By Robert L. Durham

Prince Rupert eyed the Parliamentarian position atop the low ridge south of the village of Newbury on the morning of September 20, 1643, with deep concern. Through the heavy mist that resulted from the unending late summer rains in England he watched closely as artillery crews prepared to fire two drakes, small cannon that hurled five-pound projectiles. The two drakes did not form a major threat to the king’s army, which was arrayed a short distance to the northeast astride the road to London, but he realized that it was an oversight on his behalf that he had not dispatched a force the previous day to hold the ridge.

He was sure Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Parliament’s Lord General, intended to move more of the guns in his artillery train onto the ridge, at which point they would pose a threat to the left flank of King Charles’ field army. Rupert, who commanded thousands of horsemen that day, could send them to seize the northern end of the ridge, but they would have to advance into the teeth of the menacing drakes.

He had to act quickly. The presence of the Roundheads in force on the ridge did not bode well for the Royalists given they held the only high ground a short distance south of the village. Rupert had come to know Essex’s talents well in a year of hard campaigning, and the Lord General was not one to be underestimated. Rupert knew Essex to be intelligent, resourceful, and clever.

Rupert was not about to be outsmarted by Essex on the field of battle, so he called forth some of his bravest horsemen, and sent them to scatter the Parliamentarians and hold the hilltop for the king’s infantry. What would unfold that day would be a contest that would require professional and volunteer soldiers on both sides to fight with the utmost grit and determination for their respective causes.

In “this war without an enemy,” as Sir William Waller described the English Civil War, England suffered more casualties than it did in either World War I or World War II. During the campaigning from 1643 to 1645, it is estimated one in 10 men between the ages of 16 and 65 enlisted in either the Royalist or Parliamentarian armies. As many as 150 towns and cities suffered the ravages of the war. Although it seemed senseless to many, thousands of Parliamentarians and Royalists joined one side or the other.

The English Civil War began with neither party wishing to engage in a war. It is believed the war stemmed from King Charles I’s personal and religious approach to government. His reign began on March 27, 1625. The second monarch of the House of Stuart, Charles was a man who was largely oblivious to the rights of his people. He insensitively attempted to impose greater religious conformity regarding the Catholic religion. No one on the Parliamentarian side, which consisted mainly of Protestants, believed that Charles was not the rightful king of England. Their grievances stemmed from the policies he pursued.

King Charles I, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and senior lords hold a council of war. The war had been going on for just over a year, and the king was hoping for a decisive victory at Newbury.
King Charles I, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and senior lords hold a council of war. The war had been going on for just over a year, and the king was hoping for a decisive victory at Newbury.

With London’s militia and the Tower of London armory firmly in Parliament’s hands in 1642, Charles abandoned Parliamentarian-controlled London and reestablished his court at York. After that, he made Oxford his principal base of operations against the Parliamentarians.

The English Civil War entered its second year in 1643. The Royalists and Parliamentarians fought several battles that year, some involving the forces which would come together at the Battle of Newbury. In April of that year, Essex captured Reading. Prince Rupert, who commanded the Royalist cavalry, defeated a force of Parliamentarian cavalry on June 18. Also, at that time, Essex’s campaign in Thames Valley stalled because of sickness among the troops. The upshot was that Prince Rupert of the Royalist Army on July 26 stormed and captured Bristol, England’s second largest port, and a major manufacturing and trading center. Attacking the town led to a heavy loss, a loss which would affect the Royalists in the coming campaign.

The Royalists then besieged Gloucester. They captured the city on August 10. Nine days later, Parliament requested the City of London provide troops from the London Trained Bands to reinforce Essex. The London Trained Bands were companies of militia raised from householders fulfilling their obligation to protect their city. During the conflict, the Parliamentarians mustered these companies for the good of their cause. They were well trained and among the best of the Roundhead infantry.

The Trained Bands departed London on August 23. The following day, Essex began his offensive to relieve Gloucester. On September 3, after several skirmishes, Essex reached Stow-on-the-Wold. Rupert attempted to stop Essex the following day but failed in his mission. Rupert could not conduct a major attack at that time owing to heavy losses at Bristol and the flagging morale of his troops. For these reasons, Rupert could not order a major charge on Essex’s forces. The Royalists lifted the siege of Gloucester two days later. Essex took possession of entered the city on September 8.

