Know Your Enemy: The Oxford Foot on the 14 June 1645
By Charles Singleton
The Royalists who fought at Naseby were part of the main ‘marching’ army of the King’s cause in the first civil war. It was also known as the Oxford Army since it was based at the King’s capital, Oxford. It was the backbone of the Royalist war effort.
ORIGINS OF THE KING'S ARMY
The army was a descendant of the untried forces that fought at Edgehill in October 1642. Initially poorly trained and armed, it was to become a well equipped and professionally led force. The arrival of supplies, firstly in a large convoy of European munitions organised by the Queen, then through the capture of arsenals and production centres such as Bristol were to improve greatly the levels of equipment issued. Officers such as Prince Rupert and George Lisle brought innovation and experimentation to the army. Increased inter arms cooperation saw the introduction of highly mobile mixed columns of infantry and cavalry. Improvements in the supply of muskets and black powder saw the development of higher musket to pike ratios and even musket only formations. George Lisle, son of a bookseller, was to use a brigade of a 1000 musketeers at the first Battle of Newbury in 1643, and again at Cheriton in 1644.
Staffed by many men and officers who had gained extensive experience in the European wars, it reached the peak of proficiency and operational effectiveness during the 1644 campaign season. Having defeated Waller’s South Eastern Association Army at Cropredy Bridge (28th June 1644), working with local Royalist forces, it pursued, cornered and forced the capitulation of the main Parliamentarian Army under Essex at Lostwithiel in August the same year. In October, at the Second Battle of Newbury, the Oxford Army not only fought the combined might of 3 Parliamentarian armies to a standstill, but successfully withdrew from impending encirclement.
Martial success came at a price. Victories on the central front and failure elsewhere led to ongoing attrition and increasing demands on a dwindling pool of manpower. The defeat at Marston Moor released two Parliamentarian armies and a Scottish host to fight in central England. It also resulted in the Welsh Marches and Wales itself, the hinterland of the Royalist cause and principal recruitment area, coming under increasing pressure from the late summer of 1644.
As a result of losses from battle and sickness and a shrinking territory from which to gain recruits, by the winter of 1644-45, the army was composed of units of no regular size or structure.
Rupert, appointed to the rank of Lieutenant-General of the King’s forces, had attempted to address these issues. He was met with resistance at every turn. Mainly by the various Royalist factions at court and other jealous officers. Unable to reorganise or recruit effectively, the Oxford Army took the field at the start of the 1645 campaign season considerably under strength and faced with the prospect of recruiting forces whilst on the march.
The army that assembled in Oxford, the Cotswolds and the Welsh Marches was composed of several contingents:
Old Oxford: these veterans were to form roughly two thirds of the infantry. Many of these regiments, such as Sir Richard Page’s foot, originally raised in Yorkshire by Sir William Pennyman had fought at Edgehill in 1642.
New Oxford: these were regiments and brigades that had been absorbed into the Oxford Army in 1644. They included those infantry led by Sir Edward Hopton and were the remains of the Western Tercio. The troops of the Reading Tercio were incorporated as part of the body led by George Lisle.
Rupert’s Forces: these were the remains of units that Rupert had led on his Yorke Marche. They were defeated at Marston Moor in July 1644, and had been operating on the Welsh Border in the second half of the year with mixed results. Rupert’s Forces included the Shrewsbury Foot and Prince Rupert’s own infantry regiment.
The Garrisons: units pruned ruthlessly from Royalist garrisons on the campaign march. The main contingents came from Worcester, Lichfield, Dudley and Newark.
NUMBERS AT NASEBY
The size of the Oxford Army is still a matter of debate amongst many Civil War Historians. Many, however, refer to the diary of Richard Symonds.
Symonds joined the King’s Lifeguard of Horse sometime toward the end of 1643. As a result, he was present and able to write about the battles of Cropredy Bridge, the second battle of Newbury and the campaign and battle of Naseby.
He described the army in three separate diary entries in 1645.
Friday May 9 ..Foot. This day wee marched in foot; King’s lifeguard 200, Colonel Lisle’s foot 500, Bard’s regiment 300, Prince Rupert’s which we met at Stow 1000, Lord Astleyes [Jacob Astley, officer in charge of the King’s infantry] 3,300.
Satterday, May 17, 1645
..Colonel Bagott, the Governour of Litchfield, joined with the King’s army, 300 foote and 200 horse.
Friday May 30,
Suma Totalis of the whole army of horse
|King and Queenes troopes||130|
|Colonel Howard’s Brigade||880|
|Sir Marmaduke Langdale’s and Sir William Blackstone’s brigades||1,500|
|Prince Rupert’s regiment of Horse||400|
|Sir Richard Willys||1,200|
|Earl of Northampton’s Brigade||850|
To these two totals, the contributions of the garrisons of Worcester (600 foot) and Newark (200) need to be added.
