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By the spring of 1644 the royalists were in an unenviable position. The military advantage had swung decidedly in favour of the Parliament and of its Scottish allies, whilst the reinforcements coming from Ireland had proved a mere trickle. There was no real prospect of an alliance with the Irish confederacy. The King, to create a strong enough main army based on Oxford, Reading, Abingdon, Wallingford, Banbury and Faringdon, had taken Hopton's independent force under his own command, and the original western army under Prince Maurice was occupied around Lyme. Parliament now took the initiative, sending Waller against Maurice, and ordering the earls of Manchester and Essex to join together at Aylesbury. Neither of the earls was hopeful of this strategy, and the rendezvous never took place, Manchester certainly regarding the east as vulnerable after Rupert's relief of Newark in March. Waller also advanced no further. On 10 April, the King reviewed his army, 9,000 strong, on Aldbourne Chase, and sent his Queen to safety at Exeter. Prince Rupert came to Oxford on 25 April, and it was resolved to adopt a defensive posture around Oxford whilst Rupert and his brother Maurice dealt with the northern and western theatres respectively. However, the King took further advice, abandoned Reading on 18 May, drew its infantry into his main army, and sent it off to Wantage.

On 17 April Essex's army came to Henley on Thames, where he conferred with Waller, and occupied Reading. On 26 May Essex took Abingdon which had also been abandoned, and the threat to Oxford increased. The royalists determined to wait until Essex and Waller divided, and then tackle each in turn, and so the royal army was concentrated north of Oxford and across the Thames around Cassington. Essex also crossed the Thames and made for Islip. On 1 June Waller's army seized the crossing of the Thames at Newbridge, having marched up from Abingdon, and so serious was this that the King's advisers in Oxford briefly countenanced the idea of surrender. Instead, the King took command of the situation, and sent forces towards Abingdon, inducing Waller to abandon Newbridge. On 3 June, the King at its head, the royalist army marched via Wolvercote and Handborough Bridge to arrive at Bourton-on-the-Water on the 4th. Oxford was garrisoned with 3,000 or so infantry. Keeping ahead of Essex and Waller, the King reached Worcester on the 6th, when the hoped-for happened. Essex and Waller parted company in acrimony, the earl heading west to tackle Maurice, leaving Waller to face the King alone. From London, frantic orders went out to force Essex to return, but it was too late. The parliamentarian commanders had played into the King's hands and his resolution had proved justified. Waller could do no other than stick to the King. He took Sudeley Castle on 10 June and marched to Evesham, the King left Worcester and made for Bewdley, giving Waller the impression that the royalists intended to make, for Shrewsbury. Instead, the royal army back-tracked, entered Worcester on the 15th, and then went on through Evesham to Witney, where the Oxford garrison joined them, and so marched to Buckingham. Waller was at Gloucester on 20 June where he received frantic orders from London to prevent the King from attacking the eastern counties, and he set off towards Banbury, coming near the town on 28 June. The King turned to meet him. Waller's position on Crouch Hill was too strong, however, and the royalists moved towards Daventry to try to create a better opportunity. Waller marched on a parallel course, and the King approached Cropredy township, his army strung out badly as he tried to control the Cherwell crossings. Waller attacked, seizing Cropredy Bridge and Slat Mill ford to its south, and crossed in rear of the King's army. The royalist rearguard counter-attackcd at Cropredy, the King turned his army, and Waller was savagely repulsed. The battle of Cropredy Bridge on 29 June was a victory for the King, but he withdrew towards Evesham by 3 July, and then headed west to tackle Essex. Waller's army was totally disrupted and no longer a threat.

MAP 21

1644: The Siege of York and War in the North-East

Siege Newcastle

The marquess of Newcastle entered York in the wake of the battle of Selby on 11 April, and at once sent away his cavalry to be of use elsewhere. The royalists in Yorkshire and the North-East were on the defensive and in desperate need of relief, although it was unlikely that York itself would fall to the army of the Scots and their Fairfax allies. The siege was not yet particularly close to York itself, and matters elsewhere had to be dealt with. On 24 April the allies took Stamford Bridge, whilst their cavalry watched the movements of Newcastle's cavalry west of York. Cawood Castle repulsed two attacks by the siege army. Much depended on the Scots, whose lines of communication were threatened when, on 10 May, royalist troops under the marquess of Montrose and Robert Clavering recaptured Morpeth Castle in Northumberland and seemed to threaten the Scottish siege forces outside Newcastle upon Tyne. Lumley Castle in Durham was re-garrisoned, and a skirmish was fought near Hexham. By 15 May, Montrose was making headway against the Scots around Newcastle, and 1,000 cavalry were detached from the siege of York to go north. Montrose retired into Newcastle.

