The Battle of Naseby, Northamptonshire, 14 June 1645

Still fearing that the Royalists intended to invade East Anglia, the Committee for Both Kingdoms ordered General Fairfax to abandon the siege of Oxford and to march the New Model Army into the Midlands to engage the King's army. Under pressure from Independents in Parliament, the Committee authorised Fairfax to act on his own initiative rather than having to wait for further orders from Westminster. At the request of Fairfax and his officers, Oliver Cromwell was officially appointed Lieutenant-General of Horse, even though this appointment contravened the Self-denying Ordinance. The New Model Army advanced rapidly northwards. By 11 June, Fairfax had arrived at Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, twenty miles south-east of the Royalist position at Daventry, where he gathered all available Parliamentarian forces.

By 13 June, the Royalists realised that the New Model Army had advanced to Kislingbury near Northampton only five miles from the Borough Hill encampment. Having heard from Lord Goring that he was still engaged around Taunton and could not come to reinforce the main Royalist army, the King and his advisers decided to fall back on Newark. As the Royalist army withdrew from Daventry to Market Harborough, Fairfax pressed forward, determined to fight. The Parliamentarians were greatly encouraged by the timely arrival from East Anglia of Lieutenant-General Cromwell with six hundred horse and dragoons during the evening of 13 June. Later that night, Colonel Ireton led a daring raid on the quarters of the King's Lifeguard in Naseby village, surprising them while they were at supper and taking a number of prisoners. Realising that the Royalist army could not get away, the King's council of war decided to turn and fight.

The battle began at about 10am. The western edge of the battlefield was flanked by the boundary hedge of Sulby parish running at right angles from Ireton's line towards the Royalist front. From his position on the opposite flank, Cromwell saw an opportunity to disrupt the Royalist right wing of cavalry and sent a force of dragoons commanded by Colonel Okey to take up an ambush position in Sulby Hedges. Although Okey's dragoons came under fire from the supporting musketeers, their appearance on the Royalist right flank to shoot up the cavalry provoked Rupert into making a premature advance onto Broad Moor. The Royalist cavalry paused at the bottom of the slope to regain their formation then advanced steadily up the opposite slope to charge Commissary-General Ireton on the Parliamentarian left flank. Ireton came forward to meet the charge but the Royalists broke through the Parliamentarian centre, putting two regiments to flight and disrupting the rest. Having broken through, Rupert's cavalry continued on to attack the baggage train outside Naseby village, where they were eventually driven back by the musketeers guarding the train.

Simultaneously with Rupert's attack, the Royalist infantry in the centre began to advance. Sir Bernard Astley's tertia on the Royalist right moved first, then Sir Henry Bard in the centre, then George Lisle on the left. The staggered advance was necessary in order to bring the opposing infantry lines into parallel formation. The Royalists crossed Broad Moor and advanced up the slope towards the Parliamentarian front, driving back the forlorn hope of musketeers, while the Parliamentarians moved forward to the crest of the hill to meet the attack. A shallow depression on the face of the hill had the effect of funnelling together the Royalist infantry in the centre so that a powerful wedge formation developed. Two of the frontline Parliamentarian regiments were broken by the initial impact of the Royalist charge and Skippon was wounded under the ribs by a musket ball that splintered his armour. He refused to leave the field, but the Parliamentarian infantry seemed on the point of collapse. As the first line fell back, Fairfax fought at the head of the second line to stabilise the position. Meanwhile on the Parliamentarian left flank, Ireton rallied the cavalry units that had not been broken in Rupert's charge and led an attack on the second line of the advancing Royalist infantry. Although he was wounded and taken prisoner, Ireton's intervention stalled the Royalist advance and gave Colonel Pride time to bring up the Parliamentarian infantry reserve. As superiority of numbers began to tell, the Royalist advance in the centre faltered.

On the Parliamentarian right flank, where the constraints of the terrain allowed only a narrow front, Cromwell's Ironsides advanced to meet Langdale's Northern Horse, with the regiments of Colonel Whalley and Sir Robert Pye bearing the brunt of the fighting. In a fierce struggle, the Northern Horse were steadily driven back by weight of numbers towards Dust Hill, where the Royalist reserve was stationed. Prince Rupert's regiment of foot, the Bluecoats, advanced to cover the retreating cavalry. As his front-line regiments pursued the retreating Royalists, Cromwell seized the opportunity to order his second line to wheel left and attack the exposed flank of the Royalist foot. This proved to be the decisive stroke of the battle. Attacked from three directions at once and with no cavalry support, units of the Royalist infantry began to surrender while the rest fell back across Broad Moor towards Dust Hill.

As the Royalist infantry retreated, the Bluecoats made a gallant stand on the forward slope of Dust Hill, repulsing two Parliamentarian attacks. General Fairfax ordered his regimental commander Colonel D'Oyley to renew the attack on the Bluecoat front while he took his Lifeguard around to attack from the rear. Under attack from all sides, the Bluecoats were finally broken and overwhelmed. The ensign who carried the colours was killed by Fairfax himself.

The defeat of the Bluecoats decided the battle. Pursued by the Parliamentarians, the Royalist infantry made a fighting retreat northwards, with parties of musketeers covering the withdrawal of their comrades before themselves falling back under covering fire. Although Prince Rupert had by this time rejoined the King, the Royalist infantry had no organised cavalry support. King Charles is said to have made a gallant but futile attempt to lead his Lifeguard in a charge on the advancing Roundheads, but the Earl of Carnwath riding next to him seized the bridle of the royal charger and roughly pulled him away. The Royalist infantry made a desperate last stand on Wadborough Hill, two miles north of the main battlefield. In the aftermath of the battle, fleeing Royalists were pursued and slaughtered all along the road to Leicester. The baggage train was plundered and a number of female camp followers murdered or mutilated.

The defeat was a disaster for the Royalists. The King's Oxford army was shattered and all its artillery and stores captured. The King's private papers fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians, revealing the full extent of his negotiations to bring over Irish Catholics to fight against Parliament, and his efforts to secure foreign mercenaries and money from abroad. Parliament lost no time in publishing these papers, which caused further political damage to the tottering Royalist cause. Although the First Civil War dragged on for another year, the Royalists had no realistic chance of victory after the battle of Naseby.

The aftermath of this battle had far reaching consequences not only for England but also for the colonies, and later America. The papers captured by the parlementarian forces, revealing the Kings desire to enlist the Irish, was used as the excuse to murder the king. Cromwell also used this Irish "threat" to invade, conquer and persecute the Irish people, in some cases attempt genocide. It also began the long desent of the English Monarchy to the point at which it currently stands, a mere rubber stamp to the parlement.

Cromwell's excesses had one effect which he could not foresee. His son Richard being unable to equal his father the "Lord Protector" made way for the restoration of the Stuarts.

God save the King.


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