crawford managed to break out with the cavalry.
Bolle was in an unenviable position, for the town was unfortified, but he was determined to make a fight of it. At first he tried to fight Waller’s men in the streets but, finding his barricades and stop positions successively outflanked, he retired uphill to the churchyard. Bolle’s one hope was to hold on to it long enough for the raiders to run out of time. Waller on the other hand was quite rightly determined to destroy him, as Lieutenant Elias Archer recounts:
Now was the Enemy constrained to betake himselfe and all his forces to the Church, Churchyard, and one great work on the North side of the Church; all which they kept nere upon two houres very stoutly and (having made scaffolds in the Church to fire out at the windowes) fired very thick from every place till divers souldiers of our Regiment and the Red Regiment12 who were gotten into the Towne, fired very thick upon the South-east of the Churchyard, and so forced them to forsake that part of the wall, leaving their musquets standing upright, the muzzels whereof appeared above the wail as if some of the men had still lyn there in Ambush and our men seeing no-body appeare to use those Musquets, concluded that the men were gone, and consulted among themselves to enter two or three files of Musquetiers, promising Richard Guy, one of my Captaines Serjeants (who was the first man that entred the Church-yard) to follow him if he would lead them: whereupon he advanced, and comming within the Church-yard doore, and seeing most of the Cavaliers firing at our men, from the South and West part of the Church-yard, looked behind him for the men which promised to follow him, and there was only one Musquetier with him. Neverthelesse he flourishing his Sword, told them if they would come, the Church-yard was our owne; then Symon Hutchinson, one of Lieutenant Colonell Willoughbies Serjeants, forced the Musqueteers and brought them up himselfe. Immediately upon this, one of the Serjeants of the Red Regiment (whose name I know not, and therefore cannot nominate him as his worth deserves) brought in another division of Musqueteers, who together with those which were there before, caused the Enemies Forces to betake themselves towards the Church for safeguard, but our men followed them so close with their Halberts, Swords, and Musquet-stocks that they drove them beyond the Church doore, and slew about 10, or 12, of them, and forced the rest to a very distracted retreat, which when the others saw who were in the greate worke on the North side of the Church-yard, they left the worke and came thinking to helpe their fellows, and comming in a disorderly manner to the South-west corner of the Church, with their Pikes in the Reare, (who furiously charged on, in as disorderly a manner as the rest led them) their front was forced backe upon their owne Pikes, which hurt and wounded many of the men, and brake the pikes in peeces. By this time the Church-yard was full of our men, laying about them stoutly, with Halberts, Swords, and Musquet-stocks, while some threw hand-granadoes in the Church windowes, others attempting to enter the Church being led on by Sergeant Major Shambrooke, (a man whose worth and valour Envy cannot staine) who in the entrance received a shot in the thigh (whereof he is very ill) Neverthelesse our men vigorously entred, and slew Colonel Bowles their chiefe Commander at the present, who not long before swore, God damne his Soule if he did not run his Sword through the heart of him, which first called for quarter.
By the time it was all over Waller’s army had killed about forty Royalists and taken 875 prisoners, including fifty officers for a reported loss of about ten of his own men killed. To make matters worse many of the prisoners promptly enlisted under Waller, as did about half of those captured at the retaking of Arundel which surrendered on 6 January. All in all Hopton lost close on 2,000 men through his failure to keep his army reasonably well concentrated and under control. It was probably just as well that the weather closed in at that point forcing operations to shut down for the winter.
During this period there were a number of changes in the respective orders of battle. Waller released his mutinous Londoners but in their place secured another brigade comprising the Yellow and White regiments, commanded by Sir John Wollston and Isaac Pennington respectively. The small regiments commanded by Colonel James Carr and Edward Cooke were disbanded but a strong Southern Association regiment turned up under Colonel Ralph Weldon. The greatest increase was in the cavalry. Cooke raised himself a regiment and the Southern Association grudgingly provided another from Kent under Sir Michael Livesey. The London Horse, temporarily re-assigned to Essex’s army also returned under the command of George Thompson along with a very strong brigade of some 2,300 horse and 250 dragooners commanded by Sir William Balfour.
Hopton too was reinforced by a strong cavalry brigade and two more infantry ‘brigades’, although it was a mark of the King’s declining confidence in him that the contingent was commanded by the Lord Central himself, Patrick Ruthven. This could have led to an awkward situation but Ruthven rather too tactfully used his gout as an excuse to leave Hopton in operational command, while he confined himself to giving advice as and when it was asked for.
