The Battle of Adwalton Moor

30 June 1643

The Earl of Newcastle’s reaction to the storming of Wakefield must have been of considerable concern to the Fairfaxes. It must have come as a great surprise when Newcastle tamely withdrew his army to York. The Earl’s main task was still the protection of the Queen and her safe despatch to the south. In early June Newcastle put his plan into operation. On the 4th his army, accompanied by the Queen and her arms convoy, left York and marched to Pontefract. A Council of War was then held to decide on the next course of action. The main question was: should Newcastle and his whole army escort the Queen? Many of Newcastle’s officers were Yorkshire men and did not like the idea of leaving the county in the possession of the Parliamentarians. A decision was made for the bulk of the army to remain in the county while the Queen, with a strong escort, travelled to Newark, where she arrived safely on 16 June.

With the departure of the Queen, Newcastle was now free to move against Lord Fairfax in the West Riding. The Earl spent a number of days at Pontefract, gathering his forces and recruiting and training replacements for the troops that had accompanied the Queen. Newcastle first moved his troops to Wakefield in preparation for an advance on Bradford, where Fairfax’s main army was stationed. On 21 June he captured Howley Hall but was unable to carry on his advance due to the unseasonal heavy rain. By 30 June the roads had dried enough to allow him to begin his approach march to Bradford.

While Newcastle waited for a change in the weather at Howley Hall, Fairfax gathered his commanders, and troops, at Bradford and tried to come to a decision. The town was untenable. Bradford sits in a bowl and is overlooked from all sides. It was also unfortified and would take a lot of men to defend. If Fairfax could gather enough men he would not be able to supply them, so defending the town was discounted. He could attempt to skirt around the Royalist army and head for Hull but, as the Hothams were becoming less and less cooperative, this was not an attractive option. A withdrawal into Lancashire, a Parliamentarian stronghold at this time, seems to have been discounted. This left one course of action – to fight. The success of the attack on Wakefield may have caused the Parliamentarian command to have a ‘rush of blood to the head’. They had defeated twice their number at Wakefield; could a surprise attack on the Royalist encampment at Howley Hall not have the same success? A decision was made and on 30 June the Parliamentarian army left Bradford. Both armies were now marching along the same road towards each other. A clash was inevitable.

The old road between Bradford and Wakefield ran along a narrow ridgeline, running from north-west (Bradford) to south-east (Wakefield). As Lord Fairfax’s army marched towards Wakefield, the road began to rise up the north-west side of a hill, known locally as Whiskett, or Westgate Hill, whose crest stood at about 700 feet. About three-quarters of a mile south-east of the main crest of Whiskett Hill was a second crest, slightly lower at 650 feet, which formed the military crest of the hill for an army marching from Bradford. It was not until the top of this hill was reached that Adwalton Moor could be seen, as the ground gently drops into a shallow bowl between the two crests. About half a mile further on is the edge of Adwalton Moor. The north-west edge of the moor had a series of hedged enclosures, and a substantial ditch along it, and further enclosures encroached onto the southwest corner of the moor. A couple of hundred yards from the edge of the moor the land begins to rise again and climbs to 650 feet at the top of Hungar Hill, which formed the south-east edge of the battlefield. On either side of the ridge the ground falls away quite steeply.

As Lord Fairfax’s army left Bradford it was divided into a number of bodies. First came the Forlorn Hope, or advance guard, which was a combined arms force of six companies/troops of horse, foot and dragoons, although it is not certain what proportion each type provided, but it would have had a total of 300–350 men. It was commanded by Captain Mildmay, who seems to have been a trusted officer, more than capable of operating independently, as had been shown at Leeds when he was detached with a substantial force to attack the town from the south side of the River Aire.

The vanguard was commanded by Sergeant-Major-General Gifford and comprised 1,200 men from the Leeds garrison. Lord Fairfax himself commanded the main battle, which was made up of 500 men from the garrisons of Halifax, and its surrounding towns, and 700 Lancashire foot, divided into twelve companies. Sir Thomas Fairfax had command of the horse, which was formed from thirteen troops, for a strength of about 650–700 men. The horse was divided into two wings of five troops each, which points to the remaining three troops being part of the Forlorn Hope. Thomas Stockdale, a close associate of Lord Fairfax, stated that the Parliamentarian army was ‘not full 4,000 men horse and foot armed’. Taking into account the troops already listed this gives a total of about 500–600 men for the Bradford garrison, divided into seven companies, which formed the rearguard, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Forbes. Thomas Stockdale also mentions a substantial number of clubmen being present, although he does not give an exact number.

