Battle of Brentford (1642)

The Battle of Brentford was a small pitched battle which took place on 12 November, 1642, between a cavalry detachment of the Royalist army under the command of Prince Rupert and two cavalry regiments of Parliamentarian forces. The result was a victory for the Royalists.


After the Battle of Edgehill (23 October) King Charles I captured Banbury (27 October) and was greeted by cheering crowds as he arrived in Oxford on 29 October. Prince Rupert swept down the Thames Valley, capturing Abingdon, Aylesbury and Maidenhead, from where he attempted to capture Windsor though failed due to Parliamentary strength there. After this many officers wanted to open peace negotiations, contrary to Rupert’s desire to carry on to London, but the king agreed with the officers and so the Earl of Essex managed to overtake them and reach London with his Parliamentary army by the 8 November.


While in Reading Charles decided that the peace talks were inconclusive, and that if he advanced on London it might place him in a better negotiating position. So on 11 November he moved his army closer to London by encamping at Colnbrook and to put further pressure on the Parliamentarians he ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford.


On 12 November under cover of an early morning mist Rupert's cavalry attacked two regiments of Parliamentary cavalry, one under the command of Denzil Holles and the other of Lord Brooke. Many of the Parliamentary cavalry turned tail and fled rather than engage in battle, but Holles's men were still able to put up a stiff resistance before withdrawing under the protection of John Hampden's infantry brigade. Nevertheless a large number of Holles's men were drowned while trying to escape their pursuers by swimming across the Thames. The Royalists captured 15 guns and 11 colours and about 500 prisoners, including John Lilburne the commander of the Brentford garrison.


Having won the battle the Royalist forces sacked the town. This action encouraged those Londoners who feared for their property to side with the Parliamentarians. On 13 November the main Parliamentary army under the command of Earl of Essex's heavily reinforced with the London trainbands and other London citizenry, assemble as an army of about 24,000 on Chelsea Field and advanced to Turnham Green in the vicinity of the main body of the Royalist army. At a standoff known as the Battle of Turnham Green, the senior Parliamenterian Officers not trusting the training of the their forces in a battle of manoeuvre chose not to attack, and the King decided not to press his advance on London by giving battle against a force much larger than his decided, as it was near the end of the campaigning season, to retreat to Oxford where his army could be billeted over the winter.

Lilburne was the first prominent Roundhead captured in the war, the Royalists intended to try him for high treason. But when Parliament threatened to execute Royalist prisoners in reprisal, Lilburne was exchanged for a Royalist officer.


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