And we're back! I do hope you're enjoying this short series as much as me!
We left the civil war in 1643, with the Irish conflict at a truce and the Scots joining the parliamentarian armies following the Solemn League and Convent. 1644 saw a lot of action around the Midlands, as the balance of power shifted from the King to Parliament. In January, the royalists were defeated at Nantwich and many prominent generals were taken prisoner. Among them, George Monck, who took the Covenant and defected to Parliament.
The Scottish appearance in the war put pressure on England from the north, of course, as their army was marching south. The Earl of Newcastle was put under tremendous pressure, and Rupert was tasked with his relief. However, when Newark was besieged in March 1644 by the Scots, Rupert was instructed to proceed there with all due speed - Newark being of strategic importance to the royalists in preventing a parliamentary advance into the royalist-held north. Rupert rode across country and surprised the parliamentarians, trapping them outside the city walls and forcing a surrender. Rupert's lifting of the siege became one of his greatest personal triumphs of the war.
In Parliament, the plan of attack was to combine the forces of Essex with the East Midlands divisions under the Earl of Manchester in one crushing attack against the king. (Incidentally, that's not Manchester, Lancashire, which was little more than a small village at the time, but Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire - the 'God' being left off the peerage title because of religious connotations).
However, following the Siege of Newark that Rupert had lifted earlier in the year, the Eastern army was in no position to comply with this demand. However, that didn't mean parliament was out of tricks, and in May they lay siege to Oxford itself! With Maurice (Rupert's brother) troubling Lyme Regis, and Charles trying to re-take Bristol, Essex led his army to relieve Lyme Regis leaving the army marching on Oxford largely without support.
On to Marston Moor
The Earl of Leven had ridden down from Scotland following the signing of the Covenant, around the same time as Sir Thomas Fairfax rode northwards to Hull, threatening York, the centre of royalist support in the north. The Earl of Newcastle split his army to defend both York and the Tyne, but when the Earl of Manchester came to reinforce Fairfax, things were getting distinctly warm for the royalists.
Prince Rupert was busy throughout this time dashing about the north, liberating Liverpool before he then rode on to York. The parliamentarian forces, hearing Rupert had reached Knaresborough, rode out from York to meet him, though the Prince managed to outflank them and ride straight into York itself on 1 July 1644. Rupert met up with Newcastle in the city, who tried to convince him to ride south to join forces with the king, but Rupert ignored the advice and rode back to meet Essex.
The armies met the following day at Marston Moor, just west of York. Rupert was outnumbered, and Newcastle was arguing strongly against fighting a pitched battle. However, Rupert didn't listen. With the Scots/Parliamentarians occupying the high ground, and royalist troops in the marshy lowland moor, this was never going to go well for the king's men.
As at Edgehill the previous year, early royalist charges led to the cavalry chasing down the routed troops or looting the baggage train. With fighting continuing throughout the night, and men fleeing the battlefield from both sides, the battle was brought to a close by the disciplined forces of the Eastern Association, under the command of Manchester's lieutenant general Oliver Cromwell. 4000 royalists were killed, with a further 1500 of the leaders captured; parliament claimed only 300 of their own allied force fell in the battle. Royalist survivors fled back to York, and Newcastle himself decided he had had enough and left the country altogether, going into exile in Hamburg the day after the battle.
Rupert left York soon after, too quickly for the Scots/Parliamentarian force to capture him, so they instead resumed the siege of York, which surrendered on 16 July. Rupert's first defeat of the war was the beginning of the end of his legend of invincibility; it also marked the ascendancy of Oliver Cromwell as a leading force in parliament. The discipline of his troops was widely acknowledged as causing the parliamentarian victory, and brought him out of Manchester's shadow.
Parliament's victory led to the ejection of the royalists from the north of England, but the war was far from over. The greatest problem for MPs was that they had a king who no longer had a place in the country. However, after achieving such a victory, many MPs thought they were now in a strong position to negotiate for peace. Others, however - Cromwell included - demanded a complete and utter parliamentarian victory. I'll look at this in greater detail next time...