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In September 1643 Parliament and the Scots reached an agreement, the Solemn League and Covenant, whereby more than 20,000 Scottish troops would enter the war against the King. Scottish involvement would force the royalists in the north to stand on the defensive and thus ease pressure on Parliament's forces elsewhere in England. The northern royalist army had marked time since its failure to take Hull in September 1643, largely due to command indecision. By January 1644, invasion was imminent, and on the 18th the Scottish army gathered at Berwick. The marquess of Newcastle was faced with war on two fronts, and chose to leave Yorkshire to fend for itself, rightly seeing the Scots as his most immediate enemy.
The earl of Leven, the Scottish commander, was cautious, unwilling to commit his raw forces to a pitched battle with royalist veterans. Nevertheless, he encountered no opposition at all in Northumberland, royalist advance units merely relaying reports back to Newcastle on Tyne, and then burning bridges to hinder the Scottish advance. Sir Thomas Glemham, newly appointed governor of Newcastle, after conferring with local royalists, abandoned Alnwick and burned Aln bridge, consolidating his forces within Newcastle itself. The Scots, at Wooler on 23 January, where they waited upon ammunition being brought across the Tweed, took Morpeth on the 28th. Leven then moved on Newcastle itself where he seems to have expected little resistance. Heavy snow delayed him, however, enabling the marquess of Newcastle to enter the town with his army from Yorkshire only hours before the Scots appeared to the north. Leven's summons to surrender was rejected by Glemham and his new reinforcements, whilst royalist cavalry patrolled the Tyne crossings. Lacking artillery, which did not arrive until 7 February, Leven launched an infantry assault which was repulsed, and on the 8th tried to occupy Gateshead with his cavalry but was driven off. In bitter weather, the Scots slowly consolidated their occupation north of Tyne, but on 19 February a royalist cavalry raid led by Sir Marmaduke Langdale broke up Scottish forces at Corbridge, whilst royalist raiders out of Prudhoe harried enemy lines of communication. Envisaging a decline in morale unless something positive was achieved, Leven decided to force the crossing of the Tyne, and the bad weather and royalist exhaustion assisted him. Leaving a token force to face Newcastle on Tyne, the Scots drew up along the river from 23 to 28 February, and then crossed at Ovingham, Bywell and Eltringham. Leven then turned east, occupied Sunderland on 4 March and gained access to supplies from the sea. The marquess of Newcastle fell back on Durham with his cavalry and was reinforced from Yorkshire, apparently intending to try to force Leven to a pitched battle. Between 6 and 8 March the armies manoeuvred around the Boldon Hills following a royalist advance on Sunderland, but Leven kept his distance and bad weather hampered the royalist cavalry, as did lack of fodder for the horses. The royalist army fell back on Durham, Leven appeared to follow, then retired on Sunderland. On 20 March, the Scots raided Chester le Street, stinging the royalists into a second advance on Sunderland culminating in the indecisive engagement at Hilton on 23 March. Again, Leven held back from committing his army, despite savage skirmishes, and the royalists returned to Durham disheartened. The Scots moved forward to Easington on 1 April, and to Quarrington on the 8th. On 11 or 12 April, the marquess of Newcastle heard reports of the serious defeat sustained by royalist forces in Yorkshire at Selby, and the consequent threat both to York itself and to the royalist lines of communication. Durham was then abandoned, Lumley Castle and Bishop Auckland stripped of their garrisons, and the royalists hastened towards the Tees. Leven, sure of himself now, pursued, entered Darlington on 14 April where he took prisoners, and on the 15th reached Northallerton in Yorkshire where a single royalist infantry regiment offered futile resistance. The main royalist army reached York safely shortly before Leven met the parliamentary commanders in the county at Wetherby on 18 April. The speed of the Scottish advance and the relatively intact state of his army justified Leven's caution. Northumberland and Durham were lost to the royalists, with the exception of Newcastle, and it seemed that York itself would fall.
1644: War in Cheshire and the Relief of Newark
The year 1643 had ended in Cheshire and North Wales with the wholesale retreat of the parliamentary forces into Nantwich, following the arrival in large numbers of royalist reinforcements from the army operating in Ireland, all veterans of the Irish wars. On 26 December John Lord Byron and his forces stormed Barthomley Church and put the entire garrison to the sword, with a ferocity all the more marked for Byron's laconic report of it. Brereton in Nantwich was under terrible pressure, and the Committee of Both Kingdoms in London ordered Sir Thomas Fairfax, then in Lincolnshire, to march to Brereton's aid. The siege of Nantwich had been commenced by Byron on 13 December, but with no great hurry, and the first assault, repulsed, did not go in until 18 January. On 24 January Fairfax, with an army reinforced from Manchester, advanced towards the royalist siege lines from the north-west, driving in a detachment sent to block his road. Byron did not at once draw off from the siege: a sudden thaw caused the River Weaver to flood and Beam Bridge to be broken up and, in consequence, left the royalist infantry without cavalry support to the west of the river. Byron had now to move fast to join up with them, whilst Sir Thomas Fairfax had the chance to tackle the royalist foot piecemeal. The battle of Nantwich, begun on 25 January, at first went in the royalists' favour, but faulty dispositions worked in the interests of Fairfax, and he won a sweeping victory, inflicting heavy losses on Byron's army.
