Battle of Marston Moor during the English Civil War showing Oliver Cromwell with his Parliamentarian army (roundheads). Military art print published by Cranston Fine Arts, the historical military print company.
Marston Moor Excerpt from the British Battles On Land & Sea By Evelyn Wood
The battle of Marston Moor, July 2nd, 1644, is considered by many to be the most important of all the battles of the Great Rebellion. In the first place, the number of troops engaged in it was greater than in any other of the battles. Secondly, it marked the turning point in the fortunes of the Parliamentary party. And thirdly-by assuring the ascendancy of the army of the Eastern Association-that force which later developed into Cromwell’s New Model Army-it inaugurated a new era in British military organisation.
A Gloomy Outlook At the beginning of the year 1644 the outlook of the parliamentary party was gloomy. Save only in the Eastern counties, where the roundheads held undisputed sway, and in the Midlands, where the two parties were evenly divided, the Royalist power was everywhere predominant. Sir Ralph Hopton had overrun the country between Cornwall and Hampshire so thoroughly that, except the ports of Plymouth and Portsmouth, the Roundheads retained nothing in the south. The whole of Wales had declared for King Charles; and in the King’s name, also, the Marquis of Newcastle had taken possession of Yorkshire, with the exception of Hull. This town Fairfax held for Parliament. Thus Charles I was master of two-thirds of the country; and if during the latter part of 1643 he had summoned Hopton and Newcastle to Oxford, and had advanced on London, he might perhaps have ended the war at a blow. He was prevented from doing this owing to the peculiar nature of his armies. Both the Royalists of the west and the Royalists of the north were loath to leave their own districts until they had made a complete end of their local enemies, and in consequence valuable time and money was spent in sieges and minor operations, which, from a military point of view, were unimportant. Strategically, the siege of Gloucester was undoubtedly a mistake. Nor did the siege of Hull serve any useful purpose; and the Marquis of Newcastle was still sitting down before the walls of that town when, in January, 1644, the Scottish army, which Parliament had persuaded Lord Leven to bring into England, crossed the Border.
The Balance of Power in the North
Siege of York Raised In the middle of May Rupert began his march northwards; and having passed through Shropshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire, arrived, June 30th, with nearly 10,000 men at Knaresborough, within 12 miles of the northern capital. But while Rupert had been advancing through the midlands the army of the eastern association, under the Earl of Manchester and his great lieutenant, Oliver Cromwell had also been moving northwards, and on June 2nd had joined the forces of Leven and Fairfax in the trenches before York. Nearly 30,000 men opposed thus Rupert, when he arrived. As the Prince approached, the Roundheads raised the siege and advanced to meet him. Rupert however, by clever manoeuvring, avoided them; working round by the north, he crossed the Ouse and succeeded in entering York without engaging the enemy. The first part of his mission had been accomplished with surprising ease, but this very success now placed him in a difficulty. Newcastle was averse to moving out of York and offering battle; he strongly urged delay-a policy, which it was impossible for Rupert to adopt, seeing he had been forbidden to tarry in the north. “If York be relieved,” the King had written to him on June 14, “and you beat the rebels armies of both kingdoms which were before it, then, but other ways not, I may possibly make a shift upon the defensive to spin out time until you come to assist me.” Rupert interpreted these instructions as “a positive and absolute command to fight.” The only possible alternative seemed to be for him to return immediately to Oxford, but that obviously would have left the enemy free to resume the siege of York. Accordingly, contrary to the counsels of Newcastle, the Prince drew out is forces, and on the morning of July 2nd, having advanced his cavalry, fell on the rear guard of the Parliamentarians and Scots, who were then moving towards the south-west. Rupert’s attack forced the enemy to halt and deploy, and they took up their stand on rising ground on the southern edge of Marston Moor, seven miles from York, their position being defined by Long Marston on the right (east flank) and Tockwith on the left (west flank), and separated from the Royalist army by the open moor (which is now divided by a lane connecting the two villages).
