The Battle of Stow
Stow on the Wold saw the final battle of the first Civil War on 21st March 1646, where Charles I's senior infantry commander, Sir Jacob Astley (right), was captured and the King's last field army was destroyed, ending any residual royalist hope. After 365 years we may soon know the site where the Battle of Stow on the Wold started, before running skirmishes led to the defeat of the Royalists in the Square. The Square is the heart of Stow now as it was then and as you wander round during the Cotswold Festival just imagine the scenes described below.
By early 1646 King Charles' army was severely depleted, having suffered a string of defeats at the hands of Parliament's New Model Army which started with the battle of Naseby in June1645. He ordered Lord Astley to gather up his forces around Worcester and the Welsh Marches and to proceed toward Oxford to reinforce his garrison there.
Parliament received news of this and Cromwell ordered Cols Morgan and Birch, and Sir William Brereton's Cavalry to intercept and attack Astley.
Astley cleverly diverted his march toward Droitwich as if he intended to relieve the besieged Royalist garrison at Lichfield. Astley then diverted south. Brereton, who had come to Stratford from Lichfield to intercept the Royalists, received intelligence that Astley had diverted back to Birmingham and set off in pursuit. But Astley instead crossed the Avon at Bidford using floating pontoons and headed for Broadway marching along Buckle Street. Morgan and Birch, who had earlier crossed the Avon, positioned themselves at Chipping Campden waiting for Brereton to catch up. They needed to intercept Astley before he could meet up with the King's forces coming from Oxford.
By this time Astley had gathered between 2-3000 men including about 800 cavalry. Astley proceeded along what is now the A424 Evesham Road until he had word that the Parliamentarians, by now having been joined by Brereton's cavalry, were close behind. Rather than being caught in line of march (one account states they had been marching all night), he deployed his forces "in battalia" on open ground north of Stow on the Wold and waited for dawn on 21st March 1646.
The Parliamentarians attacked at first light and a fierce and brutal, but short battle followed. The Parliamentarians had superiority of numbers, probably up to 2000 infantry and 1700 cavalry, and put the Royalists to flight. They were driven into the market square of Stow where they were set upon by the Parliamentarians, and many Royalists were slaughtered. One can only imagine the scene in the square today, over 4000 men and cavalry fighting hand to hand. Blood was said to be flowing in the gutters and down Digbeth Street. Eventually more than 1500 Royalist prisoners were taken and held in St Edwards Church, the largest building available, overnight with "little provision for their needs or comfort".
After his capture, sitting on a drum near the market cross, Astley is said to have uttered one of the most often quoted of all phrases from the war "Gentlemen, yee may now sit downe and play, for you have done all your worke, if you fall not out amongst your Selves".