On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was beheaded on a scaffold at Whitehall in London. The Regicide of King Charles I came after a long and bloody civil war. The country was not totally united in the killing of the king, but Parliament went to great lengths to give the judicial proceedings the force of law.
After putting the country through the English Civil War from 1642-1646 that his Royalist forces lost, Charles I launched another attempt in in 1647 which was quickly, but bloodily put down. The New Model Army, under Oliver Cromwell, which wielded enormous power at the time was furious, so when they captured Charles I, they proceeded to try him. Charles I would not answer to the court as he felt it was unfit to try him. The King claimed “No learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King… one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong.” The court proceeded anyway. They convicted and sentenced him to death on 27 January 1649.
King Charles I Executed
On the day of his beheading, it was so cold that Charles I put on two shirts to ward off the cold, lest he be thought to be trembling at his fate. Charles I dignity in his execution made him a martyr to the Royalist cause. Some subjects in England still vociferously hold that Cromwell was the traitor, not their King. Read here for the Charles I speech and actions on the scaffold.
King Charles I Executed – Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
Start at Windsor Castle, ride past Runnymede (where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215)and into central London to Buckingham Palace, along the Mall, into Whitehall, on to Parliament and ending up at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend this ride early in the morning in mid-June when the sun rises before 5 AM. You can see everything and avoid the atrocious London traffic. At the National Army Museum in Chelsea, you can find a Full English Breakfast at the nearby King’s Road and wait for the museum to open to find out more about the English Civil War.
Image Attribution – Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If there is one obvious point in the English Civil War where Oliver Cromwell’s star emerged from mere cavalry commander to driving force in the New Model Army, the Battle of Naseby may be it. Cromwell convinced his commander, Fairfax, to move to an adjacent, more neutral hill, so as to encourage the Royalists to attack. Cromwell was so confident that he wanted to goad the Royalists, especially Prince Rupert, into a fight by giving them a better chance. That level of confidence was not misplaced. Cromwell’s actions, as well as the actions of Prince Rupert, were to confirm their reputations. Rupert was the European shock trooper with élan and Cromwell was the disciplined English soldier and stern Puritan. At Naseby, both armies put forward their “A” teams with Prince Rupert, Prince Maurice and the King himself present on the Royal side. Fairfax, Cromwell and Skippon led the Parliamentarian’s New Model Army. There would be no denying the superior force after Naseby.
The Battle of Naseby
Although the King was present, Rupert commanded the Royal lines. Rupert’s plan was to crush the Roundhead left with his signature cavalry charge, which he would lead with Prince Maurice, and then cross behind the Roundhead (Parliamentary forces) centre to turn Cromwell’s flank. All of this was to happen as the Royalist infantry tied down the middle with a quick and unannounced push (i.e. no artillery preparation). Cromwell was supposed to be kept in check by Langdale’s cavalry and a rough ground of rabbit warrens and heavy gorse. The first part went well as Roundhead Ireton’s cavalry (the Parliamentarian left) was beaten from the field. However, Rupert’s cavalry did not cross behind the New Model Army’s infantry centre, either due to battlefield congestion (the New Model Army infantry reserve?) or through their excessive exuberance. Eventually, Rupert’s cavalry ended up in the Parliamentarian rear attacking the baggage trains. One might say it was unplanned, but one must ignore Rupert’s previous actions to call it unlikely. The Royalist infantry held more than their own and actually worked through the New Model Army’s infantry, only to find the reserve behind the ridge.
Disaster for the King’s Forces
The Battle of Naseby was an unmitigated disaster for the King. Virtually all of his northern infantry was captured or killed. He could never recover from the loss of such a force this late in the war. The war would drag on, but the cause was militarily lost on those Northamptonshire fields. Unfortunately for the Royalists, Cromwell also performed to stereotype. After working through the rough ground on the Royalist left, Cromwell attacked and dispersed Langdale’s cavalry. Then Cromwell worked over the Lifeguard who had come to the aid of the cavalry only to join the flight. However, rather than pursue the Royalist cavalry off the field, Cromwell held a blocking position as his cavalry reserve completed the encirclement of virtually the entire Royalist infantry. The King watched the whole thing unfold. He and Rupert tried to rally his cavalry for a counter attack, but thought better of it as he watched his infantry surrender. To add insult to injury, Cromwell’s cavalry harried them all the way to Leicester.
Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
Try this ride to and from Northampton that criss-crosses the battlefield north of the village Naseby. There are two major monuments on these roads with the main one, due north of Naseby on the Sibbertoft Road, giving a sweeping view of the battlefield and an interpretative board.
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.