Seven reasons why the Battle of Naseby changed British history forever

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On 14th June 1645, the fields between the Northamptonshire villages of Naseby and Sibbertoft saw one of the most significant battles in British history.

Royalist troops loyal to King Charles I and the Parliamentarian ‘New Model Army’ led by Sir Thomas Fairfax met in the culmination of a three-year bloody civil war that had pitted families and friends against each other and the fates of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland rested in the balance. 

So why is The Battle of Naseby so important in British history…?

There are acres and acres of writing about the most “pivotal” moments in history, those occasions when the future seems to turn on a single act and everything after it owes its existence that that moment.

In lists of British history, the Battle of Naseby is one such moment.

Fought on gently sloping fields next to a quiet Northamptonshire village on 14th June 1645 by the Royalist forces of King Charles I and the English Parliament’s New Model Army, Naseby is exactly one of those moments that changed British (and to a certain extent world) history forever.

So what are the top reasons why this battle, in this place, at this time, had such a profound effect?

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1. It decided the first English Civil War.

In 1645, the English Civil War could have gone either way – there was no obvious indication that either Parliament nor the Royalists had a clear military advantage over the other. Both sides had large armies filled with a mix of battle-hardened veterans and fresh newbies, plus solid supply bases and well-provisioned garrisons. Although King Charles had lost the North at Marston Moor in 1644, his forces in Scotland were doing well and he still controlled the West and Wales.

Yet his decision to fight the New Model Army at Naseby was arguably one of the single biggest military blunders in British history.

IC100813battle-22Not only was he heavily outnumbered by Thomas “Black Tom” Fairfax’s New Model Army – 10,000 versus 15,000 – but his men still fought the way they had fought back in 1642 when the war started.

However, Parliament had raised a new army imbued with fresh ideas (see below) and created for one purpose – to strike the decisive blow against the king. At Naseby it did just that.

By concentrating his best forces into one army, leaving his fortified capital of Oxford, and then dithering around in the Midlands, Charles gave Parliament the best chance it had to catch and destroy his forces.

Ironically the battle started well for Charles – Prince Rupert smashed the Parliamentarian left wing with a dashing charge and the King’s pikemen and musketeers pushed Parliament’s infantry back almost to breaking point. However, Rupert’s charge left his men scattered and on the other flank Marmaduke Langdale was routed by Parliament’s golden boy Oliver Cromwell, whose cavalry then turned on the Royalist infantry. A running retreat/rout over 12 miles took place, with thousands of the king’s men captured or killed.

Naseby destroyed the veteran infantry Charles relied on, condemned him to spend the rest of the summer being chased around the Midlands and West Country, and gave the New Model Army the impetus to sweep up the remainder of his forces. Although the King himself believed he could still win the war and fighting dragged on into 1646, his military machine was irrevocably broken and the overwhelming success of the New Model Army at Naseby was the moment King Charles lost the English Civil War.

2. It helped assert the right of Parliament over the monarch.

englicher-buergerkriegIgnore what you may have been taught at school – the English Civil War did not start because some people wanted a king and others wanted a republic. That happened, almost by accident, later.

But though they may not have known it the men who fought at Naseby were setting their country on the path to both a constitutional monarchy and a modern Parliamentary democracy.

The war had begun as the culmination of a long, drawn-out argument over who controlled the levers of power with few, if any, people arguing for a kingless state. Even before Charles had ruled without Parliament during his ’The Personal Rule’ (also known as the ‘Eleven Years’ Tyranny’ depending on who you asked), MPs had been clamouring for more control over the country, especially with foreign policy, religion, and taxes. That argument eventually boiled over into all out war, which the King would go on to lose.

The victory at Naseby established Parliament’s right to a permanent role in the government of the kingdom.

3. It gave us the Armed Forces.

Before the English Civil War, the British were naturally suspicious of soldiers. To have lots of them hanging around was a recipe for disaster, either because they’d get bored and go on a rampage or it meant the king wanted to use them against his own people. And the people didn’t like either of those options. So armies were only raised when they were needed – either to defend the country or invade somewhere else – and would then be disbanded.

The New Model Army was different.

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Before 1645, winning battles mostly came down to good fortune, surprise, soldiers who wouldn’t immediately turn and run (who were common), and commanders who knew what they were doing (who were not). Also, many of the troops Parliament relied upon from London and what we now call the Home Counties had been raised as defensive troops, so as soon as the threat to their counties was over they’d either refuse to move or simply pack up and head home.

The Second Battle of Newbury in October 1644 was a wake up call for Parliament. They had won but only on paper; arguments between the commanders let the King’s defeated forces escape virtually intact. So MPs became convinced that to win the war, rather than several armies led by individual commanders, it needed a single national army committed to the cause. This lead to the New Model Army or, as it was called at the time, “The Army, Newly Modelled”.

