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Battle of Marston Moor, 2 July 1644

Battle of Marston Moor, 2 July 1644

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Battle of Marston Moor, 2 July 1644

One of the largest battles of the English Civil War, with roughly 45,000 men on the battlefield. Command was divided on both sides. For Parliament the earl of Manchester appears to have had overall command, although Thomas Fairfax and Alexander Leslie, earl of Leven shared command. Although technically Prince Rupert commanded the Royalist army, in the build-up to the battle he deferred too often to William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, who had until recently been besieged in York. The three Parliamentary commanders had all been engaged in the siege of York, Fairfax in command of the northern army, Leven the Scots, and Manchester the Eastern Association (with Cromwell commanding the cavalry), with between them 7,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry. Hearing on 30 June that Rupert's 15,000 men were at Knaresborough, only fourteen miles west of the city, the Parliamentary generals withdrew their forces from the north of York, crossed the Ouse on a bridge of boats, and blocked to the road from Knaresborough to York, forming up on Marston Moor. Rupert however, had no intention of attacking them yet, and in a rapid march on 1 July crossed the river himself, and entered York through the now unguarded north gate. This was just about Prince Rupert's last correct move. Rather than enter York himself to meet Newcastle, he sent George Goring with orders for Newcastle to bring his army to join with Rupert. Even with the garrison of York, Rupert would still be outnumbered, but Newcastle had 3,000 infantry, and Rupert did not want to fight without them. Sadly for the Royalist cause, Newcastle's feelings were hurt, and when he did move to join Rupert on 2 July it was without his troops. Even so, if Rupert had attacked at that point (9 am), he would have caught the Parliamentary army in a state of some confusion and on very bad ground. However, he allowed Newcastle to persuade him to delay until the garrison of York arrived, which they only did at four, by which time their opponents were formed up, and the chance had been lost.

The Parliamentary army was formed up with Cromwell and his cavalry on the left, Fairfax and the Northern horse on the right, and Fairfax and Leven in the centre with the Scottish and English infantry, on higher ground than their opponents, but on worse ground. Rupert had formed up his forces very carefully, probably with the intention of provoking an attack. Facing Cromwell was his own cavalry, intermingled with musketeers in the newly developed Swedish manner of Gustavus Adolphus, which was intended to break up any cavalry charge, with Goring facing Fairfax. The two sides were formed up by 4.30 pm, and Rupert wanted to begin, but Newcastle opposed the idea, and once again Rupert gave in. After three hours of this stalemate, Rupert decided the chance of battle had ended for the day, and gave orders for his men to break ranks for the night. Seeing this, Cromwell ordered his cavalry to attack, and while the Royalist right quickly responded, the musketeers were immediately neutralised. Rupert, returning from his own camp, took the second line of his cavalry into the action, but now the Scottish cavalry under David Leslie outflanked him, and hit him from the side. Rupert's cavalry broke, and large elements fled the field. Parliament was doing just as well in the centre. Their infantry had quickly dealt with the bulk of the Royalist infantry, who surrendered in droves, with only the garrison of York fighting on, now greatly outnumbered. Only on the right were things going badly. Goring's charge had smashed the badly positioned cavalry commanded by Fairfax, who after a brief attempt at a rally fled the battlefield to Hull, while Leven headed for Leeds, while their fleeing troops spread the news of the Royalist victory. Meanwhile on the field the Eastern Association troops had circled the battlefield and were now on the ground Goring had started on. This time, Goring and his men were on the same bad ground that had defeated Fairfax, and suffered the same fate when the Eastern Association charged them. This only left the Yorkshire infantry, some of whom struggled on until midnight, but the battle was lost. Rupert and Newcastle managed to escape to York, but 4,000 of their men were lost, including many of the most experienced officers, and soon after Newcastle fled to the continent, after which a great number of Yorkshire Royalists gave up. The Scots expected to gain greatly in prestige from the part they had played in the victory, but it was Cromwell and his Ironsides who took most of the glory.

See AlsoBooks on the English Civil WarSubject Index: English Civil War

The Battle of Marston Moor

The Battle of Marston Moor took place on 2 July 1644. Together with the Battle of Edgehill and the Battle of Naseby, it was one of the most significant conflicts of the First English Civil War. Parliament’s defeat of the Royalists severely dented Royalist power in northern England. The Battle is believed to be the largest ever fought on English soil.

On 1 July 1644, Prince Rupert, a Royalist commander, entered the city of York. This was an important Royalist success: the North had typically been in support of the Parliamentarians as they fiercely opposed Charles I’s forced loans. York was a wealthy religious cit, making it a key target during the war. When Rupert arrived at the city, the Parliamentarian force withdrew and made their way to Tadcaster.

The Royalists decided to pursue the withdrawing Parliamentarians. On 2 July, they caught up with most of the Parliamentarian force near Long Marston.

John Barker, Marston Moor, before 1904

The Royalist faced several problems. Unlike the Parliamentarians, Prince Rupert was forced to command his men on the moor. This was because Parliament controlled the roads when the first Royalist units reached the Parliamentarians. His force also arrived in a scattered fashion because some took more time in their pursuit of the Parliamentarians. Parliament's force was therefore more disciplined, whereas Rupert had to marshall his men in a haphazard fashion as each soldier arrived on the battlefield. The Royalist force of 18,000 men was also outnumbered by 28,000 Parliamentarians.

Armies were traditionally organised with their horse regiments on the flanks of their infantry. The cavalry attacked first to try and dislodge the enemy’s position. However, at Marston Moor, Rupert had fewer than anticipated foot soldiers because Royalist foot regiments were arriving at Marston Moor one by one. Rupert was not able to make coherent battle plans because his army was limited at Marston Moor.

However, Rupert did hold an important advantage over Parliament. Despite the problems of marshalling troops on the moor, the moor’s geography provded his soldiers with plenty of protection. The moor had many scattered hedges and ditches: this meant that any attack was potentially extremely dangerous. Rupert’s left flank was especially well defended by musketeers who were sent to man the ditches.

The Royalist Lord John Byron presided over this well-protected left flank. Instead of staying in his position, Byron decided to launch an attack on the Parliamentary forces, led by Oliver Cromwell. This attack failed and enabled Cromwell to counterattack the Royalists’ left flank.

At first, the Royalist right flank, led by Lord George Goring,was successful. However, Lord George Goring could not keep up his attack and he was defeated by a force led by Cromwell and Fairfax.

As both flanks faces attack from all sides, the men in the middle of Rupert’s army fell into disarray. The Whitecoats finally arrived, led by the Duke of Newcastle, but they could not save the Royalists. At this point, the Royalists were fighting a losing battle.

The Battle of Marston Moor severely dented Royalist strength in the north. A few areas, like Scarborough and Bolton, held out after the battle, but Charles was forced to abandon his control of northern England.

How did the Royalists go from a decisive win at York to abject defeat at Marston Moor so quickly? The Royalists had been chasing an army that had left York in tatters. Rupert was a skilled leader, but Byron had foolishly abandoned his safe position in the moor’s ditches and left the Royalist left flank in a precarious position. However, the biggest reason for the Royalist defeat was probably the fact that Rupert was unable to coherently command his men. The Royalist pursuit was disorganised and there units’ late arrival did not help.

The battle confirmed how a well-equipped and trained army could win the war and established Cromwell’s reputation as a great commander. The Royalists effectively abandoned all control in the north of England. Although Prince Rupert lost his glowing reputation of invincibility in battle, Marston Moor made the reputation of another man Oliver Cromwell made a name for himself for his role in defeating the Royalist cavalry.

Commanders and Armies Involved

Before discussing the events of the Battle of Marston Moor, it's important to first understand the commanders and armies involved in the conflict.

Parliamentarian and Scots Covenanters

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


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

The Battle of Marston Moor and the role of the Scots

In a field west of York near Long Marston the combined forces of the Scottish Army of the Solemn League and Covenant, reinforced by Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester’s separate local English Parliamentarian forces, under the overall command of the Scottish commander the Earl of Leven routed King Charles I’s Royalist forces in northern England led by his nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine with great slaughter.

The battle would prove to be the largest battle of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and its repercussions were pivotal on the course and eventual outcome of the war.
The action commenced in the evening of the 2nd July 1644 with an allied assault on Royalist positions with Prince Rupert’s cavalry successfully routing the English Parliamentarian cavalry on the allied right, a combination of both then riding down the allied infantry positioned behind. Rupert’s infantry initially made a strong response in the centre before being pushed back by the Scots centre once the right-wing had been stabilised. Although absent for much of the fight due to injury Oliver Cromwell returned to his cavalry – which was brigaded with Sir David Leslie’s Scots cavalry – on the allied left in time to take part in this forces flank attack which had success in rolling up the Royalist front.

