393 We Saw No Light

1644 opened with Charles’ ‘Mongrel parliament’ at Oxford, and was the model of compliance. Not so at York where the noose of the Scots and Fairfax tightened around York. Enter Rupert, stage Lancashire, a whirlwind of violent destruction,. To meet Leven’s army at Marston Moor, for the biggest showdon on English soil.

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Prince Rupert in the Beanfield

Spot the Prince…and Spot the Dog…



Hello everyone and welcome to 2024. to the history of England, episode 393 We saw no light – and welcome back – to war, violence, death destruction and chaos. Enough of all that peace and love to all mankind tripe.

Last time, we heard about how both Parliament and King managed to find friends. True, we heard about the crashing, burning and entoastment of Hamilton’s strategy for the king in Scotland, but he had Antrim and Montrose up his sleeves instead. So Hamilton was slung in the chokey, and Charles had turned to the Irish. The Cessation with the Irish Confederate association was signed after the Papal party had a run in with a Clones Cyclone, and in line with the cessation soldiers from the English army in Ireland started to return through Chester. Maybe to the tune of 9,000 through the year.

However, that number would be dwarfed by Harry Vane’s deal on behalf of Parliament with Argyll and Covenanters in Scotland. The price of a Scottish army was the Solemn League and Covenant, an oath for a uniform Presbyterian Kirk across the three kingdoms, to preserve the religion of the kirk  of Scotland, and to reform the churches of England and Ireland. Work had already started anyway in England at Westminster to reform the English church. The Scots would now be admitted to lend a helping hand.

Then we heard about the roll of Charles’ other die for 1643 – Newcastle in the North. But Hull and the Fairfaxes held out, and Manchester was given command of a newly raised army, of the Eastern Association. And by the time we said goodbye to Pym in December 1643, the king’s dominant position in the middle of the year had been stifled. He’d still had a good year on balance – but there was no knock out blow nor cigar.

Well, in January 1644 Edward Hyde saw the culmination of his plan to present Charles once more as the father of his kingdom, ruling together with Lords and commons – by calling a parliament at Oxford, and there at January a creditable number, maybe 150, MPs and Lords assembled into the crowded and now heavily fortified city of Oxford. There they all met in Christchurch Hall.

Charles had taken some persuading it has to be said, and funnily enough would later regret what he came to call a ‘mongrel parliament’. Henrietta Maria and her advisers were agin it too; they thought it would try to force Charles to make peace, and she urged Charles that if he was going whistle the mongrel into the Christchurch Kennel, the first thing they should do is declare the Westminster parliament dissolved.

But it was the Constitutional royalist Hyde and his allies on the council that won the day against the Queen’s more swordsman like approach. This was Charles’ big chance to show what a reasonable, moderate all round great guy he really was, and how thoroughly constitutional. He would not ride roughshod over the new right of the Commons to dissolve itself in Westminster, because he was above that kind of thing. Nonetheless, the very existence of the Oxford parliament would surely help undercut the legitimacy of the rebels in London. Which was helped by the fact that the parliament in London now had only about 200 actual MPs sitting, and fewer Lords than were at Oxford. They would replenish numbers through recruiter elections, but for the moment you could see the bare threads in the carpet of representation.

Plus look, here at last was the parlement a sa mode Charles had been looking for since 1625, his kinda parliament! A bunch of loyalists all in one place eager to promote his cause. He’d had to raise an army and start a civil war to get it but now it was here, a bit of basking was in order. It was his most successful parliament it has to be said;  he was able to be gracious because there was no one asking difficult questions and tweaking his tail. The parliament voted subsidies, they condemned the invasion of the Scots encouraged by a treasonous parliament, they were able to present themselves as the party of the ancient constitution, peace and social order, absolutely punching that bruise of the royal message through the civil wars. As the parliament was prorogued and sent home in April, it had represented the triumph of Hyde’s influence in Privy Council over the Queen and her swordsmen advisers like Henry Jermyn.

For HM it was all increasingly frustrating, and she took out her frustrations in the sport of royalty – I speak not of horseracing, but of plotting. She encouraged two plots. One was devised by that fertile nursery of daft ideas, George Digby, arranging for the betrayal of the parliamentarian fortress at Aylesbury; another was the brainchild of the Duchess of Buckingham, and involved a conspiracy of a metallurgist actually, a particularly disreputable profession I have always thought, my mother taught me to never trust a metallurgist. Lord Brooke was to take a plan to influential movers and shakers on the London Council and carry out some driving of wedges between them and parliament.

