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Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Part of Scottish Civil War and English Civil War
Battle of Worcester.jpg
Oliver Cromwell in the Battle of Worcester
Date 3 September 1651
Location Worcester, England
52°10′12″N 2°13′23″W / 52.170°N 2.223°W / 52.170; -2.223Coordinates: 52°10′12″N 2°13′23″W / 52.170°N 2.223°W / 52.170; -2.223
Result Decisive English Parliamentary victory
Belligerents
English Parliamentary forces loyal to Oliver Cromwell English and Scottish Royalists loyal to King Charles II
Strength
31,000 less than 16,000
Casualties and losses
200 3,000 killed, more than 10,000 prisoners

The Battle of Worcester took place on 3 September 1651 at Worcester, England and was the final battle of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians defeated the Royalist, predominantly Scottish, forces of King Charles II. The 16,000 Royalist forces were overwhelmed by the 28,000 strong "New Model Army" of Cromwell.

Contents

Invasion of England

The king was aided by Scottish allies and was attempting to regain the throne that had been lost when his father Charles I was executed. The commander of the Scots, Sir David Leslie, supported the plan of fighting in Scotland, where royal support was strongest. Charles, however, insisted on making war in England. He calculated that Cromwell's campaign north of the River Forth would allow the main Scottish Royalist army which was south of the Forth to steal the march on the Roundhead New Model Army in a race to London. He hoped to rally not merely the old faithful Royalists, but also the overwhelming numerical strength of the English Presbyterians to his standard. He calculated that his alliance with the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters and his signing of the Solemn League and Covenant would encourage English Presbyterians to support him against the English Independent faction which had grown in power over the last few years. The Royalist army was kept well in hand, no excesses were allowed, and in a week the Royalists covered 150 miles in marked contrast to the duke of Hamilton's ill-fated expedition of 1648. On 8 August the troops were given a well-earned rest between Penrith and Kendal.

But the Royalists were mistaken in supposing that the enemy was taken aback by their new move. Everything had been foreseen both by Cromwell and by the Council of State in Westminster. The latter had called out the greater part of the militia on 7 August. Lieutenant-General Charles Fleetwood began to draw together the midland contingents at Banbury. The London-trained bands turned out for field service no fewer than 14,000 strong. Every suspected Royalist was closely watched, and the magazines of arms in the country-houses of the gentry were for the most part removed into the strong places. On his part Cromwell had quietly made his preparations. Perth passed into his hands on 22 August and he brought back his army to Leith by 5 August. Thence he dispatched Lieutenant-General John Lambert with a cavalry corps to harass the invaders. Major-General Thomas Harrison was already at Newcastle picking the best of the county mounted-troops to add to his own regulars. On 9 August, Charles was at Kendal, Lambert hovering in his rear, and Harrison marching swiftly to bar his way at the Mersey. Thomas Fairfax emerged for a moment from his retirement to organize the Yorkshire levies, and the best of these as well as of the Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire militias were directed upon Warrington, which Harrison reached on 15 August, a few hours in front of Charles's advanced guard. Lambert too, slipping round the left flank of the enemy, joined Harrison, and the English fell back (16 August), slowly and without letting themselves be drawn into a fight, along the London road.

Worcester campaign

Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell meanwhile, leaving George Monck with the least efficient regiments to carry on the war in Scotland, had reached the river Tyne in seven days, and thence, marching 20 miles a day in extreme heat with the country people carrying their arms and equipment the regulars entered Ferrybridge on 19 August, at which date Lambert, Harrison and the north-western militia were about Congleton. It seemed probable that a great battle would take place between Lichfield and Coventry on or just after 25 August and that Cromwell, Harrison, Lambert and Fleetwood would all take part in it. But the scene and the date of the denouement were changed by the enemy's movements. Shortly after leaving Warrington the young king had resolved to abandon the direct march on London and to make for the Severn valley, where his father had found the most constant and the most numerous adherents in the first war, and which had been the centre of gravity of the English Royalist movement of 1648. Sir Edward Massey, formerly the Parliamentary governor of Gloucester, was now with Charles, and it was hoped that he would induce his fellow Presbyterians to take arms. The military quality of the Welsh border Royalists was well proved, that of the Gloucestershire Presbyterians not less so, and, based on Gloucester and Worcester as his father had been based on Oxford, Charles II hoped, not unnaturally, to deal with an Independent minority more effectually than Charles I. had done with a Parliamentary majority of the people of England. But even the pure Royalism which now ruled in the invading army could not alter the fact that it was a Scottish army, and it was not an Independent faction but all England that took arms against it.

