FROM SCRATCHWOOD TO WYCHWOOD

Cropredy Bridge

is a quiet village beside the upper reaches of the River Cherwell -just to the West of our road - crossed by a bridge first built in 1312.

In 1644, a battle was fought over this bridge.

At the time, the English Civil War was something of a scoreless draw; neither side had managed any decisive wins. The Parliamentary side had the numbers and the money, but they hadn't made that count. In June of that year, it looked as though the decisive moment was approaching.

King Charles' armies were split. His nephew, Prince Rupert was involved in an unpromising campaign in Yorkshire, and Charles himself was dodging around the Midlands with the rest of his troops, trying to avoid contact with the enemy and, if possible, to join up with his Northern forces. At the same time, it looked like the two Parliamentary armies were about to unite - allowing them either to crush the Royalist army in Yorkshire, or to hunt down the King and end the war at one stroke.

To avoid such a capture and, if possible, to work his way Northwards towards Rupert, Charles left Woodstock and marched across the Cotswolds in darkness - to Evesham. But there, news reached him that the Parliamentary forces had not united. On the contrary, the Earl of Essex had taken half the army towards Devon, leaving Sir Thomas Waller to chase the King.

This took the pressure off Charles. He could leave Prince Rupert to look out for himself and make his own plans. So, he doubled back over the Cotswolds, collecting men and arms as he headed back to Woodstock again. There he pondered a number of alternatives - one of which was to strike at London, which was poorly defended at the time and would have brought him money, men and time - and might have forced his opponents to abandon their various campaigns - freeing up his scattered armies.

But Waller was still on the move, and getting close.

Charles struck out again from Woodstock, heading North, accompanied by his son, the Prince of Wales (later to be Charles II). Waller wheeled left, and the two armies converged into a parallel march - on either side of the Cherwell (the King to the East, Waller to the West). The two armies sent volleys across the river at each other, while hastening towards the next suitable crossing. The Parliamentary soldiers had identified Charles and targeted him - but with no success.

Each army had about 5,000 horse. Charles had 3,500 foot-soldiers, while Waller had a few more. There was no overwhelming advantage to either side. In fact, Charles might have preferred to avoid any engagement - unless some extra advantage could be gained.

Charles heard a report that another Parliamentary force was approaching from the North, and sent a small detachment forward to secure Cropredy Bridge against it (and against Waller). This stretched Charles' forces.

Waller spotted a gap in his opponent's line and rushed to take advantage. At Slat's Mill (about half a mile South of the bridge) there was a ford, and there he launched an attack across the river.

But Charles had seen the danger, and had managed to fill the gap. Waller's attack was contained and repulsed. His entire battery of eleven guns was captured - along with his Chief Gunner, one Col. James Wemyss (pronounced "Weems").

When Wemyss was brought before Charles he grovelled "Gud feith, my heart was alwayes with His Majestie" (he was Scottish, you see).
By evening, the two armies still faced each other across the Cherwell. There was no rout.

Charles sent Waller a message of grace and pardon, but the Parliamentarian replied that he had no power to treat. As night fell, it seemed that the decisive battle would happen the next day - but Charles' troops were low on food and supplies. They slipped away, taking Waller's guns with them.

This was the last battle won on English soil, under the command of an English King. In truth, it wasn't much of a battle - more a skirmish. Nothing was settled. If anything, the Royalists were unsettled by the quality of the Parliamentary equipment they had captured.

Byfield Byfield Brass Brass
© David Craig Send me a message