They were both betrayed, crashed and burned, of course. The duplicity of the left hand did no end of harm to the reasonable, trustworthy image the right hand of Charles was trying to present. It didn’t help that Brooke was a Catholic metallurgist, and the parliamentarian propaganda machine had a field day with, you guessed it, popist plots. Charles looked insincere. Again.

There was another bun in HM’s oven of plotting, which began to rise. This was the Antrim bun; you might remember the plot discussed between him and her at Bridlington while the musket shot whistled around their ears, to launch an invasion of Scotland from Antrim’s McDonnel estates in Ulster to bring fire and sword to McDonald’s Hereditary enemies the Campbells. Did I say that? Of course what I meant was the King’s enemies the Covenanters. Silly me, slip of the tongue.

The news had got out while Charles was supposed to be talking peace with Scotland, the result being the Solemn League and Covenant with the English parliament, Hamilton thrown in jail by the king for failure all of his own. Remember that? Well, Antrim was out of jail, and back in Oxford with the Queen, and the Earl of Montrose had appeared too. Hey – remember that dough brained scheme for an invasion bun we had? Why don’t we give that a kneading again and see if it rises?

Charles was out of options in Scotland. And so Montrose and Antrim’s plans looked good; I mean they were the only game in town and Montrose was young, good looking, energetic and martial, and Antrim was rich, so why not? Anyway it was free – all Charles had to do was promote Montrose to Marquis, make him Lieutenant General of Scotland, open the doors of the lab and release the bacillus  into the wild and see if it was contagious. So that’s what he did.

Montrose went immediately north, his plan to raise an army in South West Scotland together with the son of the Earls of Huntly Lord Aboyne. Huntly is important, because they are famously catholic and Royalist, up in the north East near Aberdeen. So Montrose and Aboyne would raise an army in Cumbria, raise even more in Galloway, march through Scotland doing the fire and Sword thing as you do, and join up with their friends in the north. As simple as ABC.

Well, in April Montrose had tried that – and by May was back in England without a bean talking to Prince Rupert about what he could do next. He’d forgotten that you cannot move in the South West without treading on a radical presbyterian foot. The area is literally it’s homeland, its beating heart. But, everybody, watch this place. Third time lucky. Montrose is not the kind of man to take no for an answer, and he will find the right man in Alasdair MacColla. He’ll find them in another episode though.

Before we go over to London, there is another bun we need to mention. HM tended to suffer from difficult pregnancies and in early 1644 she was pregnant, and suffering. At the start of the campaigning season it seemed Waller and Essex were targeting Oxford, and it was all too much; she needed to find a place of safety. So she left Oxford, to Charles’ distress; he sent despairing letters to her elderly physician in London to attend her

‘Mayerne, for the love of me, go to my wife, C.R.

He wrote. he accompanied HM as far as Abingdon, a town in Oxford where, on the bun theme, they have an old tradition of throwing locally made buns at people from the town hall on royal occasions. Just so you know. Anyway, HM continued on to Bath and then Exeter to prepare for and give birth in a bit of peace and quiet. Her departure robbed the Swordsmen in the king’s council of their greatest ally. Abingdon was also the last time and place HM would ever see her husband.

Back in Westminster it was all change, and people struggled to sit in their new seats. There was a big Pym -shaped hole in the body politic, there was no one with quite the same gravitas he held, the band which held the rods of the fasces together was gone. Meanwhile there were new players, in the form of the Scots here to take up their role in the government of both kingdoms. And there was a turf war to sort out; in the coming military season decisions needed to be taken about who, with what and where. And that wasn’t simple – the three generals Waller, Essex and Manchester were in prickly pear land, and getting it wrong would result in raw paws. Also until the new campaigning season opened, the military were back in the house – MPs like Manchester, Waller, Cromwell were for a short time back on the benches. And they would make themselves heard.

It was Oliver St John, the Junto’s lawyer, who would come closest to being Pym’s replacement. St John was no barrel of laughs it had to be said, rarely the guy to get the party started but he was widely respected; he had earned the respect of all in the central role he’d played in the Revolution so far, he had a mind like a bacon slicer. More importantly now was the breadth of his opinions; probably a traditional Calvinist, he spoke also the language of Independency, and was on good terms with what was emerging as a war party. But He also remained a friend to the more conservative Essex and his allies. St John was able to bridge different opinions.

The range of those opinions were finely balanced in the new institution of state which Lord Saye and Sele organised that replaced the Committee of Safety, now including the four Scottish Commissioners – the Committee of Both Kingdoms came into being. This committee would no direct the war.

