397 In Assurance of Victory

We come to 1645, and the first test of the New Model Army. To Charles and Rupert this was an opportunity to destroy it while full of raw recruits. Through the sack of Leicester they lured the ‘brutish’ general Fairfax to meet them on the fields of Naseby.

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Some Battle field Photos

The Battlefield Map
Fairfaz’s view: he will move down the hill from here to encourage a battle
The View from the Monument – we are seeing through the eyes of Phillip Skippon
Marston Trussel church. to the left is the Pudding Bag, Slaughterfield



Oxford’s old city walls used to run immediately to the south of HM’s old civil war hang out of Merton College. One cold morning in April 1645, a military man was stood against the wall, ripped open his shirt, cried ‘God Save the King’. And then was shot. There’s a footpath there now, and it’s a nice part of the world, but If you happen to be walking there, take a friend. Because the soul of victim, Francis Windebank, is still wracked with a sense of injustice. And you might be ne of those who meets his shade returning to tell anyone who will listen of his eternal search for justice.


[play intro music]

Hello everyone and welcome …

Colonel Francis Windbank, was the Governor of Bletchington Park just outside Oxford. Just a few days before is execution, Francis had organised a bit of a do for his young wife the raise spirits of the household. The ball never took place because outside came a rough demand – a regiment of horse commanded by one rough Oliver Cromwell had arrived and demanded Bletchington’s surrender. Come on out with your hands up your house is surrounded – sort of thing. Panicked at this unwelcome surprise, unprepared, worried at the presence of his guests, Francis did what he though the only decent, chivalrous thing and surrendered to save everyone’s lives.

He was confident of the king’s approval as he returned to Oxford – clearly his king, father of his people, would full agree that saving loyal lives was his most important responsibility.  He was in for a bit of a shock as it happens. He had miscalculated. Quite badly actually. You don’t surrender at first ask and expect to keep your life. The Bunny that was Charles was not a happy, sent him to court martial, the court martial took just three hours to order him shot, and shot he was. The injustice of it all still haunts him, and he returns frequently to let people know. You only see half of the lad because he’s at the old ground level of the library and you might see him on this knees on the current Library. Maybe sometimes you might see him chatting at a ghostly social with Archbishop Laud, whose body was buried at St. John’s College, and who still walks the library. Though chatting is probably the wrong word because I don’t think Laud’s head made it to Oxford, just his body.


Last time then, we heard essentially about the creation of the New Model Army, and the extraordinary circumstances around it; little short of a second revolution, the assertion of the power of the Commons and the eclipse of the Lords; the rise of faction and a defeat for the presbyterian peace party. And the next step in Montrose’s wild campaign in Scotland. This week we are going to hear more about the extraordinary dance Montrose led the irate increasingly incredulously irritated  Covenanters through a number of the glens, the gayest of Robin Hoods could only wonder at, and we are also going to hear about a climactic clash of arms on the low hills outside Marston Trussel.

Quite apart from all the fuss and bother about the creation of the New model, the first half of 1645 contained, in summary, an awful lot of rushing about. You might think that the creation of a new professional army would put the wind up the king, and fill him with fear but you would be wrong. In fact Charles and his Council watched the infighting and factionalism with what might be described as unseemly glee. Not just because the divisions of your enemy is always fun, but because this seemed like an opportunity. The New model from the start was devoid of foot soldiers, who had either gone home, were serving with the rump of one of the old armies, or were worrying about whether they’d get a job with the New Model or not. So not only were all the officers being appointed to new positions or removed, there was recruitment and impressment on a vast scale. One of the new Colonels of the Foot, incidentally was a name to be remembered – one Thomas Rainsborough, ex naval officer, ex of Fairfax’s command at Hull, and Cromwell’s Eastern Association at Crowland. The peers had tried but failed reject to him in their fight against Fairfax. Rainsborough personally pressed almost 1500 men, returning to the treasury more than half the money allotted to him for the purpose. A man committed to the cause. He’s a man to watch out for Thomas Rainsborough, you mark my words, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Charles’ eyes were smiling because he’d actually had a great second half to 1644 when he’d personally stuck it in the back of the net with a tremendous win at Lostwithial, Cropredy and Newbury, there was Montrose’s news – and I personally do not believe that when he heard about Argyll’s humiliation at Inverlochy in February 1645 Charles did not do a back flip with a double salchow spin and final leg lift in the privacy of his own room. A difficult man to like was lemon sucker Archie, and he’d really made Charles suck on the lemon of political humiliation, so salchow on, Charlie boy, salchow on.

