Essentially we have covered the fact that during 1643 the Earl of Essex’s parliamentarian Western Association army did not have a great deal to shout about. Meanwhile in Yorkshire the same Commissions of Array were delivered and like their counterparts in the SouthWest the gentlemen of Yorkshire and the Midlands were forced to decide where their loyalties lay. Hull and Leeds were important towns. Both declared for Parliament, Hull rather noticeably by refusing to let the king into the town in 1642.
Initially the Earl of Cumberland was in charge of the Northern army. Henry Clifford (the fifth earl) was given the job because he was deemed to be the senior aristocrat in the region. He was not a warrior so it wasn’t too long before parliamentarian garrisons began giving him the runaround and he was forced to summon help in the form of William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle.
By contrast the Parliamentarians had men whose names reverberate through history. Sir John Hotham was the governor of Hull; Sir Hugh Cholmley led the garrison at Scarborough and then in the West Riding there was Ferdinando Fairfax (pictured right) and his son Thomas (pictured at the start of this post). The only difficulty was that Hotham didn’t appreciate Fairfax being the senior commander. The Fairfaxes controlled the West Riding and extended their hold from there to Tadcaster. Their main opponent in the West Riding was Sir William Savile.
When Newcastle crossed the Tees with his army it became apparent that the trained bands of men from Richmondshire and Cleveland would refuse to fight the Royalists. Sir John Hotham’s son called on troops stationed further south in the East Riding to help him repel the royalists but on 1 December 1642 there was a coming together at Piercebridge. Newcastle had 8,000 men. Hotham had considerably fewer. Unsurprisingly Newcastle won and was in York by 3rd December.
Tadcaster looked a bit precarious so far as the Parliamentarians were concerned. The Fairfaxs were outmanned and it did not help that although Ferdinando had received Parliamentary orders to the effect that he was in charge neither the Hotham’s nor Sir Hugh Cholmley appeared to believe them. Cholmley was told to move his men into position so that the West Riding was protected from Newcastle’s military designs. Sir Hugh returned with the majority of his men to Scarborough. There may have been some scratching of heads about this particularly manoeuvre as back in London, John Pym described Scarborough as being “not very useful.” Not that it would have made a great deal of difference to Newcastle’s superior numbers and it was perhaps more of an indicator that Cholmley was thinking of swapping sides – something that he did in spring 1643 having been sweetalked by Queen Henrietta Maria.
Fairfax realised that he needed a bigger army and began a recruitment campaign. Tadcaster and Selby remained in Parliamentary hands for the time being. In November Thomas Fairfax occupied Wetherby. They held important river crossings and if they could get enough men together they could threaten York but they still did not have an army that could match Newcastle’s.
On 6th December 1642 the Earl of Newcastle attacked Tadcaster and from there captured Pontefract. Fairfax withdrew to Selby where he realised that the West Riding had been cut off from the East Coast Parliamentary garrisons.
Whilst the Fairfaxes had their hands full Sir William Savile made his move in the West Riding. He occupied first Wakefield and then Leeds. From there he marched on Bradford which was expected to put up a fight. The weavers were inclined to non-conformity, were in financial difficulties because of the collapsing cloth trade and were troubled by the fact that Bradford which had once been a royal manor had been sold to pay Charles’ debts and as a consequences tenants in that manor had suffered a considerable rent hike. All things considered they were not going to hand the town over to the king’s man without a fight even if it didn’t have a wall. On 18th December 1642 Savile was beaten back. In addition to the trained bands Savile found himself confronted by clubmen – these men were paid by no army. They were armed with whatever they could find that could be turned into weapons.
On 23rd December Sir Thomas Fairfax left Selby and spurred through royalist held Yorkshire with his men to reinforce Bradford. It was the one remaining pinpoint of Parliamentarianism in the West Riding although of little strategic value and almost impossible to defend long term.
On the 23 January 1643 Fairfax took the war back to the Royalists. He and his men marched from Bradford to Leeds with six troops of horse, dragoons, musketeers and 1,000 of the irregular clubmen. They took 500 prisoners whilst Sir William was forced to flee.
