Military Times remembers the Battle of Turnham Green, the strategically significant English Civil War confrontation, which celebrates its anniversary this weekend.
11th November is traditionally associated with the Day of Armistice 1918, when the Great War finally ended, after five gruelling years of turmoil and suffering. When considering the huge-death toll and global devastation of ‘the war to end all wars’, there is no denying the magnitude of the day, or its place in history. The 13th November, however, marks a decidedly more understated, yet still significant, military engagement closer to home, which may well have altered the course of British history.
Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex
Almost 370 years ago, in 1642, Charles I’s Royalist force of up to 13,000 men met a 24,000-strong Parliamentary army, led by the Earl of Essex at Turnham Green, in what is now West London (and the home of Military Times) – one of the largest gatherings of opposing forces ever assembled on English soil.
In fact very little fighting actually took place; the battle was more a standoff between the two opposing forces broken only periodically by a series of small skirmishes. A Parliamentary garrison, led by Essex, had suffered heavy losses the day before at Brentford in a pitched battle at the hands of Prince Rupert’s cavalry. However, despite the sizeable armies assembled at Turnham Green, the casualty rate was miniscule, with neither side loosing more than around twenty men a piece. Strategically, however, it was a crucial turning point in the English Civil War, as Parliamentary forces gained a tactical advantage over their anointed king.
Christ Church, now situated on the eastern half of Turnham Green
Charles, on the advice of his advisors, did not want to engage with the opposing army, not least for fear of a backlash, further accentuating anti-Royal hysteria amongst the already hostile Londoners. With support from regiments of the London militia, the Earl of Warwick’s new army and volunteers from the city, Essex had the advantage of strength. Furthermore, unlike the Royalist army, who were by now prohibitively short of both rations and ammunition, he had a direct supply route from the city.
The Parliamentary army’s blockage of London forced the king to retreat to Oxford, which would become his official base for the remainder of the war. Indeed, this relatively sedentary encounter would prove decisive in successfully curtailing the Royalist advance on London for the duration of the war. Both sides appreciated the strategic, economic and psychological importance of securing the capital. Hence the failure to seize London was arguably pivotal in Charles I’s ultimate downfall.