Highnam & Ripple Field, 1643

Early in 1643, King Charles I appointed three noblemen as lieutenant-generals to govern and direct military operations in Wales and the Marches. Lord Herbert was appointed commander of Royalist forces in south-east Wales and its Marches, with responsibility for the counties of Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Breconshire, Glamorganshire and Radnorshire. The appointment was controversial because Herbert was a Roman Catholic, but he was also the son of the Earl of Worcester, a major contributor to the Royalist war-fund. In order to ensure his continued financial support, Charles created Worcester a marquis as well as appointing his son a regional military commander.

Highnam, March 1643

Despite opposition on personal and religious grounds from local Royalists, Lord Herbert recruited a force of 1,500 foot and 500 horse with his brother Lord John Somerset as lieutenant-general of horse and an English veteran Sir Richard Lawdey as major-general of foot. Around the middle of February 1643, Herbert advanced from south Wales towards the Parliamentarian stronghold of Gloucester. On 20 February, Herbert's Royalists scattered an outpost of the Gloucester garrison under Colonel Berrow at Coleford in the Forest of Dean, but Major-General Lawdey was killed in the skirmish. On finding Gloucester too strongly defended to attack, Lord Herbert set up his headquarters at Highnam on the north bank of the River Severn. The Welsh Royalists remained at Highnam for five weeks under the command of Herbert's new major-general Sir Jerome Brett in the expectation that reinforcements would arrive from Oxford for a concerted attack on Gloucester.

Civil War in the Welsh Border 1643
Gloucestershire & south-east Wales, February- March 1643

Meanwhile, after his successful campaigning in southern England during 1642, Sir William Waller was appointed commander of Parliament's Western Association army, formed to co-ordinate activity in Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Waller marched west with an army of 2,500 men. He evaded attack by Prince Rupert's cavalry from Oxford and made frequent night marches to conceal the relative weakness of his force. The Puritan zealots of the Parliamentarian army left a trail of defiled churches along the way. Waller occupied Bristol In mid-March 1643. On 21 March, he advanced on Malmesbury in Wiltshire. Driving off a company of Royalist cavalry, Waller's troops stormed the dilapidated town walls and carried the fight into the streets. After fierce resistance, Colonel Lunsford's garrison of 300 men surrendered early the next morning, not realising that the Parliamentarians were almost out of ammunition.

Waller's presence in the West threatened the routes between the Royalist capital Oxford and south Wales — a vital recruiting-ground for the King. Waller intended advancing on Cirencester, but upon learning that Prince Rupert had marched from Oxford to secure the garrison, Waller joined forces with Colonel Massie, the Parliamentarian governor of Gloucester. Waller and Massie planned a co-ordinated attack on the Welsh army encamped at Highnam. On 23 March, Waller's forces crossed the River Severn unobserved at Framilode, several miles downstream from the Royalist camp, and advanced up the western bank. The next day, Massie's forces from Gloucester advanced towards the Royalist headquarters at Highnam House. Just as the Royalists sallied out to meet the attack, Waller's army appeared in their rear. Taken completely by surprise, the Royalists defended their position until their ammunition ran out, then laid down their weapons and surrendered. Lord Somerset escaped with most of the horse, but around 1,500 Welsh foot were taken prisoner. They were held under guard for ten days in Gloucester's St Mary de Lode and Trinity churches, then those who would not agree to join the Parliamentarian army were released on a promise never to fight against Parliament again.

Lord Herbert, who was not present at Highnam at the time of the Parliamentarian attack, retreated back into south Wales. Although he nominally retained his command in the region, he was never able to re-establish his authority as a general.

Ripple Field, April 1643

Having secured Gloucester for Parliament, Sir William Waller intended to take his army into Devon and Cornwall to join forces with the Earl of Stamford. However, Stamford had negotiated a temporary truce with the Royalist commander Sir Ralph Hopton which Waller considered ill-judged and which frustrated his plans. He decided to advance further west instead, and marched from Gloucester to seize and plunder Monmouth and Chepstow in early April 1643.

