Civil War in Yorkshire, 1643

Civil war in Yorkshire 1643Civil War in Yorkshire, 1643

Leeds, 23 January 1643

Early in 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax went on the offensive against the Yorkshire Royalists. Having assembled a force of nine troops of cavalry and dragoons, 1,000 musketeers and 2,000 club-men, he marched from Bradford to attack Sir William Savile at Leeds. Dividing his forces, Fairfax attacked Leeds from both sides of the River Aire on 23 January. The attack began in a snowstorm with Fairfax himself leading the assault on a line of defences thrown up by the Royalists on the western side of the town while Captain Mildmay led a simultaneous attack on the bridge over the Aire from the south. The Royalists resisted fiercely for three hours, but were finally overwhelmed. Sir William Savile escaped on horseback and the Parliamentarians occupied Leeds, taking 450 prisoners, two cannon and a store of weapons and ammunition.

Arrival of the Queen

Alarmed at Fairfax's success in Yorkshire, the Earl of Newcastle abandoned his plans to advance into the Midlands and fell back to York to consolidate his position, leaving advance garrisons at Pontefract and Newark. His forces were strengthened by the arrival of weapons, munitions and troops sent over from the Continent by Queen Henrietta Maria. On 2 February, the Queen herself set sail for Yorkshire with a final convoy of arms and a supply of money for the King's cause. Initially driven back by storms in the North Sea, the Queen's convoy landed at Bridlington on 22 February, escorted by Admiral Tromp. The following day, a squadron of Parliamentarian warships commanded by Vice-Admiral William Batten bombarded Bridlington, endangering the Queen's life and threatening her supply convoy, until a threat by Tromp forced Batten to withdraw.

The Queen rested for a few days and was then conducted to York, where she arrived on 5 March. Among the Queen's entourage was the Scottish veteran Lord Eythin, who was appointed lieutenant-general and commander of infantry in the King's northern army and became the Earl of Newcastle's chief military adviser.

Although Newcastle's military priorities were affected by the need to protect the Queen, she played an active role in secret negotiations with the Parliamentarian commanders Sir Hugh Cholmley at Scarborough and Sir John Hotham at Hull. Persuaded by the Queen, Cholmley defected to the Royalists and delivered Scarborough Castle on 25 March 1643.

Seacroft Moor, 30 March 1643

Towards the end of March 1643, Lord Ferdinando Fairfax, the Parliamentarian commander in Yorkshire, decided to consolidate his forces at Leeds. To cover his withdrawal from Selby, Sir Thomas Fairfax made a feint towards Tadcaster on 30 March. The Royalist garrison fled to York at Fairfax's approach, and Fairfax took the opportunity to dismantle Tadcaster's defences in order to make it untenable for the Royalists. The Earl of Newcastle reacted quickly and sent Lieutenant-General George Goring with twenty troops of horse and dragoons to recover the town.

Goring arrived just as Fairfax's troops were marching away across Bramham Moor towards Leeds. Fairfax sent his infantry ahead with his cavalry acting as a rearguard. After initial skirmishing in the lanes leading on to the moor, Goring followed at a distance, biding his time. Fairfax's troops had reached Seacroft Moor on the outskirts of Leeds when Goring attacked. The Parliamentarians were heavily outnumbered and outflanked by the Royalist horse. Unable to resist Goring's charge, Fairfax's infantry broke and fled almost immediately. 200 Parliamentarians were killed in the rout and 800 taken prisoner. Fairfax managed to rally a few officers to make a fighting withdrawal to the safety of Leeds.

The defeat of Seacroft Moor was a serious blow to the Yorkshire Parliamentarians, but Sir Thomas had the consolation of finding that Lord Fairfax had reached Leeds unmolested with the main force from Selby.

Wakefield, 20 May 1643

Intending to take prisoners that could be exchanged for the Parliamentarians captured at Seacroft Moor, Sir Thomas Fairfax led a raid on Wakefield on 20 May 1643. The Wakefield garrison was believed to be around 800 strong. Fairfax gathered a force of about 1,500 horse and foot and set out to make a surprise night raid. However, the Royalists were alerted to his approach and the Parliamentarian force arrived in the early morning to find the defences manned and musketeers lining the hedges around the town. Fairfax decided to press ahead with the attack. His infantry stormed the Royalist barricades in three places and, after two hours fierce fighting, succeeded in carrying one of them and tearing it down. Fairfax immediately led a cavalry charge through the gap and into the streets of Wakefield. Pushing too far ahead, Fairfax found himself almost alone in the market-place and surrounded by Royalists; he escaped by jumping his horse over a barricade to rejoin his own troops.

