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.

cover The English Civil War , Richard Holmes & Peter Young, an early work by one of the country's best known military historians, this is a superb single volume history of the war, from its causes to the last campaigns of the war and on to the end of the protectorate.
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See Also
Books on the English Civil War
Subject Index: English Civil War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (9 April 2001), Battle of Marston Moor, 2 July 1644,

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