Battle of Newbury - 1st
The Earl of Essex was seeking to bring his weary army back to London after a summer which had seen Parliament lose the valuable port of Bristol along with Barnstaple and Bideford in the West Country. King Charles and his advisers knew that if they could defeat him London itself would become vulnerable. A decisive victory then could bring Parliament to the negotiating table.
The route to London for the Roundheads was barred at Newbury, where Prince Rupert had rushed his cavalry on September 19 to prevent Essex having the advantage of occupying the town with its supplies and accommodation for his troops. Essex stole a march on the Royalists during that night, however, sending infantry to take position on a prominent hillock in the centre of the Royalist line.
When dawn broke on September 20 evenly matched forces faced one another, the two armies each numbering between 14,000 and 15,000. The king had around 6,000 cavalry to Essex's 4,000, but in the terrain to the south west of Newbury, with strong hedges marking small fields, narrow sunken roads, and boggy ground, infantry were more valuable than mounted troops. During the day long fight artillery also played an important part, again both armies with similar numbers of cannon, 20 each.
The battle was a confused and bloody one, one in ten of the combatants falling in the conflict. Rupert's cavalry almost won the day, as so often, but were unable to break the resistance of the Parliamentarian infantry. The Royalist cavalry concentrated on the right wing of the Roundhead force, and made inroads there, probably also tempted by the chance to break through and raid the baggage train beyond it. Infantry sent in haste by Essex to shore up his defences prevented a rout, however.
As the day wore on Charles it seems was disheartened by the bloodletting, hit particularly hard by the pointless death of Lord Falkland, who either from intemperate courage, or according to some out of despair at the war itself, charged alone at the enemy line and was killed by musket fire. When night fell and the fighting ceased, though both sides were short of supplies, especially gunpowder, it was Charles who ordered withdrawal rather than fight again the next day. The way to London was open to Essex. Parliament at least had a breathing space to gather its strength after a difficult summer.
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