Lieutenant-General Goring, who was ill with fever, rose from his sickbed to lead a counterattack, but the Parliamentarians succeeded in turning captured artillery to fire on the Royalists and a second charge by the Parliamentarian horse broke their resistance. Fairfax and his men were astonished to find that the Wakefield garrison had consisted of 3,000 infantry and seven troops of horse. The Parliamentarians took around 1,500 prisoners and captured four artillery pieces. Among the prisoners was Going himself, who was held in the Tower of London until April 1644.

The Queen's Departure

By early June, Royalist successes in the Midlands made it relatively safe for the Queen to move south. She left York on 4 June with 4,500 men and a munitions convoy to reinforce the King's army at Oxford. Travelling via Newark, the Queen was reunited with King Charles on 13 July. Her participation in Lord Newcastle's negotiations with local Parliamentarian commanders had helped bring about the defection of Sir Hugh Cholmley at Scarborough in March and almost succeeded in bringing about the defection of Sir John Hotham at Hull, which would have brought ruin on the Parliamentarian cause in Yorkshire. Hotham's imminent defection was suspected, however, and he was arrested at Hull by officers loyal to Parliament on 28 June 1643.

The Queen's departure in June 1643 left Newcastle free to resume military operations against the Fairfaxes. Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas were at Bradford with around 4,000 trained troops and an unspecified number of irregular clubmen. Newcastle marched from York with an army 10,000 strong and a train of artillery, intending to strike a final devastating blow against the Yorkshire Parliamentarians.

Adwalton Moor, 30 June 1643

On 22 June, the Royalists stormed and captured the Parliamentarian garrison at Howley Hall between Pontefract and Bradford, then marched on Bradford itself. With provisions for no more than twelve days in an unfortified town, the Fairfaxes were in no position to withstand a siege. On 30 June, they marched out to challenge the advancing 10,000 strong Royalist army, hoping to mount a surprise attack to compensate for their inferior numbers. A delay in the mobilisation of the Parliamentarian army gave Newcastle warning of its approach and he deployed his troops on the heights of Adwalton Moor, five miles south-west of Bradford.

The Fairfaxes pressed ahead with their attack, which was initially successful. Royalist skirmishers were driven back and the Parliamentarians established a defensive line among the hedges and enclosures on the edge of the moor. Sir Thomas Fairfax commanded the Parliamentarian right flank, Major-General Gifford commanded on the left. Lord Fairfax was with the reserve in the centre. The Royalist cavalry were forced to attack at a disadvantage between gaps in the hedges, which were lined with Parliamentarian musketeers. Two Royalist charges were repulsed, then Sir Thomas led an advance to pursue the Royalists as they drew back onto the heights of the moor. On the left flank, Gifford advanced to attack the infantry in the centre of the Royalist line. The Earl of Newcastle was on the point of ordering a retreat; it appeared that the Fairfaxes were about to gain a spectacular victory.

At this crucial stage, the battle was turned when Colonel Kirton persuaded Newcastle to allow him to make one more charge with his pikemen. Falling upon Gifford's position on the left flank, the desperate Royalist counterattack drove the Parliamentarians back. Royalist artillery concentrated fire on Gifford's men as cavalry worked round to outflank them. Lord Fairfax was slow to react; unsupported by the reserves, the Parliamentarian left wing broke and fled back to Bradford, soon to be followed by the reserves in the centre. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas Fairfax's troops had become isolated on the right wing. Having lost contact with the main body, Sir Thomas was unaware of developments on the rest of the field. After almost being surrounded by the Royalists and finding the road to Bradford blockaded, he fought his way to Halifax, then led his exhausted troops on a forced march to join Lord Fairfax at Bradford.