The Scots infantry completed the destruction of the Royalist infantry with Newcastle’s Whitecoat regiment in particular making a fateful last stand at White Sykes Close before being virtually annihilated by Scots dragoon’s and infantry. Reports of losses suggest 4000 Royalist casualties to 300 allied. This effectively destroyed Royalist cause hopes in Northern England and allowed English Parliamentarian forces the luxury of concentrating their forthcoming efforts in the south of England. The Scots undoubtedly took the main strain of action and responsibility for allied victory but the religious “Independents” in the English Parliament had found their man in Oliver Cromwell and within days (to the Scots understandable extreme chagrin) were giving sole responsibility for the victory to Cromwell and his heavy cavalry.

Outcome [ edit | edit source ]

Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Marston Moor (1599–1658). Cromwell's reputation as an effective cavalry commander and leader was cemented by his success at Marston Moor.

Late at night, the Royalist generals reached York, along with many routed troops and stragglers. The Governor of York, Sir Thomas Glemham, allowed only those who were part of the garrison (in effect, only a few officers who had participated in the battle as volunteers) into the city, in case Parliamentarian cavalry entered the city on the heels of the fleeing Royalists. Many fugitives, including wounded, crowded the streets before Micklegate Bar, the gate into the city.

Newcastle, having seen his forces broken and having spent his entire fortune in the Royalist cause, resolved that he would not endure the "laughter of the court". He departed for Scarborough on the day after the battle (3 July) and went into exile in Hamburg, with Eythin and many of his senior officers. ⎽] Two days after the battle, Rupert rallied 5,000 cavalry and a few hundred infantry whom he mounted on spare horses. He considered that, rather than attempt to restore Royalist fortunes in the north, he was required to return south to rejoin the King. Leaving York by way of Monk Bar on the north east side, he marched back over the Pennines, making a detour to Richmond to escape interception.

The victorious allies regrouped, although too slowly to intercept Rupert as he left York. Once the allied army had reformed, they resumed the siege of York. Under the agreement that no Scottish soldiers were to be quartered in the city, the garrison surrendered on honourable terms on 16 July. ⏊]

At Marston Moor, Prince Rupert had been decisively beaten for the first time in the war and lost his reputation for invincibility. He was deeply affected by the defeat, and kept the King's ambiguous dispatch close to him for the remainder of his life. ⏊] He had suffered an additional blow through the death during the battle of his dog "Boye", who had been a constant companion by his side throughout his campaigns. Parliamentarian propaganda made much of this, treating Boye almost as a Devil's familiar. ⏋]

By contrast, Oliver Cromwell's reputation as a cavalry commander was firmly established. Despite attempts by his political rivals such as Denzil Holles and military critics such as Major General Lawrence Crawford to belittle the part he played, ⏌] it was acknowledged that the discipline he had instilled into his troops and his own leadership on the battlefield had been crucial to the victory. Cromwell would later declare that Marston Moor was "an absolute victory obtained by God's blessing". ⏍] From this moment, he was to exert increasing influence both in the House of Commons and in the Parliamentarian armies in the field. ⏍]

Battle of Marston Moor

Place of the Battle of Marston Moor: Between Long Marston and Tockwith, six miles to the west of the city of York.

Combatants at the Battle of Marston Moor:

The Royalist forces of King Charles I against the forces of Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters.

Alexander Leslie, the Earl of Leven, commanding the Scottish Covenanter army at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Commanders at the Battle of Marston Moor: Prince Rupert nephew to King Charles I commanded the Royalist army with the Earl of Newcastle and Lord Eythin as his deputies.

Alexander Leslie, the Earl of Leven, commanded the Scottish Covenanter contingent in the Parliamentary-Scots army.

Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester commanded the two Parliamentary forces in the Parliamentary-Scots army.

Size of the armies at the Battle of Marston Moor:

Prince Rupert marched to the relief of York with 5,000 Horse and Dragoons and 9,000 Foot.

The Earl of Newcastle and Lord Eythin brought from the York garrison a further 4,000 Foot.

Prince Rupert, commander of the Royalist army at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The Royalists brought some 20 guns into the field.

The Scots Covenanter army comprised 16,000 troops.

Lord Fairfax commanded 5,000 troops.

The Early of Manchester brought a further 6,000 troops to the battle.

The Parliamentary-Scots army at the Battle of Marston comprised some 7,000 Horse and Dragoons, 20,000 Foot and some 30 guns.

Winner of the Battle of Marston Moor: Marston Moor was a heavy defeat for the Royalist cause of King Charles I.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Marston Moor:

Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Background to the Battle of Marston Moor:

In early July 1644 the City of York, held for King Charles I by a Royalist army commanded by the Earl of Newcastle, was under siege by Lord Fairfax with his Parliamentary army and Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven, with his army of Scots Covenanters.

On 14 th July 1644 King Charles I wrote to his nephew Prince Rupert, who was preparing to march to the relief of the City of York: ‘…But if York be relieved, and you beat the rebels’ army of Both Kingdoms, which are before it then (but not otherwise) I may possibly make a shift (upon the defensive) to spin out time until you come to assist me. Wherefore I command and conjure you, by the duty and affection which I know you bear me, that all new enterprises laid aside, you immediately march, according to your first intention, with all your force to the relief of York.’

View of the City of York: Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

When King Charles I’s adviser Lord Culpeper heard of the content of the letter sent to Prince Rupert he exclaimed to the King: ‘Why, then, before God you are undone, for upon this peremptory order he will fight, whatever comes on’t.’ Culpeper’s comment was ominously percipient. Prince Rupert needed little encouragement. His fundamental principal in warfare was aggression to the point of extreme rashness.

Royalist army before the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The Earl of Newcastle with his deputy the Scottish Catholic James King, recently elevated as Lord Eythin, commanded the Royalist garrison of 4,500 Foot and 300 Horse.

Ferdinando, 2nd Lord Fairfax, Parliamentary Commander at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The siege of the city began on 22 nd April 1644. Straightaway the Royalist commanders impounded staple foods and imposed rationing on the population.

The forces of the besiegers comprised 16,000 Scots troops and 5,000 Parliamentary troops. On 3 rd June 1644 this force was increased by the arrival of the Earl of Manchester’s force of some 7,000 men, bringing the total besieging army to 28,000.

On 16 th June 1644 major assaults were launched against the city defences but were repelled with significant Parliamentary casualties.

In late June 1644 Prince Rupert marched to the relief of York crossing the Pennines and arriving at Skipton Castle on 26 th June 1644. After a pause to receive reinforcements from the north and to put his army in order Prince Rupert marched on, reaching Knaresborough on 30 th June 1644, thirteen miles to the west of York.

‘For God and King’ at the Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Sir Thomas Fairfax, known as ‘Black Tom’, commander of the Parliamentary right wing at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The Parliamentary-Scots army was forced to abandon the siege by the sudden arrival of Prince Rupert’s relieving army and moved to intercept Prince Rupert, taking up a position near the village of Long Marston, some six miles to the west of York.

On 1 st July 1644, on the approach of a large body of Royalist Horse, Fairfax and Leslie formed their army for battle at Long Marston. But the threat from the Royalist Horse was a feint. Prince Rupert’s main army marched north-east from Knaresborough in a semi-circle around the Parliamentary-Scots army, crossed the River Ure at Boroughbridge and continued north-east, crossing the River Swale at Thornton Bridge before turning south-east to march down the Ouse Valley to York.

Lord George Goring, commander of the Horse on the Royalist left wing: Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

At Poppleton outside the city Prince Rupert captured a pontoon bridge from a party of Parliamentary dragoons before sending Lord George Goring into York with a body of Horse, while remaining outside the city with the rest of his army. Prince Rupert had completed the mission urged on him by the King of relieving the city. But Prince Rupert was not satisfied with this substantial achievement. He intended to bring the combined army of Fairfax and Leslie to battle.

The Earl of Newcastle and Lord Eythin were reluctant to fight the Parliamentary-Scots army on such unequal terms, particularly as York had been relieved and further Royalist reinforcements were expected of some 2,000 men commanded by Colonel Sir Robert Clavering.

In the light of the King’s letter to Prince Rupert commanding him to defeat the Parliamentary-Scots army the Earl of Newcastle and Lord Eythin reluctantly agreed with Prince Rupert’s plan to bring the Parliamentary-Scots army to battle. This would add Newcastle’s disciplined and motivated ‘White Coats’ to Prince Rupert’s army.