Charles II

Charles arrived at Worcester on 22 August and spent five days in resting the troops, preparing for further operations, and gathering and arming the few recruits who came in. It is unnecessary to argue that the delay was fatal; it was a necessity of the case foreseen and accepted when the march to Worcester had been decided upon, and had the other course, that of marching on London via Lichfield, been taken the battle would have been fought three days earlier with the same result.

Cromwell, the lord general, had during his march south thrown out successively two flying columns under Colonel Robert Lilburne to deal with the Lancashire Royalists under the Earl of Derby. Lilburne entirely routed a Lancashire detachment of the enemy on their way to join the main Royalist army at the Battle of Wigan Lane on 25 August and as affairs turned out Cromwell merely shifted the area of his concentration two marches to the south-west, to Evesham. Early on 28 August, Lambert surprised the passage of the Severn at Upton, 6 miles below Worcester, and in the action which followed Massey was severely wounded. Fleetwood followed Lambert. The enemy was now only 16,000 strong and disheartened by the apathy with which they had been received in districts formerly all their own. Cromwell, for the first and last time in his military career, had a two-to-one numerical superiority.

On 30 August Cromwell delayed the start of the battle to give time for two pontoon bridges to be constructed one over the Severn and the other over the Teme close to their confluence. The delay allowed Cromwell to launch his attack on 3 September one year to the day since his victory at the Battle of Dunbar.[1]

The battle

Cromwell took his measures deliberately. Lilburne from Lancashire and Major Mercer with the Worcestershire horse were to secure Bewdley Bridge, 20 miles (32 km) north of Worcester and on the enemy's line of retreat.[2] Fleetwood was to force his way across the Teme and attack St John's, the western suburb of Worcester. While Lambert commanded the Eastern Flank of the Army which would advance and encircle the Eastern walls of Worcester. Cromwell would lead the attack on the southern ramparts of the city.

Map Battle of Worcester

The assault started on the morning of 3 September and initially the initiative lay with the Parliamentarians. Fleetwood forced the passage of the Teme over the pontoon bridges against Royalists under the command of Major General Montgomery. Colonel Richard Dean's initial attempts to cross the Powick Bridge (where Prince Rupert of the Rhine had won the Battle of Powick Bridge his first victory in 1642) failed against stubborn resistance by the Royalists (many of whom were battle hardened Scottish Highlanders) commanded by Colonel Keith. By force of arms and numbers the Royalist army was pushed backward by the New Model Army with Cromwell on the eastern bank of the Severn and Fleetwood on the western sweeping in a semicircle four miles long up toward Worcester.[3]

The Royalists contested every hedgerow around Powick meadows. This stubborn resistance on the west bank of the Severn north of the Teme was becoming a serious problem for the Parliamentarians, so Cromwell led Parliamentary reinforcements from the eastern side of the town over the Severn pontoon bridge to aid Fleetwood. Charles II from his vantage point on top of Worcester cathedral's tower realised that an opportunity to attack the now-exposed eastern flank of the Parliamentary army. As the defenders on the Western side of the city retreated in good order into the city (although during this maneuver Keith was captured and Montgomery was badly wounded), Charles ordered two sorties to attack the Parliamentary forces east of the city. The north-eastern sortie through St. Martin's Gate was commanded by the Duke of Hamilton and attacked the Parliamentary lines at Perry Wood. The south-eastern one through Sidbury Gate was led by Charles II and attacked Red Hill. The Royalist cavalry under the command of David Leslie that was gathered on Pitchcroft meadow on the northern side of the city did not receive orders to aid the sorties and Leslie chose not to do so under his own initiative. Cromwell seeing the difficulty that his east flank was under rushed back over the Severn pontoon bridge with three brigades of troops to reinforce the flank.[4][5]

Although they were pushed back, the Parliamentarians under Lambert were too numerous and experienced to be defeated by such a move. After an hour in which the Parliamentarians initially retreated under the unexpected attack, when reinforced by Cromwell's three brigades, they in turn forced the Royalists to retreat back toward the city.[5]

