Prince Rupert of the Rhine.
William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. 1644.
January brought depressing news for William as the Scots advanced over the border to fight for Parliament. After long negotiations the Scots had decided to take the field against the King who had so recently attempted destroy their beloved Kirk and impose the new prayer book. On the 18th January 1643 a mighty Scottish army of 18000 infantry, 3000 cavalry, 500 dragoons and 120 artillery pieces arrived at Berwick on the Scottish border under the command of the ageing but still formidable Alexander Leslie, Lord of Leven. William wrote to Prince Rupert on the 28th January.
“ I know they tell you, sir, that I have great force: truly I cannot march 5000 foote and the 3000 horse not well armed... Since I must have no help, I shall do the best I can with these.”
Sir Thomas Glemham was sent North to inspect the defences in Northumberland and organise resistance. As the Scots advanced Glemham withdrew destroying bridges and fighting a delaying action as best he could. William sent Eythin ahead with the first troops and the old man made extremely good time before arriving in Newcastle. William was close behind on the 2nd Feb.
The bad weather had slowed the Scots army and Leven was astonished when he arrived to find William was already at Newcastle. Their assault was delayed until heavy siege guns were brought by ship. William was the more active of the 2 at this time burning the northern suburbs of the town to deprive the attackers of cover, sinking ships in the Tyne to prevent assault from the sea and mounting raids on the Scots whenever the opportunity presented itself. He sent his cavalry across the Tyne to Gateshead where they were able to make further raids on Scots positions.
Leven decided to bi-pass Newcastle and moved most of his army inland at the end of February. William believed the Scots would not move till the weather improved and relaxed his cavalry patrols. Leven then made a swift move crossing the River Tyne and advancing his army to Sunderland. The Scots did not take advantage of this success as, although their army was large and well officered, it was poorly trained and lacking in fighting spirit.
William took the initiative and advanced against Leven but the canny Scot would not be drawn into battle preferring to hold Sunderland and use it as a base. This game of cat and mouse continued for a month. The severe winter weather continued and food was in short supply.
On the 24th March William was finally able to draw the Scots into a fight near Sunderland. A lively encounter developed between the infantry of both sides and the Scots were driven back to the safety of Sunderland after the further intervention of the Royalist cavalry, now under the command of Sir Charles Lucas. William’s force was too weak to attempt a siege and he withdrew to Durham. His only chance was to defeat Leven army in the field and this Leven was clearly reluctant to risk. William wrote to Prince Rupert that day emphasising the seriousness of his position.
“ If your Highness do not please to come hither, and that very soon too, the great game of your uncle’s will be endangered, if not lost.”
The King wrote offering encouragement but nothing else. Leven then made a move advancing on Durham. Further bad news followed Yorkshire. John Bellasis had been defeated and captured at Selby by the Fairfaxes and John Lambert. Most of his infantry and artillery had been lost and York itself was now threatened.
On the 12th April William set off for York with most of his army arriving on the 16th. He was faced with what was clearly another crisis. The garrison at York totalled only 500 and his own army, which now numbered 4000 infantry and 3300 cavalry, was exhausted after a long march. William ordered most of his cavalry to leave York for the Midlands as they would be a little use in a siege and there was not the fodder to feed the horses anyway. Lucas slipped out that night as the Fairfax and Leven closed in. William sent a message to the King saying he could hold out for 6 weeks, 8 at the most, but hoped for relief before then. Prince Rupert and a large force of Royalists had been sent by the King to Lancashire and Cheshire in January to secure these counties and quell resistance. Rupert was now William’s only hope. He set about collecting all the food in York and organised a daily ration for the population. Soldiers were billeted as fairly as possible and taxes levied to pay the army. The Scots army was 17,000. Fairfax had 5000 but these were far more experienced and much better soldiers than William now had at his disposal. He was outnumbered 4 to 1 which could be considerably worse if the Earl of Manchester and his army from the Eastern Association arrived, as now seemed likely.
Fairfax and Leven were unable to surround York completely but took up positions to the east, west and south. To the north was a string of outposts lightly held. Downstream of the River Ouse near Fulford a pontoon bridge was built by the besiegers so they could transfer troops from one side to another. Fairfax and Leven were content to consolidate their position biding their time till reinforcements and the better weather arrived.
On the 13th May St Lawrence’s church near Walmgate was captured and 4 large artillery pieces were set up to bombard the city. 5 more were placed beyond at the Mill Mound. On the 14th May the Scots captured a fort on the high ground near Skeldersgate.
In early June the Earl of Manchester with his second in command, Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell, arrived with the army of the Eastern Association 9000 strong forming a formidable Allied Force with the combined armies of the Northern Association and the Scots. Manchester completed the encirclement of York from the north.
From the 10th June to the 15th June William tried to stall any attack by suggesting that negotiations be opened as to a possible surrender and dialogue continued for a week whilst a truce was maintained. William demanded an honourable settlement allowing his army to march out of the city carrying their arms and with colours flying. This offer was refused but William had gained precious time.
The besiegers had not been idle during this lull and on the 16th June a mine exploded under St Mary’s Tower leaving a breach though which Lord Manchester’s assault infantry charged. In the gardens and orchard of York Manor the attackers fought hard to consolidate their foothold inside the city but were beaten back by William’s own Whitecoat Regiment which, it is said, he led personally. Manchester’s men left 50 dead and 200 prisoners. Amongst the Royalists killed were prominent officers Colonel Sir Philip Byron and Major Richard Huddleston. Byron was younger brother of John, First Lord Byron a leading Royalist general of the time.. Both are buried in York Minster.
The besiegers continued the siege but were in low spirits at their failure. Desertions were common largely due to the lack of pay and Fairfax’s army was in near mutiny over this issue. This fact he clearly acknowledged and commented that he could scarcely punish them as he had nothing to pay them with. Fairfax was also very short of ammunition as were the Scots. The Royalist army in York was also behind with their pay but as they were surrounded desertion was not an option.
Unknown to William Prince Rupert, now in Liverpool, took immediate action following receipt of instructions from the King and set off across the Pennines with 8000 infantry and 6500 cavalry. By the 30th June he was at Knaresborough 14 miles from York. The Allied generals were only too aware of the approaching threat and lifted the siege immediately heading for Marston Moor with the expectation of a major battle. Fearing that Prince Rupert would slip past them to the south to threaten their supply lines they set off for Tadcaster on the 1st July leaving their cavalry as a rearguard.
Late on 1st July Rupert’s forces captured a pontoon bridge across the Ouse at the village of Netherpoppleton, a few miles north of York, and made contact with the York garrison from the north-east. General Goring and a detachment of Royalist cavalry then rode into York through Micklegate Bar. He brought William orders from Rupert for the deployment of his forces in expectation of an attack on the Parliamentarians at Marston Moor.