If parliament had been oyster, then there was grit in it, and the grit would get grittier. Politically we have a peace and a war party. The leading figure in the peace party was Essex, along with Manchester and folks like Denzil Holles. You might notice that two of the three generals I mentioned are in the peace party, and this might seem to you something of a red flag in a military sense. Leading potentially to a white flag. To be fair, Essex his ilk had no desire to give up; but they were looking for peace and compromise and a way out at every opportunity, and there’s no doubt that people were noticing a certain pack of shall we say – panache, dering do, chutzpath in the prosecution of the war. There was therefore a developing movement in some quarters to remove Essex, and he felt it, and he felt the loss of influence the Committee of Both Kingdoms represented for him personally as well. Holles had been at the forefront too of the revolution and had beenb offered military command. But at Brentford in 1642 when Rupert had attacked out of the fog and wiped out 2/3rd of Holles’ regiment. D’ewes wrote in his diary that Holles

‘was much cooled in his fierceness by the great slaughter made in his regiment at Brentford’.

So he declined the military role, and from that moment on his message was less about the king, and more about the king’s evil councillors, to help the search for compromise.

Others on the committee of Both Kingdoms were firmly of the view that since we are in this war, the thing to do is focus on winning it. Compromise and agreement must come, but it can come from a position of strength, because frankly this king had not shown himself open to reason. No one except Henry Marten is even thinking there’s any future without a king, but look let’s just get this thing done, JDI, messing and dithering will make it all more painful. Henry Vane, Arthur Haselrig, Cromwell are all on the CBK.  all of them are for getting on with this. The war party.

It tells us something about Cromwell’s character that he deals with this head on. His star was definitely rising from a military view point; when his boss Manchester was made General of the Eastern Association Army, parliament’s biggest army now of 15,000,  Cromwell was promoted to be his second in Command, a Lieutenant General of Horse. But before he returned to his new enhanced post and regiment in the field, Cromwell launched a furious attack on the military competence of Lord Willoughby in the field the previous year. For Cromwell this thing, this war, must be prosecuted with all energy and ability there was no room for shilly shallying. Willoughby was livid. There was upset, and tears and flounces galore; Willoughby even challenged Cromwell’s boss Manchester to a duel and was locked up for his pains. All I am saying is that Cromwell is already not a man to be messed with, and when he knows his mind he’s not slow to voice it. Or indeed ask God what he would do in this situation and then do something about it.

Manchester was the winner then in this round a decision making; the CBK now raised additional excise taxes to pay for his enhanced army. The burden of taxation was now way heavier than it had been under Charles – there was groaning, under a yoke that was not Norman, but becoming normal.

Two other armies were formed in addition to the Eastern Association under Manchester – one under Waller and the other Essex, ordered to work together in the Midlands and west. Now Essex and Waller were not bosom pals. They did not get on. And Essex saw all of this as a demotion, once THE General, now A general. Nonetheless folks are still talking to each other, still pulling on the same rope. Essex for example after the news broke, magnanimously invited Manchester and Cromwell to his London mansion for tea, and they then went together to hear a famous preacher at a local church, and then joined a feast together at the Merchant’s Taylors company.

So fine – teeth gritting, but no fisticuffs. But there is another worm in the parliamentarian apple, and it is the tensions that the alliance with the Scots bring. Independency has both a political and religious side to it. Many like Vane, and indeed Cromwell, recognise the absolute need for Scottish military assistance and will support it; but they are not pleased at the price. They are uncomfortable with the political and religious uniformity inherent in the Scottish model of Presbyterianism. For the moment they will do what is required; but it’s interesting that Cromwell left signing the Solemn League and Covenant to the very last moment.

Back in the field, I have an Oliver anecdote, a run in with Manchester’s commander of foot, who happened to be a Covenanted Scot, Laurence Crawford. Crawford and Manchester were both very wary of religious independents, and in February Crawford arrested one of his men, one William Packer on the grounds that he was an anabaptist – a sectarian as the Presbyterians would increasingly call them, a man of religious sects. Cromwell blew his top at the news and wrote Crawford a letter in what you might describe as the strongest possible terms

Say but the man is an anabaptist…admit he be, shall that render him incapable to serve the public…Sir, the state, in choosing men to serve them, take no notice of their opinions, if they be willing faithfully to serve them – that satisfies.

Crawford backed down; Manchester saw staff trouble and took an executive decision not to get involved. Cromwell is a man of action getting the job done is the thing.

Weak counsels and weak actings undo all

He wrote to Oliver St John.

There is a small but emerging feeling among some that the price of alliance with Scottish Presbyterians may be too high to pay. And Manchester’s hope that he could weed out religious Independents from the Eastern Association is dead; under Cromwell’s protection, the Eastern Association will become a haven for those who believed protestants should be able to worship as their conscience dictated.

