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The The First Battle of Newbury

20th September 1643. A mad chase! A bloody battle! London is saved!

British Civil Wars > Weapons & Warfare > Battles & Sieges > The The First Battle of Newbury

By the end of the summer of 1643, the Royalists were doing well. They had won great victories in the North of England and had largely conquered the South West. In August the Royalists marched on Gloucester. King Charles himself was present. His nephew, Prince Rupert wanted to take Gloucester in a quick, violent attack. The King, nervous about losing too many men in the assault, ordered the town to be besieged. The King’s decision gave Parliament time to send its main army, under the command of the Earl of Essex, to rescue Gloucester.

As Essex approached Gloucester, the King’s army withdrew. Essex strengthened Gloucester’s defences and then returned to London. But Essex was now in an extremely dangerous position. The Royalists realised that if they could get ahead of the Essex, block the way to London and defeat his army, they could win the war. Throughout early to mid- September the Royalists chased Essex’s army across the counties of Gloucestershire, Swindon and Berkshire. Bad weather slowed Essex (who had heavy cannons to transport on muddy roads) down. The Royalists managed to get ahead of Essex. They camped to the south of the town of Newbury and blocked the way to London. Essex and his army had to fight the King if he wanted to get to the capital. For the Royalists to win, they had to pick good, high ground that they could easily defend and stop the Roundheads from taking it.

The battlefield was broken up with hedges and lanes. There were only two high bits of ground, a flat stretch called Wash Common and Round Hill, the highest point on the battlefield. The Royalists took their positions. Somehow, they failed to notice Round Hill and occupied Wash Common instead. The Roundheads didn’t make the same mistake. They put soldiers, commanded by Sir Phillip Skippon on Round Hill. The battle began on 20th September in the morning.

Essex had most of the advantages. He had the best ground and better infantry. The King’s cavalry were superior, but they could only charge on the flat ground of Wash Common. Throughout the day the Royalist cavalry attacked Round Hill many times but were constantly thrown back by Skippon’s pikemen and musketeers. As the sun went down, after twelve hours of battle, both sides stopped fighting.

The two armies numbered around 15,000 men. Roughly 3,500 had been killed. Many of the King’s officers and one close personal friend were dead. The Royalists had nearly run out of gunpowder. Nevertheless, Prince Rupert and other officers wanted to carry on fighting. But the King had been shocked by the number of deaths. He ordered his army to retreat. Essex was free to travel to London.

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