To understand the course of the battle of Marston Moor it is necessary to review tactical changes that had occurred during the first years of the Civil War.
The most notable influence on Royalist tactical thinking was Prince Rupert, who combined high social standing with a keen interest in military science. Rupert was given a free hand in the matter of cavalry tactics as the King appointed him commander of the Horse of the Royal Army. His orders to his men were from the start a reflection of the Swedish tactics of Gustavus Adolphus that Rupert had studied during his captivity in Vienna. The Royalist Horse formed only three ranks deep i ir. k i \Gi)OMt or
Principality of Wdics'vjj L.YACTLY DESCRIBED
urn Mieerc. ¿c thcliiuli to»T
in curry our ol'mem, i.Vm IV«|>pw. rnrtikU lor fu*ry IU>u Pjc*»4 ,
I'he first beginning inSart/anJ JroneJn re in t'ruflanJ. VorthnmherianJ Jrfe toften» rtle; the seconJ hath his hcaJ At Yew O \ cxtetu/rth it fedfr all Durham U'e/hnan ( umherlarulVerke/hire Lanca/lffure, * <>/Line cine SkitTi ' The third hath.'* Suffolk*. Cambridge. VWaW Kartfor hinjham Qxfonl, C\o.rdiamt>ton, Tt'ar ilujtUrujton. Lece/ler * Rutland P*ri r.'/ns \cUinaham Darby Cflo eerier, \ re V The jfoiath m
■ all Shropjhire. Cnefhire.St ■i 'cni most of lOalcr, . InrfUjey. hroKe Shire \ ThrM M
i'juih af U'aier x ,Vb.'trr y&mafei. IVu.'n & Cvrnndt portar'lVtUfo The Sixth maffv (snfativs tent • J t'urrvf-. JfUJlcHX. A Hamfj hin tf Lisas A Zt'i/ihirv ttujmail frtthm jk Jfth eurrr itun '
\ leftill for .ill ComAncier.v fo<
■riii«- ofJindiliewAdlfc*«» ,uldW mfor—e* »tm du uerft ■.■ IU.ru-tii.- oQ* t><*crf til« ■
Ivli-riJitil t'V one flnttnMul^ ttfoa thr wiwli l»«g.Ai>nn- for ill •• j
Hollar's set of folding maps of England are commended as 'Usefull for all Comanders for Quarteringe of Souldiers, & all sorts of persons that would be informed, Where the Armies be never so Commodiously drawne before this 1644'.
allowing them to overlap their opponents, who drew up in six ranks. Rupert was also determined that his men would meet the enemy at the charge. Sir Richard Bulstrode records that at Edgehill:
'Prince Rupert passed from one Wing to the other, giving positive Orders to the Horse, to march as close as possible, keeping their Ranks with Sword in hand, to receive the Enemy's Shot, without firing either Carbine or Pistol, till we broke in amongst the Enemy, and then to make use of our Fire-Arms as need should require.'
Rupert was fortunate that his scratch cavalry regiments were formed from the gentry and their servants, experienced horsemen in civilian life who held their 'rebel' opponents in contempt. A headlong charge once begun would carry his horsemen to contact with their enemy with no need for disciplined fire control or manoeuvring. Rupert was also fortunate to be present at the first significant cavalry skirmish at Powicke Bridge where his quick thinking and aggressive tactics took advantage of an unexpected meeting with a force of Parliamentarian Horse. The minor victory at Powicke Bridge raised the morale of the Royalist Horse to new heights and gave them an unquestioning confidence in their own superiority.
Had Rupert faced experienced troopers during these early encounters, or even an enemy employing the same tactics, the history of the Civil War might have been very different. The downfall of the Parliamentarian Horse was partly due to their adoption of tactics that, although sound, required well-trained and highly disciplined troopers to use effectively. The Parliamentarian Horse drew up six ranks deep and intended to receive the enemy at the halt, firing volleys of carbine and pistol shot to disrupt and halt the Royalist charge. Once Rupert's horsemen were halted and disorganised the Parliamentarians would charge forward in a body, making use of their swords and pistols to smash the confused mass of horsemen milling before them. In reality, their ragged volley of carbine and pistol shot failed to halt the Royalist charge at Edgehill and the inexperienced Parliamentarian troopers turned tail and ran. Rupert's Horse won their first major victory without needing to fight.
