The Battle of Adwalton Moor – June 1643

Battle Plaque at Adwalton Moor
The Battle Plaque at Adwalton Moor

Introduction:  Following his defeat at Wakefield, Newcastle determined to finish off the Parliament Forces (commanded by Lord Fairfax and his son,  Sir Thomas Fairfax) once and for all. He gathered a force of about 7-8000 and marched for the Parliament strongholds of Leeds and Bradford. The Fairfaxes set out to try and catch Newcastle on the march and fight him on ground of their choosing (Adwalton Moor). This did not quite work as Fairfax found Newcastle ready for him. Fairfax was able though to get his troops in position.

The Armies: 
Fairfax’s army was around 3000 (his account) although the Newcastle memoirs talk of 5000. The composition of the forces is more important. Fairfax had little cavalry, less than a third of his army. The rest were almost entirely musketeers. Newcastle comments on the Parliament musket greatly outnumbering their own. More than half of Newcastle’s army was Horse, the rest Foot regiments. Newcastle was never able to arm enough musketeers and his regiments were probably never more than 50/50 pike/musket. Fairfax therefore held an advantage in firepower but Newcastle in all other arms. Newcastle also had several cannon with him but at least initially these seem to have been left behind the army.

The Site: 
Fairfax intended to offset his lack of forces, maximise his firepower advantage and protect his men from the Royalist cavalry. He formed up in an area of closely hedged land at the edge of the moors, behind a large ditch and bank astride the Leeds/Bradford road. Newcastle was obliged to form his forces in broken ground with his cavalry impeded by areas of coal pits and spoil heaps. Where the road crossed the ditch the narrow gap was guarded by Fairfax’s cavalry and large proportion of his musket.

The Battle:
The main strength of Newcastle’s army, the Horse, tried to force the gap in the ditch along the Leeds/Bradford road but were bloodily repulsed by Fairfax’s Horse and Musket. Both Royalist Colonels leading the Horse, Howard and Heron, were slain, and Four Parliamentary troopers stripped and robbed Heron’s body. As they scattered and made their way back, a shot from a Royalist cannon slew two and ‘some hurt or mark remained on the rest’ (Fairfax). Fairfax revelled in this in his own account as it was a useful lesson to his own troops!

At the same time the Royalist musket, apparently unsupported by Pike, tried to push through the Parliamentary centre but were repulsed by the Parliament musketeers behind the ditch and the hedges. The Royalist cannon was by now gradually arriving on the field.

Having met with no success on flank or centre the Royalists tired, and Fairfax claims that Newcastle started to withdraw, being unable to find a way through. At this point the Lieutenant Colonel of Newcastle’s own regiment, one Posthumous (S)Kirton, asked Newcastle for one last go at the Parliament lines. To describe what happened next, I quote the Newcastle and Fairfax memoirs:

Newcastle:At last the pikes of my Lords own army having had no employment all the day, were drawn against the enemy’s left wing, and particularly those of my Lord’s own regiment, which were all stout and valiant men, who fell so furiously upon the enemy, that they forsook their hedges and fell to their heels“.

Fairfax:… one Colonel Skirton, a wild and desperate man, desired his general to let him charge once more with a stand of pikes. With which he broke in upon our men; and they not relieved by our reserves … lost ground which the enemy seeing pursued this advantage by bringing in fresh troops. Our being herewith discouraged began to flee; and so soon routed.”

It seems that with the Royalist Musket repulsed, the Pike just went for it and charged the Parliament musket over the ditch. They, being unsupported by Pike were unable to resist and fled. With the collapse of the Parliament left wing, the Parliament Horse under Sir Thomas Fairfax was being surrounded. Despite this they seem to have rallied until shot at by cannon and then charged in the flank and front by Newcastle’s cavalry who had now deployed across the ditch. Fairfax then fled south from the battlefield directly past Oakwell Hall.
The Parliament Army was scattered, with the infantry and most of the cavalry captured, Fairfax escaping to Bradford and then to Hull. During the escape via Selby and Barton On Humber, Fairfax was wounded and his wife captured. He recovered to fight at Marston Moor a year later and to go on to greater things as the commander of the New Model Army. Newcastle, chivalrous to the end, had Lady Fairfax escorted to Hull in his own coach. This left the North in Royalist hands apart from Hull and in desperation Parliament had to bribe the Scots to enter the war against Newcastle to redress the balance. The Scots invaded in January 1644 and that campaign culminated in Marston Moor.

Further Notes:

It is clear from the evidence that this was an encounter battle. The suggestion that the Royalists were drawn up ready would appear to come from Sir Thomas Fairfax and Hodgson, both Parliamentarian sources. Furthermore, it is not clear if Hodgson was even present and it is hardly surprising that Fairfax a) significantly overestimated the size of the Royalist Army and b) tried to portray events in the best light (“we tried our hardest, but they were too strong and better prepared than us, honest guv”).

A very different picture emerges if we look at the Royalist accounts. In fact ‘An Express Relation …’ even goes as far as to imply that it was Parliament who were deployed ready:

.. when we had marched two miles or thereabouts we found a great body of men, …, and had possessed a place called Adderton Moor, and taken the advantageous places thereof, …

The view that the Royalists were far from deployed in an organised fashion is reinforced by a number of other accounts.

The ‘Life of Newcastle’ talks about the difficulty of deploying the Royalist Horse as the only ground available on the Moor was “… amongst old coal-pits”. Moreover, the Royalists could not get at the Parliamentarians because of the fact that they held ” a great ditch and high bank betwixt my Lord’s and the enemy’s troops…” and they were “… drawn up in hedges…”.

At one point the Royalist guns were overrun, an incident of which Lister talks in such a way that implies they were all relatively close together rather than deployed for maximum effect. This ties in with their late arrival on the field.

But the clearest picture is given by Slingsby:

“; my Lord Fairfax draws out, advancing towards the camp where his excellency lay. The fortune (Forlorn) hope of his excellency’s army met unexpectedly with the van of the enemy. They skirmish and are put to retreat.” (in this account ‘his excellency’ refers to Newcastle).

In other words both sides set off and blundered into each other.

Also the disparity of army size and composition is also questionable. In his ‘All the King’s Armies”, Stuart Reid mentions that the Parliamentarian Army included two complete regiments from Lancashire, so the idea that they were mainly musketeers backed by a disorganised rabble takes a bit of a knock, particularly when you add this Stuart’s new definition of clubmen. One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the armies were probably not that far apart in numbers, although with the Royalists having a small predominance in cavalry and pike, and the Parliamentarians in musket.

Another interesting point is that the ‘wild and desperate’ Colonel Skirton mentioned in Fairfax’s account, is almost certainly Postumous Kirton who was, or was to become, the Colonel of Newcastle’s own Regiment. As a result, it is no surprise that, according to ‘Life of Newcastle’, it was this unit that he led in the attack that finally broke into the Parliamentary position and precipitated the collapse of their army.

“All the King’s Armies” – Stuart Reid
“Gunpowder Triumphant” – Stuart Reid
The following are all reproduced in part in Keith Dockray’s thesis “Yorkshire and the Civil War” held at the former Huddersfield Polytechnic:
“Fairfax’s Memorial …”
“The Life of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle”
“The Autobiography of Joseph Lister of Bradford”
“Memoirs of Captain John Hodgson of Coalley-Hall near Halifax, Touching on His Conduct in the Civil Wars…”
“An Express Relation of the Passages and Proceedings of His Majesty’s Army, under the Command of his Excellence the Earl of Newcastle …”

Written by Derek Reid, Further Notes by Simon Wright.

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