Conflict & Date:
The Battle of Cropredy Bridge was fought June 19, 1644, during the English Civil War (1642-1651).
Armies & Commanders:
- Sir William Waller
- 5,000 cavalry, 4,000 infantry
- King Charles I
- 5,000 cavalry, 4,000 infantry
Battle of Cropredy Bridge Overview:
Convening a council of war at Oxford on April 25, 1644, King Charles I sought the advice of his key commanders. In the discussions, Prince Rupert of the Rhine recommended strengthening the ring of fortresses around Oxford while Prince Maurice campaigned in the west. With Oxford secure, Rupert would be free to move north to aid in ending the siege of York. While these schemes were implemented, Charles found it difficult to reinforce Oxford due to a lack of cavalry. Working with his principal field commander, the Earl of Brentford, the king ordered Reading abandoned on May 18.
Troops from the town joined his main army at Oxford. Sensing an opportunity, Parliament ordered the armies of the Earl of Essex and Sir William Waller to concentrate and advance against the Charles' position. As the Parliamentarian troops moved forward, Charles and Brentford abandoned the fortress at Abingdon. In early June, with Waller and Essex closing in, Charles departed Oxford with the bulk of his forces. Feinting towards Abingdon, he compelled Waller to fall back to cover the town, before marching northwest to Worcester.
Reaching the town on June 6, Charles was stunned to find that both Parliamentarian forces had bypassed Oxford in favor of pursuing his army. Though Waller and Essex possessed the numbers to crush the Charles' army, the latter elected to abandon the chase on June 7, and marched southwest to lift the siege of Lyme Regis. While leaders in Parliament were irate and ordered Essex to aid Waller, their efforts were in vain. Slipping back towards Oxford, Charles rendezvoused with the city's garrison at Woodstock on June 21 and moved to Buckingham.
As the Royalist force was now equal in strength with Waller, Parliament became concerned that that Charles would attack into undefended East Anglia. To block this, a force of 4,500 men was sent from London, under the command of Major General Richard Browne, to assist Waller. Departing Buckingham, Charles moved north through Banbury and on towards Daventry. Marching along the east bank of the River Cherwell, his column was spotted by Waller on June 29, and the Parliamentarian troops shadowed him from the opposite side of the river.
This situation persisted for some time as neither army wished to force a river crossing under fire. As the Royalists neared Cropredy, Brentford was alerted to the approach of 300 Parliamentarian dragoons. Sending a detachment of horse forward to secure Cropredy Bridge, he ordered his vanguard to push forward to capture Hayes Bridge. Observing this from Bourton Hill, Waller saw that the Royalist column was becoming strung out. Sensing an opportunity, he sent Lieutenant General John Middleton to attack and cross Cropredy Bridge with two regiments of horse and nine companies of foot.
Meanwhile, Waller planned to cross nearby Slat Mill Ford with 1,000 men. Together the two columns would be able to isolate and destroy the Royalist rearguard. Assaulting the bridge, Middleton's horse quickly scattered the Royalist dragoons. Surging over the bridge, they turned and rode towards the enemy forces that were then crossing Hayes Bridge. While Middleton's horse was advancing in the wrong direction, his artillery crossed the bridge without the proper support. Attacking Hayes Bridge, the Parliamentarian dragoons were halted by determined fire from Royalist musketeers.
Thrown back, they were soon counterattacked by the Earl of Cleveland. Their first attack halted, the Parliamentarian troops reformed and resumed the offensive. Seeing this, Charles dispatched own Lifeguard of Horse, under Lord Bernard Stewart, back over Hayes Bridge to aid Cleveland. Together they again counterattacked and succeeded in driving Middleton's cavalry back towards Cropredy Bridge, capturing eleven guns and Waller's chief of artillery, Sir James Wemyss, in the process. At the bridge, Parliamentarian infantry made a stand and were able to hold the crossing.
At Slat Mill Ford, Waller succeeded in making his crossing however he was immediately confronted by a steep hill. Spotting the Parliamentarian approach, the Earl of Northampton led a charge down the slope and was able to force Waller's men back to the ford. Retreating back across the Cherwell, Waller reformed on Bourton Hill. While Royalist troops attempted to cross the ford they fell back after enemy guns on the hill opened fire on their advance.
Turning his army, Charles' men remained formed for battle opposite Waller for the remainder of the day, but fighting was not resumed. Squaring off through June 30, Charles finally departed the field early on July 1 after learning of the approach of Parliamentarian reinforcements and due to a lack of supplies.
The Battle of Cropredy Bridge cost Waller around 700 killed, wounded, captured, and deserted. Royalist casualties were minimal. The defeat effectively immobilized Waller's army as it was beset with desertions and largely ceased to be a threat to Oxford. With Waller neutralized and the morale of his army much improved, Charles marched west and ultimately defeated Essex at the Battle of Lostwithiel (August-September, 1644).