Rupert’s failure to capture Gloucester led to recriminations among those in the Royalist camps. “The siege of Gloucester was not believed to have been well conducted,” wrote the Earl of Clarendon, placing the blame on King Charles’ senior commanders. A great deal of blame landed on Rupert, whose failure to engage Essex on his march to Gloucester “was thought inexcusable,” according to Clarendon.

When Essex entered Gloucester, he did so at the sound of church bells. Once there, he found it necessary to halt for several days to allow the defenders of the city to build up their supply of provisions. He also needed time to rest his exhausted army. During that time, several sharp skirmishes occurred between troops quartered around the city and the Cavalier cavalry.

The Parliamentarians remained in Gloucester until September 15 when Essex began his march for London. King Charles I and Prince Rupert started their march the next day, beginning a race to Newbury, a strategic crossroads town in Berkshire midway between London and Gloucester. Possession of the town by the Royalists would effectively block the road to London, the Parliamentarian headquarters. Both sides suffered greatly from the effects of forced marches and bad weather. “It proved to be a most miserable tempestuous, rainy weather,” recalled Captain John Gwynne of the King’s Regiment of Guards.

Although the Parliamentary Army had succeeded in forcing the Royalists to quit their siege of Gloucester on September 5, the Royalists got ahead of the Parliamentarians and blocked the road to London at Newbury.
Although the Parliamentary Army had succeeded in forcing the Royalists to quit their siege of Gloucester on September 5, the Royalists got ahead of the Parliamentarians and blocked the road to London at Newbury.

Charles had to slow the Parliamentarians down or they would reach Newbury before the Royalists. Prince Rupert sent a body of cavalry under Sir John Urrey to harass the rearguard of the Roundhead army. The main force of cavalry hurried to head off Essex’s army. Urrey reported to Rupert that the enemy infantry had become spread out in their line of march, crossing the open ground of Aldbourne Chase, with most of the Roundhead horse more than a mile behind.

Rupert hoped to ride down the Parliamentarian infantry before their horse could support them, but the Roundhead infantry drew up into battle formation. Each regiment formed into a block of pikemen, with musketeers on each side. The Roundhead dragoons exchanged fire with some detached musketeers, resulting in approximately 100 casualties on each side.

A controversial casualty for the Royalists, the Marquis Charles de la Vieuville, had come from France to volunteer for the Cavalier cause. Just how he died is disputed. One account holds that after being captured, “his head almost cloven asunder with a pole-axe,” according to a Roundhead account. The Cavaliers believed the Roundheads killed him after capturing him. The account is substantiated to some degree by the Roundhead Sergeant Henry Foster, who saw the body and said he received three shots, one in the chest, one in the shoulder, and another in the face. Regardless of how he died, the Parliamentarians offered to return La Vieuville’s body for 300 gold pieces which enraged the Cavaliers.

“The Prince was well nigh tempted from his temper and was once resolved to have charged with three thousand horse alone” against the whole Parliamentarian army, stated an anonymous Royalist historian.

Essex did not want a battle and feared that if he delayed much longer, the Royalist infantry would reinforce their cavalry. After discharging two small cannons to hold off the Cavalier cavalry, the Roundheads withdrew from the fight. When Rupert discovered the enemy retreating, he wanted to attack their cavalry, try to drive it off, and then capture their wagon train. But upon further thought, he allowed the Parliamentarians to depart.

The delaying action had its effect since it forced the Roundheads to take a longer route to Newbury. Instead of marching to London on the left bank of the Kennet River, they would have to cross to the right bank. This would require crossing the river again at Newbury, where a bridge spanned the Kennet.

Essex marched hurriedly, trying to reach Newbury before Charles. The Parliamentarians’ march slowed considerably from fear that Rupert’s cavalry would fall on them. “We were much distressed, for want of sleep as also for other sustenance,” wrote Sergeant Foster. They eventually reached Hungerford, about eight miles west of Newbury, but Rupert had slowed down the Lord General’s army to such an extent that King Charles’ field army managed to reach Newbury first.

Parliamentary musketeers armed with matchlock muskets blunted repeated charges by Royalist cavalry at Newbury.
Parliamentary musketeers armed with matchlock muskets blunted repeated charges by Royalist cavalry at Newbury.

The Royalists reached Newbury on September 19, ahead of Essex and checking the Parliamentarian army from crossing the Kennet on the only bridge. The Roundheads could not reach London without crossing the bridge. Essex had no option open to him, he had to fight. Both armies suffered from severe fatigue at the end of the campaign season when they squared off at Newbury.

