With the arrival of Irish forces (somewhat) loyal to the King in late 1643, the Royalists had developed a strong footing in the northwest of England and were besieging the strategically important town of Nantwich. The Royalist commander Lord Byron decided to complete his conquest of Cheshire by quickly capturing Nantwich, which was being defended by Parliamentarian Sir William Brereton. However, the Parliamentarian Sir Thomas Fairfax had other plans. Showing his grasp of the whole war and not just that of his eastern England locality, Fairfax pulled together his disparate forces around Lincolnshire and marched to the relief of Nantwich. The two forces met near the present day Shropshire Union Canal on the close, flat pastures to the west of Nantwich.
Battle of Nantwich
Having deployed tightly coming out of Nantwich, Fairfax had to fight on each flank to open up space for his cavalry. On the other hand, Byron, converging on Nantwich, had to deal with over-extension. One has to imagine an inner concentric arc pushing against an outer concentric arc to understand the tension between the two forces. Fairfax was able to hold both flanks as his centre made the advance into Byron*s centre who were unsupported by their flanks due to the over-extension. Eventually, the Royalist centre cleaved in two and flanked away in opposing directions. This saved the left side, but doomed the right which fell back near Acton church.
Things went from bad to worse for Byron, as the blocking force meant to hold the Nantwich Roundhead forces at bay, failed. These Parliamentary forces proceeded to attack the Royalist baggage train near Acton church and the Royalist right flank near the present day Acton Bridge (footbridge) over the canal. In the melee, the Royalist lost many, but many more surrendered, including whole Irish regiments who felt they had been tricked into coming to England to fight for the King.
Nantwich was a clear win for the Parliamentary forces, having relieved the siege, captured the Royalist baggage train and not a few senior officers. Strategically, it kept the centre of England in play and established Fairfax as a Parliamentarian commander of national stature.
Battle of Nantwich Motorcycle Ride
Try this circular ride from Nantwich to Whitchurch and back
Having relieved the siege at York by out manoeuvering the Parliamentary Army, Prince Rupert wanted to engage Parliament’s Allied Army. Rupert believed (controversially) that he had orders from the King to do so. The Parliamentary backed Allied Army of the Eastern Association, local Yorkshire forces along with the Scots under the Earl of Levin accommodated him between York and Knaresborough. Rupert was outnumbered, especially, because he could not get the siege-relieved forces at York to get the lead out until the last minute. The Marquess of Newcastle, who had held York through the siege, was against offering battle at Marston Moor, going so far as to remind Rupert of one of his past failures due to hasty decisions. Rupert prevailed, but even with the mainly infantry forces from York, Rupert mustered only 18,000 to the Allied Army’s 28,000.
The two forces squared off late in the midsummer’s day after having had spent the better part of the afternoon so close to each other that insults were being traded across the lines. Persistent rain showers and the lateness of the day had convinced Rupert that battle would not begin that day. However, for debatable reasons, the allied front surged forward around 7 PM and the fight was on. Rupert could have felt vindicated to choose battle at first as Goring’s cavalry on the Royalist left broke through and routed Sir Thomas Fairfax’s right of cavalry and infantry. Goring’s forces pushed on and took the Allied Army’s baggage train behind the southern ridge. The Allied Scots’ infantry, however, doggedly held the line in the centre. Meanwhile, a wounded Cromwell pushed Rupert’s cavalry back in the vicinity of present day Kendal Lane on Tockwith*s eastern edge. After winning the cavalry engagement, Cromwell’s disciplined forces turned right and flanked the Royalist infantry. This envelopment turned the tide and the Royalist forces were reduced to the last stand by Newcastle’s best infantry, the Whitecoats, who defied Cromwell, until Scottish Dragoons came to finish off the battle near White Sike Close.
Ride Recommendation for the Battle of Marston Moor
This ride runs right through the battle area, which is centred on grid SE 491522 in between Long Marston and Tockwith. (Ordnance Survey Landranger map 105)
Check out the Battle of Towton from the War of the Roses not too far from Marston Moor.