The Battle of Cheriton, 1644
After campaigning in southern England during November and December 1643, the armies of Sir William Waller and Lord Hopton went into winter quarters until the spring of 1644. Early in March, Hopton was joined at Winchester by reinforcements from Oxford under the command of Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth, who was commander-in-chief of the Royalist armies. However, Forth was badly afflicted with gout so Hopton retained operational command of the southern army. The reinforcements brought the strength of Hopton's army up to around 3,800 horse, 3,200 foot and a train of ten guns. Royalist strategy was for Forth and Hopton to continue to advance through Sussex and Kent in order to threaten London from the south.
To counter the Royalist threat, the newly-formed Committee for Both Kingdoms resolved that Waller should advance against Hopton with 5,000 foot, 3,000 horse and 600 dragoons of his own, supported by a cavalry brigade under Sir William Balfour from the Earl of Essex's army. The Committee also planned to send the Earl of Manchester's Eastern Association army towards Oxford in the hope of preventing the King from sending further reinforcements to Hopton. However, Manchester was obliged to stay in East Anglia when Prince Rupert defeated the Parliamentarian army besieging Newark.
During the third week of March 1644, Waller's army mustered around East Meon near Petersfield, about 13 miles south-east of Hopton's headquarters at Winchester. On 26 March, Hopton advanced with the Royalist army, hoping to surprise Waller's London Brigade, which was quartered at Warnford. Learning of the Royalist advance, however, Major-General Browne withdrew the Londoners to join with Waller's main army on a high wooded down between East and West Meon. The Royalist army drew up on high ground opposite the Parliamentarians, though neither army was in full sight of the other. Despite skirmishing and cavalry probes, neither general would be drawn down from their advantageous positions.
In the early afternoon, Waller ordered his army to march for Alresford in an attempt to outflank Hopton and to cut off the Royalist army from its base at Winchester. Sir William Balfour's cavalry brigade led the advance, with the Parliamentarian foot in the centre and Waller's western cavalry regiments guarding the rear. As soon as his scouts reported this development, Hopton ordered a counter-march for Alresford. Hopton himself led the Royalist vanguard at the head of Sir Edward Stowell's cavalry brigade, and succeeded in occupying Alresford before the Parliamentarians. Balfour halted his troops on East Down, a long hill to the east of the small town of Cheriton, and waited there for the rest of the Parliamentarian army to arrive. Waller and Hopton spent the rest of the day deploying their forces in their new positions. Lord Forth established his headquarters at Alresford and the Royalist army occupied Tichbourne Down. Waller's headquarters was at Hinton Ampner manor house; the Parliamentarian army concentrated on Lamborough Fields to the south of the Royalist position, with East Down separating the two armies. Skirmishing continued throughout the following day as units of horse and foot fought to establish control of farm buildings on East Down. Eventually, the Parliamentarians were driven back, and by the evening of 27 March, Colonel George Lisle had established an advance guard of 1,000 Royalist musketeers and 500 horse on the down.
With the Royalists holding the advantage of the ground, some officers on the Parliamentarian council of war advised a withdrawal. Hopton was also aware of this possibility and ordered Sir John Smith to prepare a brigade of horse to attack the Parliamentarian rearguard in the event of a retreat. However, Waller was determined to stand his ground and fight.
The battle of Cheriton
On the morning of 28 March 1644, Sir William Waller began deploying his army for battle on the high ground of Lamborough fields. As the early morning mist cleared, Lord Hopton realised that Waller was preparing to fight. In consultation with Lord Forth, he ordered the whole Royalist army to advance from its encampment on Tichbourne Down to occupy East Down. By mid-morning, the armies were drawn up on opposite ridges with the extensive woodland of Cheriton Wood on higher ground to the east. The armies were separated by a bowl-shaped hollow traversed by three lanes running north to south and one running east to west towards Cheriton.
Waller deployed most of his infantry at the foot of the down between the villages of Bramdean and Hinton Ampner. Sir Arthur Heselrige and Sir William Balfour commanded the left and right wings of Parliamentarian horse respectively. Waller secured his left flank by sending a strong body of musketeers to line the hedges around Hinton Ampner. The Royalists advanced with Lord Hopton's army on the left flank and the forces brought by Lord Forth from Oxford on the right.
The first stage of the battle involved attempts to secure Cheriton Wood, which potentially provided a covered approach to the enemy's lines without having to descend into the hollow and then attack uphill. At dawn, under cover of mist, Waller sent an advance guard drawn from his London regiments under Colonel Walter Leighton to occupy the wood and threaten the Royalist left flank. Lord Hopton also realised the importance of the wood and positioned artillery to cover its edges and fire on the Parliamentarians as they emerged, which forced them back under cover of the trees. As the rising sun burned off the mist, Hopton sent Colonel Matthew Appleyard with 1,000 musketeers to clear the woods. In fierce fighting, confused by the fact that both sides had coincidentally chosen the same field sign, Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hopton led a column of Royalist musketeers in a flanking manoeuvre that succeeded in driving the Parliamentarians out of Cheriton Wood.