To remove political interference in tactical decision making, MPs and Lords(with a few notable exceptions) were forbidden from being officers by the Self-Denying Ordnance while rank was awarded on merit, meaning the brave and militarily gifted rose quickly. Rather than ranks of fresh or conscripted men without adequate arms and provisions, the New Model was to be made up of properly trained, well supplied, and regularly paid professional troops (side note: the latter of these wasn’t exactly followed through).

The New Model Army was Britain’s first professional army and was the beginning of the modern British Army that we know today (in fact, two existing regiments – The Coldstream Guards and The Blues and Royals – can trace their history all the way back to the New Model).

It was a truly revolutionary idea and, at Naseby, it worked.

4. It turned Oliver Cromwell into the historical leviathan we know today.

oliver_cromwell_samuel_cooper1He’s been dubbed “God’s Englishman” and was voted amongst the top ten Britons of all time but, despite what many think, Oliver Cromwell neither started nor ended the first English Civil War, nor was the conflict “Cromwell vs Charles I”. In fact, he didn’t come to totally dominate English politics until after the King was dead and the second Civil War in 1651 tipped off his beloved and (arguably) more capable superior, Lord Fairfax, as to which way the wind was blowing so that he stood down as leader of the New Model Army.

Cromwell was, however, very good at being a cavalry commander.

At the start of the war in 1642, he was just a lowly Huntingdonshire squire with little in the way of prospects, who only really got elected as an MP because of his family connections. At the outbreak of the war, he organised a local troop of cavalrymen but turned up late to the Battle of Edgehill just in time to witness Parliament’s cavalry get their backsides handed to them by the dashing Prince Rupert’s men.

Cavalry tactics at the time involved two wings of cavalry charging at each other and trying to drive the other side off, the winners then chasing their defeated foes across the countryside in a disordered gallop and maybe stoping off for a pint or two afterwards. Once that initial job was done, the cavalry usually took no more part in a battle. Cromwell realised that if you trained your cavalry properly you could drive off the enemy, get back into order, and then wheel round and attack the enemy’s infantry – and if there’s one thing infantry don’t like, it’s enemy cavalry. Thus were born Cromwell’s elite cavalry, The Ironsides, who turned the tide in pretty much every battle they fought in.

This was certainly the case at Naseby, where he commanded Parliament’s right wing. While Prince Rupert smashed Parliament’s left wing, he couldn’t control his men and by the time they got back to the fighting it was all over – thanks to the Ironsides. Cromwell’s reputation was well on the rise by this point anyway, but Naseby made him a Parliamentarian hero. And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Oh, and for the record he didn’t ban Christmas. Or mince pies. Or dancing. Or the theatre. Or much of anything.)

5. It showed what King Charles was really up to.

Charles_Landseer_Cromwell_Battle_of_NasebyAfter the battle, the victorious Parliamentarians rampaged through the Royalists ‘baggage train’ – which is where an army keeps its supplies. While capturing great amounts of powder, arms, and food, they also seized the carriage carrying the king’s private papers, which had been left behind in the rout.

What it contained was sheer dynamite. Confirming all Parliament’s worst fears and suspicions about Charles, the papers showed that he had been trying to raise an army of Roman Catholic soldiers from Ireland to invade England, as well as negotiating help from French and Spanish mercenaries – all of them also Catholic.

What was wrong with them being Catholic? Bear in mind that Protestant England had been at war with Roman Catholic powers such as Spain and France pretty much ever since Henry VIII had broken from Rome and established the Church of England. Henry and his daughter Elizabeth had mixed Protestantism up with a bombshell cocktail of religious zealotry, national pride, and plain old xenophobia; the despotic reign of Bloody Queen Mary, the Spanish Armada, and the plots against Elizabeth were all still strong in the collective memory and Charles’ dad and King of Scotland, James VI, had only become King James I of England because he was Elizabeth’s closest Protestant relative. So hated were the Catholics that Irish-sounding Royalist soldiers were routinely hanged, Irish-Scottish regiments were given no mercy, and when Parliament’s soldiers overran the Royalist baggage train at Naseby, they infamously raped, mutilated, and killed many of the female camp followers – later justifying it by saying they thought they were Irish Catholics (they undoubtedly weren’t).

Parliament wasted no time in publishing copies of this damning correspondence for the whole nation to see. Charles was shown to not only to be duplicitous but also that he seemingly only cared about being in power and he didn’t care a jot about how he got it.

This moment, combined with his sparking of the second English Civil War by getting the Scottish to invade in 1648, was what sealed his fate and led him to the executioner’s block in 1649.

6. It destroyed the idea of the divine right of kings.

Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_-_Google_Art_ProjectCharles believed, as his father and many others before him, that he was divinely appointed to be king by God himself. Therefore, whatever he wanted to do was – naturally – what God wanted and those who were against him were against the deity himself. Unfortunately, Parliament was becoming increasingly dominated by ultra-devout Puritans who believed THEY were the ones divinely appointed by God and their mission was to overcome the tyranny of fallible Earth-bound kings.

