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In the 17th century Britain faced a succession of ‘cruel necessities’ according to those who judged such things. Irreconcilable differences between parliament and King Charles I brought a tragic civil war that led ultimately to regicide. The House of Stuart brought nothing but disaster, dissension and unpopularity to its realm—irrespective of who was on the throne—and the ensuing rebellion resulted in the execution of the illegitimate son of Charles II, the Duke of Monmouth. On the positive side, the New Model Army demonstrated what British soldiers could be at their finest and the foundations of the formally constituted British Army were established. For the first time Fortescue’s incisive history of the English Civil War and its aftermath is available in a single volume and no library of the period will be complete without his direct analysis and critically observed view of the events and personalities of this epic period in European military history. This Leonaur exclusive volume has never been available before, and Fortescue’s original text has here been enhanced by the inclusion of maps and diagrams.
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Having driven his enemy into the peninsula of Dunbar, Leslie sent forward a force to bar a defile on the road to Berwick at Cockburnspath, and cut off his retreat. The situation of the English was desperate, and Cromwell was at his wits’ end. His army was reduced by sickness to eleven thousand men, while the Scots still numbered twenty-three thousand; he could expect no relief from Berwick; and Leslie lay in a strong position, from which it was hopeless to attempt to dislodge him, between him and the Tweed.
Leslie on his side might well feel confident that he held his enemy in the hollow of his hand. He had but to remain on his hill-side and watch the English army melt away, or wait for the most favourable moment to attack it either in the effort to embark or while struggling through the defile in retreat. He was however not his own master, but was controlled by an Aulic Council called the Committee of Estates, which urged him to descend from his weather-beaten position on the hill and move to the ground below, where he would not only find greater convenience of supplies but stand within closer striking distance of his enemy.
Down therefore he came, not altogether unwillingly, and took up a new position on a triangle of ground enclosed between the sea, the hill which he had just left, and a small stream called the Broxburn. This stream, which runs at the bottom of a course from forty to fifty feet deep, covered the whole of his front. On his extreme left it runs close under the steep declivity of the hill and forms with it, so to speak, the apex of the triangle; but further down it quits the slope and takes its own course to the sea, leaving plenty of space between it and the hill for a camping-ground.
Halfway between the open space and the sea, by the grounds of Broxmouth House, the deep banks of the stream give place, as is usual with such waters, to gentle inclines, not unfavourable to the action of cavalry. This point by Broxmouth House formed Leslie’s extreme right. The whole position, as he judged, was not ill suited to a force with great superiority in cavalry. He could post his foot on his centre and on his left behind the deep trench dug by the Broxburn, and mass his horse on the right where it could dash down the gradual incline and across the shallow water without risk or difficulty. By four o’clock in the afternoon of the 2nd of September his new dispositions were complete.
Cromwell from the other side of the stream followed every movement with intense attention. At last turning to Lambert he said that he thought the enemy gave him an opportunity. Lambert replied that the very same idea had occurred to him. Monk, who had probably received higher military training than any officer in the army, was next appealed to, and cordially agreed. If Leslie’s right, at the base of the triangle, could be turned, the whole of his force must be pent up between the hills and the burn, his horse hurled on to the backs of his foot, and the entire army forced up to the gorge at the apex of the triangle in ever increasing confusion, and, in a word, lost. The time of attack was fixed for the morrow before dawn, and the details of the English dispositions were entrusted to Lambert.
Rain fell in torrents all through the night, and the Scotch picquets laid themselves down to sleep with what comfort they could among the corn-shocks. The English, as ever even during the worst and most disorderly of retreats, had recovered themselves at the prospect of battle. At four the moon rose and found Lambert already hard at work. The bulk of the force, six out of eight regiments of horse and three and a half regiments of foot, was moved down to the extreme English left. Five regiments of horse under Lambert were to cross the burn by Broxmouth House and attack the Scottish cavalry in front; three regiments of foot and one of horse, all picked corps, were to cross the water farther down and sweep round upon its right flank. Cromwell himself took command of this turning movement, and the regiment of horse which he took with him was that which he had made six years before on the model of his own “ lovely company.” The remainder of the force with the artillery was stationed along the edge of the trench of the Broxburn to check any movement of the enemy’s centre and left.
The light was beginning to creep over the sea before Lambert had posted the artillery to his liking. There was some stir in the Scotch camp; a trumpet sounded boute-selle; and Cromwell, fearful lest the enemy should gain time to change position, grew impatient for Lambert’s coming. At last he came, and both columns moved off. Lambert’s regiments of horse advanced to the burn; and then the trumpets rang out, and the troopers dashed across the water and poured up the opposite slope to the attack. The Scots, though unprepared, met them gallantly enough. Foreigners would have called them ill-equipped, for they carried lances, an obsolete weapon, in their front rank; but the lance was in place in the shock-combat which Cromwell had taught to the English cavalry, and the first onset of the English horse was borne back across the burn. The supports came quickly up and the fight was renewed, though against heavy odds, for the Scots could bring infantry and guns to the aid of their horse, which the English could not yet.
But while the combat of cavalry was still swaying to and fro, the infantry of Cromwell’s turning column came up steady and inexorable upon the flank of the Scots. Still Leslie’s gallant men fought on for a short time undismayed. They had been faultily disposed, as Cromwell had noted, and could not easily change front, but they met the new attack as best they might and even checked the leading regiment of English infantry. But Cromwell’s own regiment of foot came up in support, strode grimly forward straight to push of pike, and swept the stoutest corps of Scottish infantry into rout.
Then the Scots lost heart and wavered; the English, horse and foot, gathered themselves up for a final terrible charge; and the Scottish cavalry, reeling back upon the foot, carried it away in choking disorder towards the gorge. Meanwhile Cromwell was urging his third regiment of foot to the left, always farther to the left; and as, panting and breathless, they climbed the lower slopes of the hill they saw the whole length of the battle spread out before them and the Scotch all in confusion. “They run, I profess, they run!” cried Oliver as he looked down. And while he spoke the sun leaped up over the sea, and flashed beneath the canopy of smoke on darting pikes and flickering blades and glancing casques and swaying cuirasses, as the redcoats rolled the broken waves of the Scottish Army before them.