The Opposing Armies The Roundheads had in all 20,000 foot and 7,000 horse. The forces of Newcastle and Rupert numbered about 11,000 foot and 7,000 cavalry, who until that day had been generally successful. In both armies the proportion of cavalry to infantry was far greater than it would be today, but this was in accordance with the military practice of the seventeenth century. General Monk, writing in 1645, laid it down as a principle that an army operating in the field should consist of one horseman to every two infantrymen, and that, when required for siege purposes, the proportion should be one to three. The left of the Roundhead line was formed by the Scottish cavalry under Major-General Leslie (800 strong) and the cavalry of the Eastern Association under Lieutenant-General Cromwell (2,500 strong). Next to them stood the infantry of the Eastern Association under Major-General Crawford; then the Scottish infantry under Lord Leven, and the Yorkshire Parliamentarians under Lord Fairfax; the right wing being formed by the Yorkshire cavalry under Sir Thomas Fairfax. Prince Rupert formed up on the open moor directly facing the enemy’s line, and spent the morning in bringing up his infantry from York, and strengthening his position against the morrow. Convinced that the enemy would wait for him to take the initiative, he did not anticipate being attacked that day. Had he done so, he would probably have either taken the initiative or had retired to a defensible position, for he knew he had before him foemen worthy of respect. Although his own troopers had never yet crossed swords with them, Rupert had heard tales of the prowess of the East Anglian cavalry and their indomitable leader; and it was with interest that he glanced at the enemies line, when he heard the answer to his question, “Is Cromwell there?” Early in the afternoon the Parliamentary artillery opened fire on the Royalist position. But this in itself occasioned no alarm. During, at any rate, the early years of the Civil War, artillery, save for siege purposes, was considered of very little consequence. Rarely in any battle of Civil War have guns played a smaller part than they did at Marston Moor. “Our ordnance,” says a contemporary Parliamentary narrative, “about two o’clock began to play upon the brigade of horse that were nearest, and did some execution upon them, which forced that enemy to leave that ground and remove to a greater distance.” But, apart from this incident, artillery appears to have achieved nothing in the battle. The cannonade was continued in a desultory way throughout the afternoon. But at about 4 p.m. seeing no other sign of activity in the enemy’s line, the Royalist troops, who had been under arms since morning, fell out, while Rupert retired to supper, and the Marquis of Newcastle to his coach to smoke. Cromwell at this time advanced to the attack, sending his Dragoons forward first-as was then the custom-to prepare the way for the horse by driving the musketeers from the lane in front of the Royalist position, and form what in contemporary accounts is called the “cross ditch” on Rupert’s right. The Dragoons of this period were armed with matchlock muskets, which it was impossible for them to load or fire while mounted. They therefore fought on foot, while one man in every ten remained behind the firing line to hold the horses. Yet, despite the seemingly clumsy mode of procedure, the use of Dragoons proved effective, and on this occasion, we are told, they “acted there part so well that at the first assault they beat the enemy from the ditch, and shortly after killed a great many, and put the rest to route.” When this had been accomplished, the Regular cavalry advanced, and presently the forward movement was taken up along the whole parliamentary line. In Rupert’s absence the surprised Royalist horse could make no headway against Cromwell’s charge, although that attack was only delivered by isolated efforts, as each unit crossed the lane and formed to the front.
Cromwell Wounded But when Prince Rupert galloped up in person with some fresh squadrons, the combat was renewed; and, Cromwell himself being wounded, the East Anglian horsemen slowly began to fall back. At this critical moment Leslie and the Scottish cavalry, taking ground to their left, suddenly swung in upon Rupert’s flank. This decided the issue. After a hard, fierce struggle, the hitherto unbeaten cavalry of the Prince was broken and put to flight. Meanwhile on the other flank things had been going ill for the Parliamentarians. Already Lord Goring had swept away the Yorkshire horse, and although the majority of his troopers-in accordance with that fatal practice which robbed the Royalist arms of many victories-followed in reckless, disorderly pursuit, Sir Charles Lucas had managed to restrain a few squadrons, and with these was now attacking the exposed right of Leven’s infantry. In the centre, too, Newcastle’s north country “White Coat” regiment, composed of the finest and most stubborn troops in either army, had succeeded in driving back, and finally in breaking into, the centre of the Parliamentary foot. Victory inclined to the Royalists, and Lord Leven, giving the battle up as lost, rode away to Tadcaster.
The Brave Scots The Scots, however, who formed the right of the Parliamentary foot still held firm against Lucas’s attacks. “Having interlined their musketeers with pike men,” according to one chronicler, “they made the enemy’s horse, notwithstanding all the assistance they had of their foot, at two several assaults to give ground.” The steadiness of these soldiers saved the day, and enabled Crowell literally to pluck victory out of the Royalists hands. The East Anglian troopers had learned from their leader lessons which Prince Rupert had never been able to teach to his dashing Cavaliers; had learned to halt when the enemy scattered, to face about when pursued, to wheel to the support of other troops when the issue was still in doubt. Having routed the Royalist cavalry on the left, they did not follow up in reckless pursuit, but, leaving it to Leslie’s horse, rallied and re-formed; then, turning to the right, passes along the rear of the Royalist army, guided by Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had been lightly wounded in the rout of the Yorkshire horse, and who had made his way to the other flank. Then, on the ground where Goring had beaten Fairfax, Cromwell’s horsemen gained an easy victory over Lucas’s few squadrons; whilst Crawford, with the Eastern Association infantry, who had not yet been heavily engaged, followed the horse, and eventually got in rear of the enemy’s position. The Royalists thus found them surrounded, and were soon broken up into isolated units, disordered, helpless, and at the mercy of Cromwell’s cavalry. One regiment only stood firm-Newcastle’s “White coats.” These gallant men retreated into an enclosure, and there, fiercely rejecting quarter, fought shoulder to shoulder till they died to a man. The remainder of the troops were either cut down or scattered in pursuit, and at nightfall the Royalist army had been swept from the field. A few regiments found their way by moonlight to York, but the dispirited only held out a fortnight, and England north of the Trent was lost to the King. Prince Rupert managed to rally some 6,000 men, and with them escaped over the hills into Lancashire, but the northern army the main hope of the Royalist cause had ceased to exist. On both sides the losses at Marston Moor were heavy. They killed alone numbered 4,150 and of these 3,000 were Royalists. The Royalists, moreover, lost the whole of their artillery and baggage, together with 100 colours and 10,000 arms. It was the most decisive battle yet fought.
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