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​The Royalist's last battle: Stow-on-the-Wold

Sunday, 21 March is the 375th anniversary of the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold, the final field battle of the First English Civil War.

Charles I was desperate after a series of defeats had wiped out his army. He needed reinforcements from Ireland, but had to secure the port at Chester to have any hope of getting them into England.

Beseiged in Oxford and with no army to call on, he instructed veteran soldier Sir Jacob Astley to raise a force in the West Midlands and Welsh Borders. 

Despite having little money to buy recruits, Astley managed to raise a credible force from garrisons across the Midlands. He started his return march to Oxford with 3,000 men. 

Parliament knew of his plan and stationed forces in front, on his right flank and to his rear. 

Recognising the danger all around, Astley outfoxed his opponents. He sent a small diversionary force towards Evesham, but marched the bulk of his men back and then across the River Avon, avoiding the enemy all around. 

Astley raced on, reaching a village just outside of Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. His Parliamentary pursuers were engaging his soldiers at the rear, slowing Astley's progress and allowing two more Parliamentary armies to link up ahead of him. 

Realising that he could not avoid a battle, Astley looked for a favourable spot to fight on his terms. 

He settled on a ridge of high ground that would give his inexperienced troops a strong defensive position.

Parliament's soldiers attacked uphill, but their superior numbers allowed them to challenge from all sides. 

Astley repulsed them twice, but his lines were broken and the Royalist's began a fighting retreat towards Stow, with some soldiers slipping through their opponents' ranks and fleeing. 

The two sides fought a running battle through the streets, with Astley finally surrendering in Stow's marketplace.

Of the 3,000 men who had marched with Astley, around 1,600 were taken prisoner. Those who had fled fared worst, with many chased down and killed by Parliament's mounted infantry. 

Lord Astley, who was 66 and had spent more than 40 years fighting for his country, was offered a barrel to rest on. His defeat meant that there were no more Royalist field armies and the Civil War was lost. 

Recognising that Parliament's military victory was complete he told his captors: "You have done your work, boys, and may go play, unless you will fall out among yourselves."

His words proved prophetic. In the years that followed, Parliament, Cromwell and the New Model Army could not agree on their vision for a new Britain, and the monarchy would return. 

 

JOIN OUR TOUR TO FIND OUT MORE


Historian Julian Humphrys leads our small-group tour, The English Civil Wars, visiting the Royalist capital of Oxford, and famous battlefields of Edgehill, Naseby and Stow-on-the-Wold, where the last Royalist army fell. 

Every tour has Visit England's 'Good to Go' accreditation and includes our money-back guarantee for COVID cancellations. You can book your place from £65. 
 
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