The Battle of Aylesbury in 1642 was a vital moment in the King’s advance after Edgehill. Many have forgotten it. However, it was a key prelude to the battles of Brentford and Turnham Green outside London.
This page aims to provide historical notes to accompany God’s Vindictive Wrath by Charles Cordell. The notes are listed in order roughly matching the text. They cover the Battle of Aylesbury in 1642. This website includes more notes to other sections of the novel. These include the Battle of Edgehill and the Battle of Brentford.
The Importance of Aylesbury – 1st to 3rd November 1642
Many parliamentary reports place Rupert at Aylesbury. However, Rupert led the King’s advance on the main access along the Thames Valley. We know this from his own diary. It is likely that Wilmot was dispatched to Aylesbury to act as a flank-guard. It is also possible that Wilmot intended to intercept the Welsh beef droves heading for London. Wilmot arrived in Aylesbury at 0600 on 1 Nov 1642.
Welsh cattle drovers fattened cattle in the Vale of Aylesbury each November. The ancient ‘Welsh Road’ ran from South Wales via the Aust crossing of the Severn. It continued via Gloucester, Weatley, Thame, Missendon, and on to Smithfield and London. The welsh drove their cattle to fairs in the Home Counties for early November. These included Blackwater (8th November) and Farnham (10th November). A typical droves might have fifty head of cattle.
Flocks of geese and the famous Aylesbury ducks were also driven to London ahead of Christmas. Travelling pedlars sold wares and brought news to villages. Other performers, such as a fiddler, or crowder would move to the same fairs as the cattle drovers. They would be happy to play for a few coins. Despite the war, traders would have moved as they always had done. Only now refugees swelled the traffic on the roads.
The Battle of Aylesbury – 3rd November 1642
Essex followed the line of Watling Street (now the A5) with the main body of his army towards St Albans and London. However, he sent a separate, smaller force further South towards Aylesbury. He probably intended it as a flank guard to protect his march. Whatever the intention, this force clashed with Wilmot just outside Aylesbury.
The Battle of Aylesbury has been much misunderstood. It remains a subject of debate. This probably stems from reliance on parliamentary propaganda rather than historical fact. Ye Battle Of Aylesbury, 1642: Good and Joyful News out of Buckinghamshire, London, 1642 (E.126) may be correct in reporting the rough outline of the battle. However, it is clearly written from one perspective only.
It is likely that the parliamentarian force was led by Balfour’s Horse. They were followed by John Hampden’s local Buckinghamshire Foot and Grantham’s Lincolns. These clashed with what were probably two royalist horse regiments. However, these were part of Wilmot’s brigade. Rupert was not present. His own diary places him in the Thames Valley.
Almost certainly, the action took place on the afternoon of Thursday the 3rd of November 1642 (not the 1st). We know that Essex did not reach Olney until late on the 2nd. It would seem military unreasonable for Essex to have sent a force so far ahead of his main body. We also know that Hampden wrote to the Parliamentary Committee in Aylesbury on the 1st to say that he could not march until the next day.
The battle itself was probably a running contact rather than a pitched (static) battle. However, the main action almost certainly took place around what is now Holman’s Bridge. This was a ford in 1642.
Although only a minor action, there were a significant number of casualties at the Battle of Aylesbury. Some 247 bodies were unearthed near Holman’s Bridge in 1818. Some still had hair and bits of brain intact. They were reburied in the churchyard at Hardwick with the following inscription:
“Within are deposited the bones of 247 Persons who were discovered A.D. 1818, buried in a field adjoining to Holman’s Bridge, near Aylesbury. From the History and appearances of the place where they were found, they were considered to be the bones of those officers and men who perished in an engagement fought A.D. 1642.”
Ultimately, Wilmot was forced to withdraw from Aylesbury. By the end of the battle, the Puritan town was up in arms and threatening Wilmot’s rear. He pulled his force back to Thame. He then moved South to Colnbrook, which he occupied on the 5th of November 1642.
I hope you found these notes on the Battle of Aylesbury and peace talks at Colnbrook in 1642 useful. You may also want to read my notes on the Battle of Edgehill and the race from Edgehill to London. This site also has notes on the Battle of Brentford and London’s Lines of Communication.
You can also read about Pike and Shot Warfare. This article explains the clash between Dutch and Swedish military doctrines at Edgehill in 1642. More articles on The General Crisis of the 17th Century, including the Wars of Religion, The Thirty Years War, and the Great Rebellion are also at Notes and Maps.
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