Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Brief Excursion into History

The battle of Lavers Field is one of the least known of the victories of the Royalists against Cromwell’s troops. Having been defeated at Turnham Green in 1642 , Charles was returning to Oxford to regroup his troops when they were met at Lavers Field by a full complement of parliamentarians.

Charles’ forces were in disarray and despite his large number of Cavalry would have been crushed against the halberdiers fielded by Cromwell. He withdrew to the nearby hamlet, commandeering the manor house for his staff and its grounds for his men and spent the night deep in discussion with his chief of staff.

On the following morning, the King faced troops that outnumbered his own by a factor of three to one and ordered his three companies to charge at a single point in the parliamentary lines, despite the threat of a crescent movement that would decimate his forces.

At the King’s Cavalry charged, the roundheads braced themselves against the attack until the piper sounded the retreat. Trusting their general and assuming that further Royalist forces had joined the fray, the halberdiers fell back and were cut down by the King’s Cavalry. Four hundred and seventy men died that day, only thirty of them Royalist.

Will Sykes, at his military trial, was acquitted when the surviving troops swore that the man who had sounded the retreat was not Sykes at all but a swarthy man reminiscent of a Saracen. No-one remembered what had happened to him afterwards, for he was not listed among the dead.

The events of that day lie buried in the archives of St. Pity’s church and are commemorated obliquely by a tavern in the hamlet of Brimmington, the Piper’s Retreat. The sign that swings over the door on even the stillest of days depicts a swarthy man with a bugle, although successive generations of publicans have had the fanciful reports of his wings painted out.

© Rachel Green 2007

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