While the war was sparked by issues over forms of worship, money, and power, it soon took on a dangerously dogmatic religious tone. With the removal of their critics in a purged Parliament and the decisive defeat of the King’s army at Naseby, it seemed to the Puritans that God now agreed with them.

After Naseby, the Puritan ‘Independent’ faction would become a political force to be reckoned with. And with one stroke of the executioner’s axe, they irrevocably changed the relationship between England’s monarch and England’s people forever.

7. It was a stepping stone to a political revolution.

In the New Model Army, Parliament had unwittingly created a pet bulldog that it could not control.

Once it had won the war and disposed of the king, and with no military force that could match it, the army quickly came to realise that IT carried the balance of political power and it became a hotbed of radical politics and discontent. Many, including political agitators within the army dubbed Levellers (because, their critics claimed, they wanted to bring rich and poor to the same level), demanded a greater say in government and a famous meeting called The Putney Debates in 1647 was the first time common people and their social superiors had sat down to discuss the very question of the nation’s governance.

putneyIt hinged on the question of why had they fought in the first place. Surely, said leading Leveller sympathiser and friend of Cromwell Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, even the lowliest Englishman has the same right to a say in England’s affairs as the highest?

This, and The Leveller’s idealism, has echoed down the centuries ever since. Some claim them as proto-socialists, others as anarchistic radicals, but either way Putney set the terms of the argument for almost 370 years – an argument that is still going on today.

After Charles was executed in 1649, England (soon to be joined, whether they liked it or not, by Scotland and Ireland) became a republic called ‘The Commonwealth of England’. A limited form of Parliamentary democracy was now in practise and it finally seemed like the tyranny of absolute monarchs that had begun with the Norman invasion in 1066 was over.

However, grand words are just that – words. After the army smashed the Scots and invaded Ireland, they were in no mood to compromise with anyone about anything and the purging of anti-army MPs from Parliament, Cromwell’s elevation to ‘Lord Protector’, and the military dictatorship that followed turned hopes of a peaceful, tolerant, and free English republic to dust.

After the death of Cromwell in 1658 it was ironically part of the army itself, led by General George Monck (who had been cunningly keeping out of things up in Scotland), that helped usher in the return of the monarchy in 1660.

But absolute monarchy had had its day in England and, following the invasion of the William of Orange’s Dutch forces in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688, England’s one and only true “revolution” came to a close with the constitutional monarchy that still stands, more or less in the same shape, today.

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A panoramic view of the battlefield from the Naseby Memorial, Northamptonshire

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Making things go with a bang – the matchlock musket!

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This is a matchlock musket.

Doesn’t look like much? Well, technically it’s not – it’s essentially a tube with a small hole at one end and a big hole at the other. But this simple piece of steel and wood changed the face of warfare forever.

The musket is quite a basic weapon, but the process of loading and firing it was slow and dangerous. At the bottom of the barrel, a small hole lead to a ‘pan’, into which a small amount of gunpowder is poured. More gunpowder is then poured down the barrel, followed by paper wadding and a round lead musketball. These are compacted together using a long stick called a scouring stick, compressing the gunpowder so that it explodes with more force when ignited. Thin rope called match cord, impregnated with saltpetre (potassium nitrate) so that it burnt very slowly, is attached to the ‘serpent’ on the side of the barrel; this is connected to the trigger. When the trigger is pulled, it dips the burning match cord into the gunpowder in the pan, which in turns burns through the small hole and ignites the gunpowder in the barrel.

Musketballs were irregular in shape but packed a massive punch if fired close enough to a target. Unlike modern bullets which cut, musketballs punch their way through and splintered bone, leading to horrific injuries and often fragmenting and leaving scraps of lead in the wound. Most casualties from English Civil War battles died not on the battlefield but afterwards from infection and musket wounds played a major part in that.

The problem with the musket was that it was highly unreliable and inaccurate – the gun might fail to fire, or even blow up, and even if it did fire the lack of rifling and the  irregular shape of the musketball would mean hitting a specific target at a long range was very difficult, so the only effective way to use them was to have rows of them shooting at the same time, creating a massed volley that would cut enemy soliders down. They were also slow to load – even skilled musketeers might only manage two shots a minute, and some training manuals of the time had up to 43 separate commands and moves for loading, presenting and firing! And they were vulnerable – when unloaded, musketeers had no means of defending themselves from cavalry attacks, so large blocks of pikemen had to be employed to protect them. They also had a tendency for blowing themselves up – with all those explosives and lit matchcords around there were innumerable incidents of people being blown skyhigh by their own side.

The main advantage of the musket, however, was its versatility. Whereas cavalrymen needed to know how to ride and pikemen needed to have strength and discipline, you could take an untrained man from a field or a town and have him firing on a battlefield in a matter of days.