The armies were nearly matched in numbers, but not in types of troops. Essex had 4,000 cavalry, significantly less than the Royalists, and 9,000 infantry. The Cavaliers had 7,000 foot and 7,000 horse. Most of the soldiers on both sides had some military training since they had served in militia companies. Many of the officers also had military experience from serving in the Thirty Years War in Holland, Germany, and the adjoining territories. Most of these veterans subsequently served in the Parliamentary army. Approximately 60 Roundhead officers and 20 Royalist officers who fought at Edgehill in 1642 were professionals in both training and experience.

Cavalry was regarded as the queen of the battlefield in the mid-17th century. Most recommended a horse to foot ratio of 1:2, but this would not be achieved at Newbury.

All told, there were three different types of horse soldiers at Newbury: cuirassiers, harquebusiers, and dragoons. The cuirassiers, or heavy cavalry, wore suits of plate armor that reached from the head to the knee. This gave them a distinctive advantage in hand-to-hand fighting yet restricted their mobility. Essex bodyguard constituted the only cuirassiers that fought at Newbury.

The main type of cavalry on both sides was the harquebusiers. These standard cavalrymen normally fought as light cavalry and were armed with a sword and a pair of pistols. They had a helmet, back and breast plates, and buff coat for protection. But Prince Rupert used his harquebusiers as heavy cavalry. They would attack the enemy at a trot, rather than the headlong charge described in popular legends. They formed up for attack three ranks deep. When they reached the enemy’s line of infantry, they discharged their pistols at close range. In so doing, they sought to weaken and disorganize the enemy’s pike troops. Once this was achieved, the harquebusiers would then engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, trying to force their way past the pikemen. If they managed to break the formation of pikemen, which would be extremely difficult, the casualties among the infantry would mount rapidly as the cavalry rode them down.

As for the Parliamentarian harquebusiers, they formed four ranks deep and normally stood on the defensive. If they did charge the enemy infantry, they relied on firepower to break the enemy formations. They would fire into them, wheel away, reload their pistols, and attack again. Military men of the time considered Cavalier cavalry to be superior to the Roundhead cavalry, but by the time of Newbury the Royalists found the Roundheads gaining on them in effectiveness.

The dragoons formed the third type of cavalry at Newbury. They were armed similarly to the harquebusier, but also carried a carbine or short flintlock musket. They fought dismounted, using their horses to get to the scene of action, and then dismounting to fight on foot.

Seasoned veteran Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, and the young and aggressive Royalist cavalry commander, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.
Seasoned veteran Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, and the young and aggressive Royalist cavalry commander, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Pikemen and musketeers made up the infantry regiments. The optimum pike to musket ratio at the time was 1:2, but this ratio varied within regiments. Although they fought side by side with the pikes, musketeers also might deploy separately from the pikemen in order to skirmish or protect the cavalry. Groups of detached musketeers, referred to as commanded bodies, performed invaluable service at Newbury. One body of Royalist musketeers under Lt. Col. George Lisle operated as an independent foot formation.

The musketeer’s standard weapon during the English Civil War was the matchlock musket; however, musketeers in independent units were often armed with flintlock muskets. If deployed with pikemen, they would take up positions on each flank of the pikemen usually six ranks deep.

The front rank would fire, then move to the rear where the men would reload while the next rank fired. A proficient musketeer could get off two shots a minute. In addition to their musket, they also carried a sword. Yet when hand-to-hand fighting occurred, many musketeers opted to use their musket as a club rather than fight with their sword.

The pike, widely regarded as the most honorable weapon on the battlefield, traced its lineage back to the Macedonian phalanx. The pike was 12-feet to 16-feet long with a razor-sharp steel head. In experienced hands, the pike offered a formidable obstacle. The pikemen typically arrayed themselves in a hedgehog formation up to 10 files deep. If attacked by cavalry, musketeers sheltered under the pikes, while the pikemen took position with their pikes angled to receive horse. If attacked by infantry, the pikemen of each side came together in the so-called push of pike. One side eventually won the struggle and disrupted the other side.