Map of the Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Marston Moor:

Earl of Newcastle, Royalist commander at the Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

On 2 nd July 1644 Prince Rupert’s army broke camp outside York and marched out for Little Marston.

By this time the Parliamentary-Scots army was on the move towards Tadcaster to meet an approaching force commanded by Sir John Meldrum, before making further efforts to bring the Royalists to battle.

As the Royalist army marched onto Marston Moor the Parliamentary-Scots army halted and returned to the moor.

During the course of the day Marston Moor filled up with the troops of both sides taking up positions for the forthcoming battle.

The Earl of Newcastle’s and Lord Eythin’s troops marching from York after some delay did not arrive and form up for battle until well into the afternoon. It took the same length of time for the Parliamentary-Scots army to be recalled from their march and brought onto Marston Moor.

The delay in bringing the troops from the Royalist York garrison prevented Prince Rupert from launching his attack on the Parliamentary-Scots army as it marched onto the moor and before it could be put into dispositions for battle.

Oliver Cromwell leading his ‘Ironsides’ back from the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Olive Cromwell, whose charge was decisive at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The Parliamentary-Scots troops as they arrived on the moor from the south-west formed up along the top of the rising ground running west to east parallel to the Long Marston to Tockwith Road. The Royalist army took position on the northern side of the road facing up the rising ground.

Much of the moorland was broken and covered in furze. In front of the Royalist position ran a long ditch backed by a hedge.

On the Royalist left wing Prince Rupert positioned a body of 2,100 Horse commanded by Lord George Goring and his deputy Sir Charles Lucas. The brigades of Horse were interspersed with musketeers in platoons of 50 in the Swedish style.

The Royalist Foot was drawn up in the centre of the army in three lines with Sir William Blakiston’s Brigade of Horse in the third line. The Earl of Newcastle’s and Lord Eythin’s troops were incorporated into this force as they arrived on the battlefield. The Royalist Foot was commanded by their respective Sergeant-Major-Generals, Henry Tillier leading Prince Rupert’s and Sir Francis Mackworth Lord Newcastle’s.

On the Royalist right wing Prince Rupert positioned a force of 2,000 Horse commanded by Lord Byron with Sir John Urry as his deputy, again the brigades interspersed with platoons of musketeers.

Lord Byron, commander of the Royalist right wing at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Prince Rupert’s Life Guard and Sir Edward Widdrington’s brigade of Horse formed the reserve under Prince Rupert’s immediate direction.

In the left rear of the Royalist position stood an enclosure called White Syke Close that featured prominently as a defensive position towards the end of the battle.

A body of Foot was posted along the ditch on the right wing in front of Lord Byron’s Horse supported by four drakes or light cannon.

The Parliamentary-Scots army, comprising the armies of Lord Leven’s Scots Covenanters, Lord Fairfax’s English Parliamentary army and Lord Manchester’s English Parliamentary army formed up in three sections, each of three ranks, the brigades from each force intermingled.

On the left stood a body of Horse, the Parliamentary regiments commanded by Oliver Cromwell and the Scots regiments by Major-General David Leslie. The first line comprised Parliamentary Horse and Fraser’s Dragoons, the second line Parliamentary Horse and the third line Scots Horse under Leslie.

Oliver Cromwell and a regiment of Parliamentary Foot at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by Ernest Crofts

Major-General Sir James Lumsden, commanding the second rank of Foot in the centre of the Parliamentary-Scots army at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The main body of Parliamentary-Scots Foot formed up in the centre. As with the Horse the Parliamentary and Scots brigades were intermingled, five brigades forming the first rank with three brigades in each of the other two ranks and one brigade in reserve. Lieutenant-General Baillie and Major-General Crawford commanded the first line, which included two of the Earl of Manchester’s brigades. Major-General Sir James Lumsden commanded the second line and Lord Manchester the third.

On the Parliamentary-Scots right was positioned a body of Horse commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, the first and second lines being Parliamentary and the third line Scots commanded by the Earl of Eglinton.

The Parliamentary-Scots army was formed up by Major-General Sir James Lumsden who rode down the line giving directions and making a sketch of the Parliamentary-Scots dispositions.

In the right rear of the Parliamentary-Scots position stood a group of trees on a slight promontory used by the commanders as a point of vantage that came to be known as ‘Cromwell’s Plump’.

Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Lord Leven, in overall command of the Parliamentary-Scots army, intended to attack the smaller Royalist army of Prince Rupert as soon as his troops were in position.

On the Royalist left Prince Rupert’s cavalry moved forward and skirmishing took place until the Royalist Horse came under cannon fire from the Parliamentary-Scots line and withdrew.

Marston Moor, looking east to York: Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: drawing by C.R.B. Barrett

Prince Rupert told the Earl of Newcastle that in view of the lateness of the hour he would spend the night on the moor and attack the Parliamentary-Scots army in the morning. Prince Rupert dismounted to take supper while Newcastle withdrew to his carriage for a ‘quiet pipe of tobacco’.

Parliamentary-Scots Cavalry of Cromwell’s left wing engage Lord Byron’s Royalist Horse in the opening charge of the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by John DE Walton

At around 7pm on a signal gun the Parliamentary-Scots army advanced down the incline to attack the Royalist line.

At about the same time a squall of rain struck the moor, the first of several during the ensuing battle, extinguishing the smouldering fuses of many of the Royalist musketeers positioned along the hedgerow behind the ditch.

Marston Moor, looking north from the Parliamentary Scots position towards the Royalist position at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: drawing by C.R.B. Barrett

As the Parliamentary-Scots reached the ditch they were met with a volley from those Royalist musketeers whose fuses were alight and the four light cannon or ‘drakes’ but they quickly crossed the ditch and sweeping the Royalist musketeers aside to engage the main body of Royalists.

Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by J. Barker

The Parliamentary-Scots Horse on the right with difficulty crossed the ditch and the scrubby moorland before being subjected to a galling fire from the Royalist ‘commanded musketeers’ interspersed among Lord Goring’s Horse.

Sir Charles Lucas, deputy commander of the Royalist left wing at the Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Sir Thomas Fairfax with a strong body of Horse drove the Royalist regiments on the extreme flank off the field and, in the spirit and tradition of English Civil War battles, pursued them much of the way to York.

Lord Goring launched a vigorous charge on the rest of Fairfax’s wing so that on his return Fairfax found his deputy Lambert in trouble, many of his Parliamentary troopers fleeing the battlefield. Fairfax’s brother Colonel Charles Fairfax lay mortally wounded after being abandoned by his men.

The three Scots regiments of the third line on the right wing were roughly handled by the Royalist Horse and forced to retreat pursued by Goring’s troopers.

Sir Charles Lucas kept a body of Horse sufficiently well in hand to enable him to turn and attack the flank of the Parliamentary-Scots Foot as they advanced on the Royalist centre.

On the left Cromwell’s first line of Horse passed the ditch after Fraser’s Scots Dragoons mopped up the musketeers positioned behind the hedge. The Royalist right wing commander Lord Byron advanced to the attack with his Horse. Cromwell’s Eastern Association Horse met Byron’s men and drove them off the battlefield, although Cromwell was wounded in the arm.

Prince Rupert at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Prince Rupert had been dismounted when the Parliamentary-Scots launched their attack. The Prince mounted at once and surveyed the battlefield. The Royalist left wing was winning and the Royalist Foot in the centre was holding the Parliamentary-Scots attack. It was on the right flank that the Royalist army was in trouble with Byron’s heavy defeat by Cromwell’s Eastern Association Horse.

Cavalry Action at the time of the English Civil War: Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Prince Rupert rode to the threatened Royalist right wing with his Life Guard and Sir Edward Widdrington’s brigade of Horse from the Royalist reserve.

Cromwell is thought to have withdrawn to have his wound dressed at this point and his Horse was commanded by Major-General Lawrence Crawford. Attacked in front and in flank by Prince Rupert’s horsemen Cromwell’s Eastern Association Horse were hard pressed to hold their own until Major-General David Leslie charged with his three Scots regiments from the third rank.

Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by Abraham Cooper

Major-General Sir John Lambert, a Parliamentary cavalry commander on the right wing at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

After a fierce resistance by Prince Rupert’s Life Guard and Sir Edward Widdrington’s brigade, the Royalist Horse on the right wing was finally driven back in disorder, many of the troopers making off towards York. Prince Rupert was separated from his men and forced to hide in a bean field while Sir John Urry attempted to rally the retreating Royalists on the York road.