The Oxford Parliament was now gone, and that was good news too. Charles was sick of what he now called his mongrel parliament – it kept badgering him to make peace. So in March with effusive thanks of course he told it to sling its collective hook. It is kind of interesting that Charles failed to work effectively with parliament even when he had one that was in his pocket.

But but but eyes around the Royal Council table were not smiling because there was all manner of political infighting. Charles had mixed things up managerially speaking. He’d now created a new command in the west, based at Brissol under the Prince of Wales. The practical impact of this was to sideline Hyde and the moderate royal constitutionalists who went with him and away from Charles’ ear; and the always inevitable failure of the negotiations at Uxbridge meant that finally, at last and fatally, of his civilian courtiers Hyde and his moderates were out of favour. To be replaced by – wait for it – gorgeous George Digby the glam, with his rivers of charm, optimism, ambition and dangerous stupidity. It is now George’s warm wet lips that are pressed closest to the royal ear. Rupert – hated him, I mean really hated him, as much as Rufus hated Anselm. And you know what, George hated Rupes right back. It could well be that much of the advice Charles received in 1645 was not motivated by truth light and the impartial justice of the question, but by alpha male hormones. Speaking as a male somewhere around delta or epsilon levels, alpha males and their bottoms do have a lot to answer for.



Anyway, moving on, both king and parliament fail to really develop a coherent strategy, and focus instead on deck chair re-arranging. Rupert was hot for the North to cause trouble for Fairfax, who  was quietly and methodically reducing Yorkshire to obedience – and that’s never easy, not noted for it the locals. Let’s get that baby back on Board, said Rupes, raise a new army in North Wales make sure we hold on to Chester at least. This strategy took a bit of a bit of a hit when parliamentarian forces captured Shrewsbury, effectively blocking the route.

Despite the fall of Shrewsbury, Rupert was tireless in Wales, with new commanders Maurice and Gerard, recruiting and inspecting garrisons. Mid Wales was undergoing something of a wobble, with a resurgence of support for parliament, so it was not always easy. Rupert also meets for the first time a lot of Clubmen around Hereford; this is not the time to discuss clubmen, we’ll do that next time I think , but all over the west and south west a lot of local people start to say look – enough is enough, take your stinking war away from our hearth and home, and a plague on both your houses. I am eliding a lot of information here, but essentially Chester stays royalist, and although Royalist fortunes are far from revived, there is a cavalry contingent now under the command of the marvellously named Marmaduke Langdale. It is called the Northern horse, swept up from the remnants of horse all over Yorkshire, on which the king might like to call. It falls probably under George Monks’ famous name for royalist cavalry as a ‘rabble of gentility’ but was substantial, 30 regiments so even if under strength several thousand men. And Langdale had some dash; in March he swept up to Pontefract, and drove off john Lambert from the siege inflicting a substantial defeat on the lad. They were ill-disciplined for sure, but the Northern Horse were effective and aggressive.


Meanwhile George Goring’s star was in the ascendent, as the one royalist commander who had come away with an enhanced reputation from the disaster at Marston Moor, an aggressive and talented cavalry commander

‘the most dextrous in any sudden emergency that I have ever seen’

Said a fan,

‘presentness of his mind and vivacity in a sudden attempt, though never so full of danger’[1]

Said Clarendon. So good news for Charles then, though the modern judgement of Ronald Hutton might have been handy. Goring was something of a lover of booze, frequently failed to control the behaviour of his men leading to atrocities on the locals, and was unreliable.

‘his qualities add up to a superficial brilliance…he never rose above short-term, tactical, ingenuity

Says Ron. Also Rupert hated him, saw him as a rival. So there’s that.

To be fair there is a lot of to-ing and froing from March to June 1645 which I should maybe go into but am not. The message is one of dysfunction, the king surrounded by a War Council for whom the most compelling war was in the Council not the field where it mattered. Digby hated the Swordsmen especially Rupert and Langdale. Rupert wanted Goring out of the way, he detested Digby and despised the religious loonies in the NMA – the New Noddle Army he called it. So there they are, arguing away like ferrets in a sack about what to do.

The CBK was a bit the same, trying to micromanage everything. They had a core strategy which was probably not achievable as matters stood – to take the very well defended Oxford with an as yet under resourced Midlands army. They failed to concentrate on even that though. They salami sliced the newly forming New Model, sending bits all over the place. Fairfax was sent on a trip to Taunton, for example, to shore up last outpost in the west – an objective of largely symbolic value. Cromwell was sent to Ely for a while also in a panic, and then back to Oxford where he pooped Windbank’s party as already heard. This wasn’t the idea at all for the New Model. That had been for an independently run professional army.

