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On 2 July 1644, six miles from York, 18,000 Royalists led by Prince Rupert, the nephew of King Charles I, fought 27,000 Parliamentarians in an attempt to relieve the Royalist force besieged at York. He failed. The defeat was catastrophic and the North was lost to Parliamentarian troops. John Barratt looks afresh at the battle and explores the disagreements among the Royalist leaders that had a devastating effect on the outcome of the battle.
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The Battle of Marston Moor 1644
By John Barratt
The History PressCopyright © 2013 John Barratt
All rights reserved.
Winter of Discontent, September 1643–January 1644
Throughout the early hours of 21 September 1643, weary columns of Royalist troops trudged along the muddy roads heading north out of the town of Newbury towards King Charles I's temporary capital at Oxford. Throughout the previous day, in bitter fighting outside the town, successive Royalist attacks had failed to dislodge the Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex, brought to bay when its communications with its base at London had been severed.
But when the Royalists, suffering from an ammunition shortage, were forced to quit the field, the road home was open again to Essex. The tottering Parliamentarian cause had survived its most serious crisis.
For much of 1643 it seemed to many observers that the English Civil War would end in victory for King Charles. From early summer onwards, a string of Royalist victories, at Adwalton Moor, Roundway Down and Bristol, had left the Cavaliers in control of most of the west of England, Wales, much of the Midlands and virtually all of the north apart from Lancashire and the port of Hull. Pushed back towards their heartlands of the Eastern Association of East Anglia, the southeast and London, the Parliamentarians appeared to be at bay.
But in September the Royalist tide faltered with the King's unsuccessful siege of Gloucester, the Northern Royalists' check before Hull, and, above all, after the failure to destroy Essex at Newbury. A quick victory no longer seemed likely for either side, and instead there was a real danger of the war developing into the kind of bloody stalemate which had devastated so much of Europe during the preceding decades. Only outside support seemed likely to tilt the balance in favour of one side or the other.
For the King, apart from the slim chance of intervention in his favour by a European power, the most likely source of aid was represented by the English forces in Ireland. Parliament, however, turned its eyes towards Charles' long-standing opponents, the Presbyterian regime in Scotland, whom the King had failed to subdue in the Bishop's Wars of 1638 and '39.
From the beginning of 1643 the Scots had been offering to mediate in the English conflict, but on terms which would have brought the church in England into line with the religious establishment in Scotland. Unsurprisingly, the King rejected the offer, but this refusal raised the spectre of a Scottish-Parliamentarian alliance. Unwisely, as it turned out, Charles heeded the advice of the Scottish Duke of Hamilton, who claimed that he could contain by political means the advance of the Presbyterian party headed by the Earl of Argyle, and that Scotland would remain neutral. The King ignored the pleas of the Scots Royalist James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, who urged that he and his supporters should stage a military uprising in Scotland before the Covenanting regime could enter the war.
By the time that Charles realised his mistake, it was too late.
On 1 May 1643, John Pym, the enigmatic West Country lawyer who effectively headed the Parliamentarian opposition to the King at Westminster, proposed the start of negotiations for a Scottish alliance. There was a good deal of unease among many of his associates at the prospect of having another Scottish army on English soil so soon after the troops who had occupied parts of the north of England at the close of the Second Bishop's War had gone home, and talks were slow in starting. The swelling tide of military defeat caused a change of heart, even among the least enthusiastic, however, whilst in Scotland Argyle's influence, and reports of the King's plans to reach an accommodation with the rebels in Ireland spurred the Convention of Estates (the effective 'parliament' of Scotland) into action. Summoned to meet on 22 June, the Estates were given details of Royalist plans to employ Catholic Irish and Highlanders against the Presbyterian government in Scotland, and this threat pushed opinion in favour of an alliance with the English Parliament.
Events now moved rapidly. With alarm among the King's opponents in both England and Scotland heightened by his moves to reach a truce or 'cessation' with the Irish Confederates, on 19 July Parliament agreed to send commissioners, headed by Sir Henry Vane the Younger, a skilled political negotiator, to Edinburgh to settle the details of an alliance. The main obstacle to agreement was the religious question: 'The English were for a civil league, we for a religious covenant', wrote one of the Scottish Commissioners. But expediency to some extent overcame religious principals, and the Scots comforted themselves with the thought that events would prove the 'rightness' of their particular brand of Christianity. It was agreed that the eventual religious settlement of the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland would be decided according to the 'Word of God'.
It was a fudged compromise ripe with the seeds of future dissension, but for the moment military matters were more pressing, and within ten days the outline of the alliance known as 'the Solemn League and Covenant' – 'a treaty born of necessity and nourished by illusory hopes' – were agreed. Robert Baillie, a Scots Commissioner, pondered apprehensively: 'The play is begun, the Good Lord give it a happy end.'