In the centre the Earl of Newcastle’s White Coats were holding the Parliamentary-Scots attack. Sir William Blakiston’s brigade of Horse charged through the Parliamentary-Scots Foot to the top of the rise, dispersing the foot soldiers as they rode through them. The Earl of Newcastle accompanied the charge with his personal escort of Sir Thomas Metham’s troop, Newcastle himself killing three men with a sword borrowed from his page.

Sir Charles Lucas attacked the flank of the Parliamentary-Scots centre with his Horse from the Royalist left wing, but here the Scots brigade of Foot commanded by Lord Lindsey comprising the Fifeshire and Midlothian regiments held firm, holding back the Royalist Horse in spite of three ferocious charges, until Sir Charles Lucas’s horse was killed and he was captured.

Elsewhere in the centre the Parliamentary-Scots line of Foot came close to collapse.

Oliver Cromwell leads his ‘Ironsides’ to the attack on the Royalist Centre: the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Sir Thomas Fairfax removed his white emblem showing that he was a Parliamentary officer and rode through the fighting to reach Cromwell on the left flank.

Fairfax ordered Cromwell to attack. Cromwell’s Eastern Association Horse were opposed by the remnants of Lord Goring’s Horse but swept them aside and descended on the Royalist centre, leaving the Royalist Horse to disperse and make their way back to York.

Attack of Cromwell’s Parliamentary Eastern Association Horse on the Royalist Foot at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by Henri Louis Dupray

The Royalist Foot were forced back until they held a position between White Syke Close and Moor Lane, Newcastle’s White Coats occupying the White Syke Close.

Marston Moor, looking south from the Royalist position towards the Parliamentary Scots position at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: drawing by C.R.B. Barrett

The White Coats resisted Cromwell’s Eastern Association Horse fiercely with muskets and pikes, keeping them out of the White Syke Close for an hour. Finally, the White Coats were overrun and died in their ranks almost to a man, refusing to ask for quarter. It is said that only thirty White Coats survived the battle.

The rest of the remaining Royalist Foot were dispersed, killed or captured. The battle was over by 9pm.

Last stand of the Royalist Foot at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Casualties at the Battle of Marston Moor:

The Parliamentary authorities claimed to have lost only 300 men. This figure does not appear to have included Scots casualties. Seymour discounts the figure and estimates the Parliamentary-Scots casualties at around 1,500.

Parliamentary-Scots officers killed in the battle included: Major Fairfax, Charles Fairfax (brother of Sir Thomas Fairfax), Captains Micklethwaite and Pugh.

Oliver Cromwell’s nephew Captain Walton was wounded.

Parliamentary-Scots sources put Royalist casualties at 3,000 to 4,000 killed and 1,500 captured. Many more deserted and left for their homes.

Wounded Cavalier returns home: Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Royalist officers killed in the battle included: Lord Kerry, Sir William Wentworth, Sir Francis Dacres, Sir William Lampton, Sir Charles Slingsby, Colonel John Fenwick, Sir Marmaduke Luddon, Sir Thomas Wetham, Sir Richard Gledhill and Captain John Baird. Of these Sir Richard Gledhill suffered twenty-six wounds in the battle but managed to ride to his home in Norton Conyers in North Yorkshire the same night dying an hour after he arrived.

Death of Sir William Lambton at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by Richard Ansdell

Follow-up to the Battle of Marston Moor:

The roads to York after the battle were described as being lined with dead and dying Royalist troops. Sir Thomas Glenham commanding the York garrison initially closed the city gates to ensure that no Parliamentary-Scots entered on the heels of the Royalist troops. Prince Rupert arrived at the end of the column and the gates were opened.

City of York after The Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

The day after the battle and after a hostile exchange with Lord Newcastle, Prince Rupert rode off towards Richmond in North Yorkshire with the remains of his cavalry. Lord Newcastle and Lord Eythin took ship from Scarborough to Hamburg and went into exile.

Surrender of the City of York on 2nd July 1645

The City of York surrendered to the Parliamentary-Scots army on 12 th July 1644, the garrison marching out with full honours of war. Thereafter the Royalist strongholds in the North of England were captured in turn, the last being Newark which surrendered on the King’s order on 2 nd July 1645.

George Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, author of ‘History of the Great Rebellion’

Clarendon on the Battle of Marston Moor: In his contemporary and authoritative work on the English Civil War entitled ‘History of the Great Rebellion’ the Earl of Clarendon, a Royalist and adviser to King Charles I could not conceal his exasperation when writing of the Battle of Marston, considering the opportunity to overcome the ‘Rebels’ to have been thrown away by Prince Rupert and to a lesser extent by Lord Newcastle. The points Clarendon makes are:

  • After his brilliant march to relieve the City of York, which forced the Parliamentary-Scots army to raise the siege of the city there was no need for Prince Rupert to seek battle with the substantially larger Parliamentary-Scots army of Lord Leven and Lord Fairfax. As Lord Newcastle and Lord Eythin forcefully pressed on Prince Rupert relations between the Scots and the Parliamentary English were deteriorating so fast that the Parliamentary-Scots army was likely to fall apart, particularly after the debacle of Prince Rupert’s relief of the City.
  • The forcing of the Parliamentary-Scots army to give battle temporarily patched over the quarrels between the two components of the combined army.

Long Marston Old Hall: Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: drawing by C.R.B. Barrett

Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War: picture by James Ward

Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Marston Moor:

    Tradition in the area of Long Marston has it that a local boy was ploughing on Marston Moor when, much to his astonishment, the area filled up with the troops from the opposing armies, Tradition does not say what he then did. Presumably he took his horses home as quickly as possible before they could be conscripted into the service of one of the armies. Of course he may have stolidly carried on ploughing.

Plan drafted by the Royalist officer Sir Bernard de Gomme of the opposing armies’ deployment at the Battle of Marston Moor fought on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Earl of Manchester, Parliamentary commander at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Lord Eythin, Royalist commander at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

Execution of Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle at Colchester Castle in 1648: picture by William Barnes Wollen

Lientenant-General William Baillie, Scots Commander of the Right Wing of the Parliamentary-Scots Foot at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644 in the English Civil War

References for the Battle of Marston Moor:

The English Civil War by Peter Young and Richard Holmes

History of the Great Rebellion by Clarendon

Cromwell’s Army by CH Firth

British Battles by Grant Volume I

Battles in Britain 1066-1746 by William Seymour

Great Battles: Marston Moor 1644 by Peter Young

The previous battle in the English Civil War is the Battle of Cropredy Bridge

The next battle in the English Civil War is the Battle of Lostwithiel

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Marston Moor

When English Civil War resumed in spring 1644 the country lay evenly divided between Roundheads and Cavaliers. Wales, the West Country and northern England remained in royalist hands while southern and central England were under parliamentary control. Yet with the help of their new Scottish allies, the Roundheads were beginning to put pressure on the King’s forces in the north. With Alexander Leslie and his Covenanter army marching south and the father–son partnership of Lord and Sir Thomas Fairfax pushing north, the King’s commander in the north, the Earl of Newcastle, was forced to seek refuge in York. The Roundheads had him trapped. On 22 April 1644, a combined Roundhead and Covenanter force of some 28,000 soldiers gathered around the sturdy city walls to lay siege to this solitary royalist outpost.

King Charles was desperate not to lose York. The city was crucial if he wanted to maintain a strategic presence in the north. He sent an urgent letter to his nephew, Prince Rupert, who was then conducting a highly successful campaign in the north-west.

… I must give you the true state of my affairs, which, if their condition be such as enforces me to give you more peremptory commands than I would willingly do, you must not take it ill. If York be lost, I shall esteem my crown less, unless supported by your sudden march to me, and a miraculous conquest in the South, before the effects of the northern power can be found here but if York be relieved, and you beat the rebel armies of both kingdoms which are before it, then, but otherwise not, I may possibly make a shift (upon the defensive) to spin out time, until you come to assist me: wherefore I command and conjure you by the duty and affection which I know you bear me, that (all the new enterprises laid aside) you immediately march with all your force to the relief of York but if that be either lost, or have freed themselves from besiegers, or that for want of powder you cannot undertake that work, you immediately march your whole strength to Worcester, to assist me and my army without which, or your having relieved York by beating the Scots, all the successes you can afterwards have most infallibly will be useless to me. You may believe nothing but an extreme necessity could make me write thus to you wherefore, in this case, I can noways doubt of your punctual compliance with

Your loving uncle and faithful friend,

Despite the studied ambiguity of the letter (was he being ordered to York or to rush back to fight with Charles at Worcester?), Rupert abandoned his conquering of Lancashire and headed east to relieve the embattled Earl of Newcastle. He took with him the notoriously brutal royalist commander, Lord Goring.