And, in early May, into the mix comes news from the battle of Auldean and the Great Montrose, which effectively removed the Scots from parliament’s side in the Midlands. John Urry, the soldier of fortune the traitor who deserted Hampden and shopped him to the King, was now fighting for his third boss, the Covenanters. Urry was sent by the Covenanter Council in Edinburgh to trap Montrose in the highlands by destroying one of the few allies Montrose had left – in the Gordon lands, in North East Scotland. With an army of regular troops now, and an experienced commander, Montrose and MacColla were badly under strength – again; Now Montrose’s had just 1,500 of them, against 4,000 regular Covenanter troops urrying to meet them.

But at Auldean, Montrose set a trap, out-flanked the Covenanters, deployed the Gordon cavalry that joined at the key moment. And it was a blood bath. No quarter was given.  The Covenanter clan MacKenzie refused to give up the banner of their clan and for them pride came before a highland sword in the head. Almost half the Covenanters died in the brutal pursuit.

That is wildly improbable victory number four for Montrose – Tippermuir, Aberdeen, Inverlochy, Auldean. Four victories against overwhelming odds; and this time it was not MaColla’s fearsome Highland charge that had won, it was clever tactics against regular troops. The Great Montrose. Genius. And yet still the lowland Scots they did not come to the royal banner. He was fighting an enemy that had bound it’s people to it by a mutual commitment to a Covenant made community by community to their God and their view of an ideal king. Once more, Montrose and MacColla were forced to escape into the hills.

But their achievements did help their king in England. Leven had been asked to bring the Scots south to link up with Fairfax help the war effort. Rather delightfully, Leven pretended to march south, but went via the capital of Westmoreland. That it is categorically not south. What it is, is close to the Scottish border. Because Leven had to send 9 regiments home and would not leave Scotland far behind with Montrose on the rampage.

The long and short is that in June 1645, Fairfax was returning to Oxford. Rupert saw an opportunity; to draw Fairfax away from Oxford while he was still weak, away from reinforcements. Ss Fairfax chased him, hunter chasing the limping stag, it would give time for Goring to return with his cavalry from Taunton, and a new 3,000 strong Welsh force to reach Rupert too. Then, powerful and re-invigorated, Rupert would turn, ha ha!!, and give the New Niddle the required kicking, with equal or superior numbers. Urgent orders were duly sent to Goring. Goring it has to be said was incapacitated for days on end with drink, and had become obsessed with the idea of taking Taunton. So he sent a note back saying sure, I’ll be there in a couple of days. maybe. Charles and Rupert did not know this, but now laid out the lure, to pull Fairfax away towards his doom. That lure was the fair city of Leicester ladies and gentlemen, and what greater prize could there be? Leicester after all was the centre of world culture, a glittering cosmopolis of art and virtue.

Well not really. In fact it was chosen as a soft target. The Lord Lieutenant was Lord Loughborough, and he said Leicester was a sitting duck, give him some artillery and he could take it with the help of his sausage dog Bernard.  It was poorly defended, poorly fortified, and reassuringly far away from Oxford. It was angry wind time. To Leicester. To methodically invest the city with siege fortifications, done, to then demanding it’s surrender on 30th May, given it had not a snowball’s chance in a warm place of holding out. The answer, disconcertingly was a no. Rupert and Charles were miffed. They ordered the attack. The 500 defenders of Leicester fought off 12,000 royalists for hours and there was fierce street to street fighting. Rupert and Charles were doubly miffed – fine royalist soldiers were dying, to take the rathole once called Ratae. When it finally did fall, Leicester felt the full fury of a sack, and people died. It is one of the few occasions where accusations of rape were levelled, and 140 cartloads of loot were removed. A witness would appear at Charles’ trial to tell the tale.

Well, it worked. On 5th June, Fairfax left the Oxford area and came north. However – no sign of Goring, or the Welsh levies yet at Leicester. Rupert had options – he could feint and threaten eastwards toward Rockingham and Newark, delay and draw Fairfax on. Give them more time to arrive. Enter Digby. No way we can leave the fair ladies of Oxford undefended. It’s time to turn and defeat the New Noddle, says he. Rupert knew that the siege of Oxford had been raised. But he was poorly informed about Fairfax’s position and numbers and therefore did not know that he faced an army of 13,500, as against his own 10,000. He was lucky he had that many actually – Langdale’s northern horse had been complaining bitterly about being so far from home, and wanted to leave – and in fact did leave, and had to be coaxed back. No matter. The decision was made – Digby had won the say, they would do the best they could with the troops they had.

