Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Battle of Marston Moor 2nd July 1644 - 373rd Anniversary of the Battle

'Whitecoats Defiant' by Graham Turner

This Sunday Carolyn and I drove the 300 miles up to York to begin our week's holiday exploring this beautiful and famous city and some of the local sights.

This is not our first visit to York, but the last time was over thirty years ago, before we were married so we thought it was about time to take another look.

As always, I get to build in a bit of JJ's stuff into my holidays and as with our trip to Oxford earlier this year thought I would post on some of the interesting military history sights that abound in and close to the city.

We set out from home about 09.30 and carefully built in three stops to break up the journey to allow for pee breaks and refreshments. So it was not until late afternoon that we started to get near to York and I was able to approach the city, where we had accommodation booked close to the Minster, on a very specific route.

The first part of that route took us to the pretty little village of Bilbrough and more specifically the Church of St James, Bilbrough where lies the tomb of a very famous English Civil War general who hailed from these parts, "Black Tom" himself.

St James' Chuch, Bilbrough - Tomb of General Lord Thomas Fairfax

St James' Church, Bilbrough

I was really pleased to be able to visit this sight and pay my respects to the great general as I feel I have got to know him over recent months with the reading I have done and the recent visits to scenes of his triumphs in the West Country including Langport and Torrington.

The Fairfax Chapel
St James is a very pretty if somewhat understated little church and seems most appropriate for the leader of the New Model Army.

The tomb of John Norton, who as
Lord of the Manor of Bilbrough founded the chapel in 1492

Most famous military leaders of Lord Thomas' rank would in normal circumstances have had a full state funeral and have been interred in Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral. Of course his times were not normal times, but I really like the look and feel of the Fairfax Chapel and its modesty seems to suit the man.

The tomb of Thomas, 3rd Lord Fairfax who died age 60, Nov 12th 1671

After our trip to Bilbrough it was only a four mile drive, skirting the west side of York to get up to Marston Moor, perhaps the pivotal battle of the English Civil War.

I had originally planned to visit the field on the Monday after recovering from our long drive, but noticing the relevance of the date we decided to head over on our way and caught the end of the commemoration activities, passing Civil War re-enactors heading into Long Marston village, and probably the pub and finding a few members sat around the base of the monument when we parked up.

Battlefield of Marston Moor pictured on the 373rd anniversary of the battle

King Charles I wrote to Prince Rupert with instructions to march to the relief of York, under siege by the Parliamentary Northern Army under Fairfax, later joined by the Scots under Lord Leven.

"If York be lost, I shall esteem my crown little else, unless supported by your sudden march to me, and a miraculous conquest in the south before the effects of the northern power can be found here. Wherefore I command and conjure you, by the duty and affection you bear me, that all new enterprises laid aside, you immediately march, according to your first intention, with all your force to the relief of York. But if that be either lost, or freed themselves from the besiegers, or that for want of powder you cannot undertake that work, that you immediately march with your whole strength directly to Worcester, to assist me and my army; without which, or your having relieved York by beating the Scots, all the successes you may afterwards have most infallibly will be useless unto me."

The tone and emphasis expressed by Charles to his commander Prince Rupert really helps to explain the pivotal nature of Marston Moor and the collapse in Royalist fortunes that it presaged.

It perhaps is also pivotal in that the, until then, irresistible force that was Rupert and his cavalry finally met their nemesis in the form of Cromwell and his Ironsides who brought professionalism, hard training and discipline to the English battlefield and turned a hard fought battle that hung in the balance until Cromwell was able to take control by defeating all the Royalist horse and turn on the hard pressed infantry.

Some of the Civil War re-enactors enjoying the afternoon sun around the monument

The battle showed the pitiless nature of the struggle when quarter offered was refused and Royalist infantry paid the supreme price for their defiance.

The two Parliamentary Commanders at Marston Moor
2nd Lord Fairfax of the English Northern Army and
The Earl of Leven, commanding the Scots Covenanter Army

Not only that but the intimate of the Devil incarnate, 'Boy', Prince Rupert's battlefield talisman and 'hunting poodle' (I kid you not) was killed, never to be seen again prancing into battle alongside his masters horse.


A very fitting reminder of the events three-hundred and seventy three years ago.
The battle is a classic attack and defend battle of the period with a twist. The battle probably didn't get going until about 19.00 when the armies could have expected to have been settling down in the night encampments ready for the fray on the following day.

The Royalist troops were observed in the process of preparing food for the evening pot when the alarm sounded at the crash of Parliamentary guns positioned on higher ground behind Cromwell's horse.