OK to war. We are basically going North today, so let’s head west first, and I am sorry to say I am going to take major shortcuts, sorry about that. Which is a shame, because Charles does do a rather good job in this cmampaign.

In the south near Winchester, Ralph Hopton launched a campaign, but came up against his old mucker Edward Waller, and fought a battle at Cheriton. Which is normally cited as a decisive victory for Waller, and I guess it was, and it did help to restore his reputation. Hopeton’s campaign was stopped and he retreated to the west country, but in good order; and Waller was too tired to pursue, although he captured Winchester and a siege of Basing House started – there will be more than one of those, Loyalty House as Basing become known as, there’s a very good book by Jesse Childs of that name.

The parliamentarian focus moved to Oxford, which the CBK decided must now be besieged, and Essex and Waller grumpily agreed to work together. By this stage, most of Charles’ resources were either way in the south west with Prince Maurice, or were heading northwards with Prince Rupert. Charles was left with barely 9,000 to hold off Essex and Waller seeking to invest Oxford. And the long and short is that Charles leads them a merry dance through the Cotswolds, effectively distracting them from their objectives. Seriously the campaign map looks like a plate of spaghetti. Then in June Essex decides he really must go to Lyme Regis in the South West – I mean it is nice, but busting the strategy for Lyme was not going to make many people happy, and will require further explanation next episode. Waller was left with an army little stronger than Charles, and in an inconclusive engagement at Cropredy Bridge in June, Charles gave him a bloody nose, and although he still held the bridge, that was all he held. His London troops were mutinous; Waller wrote back to the CBK that they sang

‘their old song of home, home’

The recurring problem – militias did not like being away from home. Waller himself was becoming tired and fed up of the whole darned thing.

OK, so the rest of the episode will be in the glories of the north. Now then the thing you have all been waiting for finally happens – Adventus Scotorum. And in early January, campaigning season or no campaigning season, since an army of 21,000 was impossible to maintain in one place for long and the local Scots were complaining about the soldiers, the Scottish army crossed the border and invaded England. I know – again. Tsk.

They were commanded once more by the thoroughly competent ex-Field Marshal of Gustavus Adolphus’s Swedish army, Alistair Leslie, who I am going to call Leven from now on, on account of the fact that that is now his name. His general of horse, David Leslie, was almost equally talented, and though younger, again a veteran of the continental wars. The Scots were very, very confident that this would not take long – God was on their side, they had whipped the English twice in the Bishops wars.

Their arrival of course transformed the situation. Fairfax from Hull was free to roam as Newcastle went north to his eponymous city to face the threat. And parliament takes full advantage. Fairfax took an army of 5,000 westwards from Hull to Cheshire, there to meet the royalists new friends – an army under Byron composed of substantial numbers of troops from Ireland, English troops by and large – but from Ireland. At Nantwich in January, Fairfax put Byron to flight. Just as Digby seems to keep messing things up, Byron seems to keep getting beaten. Is it just me? Anyone who wants to sing the praises of George Digby and John Byron, send me a postcard, to the History of England, the Shed. Incidentally, the 1,500 English soldiers from Ireland under Byron, were a bit confused about who they were fighting for now. So when Fairfax asked if they’d like to switch sides, most of them said – yes, Ok then, let’s do that.

Meanwhile we have a new Important Name you need to remember – or at least you don’t need to try very hard because you’ll hear it again plenty – John Lambert, a 25 year old rather impoverished member of the minor Yorkshire gentry from Kirby Malham. He’d fought for Fairfax at Hull, and now at Nantwich, he was a confident, aggressive soldier. So Fairfax sent him off to have a hack at those West Riding towns Newcastle had taken off them after Adwalton Moor. And Lambert started taking them right back – Selby and Bradford. In a little while – I say little while, depends on the scale you are using – he’ll write England’s only constitution. Meanwhile Fairfax went to visit the Countess of Derby at Lathom House, to ask her nicely if she’d surrender the place, and the she sent the nasty little tick away with a refusal and a flea in his ear.

Newcastle of course was busy. He had an army of barely 10,000 against 21,000 Scots, and very confident Scots at that. And William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, posh and poetic though he might be, plays an absolute blinder. Newcastle refuses to give in and through march and counter march, and the defence of Newcastle, tied up a large contingent of the Scots for the better part of 8 months. None the less Leven has enough men to confidently move south and Newcastle dances around him for 4 months around Durham, ably aided and abetted by a talented cavalry commander Charles Lucas – destined to be his future brother in law, did he but know it.

Robert Bailie one of the Scottish Commissioners on the CBK found the lack of an immediate crushing victory cheered on by the will of God – frankly embarrassing, and wondered what on earth God was doing with his chosen people.

