Civil War in the North, 1644

The signing of the Solemn League and Covenant between Parliament and the Scots and the subsequent Scottish invasion of England marks a major turning point in the English Civil War. The Scottish government agreed to provide an army of 18,000 foot, 2,000 horse and 1,000 dragoons to fight against the Royalists, giving a strong military advantage to Parliament. Although the Covenanter army that marched into England in January 1644 was not at full strength, the northern Royalists were immediately forced onto the defensive, which in turn eased the pressure on Parliamentarian forces elsewhere in England.

The Scottish Invasion, January-April 1644

The Scottish Invasion 1644
The Scottish Invasion, 1644

The Scots occupied Berwick-on-Tweed shortly after the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant in September 1643. The Army of the Covenant mustered on the border throughout the autumn and winter of 1643. Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, was in command, with David Leslie as Lieutenant-General of Horse and Alexander Hamilton in command of the artillery train. All three were veterans of the Swedish service under the great Gustavus Adolphus; Leven and Hamilton had commanded the victorious Covenanter army of the Bishops' Wars in 1639-40. Each regiment of the Covenanter army was accompanied by a Presbyterian minister. Swearing, plundering and whoring were forbidden. Insulting or irreverant remarks about King Charles were also forbidden. The Covenanters did not regard themselves as rebels; they believed that the war was necessary in order to show the King the error of his ways.

Finally, on 19 January 1644, Leven ordered his forces to cross the River Tweed and march into England. Leven's army was significantly smaller than had been contracted for, and may have consisted of only 14,000 men in total. His first objective was the city of Newcastle-on-Tyne which the English Parliament was anxious to capture in order to secure regular supplies of coal for London from the Northumberland coalfields. It was also the main Royalist port for receiving weapons and supplies from the Continent.

Leven advanced cautiously southwards through Northumberland but encountered no opposition. Sir Thomas Glemham, the Royalist governor of Newcastle, had insufficient forces to challenge the Covenanters; the Royalists abandoned the garrison at Alnwick and fell back to Newcastle itself. On 28 January, the Scottish advance guard was at Morpeth, 15 miles north of Newcastle. On the same day, William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, marched from York with the main body of the Royalist northern army, abandoning operations against the Parliamentarians of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to counter the Scottish invasion. Flooded roads caused by a sudden thaw slowed the Scottish advance and Leven remained at Morpeth for several days to gather all his forces before advancing. The delay proved critical in allowing the Marquis time to occupy Newcastle. He arrived on 2 February, just a few hours before the Scottish army appeared to the north of the city. Lord Leven's summons for the surrender of Newcastle on 3 February was rejected.

The Scots stormed and captured outworks to the north-east of the city but were unable to mount a full assault owing to delays in bringing up their artillery. During his governorship, Sir Thomas Glemham had improved Newcastle's defences and it soon became clear that the city could withstand a long siege. Royalist skirmishers from the garrison disrupted Scottish attempts to consolidate their position and secure crossing points over the Tyne, culminating in the routing of the Covenanter cavalry at Corbridge by Sir Marmaduke Langdale on 19 February. Rather than commit the Army of the Covenant to a long and difficult siege, Leven decided to bypass Newcastle and advance south. Leaving six regiments to blockade Newcastle, he forced a crossing of the Tyne at Ovingham around 28 February and marched towards Sunderland, where the townsmen declared for Parliament. On 4 March 1644, the Scots occupied Sunderland, thus gaining a secure base of operations in northern England and a port to receive supplies.

The Marquis of Newcastle cautiously followed the Covenanters south and established his headquarters at Durham. Most of March 1644 was spent in ponderous troop manoeuvres, hampered by heavy snowfalls and difficult terrain, as each side tried to gain a tactical advantage over the other. Although there were outbreaks of fierce skirmishing, neither commander was willing to commit to a pitched battle. When the weather improved early in April, Lord Leven advanced into the Quarrington Hills to the south-east of Durham thus threatening Newcastle's lines of communication with Yorkshire. The Marquis decided to fall back rather than risk becoming cut off. He intended to withdraw to the line of the River Tees and to make a stand at Piercebridge, but around 11 April, news reached him that the vital garrison at Selby had fallen to the Yorkshire Parliamentarians, threatening the Royalist stronghold of York.

