Rupert proposed that he take his army up north to relieve the siege of York, while Charles would join Maurice in the West Country, where his army was besieging Lyme. Charles and Rupert would then return to Oxford to relieve the city. Rupert left on schedule but his opponents persuaded Charles to stay. Digby[i] gave up Abingdon to the Parliamentarians and the defences around Reading were destroyed.
Waller joined Essex in containing the Royalist forces in Oxford, hoping to trap Charles. He managed to slip out of the town with 7,000 men. Waller’s troops stood between Charles and Rupert and his army, while the roads south were blocked by Essex.
|Countess of Derby|
Rupert received a letter from his uncle that Rupert understood to be an order to march to relieve York which Lord Newcastle and 4,000 foot soldiers defended for the king.
‘If York be lost, I shall esteem my crown little less……but if that be lost…..you immediately march to Worcester, to assist me.’[ii]
Rupert had already invaded Lancaster, captured Stockport and rescued the Countess of Derby[iii] and her retainers from a three month siege of Lathom House. He was joined by Lord Goring in Bury. Rupert sent for more gunpowder from Oxford, having failed to find any in Liverpool. He then marched his army across the Pennines, arriving in Knaresborough on 30th June.
The Parliamentarians placed their forces between Rupert and his destination at Long Marston. The battle of Marston Moor was fought on 2nd July 1644, the day after Rupert’s men had made a forced march of 22 miles having crossed three rivers en-route. Rupert was outnumbered by 10,000 men. Oliver Cromwell and David Leslie commanded the Parliamentarian cavalry under the overall command of Alexander Leslie[iv], the Earl of Leven.
Not only did the Parliamentarians have a larger army, they had better commanders; Goring’s men were notorious for their indiscipline and were incapable of following orders. Battle commenced in the late evening and, when the Royalist front caved in, Goring’s men fled the scene of the battle. Lord Byron decided to lead his men in an attack on Cromwell, a decision that was part of the Royalist undoing.
Newcastle’s men refused quarter fighting on until only thirty were left. The Marquis of Newcastle’s wife wrote;
‘Coming near the town, he [Newcastle] met His Highness Prince Rupert, with the lieutenant-general of the army, the Lord Ethyn. His Highness asked my lord how the business went? To whom he answered that all was lost and gone on their side.’[v]
|Death of Boy|
Among the dead was Rupert’s dog Boy, who had slipped his collar before the battle. Boy was accused of being a witch's familiar. There were numerous accounts of Boy's abilities; some suggested that he was the Devil in disguise, come to help Rupert.
Pro-Royalist publications ultimately produced parodies of these, including one which listed Rupert's dog as being a "Lapland Lady" transformed into a white dog; Boye was allegedly able to find hidden treasure, possessed invulnerability to attack, could catch bullets fired at Rupert in his mouth, and could prophesy as well as Mother Shipton. Similar stories from the period relate to Rupert's pet monkey who was also reputed to have shape shifting powers, being able to disguise itself behind enemy lines.
Rupert himself arrived in York late at night; Rupert’s next task as he saw it was to rally his men and rode back to Lancashire, then across to Cheshire, Shrewsbury and finally Wales in an attempt at rebuilding an army for his uncle.
Despite the problems in the north Charles was not despondent; he’d managed a victory of his own over Waller at Cropredy Bridge[vi]. Charles decided to march westwards with his men and link up with Maurice; they would then outnumber Essex, who was on his way to Lyme.
Charles decided on reorganising his commanders, necessitated by the arrest of Wilmot for intriguing with the enemy; he was replaced by Goring. Lord Percy was replaced by Lord Hopton as Master of the Ordnance. Charles wrote to Rupert;
‘Concerning your generosity and particular fidelity and friendship to me, I have implicit faith in you.’[vii]
Charles did not make Rupert Captain-General of his forces until 6th November as the removal of the Earl of Brentford, who had overall charge of the military, needed careful handling. At the end of August Charles won the battle of Lostwithiel[viii]; but his journey back to Oxford was barred by Waller.
In the north Lancashire was lost to the Royalists, as was Newcastle, and Montgomery Castle. Rupert and Charles met up in Dorset at the end of September; they agreed to act defensively to concentrate their efforts on Oxfordshire, Wales and south-west England. The remains of the northern armies were to be amalgamated with Charles’ army while Rupert strengthened the garrison at Bristol; he was then to return to assist his uncle.
|Site of Second Battle of Newbury|
Rupert reached Bristol on 6th October and remained three weeks. While there Rupert was informed by his uncle that Basing House[ix] and Banbury and Donnington Castles were all in danger of surrendering. Rupert was also told that Oxford and Chester were at risk. Charles wanted Rupert to bring reinforcements up from Bristol. Rupert did not meet up with Charles and his army until after the second Battle of Newbury.