The morale ascendancy, superior tactics and the fear inspired by their commander's name made the Horse of the Royalist main armies invincible throughout the first year of the war. Parliament was slow to react to the string of defeats suffered by their Horse at the hands of Rupert and other Royalist commanders. The day to day need to raise, equip and train Horse to replace those lost in battle made it difficult to invest in new tactical methods and the necessary re-training of officers and men.
Some Parliamentarian commanders were more fortunate. After arriving towards the end of the battle of Edgehill, but in time to witness the superiority of the Royalist Horse, Oliver Cromwell returned to his native East Anglia to recruit and command the Horse of the Eastern Association of Parliamentarian counties. East Anglia offered advantages denied to most Parliamentarian commanders. Solidly Parliamentarian in its politics because of its Puritan religious beliefs, East Anglia was far away from Royalist-held areas. Recruiting and tax gathering could proceed unhindered and the troops of the Eastern Association were among the best equipped and trained of the civil wars. Cromwell was
able to pick recruits of good character who shared his religious conviction that Parliament was fighting to save England in the name of God. Crucially he was able to pay his men regularly, which no doubt helped to reinforce their religious zeal.
Cromwell was quick to adopt tactics like those employed by Prince Rupert and he was fortunate to be able to give his troopers a baptism of fire in a number of small engagements against regional Royalist Horse on the borders of East Anglia. By the time of Marston Moor, Cromwell had been able to build a large force of well-trained and disciplined horsemen who had tasted victory and had complete faith in their officers, their comrades and in the righteousness of their cause.
The advantages afforded by his East Anglian base enabled Cromwell to make a thorough and highly effective change to his cavalry tactics, but other Parliamentarian armies and officers were making efforts in the same direction. Cromwell left no written account of his training, tactics or views on military matters. One officer who did set down his views was Captain John Vernon in a pamphlet called The young Horse-man, or, The honest plain-dealing Cavalier (young is used to mean inexperienced and cavalier refers to a mounted warrior rather than to a Royalist). Vernon's work was published in London at some time during 1644 and may have been written during the winter of 1643/44 while the armies were in quarters. The importance of Vernon's pamphlet is that it tells us how a junior officer of the Horse expected cavalry to fight in 1644. It is therefore a valuable description of the tactics used by the Parliamentarian Horse at Marston Moor. Vernon makes clear that three ranks is now the standard formation for the Parliamentarian Horse:
All the Troops are to be drawn up into battalia, each being not above three deepe, likewise each troop must be at least a hundred paces distance
behind each other for the better avoiding of disorder, those troops that are to give the first charge being drawn up into battail as before, are to be at their close order, every left mans right knee must be close locked under his right hand mans left ham, as hath been shown before.'
The Parliamentarian Horse at Marston Moor was drawn up in this manner. Bernard de Gomme's map of the battle, although drawn from the Royalist perspective, shows the first two lines of the Parliamentarian army. Bodies of Horse are grouped into squadrons of one or two divisions, each made up of a number of troops. The second line is shown a good distance behind the first and the bodies are drawn up in a chequerboard formation so that the second line can move forward to fill gaps in the first line. Vernon continues by describing the manner of the charge. It is notable that he does not give any description of how to receive a charge, either at the halt or by counter charging and the inference is that Vernon expected Parliamentarian cavalry to take the initiative:
'In this order they are to advance toward the Enemy with an easy pace, firing their Carbines at a convenient distance, always aiming at their enemies brest or lower, because the powder is of an elevating nature, then drawing near the Enemy, they are with their right hands to take forth one of their pistols out of their houlsters, and holding the lock uppermost firing as before, always reserving one Pistol ready charged, spann'd and primed in your houlsters, in case of a retreat as I have shown before, having thus fired the troops are to charge the Enemy in full career, but in good order with their swords fastened with a Riband or the like unto their wrists, for fear of losing out of their hand, if they should chance to misse their blow, placing the pommel on their thigh, keeping still in their close order, locked as before.'
The advance toward the enemy was to be at an easy pace and when the pistols had been fired and the body had charged the enemy 'in full career', the close order and locked knee formation was to be retained. The final charge must have been of short duration or the body would have tended to break up. The emphasis was on striking as a tightly formed body aiming to push through the enemy body of Horse and smash its formation, so that only a disorganised mass of leaderless individual horsemen remained to be routed by the charge of supporting troops.