Meanwhile the CBK had finally seen sense; on 9th June it told Fairfax they would stop sending orders – he should shadow the king but do as he chose, he had full operational authority. Not before time. So Fairfax appointed Cromwell as his Lieutenant General of Horse, in defiance of the Self Denying ordinance, and on 12th June Cromwell and his troopers rode into the Roundhead camp. Seeing him arrive, the soldiers of the New Model rushed to see, there was great excitement, cheers and everyone felt a little bit better. The Soldiers of the New Model adored Cromwell. He understood them, he cared for them he shared their values he knew what he was doing. What’s not to like?

The scene was set – for the battle of Naseby.

The intelligence of both commanders seems to have differed; maybe because we are in an area held by parliament, so the royalists found it hard to find helpers; where was Goring, the blithering idiot, why didn’t he wrote?  Well, Fairfax had been riding out in the evening looking for the enemy himself, and his chief scout John Tarrant came to him with news – he had intercepted letters from Goring, which made it clear he was still noodling around in Somerset, wouldn’t be at the party and wouldn’t be bringing a bottle. Which appeared to be empty anyway, darn, who finished that? Charles and Rupert were therefore unaware of this. Nor were they aware just how close the two armies were.

And so it was that Charles was out hunting when news came in that – ‘hang on there’s an army about 6 miles away from us’. Charles stopped hunting Venison and called a council on the night 14th June to decide whether they should instead hunt rebels not deer. It was a tense meeting. Rupert might have been a hot blooded commander, he might not know the numbers very clearly, he though their lot was an Army of Noddles, old or new. But he still didn’t like the odds. His advice was to withdraw to Leicester and Northwards, find those 3,000 Welsh levies, give Glugging George Goring a chance to get away from Taunton, and fight when they were bound to win. But it was Digby’s advice that won the day, and probably Charles’ sense of honour not to walk away from a fight with a bunch of rebels. Edward Walker was there and on Rupert’s side, and wrote

It being our unhappiness that the faction of the court, whereof the most powerful were the Lord Digby and Mr John Ashburnham, and that of the army ever opposed and were jealous of each other[2]




I’m going to say a few words about the landscape and stuff, and here I can reveal a few personal details which I am sure you will give you time to go and make a nice cup of tea while the adverts are on sort of thing. The thing is that I am not by nature a battlefield walker, though Frank did take me round 7 of the Portuguese Peninsular war which was great. But it just so happens that I have a mater who lives near Naseby, for that is sort of where we are – Although at this precise point in time Charles is on a hill near East Farnham. Anyway, I was telling you I have a mate, his name is pat, and he has a mate called Dan, and Dan knows pretty much everything there is to know about the battle. So we walked together across the battlefields with Pat & Charlotte and dan, and a really irritated dog who kept asking whey we kept stopping to chat rather than getting on with a walk? It’s a great battlefield to go to; there are 5 of 6 points marked with a platform; you do need a car, and there’s a limit to how much of the land you can get on to, given that 18th century enclosures removed the traditional right of people to walk their own country, but it is really fun. Especially if you have a Dan with you. I have stolen his knowledge freely, where I get it wrong, it’s his fault. No it’s not, it’s because I have failed to listen.

A couple of words about the landscape as the armies move towards each other in the early morning of 15th June. Remember we are close to the longest day of the year; so although Fairfax was on the move from 3am, most of this would be in the daylight. The countryside is very different to the pictures I have put on the interweb or what you look at if you go. For two reasons; in 1645 it is as yet unenclosed; it’s all massive open fields. There is one significant hedges the parish boundary hedge, called Sulby’s hedge from the next door parish. One bit of enclosed land is there for stock, with good solid stock hedges. Okey’s Dragoons will use that.

Generally though this is good land for cavalry; some grass and other corn. We are in an area of lowland, but around about there is upland, a land of low hills, of red boulder clay and which can get soggy; these low hills do then provide a bit of enclosed land, suitable for cover. But finally in the 17th century wildlife was nowhere near as beaten up and beaten down as it is today. Nowadays is clean, neat, almost surgically tended. Back then there’s furze or gorse or whin all over the place. See end of podcast. It’s untidy, things can live there.

There are a couple of marked places on the battlefield – where Charles and Rupert could see in the morning over from the Clipstone area, eastwards – and you get a great view over the valley. Rupert had found the new noddle – they must move westwards.

