Tag Archives: Oliver Cromwell

Yorkshire’s forgotten battle – Marston Moor

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644. This was an important battle in English history but few people know much about it. So why was there a battle on Marston Moor? Who was fighting and what impact did this have?

The English Civil War of the 17th century pitted Parliament against the King and was one of the defining moments in the development of the United Kingdom as a parliamentary democracy. There were a number of battles and skirmishes during the two civil wars (the first with King Charles leading his forces and the second whilst he was being held prisoner by Cromwell and Parliament), the three major battles being Edgehill, Naseby and Marston Moor.

The Battle of Marston Moor, which took place in the evening of 2nd July 1644, was critical for the control of the north and is believed to have been the largest battle ever fought on English soil in terms of numbers of combatants. Surprising as it may seem for a battle of such massive proportions and such a pivotal role it only lasted for about two hours. The action took place on open fields and moorland which still exist relatively unchanged, this has enabled historians to get a very good understanding of how the battle unfolded as most of the key features of the local landscape are still there to be seen by historians and visitors alike.

Memorial to those who fell during the Battle of Marston Moor.

At the outbreak of the conflict England was divided along lines of political persuasion and religious beliefs, families were torn apart and no community was immune to the terrible divisiveness of civil war yet, on the whole, the north of England tended to side with Parliament and was a centre of opposition to King Charles in the early part of the war. The prosperous city of York was the major religious centre in the north so control there was seen as vital – whoever held York would have a distinct advantage over their enemies.

The Marquis of Newcastle led a Royalist army to York in the spring of 1644 and although he took possession of the city he soon found himself besieged there by Sir Thomas Fairfax who was leading a joint force of Parliamentary and Scottish men. King Charles was desperate to hold on to York and sent his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, to try to relieve the siege. Although young, Rupert had a reputation as a good leader in battle and so when Fairfax heard about the approach of the relief force he abandoned the siege and moved out towards Marston Moor (7 miles from York). Prince Rupert led the King’s forces into York on 1st July 1644 and, together with his command team, decided to pursue the enemy the following day. Unfortunately for Prince Rupert some of his commanders allowed their men to loot the city or take rest so his forces marched at different paces and only arrived on the moor near the village of Long Marston in dribs and drabs, disorganised and perhaps a little over confident after taking York. They arrived to find that Parliament already had control of the roads and so Rupert was forced to marshal his men on the desolate moors, setting up his front in fits and starts as his men arrived whilst the Parliamentarians were already organised in a good defensive position.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine by Anthony van Dyck

Although Rupert was at a disadvantage numerically – both sides had more or less equal cavalry forces of around 7,000, but the 20,000 combined infantry of the Scots and Parliament far outnumbered the 11,000 Royalists – he did have the advantage of protection offered by the varied geography of the moorland. The Royalists were able to position themselves amongst the numerous ditches and hedges which would impede attacks by the enemy, whether on horse or foot. Rupert felt confident that his left flank was particularly well defended in this way.

Fairfax’s Parliamentary forces occupied a low hill (barely 100 feet high) which gave them the advantage of higher ground on the flat moor and farmland, although a number of cornfields did make it difficult for him to deploy all of his forces. The Royalists tried to take advantage of this and seize a rabbit warren to the west of the fields so that they could infiltrate the Parliamentary positions, but they were forced back and Cromwell put the left wing of his cavalry there. Next to this was a very strong central force made up of more than 14,000 infantry and almost 40 artillery pieces; Sir Thomas Fairfax held the right wing with a cavalry of at least 2,000. Both cavalry wings were interspersed with musketeers and dragoons.

The Royalists were positioned on the moor, below the enemy and behind a drainage ditch which it was hoped would prevent, or at least disrupt, any cavalry charge. Like the enemy forces opposite, their wings were made up of cavalry and musketeers, the centre consisted of infantry and 14 artillery pieces, whilst Rupert held 600 cavalry in reserve behind these. As evening approached on 2nd July Rupert could hear the enemy singing psalms and presumed that they were getting ready to bed down for the night and there would be no attack before the morning. Yet, as the Royalists settled down to supper, the enemy attacked just as a thunderstorm broke over the moor.

