1651: The Worcester Campaign
Following the defeat at Dunbar, General David Leslie regrouped the remnants of the Covenanter army at Stirling, determined to remain on the defensive until he could build up his forces again. Charles II was undismayed by the defeat, believing that the Scots would now be inclined to turn away from the godly Kirk Party and look to the Royalists to drive Cromwell out of Scotland. Charles' leading military adviser, John Middleton, began recruiting a Royalist army in the Highlands.
A few days after the battle of Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell occupied the city of Edinburgh. Sir Walter Dundas refused to surrender Edinburgh Castle until December 1650, but his defence was a symbolic gesture rather than a serious military threat to the English invaders. During the autumn of 1650, Cromwell tried by peaceable means to persuade the Covenanters of the righteousness of the Commonwealth cause.
A fundamentalist covenanting group known as the Remonstrants hoped to induce Cromwell to leave Scotland by undertaking to drive out the Royalists themselves. However, Charles consolidated his position by gaining influence over the Committee of Estates despite doubts regarding his religious sincerity. The fundamentalist officers Colonel Ker and Colonel Strachan refused to serve under the Royalists and took command of the dormant Western Association army, which had originally been formed by the Covenanters for the defence of south-western Scotland during the Engager crisis of 1648. Cromwell regarded the Western Association as a potential threat and marched against Ker with Major-General Lambert and eight regiments of cavalry in late November 1650. In the early hours of 1 December, Ker attacked what he thought was a small English force occupying the burgh of Hamilton. In a confused night battle in the streets of the burgh, Lambert ambushed and routed the Scots. Ker himself was wounded and taken prisoner. After the defeat at Hamilton, the Western Association collapsed and its surviving forces were disbanded.
Cromwell controlled the south of Scotland, but he was unable to dislodge or seriously threaten David Leslie in his stronghold at Stirling, which commanded the lowest crossing of the River Forth and the landward route into Fife and north-eastern Scotland, where the Covenanters and Royalists were steadily building up their strength. The English were also harassed by bands of marauders known as Moss Troopers, or Mossers, formed by fugitives from Dunbar who had not rejoined Leslie's army. Initially, small groups of Mossers were involved in highway robbery and the killing of English stragglers or unescorted messengers but they gradually formed larger bands. Their most famous exploit occurred on 13 December when Captain Augustine led 120 men into Edinburgh. After gaining entrance through the Cannongate Port, the Mossers galloped straight up the High Street into Edinburgh Castle to drop off supplies of food and gunpowder carried in saddle-bags. Half-an-hour later, they burst out again and made their getaway.
On 1 January 1651, Charles II was crowned King of Scots by the Marquis of Argyll at Scone. Following his coronation, Charles took nominal command of the Scottish army, though David Leslie retained operational control. John Middleton was appointed Lieutenant-General of Horse and Edward Massie was appointed commander of the English Royalist contingent. Oliver Cromwell fell seriously ill with fever during February 1651 and suffered recurring bouts of sickness through into the summer, leaving Major-General Lambert effectively in command of the Commonwealth army. Leslie was content to build up the strength of his army at Stirling. During February and March, however, Cromwell's subordinates Monck and Deane secured the English hold on the south bank of the Firth of Forth by storming and capturing Scottish strongholds at Tantallon and Blackness.
During June and early July 1651, Cromwell advanced towards Stirling but General Leslie remained unwilling to risk a pitched battle and would not be drawn from his impregnable defensive position. Cromwell decided to break the deadlock by mounting an amphibious invasion of Fife across the Firth of Forth. Flat-bottomed boats were specially constructed to convey the English troops and on 17 July 1651, Colonel Overton led the first wave across the Forth at Queensferry, the estuary's narrowest point. Overton's brigade of 1,600 men established a bridgehead on the narrow peninsula of North Queensferry on the northern bank of the Forth. During the following two days, a further 2,500 troops crossed over under the command of Major-General Lambert.