The Royalist retreat turned into a rout in which Parliamentarian and Royalist forces intermingled and skirmished up to and into the city. The Royalist position became untenable when the Essex militia stormed and captured Fort Royal, (a redoubt on a small hill to the south-east of Worcester overlooking the Sidbury gate), turning the Royalist guns to fire on Worcester.[6][7]

The defenses of the city were stormed from three different directions as darkness came on, regulars and militia fighting with equal gallantry. The few thousands of the Royalists who escaped during the night were easily captured by Lilburne and Mercer, or by the militia which watched every road in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Even the country people brought in scores of prisoners, for officers and men alike, stunned by the suddenness of the disaster, offered no resistance.[6][8]

Aftermath

Charles II escaped after many adventures, including one famous incident where he hid from a Parliamentarian patrol in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House. About 3,000 men were killed during the battle and a further 10,000 were taken prisoner at Worcester or soon afterward. The Earl of Derby was executed, while the other English prisoners were conscripted into the New Model Army and sent to Ireland. Around 8,000 Scottish prisoners were deported to New England, Bermuda and the West Indies to work for landowners as indentured labourers. Parliamentary casualties numbered in the low hundreds.[9] The result was, in brief, one of those rare victories in which a pursuit is superfluous. Cromwell thought the victory was the greatest of all the favours, or mercies, given to him by God. He famously wrote to William Lenthall, the Speaker of the House of Commons "The dimensions of this mercy are above my thoughts. It is, for aught I know, a crowning mercy"[10]. The phase "Crowning Mercy" is frequently linked to the battle, descriptive of the complete destruction of the last Royalist army and the end of the English Civil Wars.

After the battle, Cromwell returned to Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, one of the parliamentarian strongholds and close to the seat of his late cousin the civil war hero John Hampden. He stayed at the aptly named King's Head Inn, Aylesbury and it was here that he received the thanks of Parliament for his final defeat of the Royalists.

The Parliamentary militia were sent home within a week. Cromwell, who had ridiculed "such stuff" six months ago, knew them better now. "Your new raised forces," he wrote to the Rump Parliament, "did perform singular good service, for which they deserve a very high estimation and acknowledgment". The New England preacher Hugh Peters gave the militia a rousing farewell sermon "when their wives and children should ask them where they had been and what news, they should say they had been at Worcester, where England's sorrows began, and where they were happily ended", referring to the first clash of the Royalist and Parliamentarian Armies at the Battle of Powick Bridge on the 23rd September 1642, almost exactly nine years before.[11]

Prior to the battle King Charles II contracted the Worcester Clothiers to outfit his army with uniforms, but was unable to pay the £453.3s bill. In June 2008 Charles, Prince of Wales paid off the 357 year old debt.

Legacy

In early April 1786, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson visited Fort Royal Hill at the battlefield at Worcester. David McCullough wrote in his definitive biography John Adams that Adams was "deeply moved" but disappointed at the locals' lack of knowledge of the battle, giving the townspeople an "impromptu lecture":

The people in the neighborhood appeared so ignorant and careless at Worcester that I was provoked and asked 'And do Englishmen so soon forget the ground where liberty was fought for? Tell your neighbors and your children that this is holy ground, much holier than that on which your churches stand. All England should come in pilgrimage to this hill, once a year.[12]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Trevor Royal References Page 600
  2. ^ Distance and Journey Times from Worcester to the county’s main towns website of Worcestershire County Council
  3. ^ Battle of Worcester - dawn attack BBC website
  4. ^ Battle of Worcester - Cromwell intervenes (1)
  5. ^ a b Battle of Worcester - Charles intervenes BBC website
  6. ^ a b Battle of Worcester - Cromwell intervenes (2) BBC website
  7. ^ Fort Royal Hill, where liberty was fought for
  8. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition: Great Rebellion
  9. ^ Trevor Royal References Page 602
  10. ^ Antonia Fraser, Cromwell, Our Chief of Men, Mandarin Paperbacks, 1993
  11. ^ Malcolm Atkin, Cromwell's Crowning Mercy The battle of Worcester 1651, Sutton Publishing 1998, page 120
  12. ^ President John Adams on Oliver Cromwell

References

  • BBC website Battle of Worcester - timeline
  • Royal, Trevor; "Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660"; Pub Abacus 2006; (first published 2004); ISBN 978-0-349-11564-1
Attribution

Further reading

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