Rediscovering the stories of the wounded – The Battle of Naseby, 1645

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[0.00] Mike Gibbs: Andy, could we begin by asking you to put Naseby into context, what was the state of the British Civil Wars at that time, and why did the armies meet here particularly?
[0.17] Andy Hopper:  Well, the Civil Wars up until Naseby had been raging for three years, and they’d been inconclusive, and both sides were still struggling to gain the upper hand. Parliament had recently reorganised their armies across the south and the Midlands of England, into one marching field army, the New Model Army, and they’d installed a new command structure in command of that army, and the King’s Army were facing them. The King’s Army was smaller, but it was composed of a large number of experienced veterans, and their confidence was high in the spring of 1645, and they were expecting to make short work of the New Model Army, or the new ‘noddle’ army, as they nicknamed it.
[1.19] Mike Gibbs: Where did the battle actually take place, and why?
[1.27] Andy Hopper:   Okay, the battle took place on the border of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, just north of Northampton, at a place called Naseby. The King had been marching across the Midlands, having been considering whether to march into Yorkshire or not, and he was met by the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had been freed from their siege of Oxford, to go and pursue the King’s Army, after the King’s Army had stormed and sacked the town of Leicester, in quite a brutal fashion, so Parliament then freed Fairfax from besieging Oxford, and told him to go down and seek and destroy the King’s field army.
[2.18] Mike Gibbs: How did the battle unfold?
[2.22] Andy Hopper:    To begin with, things didn’t go very well for the Parliamentarians. Prince Rupert’s Cavalry, on the Royalist right wing, smashed through their counterparts on the Parliamentarian left wing. The Royalist infantry in the centre started to push back the Parliamentarian infantry facing them; but it was at this moment that the Cavalry on the Parliamentarian right wing under Oliver Cromwell got the better of their adversaries facing them, their opposite numbers, the Royalist Cavalry on the Royalist left, saw them off – it helped that they greatly outnumbered them – and then swung in their remaining units to attack in the flank and rear to Royalist Infantry. It was this intervention that principally turned the tide of the battle in Parliament’s favour.
[3.27] Mike Gibbs:     Is it possible to estimate the casualties that occurred at the battle?
[3.34] Andy Hopper:     Yes, we have pretty sound evidence of the numbers.
There were 14,000 men engaged in the New Model Army at the beginning of the battle, and up to 10,000 men in the Royalist Army. It’s thought that the dead on both sides were probably just short of 1,000 men. By Civil War standards, Naseby wasn’t a particularly bloody battle.
[28.50] John Rushworth was the secretary to the Parliamentarian Commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, and he recorded that he’d seen around 400 Royalists killed on the battlefield, and about another 300 killed in the pursuit of the Royalist Army thereafter. He only thought about 150 Parliamentarians had been killed on the field, so that would suggest that the dead were less than a thousand in total. John Rushworth (cultured posh voice) then wrote: “I viewed the dead bodies, from the battle to Harborough truly I estimate them not to be above 700, together with those slain in the fields running away, but in pursuit between Harborough and Leicester, and by towns, conceived about 300 more slain.”
[4.21] At Naseby, one of the reasons why the numbers of dead were smaller was because most of the Royalist Infantry surrendered and were captured, rather than killed.
[4.35] Mike Gibbs: So those are the deaths, but what about the wounded?
[4.40] Andy Hopper: Well, large numbers of the Royalists who were taken prisoner were wounded, and we have a pretty good idea of what happened to them afterwards, potentially thousands of captives were wounded in some way. The Parliamentarians, we know that 535 of them were wounded, we know that they were mainly treated locally, in surrounding villages. Those that were well enough were moved to Northampton, where they were treated. Some even were transported in specially made coaches to Parliament’s permanent military hospitals at the Savoy and Ely House, in London. Of those 535 Parliamentarians wounded, only 44 died, so let’s say over 90% of Parliamentarian wounded actually survived their wounds.
[5.39] Mike Gibbs: Is that a surprise, because normally one thinks that as soon as somebody is wounded in a war, before modern medicine, before antibiotics, their prospects were not good.