In the wake of it, the royalist command in Oxford ordered Prince Rupert to take overall command of the situation and to repair the damage, and he reached Shrewsbury in early February. His attention, however, was to be deflected from Cheshire by events to the east around the major royalist fortress of Newark on the Trent. This had been left exposed by the defeat at Winceby in the previous October, and the parliamentarians were gathering their strength to take it. The governor, Sir Richard Byron, had no hope of help from the marquess of Newcastle, who was involved with the Scots in Durham, and a powerful siege army under Sir John Meldrum was to be reckoned with. On 6 March Meldrum took Muskham Bridge, but failed in an attempted storm, whilst raiders from Belvoir Castle kept him occupied. Rupert, in Chester on 12 March, was ordered from Oxford to relieve Newark, and he moved rapidly. On the 15th he was at Bridgnorth where troops from Ireland came into him, and on the 16th he was at Wolverhampton where he was reinforced by the governor of Dudley, Thomas Leveson. An attempt by Meldrum to prevent the junction of Rupert with men under Henry Hastings at Ashby de la Zouch on 18 March failed, and on the 20th the royalist army appeared at Bingham within an hour's march of Newark. The royalist army was slightly smaller than Meldrum's, but it was a veteran force, and the parliamentarian commanders were divided as to whether to fight or not. Rupert certainly intended to have a battle, and on 21 March in the darkness of the early morning, he advanced and occupied Beacon Hill. Without waiting for his full army to come into line, the Prince launched an immediate charge, which was well received by the parliamentary horse from Nottinghamshire, but which drove the Lincolnshire cavalry in panic from the field. Rupert himself was in the thick of the fighting and in imminent danger, but his cavalry were unstoppable. Meldrum's remaining forces were surrounded and beyond relief, some of them mutinied, and he was obliged to surrender what was left of his army. The relief of Newark was one of the most significant triumphs of Rupert's career for it showed his abilities as a field commander to advantage, but it was also crucial for the future of the royalist war effort in the Midlands. Newark garrison commanded major strategic routes, and its survival as a constant thorn in the side of the Parliament's war efforts was entirely the result of Prince Rupert's speedy and well executed march and attack.
War in the North: Fighing in Yorkshire, January to April 1644
The failure to take the garrison port of Hull in the autumn of 1643 had not signalled the progressive collapse of royalist power in Yorkshire. Although the failure boosted parliamentarian morale, it was the invasion of the Scots in January 1644 which gave the Fairfaxes opportunity to exploit consequent weaknesses in royalist military control of the county. When the marquess of Newcastle marched north to face the Scots on 28 January, he left behind a small, basically Yorkshire-raised army commanded by John Belasyse, who was instructed to contain parliamentarian incursions and also to ferry men and supplies northwards to the main army. The inherent problems of Belasyse's task contributed to his defeat at Selby in April.
Parliamentarian infiltration raids from Lancashire were regular events, but of short duration. On 4 January irregulars had raided Sowerby but had been broken up at Mixenden, and their base at Heptonstall had fallen to the royalists. The royalist command post at Halifax was abandoned in late January, however, when Belasyse rationalised his dispositions, intending to rely upon his cavalry to contain the East and West Ridings. There were major garrisons in Sheffield and Doncaster, and at York which was the headquarters of civil and military government. On 10 February, cavalry out of Hull destroyed a royalist contingent at Kilham near Driffield, and on the 12th the raiders took Bridlington. Turning back towards Hull, they won a third success at Driffield, in all cases taking many prisoners. On the 20th, the raiders (perhaps the same body of Hull cavalry) stormed Whitby under the noses of the royalists in Scarborough. Reacting to these niggling reverses, Belasyse redeployed his forces, perhaps stung by a successful attack on Stamford Bridge, near York. Nevertheless, Belasyse was more concerned with the West Riding. He established a command at Leeds, and on 3 March royalist forces clashed with regular parliamentarian troops at Bradford. These, under Major General John Lambert, were fresh from active service in Cheshire, and Lambert intended to disrupt Belasyse's hold on the Riding by swift raids. Bradford fell and was briefly occupied. Tadcaster was taken around 6 March, and at the same time the royalists sustained a defeat at Kirklees and another at Hunslet, the distance between these points indicating the strain on Belasyse's resources.
