The Battle of Marston Moor.
William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. Marston Moor and Exile.
William was not amused but hid his resentment at the lack of courtesy and consultation. Prince Rupert thought he had seniority and took control. The King’s orders were not clear and this confusion in the command structure and resulting uncertainty was a major factor in the forthcoming defeat.
William mustered his forces at 2:00 am that morning with the intention of marching out of the city leaving only Glemham with a small force in York. Neither William or Eythin, who had served with Rupert on the continent in 1639, were impressed with the overall plan. The Royalists with their total army of 20000 would be outnumbered 2 to 1. It was a far from promising situation. The loss of the remaining Royalist forces in the north would be a crushing blow and effectively be the end to Royalists in Yorkshire and the surrounding counties. This William fully appreciated and was desperate to avoid.
On 2nd July the Allied armies were already marching south from Marston Moor when their rearguard reported that the Royalists were advancing onto the moor. The Allied troops were hastily recalled but Rupert did not attack immediately.
William and his force from York arrived late after delays in rallying all the army due largely to disciplinary problems concerning pay. However it has been suggested that Eythin actually ordered his own men not to march until the matter of their outstanding pay had been resolved in an attempt to delay commitment of his infantry for as long as possible. Eythin later denied this. Whatever the matter was resolved.
William, clearly in no hurry, left for Marston Moor by coach with a detachment of cavalry arriving at dinner time. Eythin was left to bring up the rest of the army as soon as possible. Both armies were assembled in the late afternoon. Rupert’s meetings with William and later Eythin were tense and sharp affairs. Rupert expressed dismay at the late arrival but was still hopeful of a positive result. Rupert's dispositions were criticised by Eythin, supported by William, as being drawn up too close to the enemy. When shown the plan of the initial deployment a shocked Eythin is reported to have said
“ By God Sir, it is very fine on paper but there is no such thing in the field.”
However, Eythin also opined that it was too late in the day to redeploy, so the Royalist army did not move back.
The Allied armies occupied Marston Hill, a low but nevertheless prominent feature in the flat Vale of York, between the villages of Long Marston and Tockwith. The left wing was under the command of Oliver Cromwell and consisted of 3000 Eastern Association Cavalry including Cromwell's own regiment with 600 musketeers. 1000 Scots cavalry under David Leslie were deployed to Cromwell's rear and 500 Scots dragoons on the extreme left. The centre, under several Generals with no overall commander, consisted of over 14000 infantry, with 30 to 40 pieces of artillery. The various regiments had been hastily deployed as they arrived on the field. Most of Manchester's infantry, under Lawrence Crawford, were on the left of the front line and Lord Fairfax's in the centre. Scots brigades made up the right of the front line, and almost all the second and third lines. The right wing was commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, with 2000 cavalry from Yorkshire and Lancashire, and 600 musketeers, with 1000 Scots cavalry to his rear.
The Royalists occupied the low lying moor behind a long drainage ditch. When the contingent from York belatedly arrived they were deployed as quickly and as best as circumstances would permit.
The left wing consisted of 2100 cavalry, mainly from the hard fighting Northern Horse, and 500 musketeers, under Goring supported by Sir Charles Lucas' regiment and Sir Marmaduke Langdale. Their centre was nominally commanded by Eythin, although Sergeant-Major General Henry Tillier led most of the troops. A “Forlorn Hope” ( advanced guard ) of musketeers lined the ditch. The infantry units of Rupert's army, 7000 strong, formed the first line, with the 3000 infantry contingent from Newcastle's army, and a brigade of cavalry numbering 600, behind them. There were also 14 artillery pieces. The right wing was commanded by Lord Byron, with 2600 cavalry and 500 musketeers. On this side of the field the ditch was not such a significant barrier leaving Byron’s flank somewhat vulnerable.
Rupert commanded a reserve of 600 cavalry, including his elite Lifeguard of Horse.
William was given no command duties although he was Lord General of the Northern Army. He was to fight that day solely as a gentleman volunteer. He retired to his coach for a pipe expecting no further action till the next day.
Although there were brief exchanges of artillery fire and some skirmishes between outposts during the afternoon, Rupert thought that he still had the initiative and that the battle would take not place until the next day. He retired to his camp at the rear. At about 7:30 p.m., after a brisk exchange of fire on the Royalist right, an attack developed under cover of a rainstorm, taking the Royalists by surprise.
On the Allied left, Cromwell's and Crawford's deliberate advance shattered Byron's flank. The Royalists were taken by surprise. Byron’s cavalry had little time to mount and deploy and their supporting infantry were disordered and not properly formed to offer support. Cromwell and Crawford were quickly among them brushing off a counter charge. In spite of brave resistance Bryon was overwhelmed by superior numbers. He took much blame for the defeat that day. This is unfair as Byron’s initial position was not as strong as Rupert had thought and in any case his orders were not clear.
William rode over to try and halt the rout but it made no difference and, seeing Rupert trying to take control, returned to the centre accompanied by his brother Charles, Mazine, his page and another officer. Here most of the Allied front line of infantry had managed to force their way across the ditch. William met a group of gentleman volunteers who had earlier appointed him as their honourary captain.
It is said he told them
“ Gentleman. You have done me the honour to choose me as your captain and now is the fittest time that I may do you service: wherefore if you follow me I shall lead you as best I can and show you the way to your honour.”
On the right, Sir Thomas Fairfax's wing fared less well. His cavalry were disordered by the ditch and by Royalist musket fire and, when Goring counter-attacked, Fairfax's men were driven from the field. Most of Goring's cavalry scattered in pursuit or fell out to loot the Allied baggage train. However, some of them under Sir Charles Lucas wheeled to attack the right flank of the Allied infantry.
