near run thing
Battle of Naseby, fought on the 14th June 1645, was perhaps the
single most important battle of the English Civil War in that the defeat
suffered that day by King Charles I marked the beginning of the end for the
Royalist cause. It was also the first battle fought by the newly organised
New Model Army (NMA) whose success that day was a triumph for the new system
of discipline and organisation introduced by Oliver Cromwell.
The battle itself was a near run thing and could easily have ended in
a Royalist victory had it not been for the ill discipline of Prince
battlefield itself lies almost at the geographical heart of England and
consisted largely of open country. The Royalists deployed on a gentle hill
known as Dust Hill while the NMA deployed on a similar hill a mile away
called Mill Hill. The ground
between, known as Broadmoor, was level with some swampy ground.
One flank was marked by a line of hedges, the other by a rabbit
warren that posed a serious problem for Cromwell's Ironsides.
Royalists were commanded by the King, although he was more or less a simple
figurehead the real decisions being taken by his nephew Prince Rupert. The
NMA was under the command of the highly experienced Sir Thomas Fairfax.
The Royalist right flank consisted of veteran cavaliers under Prince
Rupert and his younger brother Prince Maurice.
The centre was made up of the Royalist foot under Sir Bernard Astley,
the left flank was covered by Sir Marmaduke Langley's near mutinous Northern
Horse who were the poorest troops on the Royalist side.
The Royalist reserve was under the command of the King himself.
In all the Royalists fielded between 10,000 - 11,000 men as opposed
to the NMA's 13,000 - 14,000 who also enjoyed a considerable advantage in
cavalry. Against this was the
fact that the Royalists were more experienced and in wargame terms would
have a considerable morale advantage.
NMA's left flank consisted of cavalry under Cromwell's son-in-law, Henry
Ireton. Their centre contained
the foot under Sir Phillip Skippon while the left was made up of more
cavalry under Cromwell. The
dispositions of both armies were conventional following the Swedish pattern
with foot in the centre and cavalry on either wing.
Both sides had artillery but it played only a very minor role and
made no real contribution to the battle.
The hedge on the NMA's right was lined by 1,000 Dragoons under Okey
with one man in ten acting as horseholders.
In front of the NMA's first line were 300 detached musketeers, the
'forlorn hope', who were to act as skirmishers.
NMA’s foot were largely raw recruits or press ganged men, many of whom had
only been given their weapons on the march to Naseby and man for man were no
match, for Astley's veterans. Cromwell's
Ironsides outnumbered Langley's cavalry by 3,500 to 1,500 and were the best
troops on the Parliamentarian side. Cromwell's
numerical advantage was offset somewhat by the presence of the rabbit warren
which forced him to concentrate on a narrow frontage. At the sight of the Royalists deploying the NMA's foot began
to show signs of alarm and Fairfax took the dangerous step of moving them to
the reverse side of the hi1l crest in order that they could no longer see
the enemy. Their disciplined
officers managed to control them and calm them down but any retrograde
movement in face of the enemy is always a tricky manoeuvre and this must
have given Fairfax a few bad moments. Skippon
became so nervous that he rode up to Fairfax to check his orders, the
Royalists too were bemused by this movement and Prince Rupert had difficulty
controlling his Cavaliers.
gave his field word for the day as "God our strength", while the
King chose "Queen Mary" as his.
Field words were essential during the ECW as in the heat of battle
both sides, who were similarly dressed and equipped, greatly resembled each
other. At one point in the
battle Rupert was mistaken for Fairfax by the NMA's baggage guard who held
their fire until he was properly identified.
At 10 a.m. the NMA's artillery fired it's first and only rounds which
all sailed over the heads of Prince Rupert's men.
The forlorn hope began to edge forward at which point Prince Rupert
raised his arm and the whole royalist army moved down the hill.
forlorn hope rapidly scuttled back to join the main body which appeared
dramatically on the crest of Mill Rill and began to descend the hill. Langley charged downhill to contact Cromwell's first line of
cavalry who were moving downhill when the crunch came.
Langley's charge then ground to a halt, Cromwell then began to feed
in regiments from his second line in a series of small counter charges which
proved too much for Langley's Horse who fled the field.