The cavalry on the Royalists right wing was almost immediately driven back and Rupert was forced to commit his reserve of cavalry there, far earlier in the battle than he would have liked. The fighting was fierce but Cromwell eventually broke Rupert’s men and the Prince himself only avoided capture by hiding in a bean field!

There was also success for the Parlimentarians in the centre although their right wing initially had more difficulty when some of Fairfax’s forces were caught in a ditch where they were an easy target for the Royalists who forced them back. The battle ebbed and flowed chaotically for a time; at one point during the confusion of battle and the thunderstorm a number of Fairfax’s infantry believed they had been defeated and fled the field. Yet the Parliamentary centre stood firm against repeated charges by Royalist cavalry.

Oliver Cromwell

By this point it was almost dark, but the full moon was rising and it was possible to see confused men from both sides running away across the field. Taking advantage of the confusion Cromwell led his cavalry in a last charge against the tired and disorganised Royalist cavalry which eventually withdrew and retreated towards York. The final desperate stand was made by Newcastle’s ‘Whitecoats’ who fought fiercely, giving no quarter and refusing to surrender until just thirty of their number remained. In just two hours the Royalist forces had been defeated and, although a number of areas such as Bolton and Scarborough still held for the king, the north belonged to the Parliamentarians.

In the course of a battle which only lasted for two hours the Royalists lost around 4,000 men killed with an estimated 1,500 taken prisoner. In contrast the Scottish and Parliamentarian loses may have been as few as 300 killed (although some historians put this figure at over 1,000). During the battle Oliver Cromwell was able to show how a well-trained, disciplined and well-equipped army could win against the more experienced Royalists, and cemented his reputation as a great commander.

Marston Moor was a pivotal point during the English Civil War and, as such, I felt that I could not write ‘The Cavalier Historian without a description of the battle as seen through the eyes of one of my main characters, Thomas Hardwyke, a member of the Royalist cavalry and staunch supporter of Prince Rupert and the King.

 

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A British Game Of Thrones

Imagine the scenario:
There was once a king of a northern country who had a distant claim to the throne of a country in the south. When the ruler of the southern land died childless the King of the North also became King of the South, and although there was one king to rule them both the two realms remained separate and continued with their longstanding enmities. When the king died his son came to sit on the thrones of both countries but the lords of the southern lands were not happy with how he ruled and so went to war against him. The land in the north supported the southern nobles for a time, then their support moved to the king, then shifted back to the nobles once more. Power ebbed and flowed until the king was finally captured and executed. What would happen now? Who would rule? Would the lands be united at last or continue divided and at war?

Sounds like the plot to a book in the style of A Game Of Thrones, doesn’t it? Yet this is real history. The history of Scotland and England. It is a history I had to grasp to enable me to write my novel ‘The Cavalier Historian’, and it is a part of the story which many people find fascinating. So, what was the situation between the two nations in the seventeenth century and how did that impact on the English Civil War?

James I

Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and granddaughter of Henry VII, died childless. The next in line to the throne was James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots and great great grandson of Henry VII. James VI and I (as he is sometimes known) moved from Edinburgh to London; England and Scotland were now united under one monarch BUT this was a dynastic union only, the Stuarts reigned over two separate and distinct countries even though King James wanted them to be united as one.

Part of the problem which James I faced was that the Scottish Church would not accept the High Anglican Church of England. When his son, Charles I, succeeded him he introduced a Scottish version of the English Prayer Book in 1637. The Scots responded with anger and rioting, culminating in a meeting of the National Covenant in 1638 which overwhelmingly objected to the prayer book; and when the General Assembly met in November 1638 all bishops were expelled from the Scottish Church which became fully Presbyterian. Charles put together a military force to bring the Scottish to heel, but didn’t like using soldiers from his southern kingdom to invade his northern one, so a settlement was reached under the ‘Pacification of Berwick’. The peace didn’t last for long, hostilities broke out again and Charles’s English forces were defeated by the Scots at the Battle of Newburn.