The strength of the Royalist army is much more problematic and little detail is given in any of the contemporary accounts of the battle. Thomas Stockdale stated that the Royalist had 15,000 foot and 4,000 horse, almost certainly a highly inflated figure, although his total for the horse may be close. Sir Thomas Fairfax puts the Royalist strength at between 10,000 and 12,000 men, and this is probably very close to the truth. The two Royalist accounts that give any clue to their strength are the Duchess of Newcastle, who writes that ‘My Lord’s forces, which then contained not above half so many musketeers as the enemy had; their chiefest strength consisting in horse’, and the Earl of Newcastle himself who reports the enemy having ‘a greater number of foot than we’. It is probable that the Royalist army was close to Sir Thomas Fairfax’s lower total of 10,000 men, with an almost equal split of horse and foot at about 5,000 men each. Newcastle also had a substantial artillery train, as his objective was to lay siege to Bradford.

The first shots of the battle were fired on the north-west slopes of Whiskett Hill, when the two Forlorn Hopes clashed with each other. No contemporary account gives a time for this first clash, but Sir Thomas Fairfax provides a clue:

My father appointed 4 o’clock the next morning, to begin to march; but Major-General Gifford, who had the ordering of the business, so delayed the execution of it, that it was 7 or 8 before we began to move; and not without much suspicion of treachery in it.

If Sir Thomas is correct and the Parliamentarian army had covered four miles, then the first clash must have been between nine and ten o’clock on the morning of 30 June 1643.

Three accounts give details of the initial clash between the Forlorn Hopes. Sir Henry Slingsby writes:

The fortune [forlorn] hope of his excellency’s army met unexpectedly with the van of the enemy. They skirmish and are put to retreat. He encouraged his men and put the enemy to a stand. They come on fiercer, and beat the enemy from one hedge, from one house to another; at last they are driven to retreat and we recover the moor.

Thomas Stockdale reported:

Upon Atherton Moor they planted ordnance, and ordered their battalia, but they manned diverse houses standing in the enclosed grounds between Bradford and Atherton Moor with musketeers, and sent out great parties of horse and foot by the lanes and enclosed ground to give us fight. Our forlorn hope beat back the enemy’s out of the lanes and enclosed ground, killing many and taking some prisoners.

Finally, Sir Thomas Fairfax writes:

For when we were near the place we intended, the whole enemy army was drawn up in battalia. We were to go up a hill to them, which our forlorn hope gained by beating theirs into their main body, which was drawn up half a mile further, upon a place called Adderton Moor [locals still sometimes refer to Adwalton as Adderton]. We being all up the hill drew into battalia also.

There seems to be some discrepancy between these accounts as to the state of the Royalist army at the start of the action. Enough information is given to work out the course of events.

Captain Mildmay led his forlorn hope up the northwest side of Whiskett Hill, where they clashed unexpectedly with the Royalist vanguard. The Royalists were driven back from Whiskett Hill to the second, lower ridge, where they were rallied by the Earl of Newcastle and the Parliamentarian forlorn hope was brought to a stand. Reinforced, the Parliamentarians renewed their attack, driving the Royalists back into the enclosures at the foot of the hill and here, once again, the Royalists made a stand.

By this time the Royalist army had begun to deploy onto the moor, and a large number of musketeers, supported by horse, had been sent into the enclosures to reinforce their retreating forlorn hope. The main Parliamentarian army had reached the top of the lower crest, overlooking the moor, and began to form into line of battle. There would have been a pause while both armies continued to deploy.

