Hiding In Plain Sight – Possible Unconsidered Evidence As To What Happened At Marston Moor?

One of the books on the shelf above where I work at home is called “Fuller’s Worthies”. This is subset of a larger work called “Worthies Of England” by Thomas Fuller. Published in 1662, this is subtitled “The history of the worthies of England who for parts and learning have been eminent in the several counties: together with an historical narrative of the native commodities and rarities in each county”. In modern terms it is a combination of a dictionary of biography and a gazetteer with chapters for different counties. There is even an addendum in Volume 3 for the counties of Wales.

It was only recently that I picked this up and looked more closely I realised that there are sections on the battles that were fought in some counties. For Yorkshire only one battle is described: Marston Moor. The entry is a quite an extended one, running to two pages in my copy. Most relevant to us, it contains specific references to Newcastle’s infantry.

The first of these reads:                                                                                    

“Some causelessly complain of the marquis of Newcastle, that he drew not his men soon enough (according to his orders) out of York, to the prince’s seasonable succour. Such consider not that soldiers newly relieved from a nine weeks siege will a little indulge themselves. Nor is it in the power of a general to make them at such times to march at a minute’s warning, but that such a minute will be more than an hour in the length thereof.”

As we know from other sources that Newcastle’s infantry did not appear on the Moor until well into the afternoon. This was in part due to the ‘indulgence’ being looting the abandoned siege lines. There is even a reference to them appearing in new footwear acquired in the process. The quotation also shows the realities of military manoeuvring: things take time!

The next quotation is much more specific:

“The marquis of Newcastle’s Whitecoats (who were said to bring their winding sheet about them into the field), after thrice firing, fell to it with the but ends of their muskets, and were invincible ; till mowed down by Cromwell s cuirassiers, with Job’s servants, they were all almost slain, few escaping to bring the tidings of their overthrow.”

This clearly ties in with Newcastle’s infantry launching a counterattack, particularly when David Blackmore’s conclusions in ‘Destructive and Formidable’ (Frontline Books, 2014) are taken into account. These are that volley firing was a sign of intent to attack, normally two firings, where as firing by files is primarily a defensive act.

Back to the account, it indicates a number of possibilities:

  • at least for their part of the Royalist line the surprise at the assault by the Allies was not as complete as some would have us believe.
  • Unlike others the Royalist Army, Newcastle’s were not unloaded even if they were stood down.
  • They had sufficient time to fall in and load. In turn this may be a result of the ditch and hedge line which the Royalists were using as their front was sufficient enough an obstacle to give them time to do so. Certainly contemporary accounts indicate it was much stronger in front of the Whitecoats than at the other end of the line where Cromwell’s cavalry swept forward almost unhindered by the terrain.

Despite having read many books, articles and accounts of Marston Moor, I cannot recollect any of them using Fuller as a source. So this begs the question: just how accurate is his account particularly as he refers to Cromwell’s cavalry as being cuirassiers?

To deal with the last first, Fuller was published in 1662. By the 18th Century a cuirassier simply wore a back and breast plate for armour. It may be that this is simply an early use of the term to describe such a cavalryman. It may also be down to hyperbole on Fuller’s part to help explain the Allied victory, bearing in mind Thomas Fuller himself was a Royalist, serving in the Civil Wars as a chaplain to Sir Ralph Hopton and actively fighting in the defence of Basing House. Consequently, he was not a mere commentator but was inured in things military.

Further indication as to his reliability comes in his preamble to his account of the Battle Of Edgehill. This reads:

“and I confess myself not to have received any particular intelligence thereof. I will therefore crave leave to transcribe what followeth out of a short but worthy work of my honoured friend, confident of the authentical truth thereof.”

There is no such statement made about Marston Moor which indicates to me that he had received specific information which he believed was reliable. Moreover, the lack of a disclaimer lime the above could well indicate that he had access to more than one source.

Anyone for three volleys?

Fuller’s Worthies can be found online at: https://archive.org/details/worthiesengland01fulluoft, https://archive.org/details/worthiesengland02fulluoft, and https://archive.org/details/worthiesengland03fulluoft

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