Banbury, a town dedicated to the Puritan cause, had seen its castle laid siege and taken by the Royalist army and garrisoned by the young Earl of Northampton. The people of Banbury, still sympathetic to Parliament, may have given quarter to the army pursuing the King, hoping to regain control of their beloved castle.
On the 28th June, the armies were manoeuvring around Banbury on either side of the river Cherwell, with the King in the Grimsbury area and Parliament on the hills around Neithrop and Crouch Hill. It was said there was plague in the actual town of Banbury.
There is a record of a “skirmish” on 28th June “of some 1000 men on each side, in the fields of Neithrop”, which maps indicate would have been around the area where Waitrose and Tesco now stand.
From here the armies played cat and mouse across the landscape, neither side really knowing where the other was heading until they collided across the fields in Cropredy.
On 29th June, Sir William Waller stood with his army on Broughton Hill and saw 1,000 Royalist horse climbing the road north towards Williamscot. He became aware of a gap between them and what appeared to be the rest of the Royalist army just disappearing into Wardington. With this information he proposed two consecutive pincer attacks.
With the first attack he took about 800 horse across the ford at Slat Mill, leaving 1,500 commanded muskets at Slat Mill to defend the crossing. He then attacked the Earl of Northampton’s rearguard from behind whilst a further 400 horse and dragoons moved around to their flank via Cropredy Mill at the bottom of Williamscot Hill.
For the second pincer, he proposed to form the right flank at Williamscot with his combined horse, whilst Lt. John Middleton’s horse took Cropredy Bridge and redeployed on the left flank. The foote and big guns (artillery/canon) followed Middleton and reformed in the centre ready for an encircling attack around Wardington Hill and village.
The King saw things differently, he was nonchalantly having lunch under the Wardington Ash, a tree just off the road outside Williamscot. Most of his army were marching into and through Wardington and behind Hays Bridge. However, there was also another brigade of around 1,000 horse under the command of the Earl of Cleveland hidden behind Williamscot along with a number of foote. Wilmot’s brigade of about 1,000 horse were deployed below Wardington Hill, whilst a mere 150 dragoons under the command of Wentworth held Cropredy Bridge. We can only assume that the King was trying to lure Waller across the bridge in strength so he in turn could attack in a pincer movement.
From the start Waller’s plans unravelled. The City of London Brigade, three large foote regiments under the command of Harrington were in mutiny and refusing to leave Bourton Hill. Birch was arguing with them and Waller abandoned his flank attack so he could go back to Bourton Hill and sort it out.
As the unsuspecting 400 horse crossed at Cropredy Mill they were taken by surprise in the flank by Cleveland’s 1,000 Royalist horse, who charged over the edge of Williamscot Hill, pushing them into the river.
The Earl of Northampton spotted Waller’s attack forming and redeployed across the top of Williamscot Hill to face him.
Consequently the flank attack failed to materialise. Cleveland’s 1,000 horse charged downhill, broke Waller’s abandoned horse who then moved back across Slat Mill in disorder. Northampton was only prevented from following Waller’s horse by the 1,500 commanded musket which had been left at Slat Mill by Waller, and so Northampton reformed out of range.
Middleton’s 1,500 horse then charged across at Cropredy Mill and the adjacent ford, riding down Wentworth’s dragoons. Middleton’s force then reformed in the centre of the field facing General Wilmot and a charge took place in which Wilmot was wounded twice and captured.
Wilmot’s remaining horse were routed and were chased by jubilant elements of Middleton’s force.
The remaining Parliament foote and most of the guns straggled across Cropredy Bridge to find no sign of Middleton’s horse on their left or Waller’s horse on their right and were without any other orders.
Cleveland’s victorious horse circling Williamscot saw them and decided to charge again. The foote and guns were taken by surprise. The foote were chased into the river where many of them drowned or simply threw away their weapons in an attempt to escape. The guns were overrun and captured.
Cleveland was only prevented from crossing the bridge by Wheldon’s foote and the just arrived Tower Hamlets foote who, under the command of Birch, hastily lined the riverbank and gave fire. A few of Tower Hamlets foote charged across the bridge and rescued three of the guns. The rest of the guns were dragged away by Cleveland.
Middleton’s horse chased the remains of Wilmot’s cavalry to Hays Bridge where they encountered a mass of Royalist foote who turned to face them. Two thousand muskets lined the river and a baggage cart had been overturned on the bridge. The ensuing musketry convinced Middleton to retire, losing their prisoner, Wilmot in the confusion. Wilmot, then gathered his shattered command and followed Middleton whilst the King ordered his lifeguard of horse to go around the other side of Wardington Hill to help them.
The rear group of Middleton’s horse, who were lagging somewhat behind, noticed Cleveland’s second charge and were in the process of reforming to counter charge and rescue the guns, when their shattered first line returned followed by Wilmot. They were hit in the flank by Wilmot and the lifeguard. This broke them and they routed (ran). Most went towards the river and crashed into the mass of broken foote. But a few, including Heselrige’s horse (nicknamed the Lobsters, at Cropredy fought under the command of Middleton), managed to recapture Wilmot, and decided to gallop for the top of the hill hoping to get round the front of Cleveland at Williamscot and thus link up with Waller.
It became a desperate race. As the returning Royalist foote marched back along the road towards Williamscot, Heselrige’s horse crashed into the closing gap killing one of Cleveland’s colonels and riding over the King’s lifeguard of foote. They circled around the back of Williamscot to find not Waller but Northampton forcing a crossing of the river. Wilmot escaped again.
Both sides started a counter barrage. The King’s guns and those captured by Cleveland had little effect being mainly light guns at maximum range. Waller’s two remaining larger guns were on Bourton Hill further away.
The Engagement Ended with Nightfall
Records are unclear regarding the loss of life. Waller it is said lost 700 men, though many of them may have deserted. The Royalist’s loss would have probably been understated as Charles claimed the battle a victory.
But written first hand accounts state bodies of men and horses lay along the road to Wardington which would have been behind Royalist lines.