Battle of Naseby
The Battle of
Naseby by Sir John
Gilbert showing cavalier cavalry and trumpeters during the English Civil
War. This military historical watercolour reproduced by Cranston Fine
Arts, the military print company.
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from the British Battles On Land And Sea By Evelyn Wood
Though Command-in0Chief of the King’s army, the Marquis of Newcastle had served as a volunteer under Prince Rupert at Marstonm Moor. Considerable recrimination took place between them, and the Prince also used strong language to Sir John Urie. He joined the Parliamentary side and the Lord Newcastle, mortified to find that all his labour in the Royal cause was abortive, left England and landed at Hamburg with his whole family and some eighty more exiles. Prince Rupert retreated to Lancashire. York fell; and now another Scottish army, nearly 10,000 strong, under Lieutenant-General the Earl of Callander, invaded England on August 10th, and, blockading Newcastle, carried it by storm after a ten week siege.
The Roundhead Armies Before narrating the King’s last battle, at Naseby, it may be necessary to glance at the remodelling which the armies of the Roundheads underwent about this time. When hostilities first broke out between these two factions, England was unprepared for war. In the south each party was on fair terms; at first the undisciplined troops of the King met the equally undisciplined troops of the parliament; but the parliamentarians rapidly improved into disciplined troops. Had there been on either side, at the beginning of the war, any considerable force of regular troops, such as then existed in France and Spain, the contest must soon have been decided. The independents, an offshoot of the Puritan party, had been for some time gathering strength in England. Of these Cromwell was the recognised chief. In religion they held that every congregation formed an independent church of its own, owing obedience to no synod or assembly. In polo tics they were Republicans, and an Act promoted by them, called the “Self-Denying Ordinance,” passed in April 1645, forbade all members of parliament to hold any command in the army. Accordingly, the Earls of Essex and Manchester were removed. Sir Thomas Fairfax, afterwards third Lord Fairfax of Cameron, was appointed Commander-in-Chief, while Cromwell was soon called, with the rank of Lieutenant-General, to lead the cavalry, and became, even prior to 1650, in reality, though not in name, General of the entire English army; and organised that remarkable force by which he achieved all his victories. He recruited it from a superior class, condemning the admission of “tapsters and serving-men,” into the ranks, and urged his officers to engage none but “honest and God-fearing men.” There were, no doubt, hypocrites in his ranks; but a spirit of religion pervaded every regiment. In their tents and barracks officers and men met regularly to pray; they both neither gambled, drank, nor swore. They sang hymns as they marched into action.
Rupert and the People Prince Rupert, fond of splendid apparel and of the soldiery, despised the people. When Charles I appointed Sir Thomas Lunsford Lieutenant of the Tower of London, the notorious John Lilburn took to himself the credit of exciting public hatred against him and Lord Digby, as bravoes of the most pit less description. In the west, where General Gorming commanded, havoc and rapine were of common occurrence,. Despoiled of their substance, the country people, called clubmen, in many paces flocked together, armed with clubs and stones, and slew the soldiers of both parties. “Many thousands of these tumultuary peasants were assembled in different parts of England, who killed all straggling soldiers.” Such was the state of the two forces when Charles committed his fate once again to the issue of a battle.