[5.54] Andy Hopper:  Yes, of course it would depend very much on the nature of the injury. If you had a sword cut to a limb, for example, your chances of survival were much higher than if you’d been shot in the guts or somewhere in the torso, but perhaps medical practitioners were more effective than we give them credit for, perhaps the military surgeons of the day, three years into the war, had learnt a few lessons and knew what they were doing in treating the wounded. Perhaps it’s less surprising, in that context, that so many survived.
[8.15] Mike Gibbs:    As you’ve just said, the Parliamentarian casualties were not that numerous in the conflict, but a number of them were big names, were leaders in the Parliamentary Army, was this unusual, and who was actually injured?
[8.36] Andy Hopper:   No, it was not unusual for generals to be injured on Civil War battlefields, a number of generals had been killed before, in other battles before Naseby, and commanders were expected to lead by example and show courage and lead from the front, so quite often they were wounded. Parliament’s Commander in Chief, Sir Thomas Fairfax, very fortunately for him, remained unwounded at Naseby, even though he lost his helmet – he’d been grievously wounded in previous encounters, and he conspicuously, again, led from the front, capturing a Royalist standard in the process.
[9.18] He remained unwounded, but two of his generals were incapacitated, the first was Henry Ireton, who commanded the Cavalry on the Parliamentarian left wing – he was wounded in several places, and received a pike thrust through his thigh. More seriously, the commander of the Parliamentarian Infantry, Philip Skippon, was shot through the side by one of his own musketeers, and Skippon’s wound is very important, because we have the fullest knowledge, the fullest source material available for describing his wound, and how it was treated thereafter, and my colleague, Dr Ismini Pells, has written about the treatment of Skippon’s wound at great length.
[10.14] A Parliamentarian newsbook printed in London on 19 June – that’s five days after the battle – printed a letter from George Bishop, an officer in the New Model Army, which explained how he had helped Philip Skippon to go and have his wound treated after the battle had been won for Parliament. It’s a very useful source to describe to us how generals were treated when they were injured.
[10.50] After his treatment, Skippon was eventually well enough to be moved down to London, where he was richly rewarded by Parliament, and eventually he made a full recovery, although it did take him many months to convalesce from this wound. Parliament lavished a great deal of money on his treatment, and there was a great deal of relief that he had been able to survive, because initially his wound had been feared to be mortal.
[11.23] He later fully recovered and went on to become Governor of Newcastle for the Parliamentarian cause.
[13.25] Mike Gibbs: There was a particularly nasty event that happened after the battle, when the Parliamentarians attacked the Royalist baggage train near Naseby, what happened?
[13.40] Andy Hopper: Yes, that’s right. As the Royalist Army was withdrawing from the battlefield and being pursued as they went, by the Parliamentarians, the Parliamentarians came upon the King’s baggage train. This included over 1,000 women and children who had been marching with the Royalist Army, and around 100 or so of them were killed by Parliamentarian soldiers, and many of them of course were robbed. The baggage train would have contained a lot of plunder and booty, and many of those that weren’t killed had their faces scarred and maimed and cut open by Parliamentarian soldiers, and this was an act of vengeance against the Royalist women.
[14.31] Some of the Royalist women may have been Welsh-speaking, we know that large numbers of Welsh soldiers were serving in the King’s Army, and it’s thought that they were mistaken for Irish by the Parliamentarians. The Irish of course had been held responsible for the massacres of Protestant settlers in Ireland, in the years leading up to Naseby, so this particularly nasty massacre took place.
[15.01] It’s also sometimes pointed out that there’d been a massacre of Scottish soldiers who’d surrendered to the King after the capture of Leicester. There had been Scots soldiers in Leicester’s garrison who had been put to death after surrendering, so maybe this was also partially in revenge against that massacre, a kind of counter-massacre.
[11.32] Mike Gibbs: Many of the Royalist Army were killed, many survived. What was their story, what happened to them?
[11.43] Andy Hopper: Well, we know that about 4,500 prisoners were taken, and those well enough to march were marched down to Northampton, and then day by day from Northampton down to London, often sheltering in churches at night, because churches were the only buildings sizeable enough to accommodate that number of prisoners. Those that weren’t well enough to be moved had to be treated locally.
[31.15] The Royalists made the journey down to London inside a week. On 21 June 1645 3,000 Royalist prisoners and 55 captured standards arrived in London, and one French observer who saw them parade past suggested that the prisoners looked in rather good condition, and from that concluded that this was not an army whose hearts had been in their cause, or who had fought to the last.
