English Civil War fought between 1642 and 1646, was a mobile
war with rival armies forever on the move. This war did not
consist of one or two major battles to decide the issue but
continued for four years with sieges, skirmishes, small and
very large battles ranging from the distant north to the
far south west of England.
Stow-on-the-Wold lies on the junction of
eight roads so consequently both the royalist and parliamentary
armies frequently passed through the town. In 1644, King
Charles, on route to Evesham, passed through with a small
army. In hot pursuit was a larger parliamentary army under
the command of Sir William Waller who went on to Winchcombe.
The king came back through Stow-on-the-Wold a few days later,
on his way to Witney again followed by Waller. One wonders
what the inhabitants of Stow made of all this.
King Charles I came to Stow for a third
time just before the battle of Naseby in 1645. This time
he stayed the night, taking lodgings at the inn in the lower
corner of the square now called The King’s Arms. His
army camped along the Maugersbury road. After Naseby, Lord
Fairfax, leading parliamentary forces passed through Stow-on-the-Wold
on their way to Lechlade. It would only be a matter of time
before these rival armies arrived in Stow-on-the-Wold at
the same time. In March 1646, they did and this time Stow-on-the-Wold
would provide the setting for the last battle of the English
Despite the defeat of the Royalist army
at Naseby the king still thought he could overthrow the parliamentary
forces if he could gather the surviving royalist forces from
the West Midland and Welsh borders and get them to his base
in Oxford. The task of gathering the remaining soldiers and
marching them back to Oxford fell to Sir Jacob Astley.
Parliamentary forces soon had news of Astley’s
return march and started to converge on them from Gloucester,
Evesham, Hereford and Lichfield. The parliamentary army under
the command of Colonel Thomas Morgan blocked Astley’s
attempt to cross the River Avon at Evesham and several days
were spent marching and counter-marching. Morgan withdrew
to Chipping Campden in the hope that Astley would cross the
river and then engage him in battle. Astley eventually crossed
at Bidford-on-Avon and marched through Broadway before climbing
Fish Hill. Morgan did not attack as he was waiting for re-enforcements
from Lichfield and he allowed Astley to pass by. Information
reached Morgan that the royalist army was to be joined by
cavalry sent by the King from Oxford so when his re-enforcements
finally arrived he decided to attack.
Before dawn on the 21st March, Morgan’s reconnaissance found Astley’s army drawn up in battle
order on high ground close to the village of Donnington about
1½ miles north of Stow-on-the-Wold. As soon as it
was light, Morgan attacked up the hill but his left wing
were driven back in confusion and then overpowered. At first
victory seemed doubtful. Morgans’s right wing of cavalry pressed the attack and successfully routed the royalist cavalry who left the field. In the centre, the royalist forces held their ground against the parliamentary attack, which was forced to withdraw.
A second parliamentary advance followed and this time the royalist forces were pushed back in the
direction of Stow. Fighting continued into the Square and local legend tells that blood flowed down Digbeth Street such was the slaughter. Fighting in the town ended with the capture of Astley. A drum was brought for the royalist commander to sit and rest on; he was after all sixty-six years old and a true veteran of over forty years military service. He was clearly able to see the finality and the significance of this battle because he said to his captors:
'Gentlemen, ye may now sit down and play,
for you have done all your Worke,
if you fall not out among yourselves!’
These prophetic words described the years
that were to follow as people struggled to define a future
role for parliament and the crown.
After the battle, the royalist prisoners
were held overnight in St. Edward’s Church because
it was the most secure building in the town and large enough
to hold such a number. The dead were laid in Digbeth Street,
which re-enforces the legend of blood flowing down the road.
To this day, their burial site remains a mystery.
Subsequently the prisoners were marched
to Gloucester and after further confinement; they were exchanged
for parliamentary prisoners or released on oath not to take
up arms again.
Sir Jacob Astley was imprisoned in Warwick
Castle until his release in June when Oxford surrendered
to parliamentary forces. He eventually retired to his family
house in Kent after a long and most eventful life. He died
in 1652 at the age of 72.
Colonel Thomas Morgan saw service in Scotland
and was promoted to the rank of major-general. He fought
in Flanders and was involved in the war with Holland when
he became governor of Jersey. He died in 1679, a fine soldier
who had served parliament and his country well.
In April King Charles I, realising his cause
was lost, slipped away in disguise from Oxford and surrendered
So, in and around this hill top town of
Stow-on-the-Wold was fought the last battle of the English
Civil War which was ultimately to lead to the execution of
the king and to lay the foundation of our parliamentary democracy.
Less than half a mile to the west of Donnington,
on a pubic footpath, stands a stone obelisk marking the sight
where the Royalist forces spent the night before the battle
and where they drew up to defend themselves. It is plain
to see the commanding position they held and the difficult
slope the parliamentary army had to climb in order to dislodge
Today a simple stone stands in the churchyard
of St Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-Wold, to honour
all those men who fought and died for their beliefs.