Battle of Marston Moor -2nd July 1644
The Battle of Marston Moor: The Bloodiest Battle of the English Civil War
With the Parliamentarians surrounding York, when Prince Rupert of the Rhine reached Skipton on June 26th 1644 a major battle was inevitable. He stayed there for three days preparing his men before setting out for York.
This left the besieging army with a problem: do they stay at York and risk being caught between the Bar Walls of the City of York and Rupert’s army, or do they send part of their army to meet Rupert and hope he wasn’t victorious – defeat meaning they would still risk being trapped before the walls of York? Instead, the Parliamentarians decided to break off the siege and send all of its army to stop Rupert.
By this time Rupert was at Knaresborough, so Parliament deployed its 27,000 strong army to the fields at Marston Moor.
Once deployed, the Parliamentarians waited for a battle. However, the only thing the Parliamentarians saw was what Rupert wanted them to see, and that was the movement of his vanguard. Rupert relieved York and joined up with Newcastle’s 5,000 men, but they were still some 9,000 men below the Parliamentarian’s strength.
It was now expected that Rupert would hold York and use it as a base to cut off the Parliamentarian’s supply line, harassing any that came close enough to them. In a pre-emptive strike they decided to cut off Rupert’s lines of supply whilst securing their own to Kingston-upon-Hull, leaving him trapped in the Vale of York, and so they moved off the Moor and made for Tadcaster.
No sooner had the foot soldiers of the Parliamentarian army reached Tadcaster, than they received news that Rupert was coming out to fight their superior force. Parliament turned around and headed back to Marston Moor.
Looking at the current site of the Battle of Marston Moor you can see that it has not changed very much since 1644: the Marston Road/Tockwith Road obviously was not there, the ditch that ran the length of the battlefield has been narrowed, and there is much more hedgerow than Sir Thomas Fairfax would have found when he took up his position on the right wing. This does mean that a visit to the agricultural area where it was fought does give a good impression of what it would have looked like 365 years ago – the area was farmed at the time and not an open moorland as might be implied by the name.
Once on the field, the Earls of Leven and Crawford were in the centre, with the Earl of Manchester on the left of centre, and the General of Horse, Oliver Cromwell, was on the left wing. On the hill behind Fairfax was a raised patch of land, covered with trees, which is still visible today. It is known as Cromwell’s Plump (or Plum, or Clump, or one of several other names linked to Cromwell). It was in fact Leven’s headquarters and not Cromwell’s.The ground ran away from the Parliamentarian line at the top of the hill, gently sloping until it leveled out before Rupert’s lines. A map of these positions can now be seen at the monument on the site of the battle.On the Royalist line Lord Byron commanded the right wing and stood opposite Cromwell, Newcastle stood in the centre whilst George, Lord Goring commanded the left wing and Rupert commanded the reserve horse.
Both armies were anxious to get on with it, but wasted the best part of the 2nd July trying to out maneuver each other. Had Rupert attacked the Parliamentarians as they came on to the field, history might well have told a different story. Also, had he heeded Newcastle, who had advocated waiting for reinforcements whilst the Parliamentarian armies were likely to lose deserters, things would have been very different. However both sides were not without their problems.
The Scots army, having left the Moor had made such good time on the march to Tadcaster they were not present when the Parliamentarians reformed on the Moor for the second time. This wasn’t the disaster it might have as it had taken some time for the Royalist commanders to remove the looters from the earthworks around York, where a wealth of Parliamentarian baggage (reputedly including 4,000 shoes) had been left behind when the Siege of York was raised. Once the men were formed up, they refused to march until they got their long awaited pay sorted out.
Once on the battlefield, Rupert placed 500 musketeers and some Drakes (small cannons) in the ditch, this was meant to disrupt the Parliamentarian’s formation and attack. By late afternoon both sides seemed happy with their positions and the Parliamentarians set about waiting for the Royalist to attack.No commander wants to attack up hill, plus it had been raining on and off, so the attack did not come, in fact quite the opposite. The Parliamentarians could see that the Royalist were lighting fires and having an evening meal and not expecting to fight that day, and they in turn could hear the Parliamentarians singing psalms.
Parliament opened fire with its artillery and the whole Parliamentarian army marched forward. It is said that at that moment the sky turned black, there was a streak of lightening and such a clap of thunder, such as not been heard before, this was followed by a torrential down pour.Rupert’s musketeers in the ditch were swept away by the tide of Parliament advance. Fairfax routed Gorings left wing. But it was in the centre that fighting was at its bloodiest. As the Royalists set about the Scots they reeled and staggered, but they held out and were joined by the Scots’ second line and the Royalists fell back.
Cromwell smashed Byron’s wing, but Byron’s musket disrupted Crowell’s formation, Byron’s shot suffered heavy losses and Crowell got the better of them but not before he was wounded himself. The Royalists would have faired better if Byron had obeyed orders and allowed the drakes and musketeers to open fire on Cromwell, instead of retaliating with an ill-formed troop. This did at least lead to Cromwell being injured, and at this point he left the field of the battle to be treated although he did return later.
Rupert seen his wing collapsing threw himself and his reserve in to the thick of it, he cut his way through the Parliament lines, only to be surrounded by the Scots foot. Rupert had to hide in a large crop of beans to escape capture; not so lucky was Boy, his great hunting dog (a standard size poodle) who was killed on the moor. A minor thing compared to the men lost, but it gave Parliamentarian lampoonists one more thing to taunt the losers about.
By the time night fell, the battle was all but over, but there was such confusion at the time that neither side was quite sure who had won, and so men on both sides men fled the battlefield.This could have resulted in what was effectively a draw as the leaders on both sides were no longer in evidence, however Fairfax found himself behind the Royalist lines and kept a cool head. He took off all insignia and rode through their lines until he could ride to safety, once back on his own line he found Cromwell, they discussed the battle and decided on one last charge.They charged into the rear of Goring’s men, who had been looting the Parliamentarian baggage train, leaderless by now, and exhausted, but had lined up for one last time. They occupied the ground originally occupied by Fairfax, from where they were scattered.
After that success, Cromwell attacked the centre, and with Manchester’s infantry on the other side, they ran down and killing whoever was left. Between them and York lay a ditched enclosure, now occupied by Newcastle’s Whitecoats, who had to fight their own fleeing comrades to hold that spot. They refused quarter and stood against the Parliamentarians, allowing many more Royalists to flee towards York.They were assailed by cavalry, and when this failed to break them, it was followed by infantry and dragoones. The Whitecoats, for all their bravery, were eventually cut down almost to a man, just 30 remaining alive to surrender.This was the end: all was lost and the Battle of Marston Moor was over. The Royalist army had lost over 4,000 men, with some 1,500 taken prisoners, all of their artillery was captured and a number of standards were taken. Parliament did much better, claiming to lose only around 300 men.
In a battle lasting a little over two hours, the King’s cause in the north was lost and with it the war had turned against him forever
Re: BATTLE OF MARSTON MOOR-2nd JULY 1644
THE CRUX OF THE AFFAIR
"It was now expected that Rupert would hold York and use it as a base to cut off the Parliamentarian’s supply line, harassing any that came close enough to them. In a pre-emptive strike they decided to cut off Rupert’s lines of supply whilst securing their own to Kingston-upon-Hull, leaving him trapped in the Vale of York, and so they moved off the Moor and made for Tadcaster.
No sooner had the foot soldiers of the Parliamentarian army reached Tadcaster, than they received news that Rupert was coming out to fight their superior force. Parliament turned around and headed back to Marston Moor"