Surrey, Hampshire & Sussex, 1643

In the aftermath of the first battle of Newbury (September 1643), the King's Oxford army re-occupied Reading while the Earl of Essex withdrew to London. However, the Royalist strategy of a triple advance towards London had faltered: the Earl of Newcastle's northern army was committed to the siege of Hull in Yorkshire and the remnant of Lord Hopton's western army was reducing Parliamentarian strongholds in the south-west. The central Oxford army was not strong enough to attack the capital alone. The King's Council of War resolved to break the deadlock by creating two new armies: one in Cheshire under Lord Byron, which was expected to assist the northern Royalists, and a new western army under Lord Hopton which was to advance on London through Wiltshire and Hampshire. Both the new Royalist armies were reinforced with regiments released from service against the Irish Confederates by the signing of the Cessation of Arms.

In late September 1643, Lord Hopton received his commission as general for the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire with orders to subdue the enemy in those counties before advancing on London through Sussex and Kent. Hopton began gathering the forces assigned to him at Bristol where he was joined by Sir Charles Vavasour's and Sir John Paulet's infantry regiments, which were among the first troops to return from Ireland. Despite a shortage of money, Hopton was able to begin his advance eastwards by mid-October 1643. His intention was to first secure Dorset and Wiltshire, but he received new orders from Oxford to advance quickly to Winchester in Hampshire, which had been seized for the King in a surprise attack by Sir William Ogle.

Campaign map of southern England, late 1643
Waller and Hopton: southern England, 1643

Alarmed at the possibility of a union between Hopton's new army and the Oxford Army, Parliament ordered the Earl of Essex and Sir William Waller to take the field in late October 1643. Essex advanced northwards to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, which had recently been captured by the Royalists and threatened communications between London and East Anglia. The Royalists abandoned Newport Pagnell at Essex's approach but Essex subsequently became preoccupied with administrative and political concerns, leaving Waller to deal with the threat in the south. Parliament passed an ordinance for the formation of a new Southern Association to defend the counties of Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. Waller was commissioned major-general commanding the new Association.

Waller gathered all available troops at Farnham Castle in Surrey early in November 1643. His cavalry comprised sixteen troops of horse and five companies of dragoons from his old western army. The success of the London Trained Bands at the relief of Gloucester and the battle of Newbury encouraged Parliament to send a London brigade of three regiments — the Westminster Liberty regiment (or the Red Regiment), the Green Auxilliaries and the Yellow Auxilliaries — to reinforce Waller's own regiment of foot and the Farnham garrison, though none of the London regiments had yet seen active service. Waller also had an artillery train of ten heavy field guns and a number of smaller pieces.

On 3 November 1643, Waller set out towards Winchester, but his march was slowed by rain and sleet, which greatly discouraged the inexperienced London brigade. Meanwhile, Lord Hopton had arrived at Andover in Hampshire before advancing to secure Winchester for the King. Reluctant to risk becoming cut off from his base at Farnham by Hopton's forces, Waller abandoned the march on Winchester and diverted his army to attack the Royalist stronghold of Basing House.

The First Siege of Basing House, Hampshire, November 1643

Basing House was the seat of John Paulet, the Catholic Marquis of Winchester, one of the wealthiest landowners in the kingdom. During the 16th Century, Paulet's ancestor the first Marquis of Winchester had transformed Basing from a medieval manor house into a massive palace five storeys high with nearly four hundred rooms. There were two main buildings: the Old House, built within the ramparts of a medieval castle, and the New House, a large mansion built in the bailey some years later. A bridge and gateway linked the two houses. Beyond these were outbuildings, orchards and gardens, all contained within a boundary wall approximately one mile in circumference.

Basing was attacked by local Parliamentarians under Colonel Richard Norton in July 1643. The Marquis and a few retainers succeeded in holding them off until the timely arrival of 100 musketeers from Oxford commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Peake of Colonel Marmaduke Rawdon's regiment. Shortly afterwards, Rawdon himself arrived with the rest of his regiment and three pieces of artillery to take over as military governor of Basing. During the summer and autumn of 1643, Rawdon supervised the strengthening of Basing's defences with the addition of an extensive system of earthwork banks, ditches and bastions that transformed it into a formidable fortress commanding the main road from London to the west. By the time of Waller's attack, the Basing garrison numbered about 400 men.

Waller set up his artillery on Cowdrey Down to the north of the House. His summons for the Marquis to surrender was courteously declined. At dawn on 7 November 1643, the Parliamentarian siege guns opened fire. While the bombardment continued, a forlorn hope of musketeers advanced to seize a number of farm outbuildings from where they harassed the defenders behind Basing's outer defences. The firefight continued into the afternoon. The Royalists counter-attacked, using grenades to set fire to the outbuildings that sheltered the Parliamentarians. As darkness fell, the Parliamentarians fell back to Cowdrey Down. The inexperienced London brigade, which had spent the day drawn up on the Down, was discouraged by the retreat of the musketeers and by the continuing cold, wet weather. With the Londoners threatening to mutiny, Waller withdrew his troops to find shelter in Basingstoke and the surrounding villages.