There is another platform – Fairfax’s look out it’s called, and again you can see loads from there, and Fairfax could see the royal army drawing up. And as Dan and indeed the placard pointed out, from up where he was Fairfax knew full well that he had an impossibly strong position. And that no one was stupid enough to try and attack him up there – well possibly Digby obviously, but not Rupert. Abd so Fairfax orders the army to move down the hills, Fenny hill and Mill hill, into the valley. Because they wanted a battle. This hit me hard – I always assumed that you took up the best possible place, and prayed. You did actually invite death. Silly of me, obviously.

Both armies had now re-oriented, so that they ended on a north-south axis, with Naseby and it’s beautiful ironstone church behind Fairfax to the south, and Sibbertoft to the north behind Rupert and Charles.  Fairfax’s manoeuvre may have been designed also to make sure that the Royalists had the smoke of gunfire in their faces; it could also be that Cromwell saw that it would force Langdale’s Northern horse to attack from Dust Hill. As per my comment about messy countryside – in front of Dust lay an area of broken ground, a rabbit warren and area of furze. I am not going to lie to you folks, there is a lot of talk of furze in the Naseby records. This is what today I call Gorse. It’s a lovely plant with yellow flowers, blooms all year round I am told, and Dartford Warblers love it. But if you want to get through it you learn to roundly detest it. Tough, spiky. I have a word of the week to say at the end of the episode about furze, gorse and whin. Something to look forward to relax when the fighting is done and the blood has stopped chocking the ground.

The armies were in sight of each other from about 8 am and laid themselves out. The New Model was arranged along the low hills, and Fairfax had them step back about 100 yards behind the brow of the hill to confuse the enemy and make sure his new troops didn’t get scared looking at the royalists. Though if they were good at counting they might well have realised, as Rupert now began  to, that Fairfax had a significant advantage; the numbers vary, I am going with Nick Lipscombe’s 10,000 royalists, 13,500 parliament. Either way a significant advantage.

That morning Crowell’s buddy from Ely, Henry Ireton was promoted commissary-general of horse and given with command of the cavalry’s left wing. This had been a bit of a wheeze because as an independent, Fairfax thought the Lords would have nixed his appointment. They had not managed to do so. Ireton would be facing the might of Rupert’s cavalry from the royalist right, but he had an ace in the hole, which was the edge of enclosed land, and therefore parish hedge as mentioned, Sulby’s Hedge as it was called. Now, Cromwell saw an opportunity in that hedge, and so he sent Colonel Okey and his regiment of Dragoons up there along the hedge line.  They could fire on Rupert’s men from the side as and when they charged at Ireton. Now look good people, we have been there, there’s a viewing platform by Sulby’s hedge. And it is close close close to the royalists, and the Okeymen were taking potshots and there was naff all Rupert could do about it. They would make a difference, the Okeymen. I am sure okeyman is a reference to some 60s/70s comedy programme, I’m thinking Derek and Clive, can’t remember, if you do, let me know. Still, the Okeymen don’t have a lot of impact at this stage; and Rupert Vs Ireton? You’d pick Rupert. Here the battle could be won.

In the centre, the royalist foot was commanded by Jacob Astley, still presumably praying ‘O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not thou forget me’, and he would face Phillip Skippon, and so we have two fully experienced hardened officers facing each other now. However – this is another place where the battle could be won for the King. They had smaller numbers – but this was experienced, hardened infantry, the best the king had. As Dan was clear to make the point, Skippon’s men were untried, many pressed men. On the ‘my morale beats your numbers’ thing, they could run like rabbits, run rabbit, run.

On the Royalist left were the flamboyant and without doubt talented Northern Horse under Langdale, but they faced a tough task. Because of all that furse, and the boggy ground that led to Mill hill where was placed Cromwell and his Ironsides. The Ironsides were the best cavalry of the war. Cromwell was the best cavalry commander. Also Ironsides with a numerical advantage. This is where the battle could be won. And Cromwell, ever energised by simple, unambiguous action – he was feeling good.

I could not, riding alone about my business, but smile out to God in praises, in assurance of victory, because God would, by things that are not, bring to naught things that were[3]

Quite a complicated quote that, needs a gloss really.