With the English threatening Scottish supply lines from Fife, Leslie sent Major-General Holbourne and Sir John Browne with a force of 4,000 regular troops and Maclean Highlanders to seal off the English bridgehead. On 20 July, Holbourne deployed his forces on high ground around Casteland Hill to the west of the town of Inverkeithing. Lambert and Overton were entrenched in the Ferry Hills to the south, where they had constructed earthworks and mounted a gun battery. In the face of the strong English position, Holbourne decided to withdraw his forces, using an attack by Browne's cavalry to screen the manoeuvre. The Scottish cavalry advanced to attack the flanks of the English position. After some initial success, they were routed when Lambert ordered up his cavalry reserve. With the Scottish cavalry driven from the field, Overton's infantry advanced to attack the Covenanter foot around Casteland Hill. After a brief fight, the Scots regulars broke and fled, leaving the Maclean Highlanders to fight alone. The Highlanders made several charges but were unable to break the English lines. When they attempted to withdraw, the Highlanders found themselves surrounded. They made a celebrated last stand in defence of their chieftain Sir Hector Maclean of Duart, who was finally killed by a musket shot. The English cavalry pursued the fleeing Covenanters for several miles. Around 2,000 Scots were killed in the battle and rout at Inverkeithing and a further 1,400 captured. The English lost less than 200 men. Cromwell's forces had seized the initiative and secured a vital foothold on the north bank of the Forth.
With Leslie effectively pinned down at Stirling, and the English fleet having undisputed command of the sea, Cromwell was able to ferry the bulk of his army across the Forth, leaving eight regiments to guard Edinburgh. While Lieutenant-General Monck stormed Scottish strongholds at Burntisland and Inchgarvie to consolidate the English position, Cromwell took his main force northwards through Fife towards Perth, which surrendered to him on 2 August. Cromwell was aware that his advance north left the road to England open. He calculated that, in the event of an invasion, the Scots-Royalist army would receive little support in England and could be more decisively defeated there than in Scotland. Having secured Perth, Cromwell left Monck with 6,000 troops and most of the artillery train to attack Stirling and Dundee while he took the main English force southwards.
During Cromwell's advance on Perth, Charles Stuart asserted his authority as commander-in-chief of the Scots-Royalist army and ordered an advance into England. Against Leslie's advice, the 14,000-strong Scottish army crossed the border on 5 August. Charles' intention was to march through the traditionally Royalist regions of Lancashire and the Welsh border, raising troops on the way, before striking towards London. However, Charles' confident belief that English Royalists and Presbyterians would rise up to support him was misplaced. Memories of the violent plundering that had accompanied the Engager invasion of 1648 were still fresh in peoples' minds and Parliament mounted an effective propaganda campaign to further stimulate anti-Scottish feeling amongst the English. As the advance into England continued, David Leslie became increasingly morose and pessimistic. By the time Charles occupied the loyal city of Worcester on 22 August, the total strength of his army was less than 16,000 troops. A force of Lancashire Royalists raised by the Earl of Derby and Sir Thomas Tyldesley was defeated by Colonel Robert Lilburne at Wigan on 25 August. Tyldesley was killed in the action and the last English Royalist army was routed.
Cromwell took an easterly route back through England in order to block any attempt by the Royalists to advance on London. Major-General Lambert was sent ahead with the cavalry to harass the Royalist rearguard. Cromwell's intention was to gather a massive force to inflict a crushing defeat on the Scots and Royalists. Major-General Harrison, who had been left in overall command of forces in England during the invasion of Scotland, marched from Newcastle to join forces with Lambert near Preston. Major-General Fleetwood mobilised Parliamentarian forces and militia around London then marched to join Cromwell, Lambert and Harrison at Warwick; Major-General Disbrowe brought up a contingent from the south-west. The Parliamentarian army that finally converged on Charles' position at Worcester contained around 28,000 regular troops with an additional 3,000 militiamen who were also mobilised against the Scots. All of Charles' potential routes to London were cut off and Colonel Lilburne's forces blockaded the road back to Scotland.
Hoping to draw in reinforcements from Wales and the south-west, Charles attempted to fortify his position at Worcester. Repairs were made to the existing fortifications, in particular the earthwork known as Fort Royal which stood just outside the city wall to the south-east. Key bridges across the River Severn and its tributary the Teme were partially destroyed to hamper Parliamentarian operations. Charles issued a proclamation summoning all loyal subjects to rally to his standard at Worcester and an attempt was made to mobilise the posse comitatus, requiring all men aged between 16 and 60 to muster on Pitchcroft Green to the north of Worcester on 26 August. However, very few Englishmen or Welshmen responded to Charles' proclamations and the Royalist army remained almost entirely Scottish.
