14th June 1645 is one of the pivotal dates of British history, as well as marking the beginning of the end of the first English Civil War. King Charles I’s forces were categorically defeated on sloping land next to a small nondescript village in Northamptonshire by the country’s first professional military force, The New Model Army.
Having left the safety of Oxford with most of his forces, Charles was acutely aware that Parliament had recently completely restructured its army. After the inconclusive Battle of Newbury and the subsequent recriminations, Parliament had realised that political considerations were preventing proper cooperation within its forces (there was also an ongoing power struggle within Westminster between the hardline Independents and the more moderate Presbyterians, which the former were winning). The Self Denying Ordinance prevented any serving MPs or Lords from their positions of command in the Parliamentarian army, with two notable exceptions – Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton. With Lord General Thomas Fairfax given permission to make decisions without consulting London, the stage was now set for this epic confrontation.
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.
It was a fateful decision and one that would bring the Royalist cause to its knees and, eventually, the King to a scaffold at Whitehall.