By mid-June Newcastle’s Cavalier army had been under siege for two fretful months. Their daily ration of a pint of beans, ounce of butter and penny loaf had dwindled dangerously low. There was also the constant fear of an enemy incursion. On 16 June, the Roundheads almost broke through after detonating a series of mines under the city walls. For the trapped Cavaliers, Prince Rupert’s reinforcements could not arrive too soon. On 30 June it was reported that they had reached Knaresborough. The following day, the Roundhead–Covenanter army marched out to Long Marston, a small village five miles west of York, hoping to confront the Cavalier army head-on, but Rupert was too clever for them. He used a small decoy of royalist cavalry to trick the enemy into lining up for battle – then quickly sprinted north, crossed the tributaries of the River Ouse, and circled behind the Roundheads to relieve York.

Mindful of the King’s impatience for his speedy return, Rupert decided to cement his advantage and finish off the Roundhead–Covenanter army the following day. He spent the night outside York’s city walls, sending Goring in to tell Newcastle that he expected his troops ready for battle the following morning. After two months of siege warfare and selflessly defending the King’s interests in the north, Newcastle was indignant at such peremptory demands from this precocious general. He had no intention of jumping to Rupert’s orders.

With only 18,000 men at his disposal, some 10,000 fewer than the enemy, Rupert’s only hope of victory lay in speed and surprise. He rose at 4 a.m. on 2 July and marched his men out to Long Marston. The Roundheads had assumed Rupert would attempt to retreat after his relief of York and had begun to march to Tadcaster in the hope of cutting him off. When their rearguard scouts saw the Cavalier army draw up at Long Marston, the vast army had to perform a desperate about-turn. In this disarrayed state, it was essential that Rupert charged them then and there, but maddeningly, he had not been joined by the Earl of Newcastle’s men. The siege-weary troops had spent the day plundering the discarded Roundhead camp, drinking liberally and arguing over wage arrears. When they finally appeared at 4 p.m., Rupert greeted Newcastle coolly: ‘My Lord, I wish you had come sooner with your forces. But I hope we shall have a glorious day.’ Yet still the Cavaliers didn’t attack the disorganised Roundheads and instead fell to squabbling over tactics. Apart from a little cannonfire, the two armies merely glared at each other across the moor in a day-long stand-off. A Roundhead scout master, Lion Watson, describes the scene:

About two of the clock, the great Ordnance of both sides began to play, but with small success to either about five of the clock we had a general silence on both sides, each expecting we should begin the charge, there being a small ditch and a bank betwixt us and the Moor, through which we must pass if we would charge them upon the Moor, or they pass it, if they would charge us in the great corn field, and closes so that it was a great disadvantage to him that would begin the charge, feeling the ditch must somewhat disturb their order, and the other would be ready in good ground and order, to charge them before they could recover it.

In this posture we stood till seven of the clock, so that it was concluded on our sides, that there would be no engagement that night, neither of the two Armies agreeing to begin the charge.

By 7 p.m., Rupert decided it was too late to fight and announced he was off for supper. The Earl of Newcastle’s wife recalls her husband’s reaction:

My lord asked his Highness [Prince Rupert] what service he would be pleased command him who returned his answer that he would begin no action upon the enemy till early in the morning desiring my lord to repose himself until then. Which my lord did, and went to rest in his own coach… Not long had my lord been there, but he heard a great noise and thunder of shooting, which gave him notice of the armies being engaged.

On the other side of the moor, the Roundhead and Scottish commanders had no intention of retiring for the evening. After a day of endless troop marshalling, their army was now fully in place. On the left wing stood a brilliant young cavalry commander from East Anglia, Oliver Cromwell on the right wing the leader of Roundhead troops in the North, Sir Thomas Fairfax and in the middle the mass of infantry led by Major-General Crawford and Lieutenant-General Baillie. Through their ‘perspective glasses’ they saw the smoke rising from the Cavalier cooking fires and decided this was their moment. As the sky darkened and a summer hailstorm broke, the Roundheads lit their cannons and under a mist of cannonsmoke the infantry charged through the thick rye fields. Lion Watson was in the first wave:

About half an hour after seven o’clock at night, we seeing the enemy would not charge us, we resolved by the help of God, to charge them, and so the sign being given, … We came down the Hill in the bravest order, and with the greatest resolution that was ever seen: I mean the left Wing of our Horse lead by Cromwell, which was to charge their right Wing, led by Rupert, in which was all their gallant men: they being resolved, if they could scatter Cromwell, all were their own.

Cromwell’s cavalry, labelled the ‘Ironsides’ after Rupert’s generous nickname for Cromwell, smashed into the Cavalier right wing and sent them scurrying back. When Rupert realised what had happened, he threw down his supper, mounted his steed and shouted at his fleeing troops: ‘Swounds! Do you run? Follow me.’ And in he went with what Watson recalls as a fearsome counterattack:

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 swords point a pretty while, hacking one another: but at last (it so pleased God) he brake through them, scattering before them like a little dust…

It was the bravery of the Scottish infantry supporting the Roundhead cavalry that crucially halted the Cavalier attack. In the melee, Cromwell was injured in the neck and briefly retired from the field. Rupert too was forced to retreat after his horse was killed from under him. He ignominiously hid in a nearby bean-field. While the Cavaliers fled the field, Cromwell’s Ironsides displayed their superior discipline by remaining on the battlefield to support the infantry rather than pursuing the retreating enemy or plundering baggage trains.

On the Roundhead right wing, the situation was nowhere near as rosy. Sir Thomas Fairfax’s cavalry charge had been brought to a grinding halt by a volley of musketshot, and now a royalist cavalry counter-attack led by Lord Goring and supported by the Earl of Newcastle’s troop of Whitecoats (so-called because of their undyed woollen cloth outfits) sliced through the Roundhead troops. Fearing the battle was lost, many Scots and Roundheads simply deserted the battle. Arthur Trevor, a royalist messenger searching for Prince Rupert, was overwhelmed by the number of deserters he met:

The runaways on both sides were so many, so breathless, so speechless, and so full of fears, that I should not have taken them for men, but by their motion which still served them very well not a man of them being able to give me the least hope where the Prince was to be found both armies being mingled, both horse and foot no side keeping their own posts.

In this horrible abstraction did I coast the country here meeting with a shoal of Scots crying out Weys us, we are all undone and so full of lamentation and mourning, as if their day of doom had overtaken them, and from which they knew not whither to fly: and anon I met with a ragged troop reduced to four and a Cornet by and by with a little foot officer without hat, band, sword, or indeed anything but feet and so much tongue as would enquire the way to the next garrisons, which (to say the truth) were well filled with the stragglers on both sides within a few hours, though they lay distant from the place of fight 20 or 30 miles.

Seeing his fellow Roundheads in trouble on the right wing, Oliver Cromwell led his Ironsides along with a troop of Covenanter cavalry across the field of battle to take on the victorious Goring. Under the glimmering light of a harvest moon, Cromwell’s men slammed into the Cavaliers. Lion Watson recounts the vital moment:

Just then came our Horse and Foot…seeing the business not well in our right, came in a very good order to a second charge with all the enemies Horse and Foot that had disordered our right wing and main battle. And here came the business of the day (nay almost of the kingdom) to be disputed upon the second charge….The enemy seeing us to come in such a gallant posture to charge them, left all thoughts of pursuit, and began to think that they must fight again for that victory which they thought had been already got. They marching down the hill upon us, from our Carriages, so that they fought upon the same ground, and with the same front that our right wing had before stood to receive their charge…our Foot and Horse seconding each other with such valour, made them fly before us, that it was hard to say which did the better out of Horse and Foot….To conclude, about nine of the clock we had cleared the Field of all enemies recovered our Ordnance and Carriages, took all the enemies Ordnance and Ammunition, and followed that chase of them within a mile of York, cutting them down so that their dead bodies lay three miles in length.

In the wake of this Roundhead onslaught, only Newcastle’s Whitecoats stood firm. Despite sustained musket fire, they would:

Take no quarter, but by mere valour for one whole hour kept the troops of Horse from entering amongst them at near push of pike when the Horse did enter they would have no quarter, but fought it out till there was not thirty of them living whose hap [fate] it was to be beaten down upon the ground, as the troopers came near them, though they could not rise for their wounds, yet were desperate as to get either pike or sword or a piece of them, and to gore the troopers’ horses as they came over them or passed them by… every man fell in the same order and rank wherein he had fought.