Since the Royalist army was drawn up on the Green—an expanse of flat, open ground west of the town through which the road passed towards the bridge over the Kennet—the Lord General decided to swing his army to the south of the town where it might gain the Wash Common, a stretch of chalk down land. Either way, the armies would have to navigate enclosed terrain consisting of lanes, hedges, and enclosed fields in which it was difficult to maneuver troops. The banked hedges and ditches that lined fields and sunken lanes not only made for good defensive ground for infantry, but also hampered the movement of cavalry.

When the Royalists arrived at Newbury, they took position west of the town. Their battleline stretched from the Kennet on the north to En Brook on the south. These watercourses securely anchored the Royalist flanks.

The Lord General issued orders on September 19 in preparation for marching around Newbury to the south. He ordered the vanguard, consisting of several infantry brigades and half of the cavalry, to secure Wash Common for the passage of the well-guarded artillery train in the middle of the army. The 22-gun artillery train consisted of 20 light artillery pieces and drakes, as well as two demi-culverins.

Opposing cavalry clash with pistols and broadswords. Cavalier horsemen made repeated charges in an attempt to gain control of Round Hill, a dominant feature in the Berkshire farmland.
Opposing cavalry clash with pistols and broadswords. Cavalier horsemen made repeated charges in an attempt to gain control of Round Hill, a dominant feature in the Berkshire farmland.

Several infantry brigades would move onto the western edge of Wash Common. Once this was done, Sir Philip Stapleton’s cavalry brigade, deployed as part of the right wing, was to pass through them and form up on the Wash where it would serve as a flank guard.

The artillery train, which would be guarded by infantry, would move along Skinners Green Lane onto Wash Common. Last but not least, the rearguard, which consisted of Colonel John Middleton’s cavalry brigade and two brigades of infantry, would initially make as much noise as possible in the Kennet Valley to deceive the Royalists into believing the main thrust was going to be made against the Kennet River bridge, before moving to join the rest of the army. Essex believed that his best infantry could stand up against the Royalist cavalry.

In order for the Roundheads to win the battle, they would have to fight their way through the Royalist army to reach the bridge spanning the Kennet. Once that was accomplished, the Roundheads could continue their march to the safety of Parliament-controlled Reading, and then on to London.

As they began their move south of Newbury, the Parliamentarians seized control of Round Hill on September 19, a long ridge south of Newbury from which artillery could control Wash Common. The vanguard posted two drakes on the northern end of the ridge. With their artillery on the hill, the Roundheads effectively controlled the ground that would become the battlefield the following day.

For reason unknown, the Royalist commanders had neglected to occupy the hill. During the night of September 19-20, a small force of Cavaliers picketing the eastern end of Wash Common reported that the Roundheads had occuped Round Hill. The Royalist commanders resolved to seize the hill at first light. Since the hill was bordered by hedges, it could not be seized by cavalry alone and would require a mixed force to successfully complete the task.

King Charles was the commander-in-chief of the Royalist field army. Lt. Gen. Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth, and Sir Jacob Astley, Sgt. Maj. Gen. of Foot, commanded the infantry. Prince Rupert, the General of the Horse, commanded the cavalry.

Rupert initially misinterpreted the purpose of the drakes posted atop Round Hill, believing that they were positioned to bombard the Green in preparation for an assault up the main road towards the bridge. Regardless of the Roundhead intentions for the artillery, the high ground had to be taken. Rupert dispatched a scratch force of infantry and cavalry at 5:00 am to seize the hill. When they failed to achieve their objective, a larger force was sent to make a fresh attack.

Viscount Falkland reels in his saddle after being shot in the stomach.
Viscount Falkland reels in his saddle after being shot in the stomach.

Specifically, Rupert ordered Sir John Byron to support the commanded musketeers of Lord Wentworth and two regiments of horse commanded by Colonel George Lisle. The infantry was to seize the hill, and Lisle’s horsemen were to stand ready to intervene should the Parliamentarians commit their cavalry to defend the hill. Byron’s force started off at 6:30 am and found its advance challenged by a portion of Sgt. Maj. Gen. Philip Skippon’s Brigade. The stout-hearted Londoners sharply repulsed Byron’s musketeers.

The Royalist musketeers called for Lisle’s horse to assist them. A small body of cavalry came slowly forward, in single file due to the narrowness of the passage. When their commander thought he had men enough for the task at hand, he charged the Roundheads, who reformed with the drakes supporting them. The Roundheads succeeded in driving the Royalist horse beyond the hedge, where they received orders to remain.

