Battle of Marston Moor Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Battle of Marston Moor, during the English Civil War, marked a decisive defeat of Royalist forces by Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces, acting in conjunction with the Scottish army. The battle led to the loss of the Royalist stronghold of York and Cromwell’s eventual victory.

Summary of Event

When English king Charles I Charles I (king of England);Parliament and decided to resort to armed conflict after his frustrating struggle with Parliament in 1642, he called upon all loyal Englishmen to assist him in asserting his rights and regaining control of the government. The king believed that the members of Parliament had pushed him too far when they proposed that he should govern England in conjunction with them. Charles believed it was his divine right to be the sole ruler of England, and he was both personally unwilling and philosophically opposed to sharing royal power with Parliament. All over England, then, the people were forced to choose between a Parliament demanding its rights and a king who believed that he was chosen by God to rule by divine right. English Civil Wars (1642-1651) [kw]Battle of Marston Moor (July 2, 1644) [kw]Marston Moor, Battle of (July 2, 1644) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 2, 1644: Battle of Marston Moor[1560] Government and politics;July 2, 1644: Battle of Marston Moor[1560] England;July 2, 1644: Battle of Marston Moor[1560] Marston Moor, Battle of (1644)

For two years, the opposing sides prepared. Parliament’s forces were larger and better trained. The first battle, an indecisive skirmish at Edgehill Edgehill, Battle of (1642) in October of 1642, had made each side wary of committing its forces until such time as the prospect of victory seemed to make it worth the risk. During those first two years, most of the country took the side of Parliament. Charles’s main support was in the area around Oxford and in the north around the city of York.

The balance of power was drastically altered against the king in September of 1643, when Parliament decided to accept the offer of the Scots to enter the Civil War on their side if members of Parliament and all other important people in England would agree to swear to the Solemn League and Covenant Solemn League and Covenant , an agreement by which both the Kirk Kirk of Scotland (church) of Scotland and the Church of England would be reformed along Presbyterian lines. When the Scottish army crossed the border into England in January of 1644, Charles realized that his northern stronghold at York was in imminent danger.

At that time, the city of York was the responsibility of William Cavendish, Cavendish, William marquis of Newcastle, who had retreated there after maneuvering with the Scots near Durham. Three units of the Parliamentary army—one under Edward Montagu Sandwich, first earl of , second earl of Manchester (later first earl of Sandwich); another under the Scottish commander, Alexander Leslie, Leslie, Alexander earl of Leven; and the third under the third baron Fairfax Fairfax, third baron —surrounded the city of York. Charles, whose headquarters were near Oxford, decided that it was absolutely necessary that York be saved. He detached forces from his own army and sent them under the command of his nephew, Prince Rupert, Rupert, Prince to the relief of the city. Rupert proceeded to the north, and the officers who were besieging York decided that they should raise the siege and proceed to intercept the forces that were coming to the rescue of Cavendish. It was the deployment of the forces involved that set the stage for the Battle of Marston Moor.

Rupert, however, had not advanced directly upon York. Instead, he had taken a more difficult and roundabout route, marching his army to seize a bridge of boats guarded by Parliamentarian dragoons and so relieving the siege of York without battle. Cavendish, although thankful for the lifting of the siege, urged Rupert to await reinforcements, since the Parliamentarian forces so outnumbered the Royalists. Rupert insisted, however, that King Charles had ordered him not only to break the siege but also to fight a battle. Faced with this order, Cavendish relented, and the Royalist forces prepared to advance early in the morning of July 2, 1644.

The Parliamentarians had their headquarters in the village of Long Marston, about six miles west of the city of York. The generals were not certain of the size of the Royalist army but were convinced that they would have to fight under any circumstances. They were pleasantly surprised when they discovered that the forces of Prince Rupert, encamped on Marston Moor, to the north of Long Marston beside a lane leading to Tockwith, numbered approximately seventeen thousand. The Parliamentarians, commanded by Leslie, could count on twenty-seven thousand.

