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The Battle of Marston Moor, 1644

Truly England and the church of God hath had a great favour from the Lord, in this great victory given us.
—Oliver Cromwell, on the Battle of Marston Moor, 1644

The Battle of Marston Moor, July 2, 1644

Perhaps the largest battle ever fought on English soil took place two years into England’s bloody Civil War. There the King of England, Charles I, had his royalist army routed and destroyed on a rural plain, about six miles outside the walled city of York. It would prove the first major royalist defeat of the war. That day victory belonged to the combined armies of Parliament under Sir Thomas Fairfax and a contingent of Scottish Covenanters led by Alexander Leslie, the Earl of Leven. This victory would spell the end for King Charles’ control of the North, and his ultimate downfall.

The Battle of Marston Moor by John Barker

For weeks prior, the Scottish and Parliamentary troops had laid siege to the strategic city of York. Thus, King Charles sent his young nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine, with a considerable host, to the relief of the city. Prince Rupert succeeded at his commission admirably, drawing away the Parliamentary besiegers with a series of feints and advances. But being charmingly rash, Prince Rupert was dissatisfied with his temperate victory and chose to engage with his enemy on the ground outside the city walls, hoping to destroy the combined army of Fairfax and Leslie.

King Charles I of England (1600-1649)

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Duke of Cumberland (1619-1682)

Sir Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1612-1671)

Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven (1580-1661)

The armies met at Marston Moor, both sides having around 7,000 cavalry. However, the 11,000 Royalist infantry were easily outnumbered by the 20,000 combined Parliamentary and Scottish infantry. The two sides drew up with infantry in the middle and cavalry on either wing. A short artillery exchange in the early afternoon produced no movement from either force, leading Prince Rupert to believe that there would be no engagement until the next day.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

Lord George Goring (1608-1657)

Surprisingly—and much to the disbelief of many—at seven thirty that evening, Parliamentary forces attacked Prince Rupert’s position during a thunderstorm. A single cavalry troop, led by Oliver Cromwell, routed the Royalist cavalry on their right wing while on their other wing the Royalist cavalry, led by Lord George Goring, held back a Parliamentary charge and then smashed the Scottish infantry. Cromwell responded by returning to attack Goring’s cavalry in their rear, after which his own cavalry helped the Parliamentary infantry to decimate the Royalist center.

Diagram showing the placement of the respective troops during the Battle of Marston Moor

The fight lasted a mere two hours, and after an initial trading of momentum, the royalist defeat was uncontested and Oliver Cromwell would henceforth be dubbed “Old Ironsides”—a nickname passed on to his soldiers in the New Model Army—courtesy of their vanquished foe, Prince Rupert.

The battle of Marston Moor confirmed how a well-equipped, fully trained army could win the war and thus established Cromwell as a great military commander. A year prior he had complained to Parliament regarding the state of the militia thusly: “Your troopers are most of them old, decayed serving-men and tapsters. You must get men of spirit...or else I am sure you will be beaten.” What a difference a year of discipline and dedication would bring about!

Cromwell after the Battle of Marston Moor

Battle of Marston Moor monument in front of Marston Hill, crowned by the clump of trees known as “Cromwell’s plump”, reputedly the site of the Parliamentarian and Covenanter headquarters

The losses amounted to 2,000 of 27,000 Parliamentary and Scottish troops; 4,150 of 18,000 Royalist.

In the battle’s aftermath, the royalists effectively abandoned all control of the North of England, clinging to power in the South with those forces still remaining loyal to them. In the end they too would be met with defeat, King Charles would lose his head—condemned to execution by Parliament as a traitor to his own people—and England’s Commonwealth would be established.

Cromwell gazes on the decapitated body of King Charles I

Landmark Events will be tromping across this remarkable battleground in July, learning from Dr. Bill Potter about its wide impact and the legacy of General Oliver Cromwell on our historic tour of Northumbria.

There was once a land so wild and savage it was said to swallow entire Roman legions, terrify kings and assimilate the most fearsome invaders of their times. But echoing through its vast grandeur remains the traces of its greatest conqueror—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Learn More >

Image Credits:Battle of Marston Moor ( I ( Rupert ( Fairfax ( Leslie ( Plan ( Cromwell ( Goring ( ( 10 Monument ( 11 Cromwell & Charles I (

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