A counter attack was urgently needed and William and his troop of volunteers joined Sir William Blakiston’s brigade of cavalry and charged into the fray. A ferocious fight developed and William and his men hurled themselves forward. He lost his sword and, refusing to accept another from one of his volunteers, fought with his page’s less than adequate weapon. He cut down 3 men and was confronted by an Allied pikeman who resisted 2 or 3 charges before being hacked down.
Under these assaults in the confusion and the gathering darkness, over half the Scots and Parliamentarian infantry fled. Leven and Lord Fairfax also left the field, believing all was lost. Manchester remained, but commanded no more than his own regiment of infantry near the Allied rear. However, the Scottish Sergeant-Major General Sir James Lumsden managed to reform part of the Allied centre.
Meanwhile, Rupert had rallied some of Byron's men and, together with his own Regiment of Horse, led them and his reserve against Cromwell. A Parliamentarian officer wrote,
"Cromwell's own division had a hard pull of it; for they were charged by Rupert's bravest men both in front and flank; they stood at the sword's point a pretty while, hacking one another; but at last it so pleased God he brake through them, scattering them before him like a little dust.".
Sir David Leslie's Scots lancers eventually swung the balance for Cromwell. Rupert's cavaliers were routed and he himself narrowly avoided capture by hiding in a bean field before fleeing back to York losing his beloved dog, the legendary Boye, in the process. One of many lives to be lost that day
By now it was fully dark. The battlefield was a scene of wild confusion, and thousands of fugitives from both sides were scattered over the countryside for miles around. All five armies had lost their commanders-in-chief.
In similar circumstances an indecisive drawn battle would have resulted, but Cromwell's disciplined cavalry rallied and were the key to victory. Sir Thomas Fairfax along with John Lambert and a few other troopers from the right, had managed to make their way through Goring's men to reach Cromwell and relate the state of affairs on the Allied right flank. Supported by the Eastern Association infantry led by Lawrence Crawford, Cromwell, it is said, now led his cavalry right around the Royalist rear to attack Goring's wing from behind. Goring tried to rally some of his cavalry to meet this threat, but they too were routed. There is some doubt whether Cromwell was the prime mover in this decision. He may actually have not been on the field at all at this stage as he had suffered a slight wound and is said to have left the scene at some point to have it dressed. The credit for this battle winning manoeuvre may properly belong to Crawford or Sir Thomas Fairfax or a combination of both. However history records this as a Cromwell triumph and so be it.
Of the Royalist army, only William’s Whitecoat infantry regiment, now remained on the field as an effective fighting unit. They gathered for a last stand in an enclosure named White Syke Close where, for an hour, they resisted all Cromwell's men, refusing to surrender. Eventually they were overwhelmed with a mere 30 souls left to tell the tale. Several eyewitnesses testify the bravery of this stand.
“ Every man fell in the same order and rank wherein he had fought.”
Their courageous rearguard action had given many of the fleeing Royalists time to escape to York.
There was nothing that William could do in the face of such a complete collapse. He was almost certainly the last Royalist general left on the field although he had no formal command that day. Nearing York he encountered Rupert locked in heated discussion with Eythin. Rupert asked William how the business went to which William answered.
“ All is lost and gone to their side.”
The Royalists lost 4000 men killed. 1500 Royalists were taken prisoner, including Sir Charles Lucas and Henry Tillier. It was claimed that only 300 Scots and Parliamentarians were killed but this is clearly preposterous in such a hard fought encounter. It had been a torrid day for William having witnessed the annihilation of his own army with the loss of many close friends, associates and followers in a plan he had neither been consulted about nor approved of. William’s detractors for years apportioned some of the blame for this defeat on him. This is patently ridiculous as it was not his plan, he was not consulted about it and did not approve of it and he had no formal command that day anyway.
The Allied army did not immediately follow up their success with the renewed siege of York.
At an acrimonious Royalist post mortem the next day Eythin was highly critical of the whole wretched scheme saying it was a gamble which should not have been taken and expressed the view that the disaster had destroyed the Royalist cause. Rupert defended himself saying all could have been much different if William’s army had arrived on the field from York earlier in the day as planned.
When asked what he would do now Rupert replied.
“ I will rally my men.”
Eythin put the same question to William. His reply was equally brusque.
“ I will go to Holland.”
Rupert begged William to raise more forces and continue the fight but this was unthinkable in William’s view. He and his supporters had given their all for the Crown. There was nothing left to give. He had fought for 2 years with precious little constructive help from the King against an Allied force which had finally overwhelmed him. It is understandable therefore that the prospect of further futile conflict in the region and unnecessary sacrifice and suffering was not an appealing one.
There were 2 alternative courses of action available.
1/ To retire from the scene altogether and go abroad .
2/ To join the King as a gentleman volunteer. A general who had lost his army. This was a humiliating prospect for a proud man. The insults from his detractors at court would be unbearable. He chose the former course of action declaring
“ No, I will not endure the laughter of the court.”
William was not alone in his decision to leave for Holland and was joined by several senior members of his staff and notable supporters including Eythin, Mackworth and Sir William Carnaby. The later was Treasurer of the Army and was only too aware of the hopelessness of trying to raise another Royalist army in the north. That day he rode for Scarborough with his followers, a party of 70, which included his brother, Sir Charles, the 2 Cavendish boys and their tutor, William’s steward and personal servants and his indispensable Master of Horse, Mazine.
At Scarborough they were greeted by Sir Hugh Cholmley who was able to obtain 2 ships to take the party to Hamburg 2 days later. Cholmley expressed the desire that William should stay but added,
“ I know my duty. It is not for me to call you to account but to obey, you being my general.”
Cholmley swore to hold Scarborough for as long as possible for the King and was as good as his word. He resisted for another year before being forced to surrender and escape to the continent.