On 16 May Buttercrambe Castle fell to the allies, and on the 19th Cawood was finally taken by Sir John Meldrum, Crayke surrendered shortly afterwards, but royalists raiding from Pontefract repeatedly threatened the security of the area south of York. From Cawood, Meldrum went on to take a royalist fort at Airmyn at the junction of the Ouse and Aire rivers, 'one of ye strongest places in England' it was said. On 27 May Bramham Hall near Boston Spa fell to Scottish troops. On the night of 3/4 June, Sir Hugh Cholmeley at Scarborough sent out his raiders to unsettle the allied garrison at Buttercrambe. They drove off the soldiers, who panicked and captured a Parliamentary Commissioner, Henry Darley, whose task was one of constant liaison with the Scottish forces. Nevertheless, the tide was running against the royalists. An unknown manor near Barnsley fell at the end of May, Wortley Hall capitulated soon after, and on 3 June Walton Hall yielded after initial storm. On 17 June Mulgrave Castle in the North Riding capitulated. Most of these garrisons had been set up, probably in the wake of the battle of Selby, for reasons of local security rather than as part of any major tactical or strategic thinking, and their collapse was not, apart from that of Airmyn, crucial to the defence of York itself. Scarborough, Skipton, Pontefract and Sheffield were more likely to hold out, and were not tackled at all by the allies. Neither was Helmsley, north of York.

The earl of Manchester and the army of the Eastern Association had been ordered to join the siege before York to encompass the city tightly, but he moved slowly, conscious of the threat to the eastern counties from the Oxford army, and only reached the siege lines around York on 27 May, still well ahead of his army, which remained at Selby until 1 June. Now, however, batteries were erected, fortified points constructed, and the work of siege warfare properly begun. Mining was attempted, and St Mary's tower partially demolished, but an attempt to break into the environs of St Mary's Abbey was repulsed in bitter fighting by the royalist garrison, although the royalist commander there, Philip Byron, was killed outright. Outlying redoubts fell to the allies, but they could make no impression on the walls of York itself, where the marquess of Newcastle and his governor, the reliable Sir Thomas Glemham, kept firm control. The siege dragged on through June, the marquess sending frequently to Oxford and to Prince Rupert for relief, and the two sides fraternising regularly. Towards the end of June, however, as Sir Henry Slingsby, a royalist commander, commented, 'he whom we so long look'd for was heard of coming to our relief'. Rupert was at hand.

MAP 22

1644: Rupert's Relief March to York

After the success of his relief march to Newark (21 March) Prince Rupert retired to Shrewsbury to consolidate his forces. Pleas for help from the marquess of Newcastle against the Scots were frequent, but from mid-April the situation in the North-East was critical. Indecision in the counsels of the King at Oxford delayed assistance for the beleaguered city of York, and Prince Rupert did not finally set off until 16 May. His first objective was to restore royalist control to Lancashire, and there to recruit fresh forces. On 25 May he took Stockport, and the parliamentary commanders in Lancashire panicked. The siege of Lathom House, held for the King by the Countess of Derby, was abandoned after twelve months' ineffectual efforts, and the parliamentary troops fell back on urban garrisons. On 28 May, Bolton was taken by storm, and on the 30th Prince Rupert was reinforced by the marquess of Newcastle's roving cavalry, the Northern Horse, under George Goring. The army advanced on Liverpool via Wigan, appearing before the port on 7 June. After initial resistance, the parliamentary governor fled by sea and the town fell on 11 June. After creating a garrison of local royalists, Rupert ordered extensive fortification works to be begun to keep the port and its Irish Sea contacts secure. Between 11 and 19 June, Rupert marked time in the Liverpool/Lathom House area, but on the 20th marched off towards Preston which he reached on 22 June. Two days later, royalist troops occupied Clitheroe Castle under one of Rupert's closest confidants, Thomas Daniel.

The advance on York was now under way, although the period after the capture of Liverpool had been marked by doubts as to whether it was practicable or not. Letters had passed between the King and his nephew indicating a want of supplies on Rupert's part and a sense of urgency on the King's. Once Clitheroe was occupied, however, Rupert set off rapidly, entering Skipton Castle in Yorkshire, a powerful royalist garrison under Sir John Mallory, on 26 June. Wee stayed at Skipton to fixe our armes, and send into Yorke' wrote the diarist of the march. It is clear, therefore, that the York garrison expected Rupert's imminent arrival. No steps had been taken during his march through Lancashire to impede him seriously, although the parliamentary commander in Manchester, Sir John Meldrum, had repeatedly tried to bring this about by drawing forces into the county to assist him. Rupert's opponents appeared mesmerised. Flowers strewn across the streets of Wigan on 5 June had symbolised too well the widespread latent royalism in Lancashire, and the pressed troops of the parliamentary army there could not be relied upon to face so dangerous an enemy. This fear communicated itself to the allied commanders before York as Rupert drew closer to his objective. On 29 June he occupied a Fairfax mansion at Denton near to Leeds, and on the 30th he was at Knaresborough, another royalist garrison town. The allied commanders expected the Prince to advance on York on the south bank of the Ouse, but instead he swung north towards Boroughbridge and, on the night of 1 July, he lay to the north-west of the city in the Forest of Galtres, whilst he sought to co-ordinate plans with the marquess of Newcastle for pursuit of the allied siege army which had drawn off from the city and lay to its west. The allied generals—Leven, Fairfax and Manchester—were anxious both not to be trapped between Rupert and the garrison, and not to bring about a battle. The marquess of Newcastle was keen to let them get away, believing their allied army would soon disperse, but Rupert was determined to break them at one blow if he could. The Prince's determination and senior authority carried the day, not without misgivings on the part of Newcastle's advisers, and the Prince set off in pursuit of the enemy on the morning of 2 July. The battle that ensued, fought on Hessay or Marston Moor a few miles from York, was perhaps the single most bloody action of the civil war and proved to be a close thing.

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