Naseby: Then and Now – Battlefield

4 mins read

Martin Marix Evans describes the scene of the New Model Army’s victory over King Charles and Prince Rupert on 14 June 1645.

The Cromwell Monument

The 17th century campaign was beset with difficulties. Moving through the countryside was hard to plan, given the lack of maps and knowledge of your enemy’s location. The condition of roads and bridges restricted the route for wheeled traffic, artillery, and wagons carrying powder and shot. Foot soldiers were less constricted, and the cavalry enjoyed considerable freedom of movement. An army, therefore, moved from rendezvous to rendezvous, and so it was on that foggy early morning of 14 June at Naseby.

The Royalists marched to take ‘a Hill whereupon a Chappell stood’ – almost certainly that of East Farndon, easily seen from the Welland valley. The New Model Army moved to ‘a Rendezvous near Naseby’, probably the windmill outside Naseby on the Kelmarsh road, hidden from the Royalist position by the ridge north of Naseby village. To the south, Sir Thomas Fairfax was informed that the Royalists were at Market Harborough, and soon after he was able to see them ‘on the top of the hill on this side of Harborough’.

To do so, Fairfax had to ride north to the point at which the road of the time curved eastwards; from here, he and Oliver Cromwell could see their enemies. Fairfax’s Viewpoint has been built here, and from it, Rupert’s Viewpoint and the fields below the East Farndon to Little Oxendon road are easy to see, as is Broadmoor. It was probably here that Cromwell advised a move to the west: ‘Let us I beseech you draw back to yonder hill, which will encourage the enemy to charge us, which they cannot doe in that place, without their absolute ruine.’

When standing on the viewing platform, this instruction takes on a practical meaning: there is no hill to the east; between the modern woods, the ridge south of Broadmoor can be seen to the west, presumably ‘yonder hill’; the daunting slope up which the Royalists could only attack with ‘absolute ruine’ is ‘that place’ in front of the Viewpoint over which the Clipston road now passes.

The Armies Deploy and the Fight Begins

In contemporary accounts there is disagreement over which side moved first. It is clear the writers had little understanding of what was going on: none of them was alongside the men who made the decisions. Rupert, Walker recounts, had moved off to see for himself. Slingsby says ‘prince Ruport draws forth a good body of horse, & advanceth towards ye enemy, where he sees their horse marching up on ye side of ye Hill to ye place where after they imbattl’d their whole army.’ Visitors now have the opportunity to see for themselves and decide if they agree with the view that the New Model Army moved off first, coming over the ridge into Rupert’s sight and precipitating a matching redeployment by the Royalists.

The Royalists numbers were recorded by a Richard Symonds, who served in the King’s Lifeguard of Horse. The Parliamentarian strength has been computed from the pay warrants in the State Papers in the National Archives by David Blackmore. What these show is the greatly differing strengths of the various regiments. Sir Hardress Waller’s, for example, numbered 560 men, whereas others were almost up to full strength of 1,200 men. The neat blocks of textbook, full-strength regiments shown on Streeter’s depiction are entirely misleading. The numbers on the day were probably about 10,150 Royalist and 13,575 Parliamentarian troops.

The infantry frontage is shown by musket shot discoveries, while the cavalry, if any trace survives at all, is to be seen from pistol bullets. It is clear that the New Model foot had their right on the Naseby to Sibbertoft road, that there was a serious clash in the centre of their line, and the left was about halfway between the road and the Sulby parish boundary hedge.

Colonel John Okey had command of a force of 676 dragoons. He reported that Oliver Cromwell ‘caused me with all speed to mount my men, and flank our left Wing, which was the King’s Right Wing of Horse; where was Prince Maurice, who charged at the head of his Regiment, and the King himself in the next reserve’. From his report alone it is very hard to reconstruct what took place, but when viewed from the ground and with the knowledge of shot-finds, matters become clearer.

Looking south from the position of the Royalist horse, Okey’s approach would have been seen. With the horse were commanded musketeers who had ample time to prepare and open fire on the dragoons through the hedge as they arrived at the northern corner, driving them back some 50m or more. But the Royalists were unable to stand under incoming fire and had to move off. It is interesting to see that Okey identified Prince Maurice as commanding the cavalry, and that he noted the King’s presence. The Royalist command had been tempted westwards, losing contact with its left flank. Hearing a fight break out on the right, the commanders took immediate action to find out what was happening by riding the 400m to that end of the line. The advance was enforced by the dragoons’ fire, and Rupert rode with them until the first clash broke Parliament’s horse; then he returned to the King. The story of Rupert’s beating up the artillery train, never very credible, is exposed as mere gossip.

Examination of the ground of the Parliamentarian line shows that there is a little valley in its centre, a re-entrant, where the shot-fall suggests a concentrated fight, and there is evidence of a serious, hand-to-hand struggle in this place.

From the Cromwell Monument, one can see how the ground falls away before rising once more to the west, and where the Royalists came close to breaking the New Model line before superior numbers and a flanking charge by Cromwell’s horse forced the surrender of some 4,000 of them.

Traditional histories suggest the battle finished on Broadmoor but it was not so. Shot-finds demonstrate there was a considerable fight on the eastern end of Dust Hill. Traces then arc eastwards over Moot Hill in Sibbertoft parish, into the valley along which the boundary with Clipston parish runs and up and over Wadborough before scattering in numerous directions across the Welland valley. The final viewpoint in the battle sequence is the brick-built WWII Royal Observer Corps post overlooking Wadborough

Further information

Visit www.naseby.com. For a downloadable tour guide, see: The Battlefield – Visiting Naseby.
To support the Project, see: The Project – How You Can Help.

Top: The Cromwell Monument, showing the two interpretation boards.

Above: Interpretation boards at Fairfax Viewpoint give detailed descriptions of the action throughout the day.

See our article on Turnham Green.

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