The musket was the great leveller. Nobleman and commoner alike could fall to its fire. It was easy to produce and musketeers were relatively easy to replace. Warfare suddenly became a matter of firepower.

At the beginning of the first English Civil War in 1642, there were two musketeers for every pikeman. By the end of the third war, the ratio of musketeers was four or five. But it is not until the invention of the bayonet later in the 17th Century, enabling musketeers to defend themselves, that pikemen disappeared from European battlefields and the musket reigned supreme.

Here, our musket officer Dave Frederick and musketeer Martin Franks show the process of loading and firing a musket:

So, what’s like being a musketeer in the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote? Well, we’ll hear from one of our musketeers, Denise, tomorrow but in the meantime, here’s a video showing our musketeers in action!

The ten most unpleasant ways to die in an English Civil War battle

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The English Civil Wars hold the distinction of being arguably the bloodiest conflict in the history of the British Isles, having a higher death toll per capita than any other war before or since (even greater than The First World War), and there were a myriad of ways one could die on a battlefield – but they’re not all what you might expect!

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We run through the nastiest ways you could meet your maker on a battlefield between 1642 and 1651…

1. Speared by a pike

The pike was a very traditional weapon – a long wooden spear up to 18 feet long that tapered around the centre and was tipped with a steel spike. Named after the French word ‘pique’, which means ‘to pierce’, the pike took quite a bit of skill to master and a backbone of iron to fight with as you slowly inched towards your enemy to begin prodding and poking at each other. If you were lucky enough to get past the wall of razor-sharp steel spikes without being lacerated to death then your only option was brutal hand-to-hand combat with what you had, whether it was a sword, axe, or knife. You might be lucky enough to have back-and-breast armour on to protect your torso, hanging from which tassets would protect your thighs and genitals, and you may even have a gorget to defend your throat – but all of these became less common as the wars went on. Pike-on-pike melee fighting was a dangerous gambit and rarely used – the soldiers themselves weren’t particularly keen on it!

Sealed Knot muster at the ruins of Basing House, Hampshire

2. Shot by a musketball

Matchlock muskets were the main firearm used during the English Civil War and, in the age before rifling and machine-produced guns, they are notoriously inaccurate. In fact, using them to try and hit a single target at anything more than 100 yards was fairly pointless so to overcome this massed ranks would all fire together in one big volley at an equally tightly-packed block of your enemy – you may not hit the guy you’re aiming at but you’ll probably hit one of his friends. And musketballs are nasty things to get hit with – they’re made of soft lead (often pillaged from church roofs or drainpipes) so even if they miss something vital like an organ they’re either going to tear through you and leave a horribly jagged wound (see point 9) or they’re going to fragment inside of you and at the very least give you lead poisoning.

3. Clubbed to death with a musket

Muskets – dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle. In the years before the invention of the bayonet, a musket that had been fired was pretty useless until it could be reloaded. And that took time. Even the best musketeers could fire, at best, two or three shots a minute during which time they were extremely vulnerable and there may not be time to reload before the enemy is upon you. With swords in short supply, the easiest way to defend yourself was to turn your gun around and use the stock or ‘butt’ as a club and swing it about your head. There have been skeletons recovered from English Civil War battlefields with horrifying impact injuries to their skulls – all thanks to not getting out of the way of an unloaded musket quick enough. Such was the brutality of clubbed muskets that some commanders got terribly frustrated with musket blocks who would rather stand 100 feet apart and shoot at each other all day than go through the trauma of actual fighting,

4. Mown down by cavalry

Cavalry were the shock troops of their age and nine times out of time were the decisive factor in a battle. Riding huge horses, dressed in thick leather jackets called buffcoats and armed with swords and carbines – a type of musket a bit like a sawn-off shotgun – they could ride into infantry, slashing at them or even just trampling them down. The pike was used as an anti-cavalry weapon, as even horses baulk at running into a wall of sharp sticks, but this defense wasn’t foolproof. If anyone ran then they left all their comrades vulnerable and formations could be easily broken apart, the cavalry picking off fleeing soldiers one by one. The King’s nephew, Prince Rupert, was known for his highly effective lightning attacks on the enemy but it was Oliver Cromwell’s disciplined Ironside cavalry who usually carried the day. Saying that, they weren’t completely invulnerable – the halberd was a weapon usually carried by officers that was designed to help them pull cavalrymen from their horses.

Cavalry of Sir William Wallers regt during the Sealed Knot muster at Belvoir Castle, August 2008

5. Being hit by a cannon ball

Other than in sieges, cannons did not usually have much effect during a battle due to their size – large cannons slowed armies down and were costly to make and maintain. However, with enemy soldiers stood all lined up in neat rows, an unstoppable ball of lead or a spray of multiple musketballs (or even just stones) could be devastating at close range. In a siege, however, cannon truly came into its own – whether it was battering down castle walls or using grape shot or chain shot to mow down attacking troops.

