Skip to content
Newcastle University
National Civil War Centre

The Battle of Marston Moor

2nd July 1644. The biggest battle in English history. Oliver Cromwell saves the day.

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

Marston Moor was one of the biggest battles ever fought in England. At the beginning of the war the Royalists had conquered the North of England. But in 1643, Scottish Presbyterians (called Covenanters) agreed to fight against the king. In July 1644 a Roundhead and Covenanter army besieged the city of York. Defending York was the Royalist commander of the King’s Northern army, William Cavendish the Marquis of Newcastle.

The king sent his nephew Prince Rupert with an army to rescue York. As Rupert approached York the 28,000 strong Roundhead army left the city and camped a few miles away at Marston Moor. Rupert’s army was smaller than the Roundhead army. Rupert wanted to pursue the Roundheads and attack them quickly. For the plan to be successful he needed the Royalists in York to join him as soon as possible. With the York Royalists, Rupert’s army would number 18,000 men.  Rupert gave a rudely worded order for Cavendish to hurry up and join him. Cavendish and his army arrived late, and Rupert argued with Cavendish’s second-in-command about how to fight the battle. The Royalist commanders wasted so much time bickering that any chance of a quick attack was wasted, giving the Roundheads time to properly organize themselves. As evening approached, Rupert and his army relaxed, not believing that anybody would fight them so close to nightfall. At 7.00pm the Roundhead Army attacked and took Rupert’s army by surprise.   

Roundhead cavalry commanded by Oliver Cromwell quickly destroyed Royalist cavalry commanded by Lord Byron. Prince Rupert led a cavalry charge against Cromwell, who was injured in the fighting. Scottish cavalry joined Cromwell and Rupert’s charge was defeated. Rupert was knocked off his horse and forced to hide in a bean field for the rest of the battle.

On the opposite side of the field the Royalists were doing well. Roundhead cavalry under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax were stopped by Royalist cavalry commanded by Marmaduke Langdale, supported by Musketeers fighting in a ditch. Fairfax was almost captured.  In the battlefield’s centre, Roundhead infantry were beaten back and their cannons captured. Despite having less men, the Royalists were close to beating the Roundheads. But Olivier Cromwell launched a bold cavalry charge, crossing the battlefield and hitting Langdale’s cavalry in the side. Cromwell destroyed the remaining Royalist cavalry, winning the battle. The Royalists scrambled to get away. Cavendish’s white-coated infantry stayed behind and protected the fleeing soldiers. Most of the White Coats were killed.

The battle lasted 2 hours. The Roundheads killed 4,000 Royalists and took around 1,500 prisoners, losing roughly 300 men. The Royalist had suffered their worst defeat so far. The North of England now belonged to Parliament.   

Scroll to top of page