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With the King at Oxford by  Alfred J. Church

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OF THE FIGHT AT COPREDY BRIDGE

[81] OF his Majesty's marchings and counter-marchings, after his coming to the City of Worcester, I shall not write in this place, save to say that they were ordered with such skill as utterly confounded his pursuers. But they that read this book will, I doubt not, pardon me if I speak somewhat particularly of the battle which his Majesty fought at Copredy Bridge, seeing that it was the first battle in which I had a hand.

On the twenty-eighth day of June, being a Friday, the army lay for the night in the field, eastward of Banbury. The next day the King marched to the North, having the Cherwell River on his left hand, Sir William Waller at the same time coasting on the other side of the river. My father and I were with the rear of the army, in which were a thousand foot and [82] two brigades of horse of which the one was commanded by my Lord Northampton, and the other by my Lord Cleveland. In this latter was the regiment of which my father had charge for the time. About noon we halted to dine. This business finished, we began again to march, not expecting that the enemy, who was some way distant from the river, would fall upon us. But about two of the clock we noted that the body of the army—with which was the King himself—had since dinner made such haste that there was now a great space left between them and us ; for we had received no command to quicken our marching. Being somewhat uneasy at this—for it was not to be doubted that Sir William Waller, being a man experienced in warfare, would take occasion of this dividing of the army to fall upon us we spied certain scattered horsemen riding towards us, with such hurry and confusion as men are when they are pursued. While we wondered what this might mean comes a rider post-haste to my Lord Cleveland, and says:

"My Lord, be on your guard, and make [83] ready to defend yourselves. The enemy has taken Copredy Bridge, which the Dragoons were keeping for the King, and will cross the river in a short space of time. 'Tis said that he has five thousand men and twenty pieces of cannon."

These numbers were exaggerated by fame, as is commonly the case, for there were, in truth, little more than half the number. At the same time, we perceived that a brigade of horse, which we reckoned at about a thousand, had crossed the river by a certain ford, which was a mile below the bridge, and was ready to fall upon us in the rear. These latter, being the nearer to us of the two, seemed to my Lord Cleveland to demand his first care. Thereupon he drew up his brigade to a rising ground, which faced the ford aforesaid, and passed the word that we should make ready to charge. Then we all descended from our horses and looked to our saddle-girths, that they should not fail us, and to the trimming of our pistols. Then, mounting again, we drew our swords, and so sat waiting for the word. Whether during that said waiting I felt any fear I can scarce say. [84] 'Tis, indeed, a mighty difficult thing clearly to distinguish between fear and other feelings that are somewhat akin to it. The Latins had a certain word—trepidare, to wit—which has a singular variety of meaning, That it has something to do with "trembling" there can scarce be doubt, and it does often signify such agitation of mind as is commonly shown by trembling; yet sometimes also its meaning seems to be "haste" only; and, indeed, a man may tremble for eagerness and not for fear. That I had any thought of flying or shrinking back I can, with a good conscience, deny. A man must be beside himself with fear that should think of such a thing; but my heart beat mighty quick, and I thought of them that were dear to me as might one who thinks to see them no more. While these things were in my mind comes my father, riding along in front of she line, to see that all were ready. When he comes to me—I being placed at the right end of the line—he laid his right hand on my shoulder, and said, "Be steady, son Philip; let not your horse carry you too fast. That you be not too slow I need not warn [85] you." ('Twas marvellous what heart he put into me by these words, which seemed to take my courage as something beyond doubt.) "Give the point of your sword to an enemy rather than the edge, and keep your pistols for a last resource, when you shalt find yourself in close quarters with an enemy and like to be hard pressed."

When he had said so much the trumpet sounded for a charge, and we set spurs to our horses, and rode, slowly at the first, and keeping our ranks passably well, but afterwards at our horses' full speed, and in a certain disorder. I do believe that the veriest coward upon earth could not fear if he once found himself riding in a charge; a man cannot choose but forget himself, and, if he have no courage of his own, he takes that of his company and is content to meet dangers at which he would otherwise tremble and grow pale. The enemy had scarce finished their crossing of the river; and though they put on a bold face, and even began to move forward to encounter us, they could not stand, but were broken at the first encounter. For myself, I clean forgot my father's command that [86] I should give the point of my sword, and struck lustily, often missing my blow altogether, and doing but little at other times but blunting my sword. 'Twas all the better so for one of the enemy's horse that was overthrown by our charge. He was a lad of seventeen or thereabouts, a brave youth, for he would stand his ground though his men left him. But now he and his horse went down before us, and that straight in my way. Thereupon, being on the ground and helpless, he cried "Quarter!" Now, whether or no I heard him is more than I can say, but I must confess with shame that I was so carried out of myself with the fury of battle that it was as if he had not spoken, for I struck at him, so lying, with all my might. But the fury which caused me so to forget myself did also make me altogether miss my aim. God be thanked therefore! for otherwise that day had been to me for all my life such a shame and sorrow as cannot be expressed. As I was in the act to lift my sword again—for I will conceal nothing—I felt a hand upon my arm that held it as with a grip of iron; and my father, for it was he, cried in such a voice as I had [87] never before heard from his lips, "What savage is that that will slay a Christian man when he cries 'Quarter'? "Thereat I dropped my sword, being, so to speak, come to myself, and mightily ashamed. My father leapt down from his horse, and said to the young man, "Yield yourself to me, and you shall suffer no harm." Then the young man, who, now that I had leisure, I could see to be a cornet, yielded up his sword, and my father bade one of the troopers take him to the rear. This done, he turned him to me and said, "I had almost as lief you were a coward as a madman. Be you one or the other, this is not fit place for you, and you had better depart."

