Northern England: overview

Immediately prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, King Charles established his court at York. He tried to secure the vital port of Hull but was rebuffed by the Parliamentarian governor Sir John Hotham. The earliest military action of the war took place when a Royalist raiding party was driven away by the defenders of Hull. When the King marched away, the Earl (later Marquis) of Newcastle took command of the northern Royalists. He advanced south from the city of Newcastle to secure York for the King and established Royalist strongholds at Pontefract and Newark.

The Yorkshire Parliamentatians were commanded by Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas Fairfax, who initially established a base at Bradford; early in 1643, the Fairfaxes captured Leeds and Wakefield. The Earl of Newcastle's actions were restricted by the arrival in Yorkshire of Queen Henrietta Maria, who landed at Bridlington from the Continent with a supply of munitions for the Royalist cause in February 1643. When the Queen left York for Oxford, the Earl of Newcastle went on the offensive and defeated the Fairfaxes at the battle of Adwalton Moor in June 1643.

Unable to sustain their base at Bradford, the Fairfaxes retreated to the stronghold of Hull. Newcastle advanced into Lincolnshire and threatened to invade East Anglia, but the Fairfaxes mounted dangerous raids on Royalist positions in Yorkshire, which forced Newcastle to abandon his march south and return to besiege Hull. The siege was unsuccessful, and Newcastle retreated to consolidate his position at York.

Parliament's alliance with the Scots under the Solemn League and Covenant was a major turning point in the war. Early in 1644, the Earl of Leven's Covenanter army invaded northern England. Newcastle's manoeuvres delayed the Scottish advance for a time, but he was finally obliged to fall back to defend York, where the allied armies of the Covenanters, Lord Fairfax and the Eastern Association surrounded and besieged him.

Prince Rupert marched across the Pennines to the relief of York in July 1644 and raised the siege. However, Rupert engaged the Allied armies in battle and was decisively defeated at Marston Moor, which broke the power of the northern Royalists. After the surrender of York, only a few isolated Royalist strongholds remained in the north. The main focus of the war shifted to the south and west.