The Parliamentarian army split into two wings and a reserve. Major-General Gifford commanded the left wing, with his five troops of horse deployed close to the Bradford-Wakefield road, and to their right 1,200 foot, mostly musketeers. Continuing the line was a similar sized body of foot and then another five troops of horse completed the Parliamentarian line. The right half of the Parliamentarian front line was commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Somewhere within this line were deployed three light cannon, the only guns Lord Fairfax had with him. The remainder of Lord Fairfax’s troops formed a reserve, and this comprised about 600 regular foot, possibly the men from the Bradford garrison, and the clubmen, and, as they are not taken into account elsewhere Captain Mildmay’s weary forlorn hope.

On the moor the Royalists were in the process of deploying into a similar formation, with horse on the flanks and foot in the centre. As most of Newcastle’s musketeers had been deployed into the enclosures on the edge of the moor, the foot in the centre would have comprised, in the main, blocks of pikemen and these would have been interspersed with cannon, most of which were still in the act of deploying onto the moor. The troops of horse on the Royalist left flank had problems deploying due to a number of coal pits dotted around the southern half of the moor, the remains of which can still be detected today. The Royalist right flank may well have extended beyond the Bradford-Wakefield road, which was open ground at the time of the battle, but any advance they made would be affected by a continuation of the enclosures bordering the moor. It is difficult to ascertain how far forward on the moor the Royalists had deployed but, as several accounts write of the Royalists coming down towards the Parliamentarian troops and Parliamentarian troops going up towards the Royalists, it is a fair assumption that the main Royalist line was deployed part way up the northwest slope of Hungar Hill.

Once their deployment was complete the Parliamentarian army began to roll forward towards the enclosure at the bottom of the hill. After a sharp fight the Royalist musketeers were driven from the enclosures, withdrawing towards their main body, and the Parliamentarian troops closed up to the edge of the moor. Sir Thomas Fairfax’s five troops of horse had occupied an enclosure running along the south-west edge of the moor and some of his musketeers were deployed in another enclosure at right angles to the first. The only entrance to the field in which Sir Thomas’s horse was deployed was through a narrow opening, or gateway, which was flanked by his musketeers, the whole forming a very useful defensive position. Sir Thomas needed this as the enemy horse opposing him vastly outnumbered his five troops. It was not long before a body of Royalist horse began to move forward to attack him, sweeping around the end of the enclosure to force an entry through the gateway. Sir Thomas reports the results of this attack:

Ten or 12 troops of horse charged us in the right wing. We kept the enclosure, placing our musketeers in the hedges in the moor, which was a good advantage to us who had so few horse. There was a gate, or open place to the moor, where 5 or 6 might enter abreast. Here they strove to enter, and we to defend; but after some dispute, those that entered the pass found sharp entertainment; and those that had not yet entered, a hot welcome from the musketeers that flanked them in the hedges. All, in the end, were forced to retreat, with the loss of one Colonel Howard, who commanded them.

The Duchess of Newcastle gives similar details to Sir Thomas but states that the gateway would only allow access to two men at a time. Outnumbered two to one, the importance of Sir Thomas’s position was proven and his men not only held their ground but drove off the enemy.

Shortly after the repulse of the first cavalry attack, another large body of Royalist horse descended the hill and almost succeeded in breaking into the enclosure, as Sir Thomas Fairfax reports:

The horse came down again and charged us, being about 13 or 14 troops. We defended ourselves as before, but with much more difficulty, many having gotten in among us; but were beaten off again, with loss; and Colonel Heme who commanded that party was slain. We pursued them to their cannon.

Sir Thomas goes on to describe an act of divine retribution which took place just after this attack:

And here, I cannot omit a remarkable passage of divine justice. While we were engaged in the fight with the horse that entered the gate, 4 soldiers had stripped Colonel Heme naked, as he laid dead on the ground (men still fighting around about him), and so dextrous were these villains, that they had done it, and mounted themselves again before we had beat them off. But after we had beaten them to their ordnance (as I said) and now returning to our ground again, the enemy discharged a piece of cannon in our rear; the bullet fell into Captain Copley’s troop, in which these 4 men were; two of them were killed and some hurt, or mark remained on the rest, though dispersed into several ranks of the troop which was the more remarkable, we had not martial law among us, which gave me a good occasion to reprove it, by showing the soldiers the sinfulness of the act, and how God would punish when man wanted power to do it.

It is quite a surprise that after ten months at war the Parliamentarian army in Yorkshire does not seem to have had any articles of war.

