How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645

Patrick Lynch - January 10, 2018

The First English Civil War lasted from 1642 to 1646 and was the first of a trio of conflicts that lasted until 1651. It pitted the Royalist army of King Charles I against the Parliamentarian army led by Oliver Cromwell. They fought for three years, but neither side had gained a significant advantage. The first major battle, at Edgehill in October 1642, was a tactical stalemate. Although Charles marched on London after the battle, his forces were not strong enough to take the city.

The tide began to turn against the Royalists in 1643, and they suffered a significant loss at the First Battle of Newbury in September. Newbury was crucial as it marked the high point of the Royalist advance and led to the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant which added the strength of the Scottish Covenanters to the Parliamentary forces.

The Battle of Marston Moor, in June 1644, was another decisive Parliamentary victory. It caused the Royalists to effectively abandon the North of England, but the war was far from over. The Parliamentary army tried to end the war at the Second Battle of Newbury in October, but the Royalists fought them to a stalemate. It was clear that the Royalists were not going down without one almighty fight.

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell –

Closing in on Victory

Cromwell was unhappy at the army’s poor performance at Newbury, and Parliament reformed its forces into the New Model Army. Unlike other armies in the Civil War, which were tied to one area or garrison, the New Model Army was designed to operate anywhere in the United Kingdom. The soldiers became full-time professionals who gave the army a distinct advantage over other forces at the time which were mainly comprised of part-time militia.

At the start of 1645, the majority of Charles’ advisors were begging him to attack the New Model Army while it was still in its infancy. Instead, the king allowed Prince Rupert of the Rhine to focus on recapturing the North of England to rejoin with the Marquis of Montrose in Scotland. It forced Charles to weaken his army by leaving a 3,000 man group behind to continue the Siege of Taunton.

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645
Sir Thomas Fairfax – Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Parliament told its commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, to lay siege to Oxford, Charles’ wartime HQ. While Charles was initially pleased with this development because it wouldn’t hinder the march north, he changed his tune when told that Oxford was running low on supplies. He ordered an attack on Leicester, and when the Royalists stormed the city on May 31, Fairfax was told to abandon his siege and return to Leicester. Meanwhile, Rupert abandoned the march north and went south to relieve Oxford.

Fairfax fought Royalists near Daventry on June 12 and was eager to fight the main Royalist army which arrived at Market Harborough in Leicestershire on June 13. Fairfax held a council of war while Cromwell arrived on the scene with cavalry. The New Model Army began to pursue the Royalists and Commissary-General Henry Ireton, second in command of the cavalry, attacked a Royalist post at Naseby. Charles’ main army was just six miles away, and the king had two choices: Face Fairfax in an open battle or retreat. His decision arguably changed the course of British history.

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645
Map of Battle of Naseby – British Battles

Strength of the Armies

While Rupert was in favor of retreating, Charles listened to Lord Digby, his secretary of state, who claimed that a retreat would further damage morale. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but in reality, the Royalist army was in no shape to take on the highly-trained New Model Army. Charles’ army consisted of just 7,400 men with 4,100 horsemen and 3,300-foot soldiers. The New Model Army held a significant advantage with 14,000 men including 6,000 cavalry 7,000 infantry, 1,000 dragoons, and 11 guns.

One of the keys to the battle was the fact that Fairfax had the sense to realize that the New Model Army had yet to reach its potential. He waited five days for Cromwell to arrive with reinforcements so by June 13, his army was ready. In contrast, Charles was also waiting for support, but it was too far away to help. He was expecting Royalist support from Wales and Somerset, and while the Welsh arrived too late, the Somerset regiment didn’t arrive at all. Charles made a mistake by attacking Leicester and abandoning the trip north. The ease of the victory at Leicester probably caused him to overestimate his strength.