We are exceeding sad and ashamed that our army, so much talked of has done as yet nothing at all. What can be the reason of it we cannot guess, only we think, that God, to humble our pride…had not yet been pleased to assist them

None the less, Newcastle knew without help, there was only one end in sight; there is no doubt the Scots had transformed the strategic situation in a way the Irish contingents would not. So he wrote to Prince Rupert

If your highness do not please to come hither, and that very soon too, the great game of your uncle’s will be endangered if not lost.

Prince Rupert meanwhile had been playing a blinder all of his own. Let me take you to the East Midlands, where the Royalist fortress of Newark in Nottinghamshire was a fulcrum on which the royalist strategic position turned. If it fell, Royalist west and south west would be split from the North, especially now that Fairfax had seized Cheshire. And by march, Newark was listening to the sound of Sweet Lips, along with the commander of the parliamentary army of 7,000 John Meldrum. Sweet Lips was not in fact Major Houlihan, if you get the reference to an old 70s comedy, it was a mighty canon that threw a 32 pound ball.

Rupert was at Shrewsbury by the Welsh borders, and on hearing of the threat he moved, taking almost no artillery so as to move like an angry wind, sweeping up soldiers from garrisons in the storm as he went. Meldrum knew he was coming, but Rupert was on him days before he should have been, sold him a dummy by swinging round to advance from the south rather than the west as by all rights he should have, and on 21st March 1644 appears at the top of a hill overlooking Meldrum’s army. He should have waited for the rest of his foot soldiers, but instead thought ‘hang it all, Boy, let’s just have a hack’. [woof]. Said Boy. So sending smaller cavalry contingents to take strategic points and bridges, he charges,. Meldrum panicked tries to withdraw, and found the bridges duly held against him by those flying cavalry groups. At this point his men mutinied because they were trapped and that was that. There was nothing for it but for Meldrum to surrender, which he did, and he and his men were allowed to march away. Without 3,000 Muskets, 11 guns and presumably their sweet lips. Because they’d be feeling bitter I imagine. It is as pretty a campaign and victory as any in the civil wars.

But there is no rest for the wicked. Event in the north had moved on. Parliament and the Scots had finally closed the trap and forced Newcastle back into York. Now York was a tricky place to besiege; 3 ½ miles of wall, marshy land around and two rivers. With the Scots and Fairfax outside, Newcastle was still sitting pretty, able to get supplies in and out. What was needed was Manchester’s Eastern Association.

It seems that Manchester was already entering his torpid phase. He had recorded a signal victory by taking Lincoln, but he took an awful lot of persuading to get his bottom out of neutral, so already the Venetian ambassador back in London reported

Whether from reluctance to go from the eastern counties or lack of course, he has always shown himself very slow in carrying out orders

By the end of May though Manchester was convinced and by 3rd June the Grande Arme du Nord of 27,000 men was assembled around York, tighter than a gnat’s arse, with pontoon bridges across the River Ouse. Hard though it was to capture, York was doomed. The Ministry of All talents – Leven, Fairfax, Manchester surrounded the city. Cromwell’s horse were watching the passes to the west to prevent a royalist relief force linking up with Newcastle’s army, which all agreed would be a Bad Thing, with all the panoply of capital letters.

Now back at Shrewsbury, with his tiddly little army, Rupert received a letter. I’m not going to lie to you there has been ink spilled over this letter, and tears too. Rupert kept it with him for the rest of his life, to use as evidence, because he suspected a stitch up. It was from Charles, but it seems it might have been written for him by George Digby. So, no wonder it was a buggers muddle.

I shall esteem my crown little less, unless supported by your sudden march to me and a miraculous conquest in the south before the effects of their northern power can be found here. But if York be relieved and you beat the rebels’ army of both kingdoms which are before it, then (but otherwise not) I may possibly make a shift (upon the defensive) to spin out time until you come to assist.

So…what does that mean then? Do you want me to come down south and do the miraculous conquest gig, or go north? And if I go north do I relieve York or am I required to beat the rebels’ army? No wonder Rupert kept the thing, damned if you do damned if you don’t. As we will see, Rupert interprets it within his own idiom, his response is sui generis.

Taking his tiddly army of 7,000, Rupert proceeds to play another blinder. It was angry wind time again. North from Shrewsbury, he stormed Stockport on the Mersey on 25th May where the garrison fell over themselves in panic to run away and off they legged to Manchester.