Charles I

This was how Charles I found himself to be the king of two kingdoms with a history of dislike for each other and widely differing views on religion. Once civil war broke out in England, with parliament looking to exercise more control over the king, his taxes, and the religion of the country, things got even more complicated. The English Parliament entered into a ‘Solemn League And Covenant’ with the Scottish Church and Scottish troops played an important role in the defeat of Charles I, constantly playing one side against the other from the outbreak of war:

22nd August 1643 Charles I raised his standard in Nottingham, formally declaring war on Parliament.

August 1643 The Solemn League And Covenant promised to preserve the Scottish Church and reform religion in England and Ireland in return for Scottish help against the king.

6th May 1646 Charles I surrendered to the Scots in the hope that they would support him as their king against the old enemy, England. At the same time he was trying to negotiate with the English Parliament – unaware that the Scots were doing the same!

30th January 1647 The Scots handed Charles over to the English Parliament and he was imprisoned at Holdenby House in Northamptonshire.

November 1647 The king escaped but was soon re-captured. From his prison Charles I carried out secret negotiations with the Scots, hoping for uprisings in England to coincide with an invasion from Scotland which would free him and put him back on the throne.

28th December 1647 An ‘Engagement’ was signed, with the Scots agreeing to support the king as long as he imposed the Presbyterian Church on England for three years.

Spring 1648 The uprising began in Wales and England, but the Scottish forces were delayed which enabled Cromwell to put down the Royalist forces throughout most of the country although the king’s forces held out under a long siege in Colchester. When the Scots finally invaded they were defeated at the Battle of Preston on 17th – 19th August 1649. This effectively brought the Second English Civil War to an end.

Charles I was in prison in England throughout this second war, and at the defeat of his forces was put on trial for treason, and executed. With the death of Charles I Cromwell invaded Scotland and brought it into his Commonwealth, but after his death Charles II became king and Scotland became an independent country once more. It wasn’t until 1707, during the reign of Queen Anne, that the ‘Acts of Union’ were signed in England and Scotland in which the two separate states with their different legislatures but with the same ruling monarch were ‘United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain’.

Union Flag

With such complex relationships between Scotland and England, as well as divisive politics and religion within England itself, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be conflict under Charles I. It is a period of history which makes for a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed the research I conducted for my novel ‘The Cavalier Historian’. I hope my readers will find the novel equally enjoyable!

Are you a revolutionary?

If you had lived in the 17th century would you have backed King Charles I or Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War? For a bit of fun why not answer these questions and find out?

parliamentWhat is your view of politics?

A An elite should govern us

B Every-one should have an equal say in government

 

queenWhat is your view of the monarchy?

A The Queen should have much more power to set laws

B The Queen should be a figurehead only

 

archbishop-of-canterbury-justin-welbyWhat is your view of religion?

A People should follow a structured form of worship set by the state

B People should be free to worship in an informal way

 

 

Result

charles-i

Mostly A’s – You would have been a Royalist. You would have said that the King is a divine ruler appointed by God. He should be able to rule without Parliament, choosing what laws and taxes he wishes to impose without interference from a Parliament which represents the people. You would also have said that the King is the Head of the Church of England which should be the state religion; form and structure is required to worship God, informality shows a lack of respect.

 

220px-oliver_cromwell_by_samuel_cooper

Mostly B’s – You would have been a Parliamentarian. You would have said that the King should only be a figurehead for the people, he is not divinely appointed by God and so should rule according to the wishes of the people. You would also have said that it is the role of Parliament to set laws and taxes; members of Parliament should be elected by the people. You would have believed that worship should be simple and from the heart, arguing that Jesus criticised the religious leaders of his day for their insistence on form whilst ignoring the needs of the people.

Of course, it was not quite that simple! Although Parliamentarians wanted the people to have more of a say in government it was only a limited number of people from certain classes in society who had that right. There was no universal suffrage – no votes for women or for men who did not belong to the right social class. As for religion, it went without saying that you would have been a Christian. Also, both Parliamentarians and Royalists felt the need to impose their form of worship on everyone whereas people today would say that there should be much more freedom to choose, and acceptance of those who choose to worship differently or not at all.

So, now you know which side you would have been on why not read ‘The Cavalier Historian’ and see what might have happened to you if you had lived through the English Civil War!

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