On This Date
Oliver Cromwell and His Ironsides Defeat the Twin Evils of Canon and Feudal Law.
The Battle of Naseby.
THE last great contest of the Civil War, at which the fate of King Charles was really decided, was fought nearly three years afterwards, June 14, 1645, and but a few miles north-east of Edgehill, at Naseby, standing on a high plateau elevated nearly seven hundred feet. The Parliamentary forces had during the interval become by far the stronger, and were engaged in besieging Chester. The king and Prince Rupert in May left Oxford with their forces, and marched northward, hoping to raise this siege.
The king had gone as far north as Leicester, when, hearing that Lord Fairfax had come from the borders of Wales and besieged Oxford, he turned about to relieve it. His army was about ten thousand strong, and, having reached Daventry in June, halted, while Fairfax, leaving Oxford, marched northward to meet the king, being five miles east of him on June 12. Being weaker than Fairfax, the king determined on retreat, and the movement was started towards Market Harborough, just north of Naseby.
The king, a local tradition says, while sleeping at Daventry was warned, by the apparition of Lord Strafford in a dream, not to measure his strength with the Parliamentary army. A second night the apparition came, assuring him that “if he kept his resolution of fighting he was undone;” and it is added that the king was often afterwards heard to say he wished he had taken the warning and not fought at Naseby.
Fairfax, however, was resolved to force a battle, and pursued the king’s retreating army. On June 13th he sent Harrison and Ireton with cavalry to attack its rear. That night the king’s van and main body were at Market Harborough, and his rear-guard of horse at Naseby, three miles southward. Ireton about midnight surprised and captured most of the rear-guard, but a few, escaping, reached the king, and roused him at two in the morning. Fairfax was coming up, and reached Naseby at five in the morning. The king held a council of war in the “King’s Head Inn” at Market Harborough, and determined to face about and give battle.
The forces met on Broad Moor, just north of Naseby village. Prince Rupert had command of the royal troops, and Sir Jacob Astley was in command of the infantry. The king rode along the lines, inspiriting the men with a speech, to which they gave a response of ringing cheers. Cromwell commanded the right wing of Fairfax’s line, while Ireton led the left, which was opposed by Rupert’s cavalry. The advance was made by Fairfax, and the sequel proved that the Parliamentary forces had improved their tactics. Rupert’s troopers, as usual, broke down the wing opposing them, and then went to plundering the baggage-wagons in the rear. But fortune inclined the other way elsewhere.
Cromwell on the right routed the royal left wing, and after an hour’s hot struggle the royal centre was completely broken up. Fairfax captured the royal standard, and the king with his reserve of horse made a gallant attempt to recover the day. But it was of no use. Fairfax formed a second line of battle, and the king’s wiser friends, seizing his horse’s bridle, turned him about, telling him his charge would lead to certain destruction. Then a panic came, and the whole body of Royalists fled, with Fairfax’s cavalry in pursuit.
Cromwell and his “Ironsides” chased the fugitives almost to Leicester, and many were slaughtered. The king never halted till he got to Ashby de la Zouche, twenty-eight miles from the battlefield, and he then went on to Lichfield. There were one thousand Royalists killed and four thousand five hundred captured, with almost all the baggage, among it being the king’s correspondence, which by disclosing his plans did almost equal harm with the defeat. The prisoners were sent to London.
A monument* has since been erected on the battlefield, with an inscription describing the contest as “a useful lesson to British kings never to exceed the bounds of their just prerogative; and to British subjects, never to swerve from the allegiance due to their legitimate monarch.” This is certainly an oracular utterance, and of its injunctions the reader can take his choice.
—Joel Cook, England, Picturesque and Descriptive.
* Royalty erected this pillar,the full text being: “To commemorate that great and decisive Battle fought in this field on the XIV day of June MDCXLV between the Royalist army commanded by his Majesty King Charles the First and the Parliament forces headed by Generals Fairfax and Cromwell, which terminated fatally for the Royal cause, led to the subversion of the Throne, the Altar, and the Constitution, and for years plunged the nation into the horrors of anarchy and civil war, leaving a useful lesson to British Kings never to exceed the bounds of their just prerogative, and to British subjects never to swerve from the allegiance due to their legitimate monarch. This pillar was erected by John and Mary Frances Fitzgerald, Lord and Lady of the Manor of Naseby, A.D. MDCCCXXIII.“
The Battle Of Naseby