Joined by a Stanley, still around after all these centuries since Bosworth, James Stanley the Earl of Derby, Rupert was now up to 12,000 men and the next stop was Lathom House and the Countess of Derby who received him with every honour, since he wasn’t, you know, a tick and a rebel, but Rupert could not stop because those rebels won’t chase themselves, and chase them he did into Bolton, where, with no pause for negotiation he attacked. Victory followed quickly, and equally quickly by a sacking, probably the worst in the English bit of the civil wars, put at 1,600 including civilians. As we heard, the Earl of Derby would be executed in Bolton as a result. George Goring, a dissolute but talented cavalry commander joined him with 6,000 horse, and this thing is beginning to look on. Thence to take the port of Liverpool, north to Preston to make sure its North End will be ready for footer in a few hundred years time, and Lancashire is turning blue again.

Back in London the CBK were laying eggs, sending letters to the commanders around York to send someone to deal with that scary Prince and his devil dog. {woof} Leven Fairfax and Manchester did no such thing. They were staying right where they were to stop Rupert linking up with Newcastle’s  men trapped inside York. And anyway they had 27,000 men, it was cool.

Rupert, though, was on fire. Now, he still had the much smaller army; but he had already decided that his Uncle’s letter was in fact ordering him to deliver it all; to both relieve York, and defeat the rebel army. But he was only 14,000 to the allies 27,000, which was a problem, however much my morale trumps your numbers stuff.  When it comes down to it, knowing you are half the size will probably stuff your morale anyway. So he needed Newcastle’s men from inside York to be outside with him in any battle. So Rupert played a clever trick.

On 28th June, the allies had withdrawn much of the army from the siegeworks, taking up position near Long Marston confidently expecting to see Rupert’s army advancing towards York from the North West along the Knaresborough road. So, that’s what Rupert decided to give them and he sent a strong contingent of cavalry down the Knaresborough road towards York. The allied mongoose watched the snake approaching carefully, eyes narrowed. While the most of the snake was in fact looping round to the north, getting to the east of the allies – in between the Allies and York. And triumphantly sent news to Newcastle to join him as fast as he could, while the remaining allied army on the siegeworks ran away and abandoned their positions. York was relieved. Objective 1 relieve York Sah. Yes Sah.[1]

Meanwhile on 1st July, the Allies were manoeuvring. A bit horrified by the neat trick, Leven, Manchester and Fairfax consulted and decided a strategic withdrawal might be in order, and on 2nd July started to do just that, towards Tadcaster to await reinforcements expected in a few days from the south. However Rupert had his own plans; Newcastle had got in touch, said he thought the allies were moving out anyway, but he’d come as soon as he could. So, Rupert for whom attack was always the very best form of attack, and whose ever heard of defence? set off to do just that and at dawn on 2nd July moved towards Long Marston, probably expecting to meet a fleeing enemy. He did not; the Allies had heard where he was and how many men he had and turned around again and many were already gathering back on their rise over looking Marston Lane.

That was unfortunate for Rupert; he’d expected some Allied confusion to help him over the hump of the disparity in numbers and it was not to be. Never mind, he told Boy, it is all part of life’s rich tapestry [woof]. [r’OK]. Said Boy. Meanwhile on the parliamentary side I do not know what the Scots, who had already reached Tadcaster 6 miles away for their billets, and were now told to turn around and come back to Long Marston. Rich tapestry probably weren’t the words, but I could be wrong. Lions and Donkeys may have come up.

Most of 2nd July then was spent forming up. Newcastle took his own sweet time to bring his men out of the city, although he only brought 3,000 which was irritating, but his brave infantry Whitecoats were among them. Rupert was interrogating captured troopers from the Eastern Association, and according to Antonia Fraser, Cromwell was now famous enough to have come to his attention, and in fact the nickname of Cromwell’s horse, the Ironsides, is attributed to Rupert.

Is Cromwell there?

He asked the trooper. Oh yes said the Trooper. The trooper was released and returned to his lines to tell the tale. At which story Cromwell was  supposed to have looked at the camera with his best Richard Harris accent and said

By God’s grace we shall have fighting enough

No one else repeats this story. It has all the smell of a newsheet about it. But come on – of course it happened.[2]

Over the course of 2nd July these huge armies formed up – well huge by English standards, nobbut average for continental standards; but probably the largest battle fought on British soil – it competes with Towton I think, estimated rather vaguely at 50-60,000 men, Marston moor 46,000.

Here’s the set up then, pens and whiteboard at the ready? The royalist army were on the edge of the moor, set behind ditches, in landscape with multiple hedges that musketeers could use for cover, standing to the ready should the Allies should attack. The allies were on a ridge, with a better view. Many stood in wet fields of rye, comprehensively trampled by the finish. I imagine the poor old farmer holding his head in his hands. It’s not clear why Rupert didn’t attack as they formed up, but probably the late arrival of Newcastle is the answer.