[12.34] Many of those prisoners still enduring their wounds, still recovering from their wounds, were then imprisoned for significantly long periods, to prevent them from finding their way back into Royalist service. 800 or so agreed to change sides, to fight for Parliament in Ireland. Fighting against the Irish rebels was an easier choice for them, perhaps, than fighting against the King’s person in England. Many of the rest were not released, and we know now what happened to quite a number of them, from petitions that were made for relief after the Restoration, which tell their story about what happened to them after their capture.
[15.32] Mike Gibbs: Uniquely through the Civil War Petitions Project, of whichyou are the principal investigator, we have insights into what happened to a number of the wounded at Naseby. Before we talk about that, could you just very briefly explain to us what the Civil War Petitions Project is?
[15.58] Andy Hopper: Yes. The Project involves the digitisation and transcription of all surviving petitions from soldiers of the Civil Wars who were too wounded to return to their pre-war occupations, those that were unable to work, essentially, were claiming for welfare and claiming for pensions. It also contains the same for the war widows and orphans who were also made victims of the war and required state welfare in order to get by and survive.
[16.38] Mike Gibbs: What petitions have you uncovered of soldiers who fought at Naseby, or their families?
[16.51] Andy Hopper: We’ve found 35 petitions and certificates that all mention Naseby in them. Interestingly, of these, 33 are from Royalists, and only 2 from Parliamentarians, perhaps reflecting that Parliamentarian casualties were rather light compared to the Royalist ones. Of those 33 Royalist documents, 17 of them were Welsh, and I think that’s very significant, it shows that potentially upwards of half of the Royalist Infantry deployed at Naseby were Welsh. Those Royalists that weren’t Welsh in the petitions, tend to be from Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire, so the marcher counties of England bordering Wales. This reveals something of an east-west split, if you like, amongst our petitioners, because the two Parliamentarian petitioners are from Essex.
[17.52] Mike Gibbs:   What insights, then, do these petitions give us into the lives subsequent to the battle, subsequent to the end of the war, of the individuals who fought in the Royalist Army?
[18.11] Andy Hopper:     A lot of the Royalist wounded petitioners all mention their period of imprisonment after the battle. They talk about a hard imprisonment, a close imprisonment, and sometimes give an exact number of the weeks in which they were held. Some of them were held prisoner for up to a year after the battle of Naseby, and of course this was to prevent them from re-joining Royalist armies and reviving the King’s failing war effort.
[18.43] The memory of imprisonment, I think, seems to have loomed pretty large in the experience of the Royalist wounded after Naseby. For example, we have Thomas ap Richard of Nevin, in Caernarvonshire. He petitioned in 1660 – after the return of Charles II, it was possible for him to petition for state pension, for relief from the state – he claimed that he’d served the King for four years and was taken prisoner at Naseby and had been held in close prisoner there for the space of fourteen weeks after the battle.
[19.30] After his release, he was only released if he agreed to go and serve abroad, and he ended up in service to the King of Spain, most probably in the Spanish Army of Flanders. He was transported out of England – no doubt the Parliamentarians hoped that that meant he was disposed of and that he wouldn’t return – but we find him after the Restoration having returned to his home parish, where he petitioned that he’d been pressed into service, he’d been forced to serve in the Royalist Armies, and that he’d received many shots, sore and grievous wounds in several parts of his body, and was therefore unable to work or labour for his livelihood.
[20.17] Mike Gibbs: And the individual veterans were feeling the effects of these wounds from Naseby many decades afterwards.
[21.32] Andy Hopper: Twenty-four years after Naseby, John Howells of Hereford listed the battle as among the many engagements in which he had fought, and he claimed now to be blind and to have received several hurts, bruises, wounds and maims, adding again, “as by inspection might appear”. Again we see that these soldiers were perhaps suffering quite a shaming ritual of having to show their wounds to the Justices, to prove that they were worthy recipients of relief.
[22.10] Now, we don’t know what payments were made to Howells, records don’t survive, but the Justices did offer him the next vacant place in the City’s almshouse, so he was going to have to wait for one of the other pensioners to die before receiving that help.
