28th August 1640, the Battle of Newburn Ford

Newburn was the only battle fought during the Second Bishops War, an even more obscure campaign then the First Bishops War.

It was one of those unusual occasions when a Scottish army marched south, conducted itself in commendable martial fashion against an admittedly ill-led, ill-prepared English opposition and won the day handsomely. Its worth looking at just on the basis of this rarity alone.

Of itself the battle had a profound impact, playing a key role in the prolonged deterioration of the relationship between Charles I and his English Parliament which led to the regicide of said monarch and all the unfortunate train of events which then ensued; the war of the Three Kingdoms, the Cromwellian Interregnum, the Restoration, James II’s disasterous reign, William’s usurpation, the Jacobite Risings, the Union of the Crowns and so on ad infinitum.

This war, as with its predecessor, arose from the belief amongst Covenanting Scots that the aforementioned Covenant could only be defended on the field of battle and so a sizeable Scottish Army, of some 20,000 infantry and 3, 000 horse, headed south in mid August in order to pursue the resolution of their grievances with King Charles’ military representatives. An army assembled by the unconstitutional authority of a Parliament which convened itself without the constitutionally essential Royal Commissioner and in the face of the King’s direct instruction for proroguement, declaring the King’s consent to be tacit. It was the same fiction by which the Long Parliament would be subsequently convened at Westminster

 

Command of this army was given to Alexander Leslie, one of the foremost military commanders in Scottish and Swedish history. Leslie’s force marched south and was led in person across the Tweed at Coldstream by the Great Montrose, over the very ford that Walter Scott has Marmion riding on the eve of Flodden.

Alexander Leslie

King Charles, meanwhile, struggled to field a presentable force and was compelled to call the Short Parliament that he might raise the necessary supplies for it. Sadly, for this noble monarch, his persuasive efforts, as was so often the case, proved fruitless and he dissolved this august body of men.

Charles I, King of both the victors and the vanquished at Newburn Ford.

Charles I, King of both the victors and the vanquished at Newburn Ford.

The English army was commanded by Edward, Lord Conway. This would prove to be the only occasion that the good lord was entrusted to command men in battle, during his brief military career.

As Leslie’s army approached Newcastle’s unfortified flank from the north, Conway drew up his force at Newburn Ford to prevent his enemy crossing the river. There was, to be fair, little else he could do as the Scots Army greatly outnumbered his and the quality of men under his command led a great deal to be desired, according to various contemporary accounts.

Leslie’s army was on higher ground and well blessed with cannon which it used to shell the English into an early and full-scale retreat from the river bank. The following morning the city of Newcastle meekly surrendered.

Leslie's Scottish Army crosses Newburn Ford having blown the English soldiery out of their positions and into full-scale retreat

Leslie’s Scottish Army crosses Newburn Ford having blown the English soldiery out of their positions and into full-scale retreat

The battle had no small significance to the constitutional future of both kingdoms and was won in an afternoon with only sixty dead on the losing side and around a dozen from the victors.

The Covenanting Army then proceeded to occupy Newcastle, thus controlling the supply of coal to London and Charles was compelled to agree the raising of a levy from the surrounding district to maintain the occupying force in victuals.

 

The ramifications of Leslie’s victory went far beyond the mere financial and the dizzy descent into the War of the Three Kindoms gathered apace.

 

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