Marston Moor - a reckoning for the Royalists #90SecondHistory

Painting of Cromwell at Battle of Marston Moor
Marston Moor, which took place on 2 July 1644, was one of the biggest battles of the English Civil War. It is famous for the discipline of Cromwell’s cavalry, Prince Rupert’s first defeat, and the end of royal power in the north.

Prince Rupert was on his way to relieve the city of York, a Royalist stronghold, which was being besieged by an allied force of Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters, commanded by the Earl of Leven.

Rupert had marched through north west England to rally an army of 17,000. His total numbers were around 5,000 to 10,000 fewer than Leven’s, but the allies laying siege to York were split into three smaller armies separated by the River Ouse. 

Realising each individual army could be defeated by the Royalists, the allies withdrew from York and joined up at Marston Moor, aiming to block Rupert’s most direct route to the city. 

The Prince arrived at the moor on the morning of 2 July, but Royalist reinforcements were slow to arrive. After a long march and with fewer numbers, Rupert decided against an immediate attack.

Royalist reinforcements arrived late in the afternoon and were led by Lord Eythin, who had a chequered history with Prince Rupert. The two men argued over tactics and decided to delay an attack until the following day.

The Royalist troops broke ranks for supper. Seeing that his enemy were no longer set up to fight, Leven ordered his men to attack at around 7pm. 

The Parliamentary cavalry, inspired by Oliver Cromwell, quickly made headway on the Royalist flank. Prince Rupert led a counter-charge but the Scottish Covenanters were able to outflank and rout them. Rupert escaped by hiding in a bean field. 

On the other flank the Parliamentarians fared less well and struggled through the terrain. There was confusion as fighters from both sides fled the field in the growing darkness.  

But Cromwell's cavalry was well disciplined and he led them across the battlefield to attack the Royalists, who were tired and disorganised. The Parliamentarians had greater numbers and pushed the Royalist cavalry back, forcing them to flee to York. Cromwell could then focus on defeating the remaining infantry and stragglers, routing his foe. 

4,000 Royalist troops were killed, 1,500 captured and all their guns were lost. On the other side, there were just 300 Parliamentarian casualties. 

Marston Moor was the first loss for Prince Rupert in the English Civil War and led to the Royalists withdrawing from the north. Defeat meant King Charles had lost access to the continent through northern ports and was unable to link up with Scottish Royalists a year later, significantly weakening his ability to battle for control of England. 

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Picture credit: Cromwell after the Battle of Marston Moor painted by Ernest Crofts in 1877. Available under a Creative Commons Licence.