When the battle became wide-ranging, the Royalists advanced to support their leading troops, leaving their artillery on the Common. As planned, Essex’s right wing of cavalry advanced to Wash Common with orders to assist the infantry in holding Round Hill. Byron, under the deadly fire of the two drakes on Round Hill, charged the guns from both the front and the flank with great determination.

As the fighting grew in intensity, the Royalist commanded muskets became fiercely engaged among the hedgerows with Skippon’s three regiments. The Royalist musketeers found themselves in a protracted fight in which they used the hedges and the high banks on the sides of the lanes for cover.

The Trained Bands moved to the top of the hill where Royalist cavalry subjected them to several attacks. Rupert continued to feed cavalry into the fight. The Cavalier horse repeatedly charged the men of the Trained Bands, but the horse alone could not break their ranks. Casualties steadily mounted on both sides.

It was not long after Byron’s force was sent to assault the northern end of the Round Hill that Rupert discerned what he believed to be Essex’s real intentions. To thwart the Lord General’s plan, Rupert began shifting cavalry brigades and light artillery along the Andover Road to Wash Common.

Meanwhile, Byron continued to struggle with his objective, which became all the more difficult when Essex sent Lord John Robartes Brigade, consisting of three regiments of foot, forward to reinforce the position.

Falkland had told friends just before the battle that he was weary of the strife, and he may have deliberately sought death by riding alone through a hedge.
Falkland had told friends just before the battle that he was weary of the strife, and he may have deliberately sought death by riding alone through a hedge.

After great effort, the Royalists succeeded in driving off the Parliamentarians. They pitched their colors triumphantly for a time atop Round Hill, but Essex brought forward more infantry and so began another bloody hand-to-hand contest for control of the hill. The Royalists managed to retain control of the hill, forcing the Parliamentarian cavalry to pull back. When some of the Royalists advanced into a lane, though, the Roundhead horse cut them to pieces.

The Cavalier horsemen then began a series of charges in which they sought to break the foot soldiers of the London Trained Bands. But the musketeers of the Blue Regiment of the London Trained Bands poured a hot fire into the Cavalier horse, sending them reeling back. The cavalrymen rallied and charged anew, only to be met again by sheets of musket fire from the stout-hearted men of the Blue Regiment, which pushed them back yet again. They rallied and charged a third time, trying to break the infantry ranks, with the same result as before.

Sir Nicholas Byron, who was the uncle of Sir John Byron, then brought forward two regiments of the infantry of his Oxford Army. The fight grew so fierce that 11 of the 12 ensigns fighting in one of the regiments were wounded. The Royalist infantry called again for help from the cavalry, and Prince Rupert ordered Sir John Byron and Lord Colepepper’s cavalry regiments to relieve their companions in the infantry. Sir John commanded his troopers to halt while he moved forward to reconnoiter the ground where the enemy infantry stood. He found it to be enclosed by a high hedge with no passage into it except a narrow gap. Only one horse at a time could, with difficulty, go through the opening.

Sir John gave orders to make the gap wider but, before it could be done, Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, spurred his horse through the gap. Both rider and horse were cut down by enemy fire. Falkland’s death became the most memorable incident of the battle.

When the Royalists had widened the opening, Byron ordered his troop to enter and charge the Roundheads. The Roundheads, in turn, fired “a great salvo of musket shot, and discharged their two [small cannon] upon us,” Byron wrote afterwards. He rallied his men but before they could attack again, the Roundheads got their artillery away to keep it from being captured. The rest of Byron’s regiment now being up, Sir Thomas Aston reinforced him with another cavalry regiment.

Mounted Cavaliers attacked a second time and beat the Parliamentarians back, but the Roundheads turned and faced them again, with the hedge at their backs. The Roundhead musketeers poured a thundering volley of shot into them. One of the effects of the volley was that it killed Aston’s horse. Despite the determined efforts of Rupert’s stalwart horsemen, the Parliamentarian infantry simply could not be broken.

Each time the troopers advanced, the highly disciplined Roundhead musketeers held their fire until the horsemen were within point-blank range, and then fired straight into them. The Royalist horse became disorganized and men and horses both writhed in an agony of death and dying on the heath. Having suffered heavy losses, the Cavaliers broke off the charge and wheeled off. The Parliamentarians withdrew in order to reform in Skinner’s Green Lane. But before they could do so, Byron charged a third time. This time he caught the musketeers unprepared and routed those that could not reach safety in a hedge.