As Cromwell wiped up the remnants of Goring’s cavalry, the rest of the Cavalier army retreated to York. There Rupert and the Earl of Newcastle had a full and frank exchange of views concerning the conduct of the battle, after which the Prince headed north to Richmond while Newcastle fled to Scarborough and then abroad to Holland. He could not bear to endure ‘the laughter of the court’. With some 4,500 dead (as well as Prince Rupert’s infamous dog, Boy) and 1,500 taken prisoner, Marston Moor was a calamity for the royalist cause. The commander who had done so much to crush the Cavaliers offered up his thanks to God. In the wake of the battle, Oliver Cromwell wrote a letter to one Colonel Valentine:

It’s our duty to sympathise in all mercies that we may praise the Lord together in chastisements or trials, that so we may sorrow together.

Truly England and the Church of God hath had a great favour from the Lord, in this great victory given unto us, such as the like never was since the war began. It had all the evidences of an absolute victory obtained by the Lord’s blessing upon the godly party principally. We never charged but we routed the enemy. The left wing, which I commanded, being our own horse, saving a few Scots in our rear, beat all the Prince’s horse. God made them as stubble to our swords, we charged their regiments of foot with our horse, routed all we charged. The particulars I cannot relate now, but I believe, of twenty-thousand the prince hath not four-thousand left. Give glory, all the glory, to God.

Sir, god hath taken away your eldest son by a cannon-shot. It broke his leg. We were necessitated to have it cut off, whereof he died.

Sir, you know my trials this way but the lord supported me with this: that the Lord took him into the happiness we all pant after and live for. There is your precious child full of glory, to know sin nor sorrow any more. He was a gallant young man, exceeding gracious. God give you His comfort.

… few knew him, for he was a precious young man, fit for God. You have cause to bless the Lord. He is a glorious saint in heaven, wherein you ought exceedingly to rejoice. Let this drink up your sorrow seeing these are not feigned words to comfort you, but the thing is so real and undoubted a truth. You may do all things by the strength of Christ. Seek that, and you shall easily bear your trial. Let this public mercy to the church of God make you to forget your private sorrow. The Lord be your strength so prays

Fashion, New Edition: The language of clothes (Smithsonian).

The war had not lasted a year, and the advantage was not with the Parliament. Instead, however,of following up his successes by at once marching on London, then in a state of consternation and approaching disaffection, Charles wasted his time by attacking Gloucester. This city was the only remaining garrison in the west possessed by the Parliament, and once reduced, the king held the whole course of the Severn under his command. The siege was resolutely undertaken by the Royalists, and as resolutely sustained by the defenders. But the gallant city was not to be left long unaided. The progress of the king’s arms, the defeat of Waller, the taking of Bristol, and now the siege of Gloucester, had excited the fears and the indignation of the Parliament. Every effort, it was felt, must at once be made to prevent any further triumphs of the Royalists. Fourteen thousand men were instantly marched westward, and the king was forced to raise the siege.

The battle of Newbury followed. The result was indecisive, and Charles lost on the field his valued friend and faithful adherent Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland. In the north the Royalists were defeated at Wakefield and at Gainsborough, but shortly afterwards were compensated for these reverses by the total rout of Fairfax at Atherton Moor.

A union with Scotland, however, at this time, gave additional increase to the power of the Parliament, and the Solemn League and Covenant* had been signed at Edinburgh. Twenty thousand Scottish troops poured into England, and the popular party soon began to acquire ascendency, while the energies of the Parliament were devoted to bring the contest to an issue. In the eastern association fourteen thousand men were levied under the Earl of Manchester seconded by Cromwell, while nearly twenty thousand men under Essex and Waller were assembled in the neighbourhood of London. The troops of Essex were to march against the king, while those of Waller were to attack Prince Maurice in the west. The utmost efforts of Charles were barely sufficient to raise ten thousand men. Lincoln had been taken by the Earl of Manchester, whose army now uniting with that of Lords Leven and Fairfax was closely besieging York, then vigorously defended by the Marquis of Newcastle. On a sudden the besiegers were surprised by Prince Rupert.

Cromwell at the Battle of Marston Moor.

The forces of the Parliament hastily raised the siege, and drawing themselves up on Marston Moor prepared to give battle to the Royalists. An engagement was now inevitable. After a night spent in anxious repose both armies prepared for action. A large ditch ran in front of a portion of the Parliamentarian force. Their centre was under the command of Lords Fairfax and Leven. On the right Sir Thomas Fairfax was stationed Cromwell and Manchester held the left, which was a barren was teending in a moor. The royal forces under Prince Rupert took up their position opposite to Sir Thomas Fairfax, while Cromwell and Manchester on the left were opposed by Goring’s cavalry and several infantry brigades.

At seven in the evening the battle commenced. Manchester’s infantry moved upon the ditch,but whilst endeavouring to form they were mowed down like ripened grain before the murderous fire of the Royalists. Goring now ventured to take advantage of this opportunity and charged with his cavalry,but ere he could advance for that purpose Cromwell wheeled round the right of the ditch and fell full upon his flank. The right wing of the Royalists essayed to resist, but in vain they were broken, routed, and fled in every direction. “Colonel Sydney,” says the Parliamentary Chronicle, “son to the Earl of Leicester, charged with much gallantry at the head of my Lord of Manchester’s regiment of horse, and came off with many wounds, the true badge of his honour.” It is also stated that on this occasion, after Sydney had been dangerously wounded and was within the enemy’s power, a soldier stepped out of the ranks of Cromwell’s regiment and rescued him from his dangerous position. Sydney naturally desired to know the name of his preserver but the soldier, with that uncouth magnanimity which characterized the men who fought under Cromwell, sternly replied that he had not saved him to obtain a reward, and returned to his place in the ranks without disclosing his name.

Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Marston Moor

General Fairfax had been driven back under the impetuous charge of Rupert, and the prince, believing the day won, eagerly pursued his retreating foe. He had cause to repent his rashness. Whilst turning to break the centre of the Parliamentary force, and finish what he considered to be a complete victory, he suddenly encountered Cromwell, who had simultaneously charged and defeated the centre of the Royalists.

The shock was tremendous, but the result of the conflict was never for a moment doubtful. Prince Rupert was driven back with great loss, and victory declared decisively for the forces of the Parliament. “It was ten o’clock,” writes Mr. Forster in his Life of Cromwell, “and by the melancholy dusk which enveloped the moor might be seen a fearful sight. Five thousand dead bodies of Englishmen lay heaped upon that fearful ground. The distinction which separated in life these sons of a common country seemed trifling now. The plumed helmet embraced the strong steel cap, as they rolled on the heath together, and the loose love-locks of the careless Cavalier lay drenched in the dark blood of the enthusiastic republican.”
Soon after the battle of Marston Moor York opened her gates, and a large part of the north of England submitted to the authority of the Parliament.

*) This covenant was received by the Parliament of the Assembly of Divines, September 25, 1643. According to Hallam it “consisted in a noath to be subscribed by all sorts of persons in both kingdoms, whereby they bound themselves to preserve the Reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, indoctrine, worship, discipline, and government,according to the Word of God and practice of the best Reformed churches and to endeavour to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory for worship, and catechizing to endeavour, without respect of persons, the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors, and commissaries, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), and whatsoever should be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness to preserve the rights and privileges of the parliaments and the liberties of the kingdoms, and the king’s person and authority, in the preservation and defence of the true religion and liberties of the kingdoms to endeavour the discovery of incendiaries and malignants, who hinder the reformation of religion, and divide the king from his people, that they may be brought to punishment finally, to assist and defend all such as should enter into this covenant and not suffer themselves to be withdrawn from it, whether to revolt to the opposite party, or to give in to a detestable indifference or neutrality.” This document was signed by members of both houses, and by civil and military officers. A large number of the beneficed clergy, who refused to subscribe, were ejected.

Source: Pictures and Royal Portraits illustrative of English and Scottish History by Thomas Archer. London 1878.

The Battle of Marston Moor

The Civil War was going badly for Royalist forces in the north of England. The Marquess of Newcastle was forced to fall back on the fortified city of York, where he was besieged by Parliamentary armies under Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Prince Rupert led a relief force of perhaps 7000 cavalry and as many footsoldiers north to the relief of the city.

Fairfax broke off the siege and marched his men south to prevent Rupert from reaching the approaches to York. The ever-daring Rupert surprised the Parliamentary generals by marching around their position and reaching the city anyway.

Never one to pull back from a fight, Rupert now ordered his tired men out from York to surprise the enemy. They met a numerically superior force numbering perhaps 27,000 men.

By the time the armies were in position it was late in the day, and Rupert, convinced that his foe would not attack until the morning, left the field in search of his supper. Lord Newcastle, perhaps more reprehensibly, retired to his coach for a quiet smoke.