Waller attempted a second attack on 12 November. After a two-hour bombardment, the Parliamentarians stormed the defences from three directions at once. While the London regiments mounted diversionary attacks from Basing Park to the south and west of the House, Waller led his main force from Basing village in the east. Having learned from two Royalist deserters that a section of the eastern curtain wall was weak, Waller planned to make a breach with a petard. Major Strachan's dragoons led the attack, seconded by Waller's own regiment of foot. The Royalists were driven back from the defences and the Parliamentarians advanced to the rampart. However, the petardier mistakenly attempted to breach a reinforced section of the wall and was unable to break through. The Parliamentarians came under enfilading fire from a building to the north of the wall while the women of the garrison hurled stones, bricks and insults from the battlements. Waller rode out ahead of the reserve companies of Londoners in the hope of encouraging his men, but they refused to advance and the attack faltered. The two diversionary attacks were also thrown back. With darkness falling and heavy rain setting in, Waller abandoned the assault on Basing House and once again ordered a withdrawal to Basingstoke.

During the next few days, Waller received intelligence that Lord Hopton was concentrating Royalist forces nearby. With his London regiments threatening to mutiny and many deserting to return home, Waller had no choice but to withdraw to his base at Farnham Castle. He arrived on 15 November and wrote urgently to Parliament requesting reinforcements, supplies and money to pay his troops. The Royalist commander Colonel Rawdon was knighted for his defence of Basing.

Farnham, Surrey, November 1643

Sir William Ogle's opportunistic capture of Winchester in October 1643 was out of step with overall Royalist strategy in southern England and forced Lord Hopton to advance in support of Ogle before his forces were fully assembled. Hopton arrived at Andover on 5 November where he rendezvoused with the Earl of Crawford and Colonel Gerard's cavalry brigade from Oxford. The Royalist army was short of infantry because several regiments had been left to blockade Parliamentarian strongholds in Dorset and Wiltshire. However, Hopton advanced rapidly to Winchester with his horse and dragoons. When he learned of Hopton's arrival in the region, Sir William Waller decided to abandon his march on Winchester and withdraw to attack Basing House instead. Hopton calculated that Basing was strong enough to hold out against Waller for at least ten or twelve days, thus giving him an opportunity to organise his forces at Winchester.

Hopton quickly gathered around 2,000 foot at Winchester, though he was obliged to subdue a mutiny in one of the regiments from Ireland by hanging the ringleaders. He was further reinforced by Sir Jacob Astley with 900 foot from Reading, Lord Percy's and Colonel Belasyse's regiments of horse and some field guns. By the time Hopton marched for the relief of Basing House in mid-November, his army comprised about 3,000 foot and dragoons, 2,000 horse and a good train of artillery. On Hopton's approach, Waller lifted the siege of Basing House and retreated to Farnham Castle.

Hopton remained at Basing for about a week. Although Gerard's cavalry was recalled to Oxford, Sir John Berkeley joined Hopton with a party of horse and dragoons and another 1,000 foot. On 26 November, Hopton advanced to Odiham in Hampshire, seven miles from Waller's headquarters. The following day, the Royalist army marched to occupy a heath within a mile of Farnham itself. Hopton was determined to confront Waller in a set-piece battle. Having drawn up his army, he sent an advance guard of 1,000 infantry and some horse forward in an attempt to lure the Parliamentarians out into the open. As soon as the Royalists came within range, however, the gunners of Farnham Castle opened fire, scoring several fortunate hits. Realising that Waller would not be drawn into a battle, Hopton had no choice but to fall back to Odiham. Units of Parliamentarian cavalry harassed the Royalist rearguard as Hopton's army withdrew, and skirmishing continued over the next few days.

Arundel & Alton, Sussex & Hampshire, December 1643

Following his withdrawal from Farnham, Lord Hopton distributed his brigades around eastern Hampshire and west Sussex in order to secure Winchester and to control the roads into Sussex and Kent. Hopton's own brigade went to Alresford, Sir John Berkeley went to Petersfield, Lord Crawford went to Alton. Hopton's plan to send a force to occupy Cowdray House at Midhurst, which commanded a route through north Sussex towards Kent, was frustrated when local Parliamentarians occupied Cowdray. However, Sir Edward Ford and Colonel Bampfield led a Royalist detachment from Petersfield to Arundel, where they occupied the town and besieged the castle. Taking advantage of a hard frost, which made marching easier than under wet conditions, Hopton led a larger force to support Ford and Bampfield. On Hopton's arrival at Arundel on 9 December, the Parliamentarian commander, Captain Catcott, surrendered the castle.

Campaign map: southern England Nov-Dec 1643
Campaigns in southern England, Nov-Dec 1643

Hopton tried to consolidate the Royalist foothold in Sussex by marching to seize the bridge over the River Adur at Bramber and threatening to advance towards Lewes. However, Hopton met with fierce resistance from local Parliamentarians under the command of Captain Temple. On 12 December, the Royalists were thrown back from Bramber with heavy casualties, after which they retreated to Arundel.