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6. Being captured

Both sides kept prisoners during the English Civil War but unless they were an officer then men captured during a battle were often set free after making a solemn oath not to take up arms against their captors again. The problem was that officers on both sides noticed these individuals kept turning up at battles again and again – usually on the exact same side they’d promised not to fight for. So becoming a prisoner of war became an option – but it wasn’t really an option you wanted to plump for. As the wars dragged on, the number of reported (and usually exaggerated) massacres slowly hardened men’s minds against mercy and it became increasingly common for the cry of “no quarter” to be given – meaning you were dead whether you fought back or you gave up; one of the most notorious examples was the slaughter of the Parliamentarian garrison at Hopton Castle, who reportedly had their throats slit after surrendering. There were also few actual prisons as we know them today and any prisoners you wanted to keep alive were usually locked up in whatever large building was nearest. This could get you blown up through no fault of your own (see point 8) or sent into indentured servitude in the Caribbean (which was the fate of thousands of defeated Scottish and Irish after the Third English Civil War), but more likely it would have you dead from disease – typhoid ran rampant through the Parliamentarian prisoners crammed into the crowded rooms of Oxford Castle (though political agitator John Lilburne managed to survive a spell in the notorious prison). Which leads us to…

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7. Disease (before you even got there)

For almost all of human history, disease has been the greatest enemy of any army. Thanks to poor supplies and little in the way of logistics, whether it was dysentery or cholera from contaminated water, or scarlet fever, typhoid, or plague from cramped and unsanitary living conditions (or even venereal diseases for the less-than-righteous soldier) you were lucky to have gotten to the battlefield in the first place!

8. Being blown up

As we’ve mentioned, with no gunpowder muskets are reduced to nothing more than clubs so armies had to carry their supplies with them. Sadly, gunpowder is a fractious mistress and doesn’t like being treated roughly or with lack of care. Musketeers might often forget about the lit match in their hand before reaching into a barrel of gunpowder or a musket ball could strike a powder flask, setting off a chain reaction. After their marginal victory at Lansdown in July 1643, the Royalists very nearly lost their own commander, Sir Ralph Hopton, who was seriously injured when an ammunition wagon was accidentally blown up the next day. Perhaps the greatest such mishap was at Great Torrington in Devon on 16 February 1646 when the New Model Army attacked a Royalist garrison. A stray spark lit almost six tonnes of gunpowder in the town’s church in one of the largest pre-nuclear explosions in human history. It obliterated the church, killed several Royalist guards, and incinerated a large number of Parliamentarian prisoners. It also narrowly missed killing the Parliamentarian commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, though it did bring the battle to something of a prompt end!

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9. Getting an infection

The single biggest killer in any English Civil War battle. Actual deaths on the field were generally low, assuming it wasn’t a complete rout, but without modern medical care it was very easy for wounds received in the course of a battle to become infected, leading to blood poisoning, gangrene, and all sorts of nasty ailments. Dying from infection was a horrible way to go without antibiotics, anesthetics, or painkillers. So you might survive the battle, but the peace afterwards could be a killer.

10. Being clubbed to death with your own wooden leg

Sir Arthur Aston was a professional soldier from a Roman Catholic family in Cheshire but when he was governor of Oxford he lost a leg falling from his horse. During Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in 1649, Ashton was governor of the vital port of Drogheda and a rumour began amongst Cromwell’s besieging troops that he used his false leg to hide gold coins. When they stormed the town they tore off his wooden leg, but when they found it contained no treasure they then beat him to death with it.

You can see the English Civil War close up – fortunately without risk of any of the above – and get a real passion for history by joining the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote. Visit our website to discover more about this fascinating hobby or come to one of our events up and down the country,

Join up now!

Seven reasons why the Battle of Naseby changed British history forever

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On 14th June 1645, the fields between the Northamptonshire villages of Naseby and Sibbertoft saw one of the most significant battles in British history.

Royalist troops loyal to King Charles I and the Parliamentarian ‘New Model Army’ led by Sir Thomas Fairfax met in the culmination of a three-year bloody civil war that had pitted families and friends against each other and the fates of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland rested in the balance. 

It’s known as one of the key battles in British history, but why is Naseby so important?

There are acres and acres of writing about the most “pivotal” moments in history, those occasions when the future seems to turn on a single act and everything after it owes its existence that that moment.

In lists of British history, the Battle of Naseby is one such moment.

Fought on gently sloping fields next to a quiet Northamptonshire village on 14th June 1645 by the Royalist forces of King Charles I and the English Parliament’s New Model Army, Naseby is exactly one of those moments that changed British (and to a certain extent world) history forever.

So what are the top reasons why this battle, in this place, at this time, had such a profound effect?

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1. It decided the first English Civil War.

