Although this is a book created for students of military history, everyone who knows anything of the history of Britain is aware of the colossal influence of Oliver Cromwell. He was the towering figure among the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War, a significant contributor to the creation of the incomparable New Model Army, central to the regicide of Charles I, and a political giant who would become the Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. In effect, from comparatively obscure origins Cromwell rose to become the undisputed military dictator of his nation. This substantial book is not yet another biography of Oliver Cromwell, for it focus’s entirely on the military career of this remarkable man, and follows him throughout his time as a battlefield commander. His part in and influence over the engagements in which he took part is described in some detail which includes first hand reports by Cromwell and others. This highly recommended book is an invaluable reference work for anyone interested in the conflict that was England’s Civil War, or, indeed, in the waging of war in the 17th century. This Leonaur edition has been enhanced by the inclusion of battlefield maps which did not appear in the original edition.
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Rupert, dashing his leading squadrons against their front, flung some of those of his second line against their flank, thus routing them and driving them back on their supports. These, unable to avoid the mingled mass of flying friend and pursuing foe, were in turn broken, and in a few minutes the whole of the Parliamentary horse of the left wing was flying from the field, and Ireton was a prisoner and wounded.
But on the other flank things had taken a very different turn. Directly Cromwell recovered the crest, he sent his squadrons crashing down the hill against Langdale’s Cavaliers. Whalley’s regiment, charging over smooth ground, struck the enemy first, receiving a volley from their pistols at close quarters, but pressing on themselves with the point of the sword. The Life Guard and Rossiter’s, hampered by the rabbit-holes and furze bushes, arrived later, but then striking into the flank of the mêlée, drove the northern horse back in confusion behind the king’s reserve.
The second line followed in good order. Then Cromwell displayed that wonderful control over himself and his men which is the greatest, but perhaps the rarest, quality a cavalry leader can possess. Perceiving that Langdale’s horsemen were sufficiently broken to prevent their charging again for some time, he refrained from completing their overthrow, and turned his attention to the battle in the centre, where the fortune of the day must finally be decided. Rapidly rallying his first line, he reformed their ranks and directed them—not to charge—but to watch Langdale’s broken squadrons and prevent them from taking part in the battle again. Then with his second line he prepared to charge the Royal centre.
Just as he did so the king himself led forward his Horse Guard, a body of 500 gentlemen, from the reserve, with a view of restoring the battle on his left wing. Hardly had they advanced, when the Earl of Carnworth rode out of the ranks, and, seizing the king’s bridle, turned his horse round, exclaiming as he did so, “Will you go upon your death?” At the same time the command—“march to the right hand”—was given, which the Horse Guards mistook for a signal to retire, as it led them away from the enemy. They accordingly wheeled about, and galloped off some distance in such confusion that they were not rallied till the battle was over.
In the centre the king’s foot, as at Marston Moor, proved themselves of better mettle than their foes. Though out-numbered by two to one, they charged furiously at the centre of the Parliamentary line. Fairfax’s regiment on the right flank was hardly engaged, but all the others of the first line were overthrown and driven in disorder back on the second. Here Rainsborough, Hammond, and Pride succeeding in checking the advance of the Royalists, and in giving time for the broken regiments to rally. The contest was raging furiously at push of pike when Cromwell’s troopers wheeled round to join in it. Charged in front, flank, and rear, by horse and foot, the Royalists ranks were then broken.
The reserves were hurried up, but were unable to restore the battle. Regiment after regiment dissolved into a mass of disorganised fugitives. At last only Rupert’s regiment maintained its ranks. Again and again it beat off the attacks of both horse and foot. Fairfax brought his own regiment up, which hitherto had hardly been engaged. (Whitelocke says that Fairfax brought up his Life Guard, not his foot regiment, to make this charge).
With pike and musket butt they charged Rupert’s redcoats in front, whilst Cromwell’s troopers fell on them again in rear. Then at last the ranks were broken, and these gallant soldiers, like Newcastle’s white-coats at Marston, died as they stood in their ranks.
Away on the Parliamentary left, Rupert, lacking Cromwell’s self-possession, had loosed his squadrons in full pursuit of Ireton’s flying horsemen. Galloping towards Naseby, he came across the Parliamentary baggage. Mistaking him for one of the generals on his own side, the commander of the escort stepped forward to ask how the day went. Rupert replied by asking him whether he would take quarter, but was answered with a curt “No.”
Collecting a few horsemen, Rupert sent them at the train, but the musketeers beat them off. He then with great difficulty rallied his scattered troopers and led them back to the field. Arrived there, he found himself too late. Streaming away from the place where the foot had joined issue, a disorderly mass of fugitives represented the king’s gallant regiments. Half a mile away Langdale and the king had succeeded in reforming their beaten troopers. Between these and the foot rode Cromwell’s steel-clad horsemen, their unbroken ranks and steady movements testifying to their superior discipline.
Rupert rejoined the king, and together they formed a new line of battle with the cavalry. Of infantry and guns there were none left. Cromwell, about a quarter of a mile off, formed his squadrons into two wings, leaving a space between them for the foot, now being rapidly reformed in rear by Fairfax. Skippon had been badly wounded. Some of Ireton’s troopers had rallied and joined Cromwell’s horse. Ireton himself had escaped in the confusion, after he had been taken, and had rejoined the horse.
Rupert urged another charge, but in his own squadrons the horses were blown and exhausted. Langdale’s men were demoralised by their defeat. Neither could be brought to charge again. For a short time the opposing cavalry stood facing each other. Then Fairfax’s infantry moved forward into the space left for them by the horse, and Cromwell gave the word to charge. The Royalist troopers never awaited the onslaught. Wheeling about they galloped from the field as fast as they could spur. Then Cromwell let go his men in pursuit. No more need of serried ranks, it only remained to push the victory to the utmost. On through Harborough swept the chase, up to the walls of Leicester.
Then only, after a pursuit of twelve miles, the Parliamentary troopers were recalled. Five thousand prisoners, twelve guns, two hundred carriages, indeed, all the enemy’s train and baggage, remained in the hands of the victors. Amongst the carriages was the king’s, with his cabinet and all his secret correspondence. The publication by the Parliament of some of these papers, especially his letters to the queen, did the king’s cause more harm than even his defeat, for they opened the people’s eyes to his dealings with the Irish Catholics, and to his negotiations for foreign aid. (The account in text is collated from Sprigge, Walker, Whitelocke, Clarendon, Cromwell’s letter in Carlyle, Rush worth, &c.)
The honours of the day lay principally with Cromwell. Once again Rupert and he had fought in the same battle, though they had not, as at Marston Moor, actually charged each other. Again Cromwell had proved himself the better cavalry leader.