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English Civil War: Battle of Naseby

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Battle of Naseby - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Naseby was a key engagement of the English Civil War (1642-1651) and was fought June 14, 1645.

Armies & Commanders:

Parliamentarians

Royalists

  • King Charles I
  • Prince Rupert of the Rhine
  • 8,000 men

Battle of Naseby - Overview:

In the spring of 1645, with the English Civil War raging, Sir Thomas Fairfax led the recently formed New Model Army west from Windsor to relieve the besieged garrison of Taunton. As his Parliamentarian forces marched, King Charles I moved from his wartime capital at Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold to meet with his commanders. While they were initially divided on what course to take, it was ultimately decided for Lord Goring to hold the West Country and maintain the siege of Taunton while the king and Prince Rupert of the Rhine moved north with the main army to recover the northern parts of England.

As Charles moved towards Chester, Fairfax received ordered from the Committee of Both Kingdoms to turn and advance on Oxford. Unwilling to abandon the garrison at Taunton, Fairfax dispatched five regiments under Colonel Ralph Welden to the town before marching north. Learning that Fairfax was targeting Oxford, Charles was initially pleased as he believed that if the Parliamentarian troops were busy laying siege to the city they would be unable to interfere with his operations in the north. This pleasure quickly turned to concern when he learned that Oxford was short on provisions.

Arriving at Oxford on May 22, Fairfax began operations against the city. With his capital under threat, Charles abandoned his original plans, moved south, and attacked Leicester on May 31 in the hope of luring Fairfax north from Oxford. Breaching the walls, Royalist troops stormed and sacked the city. Concerned by the loss of Leicester, Parliament ordered Fairfax to abandon Oxford and seek battle with Charles' army. Advancing through Newport Pagnell, the lead elements of the New Model Army clashed with Royalist outposts near Daventry on June 12, alerting Charles to Fairfax's approach.

Unable to receive reinforcements from Goring, Charles and Prince Rupert decided to fall back towards Newark. As the Royalist army moved towards Market Harborough, Fairfax was reinforced by the arrival of Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell's cavalry brigade. That evening, Colonel Henry Ireton led a successful raid against Royalist troops in nearby Naseby village which resulted in the capture several prisoners. Concerned that they would be unable to retreat, Charles called a council of war and the decision was made to turn and fight.

Maneuvering through the early hours of June 14, the two armies formed up on two low ridges near Naseby separated by a low plain known as Broad Moor. Fairfax placed his infantry, led by Sergeant Major General Sir Philip Skippon in the center, with cavalry on each flank. While Cromwell commanded the right wing, Ireton, promoted to Commissary General that morning, led the left. Opposite, the Royalist army lined up in similar fashion. Though Charles was on the field, actual command was exercised by Prince Rupert.

The center was comprised of Lord Astley's infantry, while Sir Marmaduke Langdale's veteran Northern Horse was placed on the Royalist left. On the right, Prince Rupert and his brother Maurice personally led a body of 2,000-3,000 cavalry. King Charles remained in the rear with a cavalry reserve as well as his and Rupert's infantry regiments. The battlefield was bounded on the west by a thick hedgerow known as the Sulby Hedges. While both armies had their lines anchored on the hedges, the Parliamentarian line extended further east then the Royalist line.

Around 10:00 AM, the Royalist center began to advance with Rupert's cavalry following suit. Seeing an opportunity, Cromwell dispatched dragoons under Colonel John Okey into the Sulby Hedges to fire on Rupert's flank. In the center, Skippon moved his men over the crest of the ridge to meet Astley's assault. Following an exchange of musket fire, the two bodies clashed in hand-to-hand fighting. Due to a dip in the ridge, the Royalist attack was funneled into a narrow front and hit Skippon's lines hard. In the fighting, Skippon was wounded and his men slowly pushed back.

To the left, Rupert was forced to accelerate his advance due to fire from Okey's men. Pausing to dress his lines, Rupert's cavalry surged forward and struck Ireton's horsemen. Initially repulsing the Royalist attack, Ireton led part of his command to the aid of Skippon's infantry. Beaten back, he was unhorsed, wounded, and captured. As this was occurring, Rupert led forward a second line of cavalry and shattered Ireton's lines. Surging forward, the Royalists pressed into Fairfax's rear and attacked his baggage train rather than rejoining the main battle.

On the other side of the field, both Cromwell and Langdale remained in position, neither willing to make the first move. As the battle raged, Langdale finally advanced after about thirty minutes. Already outnumbered and outflanked, Langdale's men were forced to attack uphill over rough terrain. Committing around half his men, Cromwell easily defeated Langdale's assault. Sending a small force to pursue Langdale's retreating men, Cromwell wheeled the remainder of his wing to the left and attacked into the flank of the Royalist infantry. Along the hedges, Okey's men remounted, joined with the remnants of Ireton's wing, and attacked Astley's men from the west.

Their advance already halted by Fairfax's superior numbers, the Royalist infantry now found itself under attack on three sides. While some surrendered, the remainder fled back across Broad Moor to Dust Hill. There their retreat was covered by Prince Rupert's personal infantry, the Bluecoats. Repulsing two attacks, the Bluecoats were ultimately overwhelmed by advancing Parliamentarian forces. In the rear, Rupert rallied his horsemen and returned to the field, but was too late to make any impact as Charles' army was in retreat with Fairfax in pursuit.

Battle of Naseby - Aftermath

The Battle of Naseby cost Fairfax around 400 killed and wounded, while the Royalists suffered approximately 1,000 casualties and 5,000 captured. In the wake of the defeat, Charles' correspondence, which showed he was actively soliciting aid from Catholics in Ireland and on the Continent, was captured by Parliamentarian forces. Published by Parliament, it badly damaged his reputation and boosted support for the war. A turning point in the conflict, Charles' fortunes suffered after Naseby and he surrendered the following year.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1601-1800
  6. English Civil War
  7. Battle of Naseby - English Civil War Battle of Naseby

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