In 1645, the English Civil War could have gone either way – there was no obvious indication that either Parliament nor the Royalists had a clear military advantage over the other. Both sides had large armies filled with a mix of battle-hardened veterans and fresh newbies, plus solid supply bases and well-provisioned garrisons. Although King Charles had lost the North at Marston Moor in 1644, his forces in Scotland were doing well and he still controlled the West and Wales.

Yet his decision to fight the New Model Army at Naseby was arguably one of the single biggest military blunders in British history.

IC100813battle-22Not only was he heavily outnumbered by Thomas “Black Tom” Fairfax’s New Model Army – 10,000 versus 15,000 – but his men still fought the way they had fought back in 1642 when the war started.

However, Parliament had raised a new army imbued with fresh ideas (see below) and created for one purpose – to strike the decisive blow against the king. At Naseby it did just that.

By concentrating his best forces into one army, leaving his fortified capital of Oxford, and then dithering around in the Midlands, Charles gave Parliament the best chance it had to catch and destroy his forces.

Ironically the battle started well for Charles – Prince Rupert smashed the Parliamentarian left wing with a dashing charge and the King’s pikemen and musketeers pushed Parliament’s infantry back almost to breaking point. However, Rupert’s charge left his men scattered and on the other flank Marmaduke Langdale was routed by Parliament’s golden boy Oliver Cromwell, whose cavalry then turned on the Royalist infantry. A running retreat/rout over 12 miles took place, with thousands of the king’s men captured or killed.

Naseby destroyed the veteran infantry Charles relied on, condemned him to spend the rest of the summer being chased around the Midlands and West Country, and gave the New Model Army the impetus to sweep up the remainder of his forces. Although the King himself believed he could still win the war and fighting dragged on into 1646, his military machine was irrevocably broken and the overwhelming success of the New Model Army at Naseby was the moment King Charles lost the English Civil War.

2. It helped assert the right of Parliament over the monarch.

englicher-buergerkriegIgnore what you may have been taught at school – the English Civil War did not start because some people wanted a king and others wanted a republic. That happened, almost by accident, later.

But though they may not have known it the men who fought at Naseby were setting their country on the path to both a constitutional monarchy and a modern Parliamentary democracy.

The war had begun as the culmination of a long, drawn-out argument over who controlled the levers of power with few, if any, people arguing for a kingless state. Even before Charles had ruled without Parliament during his ’The Personal Rule’ (also known as the ‘Eleven Years’ Tyranny’ depending on who you asked), MPs had been clamouring for more control over the country, especially with foreign policy, religion, and taxes. That argument eventually boiled over into all out war, which the King would go on to lose.

The victory at Naseby established Parliament’s right to a permanent role in the government of the kingdom.

3. It gave us the Armed Forces.

Before the English Civil War, the British were naturally suspicious of soldiers. To have lots of them hanging around was a recipe for disaster, either because they’d get bored and go on a rampage or it meant the king wanted to use them against his own people. And the people didn’t like either of those options. So armies were only raised when they were needed – either to defend the country or invade somewhere else – and would then be disbanded.

The New Model Army was different.

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Before 1645, winning battles mostly came down to good fortune, surprise, soldiers who wouldn’t immediately turn and run (who were common), and commanders who knew what they were doing (who were not). Also, many of the troops Parliament relied upon from London and what we now call the Home Counties had been raised as defensive troops, so as soon as the threat to their counties was over they’d either refuse to move or simply pack up and head home.

The Second Battle of Newbury in October 1644 was a wake up call for Parliament. They had won but only on paper; arguments between the commanders let the King’s defeated forces escape virtually intact. So MPs became convinced that to win the war, rather than several armies led by individual commanders, it needed a single national army committed to the cause. This lead to the New Model Army or, as it was called at the time, “The Army, Newly Modelled”.

To remove political interference in tactical decision making, MPs and Lords(with a few notable exceptions) were forbidden from being officers by the Self-Denying Ordnance while rank was awarded on merit, meaning the brave and militarily gifted rose quickly. Rather than ranks of fresh or conscripted men without adequate arms and provisions, the New Model was to be made up of properly trained, well supplied, and regularly paid professional troops (side note: the latter of these wasn’t exactly followed through).

The New Model Army was Britain’s first professional army and was the beginning of the modern British Army that we know today (in fact, two existing regiments – The Coldstream Guards and The Blues and Royals – can trace their history all the way back to the New Model).

It was a truly revolutionary idea and, at Naseby, it worked.

4. It turned Oliver Cromwell into the historical leviathan we know today.

oliver_cromwell_samuel_cooper1He’s been dubbed “God’s Englishman” and was voted amongst the top ten Britons of all time but, despite what many think, Oliver Cromwell neither started nor ended the first English Civil War, nor was the conflict “Cromwell vs Charles I”. In fact, he didn’t come to totally dominate English politics until after the King was dead and the second Civil War in 1651 tipped off his beloved and (arguably) more capable superior, Lord Fairfax, as to which way the wind was blowing so that he stood down as leader of the New Model Army.

