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The Battle of Adwalton Moor

30th June 1643. A surprise battle on a Roman road. The Cavaliers win the North.

British Civil Wars > Weapons & Warfare > Battles & Sieges > The Battle of Adwalton Moor

In 1643 the Royalists and the Parliamentarians were in a bitter fight for domination of the North of England. Yorkshire was the largest county in the North. Whoever controlled Yorkshire controlled much of the North. By June, the Royalists had already captured a number of important Yorkshire towns and cities and planned to take the town of Bradford. 10,000 Royalist soldiers, led by the Earl of Newcastle, marched against Bradford.

Bradford didn’t have any proper siege defences. The Parliamentarians couldn’t protect it. Their best chance of victory was to leave Bradford, find the Royalist army and defeat it in battle. But the Parliamentarian army was considerably smaller than the Royalist force coming to meet them, numbering roughly 4,000 soldiers.  The small Roundhead army was led by Lord Fairfax, his son Sir Thomas Fairfax and Major General Gifford.

Both armies met at Adwalton Moor, the site of an old Roman road. The two armies sort of stumbled across each other and began the battle very quickly, without any real time to prepare or position themselves. The battle started around 9.00 in the morning on 30th June 1643.       

The Royalists had more cavalry than their enemies. They also had two large cannons. The Parliamentarian army was made up largely of foot soldiers and much smaller cavalry. Yet despite their numbers the Roundheads did incredibly well in the early stages of the battle. They moved forward in three blocks of men (called “wings”). The middle wing was commanded by Lord Fairfax, the right wing by Sir Thomas Fairfax and the left wing by Major General Gifford. The Parliamentarian infantry outfought the Royalist infantry and began to push them back toward their own cannons. The Royalists launched cavalry attacks. Roundheads musketeers hid behind hedges and shot at the enemy cavalry. Parliament’s tactics were working. They were doing so well that, for a moment, the Royalist commander, the Earl of Newcastle believed that he had lost the battle and almost surrendered. But Newcastle was talked into allowing one of his officers, Colonel Kirton, to fight the advancing enemy left wing with his own pikemen. Colonel Kirton’s pikemen fought well. They pushed their enemy back, creating gaps for the Royalist cavalry and cannons to destroy the Parliamentarian left wing. With the left wing gone the Roundheads were defeated. Lord Fairfax ordered a retreat. He left the battlefield and headed for Bradford. Sir Thomas Fairfax and his men were accidently left behind. They were almost encircled and captured but managed to fight their way free.

The battle had lasted three hours.

Fairfax and his son would reunite a short while later in the city of Hull.  Bradford was captured. Apart from Hull, the Royalists now controlled all of Yorkshire.

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