Battle of Islip

24th April 1645


Name: Battle of Islip

Date: 24th April 1645

War period: Civil Wars

Start time and duration: early morning

Outcome: Parliamentarian Victory lasting about 30 minutes

Armies and losses: Royalist army of around 700 cavalry commanded by James Compton, earl of Northampton; Parliamentarian force of 1,500 commanded by Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell: Total losses, mainly royalists 60–200.

Location: Almost certainly north of the village of Islip.

Map Details: Grid Reference: SP 52265 15011 (452262, 215051); OS Landranger map: 164; OS Explorer map: 180

Cromwell surprises and defeats a royalist cavalry brigade seeking to beat up his quarters in a short encounter battle north of Islip

On the 23 April 1645 Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell commenced a raid around the royalist capital at Oxford. Designed to delay the royalist’s summer campaign, Cromwell was instructed to prevent the King’s artillery train from leaving the city and joining Prince Rupert who was with the army quartered about Worcester. To assist the King, Rupert had dispatched a brigade of horse under the command of James Compton, earl of Northampton, which arrived at Oxford on 19 April. The brigade included the regiments of the earl of Northampton, the Queen, and Lord Wilmot (now under Sir Aymes Pollard). Edmund Ludlow claimed a regiment of Oxfordshire-based horse under Colonel Richard Palmer was also present, though Cromwell failed to mention the regiment in his account of the battle. On 23 April, Northampton was quartered in the village of Islip whilst the remaining regiments were billeted in villages further to the north.

After concentrating his brigade at Watlington on 23 April, Cromwell struck north along the London-Worcester Road. Passing through Bullingdon and Shotover Wood, the parliamentarians headed for Islip where there was a bridge over the river Ray. Although Cromwell intended to surprise the royalists in their billets, the latter were alerted by the parliamentarian forlorn-hope and Northampton, deciding not to risk a battle, retreated to gather reinforcements. Cromwell and his men quartered that night at Islip.

After retreating from the village, the earl of Northampton decided to attempt to halt Cromwell’s advance by beating up his quarters. Gathering his regiments, which were quartered at Bletchingdon, Hampton and Weston, Northampton advanced back down the road towards Islip early the next morning. Instead of surprising the parliamentarians, it was Northampton who was surprised. Although not all of Cromwell’s men were readily deployed, he sent Lord General Fairfax’s regiment forward to engage the advancing royalists. Coming over a rise the parliamentarians easily dispersed the lead royalist regiment. A second charge entered the main body and when the rest of Cromwell’s brigade came forward the royalist rout was complete.

Following the battle, Cromwell moved north and captured Bletchingdon House. Over the next two days he routed royalist forces at Witney and Bampton but was eventually checked at Faringdon on 29 April. Meanwhile the King had summoned Rupert and Lord Goring to assist him. Goring managed to halt Cromwell’s raid in a skirmish at Radcot Bridge on 3 May. Four days later, at a council of war at Stow, Goring was sent back to the west whilst Rupert and the King took the road that ultimately led them to defeat at the battle of Naseby.

The site of the battle is almost certainly on the northern outskirts of the village. Not only is the terrain ideal for cavalry, the crest of the hill on the approach to Islip from the north is the only feature capable of screening Cromwell’s cavalry from view, allowing him to surprise the oncoming royalists. The London to Worcester road, a major highway during the period, provided the quickest and most direct route between the earl’s forces concentrated at Bletchingdon and Cromwell at Islip. The traditional site of the battle is marked as being near the bridge on an information board on the village green. This is clearly incorrect as Cromwell’s start position for the battle was across the bridge in the village itself and the royalists advanced to engage from the north.

Islip is still an attractive village with some modern development to the north and west. In the centre of the village some of the houses date from the 17th century and its narrow streets give a feel for how the settlement might have looked at the time of the battle. There is still a bridge across the river Ray on the south side of the village, although it is not the one that existed at the time of the battle. There are several footpaths around the village, though unfortunately, none lead to or around the battlefield. Nevertheless, a good view of the likely site of the fighting can be gained around the entrance to the lane to Chipping and Brookfurlong Farms. Whilst it is possible to reach this by walking north from the village along the left–hand verge of the B4027, the road can be busy at times with fast travelling vehicles, and it is better to drive north along the B4027 to see and then pass over the battlefield. Visitors should also be aware that the lane itself and the battlefield are on private land with no access.

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