The Garrison of Basing House, the seat of the Marquis of Winchester, in which himself was and commanded, had been now straitly besieged, for the space of above three months, by a conjunction of the parliament troops of Hampshire and Sussex, under the command of Norton, Onslow, Jarvis, Whitehead, and Morley, all colonels of regiments, and now united in this service under the command of Norton; a man of spirit, and of the greatest fortune of all the rest. It was so closely begirt before the king’s march into the west, and was looked upon as a place of such Importance, that when the king sent notice to Oxford of his resolution to march into the west, the council humbly desired this majesty, ” that he would make Basing his way, and thereby relive it” which his majesty found would have retarded his march too much, and might have invited Waller the sooner to follow him; and therefore declined it. From that time, the marquis, by frequent expresses. importuned the lords of the council ” to provide, in some manner, for his relief; and not to suffer his person, and a place from whence the rebels received so much prejudice, to fall into their hands” The lady marchioness, his wife, was in Oxford; and solicited very diligently the timely preservation of her husband; which made every body desire to gratify her, being a lady of great honour and alliance, as sister to the earl of Essex, and to the lady marchioness of Hertford; who was likewise in the town, and engaged her husband to take this business to heart; and all the Roman Catholics, who were numerous in the town, looked upon themselves as concerned to contribute all they could to the good work, and so offered to list themselves and their servants in the service.
The council, both upon public and private motives, was very heartily disposed to effect it; and had several conferences together, and with the officers; in all which the governor too reasonably opposed the design “as full of more difficulties, and liable to greater damages, than any soldier, who understood command, would expose himself and the kings service to;” and protested, “that he would not suffer any of the small garrison that was under his charge to be hazarded in the attempt”. It was very true, Basing war near forty miles from Oxford, and in the way between them the enemy has a strong garrison of horse and foot at Abingdon, and as strong at Reading, whose horse every day visited all the highways near, besides a body of horse and dragoons quartered at Newbury; so that it appeared to most men hardly possible to send a party to Basing, and impossible for that party to return to Oxford, if they should be able to get to Basing; yet new importunities from the marquis, with a positive declarations, “that he could not defend it above ten days, and must then submit to the worst conditions the rebels were like to grant to his person, and to his religion;” and new instances from his lady prevailed with the lords to enter upon a new consultation; in which the governor persisted in his old resolution, as seeing no cause to change it.
In this debate colonel Gage declared, ” that though he thought the service full of hazard, especially for the return; yet if the lords would, by listing their own servants, persuade the gentleman in the town to do the like, and engage their own persons, whereby a good troop or two of horse might be raised, (upon which the principal dependence must be,) he would willingly, if there were nobody else thought fitter for it, undertake the conduct of them himself; and hoped he should give a good account of it;” which being offered with great cheerfulness by a person, of whose prudence, as well as courage, they had a full confidence, they all resolved to do the utmost that was in their power to make it effectual.
There was about this time, by the surrender of Greenland-house, (which could not possibly be longer defended, the whole structure being beaten down by the cannon,) the regiment of colonel Hawkins marched into Oxford, announcing to near three hundred; to which as many others joined as made it up four hundred men. The lords mounted their servants upon their own horses; and they, with the volunteers, who frankly listed themselves, amounted to a body of two hundred and fifty very good horse, all put under the command of Colonel William Web, an excellent officer, bred up in Flanders in some emulation with colonel Gage; and who, upon the catholic interest, was at this time contented to serve under him. With this small party for so great an action, Gage marched out of Oxford in the beginning of the night; and, by the morning, reached the place where he intended to refresh himself and his troops; which was a wood near Wallingford; from whence he despatched an express to sir William Ogle, governor of Winchester; who had made a promise to the lords of the council, ” that, when so ever they would endeavour the raising of the siege before Basing, he would send one hundred horse and three hundred foot out of his garrison, for their assistance;” and a presumption upon this aid was the principal motive for the undertaking; and so he was directed, at what hour in the morning his party should fall into Basing park, in the rear of the rebels’ quarters; whilst Gage himself would fall on the other side; the marquis being desired at the same time to make frequent sallies from the house.
After some hours of refreshment in the morning, and sending his express to Winchester, the troops marched through by-lanes to Aldermarston, a village out of any great road; where they intended to take more rest that night. They had marched, from the time they left Oxford, with orange-tawny scarf’s and ribbons; that they might be taken for the parliament soldiers; and hoped, by that artifice, to have passed undiscovered even to the approach upon the besiegers. But the party of horse which was sent before Aldermarston, found there some of the parliament horse, and, forgetting their orange-tawny scarf’s, fell upon them; and killed some, and took six or seven prisoners; whereby the secret was discovered, and notice quickly sent to Basing of the approaching danger; which accident made their stay shorter at that village than was intended, and than the weariness of the soldiers required. About eleven of the clock, they began their march again; which they continued all that night; the horseman often alighting, that the foot might ride; and others taking many of them behind them; however they could not but be extremely weary and surbated.