The Parliamentary army surprised the royalist totally by an attack which must have begun just as dusk was falling at 7pm. The fierce fighting lasted for several hours, eerily illuminated by a harvest moon. The royalist cavalry under the returned Rupert was ousted after fierce fighting, but it was the infantry that won the day (or night, in this case).

The Royalists lost as many as 3000 men, plus their artillery train. York was forced to surrender to Parliament and the north of England was effectively lost to the king.

Prince Rupert lost his glowing reputation of invincibility in battle, but Marston Moor made the reputation of another man Oliver Cromwell made a name for himself for his role in defeating the Royalist cavalry.

Yorkshire’s forgotten battle – Marston Moor

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Marston Moor on 2 nd July 1644. This was an important battle in English history but few people know much about it. So why was there a battle on Marston Moor? Who was fighting and what impact did this have?

The English Civil War of the 17 th century pitted Parliament against the King and was one of the defining moments in the development of the United Kingdom as a parliamentary democracy. There were a number of battles and skirmishes during the two civil wars (the first with King Charles leading his forces and the second whilst he was being held prisoner by Cromwell and Parliament), the three major battles being Edgehill, Naseby and Marston Moor.

The Battle of Marston Moor, which took place in the evening of 2 nd July 1644, was critical for the control of the north and is believed to have been the largest battle ever fought on English soil in terms of numbers of combatants. Surprising as it may seem for a battle of such massive proportions and such a pivotal role it only lasted for about two hours. The action took place on open fields and moorland which still exist relatively unchanged, this has enabled historians to get a very good understanding of how the battle unfolded as most of the key features of the local landscape are still there to be seen by historians and visitors alike.

Memorial to those who fell during the Battle of Marston Moor.

At the outbreak of the conflict England was divided along lines of political persuasion and religious beliefs, families were torn apart and no community was immune to the terrible divisiveness of civil war yet, on the whole, the north of England tended to side with Parliament and was a centre of opposition to King Charles in the early part of the war. The prosperous city of York was the major religious centre in the north so control there was seen as vital – whoever held York would have a distinct advantage over their enemies.

The Marquis of Newcastle led a Royalist army to York in the spring of 1644 and although he took possession of the city he soon found himself besieged there by Sir Thomas Fairfax who was leading a joint force of Parliamentary and Scottish men. King Charles was desperate to hold on to York and sent his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, to try to relieve the siege. Although young, Rupert had a reputation as a good leader in battle and so when Fairfax heard about the approach of the relief force he abandoned the siege and moved out towards Marston Moor (7 miles from York). Prince Rupert led the King’s forces into York on 1 st July 1644 and, together with his command team, decided to pursue the enemy the following day. Unfortunately for Prince Rupert some of his commanders allowed their men to loot the city or take rest so his forces marched at different paces and only arrived on the moor near the village of Long Marston in dribs and drabs, disorganised and perhaps a little over confident after taking York. They arrived to find that Parliament already had control of the roads and so Rupert was forced to marshal his men on the desolate moors, setting up his front in fits and starts as his men arrived whilst the Parliamentarians were already organised in a good defensive position.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine by Anthony van Dyck

Although Rupert was at a disadvantage numerically – both sides had more or less equal cavalry forces of around 7,000, but the 20,000 combined infantry of the Scots and Parliament far outnumbered the 11,000 Royalists – he did have the advantage of protection offered by the varied geography of the moorland. The Royalists were able to position themselves amongst the numerous ditches and hedges which would impede attacks by the enemy, whether on horse or foot. Rupert felt confident that his left flank was particularly well defended in this way.

Fairfax’s Parliamentary forces occupied a low hill (barely 100 feet high) which gave them the advantage of higher ground on the flat moor and farmland, although a number of cornfields did make it difficult for him to deploy all of his forces. The Royalists tried to take advantage of this and seize a rabbit warren to the west of the fields so that they could infiltrate the Parliamentary positions, but they were forced back and Cromwell put the left wing of his cavalry there. Next to this was a very strong central force made up of more than 14,000 infantry and almost 40 artillery pieces Sir Thomas Fairfax held the right wing with a cavalry of at least 2,000. Both cavalry wings were interspersed with musketeers and dragoons.

The Royalists were positioned on the moor, below the enemy and behind a drainage ditch which it was hoped would prevent, or at least disrupt, any cavalry charge. Like the enemy forces opposite, their wings were made up of cavalry and musketeers, the centre consisted of infantry and 14 artillery pieces, whilst Rupert held 600 cavalry in reserve behind these. As evening approached on 2 nd July Rupert could hear the enemy singing psalms and presumed that they were getting ready to bed down for the night and there would be no attack before the morning. Yet, as the Royalists settled down to supper, the enemy attacked just as a thunderstorm broke over the moor.

The cavalry on the Royalists right wing was almost immediately driven back and Rupert was forced to commit his reserve of cavalry there, far earlier in the battle than he would have liked. The fighting was fierce but Cromwell eventually broke Rupert’s men and the Prince himself only avoided capture by hiding in a bean field!

There was also success for the Parlimentarians in the centre although their right wing initially had more difficulty when some of Fairfax’s forces were caught in a ditch where they were an easy target for the Royalists who forced them back. The battle ebbed and flowed chaotically for a time at one point during the confusion of battle and the thunderstorm a number of Fairfax’s infantry believed they had been defeated and fled the field. Yet the Parliamentary centre stood firm against repeated charges by Royalist cavalry.

Oliver Cromwell

By this point it was almost dark, but the full moon was rising and it was possible to see confused men from both sides running away across the field. Taking advantage of the confusion Cromwell led his cavalry in a last charge against the tired and disorganised Royalist cavalry which eventually withdrew and retreated towards York. The final desperate stand was made by Newcastle’s ‘Whitecoats’ who fought fiercely, giving no quarter and refusing to surrender until just thirty of their number remained. In just two hours the Royalist forces had been defeated and, although a number of areas such as Bolton and Scarborough still held for the king, the north belonged to the Parliamentarians.

In the course of a battle which only lasted for two hours the Royalists lost around 4,000 men killed with an estimated 1,500 taken prisoner. In contrast the Scottish and Parliamentarian loses may have been as few as 300 killed (although some historians put this figure at over 1,000). During the battle Oliver Cromwell was able to show how a well-trained, disciplined and well-equipped army could win against the more experienced Royalists, and cemented his reputation as a great commander.

Marston Moor was a pivotal point during the English Civil War and, as such, I felt that I could not write ‘The Cavalier Historian’ without a description of the battle as seen through the eyes of one of my main characters, Thomas Hardwyke, a member of the Royalist cavalry and staunch supporter of Prince Rupert and the King.

Battle of Marston Moor

The Battle of Marston Moor was one of the largest battles on England’s soil. The summer of 1644 saw York besieged by an army of the English Parliament, while a Scottish army had marched across the border and headed right for them. Though contrary to hundreds of years of rivalry, the Scots were actually joining with the English. This joint allied force, led by three different commanders, was to oppose another English army one loyal to King Charles I.

Mark Turnbull, the author of this article, is an author of historical fiction. His forthcoming novel, Allegiance of Blood, is set in the British Civil Wars. Find out more on his website here, or via his Facebook page here.

The 2nd July 2019 will mark the 375th anniversary of the Battle of Marston Moor, which was the turning point of the English Civil War. England was being riven apart by conflicting loyalties. Brothers fought brothers, fathers fought sons and friends put aside friendships as the nation divided over support of King or Parliament.

Scotland allies with Parliament

The Scots had sat out the first sixteen months of the war. They had watched the belligerent English battle each other and anticipated the outcome, along with what that could mean for the Scottish people. Scotland’s own war had been four years earlier when they had successfully resisted King Charles I’s attempts to unify the Church of Scotland with that of England. Now, the English Parliament’s struggle to wrest executive power from the King and move the Church of England to a decidedly Puritan form found sympathy with the Scottish. For this reason, the Scots accepted Parliament’s invitation and threw their caps into the ring on their behalf.

Charles fears for York

That July day was make or break for both King and Parliament. With the Scots entering through the back door, King Charles began losing his grip on the North East and Yorkshire as the scales tipped against him. If York was lost, the King wrote in a letter, he would esteem his crown little less. Therefore, a relief force under the command of the King’s nephew, the famed Prince Rupert of the Rhine, was sent to rescue the city and defeat the Scottish and Parliamentarian allies. That very letter would be carried on Rupert’s person until his dying day as justification for what was to come.