At this point Royalist cavalry in a similar position would have given
chase and headed for the enemy's baggage.
The Ironsides however rallied and awaited fresh orders, which the
cavaliers would have ignored; three regiments were ordered to pursue Langley
while the remainder wheeled to attack the centre.
the opposite flank Prince Rupert had positioned himself in the front line
and ordered his Cavaliers forward into one of their famous charges against
Ireton's cavalry. Okey's
Dragoons kept up a continuous fire into Rupert's flank but their fire was
ineffective and did not slow the charge.
Ireton seems to have been struck with indecision and failed to order
his men to counter charge. Of
the three leading regiments, one took the charge at the halt while the other
two only managed to get their horses into a walk before they were caught by
the charge. The first regiment
was destroyed and the remaining two, badly hit, were barely able to hold
their own. Directly behind
Rupert came the Royalist second wave and again Ireton was caught wrong
footed as he tried to wheel his second line to attack the Royalist foot in
the centre. The result was a
smashing victory for Prince Rupert and Ireton's command began to flee.
Ireton himself suffered a pike wound in the thigh, a halberd wound in the
face and was captured when his horse was shot from under him. Prince Rupert was also having his problems as he tried to
rally his men who were now badly scattered and heading for the enemy baggage
train 2 miles to the rear. Prince
Rupert had no choice but to give chase.
On arrival at the baggage camp the Royalist Horse were given a warm
welcome by the strong guard left by Fairfax who refused to surrender. Rupert was able to rally the more disciplined horse and
return to the battle but only after a lapse of one hour by which time the
battle was lost.
The usual armour of an 'Ironside', Buff Coat (i.e.
thick leather), breast and back plates, bridle guard and helmet
the centre the Royalist foot had reached push of pike with the NMA's foot
and forced them back, only the three regiments in the NMA's second line
prevented a disaster. Skippon
was badly wounded but managed to stay in the saddle but was unable to give
orders. Fairfax took over
command of the centre but the Royalists kept up the pressure, with his left
flank gone only Cromwell was in a position to save the day.
If Rupert's men had been able to rally he could have attacked Fairfax
on the flank and rolled up the NMA's foot.
Cromwell now proceeded to attack Astley's left flank left exposed by
Langley's rout. The King seeing
this movement ordered the single troop of his mounted Lifeguard to charge.
He was prevented by the Earl of Carnwath, who seized the King's
bridle and led him from the field followed by his lifeguard.
In the meantime Okey seeing the chance to finish the Royalist foot
mounted his Dragoons who made one of their rare mounted attacks.
Astley caught on both flanks was forced to surrender.
Prince Rupert arrived on the field at this moment and joined forces
with the King. When they tried
to organise a counter charge the Cavaliers refused to obey and fled hotly
pursued by the Ironsides. The
pursuit lasted for 11 miles until Prince Rupert was able to rally the Royal
Lifeguard and turn to fight. At
this point, their horses badly blown, the Ironsides gave up the chase.
The King lost 1,000 dead and 4,500 men as prisoners, enough powder
and equipment for 8,000 men and his treasury of £100,000. He also lost his carriage in which was found proof that he
was negotiating with Catholic France in order to bring a Catholic Irish Army
to England, which damaged his cause greatly.
The Royalist camp was looted and all the women found there were
either massacred or had their faces mutilated on the grounds that women who
followed a Royal Army must be 'sin incarnate'.
real reason for the King's defeat lies in the inability of the Royalist
horse to rally after an attack and the ability of the Ironsides to do just
that. Prince Rupert was in the
front rank of the Cavaliers, not the best place for the commander of the
army to be. On the other hand
his presence added much to the morale and the ferocity of the charges his
men were famed for, he may also have been loath to let his younger brother
command the charge. Cromwell on
the other hand stayed in the second line where he could control his men and
launch attacks that were well co-ordinated and timely.
His tactics were not new being utilised by both Gustavus Adolphus and
Pappenheim in Germany but this was the first time they had been used to
effect in England and they took the Royalists by surprise.
to english civil war