Cromwell was, however, very good at being a cavalry commander.

At the start of the war in 1642, he was just a lowly Huntingdonshire squire with little in the way of prospects, who only really got elected as an MP because of his family connections. At the outbreak of the war, he organised a local troop of cavalrymen but turned up late to the Battle of Edgehill just in time to witness Parliament’s cavalry get their backsides handed to them by the dashing Prince Rupert’s men.

Cavalry tactics at the time involved two wings of cavalry charging at each other and trying to drive the other side off, the winners then chasing their defeated foes across the countryside in a disordered gallop and maybe stoping off for a pint or two afterwards. Once that initial job was done, the cavalry usually took no more part in a battle. Cromwell realised that if you trained your cavalry properly you could drive off the enemy, get back into order, and then wheel round and attack the enemy’s infantry – and if there’s one thing infantry don’t like, it’s enemy cavalry. Thus were born Cromwell’s elite cavalry, The Ironsides, who turned the tide in pretty much every battle they fought in.

This was certainly the case at Naseby, where he commanded Parliament’s right wing. While Prince Rupert smashed Parliament’s left wing, he couldn’t control his men and by the time they got back to the fighting it was all over – thanks to the Ironsides. Cromwell’s reputation was well on the rise by this point anyway, but Naseby made him a Parliamentarian hero. And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Oh, and for the record he didn’t ban Christmas. Or mince pies. Or dancing. Or the theatre. Or much of anything.)

5. It showed what King Charles was really up to.

Charles_Landseer_Cromwell_Battle_of_NasebyAfter the battle, the victorious Parliamentarians rampaged through the Royalists ‘baggage train’ – which is where an army keeps its supplies. While capturing great amounts of powder, arms, and food, they also seized the carriage carrying the king’s private papers, which had been left behind in the rout.

What it contained was sheer dynamite. Confirming all Parliament’s worst fears and suspicions about Charles, the papers showed that he had been trying to raise an army of Roman Catholic soldiers from Ireland to invade England, as well as negotiating help from French and Spanish mercenaries – all of them also Catholic.

What was wrong with them being Catholic? Bear in mind that Protestant England had been at war with Roman Catholic powers such as Spain and France pretty much ever since Henry VIII had broken from Rome and established the Church of England. Henry and his daughter Elizabeth had mixed Protestantism up with a bombshell cocktail of religious zealotry, national pride, and plain old xenophobia; the despotic reign of Bloody Queen Mary, the Spanish Armada, and the plots against Elizabeth were all still strong in the collective memory and Charles’ dad and King of Scotland, James VI, had only become King James I of England because he was Elizabeth’s closest Protestant relative. So hated were the Catholics that Irish-sounding Royalist soldiers were routinely hanged, Irish-Scottish regiments were given no mercy, and when Parliament’s soldiers overran the Royalist baggage train at Naseby, they infamously raped, mutilated, and killed many of the female camp followers – later justifying it by saying they thought they were Irish Catholics (they undoubtedly weren’t).

Parliament wasted no time in publishing copies of this damning correspondence for the whole nation to see. Charles was shown to not only to be duplicitous but also that he seemingly only cared about being in power and he didn’t care a jot about how he got it.

This moment, combined with his sparking of the second English Civil War by getting the Scottish to invade in 1648, was what sealed his fate and led him to the executioner’s block in 1649.

6. It destroyed the idea of the divine right of kings.

Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_-_Google_Art_ProjectCharles believed, as his father and many others before him, that he was divinely appointed to be king by God himself. Therefore, whatever he wanted to do was – naturally – what God wanted and those who were against him were against the deity himself. Unfortunately, Parliament was becoming increasingly dominated by ultra-devout Puritans who believed THEY were the ones divinely appointed by God and their mission was to overcome the tyranny of fallible Earth-bound kings.

While the war was sparked by issues over forms of worship, money, and power, it soon took on a dangerously dogmatic religious tone. With the removal of their critics in a purged Parliament and the decisive defeat of the King’s army at Naseby, it seemed to the Puritans that God now agreed with them.

After Naseby, the Puritan ‘Independent’ faction would become a political force to be reckoned with. And with one stroke of the executioner’s axe, they irrevocably changed the relationship between England’s monarch and England’s people forever.

7. It was a stepping stone to a political revolution.

In the New Model Army, Parliament had unwittingly created a pet bulldog that it could not control.