Fairfax meanwhile was everywhere. Generally speaking Fairfax was a quiet chap, and suffered horribly from gall stones. But the challenge of battle animated him too and he inspired his men

Sir, had you seen him, and how his spirit was raised, it would have made an impression in you, never to be obliterated[4]

All the reports say that he turned up at all parts of the battle, that he had the talent of remaining calm under pressure and making sound tactical decisions. The Commons had chosen their commander well. As we will see, Charles was equally committed, commanding the reserve at the rear, but more formal in style; Rupert was the inspiring commander he always was. And around 10, after everyone had done their prayers, it was he that, characteristically and metaphorically muttered, ‘oh come on let’s get on with this’, and launched his cavalry at Ireton’s heart. The advance was general across the line, there were to be no secret plans and clever tricks. Everyone agreed that of artillery there was little, and what little there was made not a ha’pporth of difference to man or beast. I don’t want to be rude, but you know what I am saying.

Colonel Okey’s men put fire from the hedges on Rupert’s men; our Henry Slingsby was there – you might remember him, conservative Yorkshire MP who wanted reform but not that much and so fought for the king? He remembered the fire from the Okeymen, but it did not slow down Rupert’s  advance, which however was not the most swashbuckling affair; or at least when quite close, both horse reformed and got themselves ready, dressed themselves as dan described it, making sure their formation was tight, packed – hit the hardest possible. Rupert made a better job of it, as you’d expect; and when Rupert did charge, Ireton’s men were slightly split, half did better than the other. But this was nonetheless a protracted hard fought fight.

Meanwhile Astley was coming forward over the mile and a half and up the hill towards Skippon’s infantry, and soon Astley was having the best of it. They were supported by small contingents of horse, and this also seemed to make a difference. A royalist recalled:

The foot on either side hardly saw each other until they were within carbine shot, and so only made one volley; ours falling in with sword and butt end of the musket and did notable execution; so much I saw their colours fall, and their foot in great disorder[5]

Skippon’s front line had been driven in, and started to be rolled up. Skippon himself was dangerously wounded by a shot in the side; seeing the danger, Fairfax was there, and asked him to leave the field, but a soldier remembered

‘the old man answered, he would not stir so long as a man would stand’

Skippon’s 45 by the way. Old, Blimey.  Ireton may well have seen what was happening, and peeled off part of his horse to attack the royalist foot from the side to restore balance. This was a bad decision, distracting from the task in hand, Rupert got the upper hand, and much of Ireton’s horse broke and legged it, 4 legged style. Ireton himself was speared by a pike, slashed with a halberd in the face – and captured. Rupert’s horse pursued, tails high, and then turned and attacked the baggage train. Which they found a hard nut to crack, since it was well defended. It was getting on, so Rupert started the long ride back to Dust hill and the king to see what was going on, though without the vast majority of his horse who were still bagging.

Which brings us to the east wing, where Langdale’s northern horse were coming on; Cromwell didn’t wait for them to arrive, and used the slope to charge. The two first lines met. Here’s Slingsby again

After they were close joined, they stood a pretty while & neither seemed to yield, till more came up to their flanks and put them to rout, & wheeling to our right took them in disorder and so presently made our horse run

It was force of numbers that probably made the difference here, in fighting experience the Ironsides and Northern Horse seemed well matched. But Cromwell used his numbers well, ordering 2nd and 3rd lines to attack, and it was this that forced Langdale’s troop to run. The Northern horse had wanted to go home, now they had their wish.

On the left wing, Okey’s Dragoons played a further part now. The enterprising Colonel Okey moved from the hedgerow to try and help Skippon’s foot with covering fire. Now Rupert had deployed royalist musket men specifically to prevent this, but as they engaged the Okeymen, it meant those of Ireton’s Cavalry men who had peeled off initially, they were now free to help the infantry, and they counter attacked Astley’s foot. In the confused counter attack, Ireton was recaptured. Skippon now called in his reserve, commanded by Thomas Rainsborough, Thomas Pride and Robert Hammond. The [6]second and third lines stopped the first moving backwards, and slowly, slowly, the tide began to turn.

At which point we return to the Ironsides, and Cromwell’s legendary ability to hold them in check. Fairfax, literally everywhere by the looks of things, though probably figuratively would be more accurate considering the space time continuum, has now rocked up from Skippon’s Infantry crisis. He’s lost his helmet but he rushes up to his friend in the melee and tells him to reform, to order part of his horse to make sure Langdale keeps running until he gets back to the Dales, but to reform the remaining half and come with him and charge Astley’s infantry in the centre. Alright boss says Cromwell, though probably God made an appearance somewhere. Refusing to pause to put a helmet back on, Fairfax leads the way.