"Nay, my father," I said, "disgrace me not. I will hold myself in better check hereafter."


[Illustration]

A GUNNER.

By this time the enemy had fallen back on their supports, and my Lord Cleveland sounded the bugle, and we rode back slowly to our former place. There was, I remember, a great ash-tree there, under which the King stayed to take his dinner. Looking about him there, my Lord saw another body of the enemy within [88] musket shot of him and advancing upon him (these were the Parliament men that had come over the bridge). I doubt not but that in any case he would have charged them, though they counted sixteen cornets of horse and as many colours of foot, but now he was the more encouraged, because he saw that the body of the King's army was drawing to his help. When the enemy saw him move forwards, they halted, hiding behind the hedges, and delivered their volley of musket and carbine shot, which volley, though it emptied some of our saddles, stayed not our charge. Indeed, they did not abide our approach (and, indeed, I have noted that for the most part there is but little crossing of swords or pikes in battle, but they that give place yield to the persuasion of superior force that they conceive in their minds), but we drave them, with scarce a blow struck, beyond their cannon. These also we took, being eleven in number, and besides the cannon two barricadoes of wood drawn up on wheels; in each of these were seven small guns of brass and leather, loaded with case-shot, which, by God's mercy, they had not tarried to discharge; else, I doubt [89] not, we had suffered much damage. Certain of the cannoneers were killed, and the general of the ordnance taken prisoner. This was a certain Scotsman, by name Wemyss, who was in very ill favour with the King's men, because, having been made master-gunner of England, with a very considerable pension, to the prejudice of many honest Englishmen, he took the first opportunity to do him hurt. Many other prisoners were taken, nearly two hundred in all. In this charge I bore myself more discreetly, riding as close as I could to my father, but I found no occasion to cross swords with any enemy, for here again they did not abide our charge, but turned when we were about a pistol-shot from them. As for them that were slain, who were in number more than the prisoners, they fell in the flight, for the most part without striking a blow, though some parties of them rallied and fought for their lives. Of our party there fell, chiefly in this way, somewhat less than a score, among whom were two colonels of regiments.

Here was finished my part in this battle. Of what else was done that day little needs to be [90] said. The horsemen that crossed by the ford, making head again and threatening our rear, were charged by my Lord Northampton, and driven across the river; indeed, these stayed not at all my Lord's approach, but fled so speedily and so far that 'tis said they never returned again to their own army.

So far things went altogether well for the King. But when his Majesty would himself attack the enemy he fared not so well. The bridge he could not take for all his endeavours, which he continued from three of the clock in the afternoon till nightfall; and though his men took the ford that was below and a mill adjoining thereto, and held them that day and the next also, not being supported by their fellows, they were compelled to retire. 'Tis beyond doubt, however, that the victory rested with the King; for though when the battle was finished each party held the same ground that it had at the first, yet the enemy lost many times more both in killed and prisoners. Nor must it be forgotten, as showing what the rebels themselves did think of the matter, that whereas Sir William Waller on the day of the battle had [91] eight thousand men with him, fourteen days afterward there remained with him not half that number.

The next day the cornet of horse whom my father had taken prisoner was exchanged. It was his good fortune that on our side also there had been taken an officer of the same degree. He was a lad of sixteen or thereabouts, somewhat weakly of body, though of a very high spirit, and was carried by his horse, which he could not by any means restrain, into the midst of the enemy. As for the colonels and others of high degree, they had to wait, there not being any of ours who could be exchanged against them. We had some talk with the lad while we lay encamped that night on the field of battle), but he held back and would say but little. But this much I gathered from him, that he had gone to the wars without the consent of his father. At the same time he was very hot about certain wrongs which his father had suffered from the King or the King's Ministers, though what they were he did not more particularly set forth. He told me that he came from Northamptonshire, and that his father had purposed to send him to [92] Lincoln College, in which this county, as belonging to the diocese of Oxford, has with others a certain preference.

On the last day of June I returned to Oxford, my father remaining with the King, who was minded to march westward.


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