Just as Towton was the biggest and most decisive midway battle of the Wars of the Roses, so the battle of Marson Moor was of the English Civil War – and both happened within a few miles of the city of York.
A huge 28,000 strong Anglo-Scottish Parliamentary force, the Army of Both Kingdoms arrived to besiege York, while the wealthy Cavalier magnate the Marquess of Newcastle, Charles I’s friend in the north, hoped to defend it.
Charles’s dashing young nephew, cavalry commander Prince Rupert, rode to York’s relief, armed with the king’s order to save York and beat the army. It was a tall order – as it proved too tall.
Rupert began well: dashing through Lancashire, he took several Parliamentary towns, including Liverpool and Bolton, recruited men, crossed the Pennines and, outwitting the Allies, entered York from the north. He then insisted – to Newcastle’s dismay – on leaving the city immediately to take on the Allies – even though his army of 18,000 was 10,000 short of the enemy’s numbers.
The two armies converged on Marston Moor, five miles west of the city, and faced each other all day, their cavalry and artillery skirmishing sporadically.
Start at the obelisk
An obelisk erected in 1939 by the Cromwell Association where Moor Lane – known locally as ‘Bloody Lane’ – joins the road is a good place to park and begin your tour.
Here, a reluctant Newcastle arrived with his forces too late – as Rupert thought – to offer battle. They stopped to eat, when, between 6pm and 7pm, the Allies’ commander, Lord Leven, ordered his massive force forward in a surprise frontal assault.
Disaster threatened both sides on their flanks – the rising Roundhead cavalry commander Oliver Cromwell cut Sir John Byon’s cavaliers to ribbons. Rupert rode his reserves to the rescue, but was unable to stop Cromwell’s disciplined Ironsides, who rode right across the battlefield to aid parliamentarian commander Sir Thomas Fairfax.
Leading to victory
Take the footpath on south side of the road to the cluster of trees known as Cromwell’s Plump (or ‘Clump’). This is inaccurately named as it actually marks the position of Yorkshireman Sir Thomas Fairfax’s cavalry before the battle, while Cromwell was a mile away to your left at the far end of the Parliamentary lines.
Cromwell saved the day, rallying the Roundheads, whose superior numbers finally carried the field. Newcastle’s private army stood firm to the last and was massacred.
Rupert, who had hidden in a beanfield, escaped to fight another day, unlike the 4,000-plus Cavalier casualties. Newcastle, fearing ‘the laughter of the court’, went into exile. York fell to Parliament, and with it went the north. The tide of war had turned and Cromwell was the coming man.
A bloody history
Return to the road and walk up Moor (‘Bloody’) Lane through the heart of the battlefield to the track junction called Four Lanes Meet, where Newcastle’s coach was parked.
The left-hand track to the west leads to the trees of White Sike Close where Newcastle’s army was slaughtered and piled into mass graves. Take the right-hand track, Hessay Road, is the old route to York down which Newcastle’s men marched before the battle, and along which the Royalist survivors retreated afterwards.
Back to the start
Return to the obelisk and, if you wish, drive towards Tockwith for refreshments. Kendal Lane to the right marks the route of Cromwell’s charge.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take the B1224 road to Wetherby from York (Route 412 bus).
After approx four miles, turn
right down the Tockwith road
at Long Marston and drive through the village. The unspoiled battlefield lies astride the road between Long Marston and Tockwith villages.
FIND OUT MORE
The Cromwell Association
Spotted Ox pub
Yorkshire YO26 7PY
Nestled in the heart of the village, this cosy pub is popular with locals and battle re-enactors.
Old Granary House
York Road, Green Hammerton, YORK, YO26 8EZ
Relax after exploring the battlefield at this welcoming restored farmhouse.
There’s so much to do in this ancient city – from the famous city walls and Minster to exploring the quaint cobbled streets and cute cafés.
OS Explorer 290
Grid Reference: SE 490 520