With the eastern side of the city heavily defended, Cromwell decided to attack from both sides of the River Severn. On 28 August, Lambert led a party of horse and dragoons to recapture Upton Bridge, ten miles south of Worcester, in a daring attack during which the Royalist General Edward Massie was badly wounded. The following day the bridge was repaired. Major-General Fleetwood crossed to the west bank of the Severn with 11,000 troops, intending to march to attack Worcester from the south. Cromwell deployed his artillery and the rest of the army on the heights of Red Hill and Perry Wood to the east of Worcester. Contact between the two wings of the Parliamentarian army was to be maintained by two bridges of boats which were to be hauled up from Upton, one across the Teme and the other just above it across the Severn. When Parliamentarian artillery began bombarding Worcester from Perry Wood on 29 August, Lieutenant-General Middleton and Colonel Keith led 1,500 troops in an attack on the battery, but the plan was betrayed and the attack failed.
At dawn on 3 September, Fleetwood began to advance up the west bank of the Severn. Progress was slow because the troops hauled twenty "great boats" for eight miles against the current to make the pontoon bridges. They reached the south bank of the River Teme at its confluence with the Severn in the early afternoon. Fleetwood's force advanced in two columns. Major-General Richard Deane led an attack on Powick Bridge to the west in order to divert attention away from the second column, which was responsible for securing the bridges of boats across the Severn and Teme.
Major-General Montgomery commanded the Scots stationed in the Powick meadows on the north bank of the Teme. He ordered Colonel Keith to hold Powick Bridge against Deane's attempt to force a crossing while Colonel Pitscottie's Highlanders opposed Fleetwood's force. Major-General Dalzeil's brigade was held in reserve on the high ground between Powick and Worcester. A "forlorn hope" of Parliamentarian musketeers crossed the Teme in boats to cover the construction of the floating bridges. The fighting along the Teme was bitter. Deane could make no headway across Powick Bridge and when Fleetwood's advance guard succeeded in crossing the pontoon over the Teme they were at first driven back by Pitscottie's Highlanders. Observing the difficulties on his left wing, Cromwell personally led three brigades across the pontoon over the Severn to attack Pitscottie's flank. Attacked from the front by Fleetwood and the flank by Cromwell, the Highlanders gave ground. As they fell back, Colonel Keith's troops defending Powick Bridge lost heart and broke. Keith himself was captured as Deane finally crossed the bridge. The Scottish position collapsed as the Parliamentarians gained control of the north bank of the Teme. Major-General Montgomery was badly wounded and Dalziel's reserve fled back towards Worcester pursued by the Parliamentarians.
Cromwell's manoeuvre in crossing the River Severn had weakened the Parliamentarian position on Red Hill and Perry Wood. King Charles, watching the battle from the tower of Worcester Cathedral, rushed down and personally rallied his troops for an attack on the Parliamentarians east of the river. The Royalist attack was two-pronged: Charles himself commanded the thrust against Red Hill while the Duke of Hamilton attacked Perry Wood. The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Grandison supported with cavalry. Leaving Worcester by the Sidbury Gate and St Martin's Gate and covered by the guns of Fort Royal, the attack was initially successful. The Parliamentarian foot gave way all along the line and the entire wing seemed in danger of collapsing. However, the Royalist attack was stemmed when Cromwell came back across the Severn to bolster his wavering troops. The return of Cromwell's brigades turned the tide of the battle and the Royalists were thrown back into Worcester. The Duke of Hamilton was mortally wounded. David Leslie with his cavalry in reserve to the north of the city made no attempt to intervene.
The Essex militia stormed and captured Fort Royal, then turned the Royalist guns to fire on Worcester. The final stage of the battle was a confused running fight through the streets as the Parliamentarians pursued the Scots and Royalists into the city. Despite the gallant attempts of Charles and some of his senior commanders to rally the troops, panic had set in. With all hope of victory gone, the King was finally persuaded to escape. Most of the Scottish and Royalist leaders were killed during the battle or captured soon after. Only the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Wilmot and Charles himself succeeded in escaping to the Continent. Up to 3,000 Scots were killed during the battle and around 10,000 taken prisoner, many of whom were transported as forced labourers to New England or Barbados. The Parliamentarian army is said to have lost only 200 men.
The battle of Worcester was the final crushing defeat of the Royalist cause. The English Civil War ended at the place where it had started nine years previously with Prince Rupert's dashing victory at Powick Bridge in 1642. Charles Stuart escaped from the battlefield and eluded capture for forty-five days until he was able to slip away to France. Oliver Cromwell described Worcester as a "crowning mercy". It was his final battle as an active commander.
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Battle of Worcester : UK Battlefields Resource Centre
The Battle of Worcester Society