[22.31] We also have a petition from Steven Lee of Cheshire, who’d been a Corporal in the regiment of Colonel John Marrow, and he had been taken prisoner at Naseby. His petition says that afterwards he lay a long time in a sad condition imprisoned in London, until at last some friends were able to procure his release. I imagine they will have paid a sum for him to be released, so this indicates a practice of ransoming prisoners for release, which many historians had previously thought only occurred later on, in the Second Civil War and thereafter.
[29.25] Another prisoner who was marched down to London after the Battle of Naseby was Euan Foulke of Denbighshire – he’d been Lieutenant in a Royalist regiment, a Welsh Royalist regiment. He’d been shot in the thigh at the assault on Leicester and taken prisoner with the rest of the wounded men at Naseby. He’d been brought down to London and imprisoned in Lambeth House – this was the Palace of the recently-executed William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was held prisoner there for quite a while, where he says, suffering very much, he was forced to go over to the French King’s service, where he served on the continent, with quite a number of his comrades who had also been pressed into Royalist service. We can imagine there were probably quite a large number of Welsh serving in the 30 Years War as a result of having been captured at the Battle of Naseby.
[30.34] In contrast to the experiences of the Royalist wounded, who were marched down to London rather than riding in carts and wagons, we know that 19 very seriously wounded Parliamentarians were transported to London’s military hospitals in specially hired coaches.
[30.58] This shows that Parliament did take seriously the treatment of their own wounded, indeed they spent £700 on this in the aftermath of the battle, in addition to giving General Skippon a gratuity of £200.
[23.19] Mike Gibbs: Looking at these petitions, what does it tell us about the impact of a battle such as Naseby on the lives of everyday folk?
[23.35] Andy Hopper:   It shows that even generations later the soldiers themselves, or their widows and their families, but also their home communities, were still living with the consequences of those wounds inflicted in the battle, because the soldiers were supported by a pension scheme administered on a county basis. Every ratepayer in that county would have been paying money towards pensions for wounded soldiers, and some of the last pensions of the Civil Wars were being paid into the eighteenth century, so that’s two, even three generations after the Civil Wars, the burden of providing care and relief was still present.
[24.24] Mike Gibbs: How do you think this experience at Naseby compares to that of veterans who fought in wars in the 20th and 21st centuries? How was Naseby, then, remembered by the Royalists?
[24.45] Andy Hopper:   Well, despite Naseby not having been a particularly bloody battle – I mean, certainly not when compared to Edgehill or Marston Moor – I think it loomed very large in Royalist memory retrospectively as the moment of defeat, as the decisive moment. We see in the petition of Roland Jones of Denbighshire – he petitioned in 1665, 20 years after Naseby – that he’d served in many engagements and received several hurts and maims, including at that fatal one of Naseby. I think that nicely encapsulates how Royalists look back on the battle.
[25.27] Mike Gibbs: What were its consequences, then, for the war as a whole?
[25.34] Andy Hopper:   The principal consequence was that the Parliamentarian experiment that had led to the formation of the New Model Army had been vindicated. Against expectations, the New Model Army had triumphed, and that meant that that experiment would continue, the New Model Army would go on to continue to prosecute the war, and it unleashed a year of spectacular victories for the Parliamentarian cause. Almost within a year of Naseby the Royalist capital of Oxford had surrendered. That all happened very quickly, when we consider that up until Naseby there had been three years of deadlock in the Civil Wars.
[26.20] Mike Gibbs:     So the battle only lasted two hours, but it seems to have had a major impact on subsequent British history.
[26.33] Andy Hopper:    Yes, I think the big impact was because it hamstrung the Royalist war effort thereafter. The King could never replace those veteran infantry soldiers which had been captured, they were prevented from re-joining the Royalist armies by imprisonment and banishment overseas. Thereafter, the King really struggled to field a decent-sized army against the Parliamentarians. He was never short of Cavalry – he had plenty of gentry and Cavalry forces supporting him – but increasingly lacked Infantry.
[28.25] Mike Gibbs: Andy, thank you very much indeed for giving us these insights, not only into the battle itself, but the experiences of those who actually fought in it.
[28.39] Andy Hopper:   Thanks very much, Mike. It’s a pleasure to talk about Naseby and the Civil War Petitions Project.
[Ends]