The Parliamentarians were exerting pressure right along the line and began to advance onto the moor itself, driving the Royalist musketeers before them. Joseph Lister, an inhabitant of Bradford, writes that the Parliamentarian foot:

Charged them so warmly, that they beat them off their great guns, and turned them against the enemy and they began to run.

There is no evidence to support Lister’s mention of the Royalist guns being captured and turned on their original owners, but several other accounts talk of Lord Fairfax’s foot almost reaching the Royalist guns. Sir Henry Slingsby wrote:

There the enemy had like to have gained our cannon; but was manfully defended by a stand of pikes.

While the Duchess of Newcastle said that:

In the meanwhile the foot of both sides on the right and left wings encountered each other, who fought from hedge to hedge and for a long time together overpowered and got ground of my Lord’s foot, almost to the environing of his cannon.

By this time the action had been going on for two hours and it must have been around noon. The Royalist musketeers had been driven back to their gun line, the horse of their left wing had been driven back twice by Sir Thomas Fairfax’s men – the Royalist right wing does not seem to have taken a great part in the action – and their guns were in danger of capture. Sir Philip Warwick sums up the Royalist situation:

When the day seemed lost on his side [Newcastle’s], and many of his horse and foot standing doubtful and wavering; a stand or body of pikes, which being not useful, where the two armies were strongest engaged, came up to the defence of their foot, and charged by Fairfax’s horse, repelling them, gave leisure to rally horse and foot.

Sir Thomas Fairfax takes this a little further:

This charge and the resolution that our soldiers showed in the left wing, made the enemy think of retreating. Orders were given for it, and some marched off the field.

Outnumbered by almost three to one, the Parliamentarian army was on the verge of winning a stunning victory. Although the intervention of some of the Royalist pikes had halted the enemy’s advance temporarily, the Royalist army was in some disarray and Newcastle issued orders to withdraw. Battles can sometimes swing on the actions of one man and Adwalton Moor was a prime example of this, when a Royalist colonel changed the whole course of the action, as Sir Thomas Fairfax reports:

While they were in this wavering condition, one Colonel Skirton, a wild and desperate man, desired his General [Newcastle] to let him charge once more, with a stand of pikes, with which he broke in upon our men, and not relieved by our reserves, commanded by some ill affected officers, and chiefly, Major-General Gifford (who did not his part as he ought to have done) our men lost ground; which the enemy seeing, pursued their advantage by bringing on fresh troops. Ours being herewith discouraged, began to flee, and so were soon routed.

This turn of events is also mentioned by the Duchess of Newcastle:

At last the pikes of my Lord’s army having had no employment all the day, were drawn against the enemy’s left wing, and particularly those of my Lord’s own regiment, which were all stout and valiant men, who fell so furiously upon the enemy, that they forsook their hedges, and fell to their heels.

Colonel Skirton, who was probably Colonel Posthumous Kirton, requested Newcastle’s permission to carry out one last attack against the enemy and this turned the course of the battle. Closing rapidly with the enemy musketeers, Kirton’s pikemen broke in among them and drove them back into the enclosures. Other bodies of foot joined in this attack and the situation of Lord Fairfax’s left wing deteriorated rapidly. Sir Thomas Fairfax states that Gifford was responsible for the defeat, as he did not deploy the reserve promptly. This hardly seems justified. It was no more Gifford’s responsibility to deploy the reserve than it was Sir Thomas’s and his statement seems to be trying to find a scapegoat for the officer whose responsibility it was – his father Lord Ferdinando Fairfax.

With the enemy being forced back into the enclosures, General King, Newcastle’s Lieutenant-General, led forward the horse of the Royalist right wing. This was the last straw for Fairfax’s left wing and in short order they were streaming back towards Bradford with the Royalist horse in full pursuit. Due to the lie of the land and the mass of powder smoke blowing across the battlefield, Sir Thomas Fairfax was unaware of the disaster on the left flank. Newcastle now turned his attention to Sir Thomas’s men, the only surviving formed bodies of Parliamentarian troops on the battlefield. The Duchess of Newcastle writes:

At which very instant my Lord caused a shot or two to be made by his cannon against the body of the enemy’s horse, drawn up within cannon shot, which took so good effect, that it disordered the enemy’s troops. Hereupon my Lord’s horse got over the hedge, not in a body (for that they could not), but dispersedly two on a breast; and as soon as some considerable number was gotten over, and drawn up, they charged the enemy, and routed them. So that in an instant there was a strange change of fortune, and the field totally won by my Lord.