Rupert by now has appeared back at the king’s side on Dust Hill, bringing with him some of his horse dribbling back from the baggage train, slowly reforming. What he see appals him. Langdale is gone, Astley is now exposed in the centre from both left and right. On their Right, Okey’s Dragoons have despatched Rupert’s musket, loaded up on their cobs, ponies whatevs, and have charged from their hedgerows. And all the way from the other wing, here comes Cromwell with a contingent of his horse, all the way across the fields;  here comes Fairfax, bare headed wild eyed – possibly worrying about his gall stones. Astley’s men fine though they are cannot hold against this and are beginning to break, flinging down their weapons and crying for quarter. This is the time – this is the time to launch the royal reserve, the Lifeguard and sort this mess out.

Fairfax had the presence of mind to stop his headlong helter skelter charge, reforming his lines of horse, and starting an orderly advance up the hill. On Dust Hill, Rupert and the King are ready to play their last card. Clarendon, years later in his office, reconstructing the scene from the letters and records he had patiently brought together, describes what happened

The king’s reserve of horse…were even ready to charge …when on a sudden, such a panic fear seized upon them that they all ran a quarter of a mile without stopping

We’ve talked about the panic fear that robs regiments of their resolve. Here it is. In this case, facing an orderly phalanx with an army folding into chaos, it seems less like panic, more like a thoroughly sensible sense of self preservation. Charles was appalled, shamed and, never short of courage, spurred his horse to attack anyway, hoping to shame his reserve into one last effort. What happens next is a big what if:

The earl of Carnwath, who rode next to him, suddenly laid his hand on the bridle of the king’s horse and, swearing two or three full mouthed Scots oaths said ‘Will you go upon your death in an instant?’[7]

Carnwath turned the king’s horse and forced it to follow the army streaming from the field, to find safety.

What if…I know what ifs are terribly tiresome but look what it – I think Dan Dan the Battlefield Man might have raised this point. What if Charle had charged, had his block knocked off, and the young Prinny, Wales of that ilk, had become king? OK he’s only 15 and not spent all those years in exile and been bullied by the Covenanters – and he will be bullied by the Covenanters those guys are as hard as nails – so maybe he would not have developed his famous flexibility of layer years. But if it was innate…well no one on parliament’s side had thought of a world without a king. Except Henry Marten. Maybe there could have been the reasonable deal everyone had wanted from the start? St John and Vane would have got together with Hyde a deal could have been done. I mean maybe, maybe not. But I put if for you that Carnworth’s actions, noble and pure spirited though they were, may not have been for the greater good. I am not sure Dan, a firm royalist, would agree – I haven’t put it to him in quite this way. Anyway. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Back to my mate Pot. He has these local archaeological reports one of which show the finds of musket balls going through what is now a nearby farmyard. It is fascinating. There is a rectangle of dense finds; then a long gap; then another rectangle of dense finds. It is practical evidence of at least one part of the royal army fighting an ordered retreat – stopping firing, retreating, firing. We know that Rupert tried to reform a defence further back at Moot Hill but fails; there are also reports of Rupert’s own foot regiment, the Bluecoats. There they stood on dust hill, and refused to break; Fairfax turned to his cavalry Captain Charles Doyley

Seeing a body of the king’s foot stand and not at all broke, he asked Doyley if he had charged that body, who answered that he had twice charged them, but could not break them

The Bluecoats, like Newcastle’s Whitecoats at Marston, stood firm as long as inhumanly possible “They were like a wall of brass’ wrote Whitelocke, ‘it is conceived that a great part of them were Irish, and chose rather to die in the field than be hanged’. [8]

The battle was over apart from the full horror. Here we are in repulsive rather than right territory. When a contingent of soldiers reached the baggage train the worse parliamentary atrocity of the war occurred when about 100 women were killed or had their faces slashed by the zealots as either prostitutes or Welsh women mistaken as Irish.[9] The new Model acquires a reputation for orderliness, and restraint. But not here.

Cromwell meanwhile had ordered his horse not to stop for loot, which they bitterly resented, but it led to 50 Royalist troopers being caught in Marston Trussel churchyard, killed to a man and dumped in a pit – which has probably been excavated. It’s still called Slaughterfield, and we went there and looked at the place by the beautiful ironstone church – never get tired of those churches. Dan however, had better information and cast some shade on the idea, but we all agreed it was a great story an locally firmly believed., so what the heck.





As always the majority of the deaths occurred in the flight, and therefore were mainly royalist, but actually the numbers aren’t high. Fairfax probably lost 150, Charles 1,000 killed. But Charles lost most of his infantry – 4,000 were captured, and Dan made the point that these were irreplaceable infantry – these were the veterans that would take long months of campaigning to reform, and he didn’t have long months without an army. He lost all his artillery. And, and and – he lost all his secret files. Which included a big stash of letters in a box. Note Bene.