Between four and five of the clock on Wednesday morning, it having been Monday night that they left Oxford, they arrived within a mile of Basing; where an officer, sent from sir William Ogle, came to them to let them know, ” that he durst not send his troops so far, in regard many of the enemy’s horse lay between Winchester and Basing.” this broke all the colonel’s measures: and, since there was no receding, made him change the whole method of his proceedings; and, instead of dividing his forces, and falling on in several places, as he meant to have done if the Winchester forces had complied with their obligation, or if his march had been undiscovered, he resolved now to fall on jointly with all his body in one place; in order to which, he commanded the men to be ranged in battalions; and rid to every squadron, giving them such words as to were proper to the occasion; which no man could more pertinently deliver, or with a better grace; he commanded every man to tie a white tape ribbon, or handkerchief, above the elbow of their right arm; and gave them the word ST GEORGE ; which was the sign and the word that he had sent before to the marquis, lest in his sallies their men, for want of distinction, might fall foul of each other.
Thus they marched towards the house, colonel Web leading the right wing, and lieutenant colonel Bunkly the left horse; and Gage himself the foot. They had not marched far, when at the upper end of a large campaign field, upon a little rising of an hill, they discerned a body of five cornets of horse ver full, standing in very good order to receive them. But before any impression could be made upon them, the colonel must pass between two hedges lined very think with musketeers from whom the horse very courageously bore a smart volley, and then charged the enemy’s horse so gallantly, that, after a shorter resistances than was expected from the known courage of Norton, though many of his men fell, they gave ground; and at last plianly run to a safe place, beyond which they could not be pursued. The foot disputed the business much better, and being beaton from hedge to hedge, retired into their quarters and works; which they did not abandon in less than two hours; and then a free entrance into the house was gained on that side, where the colonel only stayed to salute the marquis, and to put in the ammunition he had brought with him; which was only twelve barrels of powder, and twelve hundred weight of match; and immediatly marched with his horse and foot to Basingstoke, a good market-town two miles from the house; leaving one hundred foot to be led, by some officers of the garrison, to the town of Basing, a village but a mile distant. In Basingstoke they found store of wheat, malt, oats, salt, bacon, cheese, and butter; as much of which was all that day sent to the house, as they could find carts or horses to transport, together with fourteen barrels of powder, and some muskets, and forty or fifty head of cattle, with above one hundred sheep; whilst the other party, that went to Basing town, beat the enemy that quartered there, after having killed forty or fifty of them; some fled into the church, where they were quickly taken prisoners; and among them, two captains, Jarvise and Jephson, two eldest sons of two of the greatest rebels of that country, and both heirs to good fortunes, who were carried prisoners to Basing-house; the rest, who besieged that side, being fled into a strong fort which they had raised in the park. The colonel spent that and the next day in sending all manner of provisions into the house; and then, reasonably computing that the garrison was well provided for two months, he thought of his retreat to Oxford; which it was time to do; for besides that Norton had drawn all his men together, who had been dismayed, with all the troops which lay quartered within any distances, and appeared within sight of the house more numerous and gay than before, as if he meant to be revenged before they parted; he was likewise well informed by the persons he had employed, that the enemy from Abingdon had lodged themselves at Aldermarston, and those from Reading and Newbury, in two other villages upon the river Kennet; over which he had to pass.
Hereupon, that he might take away the apprehension that he meant suddenly to deport, he sent out orders, which he was sure would come into the enemy’s hands, to two or three villages next the house, ” that they should, by the next day noon, send such proportions of corn into Basing-house, as were mentioned in the warrants; upon pain, if they failed by the time, to have a thousand horse and dragoons sent to fire the towns.” This being done, and all his men drawn together about eleven of the clock at night, Thursday the 2nd night after he came thither, the marquis giving him two or three guides who knew the country exactly, he marched from Basing without sound of drum or trumpet, and passed the Kennet, undiscovered, by a ford near a bridge which the enemy had broke down; and thereby thought they had secured that passage; the horse taking the foot en croupe; and then, marching by-ways, in the morning they likewise passed over the Thames, at a ford little more than a mile from Reading; and so escaped the enemy, and got before night to Wallingford; where he secrely rested, and refreshed his men that night; and the next day arrived safe at Oxford; having lost only two captains, and two or three other gentlemen , and common men; in all to the number of eleven; and forty or fifty wounded, but not dangerously. What number the enemy lost could not be known; but it was believed they lost many, besides above one hundred prisoners that were taken; and it was confessed, by enemies as well as friends, that it was as soldierly an action as had been performed in the war on either side; and redounded very much to the reputation of the commander.
– Clarendons History of the Great Rebellion 2nd edition.