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JULY 2, 1614,
AN ANNIVERSARY STUDY.
MARSTON MOOR was the third great battle between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, but the only decisive one of the three. Unlike Edgehill or Newbury it had, in Cromwell's phrase, 'all the evidences of an absolute victory.' Between seven and ten on the evening of Tuesday, July 2, 1644, the fate of all England north of the Trent was decided, and henceforth the complete conquest of the northern counties was simply a matter of sieges. If the results of Marston were less important than those of Naseby, the forces engaged were far greater; and the Royalists brought together at the battle for York twice as many men as they could on the field where the King's crown itself was at stake.
For more than two months the Marquis of Newcastle and his army had been cooped up in York. About the end of April the Earl of Leven with the Scottish army and Lord Fairfax with his army of Yorkshire Roundheads had established their camps before York. The north side of the city was still open, and Newcastle sent out his cavalry to forage for themselves, and join the troops collecting for his relief. On June 2, Manchester and the army of the Eastern Association came up from Lincolnshire, and the investment of the city was completed. Bridges of boats over the Ouse at Poppleton above York and at Fulford below it connected the positions of the three armies, and the siege now began in earnest. The suburbs were taken and partly burnt, two detached forts stormed, and an unsuccessful assault was attempted on June 16. Meanwhile Rupert, marching from Shrewsbury, had forced his way through Lancashire, stormed Bolton, joined Goring and Newcastle's cavalry at Skipton, and was advancing towards York. On June 30 news came that he was at Knaresborough with 15,000 men.
Leven and his two colleagues, holding themselves not strong enough both to continue the siege and to give battle to the relieving army, drew off their forces on the night of Sunday,
June 30, to bar Rupert's march from Knaresborough to York On Monday they drew up in battle array on Marston Moor, south of York, and waited for the Prince to advance. Their soldiers, 'oppressed with heaviness' for a time at the abandonment of the siege, 'were again full of joy, expecting to have a battle with the enemy; being assured by their scouts that the Prince with all his forces would pass towards York that way.'
All Monday the Parliamentary forces remained on the moor, but Rupert was not disposed to fight till his own time. Sending a few horse to 'amuse' the enemy, he turned north; and crossing the Ure at Boroughbridge and the Swale at Thornton Bridge, marched down the north bank of the Ouse to York, and encamped outside it. On the way he beat off the regiment of dragoons which Manchester had stationed at Poppleton, and captured his bridge. York was relieved without striking a blow, and the possession of the bridge secured Rupert from attack, and gave him, if he thought fit, the power to take the offensive himself.
When the news that they had been outmanoeuvred reached the Roundheads they were greatly depressed. 'Our hearts generally were filled with sorrow,' wrote Manchester's chaplain. At evening they drew off the moor and encamped on its southern edge, about Long Marston. 'Provisions,' he adds,' were scarce in their camp; very few had either the comfort of convenient lodging or food; our soldiers did drink the wells dry, and were necessitated to make use of puddle water. The Parliamentary generals held a council of war, and determined to march south to Tadcaster and Cawood, partly to prevent Rupert from going south himself and attacking the Eastern Association, partly, by the help of a bridge of boats then at Cawood, to stop all provisions going to York either from the West or East Riding, and so in time to necessitate him to draw out to fight.'
Nothing now was farther from Rupert's intention than to avoid fighting. Success had made him sanguine, and his orders seemed not only to warrant but to require him to fight. ambiguous letter Charles had intimated to his nephew that York must be relieved at any cost, and one sentence seemed to imply that he must rout the besiegers as well as raise the siege.
'If York be relieved, and you beat the rebel armies 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 me,' were the King's words. Accordingly Rupert never even entered York, but at dawn on Tuesday pushed his troops across the bridge at Poppleton to complete his strategic success by beating the rebel armies.' Newcastle was ordered to have his infantry drawn out of York by four o'clock in the morning, for the Prince intended to give battle about midday, so that The might have plenty of daylight to follow up the victory he felt confident of winning. During the forenoon the cavalry of his van, though impeded by the difficulties of the ground, skirmished continually with the horse who formed the Parliamentary rearguard, and he looked eagerly for Newcastle's forces that he might attack in earnest. At nine o'clock Newcastle joined Rupert with a troop of horse. 'My lord,' said the Prince, 'I wish you had come sooner with your forces, but I hope we shall yet have a glorious day.' The Marquis apologetically explained that his infantry could not be got together at the prescribed hour; they had fallen to plundering in the deserted camp of the besiegers, but General King was collecting them, and would bring them up with all possible expedition. Impatient at the delay, Rupert was for falling upon the enemy with his own infantry only, but the Marquis urged him to wait, saying he had 4,000 as good foot as were in the world. Personally Newcastle was averse to fighting at all at present, as he expected a reinforcement of 2,000 men under Colonel Clavering the next day, and believed that the Parliamentary generals would divide their forces if their retreat was suffered to proceed. But to this argument Rupert replied that he had an absolute and peremptory order to fight under the King's own hand, and the Marquis was obliged to give way. Noon passed, and it was near four o'clock when King and his infantry arrived, and he, too, was against fighting. Rupert showed King the plan of the battle as he meant to fight it. 'By God, sir,' replied the blunt veteran, 'it is very fine on the paper, but there is no such thing in the field.' He objected that the army was 'drawn too near the enemy, and in a place of disadvantage,' but added that it was too late to move it further back. As the day was far spent, and the golden moment for attacking already past, Rupert yielded to the arguments of King and Newcastle, and resolved to give battle on the morrow. He sent to York for provisions for his troops, and retiring to the rear, dismounted and began a hasty meal, while Newcastle went to his coach and refreshed himself with a pipe.
