by Samantha Morris
The Battle of Cheriton which took place on 29th March 1644 is a battle which is very close to my heart. I have spent hours wandering the battlefield and researching what happened particularly looking at the two proposed sites of the battle. Below is an account of the battle, a lot of which has been taken, rewritten and edited from my BA dissertation on the battle.
The battle of Cheriton took place around half way through the period of fighting, on 29th March 1644. Cheriton itself is located in the county of Hampshire, England and the village of Cheriton itself lies very close to both Winchester and Alresford, Winchester being 10km to the east and Alresford 3km to the North. The battle site is located 1km NNE of Cheriton Village, and covers an extensive area, including Cheriton Wood, and the Registered Battlefield (as defined by the geographical limits of the English Heritage Battlefields Register) covers an area of 454ha.
The map above, created as part of my own work on the battle site (Morris 2009, 5) shows the location of Cheriton within the United Kingdom; and created using Geographic Information Systems and Edina Digmimap(© Crown Copyright/database right 2009. An Ordnance Survey/ (Datacentre) supplied service)
In the fields to the east of Cheriton, both Parliament and Royalists lined up their respective armies, and were represented by their Generals. Lord Ralph Hopton commanded the Royalist army whilst William Waller commanded Parliament. Both men had previously been friends and fought together in Bohemia prior to the Civil War. These two men are the perfect embodiment of what happened to friends and family during the War, when they split apart depending on what side they chose. Friends fought friends and brothers fought brothers and these were rifts that often lasted long beyond the end of the war (Adair 1973, 1). The Battle of Cheriton came as a result of Charles I wanting to eject the parliamentarians from their stronghold in Southern England, particularly London, and so Hopton’s Royalists marched from Winchester Castle on 27th March 1644, leaving it completely undefended. At the same time, Waller was ordered to stop Hopton from taking the southern areas of Sussex and Kent, and so Parliament sent ammunition and cannon to East Meon, Hampshire where an army of 10,000 was mustered. 4000 of these were horse and dragoon, the rest made up of foot soldiers (musket and pike) who had marched from Surrey, East Hampshire, Kent, London and Sussex. This became known as the ‘East Meon Muster’. This Parliamentarian Army of 10,000 marched towards Alresford, but Hopton’s army of 6000 Royalists held it (English Heritage 1995, 6). Once Waller’s army had fallen back slightly east of Cheriton, Hopton’s royalists formed up in battalia on Gander Down, 3 miles east of Winchester. The 28th March saw small skirmishes between both sides over storage barns and manoeuvring for position (Sawyer 2002, 119-110).
The battle, which began on the morning of 29th March 1644 as the mists cleared, was fought in three different phases. The first phase is often known as the “Battle of Bramdean Heath” and began when Parliament saw the advantage of taking Cheriton wood which lay to the left of the Royalist position. The previous night Waller had begun a ruse to confuse the Royalists, convincing them that they were leaving the field. Sir George Lisle advised Hopton of the movements, and a party of 1000 horse were ordered to ‘wait upon the rear of the enemy’. Waller had in fact sent Colonel Andrew Potley’s infantry regiment and part of the London White’s so occupy the woods under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Walter Leighton, supported by a troop of three hundred horsemen and one thousand musketeers (Maclachlan 2000, 217-218). The battle started at 8am on the morning of the 29th March. Colonel Matthew Appleyard and one thousand musketeers were given the job of attacking the wood and protecting the royalist left flank (Maclachlan 2000, 221-222). The morning saw the first Royalist advantage, with them gaining Cheriton Wood. Following this, both sides adopted the battle cry ‘God with Us’ but due it being used by both the royalists and the parliamentarians, confusion soon followed, leading to parliament adopting ‘Jesus with Us’ as their battle cry. As previously mentioned Hopton’s army soon gained the strategic wood and sent 1300 parliamentarian musketeers running from the wood. Hopton then ordered the Royalist army to move forward and take up position on the reverse slope of a small ridge that lay within the ‘arena’. It was at this moment that the Royalists really began to lose their grip on the battle. Hopton tried to confer with Lord Forth over battle tactics, but found Forth’s flank fully engaged with the opposing army, and at the same time Colonel Bard had taken his own initiative and tried to drive Parliament from Hinton Ampner, setting fire to hedges and outhouses. This move proved fatal. Arthur Hesselridge led three hundred of his regiment of lobsters (Cuirassiers dressed in lobster like armour) against Bard and slaughtered them all (English Heritage 1995, 7). The early afternoon of the battle saw more failure from the Royalist army, with Forth unleashing 2000 horse on the Parliamentarian army. These charges came to nothing whatsoever and the failure was blamed on the fact that the cavalry filed down a single lane one horse at a time (Adair 1973, 132-133). The lanes surrounding the
battlefield are indeed very narrow and thus it would be very difficult for a cavalry charge to be very effective.
