Battle of Worcester

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Reproduced by kind permission of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service.




Say you have been at Worcester, where England's sorrows began, and where they are happily ended. Hugh Peters (Parliamentary army chaplain at Worcester 1651)

Introduction

The battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 was the final act in the series of Civil Wars that had begun in August 1642. In January 1649 Charles I was executed by Parliament. A year later, Charles II decided to launch a bid to restore his throne by military might. He landed in Scotland and made an alliance with the Covenanters who had previously supported Parliament. Many on the Parliamentary side were reluctant to fight against their former allies: Fairfax, the original choice of commander refused to serve and Oliver Cromwell was appointed in his place. The Kidderminster preacher, Richard Baxter urged soldiers not to fight in Scotland. The campaign was dogged by sickness and Cromwell himself became seriously ill.

Cromwell recovered in the Spring of 1651 and determined not to spend another winter in Scotland. He decided to draw the King's army into Scotland, gambling on the likelihood that few Englishmen would support an invading Scottish army, whatever their feelings for the monarchy. Cromwell was correct, very few Englishmen joined the 11,000 -13,000 strong Scottish army and waverers now flocked to join the parliamentary forces. Thousands joined the militias that were raised up and down the country. As a consequence, this was one of the few campaigns of the Civil Wars that showed any popular enthusiasm. The country knew that this was a chance to strike a decisive blow and restore the country to some form of stability.

The Worcester Campaign

As the Scottish army (now totalling up to 16,000 men) entered Worcestershire it was harassed by the local militia who desperately tried to slow up the advance in order to give the garrison of Worcester a chance to improve the defences of the City and to receive reinforcements.

Local troops under Andrew Yarranton fought a skirmish at Ombersley, just north of Worcester and continued to fight the advancing Scots to the very gates of Worcester. But the resolve of the citizens crumbled as they realised that no reinforcements were forthcoming. The City Council therefore decided to surrender and, to prove (somewhat belatedly) its loyalty to the Royalist cause they fired on the garrison as it retreated to Gloucester. Thus it was that the King entered Worcester on 22 August. But this was simply an act of pragmatism. Few local men joined the Royalist army and the militia joined the main Parliamentary army that then gathered around Worcester.

The Battle of Worcester

On August 28 part of the Parliamentary army crossed the River Severn at Upton. By nightfall, around 12,000 men had assembled there. Another 18,000 men began the march from Evesham to the outskirts of Worcester.

Cromwell was in no hurry and ensured that his men were properly rested and supplied before commencing the main battle. The battle may even have been delayed so that it fell anniversary of his other great victory against the Scots at Dunbar - on 3 September 1650.

At dawn on Wednesday 3 September, the army on the west bank of the Severn under General Fleetwood began their march towards Worcester, dragging with them pontoons to make bridges that would span the Rivers Teme and Severn. The Scots were unprepared and were slow to send reinforcements to the small Site of skirmish at Ombersley number of Highlanders that defended the river plain to the south of Worcester. Even so, they held back the parliamentary army until c.3pm when Cromwell ordered his reserve of crack New Model Army troops across the bridge of boats that spanned the Severn. Retreat became a rout and the lane back to Worcester was lined with the Scottish dead.

In an attempt to relieve the pressure on his men, King Charles attempted to counter-attack on the east side of the City. A mixed force of Highlanders, Lowlanders and English gentry managed to scale the high ground that overlooked the city and captured some of the Parliamentary gun positions. The parliamentary front line was composed of militia and for a time the battle looked to be in the balance. But the line held and once again Cromwell was able to save the situation with his New Model Army reserves. The militia now rose. They were determined to annihilate this foreign army that had brought the spectre of Civil war back to England. The Essex and Cheshire militias led the charge: the Scottish garrison at Fort Royal was massacred and the Cheshire militia entered the City.

By 6pm the battle was lost, although parties of Scottish troops and English gentry held out until around 10pm. The King made a narrow escape, with his retreat covered by two charges of troops under local gentry.

Fate of the prisoners

The story of the battle now passes into legend and the escape of the King to the south coast and thence to France has become part of English legend. less thought has been spared for the fate of the c.10,000 Scottish prisoners that were captured. Stripped of all possessions they were herded into prisons all over the country. Many were transported to new England, Virginia and the West Indies to work on the plantations and iron works. Others were sent to work on the drainage schemes of the fens. But, unable to maintain them in prison, eventually the government had simply to release the rest back to Scotland. Many of the English prisoners were conscripted into the army and were sent to Ireland.