On 17 August the treaty was ratified by the Scottish Estates, and the Scots, dubious about the willingness of Parliament to meet its pledges, informed the English Commissioners that they expected a monthly payment of £31,000 (£100,000 of it in advance) for the maintenance of the army which they now began to raise. Their deteriorating military position left the English Parliamentarians no option but to ratify the Covenant with only minor amendments on 25 September.
The Scots had already begun military preparations when on 28 July the Estates ordered the mustering of a small force which on 18 August secured the undefended English border town of Berwick-on-Tweed without opposition, and full mobilisation followed. Command of the Scots army was given to Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, a 63-year-old professional soldier of vast experience who had served for over thirty years in the Low Countries and with the great Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, before returning home to lead the Scottish forces in the Bishop's Wars. Despite a poor education and sometimes being accused of over-caution, Leven was a canny, methodical soldier and a highly capable general. In Scotland his military abilities were held in high regard.
'Such was the wisdom and authoritie of that old little, crooked souldier', wrote Robert Bailie, 'that all, with ane incredible submission, from the beginning to the end, gave themselves to be guided by him, as if he had been Great Solyman.'
The Bishop's Wars had given the Scottish authorities useful experience of raising large numbers of troops at short notice. Although the majority of the population had little actual combat experience, there were a large number of Scottish mercenaries who had served in the Continental wars available both to train recruits and to provide useful officer material. During and since the Bishop's Wars a great quantity of arms and military equipment had been imported from the Low Countries.
The mobilisation of the Scottish army was based upon the liability for military service of all males between the ages of sixteen and sixty. They were required to provide themselves with stipulated arms and equipment, and appear as required at local musters or 'wapinschaws', where they were inspected and rolls compiled of those judged fit to bear arms.
The Committee of Estates used these rolls as the basis for deciding the numbers of troops to be provided by the shires. Each shire had its own committee responsible for fixing the quota for every burgh and parish within its boundaries, and the actual raising of the required men was carried out by local councils, gentry and ministers. In 1643, orders were given for every fourth and eighth man on the rolls to be levied.
The quotas for each shire were fixed on 1 September, and the actual enlistments took place at a series of musters held 4–20 October. By these means it was planned to raise a total of 26,000 men, organised into twenty-one regiments of infantry, nine cavalry and one of dragoons, which, under the title of the 'Army of the Solemn League and Covenant', were to muster near Berwick on 29 December ready for the invasion of England.
In the interim much would depend on the success of the King's plans in Ireland. Here a major rebellion had broken out in 1641, and in the region of 40,000 troops, raised in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland, were still engaged, generally with little success, in attempts to defeat the Confederates, as the rebels called themselves. As early as January 1643, King Charles authorised his Lord Deputy in Ireland, James Butler, Earl of Ormonde, to begin negotiations to reach a 'cessation', or truce for one year with the Confederates, and 'bring over the English army to Chester' as soon as terms were agreed.
Ormonde was faced with a difficult task, made no easier by the opposition of significant numbers of his Council and the settlers of English origin, whilst continuing military success made the Confederates raise their own demands. On 15 September, however, agreement was reached, leaving only the areas around Dublin and Cork and various isolated garrisons in English hands. The Scots army in Ulster was left to fend for itself.
The Confederates hoped that a permanent political settlement, advantageous to themselves, would follow, but King Charles had more short-term objectives. It was for the moment sufficient for him that the Cessation released the bulk of the English troops serving in Ireland to be brought home to fight for the Royalist cause. In theory there were probably between 20,000 and 30,000 of them altogether, a mixture of veterans of the 'Old Army' in Ireland, and English and Welsh-raised units sent there since 1641. Since the start of the war a number of individual officers had already come over to fight in England. Most served the King, though a few enlisted with Parliament.
Some estimates of the number of troops who eventually crossed the Irish Sea in order to serve King Charles have been considerably inflated; the most likely total of arrivals by the end of 1644, after which crossings practically ceased, were 6,000 to 11,000 to England, and 2,000 reaching Scotland.
The initial problem facing Ormonde and the Royalist leadership was how to transport the troops across waters dominated by the Parliamentarian navy. Fortunately most of the ships of the 'Irish Guard', based on Milford Haven and southern English ports, were diverted during the critical time by Cavalier successes in the south and southwest. A shortage of suitable Royalist transport was alleviated to some extent by ships captured at the fall of Bristol.
The first troops to reach England came from Munster, and landed in the southwest, where they were added to the army which Ralph Lord Hopton was raising to advance into southeast England. Hopton described them as:
... bold, hardy men, and excellently well officer'd, but the common men were mutinous and shrewdly infected with the rebellious humour of England, being brought over merely by the vertue and loyalty of their officers, and large promises [of pay arrears] which there was then but smale meanes to perform.
After an initial mutiny was firmly suppressed, they performed creditably.
However, Royalist hopes rested mainly on the troops from Leinster (the area around Dublin). These were under Ormonde's direct control, and faced a shorter sea crossing from Dublin to Chester and North Wales, against weaker naval opposition from Parliamentarian armed merchantmen based on Liverpool, than did the forces crossing to the southwestern ports from Munster. These relatively favourable conditions allowed 5,000 to 6,000 troops to be shipped over between November 1643 and February 1644, although shortage of transport meant that they had to be carried in several waves, lessening their intended impact.
