On the evening of the 2nd July 1644, at Marston Moor near York, the Royalist army under Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Marquess of Newcastle faced off against the Parlimentarian army of the Scottish Earl of Leven, the Earl of Manchester and Lord Fairfax. The day before, the Royalists had outmanoeuvred Parliament and forced it to give up its siege of York, but delays in Newcastle’s infantry reaching the field had given the Parliamentarians time to form up.
The Royalists were outnumbered and, as it got late in the day, many of their men decided that it was too late for battle and began lighting fires to cook an evening meal. The Scots and Parliamentarians launched a surprise attack and, after two hours of biitter fighting, the Parliamentarian cavalry under Oliver Cromwell eventually routed the Royalist horse and annihilated Newcastle’s remaining white-coated infantry, who famously refused quarter and stood to the last man.
The battle lost the stanchly Royalist north of England for the king but cemented the growing reputation of Cromwell and his well-trained Ironside cavalry. Despite the crushing of the Earl of Essex’s southern Parliamentarian force at Lostwithel later the same year, Marston Moor is arguably the point at which the tide turned against the Royalists – they lost many of their veteran infantry, lost access to the north sea and (eventually) the coal of Newcastle, and lost any chance of safely linking up with the Earl of Montrose’s Royalist forces in Scotland. Within a year the crushing defeat at Naseby, Northamptonshire, would see all hope of victory fade away.
In a timely reminder of the human cost of the conflict in Yorkshire, yesterday scientists confirmed that mass graves found in York contained the bodies of Parliamentarian soldiers who had besieged York. We’ve blogged about this previously – 113 skeletons were unearthed just outside the city walls in 2008 but new research shows a diet high in seafood, suggesting these were men from the Parliamentary stronghold of Hull. Hull was vital to Parliament’s success in the first English Civil War, famously shutting its gates to the king when he tried to sieze the large arsenal there in 1642.
The programme about the discovery, History Cold Case: The York 113, will be shown on BBC Two at 9pm tonight.
On the road between Tockwith and Long Marston, a simple, almost humble memorial stands to mark both the Battle of Marston Moor and the fallen. Every year around the time of the anniversary, a contingent from the Sealed Knot marches to the memorial to lay wreathes, say prayers and give thanks for the sacrifices made of that day – on both sides. Marston Moor was a key turning point in British history and the ramifications of the Parliamentarian victory were felt for decades, if not centuries after.
Musketeers, pikemen and drummers from the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote joined friends from organisers Sir Thomas Glemham’s Regiment and other regiments for this year’s event last weekend, taking place 367 years to the day since the battle.
A small tribute to the people, regardless of their cause, whose lives we wish to honour and whose memory we seek to preserve..
Oh, and if you’re wondering, the title of this post comes from a famous letter written by Cromwell to his brother-in-law future regicide Valentine Walton. Cromwell had been present when Walton’s eldest son – also called Valentine – died during the battle from cannon shot and wrote touchingly about his passing.