A Contemporary Account

A number of contemporary accounts of the battles were published in letters and Newssheets. This example is taken from Mercurius Politicus for 4 - 11 September 1651.

An exact Relation of the late glorious Victory, obtained (through Gods mercy) by the Forces of this Commonwealth, over the Scotish Army at Worcester, 3. Sept. 1651. being an Extract of the chiefest of that intelligence which is yet come to hand.

Though no Tongue or Pen be able to express the greatness of this Action, suitable to that magnificent appearance of God, in the behalf of England; yet because it is a main part of our duty, in any measure, to become subservient to his glory, it is conceived nothing can more advance it, than by recounting before all the world, the many wondrous and mighty dispensations of his mercy. This Third day of September hath been a very glorious day of Decision; This day twelvmonth was glorious at Dunbar, but this day hath been very glorious before Worcester: The Word then was, The Lord of Hosts, and so it was now, the Lord of Hosts indeed having been wonderfully with us. The same Signall wee had now as then, which was to have no white about us; yet the Lord hath cloathed us with white Garments, though to the Enemy they have been bloody: Only here Lyes the difference, that at Dun bar our work was at break of Day, and done ere the morning was over; but now it began towards the close of the Evening, and ended not till the night came upon us. That was the beginning of their Fall before the appearance of the Lord Jesus; This seems to be the setting of the young Kings glory.

This Battell was fought with various Successes for some hours, but still hopefull on the behalf of the Commonwealth, and inauspicious to the Enemy; of whom the more were slain, becaus the dispute was long, and very near at hand, and often at push of Pike, wherein the new raised Forces did perform very singular good service, for which they deserve a very high estimation and acknowledgment, since they have added very much to the reputation of our Affairs, by their alacrity and courage in the work; And it pleased God so to order this Affair in the hands of his weak instruments, that in the end it became an absolute Victory, determined by an immediate possession of the Town, with a totall ruine and defeat of the Scotish Army: Concerning which, be pleased to take a short view of the whole action, in the following Particulars.

Upon Wednesday morning 3 September. between 5 and 6 a clock, the Forces under Lieut. Generall Fleetwood began their march from Upton; but by reason of som hindrances in their way, reached not to Team River till betwixt 2 or 3 in the Evening. As soon as our Boats came up (which was much about the same time) a Bridge was presently made over the Severn, on our main Armys side, and another over the River Team on the Lieut. Generals side, who made way as far as Powick, half a mile on this side the Bridge with his Van, before the Enemy took the Alarm: but the Alarm being taken, they immediately drew both their Hors and Foot from their Leaguer at St. Jones, to oppose the Lieut. Generals passage over our Bridges of Boats.

Whereupon the Generall presently commanded over Col. Inglesbies and Col. Fairfax their Regiments, with part of his own Regiment, and the Life-guard, and Col. Hacker's of hors over the River; his Excellency himself leading them in person, and being the first man that set foot on the Enemies ground: After these, the Lieut. General commanded Col. Goffs, and Major-gen. Deans Regiments, all which advanced towards the Enemy, who had wel-lined the hedges with men to impede the approach of our Forces; but it pleased the Lord after some sharp dispute (wherein ours beat them from hedge to hedge) to give a good issue there to our mens courage and resolution.