On the Parliamentary side the news of Rupert's advance force had caused a sudden change of purpose. Cromwell, Davi Leslie, and Sir Thomas Fairfax, who commanded the rearguar had sent word to the generals of the necessity of making a stan 'Else,' wrote Fairfax, 'the enemy having the advantage migh put us in some disorder, but by the advantage of the ground w were on, we hoped to make it good till they came back to us.' Th Scottish infantry who led the van had almost reached Tadcaste when orders came to them to face about. By the afternoon th whole army was collected on the rising ground to the south of th moor. The enemy in the meanwhile, according to Scout-maste Watson, had drawn up 'with part of their foot close to our nose so near that we had not liberty to take the moor and to put our selves into battalia, so that we were put to draw our men into cornfield close to the moor, making way by our pioneers to ge ground to extend the wings of our army to such a distance tha we might conveniently fight; which was very difficult for us t attain. The right wing of our army being placed just by Marston townside, the town on our right hand . . . and as our foot and horse came up we formed our battalia and the left wing, still desir ing to gain as much of the left point as we could, so that at the last we came with the utmost point of our left wing to Tockwith so our army fronted to the moor from Marston to Tockwith, being a mile and a half in length; the enemy being drawn up just under us, the wings of their army extending a little further than ours in length, but the hedges and our dragooners secured the flanks."
By two, or at latest by four, the formation of the Parliamentary army was complete, and the artillery of the two armies began a short and ineffective cannonade. Then the guns became silent, the Roundheads in the cornfields fell to singing psalms and each army waited for the other to attack.
On both sides the soldiers were eager to fight. 'We looked, says a Parliamentarian, and no doubt they also, upon this fight as the winning or losing the garland. . . . In their army the cream of all the Papists in England, and in ours a collection out of all the corners of England and Scotland of such as had the greatest antipathy to popery and tyranny; these equally thirsting for the extirpation of each other. And now the sword must determine that which a hundred years' policy and dispute could not do.'
In numbers the Parliamentary army was somewhat the larger. It consisted of about 25,000 men, of whom some 7,000
were horse. The Royalists according to their opponents had about 13,000 or 14,000 foot, and 8,000 or 9,000 horse, but according to the plan of the battle afterwards drawn up for Rupert, they brought into the field only 11,000 infantry and 6,500 horse. It was afterwards said that 1,500 or 2,000 of Rupert's horse were 'gone rambling into York,' and that 1,000 of the 4,000 foot promised by Newcastle had never arrived at the moor. For three hours the two armies remained stationary, each expecting who should begin the charge.' From the ridge where the Parliamentary army was placed, the ground sloped gently towards the moor, and on the edge of the moor was an obstacle which fills a prominent place in contemporary narratives of the battle. Watson describes it as 'a small ditch and bank, through which we must pass, if we would charge them upon the moor, or they pass it if they would charge us in the great cornfield and closes; so that it was a great disadvantage to him that would begin the charge, seeing the ditch must somewhat disturb their order, and the other would be ready in good ground and order to charge them before they could recover it.' A Scottish officer calls it a great ditch which ran along the front of the battle, only between the Earl of Manchester's foot and the enemy there was a plain.' In the Royalist plan it is marked simply as a hedge, which was lined with musketeers by the Prince.
About seven o'clock, just when the soldiers on both sides had come to the conclusion that no battle was to be expected that day, the whole Parliamentary army began to advance. Το Chaplain Ashe, their regiments, as they moved down the hill, looked like so many thick clouds.' The left wing which Cromwell commanded was the first to come into collision with the enemy. It consisted of all Manchester's horse, about 3,000 in number, and three regiments of Scottish horse under David Leslie, probably about 1,000 or 1,200 men; attached to it also was half a regiment of Scottish dragoons under Colonel Frizell. The dragoons rapidly drove the musketeers from the hedge and cleared the way for Cromwell's cuirassiers.
'In a moment,' writes Watson, 'we were past the ditch in to the moor upon equal ground with the enemy, our men going in a running march. Our front divisions of horse charged their front. Lieutenant-General Cromwell's division of 300 horse, in which himself was in person, charged the front division of Prince Rupert's, in which himself was in person. Cromwell's own division