The Earl of Newcastle's victory at Adwalton Moor left the Royalists in control of all of Yorkshire except for the port of Hull and the Fairfaxes' precarious position at Bradford. Realising that Bradford was untenable, Lord Fairfax broke out with most of the Parliamentarian army and marched for Hull on the night of 1 July. Sir Thomas Fairfax stayed behind with a small force to cover the withdrawal, then broke out himself two days later accompanied by his wife and daughter and about 50 horse.

On the way to Leeds, the Parliamentarians were intercepted by 300 Royalist horse. Most of the Parliamentarians were killed or captured; Lady Fairfax was taken prisoner. Sir Thomas managed to escape with Sir Henry Fowles, Major-General Gifford and three troopers. On arriving at Leeds, he found 80 infantrymen who had also escaped from Bradford and a small garrison left behind by his father. Sir Thomas decided to evacuate Leeds and set out immediately for Hull. After a 20-hour march, the Parliamentarian force of four troops of cavalry, 300 dragoons and 300 infantry reached Selby without incident. Lord Fairfax and the main force from Bradford were just ahead of them and were in the process of crossing the River Ouse by ferry. However, Sir Thomas learned that Selby was occupied by Royalist cavalry from Cawood Castle who were preparing to attack Lord Fairfax's men.

Sir Thomas advanced into Selby to take the Royalists by surprise. They were driven off after a fierce fight in the streets during which Sir Thomas was shot through the left wrist. Despite his wounds, he ordered some of his troops across the river to cover Lord Fairfax then led the rest along the south bank of the River Humber to approach Hull from across the estuary at Barton. The small force of 100 troopers was engaged in a running battle with Royalist cavalry for much of the way, but succeeded in crossing over to Hull on the evening of 4 July.

Second Siege of Hull, September-October 1643

After his victory over the Fairfaxes at Adwalton Moor, the Earl of Newcastle advanced southwards into Lincolnshire with his main northern army. He captured Gainsborough and Lincoln and appeared to be in a strong position to strike deeper into the territory of the Eastern Association, and from there to threaten London itself. However, the absence of Newcastle's army from Yorkshire enabled the Fairfaxes to fortify themselves strongly at Hull. By August 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax had established a forward base at Beverley and was leading cavalry raids on Royalist positions, culminating in an attack on Stamford Bridge near York that prompted Lord Newcastle to abandon his march south and return with his army into Yorkshire.

Early in September 1643, Newcastle's troops occupied the towns and villages around Hull and began constructing earthworks and gun emplacements to besiege the town. The bombardment of Hull began on 2 September but was largely ineffective because the Royalist siege works were too far from the town walls. The main Royalist fort was captured and destroyed in a Parliamentarian raid during the first week of the siege. On 14 September, Lord Fairfax ordered the sluices to be opened and the banks of the River Humber to be broken to flood the surrounding land, as had happened during the first siege of Hull in 1642.

Parliamentarian warships patrolled the Humber estuary, allowing supplies to be shipped in. On 22 September, Colonel Cromwell crossed from the Lincolnshire side with muskets and gunpowder for the defenders, joining the Fairfaxes in prayers and fasting before returning to Lincolnshire. Four days later, Sir Thomas Fairfax ferried his cavalry and dragoons across the Humber to join forces with the Eastern Association, leaving the defence of the city in the hands of Lord Fairfax, who was reinforced with 500 soldiers commanded by Sir John Meldrum.

On 9 October, the Royalists attempted to storm the defences. Although outlying fortifications were captured, the Royalists could not consolidate the attack and were driven back. Two days later, Meldrum led an attack on the Royalist gun emplacements. The Parliamentarian force of about 1,500 men was composed of soldiers from the garrison, sailors from the warships and citizens from the town. Meldrum attacked in two divisions, one led by Colonel Lambert, the other by Thomas Rainsborough, captain of the Lion. The raiders overran the Royalist gun emplacements and succeeded in hauling off several great siege cannon.

On 12 October, the Earl of Newcastle abandoned the siege of Hull and fell back to York. The failure of the siege, in combination with the Parliamentarian victory at Winceby in Lincolnshire, ended Royalist hopes of an advance towards London by the Earl of Newcastle's northern army.


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)


Civil war in the West Riding of Yorkshire by David Fell

Seacroft Moor : Adwalton Moor : UK Battlefields Resource Centre