A body of the Roundhead foot advanced to relieve them and the Royalist infantry came forward to defend the ground the cavalry had taken. Byron lost approximately 100 horses and men out of his regiment and 26 from his troop. The Parliamentarians unsuccessfully attempted to regain the ground they had lost. The Cavaliers then posted their own artillery on the hill and deployed musketeers to protect them from being captured.

The Roundheads and Cavaliers continued the fight with unwavering valor for hours. The narrow lane leading to Skinner’s Green became so choked with the dead and dying that a passage had to be cleared before Roundhead cavalry could again move along it. Once this was done, Parliamentarian cavalry squadrons charged up the hill where opposing horsemen clashed with swords; however, they could make no headway against the superior numbers of Royalist cavalry.

Charles still determined to stand on the defensive on the flanks, awaiting Essex’ attack, but the impulsiveness of some of the Cavalier commanders frustrated his intentions. When the Royalists sighted a party of the Parliamentarian forces on Enborne Heath, part of the Royal cavalry charged down on them.

Parliamentary pikemen angle their weapons to counter a charge by Royalist troopers. The militia of the London Trained Bands distinguished themselves in the sanguinary battle.
Parliamentary pikemen angle their weapons to counter a charge by Royalist troopers. The militia of the London Trained Bands distinguished themselves in the sanguinary battle.

The king advanced his right wing to cover the advance of his left wing towards the heath. Rupert brought his cavalry from the right wing to the left to support this movement. Due to the hedgerows and bluffs on the right, the cavalry could not effectively be used there.

The struggle on Round Hill caused more casualties than any other action of the battle. At the same time this action happened, more took place on both flanks. The troops of the Royalist left wing did not attempt their chief attack until late afternoon when Prince Rupert could spare some cavalry from the Round Hill sector. The Cavalier foot did not perform well, “Our foot having found a hillock in the heath that sheltered them from the enemy’s cannon, would not be drawn a foot from thence,” according to an official Royalist account of the battle.

The Cavaliers finally got their men forward to launch a major assault. The Parliamentarians could not withstand the shock of this cavalry charge and were forced to give ground. They quickly formed a square, with their front ranks kneeling, and faced the cavalry. The musketeers waited until the Royalist horse came right up to them before the rear ranks poured in a volley. The storm of lead compelled Rupert’s horsemen to take flight.

Skippon redeployed an infantry regiment from the slopes of Round Hill to assist the endangered position. A combined force of Royalist cavalry and infantry attacked, which obliged the Roundheads to retreat. Colonel James Holbourne ordered the Roundhead artillery to deliver a salvo after which the Roundheads attacked the Royalists with two infantry brigades, regaining the ground they lost.

The Royalists had managed to force a gap between Skippon’s wing and Essex’s wing and in order to close it some of the Parliamentarians were diverted from a counterattack being mounted against Round Hill. The Roundheads drew 500 musketeers from their pikemen, as well as a small number of dragoons, to hit the right flank of the Royalists among the hedges. Essex also dispatched 200 musketeers of the Forlorn Hope and the Red Auxiliary Regiment to aid the Parliamentarian troops. The Red and Blue Regiments of the Trained Bands took a position on the right wing of the Parliamentarian army.

The Royalists had eight artillery pieces and a large body of cavalry and infantry facing the Parliamentarian flank. The Cavaliers began shelling the Roundheads before they could get their own guns up. Two regiments of the King’s Horse attacked the Blue Regiment, but their musketeers drove them off. The troops of Essex’ army all wore green boughs in their hats to distinguish them from the enemy. One regiment of the Royalist cavalry put green boughs in their hats and rode forward shouting, “Friends!” but the Roundhead musketeers fired on them despite the ruse, causing them to withdraw.

The Royalist artillery rained devastation on the Trained Bands. “The enemy’s cannon did play most against the Red Regiment of Trained Bands, and it was somewhat dreadful when men’s bowels and brains flew in our faces,” recalled Sergeant Foster.

The Red and Blue Regiments gained the advantage of a little hill and fought against two regiments of the Royalist infantry for half an hour, holding the hill. Then two regiments of enemy cavalry attacked and surrounded them. They formed a defensive square, with pikes in front and rear and on both flanks. “We made a great slaughter among them, and forced them to retreat,” Foster wrote. Meanwhile, the enemy infantry gained the hill which they had been fighting for, obliging the Roundheads to retreat a way to rally their men.

