Fought on 14 June 1645, the Battle of Naseby was one of the most significant engagements of the First English Civil War between King Charles I and parliament. The confrontation proved a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians and marked the beginning of the end for the Royalists in the war. Here are 10 facts about the battle.
1. It was one of the first major battles fought by the New Model Army
In January 1645, two-and-a-half years into the First English Civil War, pro-parliament forces had claimed several victories but were struggling to seal an overall victory. In response to this dilemma, Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell proposed the formation of a new, conscripted army that would be paid for by taxation and receive formal training.
This force, which became known as the New Model Army, were dressed in red uniforms, marking the first time that the famous “redcoat” was seen on the battlefield.
2. It faced off against Royalists led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine
The son of a German prince and Charles I’s nephew, Rupert was appointed commander of the Royalist cavalry at the age of just 23. He became seen as an archetypal “Cavalier”, a name first used by the Parliamentarians as a term of abuse against the Royalists but later adopted by the Royalists themselves. The term became associated with the fashionable clothing of courtiers at the time.
Rupert was given a promotion in the spring of 1645 when Charles appointed him Lieutenant-General, in charge of all his forces in England.
The prince’s time in England was running out, however. Following the siege and surrender of Royalist-held Oxford in 1646, Rupert was banished from the country by parliament.
3. The battle was sparked by the Royalists’ storming of Leicester on 31 May 1645
After the Royalists captured this parliament stronghold, the New Model Army was ordered to lift its siege of Oxford, the Royalists’ capital, and head north to engage the king’s main army. On 14 June, the two sides met near the village of Naseby, about 20 miles south of Leicester.
4. Royalist troops were outnumbered nearly 2:1
Several weeks before the battle, a perhaps overly confident Charles had split his army. He sent 3,000 members of the cavalry to the West Country, where he believed the New Model Army was headed, and took the rest of his troops north to relieve garrisons and gather reinforcements.
When it came to the Battle of Naseby, Charles forces’ numbered just 8,000 compared to the New Model Army’s 13,500. But Charles was nonetheless convinced that his veteran force could see off the untested Parliamentarian force.
5. The Parliamentarians deliberately moved to a weaker starting position
The New Model Army’s commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, had initially decided to start out on the steep northern slopes of the Naseby ridge. Cromwell, however, believed that the Royalists would never risk attacking such a strong position and so persuaded Fairfax to move his troops slightly back.
6. The Royalists advanced beyond Parliamentarian lines
Chasing fleeing members of the Parliamentarian cavalry, Royalist horsemen reached their enemy’s camp at Naseby and became preoccupied with trying to plunder it.
But the Parliamentarian camp guards refused to surrender and Rupert eventually convinced his men to turn back to the main battlefield. By that point, however, it was too late to save the Royalist infantry and Rupert’s cavalry soon withdrew.
7. The New Model Army all but destroyed the Royalist force
Initially, it looked as though the experienced Royalists would claim victory. But the New Model Army’s training ultimately won out and the Parliamentarians were able to turn the battle around.
By the end, the Royalists had suffered 6,000 casualties – 1,000 killed and 5,000 captured. By comparison, just 400 Parliamentarians were either killed or wounded. Among those killed on the Royalist side was the bulk of Charles’ veteran infantry, including 500 officers. The king also lost all of his artillery, many of his arms and personal baggage.
8. Charles’ private papers were among the items captured by the Parliamentarians
These papers included correspondence that revealed the king intended to draw Irish and European Catholics into the war. Parliament’s publication of these letters bolstered support for its cause.
9. Parliamentarians hacked to death at least 100 female camp-followers
The massacre was unprecedented in a war where the killing of civilians was discouraged. It is not clear why the massacre took place but one theory is that the Parliamentarians may have intended to rob the women who then tried to resist.
10. The Parliamentarians went on to win the war
Just four days after the Battle of Naseby, the New Model Army captured Leicester and within a year had won the war altogether. It was not to be the end of England’s civil wars, however. Charles’ surrender in May 1646 left a partial power vacuum in England that parliament failed to successfully fill and, by February 1648, the Second English Civil War had broken out.