The Business of Yorkshire - Part 5.
22nd June 1643 - Queen Henrietta Maria arrived at the Royalist stronghold of Newark in Lincolnshire and the Earl of Newcastle was able once more to turn his attentions to the West Riding. His forces stormed Howley Hall taking its governor, Sir John Saville of Lupset, prisoner.
Newcastle and his force moved on towards his prime objective, the town of Bradford, and camped about 5 miles south east of the town near Adwalton.
The Fairfaxes, then in Bradford, realised that they had no hope of resisting a siege in the unfortified town and in any case had only 12 days of provisions in hand. Their stronghold at Hull was still denied to them and in any case was considerable march distant.
The Parliamentarian army, about 4,000 in total, was made up of 3500 infantry, including 1,500 from Lancashire, and 500 cavalry.
The Royalist army numbered approximately 10,000 to 12,000 including a high proportion of cavalry but being deficient in musketeers.
30th June 1643 - Lord Fairfax resolved to take the fight to Newcastle and to attempt a surprise attack early on the morning. This was a brave move and probably the only course of action open that had the slightest hope of any success.
Lord Fairfax gave orders that the army should be ready to march out of the town at 4 o’clock in the morning. There was some delay and the army did not leave till between 7 and 8 o’clock. The blame for this was attributed to Major General Gifford and Sir Thomas Fairfax wrote later of his suspicions of treachery on the part of Gifford.
When the Fairfaxes and their army approached Adwalton early contact was made between the advanced units of each army and the Royalists were driven back to onto Adwalton Moor where their main army was in the process of drawing up into battle formation.
The Fairfaxes astutely made use of the terrain and landscape positioning their army behind hedgerows and ditches on the moor so as to prevent Newcastle making full use of his large force of cavalry.
Sir Thomas Fairfax commanded the right flank with 1000 infantry and 5 troops of cavalry with Major General Gifford on the left with a similar force.
Newcastle’s cavalry ( about 1000 troopers ) charged on the right wing but were engaged by musketeers positioned in the hedgerows. The cavalry tried to force their way through a gap in the hedge sufficient for 5 or 6 horsemen at a time and those that broke through found, to quote Sir Thomas, “sharp entertainment”. Those that did not received “hot welcome” from musketeers positioned in the hedgerows. The Royalist cavalry were forced to retreat.
The right wing was again attacked by Royalist cavalry who made a more resolute effort but were again beaten off with some loss and pursued by Sir Thomas and his troopers back to their own cannon.
Observing the success of Sir Thomas on the right Major General Gifford advanced his force from their secure positions behind the ditch and pushed back Royalist infantry to the centre of their line.
Newcastle considered a retreat and indeed some of his men had left the field.
The Fairfaxes were on the verge of a famous and unexpected victory which the spirit and resolve of their men deserved.
At this crucial stage the battle was turned when a Royalist colonel by the name of Skirton, or possibly Kirton, in desperation pleaded with Newcastle to be allowed one final charge with his pike men.
The resulting attack against Gifford’s force proved unexpectedly successful where all else had failed.
The Royalists pushed forward and the Parliamentarian left flank fell back and held. The Royalists cannon opened fire on Gifford’s men who, after about 30 minutes of continued fighting, crumbled as Royalist infantry and cavalry commanded by Lieutenant General King out flanked them on the left. Gifford’s line collapsed with his men fleeing back to Bradford from whence they had come. The Lord Fairfax and his forces in the centre followed.
Parliamentarian reserves were slow to react to this unforeseen threat and again Gifford was subsequently blamed, rightly of wrongly, for this failure although orders may have been overtaken purely by the speed of events. It is only fair to add that, although Gifford received some criticism for his actions and loyalty during the day, he had and was again to prove himself a faithful Parliamentarian during the remainder of the war.
A shortage of ammunition for the musketeers may have also have contributed to the collapse of the Parliamentarian left wing.
The small cavalry force of Sir Thomas Fairfax on the right were heavily engaged by cannon and musket fire and forced to retreat back the temporary safety of the enclosed fields whence they had come.
Sir Thomas became isolated on the right, not being fully aware of developments on the other side of the field. When he received his orders to retreat the road to Bradford was taken by Royalists and he was forced to fight his way off the field towards Halifax.
On arrival in Halifax he was told that his soldiers were needed in Bradford to reinforce his father and the remains of his army and he immediately headed north for the town with his exhausted survivors of the battle.
The Parliamentarian army in Yorkshire was broken by this defeat which left Newcastle firmly in control of the county with the exception of the port of Hull.