The Parliamentarians considered the action on their right as a watershed point in the battle. The Royalist cavalry came close to breaking the right flank of the Roundhead infantry and almost broke through into the Roundhead rear and their baggage train. The fighting by the Trained Band infantry, with the support of a few cavalry, frustrated the Cavaliers.

Because the Royalists had run out of gunpowder by nightfall, they could not continue the battle the following day. Their claim of victory rang hollow given that they quit the field.
Because the Royalists had run out of gunpowder by nightfall, they could not continue the battle the following day. Their claim of victory rang hollow given that they quit the field.

Newbury was a soldiers’ battle, meaning that there was very little planning or interference from the high command on either side. The casualties among the foot soldiers were exceptionally high, being fought among the hedgerows and lanes. The fighting died down at nightfall and the sky threatened rain. Although small skirmishes flared up throughout the night, the first battle at Newbury was effectively over.

The battle ended in a tactical draw given that the Royalists remained on the field. The Roundheads suffered for lack of water. “We were in great distress for water, or any accommodation to refresh our poor soldiers,” Foster wrote. To Essex, it looked like he would need to renew the battle for he had to punch his way through the Royalist army to London. He was not sure how he would achieve that, and it caused him great anxiety that night.

Their losses had been many, and they were in no shape to attack the Royalist positions, which very nearly approximated those of the previous morning. What is more, the Royalists had taken possession of Round Hill and planted their guns atop it. The men of both sides spent the night in the rain, listening to the cries and groans of the wounded. It was a miserable night and few soldiers on both sides got any sleep.

The Royalists held a war council to review the battle and discuss their next steps. King Charles had expected to fight a defensive battle, and he was not pleased to have been forced to fight an offensive one. Throughout the day-long battle, Rupert’s cavalry, along with Sir John Byron’s horse, had supported the infantry well. Sir Nicholas Byron’s foot did extremely well against the enemy foot. Although compelled to attack Essex on Round Hill, Charles’ men took the hill and held their original positions on both flanks.

Lord Henry Percy, General of the Ordnance, informed the senior commanders that the supply of powder for musketeers was nearly exhausted. They also had a grave lack of round shot for the artillery. Rupert favored holding their positions at Newbury until such time as supplies reached them. Sir John Byron concurred. But the rest of the senior commanders favored abandoning their positions.

When dawn arrived, Essex prepared to renew the assault. But the Royalists were in the process of withdrawing, and therefore the Roundheads resumed their march to London in the late morning. Rupert stayed behind with some of his troops hoping to inflict some additional losses on the Roundheads.

Rupert ordered Lord Wilmot and the Earl of Northampton with a large cavalry force and 800 commanded musketeers to attack the Roundheads as they marched through a narrow lane. The attack scattered the Parliamentarian horsemen, who made a disorderly and confused retreat. The routed Roundhead cavalry ran into the rear of some of their own infantry, disrupting them as well. Sergeant Foster found himself caught up in the chaos. When the cavalry fled down the narrow path, they “routed our own foot, trampling many of them under their horses’ feet,” he wrote.

The Royalist musketeers fired on the Parliamentarians from the hedges on the side of the lane, increasing the confusion. The Cavaliers captured or destroyed much of the Roundhead wagon train. The Roundheads deployed artillery, which halted the Royalist horse, and counterattacked with their infantry. These steps forced the Cavaliers to withdraw. When some of the Royalists tried to surrender, the Roundheads “were so enraged at them, that they knocked out their brains with the butt-end of their muskets,” Foster wrote. No more clashes occurred during the Parliamentarians march to London.

The Royalists failed at an opportunity to destroy the Parliamentarian field army of Essex, which could have won the war. The Cavaliers claimed Newbury as a Royalist victory but the officers and the men in the ranks knew better. “Upon the King’s return to Oxford, there appeared nothing but dejection of mind, discontent, and secret mutiny,” wrote Clarendon.

King Charles awarded honors to some of the men who had been prominent in the summer campaign. Sir John Byron received a baronetcy and Prince Rupert a dukedom, and honors for others, too. But nothing could take away the sting of the campaign’s results. The war would continue unabated. Having failed to destroy the Roundheads at Edgehill or Newbury, King Charles would institute a fresh strategy in the third year of the war.

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