Bradford & Selby, Yorkshire, January-April 1644

When the Marquis of Newcastle marched north against the Covenanters in January 1644, he left behind a small army of Yorkshire Royalists under the command of Colonel John Belasyse, the governor of York, who was ordered to defend against Parliamentarian incursions into Yorkshire and to ferry men and supplies northwards to the main army when required. Belasyse relied upon swift-moving cavalry to patrol Yorkshire; he also maintained major garrisons at Doncaster and Sheffield as well as at York, the Royalist capital of the north.

During February 1644, the Parliamentarians of Hull attacked several Royalist positions in the East Riding, raiding as far north as Whitby on 20 February. Belasyse's hard-pressed forces were stretched even further when Colonel Lambert returned from service in Cheshire. On 3 March, Lambert drove the Royalists out of Bradford and established it as a base for raids in the West Riding. Around the time that Prince Rupert relieved the siege of Newark on 21 March 1644, Belasyse moved his headquarters from York to Selby on the River Ouse. Selby was a key strategic position, poised between the Parliamentarian forces at Hull to the east and Bradford to the west; it also commanded the southern approach to York.

At Selby, Colonel Belasyse was reinforced by cavalry from Newark led by Major-General George Porter. On 25 March, Belasyse and Porter took the initiative with an attack on Colonel Lambert's garrison at Bradford. The attack almost succeeded in overwhelming the defenders. After fighting off several determined Royalist assaults, the Parliamentarians were running low on ammunition. In desperation, Lambert attempted to break out of the town. The breakout took the Royalists by surprise and unexpectedly turned the tables on the attackers, resulting in the routing of Porter's cavalry. Lambert quickly reoccupied Bradford and resumed its defence while Belasyse, deprived of most of his cavalry, abandoned the attack and withdrew to Selby. Porter went back to Newark in disgrace and refused to return to Selby.

The Yorkshire Parliamentarians now planned a major assault on Belasyse's headquarters at Selby. Sir Thomas Fairfax returned across the Pennines from Cheshire with his Yorkshire cavalry and a number of Lancashire infantrymen. At Ferrybridge, Sir Thomas joined forces with Lord Fairfax and a contingent from Hull. They were reinforced by Colonel Lambert's forces from Bradford and Sir John Meldrum from the Midlands Association to bring their strength up to around 1,500 horse and 1,800 foot. On 11 April, the combined Parliamentarian army stormed Selby from three directions at once. Heavily outnumbered, Belasyse's Royalists defended resolutely in bitter street fighting, but they were finally overwhelmed after Belasyse himself was wounded and captured. Although most of the Royalist cavalry escaped, up to 1,600 infantrymen were taken prisoner.

The fall of Selby was a disaster for the northern Royalists. York was left wide open to attack by the Fairfaxes with only two regiments guarding the city. The city governor, Colonel Belasyse, was a prisoner of the Parliamentarians. As soon as he heard the news, the Marquis of Newcastle abandoned his operations against the Scottish invaders in County Durham and hurried south with the northern Royalist army to the defence of York. The Earl of Leven sent cavalry to harass the rear of Newcastle's retreating army then followed him south with the main body of Covenanters. Leven occupied Darlington on 14 April and Northallerton the following day, where a single Royalist infantry regiment offered futile resistance. At Thormanby on 16 April, Leven abandoned his pursuit of the Marquis and marched via Boroughbridge to rendezvous with Lord Fairfax and the Yorkshire Parliamentarians at Wetherby. The combined "Army for Both Kingdoms" then marched to besiege York, arriving before the city on 22 April.


A.H. Burne & P. Young, The Great Civil War, a military history (London 1958)

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i (London 1888)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

P.R. Newman, Atlas of the English Civil War (London 1985)

Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)


The north-eastern campaign and the siege of Newcastle 1644