Naseby was over. It was not immediately clear what the outcome would be, but a few centuries later, Thomas Babington Macauley would visit Naseby in his Gig and write about it all. He write a poem, which isn’t great to be fair, but Babbers was clear that Naseby was a Thing with a capital T

And the Kings of earth in fear shall shudder when they hear

What the hand of God hath wrought for the Houses and the Word[10]

We’ll hear about the fallout, and the King’s Cabinet Opened, next time here on the history of England, and find out what God hath wrought and all that.

But before we go I promised a word of the week – haven’t had one for a while. So I looked up Furze ‘cos I was intrigued by it apparently being the same as the word I’d always used – Gorse. When I was starting out on the life of commerce, 35 years ago I took my first job in Maidenhead, and north of Pinkeys Green where I stayed, there was a lot of heathland at the top of Winters Hill, there wee places called Furze Platt. Never worried about I, because I was too busy trying to fiddle my Reps expenses, but I remembered it now.

Turns out Gorse and Furze are exactly the same thing, both Germanic, present in old English – Alfred translated Boethius

Whoever would sow fertile land, must first pluck up the thorns, and furze

Someone the told me that Gorse and furze are the only exact synonyms in English. They mean exactly the same thing and there are no others. Is that true? Are they? Aren’t there? The bloke used the example small and little – not exact synonyms because they have a slightly different flavour of meaning. But I think he’s wrong – that furze is mainly southern and south-western England, I use gorse cos my folks came from north of the Humber, so you are expressing regional identity in your choice.

Then there’s whin – Fairfax uses the word whin for thorn bushes. So that also is an alternative for furze and Gorse – though who is more general – could be Blackthorn for example.

I then got all maudlin about how much more vital the countryside used to be with all this gorse around the place, and Dartford Warblers probably – though wildly less productive of course. Jan on Facebook then quoted Ruth Goodman, who wrote that Gorse was maintained as a source of domestic fuel, cut back frequently for regrowth, which extends the life of plants substantially – as with many trees like oak of course. When coal came along, Gorse lost this value, and were grubbed up or left to die.

Then I got all folky and gathered some ‘facts, which I am not going t bore you with except there does seem to be a connection between furze and fuzz, as in what’s that fuzz on your chin young lad; and also the fact that Gorse flower rather randomly throughout the year has led to the happy folk saying

‘When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion’.

[1] Hutton, R: @George Gorning’, ODNB

[2] Evans, Burton, Westaway: ‘Naseby: Battleground Britain’, p55

[3] Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil War: A People’s History’, p428

[4] Hopper, A: ‘Black Tom’, p67

[5] Lipscombe, N: ‘The English Civil War: An Atlas and Concise history of the wars of Three Kingdoms’,p214

[6] Gentles, I: ‘The New Model Army: Agent of Revolution’, pp34-39

[7] Hunt, T: ‘The English Civil War at First hand’, p158

[8] Evans, Burton, Westaway: ‘Naseby: Battleground Britain’, p104

[9] Hutton, R: ‘The Making of Oliver Cromwell’, p266

[10] Macauley, CB, ‘The Battle of Naseby’




4 thoughts on “397 In Assurance of Victory

  1. George Digby is such a ridiculous and terrible person he approaches greatness from the other side.
    Loved the narrative of the battle of Naseby.
    For what it’s worth, I think the shock of Charles I’s death would have probably stopped the war and put Charles II on the throne with plenty of tight controls on his power for a few years, until he was old enough to play independents and presbyterians against each other to his gain. Then another war with Scotland would have followed, and some form of moderate absolutism would be seen by many as an appealing alternative to the chaos.

    1. I think Charles might have even let the Kirk go it’s own way…but what if’s are always just that.
      Now then – in a couple of weeks time, Jonathan Healey will be on the show – bigging George Digby up!

  2. Very gripping episode, thanks! Your what-if interestingly identifies Charles as the central political problem. It’s worth remembering that Digby was his fault; Digby was powerful because what he said was what Charles and HM wanted to hear, and no amount of failure apparently chilled his welcome.

    While the Parliamentarians’ attack on the women after Naseby was indeed repulsive (and far from right), the sack of Leicester, which had 7 times as many victims and included rape, as well as murder and theft, seems to get rather lighter treatment. Is that because atrocity was SOP for Royalists?

    Can’t wait for the aftermath of Naseby next week. I know so little about this period that the story is endlessly surprising.

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