Parliamentarian Alarm In the midsummer of 1645 the new modelled army of the Parliament, under Fairfax and Cromwell, was posted at Windsor, 20,000 strong; yet Charles, in spite of them, effected the relief of Chester, which had been long been blockaded by Sir William Brereton, and on his return southwards he took Leicester by storm and there 1,500 prisoners and much plunder were taken. Alarmed by this double Royalist success, Fairfax, who had received orders to besiege Oxford, immediately left that place and marched to Leicester, intending to give the Cavaliers battle. In the meantime, Charles was hastening towards Oxford, in order to raise the siege and relieve his Royal city; so that the two armies were placed within a few miles of each other suddenly. Charles called a council of war, in which it was resolved, through the influence of Prince Rupert and the nobles and gentry, to engage Fairfax immediately, though the Royalists had the prospect of being soon reinforced by 3,000 horse and 2,000 foot. They accordingly advanced upon the Parliamentary army, which of June 14th, they found drawn up in order of battle, on rising ground, near the village of Naseby in Northamptonshire. It is related that “it was like the sudden bursting of a thunder cloud” to Charles, when information reached him on the 12th that the rebels were in full march towards him, and that they were approaching Northampton with an overwhelming force of cavalry and infantry to him, as his strength was only 7,400 men of all arms. At first he had issued orders for a retreat; the retrogression began at midnight, and by daybreak on the following morning his advance guard entered Market Harborough on the southern border of Leicestershire. Closing up, the whole column was compelled to halt, in consequence of repeated attacks made by the enemy’s horse under Ireton, on their rear, cutting off some prisoners, from whom information relative to the numbers of the Cavaliers was extorted. In consequence, it was revolved upon by Fairfax to bring on a decisive battle on the morrow. An hour before dawn on the morning of the 14th, the whole parliamentary army began its march in silence and in good order. No hymn or psalm was sung, and no drum or trumpet was heard. They had proceeded as far as Naseby, when a corps of cavalry bearing the Royal Standard of Britain was observed advancing. This assured them of the vicinity of the king. Cromwell recommended that advantage should be taken of favourable ground to the northwest of where they stood, and that the line should be formed at once. Sir Thomas Fairfax immediately adopted the suggestion of his Lieutenant General, and formed his army along the ridge, with the infantry in the centre, cavalry on the flanks, and 20 pieces of cannon posted so as to command and sweep every avenue of approach.
Disposition of the Troops The right wing he assigned to Cromwell, the left to Ireton; the centre he reserved for himself, with Major-General Skippon. All having sung a psalm, sat composedly down in their ranks, and awaited the approach of the “Moabites,” as they named the Cavaliers. Meanwhile Charles, who had also selected a favourable position, just in front of Harborough, where he had established his head quarters, was persuaded by Prince Rupert to advance under an idea that the enemy were retreating, and “that one fierce attack would utterly rout them.” The King’s troops did not exceed 9,000 men. His cavalry were formed in two corps on each flank, and there are the usual discrepancies in detail between the accounts; but Prince Rupert led the right wing and Sir M. Langdale the left, and Lord Newcastle the centre. Sir Jacob Astley, lately created Lord Astley of Reading, led the main body of infantry; and Charles in person led a small reserve of horse. With this feeble array, the monarch was induced to attack a far superior force, composed of men now inured to victory, carefully trained to arms, and dogged in their fierce religious enthusiasm. Nor was the order in which he began the battle more to be commended, says a writer, than the precipitancy with which he cast away the great advantage of fighting on ground of his own choice; and, it may be added, the facility with which he permitted himself to fight at all before the succours under Gerrard joined him, as these would have made the encounter more equal. Untaught by his unfortunate experience at Edgehill and at Marston Moor and elsewhere, the reckless Prince Rupert, at the head of 2,000 brilliantly accoutred cavalry, “with slackened reins and spurs plunged in the horses flanks,” rushed to the charge against the division of Ireton. Saddles were emptied in scores under pistol-shot and sword-cut; Ireton’s troops were overwhelmed by the shock, routed, and chased from the field in all directions. Then as on previous occasions, Prince Rupert permitted his troops to disperse over the fields in wild pursuit of the fugitives till their horses were blown. Six pieces of cannon were captured. Ireton had his horse shot under him; he was run through the thigh by a sword, wounded in the face by a pike, and taken prisoner, but he afterwards escaped. Boiling with ardour, Rupert continued the chase of the Republican right wing close to the town of Naseby. In his precipitate onslaught he lost a chance for capturing the whole of Cromwell’s artillery. Ultimately, in returning to his position, he did summon to surrender; but the train being then well protected by a string force of musketeers, he was unable to capture it.
