Battle of Naseby by Sir John Gilbert
Battle of Naseby
by Sir John Gilbert
Q.� You'd better give me the full details
A.� It was May, 1645, and the Civil War had been raging for nearly three years. Lord Digby, one of King Charles I's closest advisers, predicted that 'Ere one month be over we shall have a battle of all for all.' He was right. The Battle of Naseby took place to the north-west of Naseby in Northamptonshire on 14 June, 1645.
Q.� The Roundheads were already taking the upper hand
A.� Yes. Parliament's dominance increased with the fall of the north after the battle of Marston Moor in 1644. In spring 1645, Parliamentary forces were reorganised into the New Model Army, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Naseby was its first battle ... and a devastating victory.
Q.� Heavy losses
A.� The New Model Army lost only 200 men; about 1,000 Royalist were killed. But Charles also lost 4,500 of his best troops, who surrendered, and the baggage train that contained his private papers, including details of his plans to bring Irish Catholics and foreign mercenaries to England. (That brought a great PR coup when Parliament published them). Charles also lost great supplies of powder, arms, and food.
Q.� So the battle itself
A.� The two armies met just after 9am on a small, flat-topped hill. The King had 12,000 men and Fairfax about 15,000. At first, things went badly for the Roundheads. The King's commander, his nephew Prince Rupert, led a cavalry charge on the enemy's right this wing. Rupert's strategy was to hit the New Model hard and fast, both horse and foot, in an attempt to break and roll up their left wing and thus defeat the whole army. First, he had to get through Major-General Skippon's infantry. Despite a vicious attack and heavy losses, the infantrymen held their line. This was the decisive moment of the Civil War. Without the infantry, Parliament would have lost.
Q.� What did Rupert do next
A. �Rupert had thrown almost everything into this first devastating attack, committing his first line of horse and foot reserves. His strategy almost worked, but the Royalist army simply had nothing left to meet the Roundheads' counter-attack. Cromwell's cavalry destroyed Prince Rupert's bluecoats, the Royalists' crack infantry regiment. The Cavalier army was being pushed back -and their leader wasn't even on the battlefield. Rupert had pursued, pointlessly, a detachment of 1,000 of Henry Ireton's men who weren't in on the action.
Q.� What was the King doing while all this was going on
A.� Looking on in despair, I suspect. The Royalist cavalry had been driven back from support of their infantry. Charles then attempted to go to the aid of his beleaguered troops�- and charged with his reserves of horse. The charge was soon stopped, though, when the Earl of Carnwath grasped Charles's bridle and prevented him from riding to certain death. Rupert returned and with the King rallied the demoralised cavalry on a hilltop for one last stand. It was futile. Fairfax reformed his men and prepared for all-out attack. The Royalists could take no more�- and fled.
Q.� And the New Model Army left it at that
A.� No. Fairfax ordered his men to pursue them - ignoring the Royalist wagons and carriages that were ripe for pillage. Straggling Royalists were chased almost as far as Leicester. Many were slaughtered or captured. Charles's main field army was destroyed and the war was effectively lost.
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By Steve Cunningham