"Cometh the hour, cometh the man" - enter stage left Sir Oliver Cromwell
Both sides horse met in the initial clashes with the Royalists getting the better of it on their left under Goring as Fairfax's troopers became disordered crossing the hedges and broken ground to their front as they advanced; but with control lost in the subsequent pursuit, seeing the Royalists charge off towards the Parliamentary baggage behind and beyond the high ground known as 'Cromwell's Plump'.

Local boy done good - Marston Moor finished the King's army in the north, liberated York from Royalist control and marked the beginning of the end for King Charles' campaign to rule by divine right.

On the Royalist right it was their horse under Byron, possibly stung into action by the sudden artillery barrage, that advanced and were subsequently disordered, allowing Cromwell to take full advantage crashing into them and defeating them, Molyneux and Rupert who attempted to come to their aid.

I have several maps of the battle, all variation on a theme. I have added links at the top for more modern representations for completeness, but I thought I would use this one to illustrate my pictures of the field of battle.

General Thomas Fairfax and his staff who had been defeated by Goring, now found themselves threading their way past enemy rear area troops as they made their way across the back of the Royalist line to join up with Cromwell and direct his next move to taking up the ground formerly occupied by Goring as the latter managed to round up a few of his men and seek to return to the battle via his former position.

JJ's Viewing Route - The points will help to orientate my pictures of the battlefield

When the two remaining groups of horse met, Cromwell's men made no mistakes in dealing with Goring's outnumbered and disordered remnants leaving them masters of the field as both sides infantry struggled for ascendancy in the centre.

View along Moor Lane or 'Bloody Lane' from  Point 1 at the monument
With darkness falling and with the Royalist infantry stuck between Cromwell's cavalry hammer and Crawford's and Ballie's infantry anvil, the end came with the Royalists breaking, hoping to use the cover of darkness to escape and with the cream of their infantry, Newcastle's Whitecoats, refusing quarter and almost dying to a man as it seems they thought they could cover the escape of their comrades.

View from the bottom of Moor Lane at Point 1 looking out to the left flank of the Royalist line and the cavalry positions of Langdale and Carnaby

The King's army was destroyed at Marston Moor and York and the North passed from his control at a stroke.

Just as devastating as the consequences of those facts would be to the King's cause, his best commander had lost his aura of invincibility and heralded a new and final phase of the war that would see Fairfax junior and Cromwell take the war south and south west ending the fighting at a little market town in north Devon.

Arriving late in the afternoon on a day of gloriously hot sunny weather with Red Admiral butterflies in abundance I decided to attempt to get the best views of both sides of the lines without too much effort as both Carolyn and I were on the wrong end of a long drive and were keen to check into our lodgings in York and have a good relaxing brew.

As we set out along Moor Lane the Red Admiral butterflies were out taking in the sun

The monument to the battle erected on the 1st July 1939 provides a great landmark to reference the walker to the lines of battle and with my "Traveller's Guide to the Battlefields of the Civil War" in hand made it relatively easy to work out the positions of the respective forces.

Photos of battlefields can end up as just pictures of hedges and fields if not referenced to where the picture was taken and in what direction, and who would have been stood there at any particular time.

Walking out to Point 2, I took this picture from Moor Lane looking to the right flank of the Royalist line. The Parliamentary lines are to the left of picture

My preferred method is to provide a map of the place as illustrated above, using the one presented to the visitor at the monument, and then simply mark up the viewing points I used to get my pictures together with the route walked between each point which provided further picture opportunities.

Thus Carolyn and I walked from the monument along Moor Lane or more dramatically 'Bloody Lane' (every battlefield has one!), the grassy track close by, towards the Royalist lines with alongside, to our right, the field where Sir Thomas Fairfax's horse fought with Goring's troopers.

Looking back along the lane to the monument and the Parliamentary lines beyond

View  from Point 2 from behind the position of the ditch which would have been lined by Royalist musketeers. The top of the monument is just visible centre left after the tree line. The Parliamentary lines would have been beyond and up on the slope behind. Cromwell's Plump is the little clump of trees on the horizon to the left of the monument

When walking battlefields I am always on the lookout for good reference points to position myself against the map and one area on the Royalist line is the defined area of the old drainage ditch that ran along the front of Rupert's line and behind which his musketeers used as cover.

The track that led off Moor Lane followed that old ditch and gave a really good view of the Parliamentary slopes above the main road and from which the artillery opened fire to herald the start of the battle.

