Monday, April 8, 2013

The last great battle of the English Civil War

My latest release, SECRETS IN TIME, revolves around the last great battle of the English Civil War, fought on June 14th 1645 - Naseby.

It was great fun writing a time travel story where my dashing cavalier hero, Nathaniel, comes forward in time to 1995. One of the quandaries facing Nat is foreknowledge...knowing the result of the battle, what would happen if he were to persuade King Charles I not to take the field. Would that have changed the outcome of the English Civil War...?

The battle of Naseby is well documented. It's significance in history is twofold - firstly it marked the first appearance on the battlefield of a single, well trained military force:  the New Model Army raised and commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax (Not Oliver Cromwell!). Secondly it marked the crushing defeat of the royalist cause. King Charles I barely escaped with his life. The war was lost to the King within a year and only a few years later he died on the block.

On the day of the battle, it is estimated that 12,000 Royalist troops took the field to face 15,000 Parliamentarians, a newly formed, well trained and armed “standing army” - the NEW MODEL ARMY of Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. Behind both armies were the baggage lines where the camp followers, the women who followed the drums, prepared themselves for the inevitable stream of wounded to care for. In the royalist lines were the female camp followers, English, Welsh and Irish, soon to become innocent victims in a man’s war.

The battle commenced about 10 in the morning and was all done by 3.30pm with the King and his men in full retreat. The King’s baggage train was overrun and according to legend, the women of the train took flight along the Clipston Road. It was there one of the less glorious moments for “God’s chosen” victors took place. The hatred the English bore for the Irish mercenaries, fuelled by stories of the massacres of good protestants by evil catholics, was borne out on the women of the baggage train.

Mistaking the Welsh speaking women for Irish, the forces of Parliament carried out a massacre. It is not known how many were killed but there are contemporary accounts of up to 300-400. One contemporary witness reports “The Irish women Prince Rupert brought on the field (wives of the bloody Rebels in Ireland, his Majesties dearly loved subjects) our soldiers would grant no quarter too, about 100 slain of them, and most of the restof the whores that attended that wicked Army, are marked in the face or nose, with a slash or cut.” (Rushworth letter). The common punishment for a whore was to split or cut off the nose of the offender, marking them for life. Those women of more means who were able to gather up wagons and coaches, managed to make some sort of escape without meeting the fate of their poorer sisters.

 Meanwhile the King’s men did not escape lightly, those that were not slaughtered in their retreat, were captured. From a force of 12000 men who had taken the field that morning, less than 4000 reached safety and many of those were badly injured. Parliament’s New Model Army had destroyed the King’s army and the last hope of victory. Casualties on the Parliament side numbered barely 150 while over 1000 of the King’s men lay dead.

The royalist baggage lines proved rich pickings for plunder. The King’s own baggage was taken, including a “cabinet” containing his personal correspondence. This discovery was a God given propoganda opportunity and were published as “The King’s Cabinet Opened” within weeks of the battle.  The letters were a damning indictment on Charles, revealing his attempts to negotiate treaties with the hated Irish and other foreign powers to bring their forces over to England.

For any victorious army, prisoners are a problem and accounts suggest that the royalist prisoners numbered between 4000-5000. These were all men who needed to be fed, sheltered and their wounds treated. Local churches, being large and easily secured, were used as temporary lock ups. The majority of them were marched south to London where they were paraded, along with the captured colours, through the streets of London. A gibbet was prominently on display in case any took it into their heads to take flight or cause trouble. After wringing the most of the propoganda value from the display as they could, it was decided that the majority of the prisoners should simply be released to go home on giving their promise not to fight again. The majority who chose not to give that undertaking were sent to serve “in Foreign parts” (Ireland, Spain or France) or were simply imprisoned for a couple of years. The royalist officers (numbering just under 500 - mostly infantry) were held separately from the common soldiers.

Not included in the figures for the prisoners were the seriously wounded, numbering about 500. They were distributed around the nearby villages. There are ample contemporary accounts of the local villagers claiming compensation for their troubles in caring for the wounded of both sides after Naseby. Payment for treating the winning side tended to be more generous. For the romantically inclined there are stories such as those of “Mr. Mansell” who was found alive by a young woman who nursed him back to health.

Finally in the aftermath of a great battle comes the thankless task of clearing the battlefield, a task which extended well beyond the confines of the Naseby field as the flight of the royalists was marked by the dead and dying. Tradition tells us the task fell to the local villagers who stripped the bodies and buried them in mass graves, some so shallow that within a short time, they “became very offensive, that matter issued from the graves and ran several yards upon the ground, which, having subsided the cattle ate those spots, for several years remarkably bare.”(Mastin 1792).

AS at Naseby in 2007

I have visited the battlefield at Naseby twice (see photo). It is now cut in two by a major arterial road (it is hard to imagine the Americans allowing such a sacrilege to happen to their battlefields!). Apart from an obelisk erected in the nineteenth century, there is little to mark such a decisive battle and even harder to imagine the carnage of that awful day in the quiet Northamptonshire countryside.
(This blog was first posted in Hoydens and Firebrands 20/6/10)

For more information on my time travelling cavalier and to read an excerpt from SECRETS IN TIME, click HERE

And for a chance to win a $25 Amazon Voucher enter my SECRETS IN TIME contest, click HERE


Anonymous said...

The bloodshed alone was terrible! Hopefully we do learn from the past... Your book sounds amazing, Alison.

Elle Fynllay said...

Well researched topic, Alison. It's good to hear the stories of behind the lines; the women that waited and prayed . Many of them would have been mothers or wives unprepared to
let their men go to war without them.
Great story.

Alison Stuart said...

Thanks look at the fields today you can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like on that day (Oh well perhaps I can imagine a little bit!)

Elle...the treatment of the women was just appalling but then women so, ALWAYS... become the innocent victims of war. I've done a few articles over on Hoydens and Firebrands about women in the English Civil War. Some of them were quite feisty!

Jennifer Ensor said...

Absolutely fascinating Alison!
How dreadful that there's a highway running through the site of such a major battlefield though. I've been to Culloden and it is a well-preserved war memorial site in comparison. I've always been fascinated by the Jacobite Rebellion and the notorious female Jacobite 'Colonel' Anne Farquharson who reportedly lead out her clan, in opposition to her husband who sided with the British. The fate of women in war is always horrendous isn't it but I'd be very interested to read your articles on Hoydens and Firebrands to find out more about women in the English Civil War period. I'm almost finished "Gather the Bones" - beautifully written and I can see why it was nominated for an ARRA - so I can't wait to read "Secrets in Time".

Alison Stuart said...

Hi Jennifer. Yes there was a huge controversy over the highway and it won!
You may be interested in this blog I did for Hoydens on women who served (in disguise) as soldiers during the civil war...
Sadly women are always the innocent victims in war and the barbarity meted out to the Welsh women after Naseby is blood curdling.