The third and final phase of the battle, called the ‘Alresford Fight’ in contemporary documents, saw Parliament pushing forward in a pincer like movement, closing in on the Royalists and pushing them back from hedgerow to hedgerow. This final phase seems to have been fiercely fought by Hopton’s rear-guard action, allowing a relatively swift retreat for the Royalists to Basing House (Sawyer 2002, 122). This retreat has been documented archaeologically by Bonsall’s study of small finds at Cheriton (2007). Bonsall’s study has shown that the retreat went northwards from the battlefield, and shows that the retreat itself was over a large area and likely extends beyond the study area of Dark Copse Field. The study also gives the impression of a multitude of shot being fired on the retreat with evidence of musket balls and pistol shots, and the impression is also given of a fierce fight with evidence of dragoons, pike men and even the remains of a Saker (Bonsall 2007, 38-41).
Map of the battle, taken from Adair (1973, 127)
Varying reports of battle losses have been given throughout history and particularly in contemporary documents of the time. Parliament losses at the end of 29th March were said to be less than sixty in a contemporary account by Harley (Adair 1973, 139). Regarding Royalist losses were represented in a short article from the Bakers Chronicle the day after the battle: “But at length the Parliament by the help of the ground and the coverts of trees and hedges did such execution upon the enemie, that after the loss of many persons of Quality beside a great number of the Vulgar Sort, they retreated in great Disorder” (Sawyer 2002, 122).
Indeed the Royalists lost a few prominent Generals and Commanders. Included among the numbers was Lord John Stuart, the twenty two year old third cousin of King Charles I and Lieutenant General of the Horse; and Major General Sir John Smith, a professional soldier trained in Flanders and a man whom had been named as one of the best Cavalry Officers in the Royalist Army (Adair 1973, 105, 107, 139).
The Battle of Cheriton ended up as a parliamentarian victory and there are many reasons as to why this was the outcome. It seems as though many of the mistakes made during this battle were due to the lack of communication between the Commanding Officers, the best example being Bard’s engagement of Hesselridge’s Lobster regiment. However, another reason may be the landscape of the battlefield itself and the choices of the Commanding Officers over where to place the battle. As has already been noted the battlefield was surrounded by narrow lanes which contributed towards the failure of cavalry charges, and the placement of the armies on landscape features within the battlefield may have contributed to the Royalist loss.
Adair, J, 1973, Cheriton 1644: The Campaign and the Battle, Kineton: Roundwood Press
Bonsall, J, 2007, The Study of Small Finds at the 1644 Battle of Cheriton, Journal of Conflict Archaeology Volume 3, 29-52
Braddick, M, 2008, God’s Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil War, London: The Penguin Group
English Heritage, 1995, English Heritage Battlefield Report: Cheriton 1644, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/Cheriton.pdf
Kenyon, J and Ohlmeyer, J, 1998, Civil Wars in the Stuart Kingdoms in Kenyon, J and Ohlmeyer, J (eds.), 1998, The Civil Wars: A Military History of England, Scotland and Ireland 1638-1660, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Morris, s, 2009, The Battle of Cheriton 29th March 1644: A Study of the Battlefield Landscape using Geographic Information Systems, unpublished
Sawyer, R, 2002, Civil War in Winchester, Salisbury: Rowanvale Books