Sir Thomas mentions the enemy guns opening fire on his men as they withdrew to the enclosure they had so stoutly defended and this continued once they had arrived there. The reason for Sir Thomas’s withdrawal was almost certainly the repulse of Gifford’s men by Kirton’s attack and, finding his men facing the whole Royalist left wing, he had no option but to pull back. Sir Thomas goes on to describe the closing moments of the battle:

The horse also charged us again. We not knowing what was done in the left wing, our men maintained their ground, until a command came for us to retreat having scarce any way now to do it; the enemy being almost round about us, and our way to Bradford cut off; but there was a lane in the field we were in which led to Halifax, which, as a happy providence, brought us off without any great loss, saving one Captain Talbot and 12 more which were slain in this last encounter.

So there is a discrepancy between the Duchess’s account and that of Sir Thomas. The Duchess asserts that Fairfax was driven from the field, while Sir Thomas states that he withdrew from the field after receiving an order, probably from his father. Sir Thomas’s story has the ring of truth about it, as he brought virtually all of his men off the field in good order, something he certainly would not have been able to do had he been driven from the field. Local tradition has it that the lane along which Sir Thomas withdrew was Warren Lane, which still exists today, although it follows a slightly different course, passing through the grounds of Oakwell Hall, just to the south of the battlefield.

By early afternoon the Fairfaxes were in full retreat, Sir Thomas to Halifax and the remainder of the army towards Bradford. Accounts of both sides’ losses in the battle are sparse and contradictory. For example Sir Thomas Fairfax puts the Parliamentarian losses at ‘about 60 killed, and 300 taken prisoners’, while the Duchess of Newcastle writes:

In this victory the enemy lost most of their foot, about 3,000 were taken prisoner, and 700 horse and foot slain, and those that escaped fled into their garrison at Bradford, amongst whom was also their General of Horse [Sir Thomas Fairfax].

Both of these accounts were written a long time after the battle and give vastly different figures, one too low and one too high. A third account giving more realistic figures is attributed to the Earl of Newcastle and was written soon after the battle:

So we pursued them, killing and taking them to Bradford town end, which was more than two mile [old English miles, nearer four modern miles], in which chase was slain (as is supposed) about 500 of the enemy’s, and about 1400 taken prisoners, amongst which many officers, together with three field pieces, and all their ammunition there, which was not much. We had many soldiers hurt, two colonels of horse slain, Heron and Howard, and some officers hurt, as Colonel Throckmorton, Colonel Carnaby, and Captain Maison, all recoverable, and not above twenty common soldiers slain.

This account gives more reasonable figures for the Parliamentarian losses, although the figure for the Royalist dead seems a little low. That said, most of the Parliamentarian dead would have been killed during the pursuit after the battle. With the enemy in rout Newcastle was able to continue his march to his original objective – Bradford.

During the night Sir Thomas Fairfax was able to march from Halifax to Bradford where he joined the remnants of his father’s army. Sir Thomas sums up their situation:

I found my Father much troubled, having neither a place of strength to defend ourselves in; nor a garrison in Yorkshire to retreat to. (For the Governor of Hull [Sir John Hotham] had declared himself, that if we were forced to retreat thither, he would shut the gates against us.) But while he was musing on these sad thoughts, a messenger was sent from Hull to let him know that the townsmen had secured the Governor, and if he had any occasion to make use of that place (for they were sensible of the danger he was in) he should be readily and gladly received. Which news was joyfully received, and acknowledged as a great mercy of God to us.

The Hothams had continued their correspondence with Newcastle and were on the verge of changing sides. Fortunately for Parliament, the citizens of Hull took matters into their own hands and arrested Sir John on 29 June. He managed to escape but was pursued and recaptured at Beverley. His son had also been arrested and the two were transported to the Tower of London on the ship Hercules. The pair were tried, convicted and executed on Tower Hill: Captain John on 1 January 1644 and his father on the following day. With the arrival of the news from Hull, Lord Fairfax decided to withdraw what he could of his army to Leeds and then on to Hull.