Then Col. Blague, and Col. Gibbons, with Col. Marsh's Regiment were commanded over Team as Seconds to the former, and to attempt the Enemy in other Places, where they had drawn their men; so which service the Lord Greys Regiment was likewise order'd over; who all acquitted themselves so valiantly, that after half an hour, or an hours dispute, it pleased the Lord that the Enemy quitted their ground, and fled away: Onely about Powick bridge, which they had broken down, having the advantage of Hedges and Ditches, they maintained a very hot dispute with Col. Haynes his Regiment and Col. Cobbets, Col. Mathews being as a Reserve to Them both; by which meanes it pleased the Lord, that the Enemy quitted that ground likewise, and ran away. As Col. Haynes his Regiment were wading over the River, to advance upon them, about a mile from Powick, the Enemy had broken down another bridge, upon a Pass unto which place were sent some of our Dragoons, who with assistance of some horse, forced the Enemy from that Place, and gained a passage over for the Lieut. Generals Regiment, Col. Twistletons, and Col. Kendricks that were commanded to pursue the Enemy, who (as it was supposed) made towards Hereford or Ludlow; but at length they wheeled off, and all ran into Worcester, except some few that were taken. The Ground where this Controversie was acted, was so combred with Hedges, that our Horse had not much liberty to engage; but yet both Hors and Foot, where they had opportunity, did (through the Lords presence assisting) approve themselves very gallantly. After the Enemy had run away into Worcester, they renewed their Courage with apprehensions of shame and fury, and drew out what Hors and Foot they could upon the Generals side, supposing that most of his Army had bin advanced over the River, whereupon they made a very bold Sally on that side the Town in great Bodies, giving our men a very hot salute, insomuch that it put some of them to a little Retreat with disorder; but in a short space the Lord gave us Victory on this side also, being re-inforced with Major-gen. Desborough's Regiment of Horse, and Col. Cobbets of Foot. On that side was engaged part of the Generals Regiment of Hors, Major Gen. Lambert, Commissary gen. Whalies, Major-gen. Harisons Brigade, and Col. Tomlinsons Regiment, with some of the Surry and Essex Troops. Those of Foot, were the Major gen. Col. Pride, Col. Coopers, the Cheshire brigade, and the Essex Foot: All of these (as the Lord gave them opportunity) discharged themselves with much bravery; disputing also not only the hedges with the Enemy, but following them boldly to the very mouths of their Cannon; so that in the end they gained their Works, with their Fort-Royal, beating them into the town, and turning their own Cannon upon them; which so wrapt them up with a Spirit of terror and confusion, that afterwards, the night being come, we soon gaincd an Entry, and became Masters of the Town, whilst the Enemy disposed themselves for a flight, the same way that they came in hither, and many of their Horse got away. Their King (it is said) went out very meanly, with only 12 Horse; in all there escaped not above 3000 Hors, and these not 1000 together in a Body; of whom, Col. Barton, being commanded to Bewdly the day before, with some Hors and Dragoons, took many Prisoners as they fled, to the number of 1200. And the next morning, pursuit was made by 1500 Horse and Dragoons under Col. Blundel, and a stronger party under Major gen. Harrison. In the flight, Col. Lilburn, and the Generals Regiment of Foot that was with him, met with their Antagonist the E. of Derby, Lauderdale, and about 140 persons of quality. These Forces of Col, Lilburns, with those lying at Bewdly, and in Shropshire and Staffordshire, seem to have bin so happily disposed there by Providence, as if we had foreseen this fatal Rout, and accordingly provided to intercept the Enemy in their return.

In all the Ingagements that ever we had, never did a more immediate hand of God appear, than in this, nor more courage and resolution in an Army, though no flesh hath cause to boast, because it is the Lord only that hath don all these things. The number of Prisoners is near 10000. near 3000 were slain of the Enemy; but of all on our side, not above 200. which adds much unto the Mercy. Of Officers very few slain; onely Quartermaster gen. Mosely and Capt. Jones of Col. Cobbets Regiment: Maj. gen. Lamberts hors was shot under him: The number of Arms and Colours is so great, that as yet no certain accompt of them hath been given. My Lord Generall did exceedingly hazard himself, riding up and down in the midst of the shot, and riding himself in person to the Enemies foot offering them Quarter, whereto they returned no answer, but shot. The Major-generals, and all the rest of the Officers, in their places, gave many eminent Testimonies of a noble courage and behaviour. Let us conclude therefore in the words of our renowned General, The dimensions of this mercy are above all our thoughts; It is, for ought I know, a Crowning mercy. Surely, if it be not, such a one we shall have, if this provoke those that are concerned in it to Thankfulnesse, and the Parliament to do the will of him, who hath don his will for it, and for the Nation; whose good pleasure it is to establish the Nation, and the Change of government, by making the people so willing for the defence therof, & so signally to bless the endevors of his Servants in this late great work. Let all our thoughts tend to the; promoting of his honor, who hath wrought so great Salvation: Let not the fatness of these continued mercys occasion pride and wantonness, as formerly the like hath done to a chosen Nation; but let the fear of the Lord even for his Mercies, keep an Authority and a People, so prospered and blessed, and witnessed unto, humble and faithfull, that Justice and Righteousness, Mercy and Truth, may flow forth as a thankful Return to our gracious God, for all his mercies.