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English Civil War: Battle of Marston Moor

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English Civil War: Battle of Marston Moor

Battle of Marston Moor by J. Barker

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Marston Moor - Summary:

Meeting on Marston Moor during the English Civil War, an allied army of Parliamentarians and Scots Covenanters engaged Royalist troops under Prince Rupert. In the two-hour battle, the Allies initially had the advantage until Royalist troops broke the center of their lines. The situation was rescued by Oliver Cromwell's cavalry which traversed the battlefield and finally routed the Royalists. As a result of the battle, King Charles I lost most of northern England to Parliamentary forces.

Commanders & Armies:

Parliamentarian & Scots Covenanters

  • Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven
  • Edward Montagu, Earl of Manchester
  • Lord Fairfax
  • 14,000 infantry, 7,500 cavalry, 30-40 guns

Royalists

  • Prince Rupert of the Rhine
  • William Cavendish, Marquess of Newcastle
  • 11,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, 14 guns

Battle of Marston Moor - Dates & Weather:

The Battle of Marston Moor was fought on July 2, 1644, seven miles west of York. Weather during the battle was scattered rain, with a thunderstorm when Cromwell attacked with his cavalry.

Battle of Marston Moor - An Alliance Formed:

In early 1644, after two years of fighting the Royalists, the Parliamentarians signed the Solemn League and Covenant which formed an alliance with the Scottish Covenanters. As a result, a Covenanter army, commanded by the Earl of Leven, began moving south into England. The Royalist commander in the north, the Marquess of Newcastle, moved to prevent them from crossing the Tyne River. Meanwhile, to the south a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Manchester began advancing north to threaten the Royalist stronghold of York. Falling back to protect the city, Newcastle entered its fortifications in late April.

Battle of Marston Moor - Siege of York & Prince Rupert's Advance:

Meeting at Wetherby, Leven and Manchester decided to lay siege to York. Surrounding the city, Leven was made commander-in-chief of the allied army. To the south, King Charles I dispatched his ablest general, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, to gather troops to relieve York. Marching north, Rupert captured Bolton and Liverpool, while increasing his force to 14,000. Hearing of Rupert's approach, the Allied leaders abandoned the siege and concentrated their forces on Marston Moor to prevent the prince from reaching the city. Crossing the River Ouse, Rupert moved around the Allies' flank and arrived at York on July 1.

Battle of Marston Moor - Moving to Battle:

On the morning of July 2, the Allied commanders decided to move south to a new position where they could protect their supply line to Hull. As they were moving out, reports were received that Rupert's army was approaching the moor. Leven countermanded his earlier order and worked to reconcentrate his army. Rupert advanced quickly hoping to catch the Allies off guard, however Newcastle's troops moved slowly and threatened not to fight if they were not given their back pay. As a result of Rupert's delays, Leven was able to reform his army before the Royalists arrival.

Battle of Marston Moor - The Battle Begins:

Due to the day's maneuvering, it was evening by the time the armies were formed up for battle. This coupled with a series of rain showers convinced Rupert to delay attacking until the following day and he released his troops for their evening meal. Observing this movement and noting the Royalists lack of preparation, Leven ordered his troops to attack at 7:30, just as a thunderstorm began. On the Allied left, the Oliver Cromwell's cavalry pounded across the field and smashed Rupert's right wing. In response, Rupert personally led a cavalry regiment to the rescue. This attack was defeated and Rupert was unhorsed.

Battle of Marston Moor - Fighting on the Left and Center:

With Rupert out of the battle, his commanders carried on against the Allies. Leven's infantry advanced against the Royalist center and had some success, capturing three guns. On the right, an attack by Sir Thomas Fairfax's cavalry was defeated by their Royalist counterparts under Lord George Goring. Counter-charging, Goring's horsemen pushed Fairfax back before wheeling into the flank of the Allied infantry. This flank attack, coupled with a counterattack by the Royalist infantry caused half of the Allied foot to break and retreat. Believing the battle lost, Leven and Lord Fairfax left the field.

Battle of Marston Moor - Cromwell to the Rescue:

While the Earl of Manchester rallied the remaining infantry to make a stand, Cromwell's cavalry returned to the fighting. Despite having been wounded in the neck, Cromwell quickly led his men around the rear of Royalist army. Attacking under a full moon, Cromwell struck Goring's men from behind routing them. This assault, coupled with a push forward by Manchester's infantry succeeded in carrying the day and driving the Royalists from the field.

Battle of Marston Moor - Aftermath:

The Battle of Marston Moor cost the Allies approximately 300 killed while the Royalists suffered around 4,000 dead and 1,500 captured. As a result of the battle, the Allies returned to their siege at York and captured the city on July 16, effectively ending Royalist power in northern England. On July 4, Rupert, with 5,000 men, began retreating south to rejoin the king. Over the next several months, Parliamentarian and Scots forces eliminated the remaining Royalist garrisons in the region.

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