The Royalist army had become strung out on a front of nearly thirty miles, leaving isolated garrisons vulnerable to attack. Around the time that Hopton's advance guard was driven back from Bramber, Colonel Richard Norton, the Parliamentarian governor of Southampton, attacked the Royalist outpost at Romsey and inflicted serious losses. At Farnham, Sir William Waller reviewed his forces on 12 December. He had been reinforced by two regiments of foot, but the fractious London Brigade was demanding to return home. Waller successfully appealed to the Londoners to stay with him for a few days longer in order to participate in an attack on the Royalist garrison at Alton.

Waller set out for Alton on the evening of 12 December. He marched two miles in the direction of Basing House as a feint to confuse any Royalist scouts, then wheeled south and marched through the night to Alton, avoiding main roads, to launch a surprise dawn attack. When a Royalist sentry raised the alarm, the Earl of Crawford rode away with his cavalry towards Winchester, hotly pursued by the Parliamentarian horse. The Royalist foot, under the command of Colonel Richard Bolle, were concentrated in buildings around St Lawrence's Church. Waller's and Heselrige's infantry regiments moved in to occupy hedges to the north and north-west of the Royalist position, supported by a whitecoat regiment from Kent. During the ensuing firefight, the Parliamentarians made use of leather guns for the first time in the English Civil War.

Meanwhile, the London Brigade and a detachment of Colonel Jones' Farnham garrison regiment worked around to attack from the west. The Royalist defences were methodically outflanked and overwhelmed. The Royalists retreated into St Lawrence's churchyard and then into the church itself, where they continued to resist, climbing scaffolding within the church to fire from the high windows. Hand grenades were thrown in at the windows while Sergeant-Major Shambrooke led an assault to force open the church door. Royalist musketeers continued to fire from behind the corpses of several horses piled up and laid across the aisle of the church. Lieutenant-Colonel Birch of Heselrige's regiment was wounded in fierce hand-to-hand fighting as the Roundheads forced their way into the church. The Royalist commander Colonel Bolle is said to have taken up a position in the pulpit and to have sworn that he would run his sword through the heart of the first Royalist to call for quarter. He was finally struck dead by a blow from the butt of a musket. A few desperate Royalists continued to fight after Bolle's death but were soon overwhelmed.

Waller lost around 100 men during the attack on Alton, but 867 Royalists were taken prisoner, of whom 500 are said to have re-enlisted in the Parliamentarian army. After Waller's return to Farnham, the London Brigade was discharged and marched for home but Waller was reinforced by Trained Band and regular foot regiments from Kent and Sussex and eleven troops of horse from the Earl of Essex's army. He decided to follow up the victory at Alton by advancing into Sussex, and set out for Arundel on 17 December.

Waller's army of around 5,000 men arrived before Arundel on 19 December. Sir Edward Ford's Royalist garrison comprised 800 foot and four troops of horse. Waller launched his attack on 20 December. The main assault was on a line of earthern fortifications to the north of the town, with a diversionary attack from the south-west. Initially, the Parliamentarians were thrown back, but Waller himself rallied his troops. Inspired by their commander, the Parliamentarians stormed back over the fortifications and pursued the Royalists through the town and into the refuge of Arundel Castle. Lacking resources to storm the castle, Waller decided to blockade the Royalists, who had foolishly stored most of the castle's provisions in the town. To add to the garrison's misery, the Parliamentarians drained a lake to cut off the castle's water supply, and set up guns in the tower of Arundel church to maintain a constant harassing fire.

Around 27 December, Lord Hopton advanced from Winchester with a force of 2,000 horse and 1,500 foot. Two days later, he was reported to be within a few miles of Arundel. Waller left 1,500 men to maintain the siege and marched to meet him. The armies faced one another on North Marden Down. Heavily outnumbered, Hopton withdrew after the exchange of a few shots.

On 4 January 1644, the Parliamentarians opened fire on Arundel Castle with siege guns brought up from Portsmouth. With starvation threatening the garrison, Sir Edward Ford surrendered the castle to Waller on 6 January.

Having secured Arundel and with heavy snowfall beginning to set in, Waller sent his army into winter quarters. Lord Hopton, who was deeply disheartened by the setbacks at Alton and Arundel, withdrew to Winchester.


Sources:

John Adair, Roundhead General, a military biography of Sir William Waller (London 1969)

A.H. Burne & P. Young, The Great Civil War, a military history (London 1959)

C.E.H. Chadwyck-Healey (ed), Bellum Civile (Somerset Record Society 1902)

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i (London 1888)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (London 1987)

Rev. G. N. Godwin, The Civil War in Hampshire 1642-45 (Southampton 1904)

Laurence Spring, The Campaigns of Sir William Waller's Southern Association 1643-45 (Bristol 1997)

Charles Thomas-Stanford, Sussex in the Great Civil War and the Interregnum (London 1910)

 

Links:

Basing House official website

Plan of Basing House www.british-history.ac.uk