Civil War on the Welsh Border 1643
Manoeuvres preceding Ripple Field, 1643

With the Welsh Royalists in disarray after the disaster at Highnam, Prince Maurice was sent from Oxford with around 2,000 men to counter Waller's threat to Wales. Maurice crossed the River Severn by building a bridge of boats near Tewkesbury and deployed his troops in a wide cordon between the Severn and Wye. He planned to cut off Waller's forces from the Parliamentarian stronghold of Gloucester and to catch them in a pincer movement between his main force and a detachment of 80 horse and 100 dragoons sent into Monmouthshire under the command of Sir Richard Cave. Learning of the Royalist advance, Waller fell back. He ferried his infantry, artillery and plundered goods across the Severn from Chepstow to Aust, from where they had a safe march to Gloucester via Berkeley Castle. Waller himself advanced with his cavalry and dragoons to break through the Royalist lines. Although attacked from the rear at Little Dean on 11 April, Waller succeeded in cutting his way through the Royalist lines and escaping back to Gloucester with minimal loss.

The following day, Colonel Massie marched north from Gloucester, destroyed the Royalist bridge of boats and seized Tewkesbury by surprising and killing the guards and forcing his way into the town. Waller and his cavalry joined Massie at Tewkesbury that evening. Waller intended to seize Upton Bridge six miles north-west of Tewkesbury, which at the time was the only bridge over the Severn between Worcester and Gloucester. However, his troops were too tired to march any further and they did not set out until the next morning. Meanwhile, Prince Maurice realised that the bridge of boats at Tewkesbury was gone and hurried to secure Upton Bridge before Waller could cut him off on the western side of the Severn. On 13 April, Maurice crossed Upton Bridge and advanced southwards down the eastern bank of the Severn while Waller and Massie advanced north. The two armies clashed near the village of Ripple, three-and-a-half miles north of Tewkesbury.

Waller's forces occupied the ridge of Old Nan's Hill (Ordnance Hill) from where they had a clear view of the Royalists drawn up in three divisions on the plain of Ripple Field below. Both armies had about 2,000 men, but Waller's force was nearly all cavalry with only one company of infantry. After an initial Parliamentarian cavalry attack was repulsed, Waller decided to withdraw down a lane and back into Ripple village. Dragoons were sent forward to hold off the Royalists on Ripple Field while musketeers were deployed in hedges to cover the entrance to the lane as the cavalry fell back. Parliamentarian artillery opened fire as the Royalists cautiously advanced. Realising that Waller was withdrawing, Prince Maurice seized the opportunity to attack. The Parliamentarian dragoons were driven back and collided with their own musketeers at the entrance to the lane. A second column of Royalist cavalry came sweeping over the ridge of the hill from the west, having worked its way round for a flank attack. While Colonel Massie sent an urgent order for reinforcements from Tewkesbury, Sir Arthur Hesilrige led his cavalry in a charge, hoping to stall the Royalist attack and rally the Parliamentarians. However, Hesilrige was thrown back and the entire Parliamentarian force routed. The Royalists pursued them for three miles towards Tewkesbury until they were met by Massie's reinforcements. The Royalist attack was checked and driven back by heavy musket fire as the remnants of Waller's army retreated into Tewkesbury.

Shortly after his victory at Ripple Field, Prince Maurice was recalled to Oxford. Waller and Massie withdrew to Gloucester, leaving Sir Robert Cooke to command the garrison at Tewkesbury. In late April, Waller advanced into Herefordshire. With local Royalist forces in disarray and Lord Herbert having fled to Oxford, Waller had no trouble in capturing Hereford on 25 April. Although his forces were insufficient to hold the town for long, Waller arrested a number of Royalist officials and extracted as much money as he could before withdrawing to Gloucester. At the end of May, Waller advanced on Worcester but his attack was repulsed. In June, he left the Welsh Marches to consolidate his forces against the threat of a Royalist advance from the West Country.


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)

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

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

Peter Gaunt, A Nation Under Siege, the Civil War in Wales 1642-48 (HMSO 1991)

Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642-46, (London 1999)

J.R. Phillips, Memoirs of the the Civil War in Wales and the Marches vol i (London 1874)

John Washbourn (editor), Bibliothecha Gloucestrensis (Gloucester 1825)