With the woods secure and the Royalists commanding the high ground of East Down, Lord Hopton wanted to attack the vulnerable Parliamentarian right flank. However, the Earl of Forth preferred to consolidate his forces and wait for the Parliamentarians either to attack the strong Royalist position or to retreat. In response, Waller sent Heselrige's regiment of foot to stabilise the right flank and moved cavalry into the central valley between the two hills in case the Royalist horse should attack from the high ground.
Despite Forth's apparent preference to stand on the defensive, the Royalists launched attacks on both wings of the Parliamentarian position. Shortly after noon, fighting broke out around Hinton Ampner when a body of Royalist horse and commanded musketeers tried to dislodge the Parliamentarians lining the hedges around the village. Waller sent infantry reinforcements, but the Royalists drove back the Parliamentarian musketeers and got in among the houses, where they set fire to the thatched roofs in an attempt to make a smokescreen. Unfortunately for the Royalists, the wind changed direction and blew the smoke back in their faces, which helped the Parliamentarians to regain the ground they had lost. Sir Henry Bard's regiment of foot advanced to occupy a position between Hinton Ampner and East Down, probably in an effort to secure a line of retreat for the Royalist troops as they fell back from the village. However, Bard advanced too far and became caught up in the fighting near the burning houses. Sir Arthur Heselrige took advantage of the situation by sending out a detachment of cavalry to block the Royalist retreat. The Parliamentarian horse then wheeled around to charge Bard's regiment from the rear. The Royalists were quickly overwhelmed and routed with heavy losses.
Meanwhile, Royalist infantry were also working their way along the hedges and enclosures to attack Waller's right wing. Sir William Balfour's cavalry launched several charges against the advancing Royalists. Although each attack was repulsed, the Royalist foot were under severe pressure. Lord John Stuart, commander of the Royalist cavalry, ordered the Queen's regiment of horse to descend from East Down in support of the infantry, but they retreated after only one unsuccessful charge. Fierce fighting continued on both flanks throughout the day.
Witnessing the unfolding battle from the ridge above, the Royalist generals realised that they must attack the Parliamentarian cavalry at the bottom of the valley in order to check the incessant flank attacks on their infantry, who were gradually giving ground on each wing. Hopton duly descended from East Down with Sir Edward Stowell's cavalry brigade. The initial cavalry deployment was difficult because the Royalists were obliged to advance down a narrow lane and form up one regiment at a time on the heath below. Once in position, the Royalists furiously charged the Parliamentarians. Stowell himself led the attack through the Parliamentarian lines to their artillery, only to be wounded and taken prisoner. The Parliamentarian cavalry wavered and fell back, but rallied when Major-General Browne drew off a body of musketeers from the hedges on the flank to disrupt the Royalist attack.
Although it meant abandoning the commanding position on East Down, Forth now committed his remaining two cavalry brigades to the battle in the centre, leaving only Sir Humphrey Bennett's regiment in reserve. The fight continued for several hours as a confused mêlée of charge and counter-charge. Casualties were high on both sides. Among the Royalists killed were the brigade commanders Lord John Stuart and Sir John Smith. By the late afternoon the Royalists were losing ground in the centre. Hopton decided to break off the action and organised a fighting withdrawal back up the lane to East Down, where Lord Forth was already supervising the departure of the wagons and preparing for a general retreat. The withdrawal of the cavalry discouraged the Royalist musketeers on the flanks who also began to fall back. Lieutenant-Colonel Birch of Heselrige's regiment of foot led a final thrust to clear the Royalist musketeers from the Parliamentarian right flank, seconded by Lieutenant-Colonel Rea of Harley's regiment.
Under a disciplined retreat co-ordinated by Forth and Hopton, the Royalists succeeded in escaping to Basing House with most of their artillery and baggage, then retiring to Reading a few days later. Waller advanced to Winchester where the city, though not the castle, surrendered to him. The remnants of Hopton's southern army were subsequently absorbed into the King's Oxford army. Waller's victory at Cheriton terminated the Royalist advance in the south and ended all hopes of a direct attack on London. It was celebrated by Parliamentarians as their first decisive victory against a Royalist army seeking battle — all major Parliamentarian successes up to that point had been defensive. It was also the first defeat for the King's Oxford cavalry and significantly boosted the morale of the "War Party" in Parliament, which was now more determined than ever to inflict a military defeat on the King.
John Adair, Roundhead General, a military biography of Sir William Waller (London 1969)
C.E.H. Chadwyck-Healey (ed), Bellum Civile (Somerset Record Society 1902)
Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)
Laurence Spring, The Campaigns of Sir William Waller's Southern Association 1643-45 (Bristol 1997)
Laurence Spring, The Battle of Cheriton 1644 (Bristol 1997)
Battle of Cheriton UK Battlefields Resource Centre