Leaving his son to defend Bradford with 800 foot and sixty horse, Fairfax safely reached Leeds early on 1 July. During the previous evening the Royalists had moved their artillery into position to bombard Bradford. This bombardment commenced on the morning of the 1st. Having given the defenders a taste of what was to come, Newcastle called for a parley. If Parliamentarian accounts are to be believed, Newcastle did not intend to come to an agreement with the defenders but used the time to surround the town. A decision to break out was taken by the Parliamentarian officers and they attempted to carry this out during the night of the 1st/2nd. While many of the horse were able to break out most of the foot were driven back into the town. Sir Thomas Fairfax clashed with a force of enemy horse and during the exchange his wife was captured. The Earl of Newcastle showed that he was a real gentleman by returning Sir Thomas’s wife in his own coach. Sir Thomas reached Leeds safely.

Newcastle had ordered his men to storm Bradford on the morning of the 2nd and they were to show no quarter. Local tradition has it that Newcastle, who was spending the night at Boiling Hall, was awoken by a spirit imploring him to ‘Pity poor Bradford’ several times during the night. Whether or not there is any truth in this tradition, by the morning of the 2nd Newcastle called off the assault and occupied the town peacefully.

Within two hours of his arrival at Leeds, Sir Thomas Fairfax was on the road again, this time marching for Hull and safety. The Parliamentarians’ first objective was to cross the Ouse at Selby and several bodies of Royalist horse had been sent to intercept them. While his father and the bulk of his surviving troops crossed the Ouse, Sir Thomas turned on one of the Royalist forces, attacking it in the streets of Selby. During the fight Sir Thomas was wounded in the wrist but his men sent the Royalist troopers on their way back to Cawood Castle. Unfortunately, Fairfax and his men were unable to cross the Ouse and follow his father. Crossing the Trent they rode along the south bank of the Humber, pursued by the Royalists, until they came to Barton-on-Humber where they were picked up by a ship and taken to Hull. During the pursuit Fairfax had to leave his young daughter, who was ill, behind. His relief must have been great when she was subsequently brought safely to Hull.

The immediate aftermath of the Battle of Adwalton Moor was that, with the exception of Hull, the Royalists had control of the whole of Yorkshire. This meant that Newcastle was now able to move his army to the south and reinforce the King. Not for the first time, the Yorkshire gentry bridled against leaving the county while an enemy force existed. On 2 September the Royalists once again laid siege to Hull. Lord Fairfax’s horse were of no use during a siege, so they were ferried across the Humber. This force, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, joined with the cavalry of the Eastern Association commanded by Oliver Cromwell.

The siege of Hull progressed slowly. Lord Fairfax opened the floodgates along the River Hull and inundated the land around the town, seriously inhibiting the Royalist attempts to commence a bombardment. On 11 October Newcastle received two pieces of bad news. At Hull a major sortie by the garrison had driven his men back and on the 12th the siege was raised. In Lincolnshire a large body of his horse had been defeated by Fairfax and Cromwell at the Battle of Winceby. These two events, both taking place on the 11th, seem to have brought Newcastle to a decision to go into winter quarters at Welbeck and the fighting in Yorkshire came to a close for 1643.

Although Adwalton Moor had given control of Yorkshire to the Royalists it had a much more profound effect on the course of the war. In the immediate aftermath of the battle Thomas Stockdale, a close associate of Lord Fairfax, had written from Halifax to the Speaker of the House of Commons, William Lenthall, summing up the day’s events and the magnitude of Fairfax’s defeat. This letter was read to the House on 5 July and galvanised Parliament to follow a course it had been considering for some time – an alliance with the Scots. On 25 September Parliament ratified an agreement with the Scots, known as the Solemn League and Covenant. Although this agreement contained political and religious clauses, it was its military implications that would have the greatest effect on the Civil War in Yorkshire and, indeed, the rest of the country. The Scots would invade northern England with an army of 20,000 men in support of Parliament. Due to some minor disagreements this part of the treaty was not completed until November 1643. The Scots began to gather their forces and would be ready to invade the North in January 1644.