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English Civil War: Battle of Worcester

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English Civil War: Battle of Worcester

Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Worcester - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Worcester was fought September 3, 1651, during the English Civil War (1642-1651).

Armies & Commanders

Parliamentarians

  • Oliver Cromwell
  • 28,000-31,000 men

    Royalists

  • Charles II
  • approx. 12,000-16,000

  • Battle of Worcester - Background:

    Beginning in 1642, the English Civil War pitted King Charles I against the forces of Parliament. Though Royalist troops won a string of early victories, Parliament ultimately gained the upper hand. Winning key battles at Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645), Parliamentarian troops brought the king to the brink of defeat. Following a further setback at Langport (1645), Charles attempted to rebuild his forces but failed. Fleeing north, he surrendered to the Scots in 1646. Though turned over to Parliament, Charles continued to intrigue and was able to negotiate a secret treaty with the Scots. This saw a brief resumption of hostilities in 1648. With his supporters again defeated, Charles was executed by Parliament in 1649. With his death, the crown passed to his son, Charles II.

    Battle of Worcester - Charles II Returns:

    In an effort to reclaim his throne, Charles II landed in Scotland on June 23, 1650. Agreeing to support the Solemn League and Covenant, he formed an alliance with the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters. As the Covenanters raised an army, Charles hoped that his acceptance of the Solemn League and Covenant would gain him the support of English Presbyterians. With Charles assembling his forces, elements of the Parliamentarian New Model Army, led by Oliver Cromwell, began campaigning in southern Scotland. Winning at Dunbar on September 3, they captured Edinburgh and secured most of the territory below the Forth by the end of the fall. The following July, Cromwell crossed the Forth and won a battle at Inverkeithing. As Cromwell drove north against Perth, Charles saw an opportunity to move south.

    Battle of Worcester - Charles on the March:

    Though his Scottish commander, Sir David Leslie, preferred to continue the conflict in Scotland, Charles insisted on marching south against London. As Cromwell was occupied at Perth, Charles crossed the border and entered England. Having anticipated such a move, Parliamentarian leaders had begun calling out the militia and forces began to gather at Banbury and Newcastle. In the north, Cromwell left Major General George Monck to continue to campaign in Scotland and departed with a large part of the army. Dispatching cavalry under Lieutenant General John Lambert to harass the Royalist rear, Cromwell followed with the main body. As Charles reached Kendal on August 9, Parliamentarian forces under Major General Thomas Harrison moved to block the crossings over the Mersey.

    Reinforced at Warrington on August 15, Harrison was soon joined by Lambert who moved around the Royalist left flank. This combined force slowly fell back towards London as Charles advanced. Entering Warrington, Charles began to doubt the prudence of moving on the capital as the hoped for support had not materialized. Leaving the town, he marched instead for the Severn Valley which had been a stronghold of Royalist support for his father. Reaching Worcester on August 22, Charles paused for five days to rest his men. Racing south, one of Cromwell's columns defeated a Royalist force at Wigan on August 25. Converging at Warwick, Cromwell united with Harrison, Lambert, and troops from London led by Lieutenant General Charles Fleetwood. Moving against Worcester, Cromwell dispatched Colonel Robert Lilburne north to Bewdley Bridge to block the Royalist line of retreat to Scotland.

    Battle of Worcester - Preparing for Battle:

    At Worcester, Charles directed that the city's defenses be improved as he hoped for additional support to arrive from Wales. This saw Fort Royal, southeast of the city, repaired as well as bridges over the Rivers Severn and Teme dismantled. Reaching Worcester, Cromwell began assessing the Royalist defenses. On August 28, Lambert moved south and recaptured Upton Bridge from Royalist forces. Repairing the crossing, Fleetwood moved to the west bank of the Severn with 11,000 men. To maintain contact with his subordinate, Cromwell ordered pontoon bridges built over the two rivers. With Fleetwood moving into position, he deployed the bulk of the army east of the city on the heights of Perry Wood and Red Hill. On August 29, Parliamentarian artillery began bombarding Worcester. A Royalist attack on the guns was carried out with 1,500 men, but was turned back (Map).

    Battle of Worcester - The Royalists Overwhelmed:

    Early on September 3, Fleetwood began advancing up the west bank of the Severn and reached the confluence with the Teme in early afternoon. Faced with Royalist forces on the north bank of the Teme, he directed Major General Richard Deane to assault Powick Bridge to the west while he pushed across the pontoon bridge. Attacking Colonel George Keith's command, Deane's men were repulsed, while Fleetwood's made slow progress against the Highlanders on their front. Seeing that the attack was bogging down, Cromwell moved to Fleetwood's assistance with three brigades. Crossing a pontoon bridge over the Severn, they struck the Highlanders' flank. Pressed on two sides, they began to withdraw. Their retreat led to a collapse of Keith's position at Powick Bridge. As the Royalists fell back to Worcester, Keith was captured.

    Watching the fighting from the tower of Worcester cathedral, Charles recognized that Cromwell's movement south and west had weakened the Parliamentarian position east of the city. Seeking to take advantage, he led a column out from the Sidbury Gate and attacked Red Hill. This was supported by the Duke of Hamilton who led troops through St Martin's Gate to strike Perry Wood. Backed by Royalist cavalry, the two forces had some initial success against the Parliamentarian lines. Possessing greater numbers, Lambert directed the defense and held for around an hour. Alerted to this new threat, Cromwell returned to the east bank and joined in a counterattack against the Royalists. Driving the enemy back into the city, the Parliamentarians captured Fort Royal and turned its guns against Worcester.

    During the fighting, Sir David Leslie, with a large force Royalist cavalry, remained inactive north of the city. Forcing their way into Worcester, Cromwell's men began a running fight with the panicking Royalists. Unable to rally his shattered army, Charles was persuaded to flee. Aided by a large cavalry charge, he was able to escape through the Sidbury Gate in the company of Lord Talbot's mounted troops. Defeated, many of the Royalists surrendered as the Parliamentarians took possession of the Worcester. Many of those who escaped from the city were later rounded up by Parliamentarian forces.

    Battle of Worcester - Aftermath:

    In the fighting at Worcester, the Royalists sustained around 3,000 casualties and approximately 10,000 captured. Parliamentarian losses may have been as low as 200. The final engagement of the English Civil War, the Battle of Worcester was Cromwell's last as a commander. Over the following months, Parliamentarian forces eliminated the last pockets of Royalist resistance. Fleeing, Charles II remained a fugitive for over a month before escaping to the Continent where he remained until the Restoration in 1660.

    Selected Sources

  • UK Battlefield Resource Centre: Battle of Worcester
  • British Civil Wars: The Worcester Campaign
  • BBC: Battle of Worcester

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