Strength at Marston Moor

Rupert commanded 15,000 men, while the allies numbered 24,000. Parliament was rapidly mopping up resistance in Yorkshire, also having the upper hand in terms of supply lines and geographical control. Ever since the Scots had crossed into England, the King’s northern army had fought a fighting retreat all the way from Newcastle down to York, and that city, surrounded on all sides, was to be throttled into submission. Yet, despite such major advantages and disadvantages, the Battle of Marston Moor would be won and lost through the mere foibles of individual characters. A mixture of resentfulness and reputation, with a pinch of daring and deceit would dictate the fates of forty thousand men.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Enter Prince Rupert. A furiously energetic, loyal and brave commander with a reputation enhanced by ruthless cavalry charges, sparkish dress and a pet poodle. Undefeated after nearly two years, he launched himself from Shrewsbury, fired up by the King’s written command to rescue York. Bolton, Liverpool and Preston all fell to him and every success fed his army with more reinforcements, while Parliament looked on nervously. Rupert’s arrival at Knaresborough Castle, barely fourteen miles from York, was close enough for the allies to sense his towering presence. They withdrew from York and decided to block the prince’s path to the city by deploying on Marston Moor to the east. But the unpredictable Rupert did not take the Roman road (the modern A59) from Knaresborough. As if following his very own seventeenth century sat-nav, he diverted and, daring as ever, made a twenty-two-mile march around the top of the allied armies. Crossing the River Ure and then the Swale, Rupert put the water between him and the enemy like a protective moat. To prevent the enemy crossing back, Rupert seized the bridge of boats that spanned it. Being on the York side of the river, he approached the city and lifted the nine-week siege his objective had been realised and York was saved. Surely, now the King could indeed hold his crown in the highest esteem? But the clear-cut, no-nonsense Rupert read over his uncle’s letter once more and translated the hasty words and rather confusing missive. In Rupert’s eyes, he was faced with a direct command to engage the allies in a pitched battle.

“If York be lost I shall esteem my crown little less … But if York be relieved, and you beat the rebels’ army of both kingdoms which are before it, then (but otherwise not) I may possibly make a shift upon the defensive to spin out time until you come to assist me.” Letter from King Charles to Prince Rupert, full text on the British Civil War Project Website.

Upon the penning and despatch of this critical letter two weeks prior, one of King Charles’s ministers had remarked that his master was undone, for upon receipt of the letter Rupert would fight the enemy whatever happened. And having decided to do just that, Rupert, now pausing outside of York, received a second decisive letter, this time from the Earl of Newcastle who commanded York’s three thousand defenders.

“You are welcome, sir, in so many ways as it is beyond my arithmetic to number. But this I know you are the redeemer of the north and the saviour of the crown. Your name, sir, hath terrified the great generals and they fly before it … Neither can I resolve anything since I am made of nothing but thankfulness and obedience to Your Highnesses commands.”

Prince Rupert’s strategy

Rupert, already planning how to engage the rebels, had little time for such niceties, but his eye certainly picked out the last five words. He needed Newcastle’s three thousand garrison to even up the odds and taking Newcastle up on his gushing offer, sent an officer into York instructing them to join him. In comparison, the allies abandoned their own desire to meet the prince, turned south and headed for Tadcaster in an effort to protect Hull, which had long been a royalist target.

Marston Moor. 2nd July 1644

At 9am on 2nd July 1644, Rupert crossed the bridge of boats and arrived on Marston Moor to find the enemy had already departed. Parliament and the Scots were vulnerably strung out on a march south when they heard that the volatile young royal had appeared to do battle. The alarm was given immediately. They turned their men about and streamed north once more to the moor they had so recently abandoned, and where Rupert, the new host, chose the best ground.

With his permanently short fuse tested to the limits, the Prince was, however, forced to wait impatiently for Lord Newcastle and the York garrison. The hours passed by with much recrimination over their absence, and all the while the allies began drawing up. As long as Lord Newcastle was absent without leave, Rupert held back his army, even refusing to pounce on the opportunity provided by the enemy drawing up into battle formation. It was noon when Lord Newcastle finally arrived, though without any of his soldiers and full of pessimistic warnings about any forthcoming battle. Having dragged his heels so long, he risked turned his warnings into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The three enemy armies, Newcastle insisted, would soon split up and then each one could be picked off.

Opening bombardment

But Rupert argued that time was not on their side. He had a written command from the King to fight, and that was exactly what he was going to do – as soon as Newcastle’s men showed their faces. By two in the afternoon, now in battle formation and on high ground one hundred foot above the royalists, the allies’ cannons opened up. Their mouths spewed roundshot while the mouths of their soldiers sang psalms.

Rupert decides to wait

The cornfields waved lazily at the despondent royalists as a humid air enveloped them all and warned of a coming storm. At four o’clock the three thousand York men finally arrived under gathering clouds that were as dark as Rupert’s mood. The prince suspected deceit, or at the least, incompetence. Newcastle for his part was filled with resentment at the peremptory summons he’d received from this young man, who hadn’t even given it in person. As rain drummed down upon the heads of the forty-two thousand men with less than half a mile between them, Rupert gave instruction that supper be doled out to his troops. In his mind it was too late in the day to countenance any hostilities. He told Newcastle that although he wished his York men might have come sooner, tomorrow when the storm lifted, a glorious day would present itself on Marsten Moor.

Parliament and the Scots advance

From the high ground, the allies’ Scottish commander, Lord Leven, observed the wispy smoke of Rupert’s campfires. At seven-thirty he loosed his men, sending them on the offensive and down the slopes just as thunder rolled overhead. Oliver Cromwell and his cavalry on their left wing headed straight for Lord Byron’s royalist horsemen who were strategically posted behind a ditch with musketeer cover for defence. But the hot-headed Byron advanced, losing the ditch, masking the fire of his musketeers, and was thus routed.

Fairfax repulsed

On the allies’ right wing, Sir Thomas Fairfax led their cavalry, but this time the natural terrain proved its value. Ditches hampered Fairfax’s horsemen, royalist musketeers lined hedges and lanes, firing on their every advance, and then the royalist cavalry swooped in to finish Fairfax off. Foolishly, most royalist cavalrymen chased the defeated allies and only stopped to loot their baggage train, and therefore absenting themselves from the battle. The remaining royalist horsemen, together with their infantry, attacked the allied centre right and after fierce fighting, took the upper hand. The first and second lines of allied infantrymen broke and fled. Meanwhile Fairfax, removing the field sign from his hat that signified his allied loyalty, rode across the battlefield unrecognised by the royalists, and informed Cromwell of his defeat.

Prince Rupert commits the reserve

Rupert, from his command post, had no sooner spotted Bryon’s struggling horsemen than he led the cavalry reserve off in support. By committing himself to the fray, the prince relinquished the ability to have both sight and control of the overall battle, and he was enveloped in a mammoth struggle against Cromwell’s men. From the allied command post, it seemed like the evening was lost and the trio of commanders, Lord Manchester, Lord Fairfax (Sir Thomas’s father) and Lord Leven fled the field. Their hasty departure meant that they did not witness the eventual defeat of Rupert’s reserves, the prince himself being driven from the field by Cromwell’s men and forced to hide in a bean field. Cromwell, now with the run of the moor, darted behind the royalist infantry and across to the opposite wing to drive off all remaining royalist cavalry, before smashing the royalist infantry. For Rupert’s soldiers, attacked front and rear, defeat was imminent and they were cut down one by one.

Parliament victorious

As darkness tried to obliterate sight of the carnage, a full moon relentlessly picked out the haunting faces of four thousand royalist dead. One regiment refused to surrender. After arriving late, it was Lord Newcastle’s men who stubbornly and courageously fought on, making their stand in a small parcel of land that was protected by ditches. When recruited, their white tunics had been left undyed and they had declared that they would colour them in the blood of their enemies. Now it was their own blood that turned their coats, and the soil about them, crimson. As royalist refugees fled through field and forest, trickling back to York, the whitecoats were felled until only thirty remained. And one other notable casualty was jubilantly reported by Parliament’s press that of Rupert’s dog, Boye, who had slipped his collar and was killed searching for his master. Portrayed throughout the war as Rupert’s talisman, demonic and of magical ability, the poodle’s death also signified the demise of Rupert’s reputation and his invincibility. Two hours of fighting at Marston Moor was all it took to decimate the King’s cause in the north and York would fall two weeks later.

Related content

Recommended links

British History Online – John Rushworth, ‘Historical Collections: Proceedings in the North, 1644’, in Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 5, 1642-45 (London, 1721)

Watch the video: Η μάχη του Βαλτετσίου - Έλξατε Σπάθην (June 2022).


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