During this scattered movement a very different issue occurred on the other flank, where Sir Marmaduke Langdale, in imitation of Rupert, charged despite the disadvantage of a hill and a heavy fore of cannon. So resolutely did Cromwell and the Ironsides meet him, whose war cry was “God with us!” that his division recoiled from the shock. At his crisis Cromwell who had kept two squadrons in reserve wheeled them round by a half circular sweep on Langdales’s left flank. They came on in closed rank, and taking the Royal Horse, who were already over marched in front, at disadvantage, they total routed them and drove them back for a quarter of a mile. Leaving two squadrons to watch and oppose Langdale should he return or rally, Cromwell with the rest of the division rode against the King’s infantry, which was now warmly engaged with the centre under Fairfax and Skippon, and which had come on with such spirit with charged pikes that the Republicans were falling into disorder. Fairfax had his helmet knocked off, and rode up and down his lines bareheaded. General Skippon was wounded in the beginning of the action, and advised to quit the field; but he replied, “he would not stir so long as a man would stand!” Philip Skippon was a rough, blunt veteran of the low country wars, who had shown great tact and skill in disciplining the Trained Bands of London. He had £1,000 per annum settles on him by Parliament out of the Duke of Buckingham’s forfeited estate; and it is averred by Walker that in the Low Countries he had acted as Wagoner to Sir Francis Vere. Fairfax’s charge in front and rear together with Cromwell’s movement on the flank, caused the total route of the king’s infantry, who were cut down like grass the moment their close ranks were broken by the charging horse. Multitudes were slain, “and multitudes more cast away their weapons, calling for quarter,” till they were scattered beyond all possibility of rallying; and at the head of the reserve Charles saw the tide of battle turning against him. “The King,” says Sanderson, “kept close with his horse, himself in person rallying them as men use to doe, for their lives blood”; and Rupert, now sensible of his errors, on leaving his futile attack on the artillery, joined him, with all the horse he could collect. Charles with his sword drawn, exhorted this body of cavalry not to despair. “Gentlemen,” he said, “one charge more, and we recover the day!” But they could not be persuaded to advance. Their little force of infantry had been destroyed; and Fairfax, Skippon, and Cromwell, instead of pursuing the fugitives, held their men well in hand, dressed their ranks, and prepared alike to receive or to charge the remnant of the King’s cavalry. Then it was that Robert Dalziel, Earl of Carnwath, a Scottish noble, seeing that Charles was resolved to charge, rode up to him and said imploringly, “Sire, will you go upon your death this instant?” In his loyal anxiety he grasped the bridle of the King’s horse, and caused the animal to swerve around to the right. On perceiving this, his cavalry conceiving it was the first movement preparatory to flight, broke their ranks and galloped in all directions. “They rode on the spur without looking behind them.”
Never was rout more hopeless or victory more complete that the battle of Naseby. Charles had 800 men slain (of whom 150 were officers), and 5,000 were taken prisoners. On the battle of Naseby, Lord Clarendon makes the remark that a difference was always observable in the discipline of the King’s troops and those under Fairfax and Cromwell. Even when the former succeeded in a charge they seldom rallied again in good order, or could be got to make a second charge the same day; where as the other troops, even if beaten, immediately rallied again, and reformed in their ranks, till they received new orders. Prince Rupert rode to Bristol to prepare it for a siege; while the King into Wales, and made some stay at Raglan Castle, his indomitable courage giving him hope of being able to form yet another army. On June 17th, the day after parliament-received things of the victory, both Houses were feasted by the City of London in Grocers Hall, where they sang the 46th Psalm, and then separated. An oval medal was stuck in commemoration of the battle. The captured standards were hung in Westminster Hall, and the prisoners were penned up like sheep in the artillery ground near Tothill Fields.
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