The disposition of the various units pitted Oliver Cromwell Cromwell, Oliver against Prince Rupert, Fairfax opposite Royalist general George Goring, Goring, George and Manchester and Leslie opposite Lord Eythin Eythin, Lord . Rupert’s forces, which held the northern end of the field, were arranged in a shallow semicircle with cavalry on the flanks and infantry in the center. Rupert, with an elite force of cavalry, was in the rear center. Rupert, who awaited Lord Eythin’s arrival with reinforcements throughout most of the day, had stationed his army behind a ditch and a hedge as a defensive measure.

The Parliamentarian troops were arranged in a conventional pattern almost identical to Rupert’, with cavalry on the flanks and a larger force of infantry in the center. On the left, the troops of Cromwell were stationed along a ridge that allowed them to charge downhill, across Marston Field and into the Royalist ranks. In addition, Cromwell had secured his flank by seizing a hill and a rabbit warren to his left, which meant his troops could not be taken in the flank or rear by surprise.

During the afternoon of July 2, there was some probing by artillery as commanders tried to estimate enemy position and strength, but this activity ended about 5:00 p.m. Prince Rupert then decided that the enemy would not attack that evening, and he retired to his coach for the night. He was sadly mistaken, however, for Leslie ordered his army to attack shortly after 7:00 p.m., and Cromwell sent his troops against Prince Rupert.

Despite the element of surprise, the battle did not go easily for Cromwell, and Rupert’s men put up a gallant defense. The reserve behind Cromwell, which was under the command of David Leslie, turned the tide against the Royalist right wing. On the left wing, matters developed better for the Royalists. General Goring was able to scatter Fairfax’s forces to gain the initiative, at least for a time. Fairfax did manage, however, to join with the cavalry of Cromwell, which was sweeping to its right. With the tide of battle running in favor of its cavalry and with the help of its own infantry, the Parliamentary army defeated the Royalists. The Royalist soldiers of William Cavendish put up a stout defense before they went down to defeat.

Significance

The Battle of Marston Moor proved to be a disaster for the cause of Charles I. As a result of the battle, he lost York and most of the north. Thereafter, he could not draw on the resources of the north, and he found the Parliamentary noose drawn tighter around Oxford. Although the Battle of Marston Moor was not as important as the Battle of Naseby, which was fought a year later, it can be said that Marston Moor made Naseby possible. With the Royalist force’s defeat at Marston Moor, the Royalist cause was doomed, and the balance was tipped inexorably in favor of the Parliamentarians.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ashley, Maurice. The English Civil War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. An accessible and well-illustrated general history of the events by a distinguished historian of the period, with a revealing section on the engagement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barratt, John. Cavaliers: The Royalist Army at War, 1642-1646. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2000. Comprehensive study of the Royalist armies, examining their organization, recruitment, training, arms, and equipment. Compares Royalist forces, recounts some engagements, and discusses some notable Royalist officers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hibbert, Christopher. Cavaliers and Roundheads. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993. A popular history of the period, well researched and well written. Provides the setting and consequences of the battle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kenyon, John. The Civil Wars of England. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988. A careful study of the various phases of the struggle among the various parties in the increasingly complex internal struggle of the times. Good for placing Marston Moor in its context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kitson, Frank. Prince Rupert: Portrait of a Soldier. London: Constable, 1994. A sympathetic biography of Rupert that attempts to assess as fairly as possible his considerable talents and contributions to the Royalist cause. Contains a good section on the Battle of Marston Moor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wanklyn, Malcolm, and Frank Jones. A Military History of the English Civil War, 1642-1646: Strategy and Tactics. New York: Longman/Pearson Education, 2004. Describes the military tactics and strategies of the various parties in the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Young, Peter. Marston Moor. London: Roundwood Press, 1970. Young, a brigadier in the British army and a keen student of military history, provides a clear and understandable account of the engagement.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles I; Oliver Cromwell; Third Baron Fairfax; Prince Rupert. Marston Moor, Battle of (1644)

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