Famous for its tranquil scenes of lazy rivers winding round sleeping villages in honey-coloured Cotswold stone, it is hard to believe that this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could have been anything other than peaceful. Even harder to imagine its rolling hills as the stage for some of the Civil War’s bloody battles. The Cotswolds were of great strategic importance in the Civil War; with the main strongholds being the king’s headquarters in Oxford, the Parliamentarians’ garrisons in Bristol and Gloucester and Malmesbury and Cirencester being key sympathiser locations.
Key Players and Dates in the English Civil War
The English Civil War was fought in many battles, sieges and violent skirmishes up and down the country from 1642 – 1651, between the Parliamentarians (the Roundheads / supporters of Parliament) and the Royalists (the Cavaliers / supporters of King Charles I). Charles I eventually lost, leading to his trial and execution the exile of his son (later to become Charles II), and the replacement of the monarchy with the Commonwealth Oliver Cromwell.
The Battle of Stow on the Wold – North Cotswolds
The market town of Stow on the Wold is the highest of the Cotswold towns at 800 feet high atop Stow Hill, and central to the North Cotswolds, sitting at a key junction of eight major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way. Both armies at various points therefore passed through or near to the town. To walk through Stow is to walk through a battle ground. On the 21st March 1646, a Royalist army marched through the area desperately seeking to join up with the King in Oxford. Met by a Parliamentary army at Stow, a fierce battle ensued. It was so bloody that ducks were said to be ‘able to bathe in the pools of blood that formed on the street’ leading to the origin of the street’s name “Digbeth” or “Ducks’ Bath”. For more information on this particular battle head over to historic-uk
The Battle of Lansdown – Along the Cotswolds Way
It is true that history can be traced along paths worn into the earth. Few realise that the final section of the Cotswold Way, a popular walking route running the length of the Cotswold escarpment, tracks the same path of a retreating Parliamentarian army away from battle, hundreds of years before.
On the 5th July 1643 the final stages of the Battle of Lansdown were fought just north of Bath. Today, a dry stone wall runs along an unassuming field, unremarkable except for a small plaque set off to one side, quietly noting the importance of this site in English History. On that day in 1643, the Royalists, aiming to capture the city of Bath before moving on towards Bristol, were met by the Parliamentarians, set on defending the city. On closer inspection, the wall is noticeably puckered and dented, its repairs becoming visible – holes where cannons had fired and through which horses had charged. The bombardment continued hour after hour until darkness fell and the Parliamentarian army withdrew into Bath, leaving decoy matches of musketeers slung over that same wall, glowing in the darkness and disguising the retreat of 6800 men who felt their way back down the valley in complete darkness and total silence.
These are only two of many battles fought in the Cotswolds during the Civil War as the area was of great strategic importance. Many other towns that our tours travel through have similar links to the Civil War, including Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water.
Quirky Cotswolds Names, a History of Violence… or Not?
Ironically, the village of Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds, gets its name from the old English for muddy place and not violence. In fact, upper slaughter is a ‘doubly thankful’ village, one of only thirteen villages in the country to see all of their men sent off in both world wars return safe.
Our Cotswolds Cycling and Walking Tours range from guided group trips, to self-guided adventures, rural escapes or journeys to see the highlights on our iconic Classic tours: everything from Blenheim Palace to Stonehenge, Bath to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Walk the 102 miles of the Cotswolds Way and discover the depth of history contained within these hills!