Battle of Chalgrove Field
Chalgrove could more properly be called a skirmish, given the numbers involved and the brevity of the action, but it was a significant day in the Civil War for several reasons: Prince Rupert showed his particular genius for cavalry actions; the great parliamentarian John Hampden was mortally wounded in the fight; and the action safeguarded the retreat of Rupert’s forces to Oxford , re-strengthening the king’s de facto capital.
Informed about a treasure convoy by one Colonel Hurry, who betrayed his previous allegiance to Parliament, on June 17 Prince Rupert boldly sallied forth from Oxford to capture it, hoping to weaken Essex’s position in relieving him of his funds. The convoy avoided Rupert’s force, but he did attack some Roundhead outposts like Chinnor on his progress.
With only a raiding party of around 2,000 men Rupert had to seek the shelter of Oxford again once the convoy had escaped his grasp. When the party neared their intended crossing point of the River Thame at Chislehampton, closely pursued by Roundheads commanded by John Hampden and Philip Stapleton, Rupert turned the tables.
Having sent his foot soldiers to cross the river, Rupert waited in ambush nearby, his dragoons and cavalry hidden by hedges and fields of tall corn. The Royalists on horseback numbered perhaps 1,300. Hampden and Stapleton’s force had become strung out in the pursuit, and when just 500 of their infantry and dragoons neared the hedge concealing the Royalists Rupert leaped it, attacking the Roundhead centre. To his left Colonel O’Neale outflanked the Roundhead right, drawing the Roundhead cavalry to him and leaving the rest of the small force open to a flanking manoeuvre by the prince.
A rout of the Parliamentarians ensued, the chase continuing until Rupert had gained breathing space for his planned crossing and return to Oxford.
Hampden was wounded in the shoulder, and died nearly a week later. One of the great figureheads of the Parliamentary cause, Hampden’s loss was a huge blow to his side. He had been imprisoned in 1627 when he refused to comply with Charles ’s forced loan; he was the MP who 10 years after that tested the legality of another of the king’s fiscal measures, Ship Money; and he was one of the five MPs whose attempted arrest by the king sparked the conflict.
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