Well the two armies finally completed their military ablutions – Rupert commanded the right; opposite him on the allied left was Cromwell and his Ironsides. Newcastle was at the royalist centre with most of the infantry, facing Manchester’s Eastern Association, with Charles Lucas and Goring on the  royalist left facing Fairfax and his cavalry. Leven, as the most experienced General, had overall command of the Allies. The armies were quite close to each other – 250 yards apart maybe. The royalists with forlorn hopes and dragoons in ditches, the army behind them. They would be difficult to get at given the work done by those lovers of Edward II’s example, hedging and ditching. The scene would have been a riot of colour – banners and flags and different coloured uniforms, white and orange sashes for parliament, lots of  guns…the allies 75 guns were yelling, covering the battle field with thick smoke which drifted towards the royalist army, obscuring the view. They did little damage is the consensus. Probably more damage came from the mouths of the Scots and the English Puritan soldiers, singing their metrical psalms. Unnerving to hear such unison, such conviction, such belief in the providence that would guide them.

And well it began to get late to be honest. I mean it’s July so it won’t get dark for a while but by 4 O’clock it was getting past tea time and no one likes a barney after a cucumber sarnie. At this point, Rupert decided to stop playing a blinder and start paying a blunder instead. He and Newcastle had a chat; Newcastle claims he was all for going at it now, Rupert said nah, it’s too late in the day there’ll be no action today. He ordered a general stand down, and he himself ‘set down upon the earth at meat’. Newcastle slipped off to his coach for a crafty smoke. The tired cavalry dismounted  and ‘laid upon the ground’. Dragoons climbed out of ditches. I assume that most musketeers put their matches out to preserve them. Tomorrow would be enough.[3]

Except they were facing an experienced Field Marshal in Leven. So, relaxing army, unprepared. Only 250 yards away. Hmm. 5 hours or more of daylight, lots of smoke obscuring the royalist view? Again Hmm. OK boys, up and at ‘em. Leven ordered a general advanced. Above them the heavens opened and the rain came down, and thousands of pikemen and thousands of musketeers came down from the ridge at as fast a run as they could manage, and the hooves of thousands of horse made a thunder of the earth. The royalist soldiers scrambled in a panic to recover as their enemy appeared out of the black smoke in front of them.

Our army made such a noise with shot and clamour of shouts that we lost our ears and the smoke of powder was so thick we saw no light but what proceeded us

Thus Simeon Ashe, looking back on the day

Battle was joined. On the Allied left there came an iconic first, as Ironside met the cream of the royalist cavalry, the unbeaten, Prince Ruperts wing, commanded though by…wait for it…John Byron. The forlorn hope though had not recovered in time and so Cromwell was on the royalist wing without the interference they would have expected. But Rupert was there; somehow he’d lost control of his hound, who had slipped his leash, but there was no time to worry about that. As he passed some of his men fleeing after the shock of the first impact, Rupert cried out

Do you run? Follow me!’

And he charged. Ahead of him, Cromwell had been injured, had to leave for a while before returning to the fight.  Wrote Leonard Watson,

Cromwell’s division had a hard pull of it for they were charged by Rupert’s bravest men both in front and flank they stood at the sword’s point a pretty while, hacking one another but at last it so pleased God, he brake through them’

The unthinkable had happened; the Ironsides had broken Rupert’s finest, Rupert himself was forced to flee for his life and by repute was forced to take refuge in a beanfield. There is a most amusing woodcut to that effect. I mean it’s a woodcut with the artistic talent of a 2 year old on speed, but it is fun. It’s on the website.

This was not Cromwell’s success alone of course. It seems Byron wasn’t prepared and may have charged at the wrong time.[4] And critically, right behind the ironsides came David Leslie’s Scots. Now the Scottish horse famously were mounted on hardier but much smaller ponies and therefore at a disadvantage in a straight fight. But it may well have been Leslie that made the difference here, as well as the quality of the Ironsides. While some of the parliamentarian horse gleefully chased the royalists back to beanfield and city, Crawford, Cromwell and Leslie managed to haul in many of their regiments, and now surveyed the scene to decide how best to use their advantage.

