The Military Situation in Late 1644

Undeniably, the collapse of royalist fortunes after the relative successes of 1643, may be traced to the arrival in England of a Scottish invasion army in January 1644, Despite every effort by the marquess of Newcastle to bring the enemy to battle, he had been outmanoeuvred, and after parliamentarian encroachment in Yorkshire, had been forced to retire on York and send appeals for military aid to Oxford. This resulted in the eventual despatch of Prince Rupert to relieve York in the spring, and although at first staggeringly successful, overrunning Lancashire and causing the allied armies to retire from York, it had ended in disaster at Marston Moor (2 July). This battle had destroyed the northern royalist army, handed the northern counties over to the allies, and effectively deprived the King of a major fighting force which had long kept parliamentary forces pinned down, particularly in the Eastern Association. Thereafter, apart from a few die-hard garrison commanders in the north, the royalist war effort had been confined to the West Country, Wales and the west Midlands. However, the successes in Somerset in late 1643 had been capitalised upon, and the thrust eastwards from Cornwall had brought much of the West Country under royalist military control. This had in no way made up for the loss of the North, however, nor could it offset the military advantage accruing to Parliament by the presence of the Scottish army.

Brilliant manoeuvres had still been scored by the royalists—Rupert's relief of Newark (20/21 March) for example—but these had been largely unproductive although momentarily significant. Hopton had not managed to push forward towards London from his western bases, and Waller had proved himself capable of containing the threat (Alton, 13 December 1643). The royalist war offensive had virtually stood still for the winter of 1643/4, regiments resting, new ones being recruited and trained. The battle of Cheriton (29 March) had obliged Hopton and Lord Forth to fall back after initial success, and then to merge with the Oxford army. The advance on London from the South-West had failed, thanks to Waller's resistance. Strategic blunder, plus the division of the forces of Waller and the earl of Essex, however, had played into royalist hands. The King had shown himself adept at march and counter-march, playing out time, and on 6 June the two parliamentary commanders had split their forces after dispute. Waller had pursued the King, and after much manoeuvre, had been broken at Cropredy Bridge (29 June). The earl of Essex, heading into the West Country to tackle Prince Maurice and the royalist forces there, had found himself hemmed in at Lostwithicl in August where he had suffered a humiliating defeat. The King had been largely responsible for the successful outcome of these campaigns in 1644, but as has been urged, they were in vain: he had lost the North and he had not yet dealt with the additional threat posed by the Scots, in terms of weight of numbers, war materials and finance, the allied forces would inevitably be able to hold out longer than the King, and even if they could not win a major victory (as they were to do in 1645 at Naseby) the mere ability to contain and to confine royalist operations would in the long run prove beneficial. This must have been apparent to the King's advisers if it was not to the King himself (Charles as King surely could not publicly appear to contemplate failure?): it certainly began to dawn upon Rupert. However, the campaign and second

Battle Naseby Map

battle of Newbury (27 October) served to boost royalist confidence temporarily, and the year 1644, if the Council of War at Oxford did not dwell too long upon the situation in northern England, appeared to have ended on a good note. Once again, however, advantage was dissipated over the winter months, and early in 1645 the plans for the New Model Army were already being finalised. Parliament clearly perceived it had to win, and win convincingly.

MAP 30 Developments in Early 1645

Royalist Oxford Army

The arrival of the Scots in the war, although it had materially contributed to the loss of the northern royalist army, had achieved little else. The resilience of the King and his commanders was marked, and the Parliament's armies, technically led from London by politicians, had proved incapable even with every advantage in numbers, of settling the Oxford army. The second battle of Newbury emphasised this failure, and led to heartsearching in London, aggravated by bitterness between the earl of Manchester and Oliver Cromwell over the whole purpose of the war effort. Manchester's reluctance to defeat the King was self-evident, and on 9 December 1644 Cromwell demanded action to save the cause for which he fought. The Self-Denying Ordinance required members of the Commons and Lords to resign their commands in the army, thus effectively ridding the proposed New Model of men like Manchester, Essex and Waller. It did not, however, preclude their reappointment, but only Cromwell continued to enjoy military command under Sir Thomas Fairfax, the general appointed to command the New Model. During this period of parliamentary reorganisation, however, the royalists did nothing to capitalise upon it.

On 11 January 1645 Rupert was driven off from Abingdon with losses, whilst a feigned advance towards London executed by George Goring, which reached Farnham, merely drew into the field Sir William Waller and 6,000 to contain him. Waller routed a royalist force at Trowbridge on 12 March, and Taunton was relieved by a column under General Holbourne. Waller appears to have planned a march on Bristol and the capitulation of the port, but he was over-anticipating, and drew back on Salisbury, constantly harried by Goring but with no great risk of a battle. On 4 March the Prince of Wales was sent to Bristol to establish a court there and to try to put a little fire into the feuding royalist commanders in the West Country. Instead, the Prince's court became merely a centre for intrigues against Prince Rupert, and the Prince of Wales' military superiority over Rupert gave the recalcitrant royalist commanders cover for their dilatoriness. Rupert defeated a Gloucester city force at Ledbury on 22 April, but as the months passed the King grew less sanguine as to the outcome of the new campaigning season. He was now apparently committed to bringing in Irish forces, and Rupert believed that a decisive thrust northwards into Cheshire would enable the King to form an army with the marquess of Montrose, operating in Scotland with Irish and Scottish troops, and very successfully too. So much animosity towards Rupert was there, however, that it told against any alacrity in pursuing his schemes, and by 23 April Cromwell and part of the New Model had crossed the Cherwell, routed a royalist cavalry force, and taken Bletchingdon House. Cromwell's advance was steady. He won another victory over a smaller royalist force at Bampton in the Bush, to the west of Oxford. Cromwell then summoned Faringdon Castle, but its governor, Colonel Roger Burgess, a tough professional soldier, was able to repulse Cromwell's assault with heavy losses for the New Model. Cromwell then drew off, and went to join Sir Thomas Fairfax who was advancing into the West. The royalists held a council of war at Stow on the Wold on 8 May, and resolved to split their army, sending Goring to deal with the western threat, whilst the King and the remainder marched northwards with some general idea of joining up with Montrose, a plan long advocated by Prince Rupert. From London, orders were sent to Fairfax to give pursuit to the main royalist army, and to leave a few forces behind to relieve Taunton. Oxford was itself now threatened, and Rupert hastily ordered Goring to quit the West Country and to rejoin the field army in Leicestershire. Goring chose to disobey, ostensibly coming under the Prince of Wales' authority in Bristol, and thus contributed to a major royalist disaster at Naseby.

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