The second Battle of Newbury took place on 26 October 1644. The Royalists had been defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2 July 1644, but the Parliamentarians could not rest on their laurels: the war was still far from over.
Parliament’s commanders decided to amalgamate their three forces into one army that would block Royalist armies from London. The forces met at Basingstoke; by 19 October the Parliamentarians had mustered an army of 19,000 men.
But Charles I’s main priority was not London: he was more interested in keeping control of Oxford, his capital. Castle Donington, Banbury and Basing, three Royalist outposts close to Oxford, were under attack. Charles set out to relieve all three with 10,000 men. Helping Basing House was too risky because of its proximity to the Roundhead army at Basingstoke. Instead, Charles advanced on Banbury; the town was freed on 25 October.
The King next targeted Donnington Castle, located to the north of Newbury. The cavaliers reached Newbury before the Roundheads, allowing them to choose good defensive positions. When the Roundheads arrived, they discovered that the Royalists were in virtually unassailable positions, protected by the River Lambourn to the North and the River Kennet to the south. Castle Donington cannon helped protect the Cavaliers left flank and were highly problematic for Cromwell, whose men were positioned to the Southwest of the castle.
The Roundheads realised that an attack in their present position would be doomed: the Royalists were in near impregnable positions. They decided to move a large chunk of men from their eastern position near Clay Hill to Cromwell’s position in the east. On 26 October, unseen by the Royalists, a large detachment of infantrymen and horses marched north, then swung west, and then southeast, to join Cromwell’s men.
The Royalist defenders, commanded by Prince Maurice, were probably not completely oblivious to Parliament's manoeuvrings. By the time the new Roundhead force came into sight near Donnington Castle, the Royalists had built earthworks to defend themselves.
The parliamentarians launched a diversionary attack to the west of Newbury to distract the Royalists. This failed and Parliament was left with many casualties. To the east of Newbury, Royalist cannon from Castle Donington and Prince Maurice’s position bombarded Parliamentarians. Cromwell’s forces could not stay put, and so Cromwell ordered an attack.
The Royalist defenders were protected by earthworks and should have been able to defend themselves from attack. However, they quickly gave up and retreated onto open land, where they were cut down by Parliamentarian cavalry. The five canons that Maurice had used against the Parliamentary forces at the start of the battle were turned against his men.
The Roundheads launched a late attack to the east of Newbury, but this came to nothing as darkness descended.
There was no clear winner at the Battle of Newbury. Parliament should have won: they outnumbered the Royalists by two-to-one. Charles was able to use the cover of darkness to move his army away from the battlefiels and to Oxford, supplying his men at Donnington Castle along the way. Parliament only became aware that Charles had left Newbury on 27 October. The King reached Oxford on 30 October.
The Royalists returned to Donnington Castle on 9 November to reclaim the cannon and bring in supplies. Parliament did not attack, and this allowed the Royalists to take supplies to Basing House. Royalist operations had been interpreted as a triumph in Oxford, and Charles was well-received on his return.
The Battle of Newbury had two major consequences. First, in the form of the New Model Army it was obvious to Parliamentary commanders that they had had the strength to win at Newbury. A divided leadership had let them down. The failure of senior Parliamentarian commanders to cooperate with one another needed to be addressed. Therefore Parliament’s failures at Newbury helped lead to the formation of the New Model Army. Second, it is possible that Charles was emboldened by his successes of October/November 1644 and became over confident. The Parliamentarian forces that he faced in 1644 were not very well commanded; he thought that this would continue into 1645. Royalists made fun of the New Model Army, who they called the ‘new noddle army’. This derisive sobriquet was misplaced: when the Royalists first encountered the New Model Army at the Battle of Naseby, the battle ended failure for Charles.
See also: The First Battle of Newbury
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