The battle of Stow-on-the-Wold, 1646
By the spring of 1646, the Royalist cause was desperate. Only a few isolated garrisons held out against Parliament and all but the most stubborn were finally laying down their arms. Colonel John Birch captured Hereford in mid-December 1645, Chester fell to Sir William Brereton in February 1646 and Lichfield early in March. While the New Model Army steadily conquered the west, Lord Leven and the Covenanters laid siege to the stronghold of Newark.
The last Royalist army to take the field was a force of 3,000 troops raised by Lord Astley from Wales and the Midlands: the 700 horse were mostly survivors of veteran cavalier regiments, the foot were experienced troops released from local garrisons or from those which had surrendered. In mid-March 1646, Astley marched from Bridgnorth to Worcester, intending to join forces with the King and 1,500 horse stationed at Oxford.
Colonel Thomas Morgan and Colonel John Birch joined forces at Gloucester on 15 March and marched with 2,300 Parliamentarians to block Astley's advance. Meanwhile, Sir William Brereton was cautiously approaching from Lichfield to join Morgan and Birch with a further 1,000 horse from Cheshire and the Midlands.
Avoiding the Parliamentarian garrison at Evesham, Astley outmanoeuvred his pursuers and crossed the River Avon by setting up a bridge of boats near Bidford. He marched into the Cotswolds where his progress was delayed by Parliamentarian skirmishers, though Morgan was reluctant to commit to a full-scale attack until Brereton's forces came up. Having marched his troops 25 miles without resting, Astley halted at the village of Donnington, about two miles from Stow-on-the-Wold, during the evening of 20 March. During the night, Brereton's cavalry finally joined up with Morgan. Realising that he could not avoid battle, Astley drew up his army on a steep hillside to the north of Stow. The Parliamentarians formed up facing them.
The final battle of the English Civil War began at dawn on 21 March 1646. The two armies were conventionally deployed with foot in the centre and horse on the flanks, the Parliamentarians outnumbering the Royalists. Lord Astley commanded the Royalist centre, with Sir Charles Lucas on the right flank and Sir William Vaughan on the left. Sir William Brereton commanded the Parliamentarian right flank, with Colonel Birch in the centre and Colonel Morgan on the left.
Morgan led the initial Parliamentarian attack on the left but was twice thrown back when Lucas counter-attacked. A fierce struggle developed in the centre with neither side prevailing. The battle was decided by Sir William Brereton's cavalry on the Parliamentarian right flank. Outnumbered nearly two-to-one, Vaughan's cavalry were unable to withstand Brereton's attack and were routed. Brereton then turned against the flank of Astley's infantry in the centre. When Lucas's cavalry also broke and fled, Astley withdrew his infantry into Stow-on-the-Wold where, after fighting through the streets and a gallant stand in the market square, he finally ordered his men to lay down their arms.
The defeat of the last Royalist field armies was followed by the gradual surrender of remaining garrisons around the country. After the surrender of Exeter and Barnstaple to General Fairfax in April 1646, the New Model Army marched to besiege the Royalist capital Oxford. As the Parliamentarians approached, King Charles escaped from the city disguised as a servant and made his way to Newark in Nottinghamshire, where he surrendered to the Scottish army rather than to Parliament with the intention of exploiting divisions between the Scots and the English Parliament. By order of the King, Newark surrendered on 6 May 1646. The surrender of Oxford took place on 24 June. Worcester surrendered a month later on 22 July. Other fortresses maintained a stubborn yet futile resistance throughout 1646 and beyond. The last Royalist outpost was Harlech Castle in Wales, which finally surrendered to Parliamentarian forces on 13 March 1647.
A.H. Burne & P. Young, The Great Civil War, a military history (London 1959)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iii (London 1889)
Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)
Stow-on-the-Wold UK Battlefields Resource Centre