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The Business of Yorkshire - Part 1.

In August 1642 King Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham and shortly after he led his army south to Edgehill where the first major battle of the Civil War was fought.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax, was commanding officer of the Northern Association, the Parliamentarian forces in Yorkshire. His son, Sir Thomas, was to prove a more capable leader than his elderly father and was an extremely courageous and able cavalry commander who became one of the major Parliamentarian figures in the Civil Wars.

The Royalists in Yorkshire were under the command of the Earl of Cumberland who was sadly lacking in initiative and they were unable to do much more than hold York and the routes north. Parliamentary forces were active in raiding these routes from Scarborough on the East coast.

The Fairfaxes and their fellow Parliamentarian commanders at Hull, the Hothams, were able to move across the county almost at will and even raided the city of York.

In October 1642 the more energetic of  Cumberland’s lieutenants became increasingly frustrated with their general’s lack of action and forced Cumberland to hand over his command to the Earl of Newcastle who was much more enthusiastic in his approach. Newcastle’s staff officers were nearly all experienced soldiers and tested in many years of combat abroad.

Newcastle was a man of immense wealth, influence and power in the north of England.

23rd October 1642 – First attack on Bradford by approximately 800 Royalists with 2 cannon was beaten off by 300 local militia and irregulars who prevailed in spite of being heavily outnumbered. Following this setback the Royalists abandoned Leeds which was then occupied by Parliamentarian forces

Newcastle assembled an army of between 8,000 and 9,000 men and, in December 1642, marched south into Yorkshire to join up with the Royalist forces already in the county.

There was now a very great risk to the Parliamentarian forces in Yorkshire who were considerably outnumbered and seriously under threat.

Newcastle acted immediately on arrival in York and launched attacks on the Parliamentarian forces in the area.

During November the Fairfaxes remained in Bradford and recruited and trained an army from the area.

At the end of November they made their main base at Tadcaster which was ideally positioned to threaten York and was in between the 2 Parliamentarian strongholds of the West Riding and Hull.

Lord Fairfax and a force of 900 men were positioned at Tadcaster with 300 infantry and 40 cavalry, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, at Wetherby. Both were important crossing points  over the River Wharfe. At the end of November Sir Thomas and his force at Wetherby were caught napping by a surprise dawn attack by the royalists under Sir Thomas Glenham.

This was repulsed with some difficulty and only after Fairfax’s gun powder store blew up causing the attackers to flee as they believed Sir Thomas had cannon in the town.

7th December 1642 - a large Royalist army under the command of the Earl of Newcastle attacked Tadcaster. Lord Fairfax’s force was outnumbered by 10 to 1. Unable to withdraw he had no option but to stand and fight and positioned in his men in houses and in defensive positions around the bridge.

A hard contest ensued throughout the day with the Royalists making determined assaults but being repeatedly driven back by the defenders. Newcastle withdrew his army at nightfall planning to renew his attack the next day.

In spite of his success Lord Fairfax was forced to withdraw from the town during the night due to a shortage of ammunition and lack of men. The Fairfaxes headed south east to occupy Selby.

The Royalists then moved to relieve the small Royalist garrison at Pontefract.

Sir Thomas Fairfax attempted to break back to the West Riding of Yorkshire but was prevented from doing so in spite of gaining small victories in cavalry actions at Monk Fryston and Sherburn in Elmet on the 10th and 12/13th December respectively.

Newcastle then decided to advance into the West Riding and attack centres of Parliamentary support in the region. His main target was Bradford.

Royalist forces under the command of Sir William Savile occupied Leeds and Wakefield which were surrendered by the local inhabitants with only light resistance.

Sir William Savile


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