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645
King Charles I of England – Weiss Gallery


The Battle of Naseby took place on June 14, but fog prevented the two armies from spotting one another in the morning. Before hostilities had begun, the New Model Army was ready for battle at the top of a ridge overlooking Naseby. The problem was, it was too good a position. Cromwell wanted the Royalists to attack and leave themselves open. If the New Model Army remained in its excellent position, even the incompetent Charles would think twice about launching an attack.

As a result, Cromwell ordered the army to move to a location 1.5 miles from Naseby. On the morning of the battle, the armies were no more than 800 meters apart. Cromwell positioned himself on the right flank with around 3,500 cavalry, and he was directly opposed by Sir Marmaduke Langdale on the Royalist side. Henry Ireton was on the left flank of the New Model Army and would face up against Prince Rupert and his brother, Prince Maurice. King Charles remained in command of a small reserve force.

Ultimately, the Parliamentary forces had soldiers and equipment that they didn’t even need. While it had 11 pieces of artillery, it proved useless in the heat of battle. The first salvo was fired too high and soon after the battle began, the two armies were so close that the artillery couldn’t be used. By the time battle commenced, the New Model Army completely outflanked the Royalist left. With superior forces and better commanders, the outcome of the Battle of Naseby was never in doubt.

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645
Initial stages of Battle of Naseby – Battlefields of Britain

An Easy Victory

Prince Rupert was the first to act soon after 10 am when he attacked Henry Ireton. Rupert enjoyed initial success by smashing through his enemy’s defenses. However, instead of attacking the Parliamentary infantry that was now exposed, Rupert made the critical error of moving on to Naseby and attacking a baggage wagon. While he may not have won the battle for Charles, Rupert could have ensured a hard fight for the Parliamentarians.

Langdale attacked Cromwell at almost the same time as Rupert launched his assault. However, Cromwell crushed Langdale’s forces, and instead of pausing when the king’s infantry was exposed, Cromwell went for the jugular; although he kept some men in reserve as an insurance policy. This move was the decisive moment in the battle. The Royalist infantry, led by Lord Astley, was quickly swarmed by the enemy and panic ensued.

While Astley’s men forced back the initial line of Parliamentary infantry, led by Sir Philip Skippon, it is likely that Skippon allowed this to happen as a means of trapping the enemy in a pincer movement. At this stage, the Royalist force was exposed to cavalry attack on both sides and soon realized that surrender was the best option.

When the dust settled at Naseby, the New Model Army lost 400 men compared to 1,000 Royalist casualties. Another 5,000 men surrendered. At one point in the battle, Charles had contemplated launching a counter-attack against Cromwell with his reserves but was talked out of it the Earl of Carnwath.

How One Nobleman Brought Down Charles I and His Entire Army in 1645
Painting of Charles I (left) by Anthony van Dyck – Artnet

Aftermath & Analysis

Fairfax’s men pursued the 1,000 or so Royalists who had managed to flee the battlefield. Hundreds of Royalists were murdered as were around 100 women camp-followers. It was a terrible atrocity, and even today, historians don’t know the reason for it. Fairfax captured Leicester just four days after winning at Naseby. Meanwhile, Charles had lost around 500 officers and most of his veteran infantry. He would be unable to muster up another significant fighting force for the duration of the war. On May 5, 1646, Charles surrendered and the last Royalist stronghold, Wallingford Castle, fell after a 65-day siege on June 24.

Although the war technically lasted another year, Charles’ defeat at the Battle of Naseby was the beginning of the end. It is interesting to note that Prince Rupert had long since been working on a speedy cavalry attack as a viable battlefield tactic. It even worked at Naseby, but his inability to follow up was crucial. Had Langdale enjoyed similar success on the opposite flank against Cromwell, the outcome of the battle could have been very different. Instead, he was overwhelmed, and the battle was lost soon after.

According to many British historians, the Battle of Naseby, along with Bosworth Field, Hastings, and the Battle of Britain, is one of the most significant engagements to have ever taken place on British soil. After all, it led to the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, King Charles II disbanded the New Model Army although several of its regiments served in the king’s new standing army.