It was the last battle of the British Civil Wars – a final clash between 28,000 men of Cromwell’s New Model Army and 16,000 Royalists, most of them Scots, under Charles Stuart, son of the executed king. Only now, however, has the actual battle site been confirmed by archaeological discoveries.
Musket balls, horse-harness fittings, horseshoes, and belt-buckles are among the finds unearthed on a construction site in Powick, where the archaeological team was supported by contractor Alun Griffiths, who lent them engineering equipment.
‘The construction work has given us the opportunity to investigate the floodplain across which thousands of infantry and cavalry engaged,’ explained lead archaeologist Richard Bradley, ‘and to get down to the level where artefacts were deposited.
‘Many of the lead musket and pistol balls show evidence of firing or impact, and these tangible signs of the conflict offer a poignant connection to the soldiers who fought and died here.’
The actual battlefield lies buried deep beneath several centuries’ accumulation of river flood deposits, which had previously prevented battlefield archaeologists from accurately locating the site. Battlefield archaeologists can use distributions of military metalwork – especially, for this period, musket balls (fired by infantry) and pistol balls (fired by cavalry) – to reconstruct details of unit deployment, movement, and action not recorded in historical sources. Research on the artefacts recovered and their distributions is now under way.
Charles Stuart – later King Charles II – rejected the advice of his Scottish allies that he should fight the New Model Army in Scotland, where his support was strongest, in favour of an invasion of England. He reasoned that English Royalist support was strong and that English Presbyterians would also rally to his cause.
He had recently signed the Solemn League and Covenant of the Scottish ‘Covenanters’ – co-religionists of the English Presbyterians – thereby placing himself at the head of what he deemed a grand coalition of enemies of the London government. He also took the precaution of keeping his army well in hand as he advanced south, so as not to antagonise his countrymen.
But he had miscalculated. Cromwell’s New Model Army was a highly professional force of combat veterans committed to their cause. Though the Battle of Worcester was hardfought, with the Royalists fighting from hedgerow to hedgerow, the New Model Army routed their enemies one last time, finally bringing the Civil Wars to an end.
About 3,000 men were killed at Worcester, and some 10,000 Royalists were captured. Charles escaped the wreckage of this army, and also the determined manhunt that followed his defeat, on one famous occasion hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House as Parliamentarian cavalry passed beneath.
The English Republic – ruled by Cromwell himself as Lord Protector from 1653 – endured until the Restoration of 1660. This brought Charles to the throne – by virtue of an internal coup, when one section of the New Model Army marched against another.
This news article will be published in the November 2019 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.