Brentford & Turnham Green: November 1642
After the battle of Edgehill, Prince Rupert advised an immediate cavalry strike against London before the Earl of Essex's army could return. However, the King decided upon a more cautious advance with the whole Royalist army, which allowed Essex time to march back to London unopposed. Parliament was anxious to keep up the morale of Londoners and organised a hero's welcome for Essex upon his arrival in the capital on 7 November. During Essex's absence, Parliament had commissioned the Earl of Warwick to raise a further seven regiments for the City's defence and the 6,000 men of the London Trained Bands were mobilised. Sir James Ramsay was sent with 3,000 troops from Essex's main army to defend Kingston, the first crossing of the River Thames above London Bridge, and detachments were posted at Acton and Brentford to guard the western approaches to the City.
Brentford, Middlesex, 12 November 1642
The King advanced on the capital via Banbury, Oxford, Reading and Windsor. On 12 November, the 13,000 men of the Royalist army mustered on Hounslow Heath. Although he agreed to meet a delegation of Parliamentarian commissioners at Colnbrook in Buckinghamshire, the King expected Parliament to submit to his authority. In order to strengthen his position by intimidating his opponents, he approved Prince Rupert's proposal to attack the Parliamentarian outpost at Brentford.
Brentford was defended by the infantry regiments of Lord Brooke and Denzil Holles, both of which had fought at Edgehill. On the morning of 12 November, taking advantage of a thick mist, Prince Rupert advanced with four regiments of horse along the Great West Road. Rupert intended to take the Parliamentarians by surprise but the tables were turned when the redcoats of Holles's regiment, who had fortified Sir Richard Wynn's house on the outskirts of Brentford, opened fire on the advancing Royalists. Rupert's cavalry fell back to await the arrival of infantry under the command of the Earl of Forth. In a determined attack, the Royalist infantry cleared the Parliamentarians from the house and advanced on Brentford itself. A barricade had been set up at the bridge over the River Brent, a tributary of the Thames. This was cleared within an hour and the Parliamentarians fell back to a second barricade defended by Brooke's regiment and two field guns. It took another two or three hours fighting to drive the Parliamentarians from this position. Some fled through Brentford towards London while others tried to escape by swimming the River Thames, where many were drowned. The Royalist advance through Brentford was checked at the far end of the town as John Hampden's regiment came up in time to cover the retreat of the surviving Parliamentarians. Having killed around fifty Parliamentarians and taken over three hundred prisoners, the victorious Royalists looted Brentford.
Colonel Blagge occupied Syon House on the banks of Thames and bombarded Parliamentarian barges carrying supplies from Kingston to London. Their crews sank them deliberately to prevent the capture of their cargoes.
Parliamentary propaganda played up the ferocity of the attack on Brentford and emphasized the King's duplicity in sanctioning it while peace negotiations were in progress. With enthusiastic support from the citizens of London, the Earl of Essex concentrated all available Parliamentarian forces to block any further Royalist advance. With his army reinforced by the Trained Bands and the regiments newly-recruited by the Earl of Warwick, Essex fielded a force of more than 24,000 men to face the King's army of around 13,000. The two armies drew up on 13 November to face one another in an open area formed by Turnham Green, Acton Green and Chiswick Common on the western outskirts of London.
Essex sent six regiments under the command of John Hampden to outflank the Royalists by occupying high ground to the north of the Royalist position, but then recalled them. He also withdrew the 3,000 men under Sir James Ramsay at Kingston and sent them to a new position on the Surrey side of London Bridge. While the reasoning behind Essex's manoeuvres is obscure, the Royalists were in no position to exploit them, being too heavily outnumbered to risk a general assault. The two armies faced one another all day with a few casualties resulting from exchanges of artillery fire and some skirmishing. As darkness began to fall, Lord Forth withdrew the Royalist army through Brentford to Hounslow Heath, covered by a rearguard commanded by Prince Rupert and Sir Jacob Astley.
Having prevented the Royalists from advancing on London, Essex made no move to pursue them as they withdrew westwards to Reading and then to Oxford, which became the King's headquarters and Royalist capital for the duration of the war.
Both sides sent their main armies into winter quarters. The Earl of Essex deployed troops to guard the western approaches to London with a forward base at Windsor. Reading was fortified for the King with strong garrisons at Wallingford and Abingdon to secure communications with Oxford. Additional Royalist garrisons were set up at Banbury, Brill, Faringdon and Burford to form a defensive circle around Oxford. The city of Oxford itself was occupied by four regiments of foot, and work began on a new circuit of earthworks and fortifications to replace the ruinous medieval walls.
During December 1642, Henry Wilmot led a force of dragoons from Oxford in a daring raid to capture the town of Marlborough in Wiltshire, thus opening a line of communications with Royalists in the south-west. On the Parliamentarian side, Sir William Waller remained active in securing the western approaches to London, capturing Farnham, Winchester and Chichester and justifying his reputation in London as "William the Conqueror".
A.H. Burne & P. Young, The Great Civil War, a military history (London 1958)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i (London 1888)
Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)
K. Roberts & J. Tincey, Edgehill 1642 (Osprey 2001)
Brentford UK Battlefields Resource Centre
Turnham Green UK Battlefields Resource Centre
Brentford and Turnham Green walk: Struan Bates, englishcivilwar.org