Elsewhere things were going better for the royalists – in fact things were looking most encouraging, most encouraging indeed for the royalists. On the left hand side of the centre Newcastle’s Whitecoats had been together for a long time now and were solid, and were advancing, pushing back the pikeman in front of them. Arthur Trevor remembered the panic rout rhat ebsued on parliament side

In the fire smoke and confusion of that day, the runaways on both side were so many, so breathless so speechless and so full of fears that I should not have taken them for men…a shoal of Scots crying out ‘Weys us, we are all undone’…and anon I met a ragged troop reduced to four and a cornet…and by and by with a little foot officer with hat, band sword or indeed anything but feet

At that moment, Charles Lucas arrived with Royalist cavalry to attack the right hand side of the Allied centre. And men ran. Because Fairfax’s cavalry charge on the right had not gone to plan. According to Thomas it started tricky

The whins and ditches which we were to pass over before we could get to the enemy put us into great disorder…

A whin, by the way, is a thorn bush. I shall use it from now on. If the forlorn hope of course, had not stood down and abandoned those ditches, they’d have been in even greater disorder. Looking at the royalist cavalry ahead of them Fairfax would remember

we were necessitated to charge them. We were a long time engaged with them, but at last we routed that part of their wing

Unfortunately trouble was on the way. In the form of Lord George Goring and Charles Lucas whose counter charge hit Fairfax’s cavalry hard and routed them. Fairfax’s men bolted. True to form many of Goring’s men chased them and got into the baggage train to be no more use – does anyone else think of white frilly bloomers when there’s talk of looting the baggage train? I know not why, but that is always the image that comes to my mind. Send psychological analyses c/o the shed plus a stamped addressed envelope.

Charles Lucas, a talented and hard minded royalist cavalry commander, was made of sterner stuff. They reformed. And turned on the parliamentary infantry.

Many fled at that point and the battle started to turn for the king. One of those that fled for it was the commander Lord Leven. He rode and rode and rode and would not stop until he reached Leeds 30 miles away. It is true to say that you don’t want to miss those bargains at Briggate. And anyway, the day was lost. Time to plan for another day, for the return match when God would surely deliver vengeance.

One brigade though stood firm. The Scottish brigade of Lord Lindsey and Viscount Maitland stood, bristling with pikes against three charges of Lucas’s cavalry and would not yield.

Fairfax was with his second in command John Lambert, surveying the carnage and wreckage. Disaster stared them in the face. Both wore white flashes in their hats as a field sign. They ripped them off. And set off through the royalist army, all the way round the back, the fear of recognition at every step. And so it was they arrived in front of Cromwell, Leslie and Crawford. Just in time.

After a quick exchange of pleasantries, a plan was formed. Crawford’s contingent duly started to attack the royalist infantry on the flank, rolling them up as they tried and failed to wheel, attacked now from the front by the Eastern Association foot and the flank by Crawford. The began to break.

Cromwell and I assume Leslie took their cavalry and retraced Fairfax and Lambert’s path – all the way behind the royalist army to the rear of the royalist left wing. And smack into the rear of Lucas and Goring’s cavalry.

The tide had turned again and this time there was turning back. Prince Rupert’s army was broken, shattered, streaming from the field in groups of vulnerable men now to be cut down as they ran, defenceless in their panic and visceral search for safety and unlikely salvation, chased by men fired with the bloodlust of relief.

Except for one band. Newcastle’s Whitecoats. Still they stood together. The astrologer William Lilly received a letter from Colonel Camby much later.

They would have no quarter, but fought it out til there were not thirty of them living; whose hap it was to be beaten down upon the ground as the troopers came near them, though they could not rise for their wounds, yet were so desperate to get either pike or sword or piece of them, and to gore the troopers horses as they came over them

I never met with such brave resolute fellows or whom I pitied so much

As dark fell, half past nine now, and the moon appeared through the clouds, a soldier looked at the ground, strewn with their lambswool white coats, and reflected

They had brought their own winding sheets with them

The Battle of Martson Moor was over. King Charles had lost the north.

That’s it for this week folks; a shattering defeat in the north a no core draw in the south so far. Next time we will hear about the fall out from Marston Moor, and find out what happens in the South; surely after such a heavy defeat, Charles’ cause was lost?

Quick message for members before I go; members please let me stress the benefits of the Members app.  You really should use it, it’s be very best way to see all of the shedcasts that are available to you – there are so may now! So please go to the members homepage thehistoryofengland.co.uk/members. If you are not a member, why not consider the idea? You can see the glories that await you at thehistoryofengland.co.uk/become-a-member.

That’s it, all done – good luck all, happy 2024, and see you next week

[1] Lipscombe, N: Th English Civil War Atlas’, pp 167-178

[2] Fraser, A: ‘Cromwell: Our Chief of Men’, p119

[3] Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil War: A Peoples’ History’, p330

[4] Hutton, R: ‘The making of Oliver Cromwell’, p183



5 thoughts on “393 We Saw No Light

  1. “Meldrum. Sweet Lips was not in fact Major Houlihan, if you get the reference to an old 70s comedy”

    I get it, although I recall her nickname as “Hot Lips”. I was quite young, though.

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