This gives a working total of:
However, if losses at the storming of Leicester (estimated at 200), a garrison to defend the city (again estimated by historian Stuart Reid at 400) and natural wastage are taken into account at approximately 10%, a new figure can be arrived at:
HOW DID THE ARMY FIGHT?
The Oxford infantry frequently used aggressive tactics.
The advance to contact usually followed the discharge of the salvee at close range. The Swedes introduced this aggressive infantry tactic to Europe during the Thirty Years’ War. Firing in the three ranks frequently at point blank range, the infantry would then charge into a confused enemy with sword and musket butt. This new tactic was soon to gain popularity throughout the rest of Europe, and the British Isles were to be no exception.
The use of these tactics at Naseby were recorded by Sir Edmund Walker, the King’s secretary:
The Foot on either side hardly saw each other until they were with Carabine shot, and so made only one volley; ours falling in with Sword and butt end of Musquet did notable Execution; so much as I saw their Colours fall, and their Foot in great disorder…1
The use of these tactics by the veteran Oxford Foot against the centre of the New Model Army saw the virtual overthrow of the NMA’s first line of infantry. However, fighting up hill, the Oxford Foot were overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers and volume of fire. Denied the support of their cavalry, and swamped by the masses of New Model cavalry, most of the Oxford veterans surrendered on Broadmoor, although some seemed to have made a fight of it off the field and onto Moot Hill some four miles away.
The disaster that occurred at Naseby in June 1645 heralded the end of the King’s cause. With the heart of the Oxford army, its infantry regiments, destroyed there was no significant force to oppose the New Model Army. Following the defeat of Goring’s Western Army at Langport in July 1645, Fairfax was free to reduce the Royalist garrisons without fear of attack. The last Royalist army was destroyed at Stow on the Wold in March 1646 and Oxford surrendered in June the same year.
The order of battle and observations on the Oxford Foot
Reserve (King Charles)
1. The King's Regiment of Foot - a regular pike and shot mix
2. Prince Rupert's Regiment of Foot - a regular mix of pike and shot.
Colonel George Lisle’s Tertio
3. Sir Theophilus Gilby’s battalion formed from Lisle’s (approx. 250-300 strong, mix of pike and shot), St.George’s, (approx. 150-200 strong, garrison troops so mainly shot) Thelwall’s, Vaughans and Gilby’s own regiments.
With the exception of St.George’s Regiment (from the Newark garrison), this battalia was the remains of the old Reading Tertio.
4. The Shrewsbury Foot/Colonel Robert Smith’s battalion formed from Broughton’s, Gibson’s, Hunck’s and Tillier’s Regiments (approx. 500 strong and due to heavy losses was very likely all re-equipped with shot [although I need to research this further]).
Sir Henry Bard's Tertia
5. Colonel Rhys Thomas’ battalion formed from Bard’s, (approx. 300 strong, with a mix of pike and shot). Murray’s (most likely all shot and possibly the army’s artillery train guards), and Thomas’ own regiment (approx. 200 strong, formerly the Queens reg. and with a conventional mix of pike and shot).
6 Col. Radcliffe Gerard’s battalion formed from Bagot’s, (approx.300 strong) Gerard’s own, Leveson’s, (approx. 100 strong) Owen’s (approx. 200-250 strong) and Russell’s Regiments (less than 200).
Gerard’s battalion was chiefly composed of garrison regiments - most likely all shot. The exception to this was the five companies of Owen’s regiment who had served in Farringdon Castle over the winter of 1644-45. This was a regular Oxford infantry regiment. Recent evidence unearthed by Will Hughes suggests that Bagot’s and Levenson’s regiments may not have served with Bard’s Tertia.
Sir Bernard Astley's Tertia
7. Duke of York’s regiment (approx. 500 strong, mix of pike and shot).
8. Sir Edward Hopton’s battalion (the former Western Tertio) formed from Applyard’s (shot only, first saw action at Cheriton), Astley’s (shot only?), Hopton’s own and Paulet’s Regiments.
9. Sir Richard Page’s battalion formed from Lord Astley’s (shot only?) and Page’s own regiment (approx. 500 strong)(mix of pike and shot)-N.B. formally Pennyman’s regiment, oldest in the army.
COMPOSITION OF THE OXFORD FOOT AT NASEBY - 14 JUNE 1645
1, 2, 7 - conventional pike to shot ratios of roughly 2 musket to 1 pike
3, 5, 6, 8, 9 - high ratios of pike to shot, roughly 2+ muskets to 1 pike
4 and the commanded shot - shot only (nb unit four is subject to revision)
1. Evans, M. M., Burton, P., Westaway, M., (2002) Naseby-June 1645: English Civil War Barnsley, Leo Cooper (p94)