Once it had won the war and disposed of the king, and with no military force that could match it, the army quickly came to realise that IT carried the balance of political power and it became a hotbed of radical politics and discontent. Many, including political agitators within the army dubbed Levellers (because, their critics claimed, they wanted to bring rich and poor to the same level), demanded a greater say in government and a famous meeting called The Putney Debates in 1647 was the first time common people and their social superiors had sat down to discuss the very question of the nation’s governance.

putneyIt hinged on the question of why had they fought in the first place. Surely, said leading Leveller sympathiser and friend of Cromwell Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, even the lowliest Englishman has the same right to a say in England’s affairs as the highest?

This, and The Leveller’s idealism, has echoed down the centuries ever since. Some claim them as proto-socialists, others as anarchistic radicals, but either way Putney set the terms of the argument for almost 370 years – an argument that is still going on today.

After Charles was executed in 1649, England (soon to be joined, whether they liked it or not, by Scotland and Ireland) became a republic called ‘The Commonwealth of England’. A limited form of Parliamentary democracy was now in practise and it finally seemed like the tyranny of absolute monarchs that had begun with the Norman invasion in 1066 was over.

However, grand words are just that – words. After the army smashed the Scots and invaded Ireland, they were in no mood to compromise with anyone about anything and the purging of anti-army MPs from Parliament, Cromwell’s elevation to ‘Lord Protector’, and the military dictatorship that followed turned hopes of a peaceful, tolerant, and free English republic to dust.

After the death of Cromwell in 1658 it was ironically part of the army itself, led by General George Monck (who had been cunningly keeping out of things up in Scotland), that helped usher in the return of the monarchy in 1660.

But absolute monarchy had had its day in England and, following the invasion of the William of Orange’s Dutch forces in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688, England’s one and only true “revolution” came to a close with the constitutional monarchy that still stands, more or less in the same shape, today.

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A panoramic view of the battlefield from the Naseby Memorial, Northamptonshire

The English Civil War matchlock musket: cumbersome and inaccurate – but very deadly!

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This is a matchlock musket.

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Doesn’t look like much? Well, technically it’s not – it’s essentially a tube with a small hole at one end and a big hole at the other. But this simple piece of steel and wood changed the face of warfare forever.

The musket is quite a basic weapon, but the process of loading and firing it was slow and dangerous. At the bottom of the barrel, a small hole lead to a ‘pan’, into which a small amount of gunpowder is poured. More gunpowder is then poured down the barrel, followed by paper wadding and a round lead musketball. These are compacted together using a long stick called a scouring stick, compressing the gunpowder so that it explodes with more force when ignited.

Thin rope called match cord, impregnated with saltpetre (potassium nitrate) so that it burnt very slowly, is attached to the S-shaped ‘serpent’ on the side of the barrel; the serpent is connected to the trigger and when the trigger is pulled, it dips the burning match cord into the gunpowder in the pan, which in turns burns through the small hole and ignites the gunpowder in the barrel.

Musketballs were irregular in shape but packed a massive punch if fired close enough to a target. Unlike modern bullets which cut through their target, musketballs punch their way through and would eviscerate organs and shatter bone, leading to horrific injuries, and would also often fragment on impact, leaving scraps of lead in the wound. Most casualties from English Civil War battles died not on the battlefield but afterwards from infection and musket wounds were a major cause of death.

The problem with the musket was that it was highly unreliable and inaccurate – the gun might fail to fire, or even blow up, and even if it did fire the lack of rifling and the  irregular shape of the musketball would mean hitting a specific target at a long range was very difficult, so the only effective way to use them was to have rows of them shooting at the same time, creating a massed volley that would cut enemy soliders down. They were also slow to load – even skilled musketeers might manage, at best, two or three shots a minute, and some training manuals of the time had up to 43 separate commands and moves for loading, presenting and firing! They were also vulnerable – when unloaded, musketeers had no means of defending themselves from cavalry attacks, so large blocks of pikemen had to be employed to protect them. They also had a tendency for blowing themselves up – with all those explosives and lit matchcords around there were many incidents of people being blown skyhigh by their own side.

The main advantage of the musket, however, was its versatility. Whereas cavalrymen needed to know how to ride and pikemen needed to have strength and discipline, you could take an untrained man from a field or a town and have him firing on a battlefield in a matter of days.

The musket was the great leveller. Nobleman and commoner alike could fall to its fire. It was easy to produce and musketeers were relatively easy to replace. Warfare suddenly became a matter of firepower.

At the beginning of the first English Civil War in 1642, there were two musketeers for every pikeman. By the end of the third war, the ratio of musketeers was four or five. But it is not until the invention of the bayonet later in the 17th Century, enabling musketeers to defend themselves against cavalry, that the pike disappeared from the battlefield and the gun reigned supreme.

Here, our musket officer Dave Frederick and musketeer Martin Franks show the process of loading and firing a musket:

So, what’s like being a musketeer in the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote? Well, here’s a video showing our musketeers in action!

Remember, YOU could be taking to the field as a musketeer! Visit our contacts page or contact our recruitment team leader Ian direct by calling 07932 706896 or emailing theearlofmanchesters@gmail.com