The military situation was declining rapidly; Cirencester needed supplies and troops; the garrison at Faringdon[x] were suffering from famine, having stripped the local area. Oxford itself was threatened by the Parliamentarians now at Abingdon, a mere five miles from the city. The siege of Taunton had been abandoned; the only good news came from Chepstow castle where the commander Colonel Sir John Wintour had seen off the rebels.
Rupert tried to persuade Charles to come to terms with the Parliamentarians. But the terms were little different from those Charles had previously refused. In the new year parliament approved the creation of the New Model Army under Fairfax’s leadership. Essex was seen as insufficiently committed to the cause
Rupert was annoyed that the insubordinate Goring had demanded and received an independent command from his uncle. Goring wrote to Rupert;
‘I found all my requests denied by your hand, and therefore desired my orders from another.’[xi]
Before the campaigning season started Goring was once again under Rupert’s control. But Maurice was named President of Wales and the 14 year old Charles, Prince of Wales was placed in command of the West with full powers. These two appointments severely curtailed Rupert’s own command and he resented it. Goring refused to take orders from the Prince of Wales’ council and eventually took himself off to Bath to take the waters.
A Turning Point
Even so before the campaign season was in full swing Rupert had restored order in Wales and on the Welsh borders, relieved Beeston Castle[xii] put down a rising at Hereford. He then defeated a Parliamentarian force at Ledbury[xiii].
Fairfax had orders to end the siege of Taunton and Cromwell was sent to raid Oxford. He took Bletchingdon House after routing Royalist soldiers at Islip[xiv]. Oxford itself was placed under further threat from Fairfax who had relieved Taunton and now turned on the Royalist capital. The besieged city was short of food and ammunition; Goring was sent to aid William Legge[xv] in charge of the garrison.
Rupert and Charles made their way to Leicester which was taken by assault on 31st May and 1200 men were taken prisoner[xvi] after the town was sacked. Charles then made his leisurely way to Daventry, unaware of the danger to Oxford. By the 12th June Fairfax was 1 mile away from the city, but the Royalists had already moved on to Market Harborough.
The following day the Parliamentarians slaughtered an outpost Rupert had left at Naseby. On 14th June Fairfax won a decisive battle outside the village, a battle Rupert had tried to avoid. Digby had chosen to persuade Charles to challenge Fairfax to fight, although the Royalists were outnumbered.
The New Model Army was able to withstand Rupert’s cavalry attacks and attempts to outflank the Parliamentarian position in front of boggy ground. Fairfax had Cromwell and Henry Ireton under his command; Cromwell’s men chased the Royalist foot off the field much to Charles’ chagrin. As so often before Rupert’s cavalry overshot and took some time to return to the battlefield.
Charles wanted to lead a charge himself but was stopped by the Earl of Carnwath seizing his horse’s bridle and turning Charles’s horse around. This was seen by the Royalists as a signal to retreat. The Parliamentarians seized the baggage train where the Puritans were brought up short by scenes of ungodliness;
‘They carried along with them many strumpets…..these they made use of in places where they lay in a very uncivil and unbecoming way.’[xvii]
The New Model Army attacked all the women, branding them as whores, slashing their faces, or slitting their noses and killing about 100 of them.
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Maurice Ashley, Purnell Book Services Ltd 1976
The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989
Charles the First – John Bowles, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1975
The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford – DJH Clifford (ed), Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd 1990
Cromwell – Antonia Fraser, Phoenix Paperback, 2001
Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2001
The Grand Quarrel – Roger Hudson (ed), Folio Society 1993
The Civil Wars of England – John Kenyon, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Patrick Morrah, Constable & Company 1976
The English Civil War – Diane Purkiss, Harper Perennial 2007
Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008
[i] A man of little or no talent beyond charming the king out of what little wit he had. Digby’s intense dislike of Rupert impelled him to persuade Charles into actions that were potentially disastrous for his cause
[ii] The English Civil War - Purkiss
[iv] Both Leslie’s had fought under the command of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
[v] The Grand Quarrel - Hudson
[vii] Rupert of the Rhine – Ashley
[x] 18 miles southwest of Oxford
[xi] Rupert of the Rhine - Ashley
[xiii] East of Hereford
[xiv] Cromwell was then ordered to defend the eastern counties which it was believed that the Royalists would attack
[xv] One of Rupert’s supporters
[xvi] The rules of war allowed Rupert to put them to the sword as they had defended an assailable breach
[xvii] The English Civil War - Purkiss