As soon as the weather improved Waller began moving west in order to threaten Hopton. Accordingly, he moved on Alresford, just five miles from Winchester. Realising he was about to be outflanked, Hopton turned around and only just succeeded in reaching the town first. While he concentrated his army on Tichborne Down, between Alresford and Cheriton, the Parliamentarians closed up to a position in Lamborough Fields, a shallow valley to the east of Cheriton. The 28th saw only some desultory skirmishing, but once again the Royalist concentration may not have been quite as efficient as it should have been. Lisle’s Brigade occupied some high ground by East Down, overlooking Waller’s position, but the rest of the Royalists remained well back. On the morning of the 29th Hopton rode forward and discovered that Waller had moved forward during the night on to the ridge lying between the Down and his bivouac area in the Lambrough Fields. His right was already infiltrating Cheriton Wood and threatening Lisle, so Hopton pulled him back and brought the rest of the army forward to occupy the ridge on the north side of the Down. His own troops were deployed on the left with Ruthven’s men on the right. The battlefield thus resembled a horseshoe placed upon its side with Cheriton Wood at the toe. Between the two ridges lay a broad depression traversed by three lanes running from north to south and one running east to west towards Cheriton. The latter at least was lined with hedgerows which were to have a significant effect on the conduct of the battle.
Waller had thrown 1,000 musketeers and some horse into the wood and Hopton decided that his first priority was to throw them out again. Colonel Matthew Appleyard was therefore ordered to carry out that service with 1,000 commanded musketeers, divided into four battalions. This was accomplished in fine style, but then, according to Hopton, Ruthven advised him to consolidate his position and stand on the defensive. Hopton, who had just proposed trying to roll up Waller’s flank, readily agreed with this advice instead. Unfortunately, or so his account claims, no sooner had he given the appropriate orders to the regiments on the left than he found Sir Henry Bard moving forward on the right.
Hopton himself simply says that: ‘the engagement was by the forwardness of some particular officers, without order’. While this was certainly a contributory factor there may also have been an element of confusion. From what followed it appears that the Royalists on this wing had already advanced to the hedges lining the Cheriton Lane. Presumably they had been conforming to the advance on the left and as Sir Walter Slingsby afterwards remarked Bard had simply led ‘on his Regiment further than hee had orders for.’ Be that as it may, his little brigade was on its own and Sir Arthur Hesilrige, commanding the Parliamentarian horse on that wing, came down upon them like the proverbial wolf on the fold. Within a very short period the brigade was completely destroyed.
After this the battle became more general. Balfour attacked the Royalist left with both infantry and cavalry. Colonel Walter Slingsby was here, commanding a regiment of foot:
… there the Enemy horse was repulssed with losse. They immediatly try’d the second charge in which Captain Herbert of my Lord Hoptons Regiment was slaine, with a fresh body and were againe repulssed, and soe againe the third time, the foote keeping theire ground in a close body, not firing till within two pikes length, and then three rankes att a time, after turning up the butt end of theire musketts, charging theire pikes, and standing close, preserv’d themselues, and slew many of the enemy.
In an effort to relieve the pressure Ruthven then ordered Hopton to attack with his cavalry on the left. The ground here was more suitable for a cavalry action than the right, where the Queen’s Regiment of Horse had retreated after just one ‘unhandsome charge’. Sir Edward Stawell’s Brigade therefore moved forward at about 2pm. Unfortunately, according to Slingsby, the Cavaliers had to deploy one regiment at a time by way of a lane’s end. This was presumably the point at which Dark Lane, the most westerly of the three, crossed Cheriton Lane. Nevertheless, both Smyth’s and Stuart’s brigades were committed shortly afterwards. Casualties were high, particularly amongst the officers, and by mid-afternoon it was becoming all too plain that the Royalists were losing the fight. In the centre the battle degenerated into a sustained firefight amongst the hedgerows on either side of Cheriton Lane. The Royalist infantry were still holding their own, but once the horse gave way there would be nothing to prevent the Parliamentarians from rolling up the line.
Ruthven therefore took the decision to concede defeat and stage a phased withdrawal. Sending away his guns he drew the infantry back to Tichborne Down, while Hopton held the lane end with 300 troopers to cover the retirement of the cavalry. Waller’s men had been sufficiently well battered to let them go, and at a conference outside Alresford, Ruthven and Hopton agreed to withdraw northwards, rather than fall back on Winchester.
In the early hours of the following morning they reached Basing House, rested there for a day and then retreated to Reading. Encouraged by this success, the Committee of Both Kingdoms ordered Essex and Manchester to rendezvous at Aylesbury on 19 April with a view to mounting an offensive against Oxford. Waller in the meantime was to retain his independent command and move westwards against Prince Maurice. To the Committee’s chagrin none of this came to pass. Essex petulantly refused to cooperate with anyone. Manchester was then too preoccupied with events in Lincolnshire and the awful prospect of Rupert advancing eastwards from Shrewsbury, and Waller, weakened by the departure of his Londoners, simply retired to Farnham. Only Balfour showed any enterprise by raiding Salisbury.