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The Civil War and the Battle of Stow by Tim Norris
The Civil War started officially on 22nd August 1642 when the King raised his Standard at Nottingham and set up his headquarters in Christ Church, Oxford. The initial hope that war could be avoided or that one decisive battle could end the dispute between King and Parliament was extinguished when the first battle at Edgehill ended in a stalemate. Subsequent battles tended to favour the Royalists until the first battle of Newbury in 1643, and Marston Moor in 1644, where the Royalist Cavalry was beaten for the first time by the Roundheads’ horsemen.
By 1645 Cromwell had been promoted to second in command of the “New Model Army”, a force that were well trained and equipped, better clothed, fed and paid. By the time of the Battle of Naseby in 1645 this proved decisive and the Royalists suffered a heavy defeat. Charles knew that the War was effectively lost, but in a last ditch attempt to retain his headquarters in Oxford and try to negotiate a peace, he sent his senior Commander, Sir Jacob Astley, to gather up the remnants of his forces from the Worcester area and march them back to Oxford.
Sir Jacob was an experienced Commander having fought in several battles including Edgehill and Naseby, and his line of march was intended to deceive the Parliamentarians into thinking he was heading for Droitwich,. The Parliamentary Cavalry, under Sir William Brereton, were misled into heading to that location. Meanwhile the Royalists headed south and tried to cross the River Avon. They were prevented from doing so on several occasions, but eventually the Parliamentarians allowed them to cross at Bidford as by then they were able to follow their route and delay their progress by harrying attacks, while they waited for Brereton’s cavalry to rendezvous with them. Astley’s men eventually reached the top of Broadway Hill, whilst being watched all the way from the hills around Chipping Campden, and headed towards Stow on the Wold. It is believed they were attempting to meet up with some of the King’s forces at Chipping Norton.
The parliamentarians under Colonel Morgan were keen to attack before the royalists were reinforced by fresh troops and Brereton’s men eventually arrived on the 20th March. Being close behind Astley’s men they decided to attack at dawn on the 21st March near Stow. What followed was a very fierce but short battle. The Royalist Cavalry at first held the Parliamentarians, but the Royalist infantry were under pressure and the Cavalry rode off to get reinforcements, but it was too late and the tired Royalists turned and fled to Stow, no doubt hoping to find shelter, but instead they were trapped and set upon in the Square with much bloodshed . Some 200 were slain and the remainder were imprisoned in the Church.
The following day Sir Jacob Astley, at 67 quite elderly to be actively commanding troops, was given the courtesy of a drum to sit on near the cross where he surrendered to the Parliamentarians. There are several variations of his words, but, whilst accepting defeat, he warned them of future problems, “let ye fall out amongst yourselves”. This was the last field battle of the first Civil War and led to the King’s escape from Oxford and capture at Newark. The commencement of the battle is commemorated by a monument on a plateau of land near Donnington village (right), but this location has been questioned by English Heritage, who consider it too far away from Stow, and from the line of the Royalist march along what is now the A424 Evesham Road. The Battlefields Trust has offered to undertake a survey of the likely area of initial conflict and eventual flight, and are preparing a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to enable this work.
The events of 1646 did not end the conflict between Parliament and the Monarchy, which was not finally resolved until the Restoration in 1660, and much took place in the intervening years.