#OnThisDay in 1642 - The Battle of Powick Bridge
23 September 2015
A daring raid on a convoy laden with treasure, a dashing young prince charging to the rescue, the opening salvo of a war between King and Parliament that would end on virtually the same ground - what was the Battle of Powick Bridge?
While the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642 was the first major battle of the English Civil War, it was at a bridge near Worcester where the first significant military action of the war took place.
After raising his Royal standard at Nottingham on 22 August and effectively declaring war against Parliament, King Charles I moved towards Shrewsbury in order to pick up armaments and fresh troops from areas sympathetic to his cause. Meanwhile, Sir John Byron had left Oxford with a large convoy of money and silver plate, donated by the university for the King's cause and bound for Worcester.
As Parliament's newly-raised 21,000-strong army marched from Northampton towards Worcester, its general, The Earl of Essex, sent an advance guard of around 1,000 Roundhead horse and dragoons under Colonel John Brown to intercept Byron's slow-moving convoy and capture its wealth.
Aware that the Parliamentarians were closing in, the King’s nephew - Prince Rupert of the Rhine - took a detachment to protect the convoy.
Rupert was the definition of the ‘Dashing Cavalier’ stereotype - young, daring, handsome, courageous. He was to have a significant role to play in the war and in how the Royalist cause would be viewed by history.
At dawn on 23 September, Colonel Brown's detachment took up position near Powick Bridge on the River Teme, south of Worcester. He intended to attack Byron's convoy when it emerged from Worcester.
Farcically, Brown did not know that Rupert’s detachment was positioned just a couple of fields away and when he sent Colonel Sandys' cavalry regiment across Powick Bridge to occupy Wick Field at the end of the lane leading from the bridge, they were fired upon by dragoons that Rupert had ordered to line the hedges of that same lane.
Sandys rushed forward to get out of the ambush and into the open ground of Wick Field, unknowingly blundering straight into Rupert's main force. Rupert and his men charged, Sandys was killed, and the Parliamentarians were driven back down the lane.
Although Brown's dragoons on Powick Bridge covered the retreat before withdrawing, many of the Parliamentarian cavalry, taken by surprise and given fright, thought they were being pursued and did not stop retreating until they had reached Essex’s main army many miles to the south.
The silverware from Oxford had been saved and would bankroll the King in the early stages of the war.
Powick was a major propaganda victory for the Royalist cause and it had a profound psychological effect on both sides - Prince Rupert’s reputation amongst the common troops for being invincible was founded here and would not be finally shaken off until his defeat at Marston Moor in 1644, plus it also dealt a serious blow to the morale of the Parliamentarian cavalry.
By coincidence the English Civil Wars ended at Worcester almost exactly nine years later. On 3 September 1651, Parliament’s New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell crushed the Scottish ‘Engager’ army of Charles II, forcing the new King to flee to the Continent and bringing the wars to a close.
After the battle, the radical preacher Hugh Peters gave a sermon in which he remarked that Worcester was “where England's sorrows began, and where they were happily ended".
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