Looking from Point 2 along the path that marks the old ditch, to the hedge on Moor lane and the Royalist left flank where dragoons and musketeers took position alongside the Royalist horse

Carolyn on the track behind the ditch. To the right of picture would have stood the lines of Royalist foot

The views backwards and forwards from the Royalist positions show flat fields but with treacherous ditches and the occasional enclosure to disrupt the potential attacker.

View from Point 2 looking behind the Royalist line along Moor Lane to the right behind the hedge, towards White Syke Close, centre back at the corner of the tree line, and the rear-guard action of 'Newcastle's Whitecoats' as pictured in the header.

After inspecting the view from the Royalist line we headed back up Moor Lane to cross the road at the monument and begin the walk up hill carefully working our way around the field boundaries as the crop of wheat and potatoes is in full growth at this time of year.

Along the boundary paths there were small groups of "Flanders Poppies" which seemed a very appropriate bloom on a battlefield.

Poppies are always appropriate on a battlefield, seen on the walk along the fields up to 'Cromwell's Plump'

The route we were taking was heading up hill to a very famous landmark and easily seen by the little group of trees marking its summit, "Cromwell's Plump".

The guide books recommend the views to be had from the top and so I was keen to walk off the drive and enjoy the weather as well as the views.

Given the hot conditions we grabbed hats and water bottles from the car before setting off and I took pictures along the way as we worked our way through the fields that would have been used by Fairfax's horse and Leven's Scottish foot.

'Cromwell's Plump' pictured at the bottom of the field close to the road and showing the height of the hill. Here in the foreground would have stood the lines of Scottish foot

The plump as we approached Point 3 on the map. It was from here that Lord Leven and Fairfax made their plan of attack. Perhaps it should be known as Leven's plump.

As you can see the guide books weren't wrong and the views on the day we were there were simply stunning and gave a great understanding of the lie of the land as well as great views of local landmarks such as Long Marston Hall and even the great York Minster seen on a heat shimmered horizon with its white stone work immediately recognisable and showing how close the city is to the battlefield.

The view from Point 3 and the plump with the monument centre background and the Royalist line in full view. In the green field would have stood the Parliamentary English and Scottish foot with the horse on either flank.

Close up of the monument from Point 3 in the picture above

Given the height of the crops we didn't cross to the plump from the boundary track, which might have given a better view of Cromwell's position out on the Parliamentary left flank, but wouldn't have done much for the farmer.

Long Marston Hall seen from Point 3

The village of Long Marston can be seen from the plump and I later read that the father of General Wolfe, of Quebec fame was married in Long Marston Church in 1723 to a Miss Thompson from the "big house" or Long Marston Hall seen above.

York Minster and the City of York seen in the distance from Point 3

As we descended the hill on our zig zag route across the fields the rolling nature of the ground on the Parliamentary side is obvious with the top of the monument just peeping above the curve of a lower slope

Long Marston Hall looking glorious in the late afternoon sunshine
We finished our trip to Marston Moor by retracing our drive through Long Marston on our way to York and I pulled in to take a picture of Long Marston Hall looking its best in the afternoon sunshine.

A fitting place to end out tour, as this was where Cromwell retired to on the night after the battle, no doubt nursing his painful wound to the neck sustained during the fighting with Byron's horse.

Lots more to come with trips planned to Towton, Fulford, Stamford Bridge and the sights in York.


  1. I'm loving this JJ. I hadn't realised that "Boy" was a poodle.

  2. Wonderful post JJ and I had no idea Boy died at the battle!

  3. Nice clear guide and lovely photos, great day to be walking the field.
    Best Iain

  4. I was at Marston Moor the previous weekend! It's great if you're an enthusiast and have done a bit of prior research. For such a significant battlefield, I think it's a shame there's not a bit more explanation and orientation for the casual visitor.

  5. Glad to see this beautiful post, very interesting...Butterflie and puppies are a fine touch!

  6. Thanks again for your wonderful virtual tour you share with us. ciao from Italy, all the best. carlo

  7. Thanks Chaps, glad you enjoyed the read. We had a lovely walk in the sunshine and cool breeze, perfect after a long drive.

    Hi Jeremy, I tend to agree with your point. The Battlefield Trust are a great resource and one I tend to rely on for air photos overlayed on to maps and the latest archaeological information helping to confirm where things might have happened.

    I like to think things are improving very gradually given all the legal constraints we have in this country about public access to land and the difficulties in protecting battle sites and our heritage.