Unlike the smaller units which had landed in the southwest, it was planned to use the troops from Leinster in a unified force employing a long-term coherent strategy. The eventual aim was to use them to counter the Scots invasion. On 21 November, Ormonde's agent in Oxford, Arthur Trevor, wrote to the earl:
The expectation of English-Irish ayde is the dayly prayers, and almost the dayly bread of them that love the Kinge and his businesse, and is putt into the dispensary and medicine booke of state as a cure for the Scots.
Several alternative proposals were put forward for employing the troops from Ireland. One, particularly favoured by the King's defeated local commander, James Stanley, Earl of Derby, was to use them to re-establish Royalist control of Lancashire and Cheshire. This achieved, the army could then in the spring march either to reinforce the King in the south or support the Earl of Newcastle against the Scots, whichever seemed most appropriate at the time. In the end, circumstances dictated that the immediate decision be left to the commander on the spot, originally intended to be Ormonde himself, although political considerations eventually prevented him from leaving Dublin.
It had been hoped that Ormonde's presence would ensure the loyalty of his troops, for their reliability was a source of great concern to the Royalist high command. The King's secretary of state, Lord George Digby, voiced their nightmare scenario:
If the armye that is transporting hither, considered as fatall to the rebels here, in case it come over and continue with hearty and entire affections, but fully as fatall to his Majestic's affaires in case it should revolt.
Ormonde hoped he had secured the loyalty of his officers by weeding some out and making the remainder swear oaths of allegiance to the King, but was concerned about the reliability of the rank and file. He expected Parliamentarian agents to attempt to suborn them with promises of their arrears of pay, and warned the authorities in Chester, tasked with the reception of the 'Irish' forces, that the troops, 'would be apt to fall into disorders, and will think themselves delivered from prison, when they come to English ground, and they will make use of their libertie to go whither they will.'
New clothing, with pay and provisions, would have to be waiting for the arrivals, as well as a force of reliable troops to keep them 'in awe'. In the previous July the neglected soldiers had been described as 'being now so bare even to rags as doth much dishearten them'.
The urgent need for the Leinster troops was underlined in late October when Cheshire and North Wales Parliamentarian forces under Sir William Brereton and Sir Thomas Myddleton launched a sudden offensive over the Dee into northeast Wales, aimed at forestalling the reinforcements from Ireland. Royalist resistance collapsed, and Chester itself was left dangerously isolated.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, the first contingent of Ormonde's men, 1,850 foot under Sir Michael Earnley, sailed from Dublin on 16 November, and safely disembarked at Mostyn in Flintshire five days later. Brereton failed to persuade any significant numbers to defect, and had to beat a hasty retreat back over the Dee into Cheshire, leaving his isolated garrison at Hawarden Castle to be reduced by the new arrivals.
On the same day (21 November) that Earnley landed, John, Lord Byron, with 1,000 horse and 300 foot, set out from Oxford to take command of the Irish-Royalist forces. Byron, with the approval of Prince Rupert, had been appointed 'Field-Marshal-General' of Lancashire and 'those parts' on 6 November. He was intended to deputise pending the arrival of Ormonde, but circumstances would thrust him into a more prominent role.
Byron was to play a major, and controversial, part in the Marston Moor campaign, and then and subsequently has been the subject of a great deal of criticism. An experienced soldier in his mid-forties, Byron was a member of a strongly Royalist Nottinghamshire family (six of his brothers and an uncle also served in the King's armies), and had gained a fine reputation as a cavalry commander, playing a leading role at Edgehill and Roundway Down, and distinguishing himself in the bitter fighting at Newbury. An ambitious and self-confident man, Byron was eager to prove his mettle in independent command.
On 6 December the second contingent of Leinster troops, 1,250 foot and 140 dragoons, landed at Neston in Wirral. With the surrender of Hawarden Castle two days earlier, northeast Wales was clear of the enemy, and the combined 'Irish' force assembled at Chester. The citizens of that town were not greatly impressed by their arrival, seeing them: 'in very evil equipage ... and looked as if they had been used to hardship, not having either money, hose or shoes ... faint weary and out of clothing.'
Excerpted from The Battle of Marston Moor 1644 by John Barratt. Copyright © 2013 John Barratt. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1 Winter of Discontent, September 1643–January 1644,
2 The Scots Invasion and the Siege of York, January–July 1644,
3 'Yorke March' – Prince Rupert's Campaign, February–1 July 1644,
4 Marston Moor: Opening Moves, 1 July–Noon 2 July 1644,
5 Marston Moor: Prelude to Battle, Afternoon 2 July,
6 Marston Moor: Phase One, 7 P.M.–8.30 P.M,
7 Marston Moor: Phase Two, 8.30 P.M.–Midnight,
Appendix: Orders of Battle, 2 July 1644,