The cavalry fighting at Marston Moor saw the first major test of the new Parliamentarian cavalry tactics. On the left wing Cromwell's troopers rode forward in their locked bodies, that in which Cromwell rode himself consisting of 300 men. The second line moved forward in support, keeping a distance of 100 paces. The Royalists followed their standard tactics and moved forward in a counter-charge. Cromwell's first line was successful in partially disrupting the Royalist formation but the arrival of the Royalist second line held the Parliamentarian advance even when their supporting second line had been committed. Having spent their charges both sides had no alternative but to stand their ground and hack at their opponents, trying to retain their 'locked' formation while trying to break that of the enemy. The struggle was only decided by a flank attack by Scots Horse that broke the Royalist formation and threw them into disorder.
Against the Parliamentarian right wing the Royalist Horse did not employ their usual tactics but adapted to the ground before them. An unusual feature of the dispositions at Marston Moor was that all four
RIGHT The Water Gate defended the city from attack from the west via the River Ouse.
cavalry wings interspersed their bodies of Horse with groups of musketeers. This was a well-established tactic for a commander who expected to stand on the defensive and wished to add extra firepower to the defensive volleys of the carbines and pistols of his horsemen. The implication is that the commanders of all four cavalry wings expected to stand on the defensive that day; as soon as the cavalry advanced to the charge the supporting musketeers were left far behind.
Goring, the commander of the Royalist Horse on their left wing, faced Parliamentarian Horse advancing over rough ground crossed by hedges and ditches. He evidently considered that the disorganisation caused by these obstacles, and the casualties inflicted by the fire of his supporting musketeers, was sufficient to prevent the Parliamentarian Horse from charging home into his bodies of Horse and that he had no need to launch a counter-charge. In the event Goring was mistaken in the case of the 400 Horse formed up by Sir Thomas Fairfax who were able to defeat some units of his Horse. However, Fairfax's success was the exception and the confusion amongst the bulk of the Parliamentarian
Horse on this wing more than justified Goring's decision to keep his men in check. When their charge was finally made the Royalist Horse had little to do but drive the Parliamentarian Horse before them.
In victory a crucial difference emerged in the discipline of the rival cavalry. Goring's Royalists reacted to victory in the same way that they had to the defeat of the Parliamentarian Horse at Edgehill, the first major battle of the First Civil War, and in the same way that they would react in victory at Naseby, the last major batde of the First Civil War. The Royalist Horse set off in uncontrolled pursuit of their fleeing enemies and halted only to plunder their baggage train. By the time their commanders had recovered control and re-formed some into a fighting formation, the course of the battle they had left behind had turned against them.
In contrast Cromwell's men remained under the control of their officers and were quick to regain their formations so as to be ready to charge again. In Cromwell's own words: 'I raised such men as had the fear of God before them, and made some conscience of what they did.'
At Marston Moor both Rupert and Cromwell demonstrated that their cavalry was capable of defeating the enemy. Cromwell is remembered as the victor because he was able to hold his men together so that they could fight, and win, a second time.
Depending upon the number of men it could field, a regiment of Foot would draw up in one or two bodies or divisions, or in some cases be brigaded into a composite division. Each division would have a central body of pikemen with bodies of musketeers on the flanks.
Musketeers could also be posted without the support of pikemen to form a loose firing line. The so-called 'disbanded shot' tried to cause disruption in the ranks of an attacking enemy and to delay his formations by forcing his musketeers to be deployed to clear the way. At Marston Moor the Royalists positioned such a line of shot behind a ditch and hedge running across the battlefield but the suddenness of the Parliamentarian attack and a squall of rain deprived these musketeers of much of their effectiveness.
When attacked by cavalry the infantry body would draw up into a pike ring, an early equivalent of the square formation. The musketeers would crouch under the protection of the charged pike and attempt to keep up a fire sufficient to drive off the enemy Horse. Newcastle's Whitecoats probably adopted this tactic at the end of the battle, but found that the formation suffered when attacked by combined force of Horse, who prevented the pike ring from deploying, and musketeers or Dragoons who could pour shot into the huddled mass of defenders.
Was this article helpful?