John Belasyse now put all his efforts into controlling the West Riding. Using York as his administrative base with responsibility for the North Riding and the route into Durham, and establishing troops in Malton to watch the East Riding, he moved his field command to Selby on the River Ouse. He was thus poised between Hull and the forces in the west. Belasyse was probably encouraged in his strategic thinking by Prince Rupert's relief of Newark on 21 March, which ought to have set forces free to reinforce the royalist field army. However, on 25 March or thereabouts (the date is uncertain) Belasyse again marched on Bradford, held by Lambert, and was within an ace of victory when Lambert's men made a determined attempt to break out, scattering the royalists opposed to them. Belasyse fell back on Leeds, and Lambert reoccupied Bradford. From Leeds, the royalists withdrew to Selby, for reasons far from clear. Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had now returned to Yorkshire from Cheshire, and who had been ordered to march into County Durham to assist the Scots there, chose instead to strike at Selby first after meeting his father at Ferrybridge. On 11 April an assault was launched and, although the royalists resisted doggedly, the street fighting went against them. Belasyse was taken, wounded, and the bulk of his infantry spoiled. York now lay wide open to the Fairfaxes, defended by only two city regiments and lacking a governor (Sir Thomas Glemham was then in Newcastle on Tyne). News of the disaster at Selby forced the marquess of Newcastle to abandon his war with the Scots and to retreat rapidly into Yorkshire to ensure control of York itself. The siege of York that followed the conjunction of the Scots with the Fairfaxes at Wetherby, led to Rupert's attempt to relieve the town, and so to the battle on Marston Moor in July.
1643-1644: The Fight Against Essex and Waller
After the first battle of Newbury (20 September) the Oxford royalist army occupied Reading, but there was no indication of the major thrust on London, The old western army under Maurice was engaged in Devonshire, the northern army was concerned with Hull. The earl of Essex remained to be dealt with by the Oxford army. It was resolved late in September 1643 at Oxford to create a new western army, the command to be vested in Lord Hopton, arguably the King's best general. This new army was to push towards London through Wiltshire and Hampshire, but at its inception was barely 4,000 strong and inadequate for the task ahead. Hopton's opponent was again to be Waller, commander of a new parliamentarian association of the south-eastern counties. Waller moved first, on 7 November, from his base at Farnham, but was wary of encountering Hopton and instead laid siege to Basing House. Mutiny within his ranks broke the siege up with nothing gained and some losses. He fell back on Farnham. Hopton, reinforced from Oxford and the West Country, detached forces to blockade Portsmouth, Southampton and Poole, and at the end of November advanced against Farnham. Waller refused to face him, and Hopton withdrew, not wishing to waste time in a siege. He put his army into winter-quarters, reduced Arundel Castle, and waited. On 12 December, Waller made his army ready for the march, and set off for his objective, the royalist quarters at Alton.
Alton was garrisoned by horse and foot under Lord Crawford and Richard Bolle with orders to fall back rather than to engage Waller. The parliamentarian army, in excess of 5,000 men, evaded Crawford's watchful cavalry and on 13 December attacked Alton. Crawford abandoned Bolle to his fate and withdrew his cavalry. The royalists drew up around Alton Church, and the ensuing fight was particularly vicious, Bolle refusing to consider surrender even though driven into the church which was partially fortified. The position was hopeless, but Bolle chose to die fighting, and with him died 700 or more royalist infantry, predominantly veterans. Although a minor engagement, the beating up of a quarter, it was nevertheless taken to heart by Hopton, whose orders to push on to London were becoming more and more difficult to fulfil.
On 6 January Waller took Arundel Castle, and then chose to go into winter-quarters himself. Hopton's lack of achievement was mirrored north of the Thames, too, where another efficient army had wasted much time against the earl of Essex. After taking Newport Pagnell, a vital communications link for the Parliament, the royalists abandoned it after three weeks in October 1643. War north of the Thames appeared to be at a standstill in the winter of 1643/4, so much so that when, after Alton, Hopton requested reinforcements from the Oxford army, he was sent, in March 1644, nearly 2,000 men under Lord Forth, who also had seniority over Hopton. The two old generals worked well together, however, whilst Waller, reinforced by troops from Essex's idle army, now had an army of at least 8,000 men, still considerably outnumbering the royalists. The inevitable confrontation between Hopton and Waller drew nearer, particularly when Hopton began to receive regiments from Ireland into his army. Waller was moving on Winchester, and occupying the Meon Valley, when Hopton moved against him on 26 March 1644. On the 27th, Hopton occupied Warnford, from which the parliamentarians had retreated to Westbury Forest, but attempts to draw Waller into action caused the latter to make for Alresford rather than engage. Hopton's cavalry raced Waller to the town and beat him to it, and proceeded to fortify it as best they could, whilst the parliamentarian army came to rest on Tichborne Down on 27 March. For a day the armies faced each other, Lord Forth retiring to Alresford through ill-health, leaving Hopton to deal with his old adversary, Waller. The battle of Cheriton was fought on 29 March.
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