In March Ferdinando decided to withdraw from Selby – exposed as it now was. On the 30 March he feinted towards Tadcaster, where the Royalist garrison seemed to have had a bit of a panic attack because they promptly fled to York. This enabled Fairfax to dismantle the town’s defences. Meanwhile Newcastle sent George Goring to prevent Fairfax from taking Tadcaster – by the time Goring and his men arrived Fairfax’s men were at Bramham Moor. Goring attacked them at Seacroft on the outskirts of Leeds. Goring’s men were mounted and Fairfax was outflanked. 800 men were taken prisoner in the chaos that followed but the majority of Fairfax’s army had already made it too Leeds when the attack took place.
On the 20 May 1643 the second Battle of Wakefield was fought. Fairfax was under pressure to get his men back. The idea was that either they could be freed or if enough royalists could be captured an exchange of men could be negotiated. In a bizarre twist of events a small band of parliamentarians led by Sir Thomas Fairfax captured a garrison of more than 3,000 royalists. Poor old George Goring had been tucked up in his bed at the time the raid started and although he had got himself sorted out enough to lead a counter-attack against Fairfax he had found himself facing some of his own artillery that had been captured and turned on the royalists. He was taken prisoner along with more than 1,000 other men and sent down to London where he remained in The Tower until 1644, no doubt having some difficult conversations about the fact that in 1642 before the outbreak of war parliament had paid him to secure Portsmouth against the king. He had actually secured the port for Charles and there had been a month long siege before Portsmouth was handed over to Parliament and Goring fled to the Netherlands only returning when Henrietta Maria raised men and munitions to help her husband.
By the summer of 1643 the Earl of Newcastle controlled most of Yorkshire and his men had gained something of a reputation for looting. Only Bradford held out. In part Newcastle couldn’t really do much between March and June because Henrietta Maria was in Yorkshire. She’d landed in Bridlington on 22 February 1643 and had been waiting for a safe route to be opened so that she could join her husband once more in Oxford – it was, in part, for this reason that Newark was captured by the Royalists and remained a royalist stronghold throughout the rest of the first English Civil War. The queen journeyed south on the 4th June freeing Newcastle from his royal protection duties.
Newcastle having waved farewell to the queen gathered his army and set off in the direction of the West Riding. There was no wall at Bradford. Fairfax had no choice but to stand and fight. Fernando and Thomas marched out of Bradford and met Newcastle on the 30 June 1643.
It looked for a while as though Fairfax would win the Battle of Adwalton Moor but it was Newcastle who won the day. On the night of 1st July Ferdinando and the Parliamentarians broke out from Bradford and made for Hull giving the order that Leeds should be evacuated as well – for the timbering the West Riding was in Royalist hands. Thomas was left behind to cover their escape. On the 3rd of July he made a similar escape along with his wife and daughter. Bradford was down to its last barrel of gunpowder. It was at this stage in proceedings that Ann Fairfax became separated from her husband and was captured. In between times her husband and father-in-law had an exciting interlude at Selby when the royalists tried to intercept them as they were crossing the river there.
Newcastle who wrote scurrilous verse about serving maids in his youth showed every gallantry on this particular occasion by sending Ann to her husband in Hull (the Fairfax’s arrived there on the 4th July) in his own carriage with a military escort to ensure her safety.
Hull now found itself under siege for a second time – though not necessarily particularly wholeheartedly. Newcastle meanwhile turned his attention from the West Riding to Sheffield where the iron masters were turned to making armaments for the king. He went on to capture Gainsborough and Lincoln. Lincolnshire was in the hands of Parliament’s East Association Army.
Of course, whilst the cat is away…the Fairfaxs will take advantage of the opportunities provided. By August Fairfax was back in Beverley and was raiding ever closer to York.
Newcastle stopped rattling the Eastern Association Army and went back to Yorkshire to squelch heavily upon those dratted Fairfaxs. The Second Siege of Hull began in all earnestness on 2nd September 1643. Newcastle set to work creating a series of earthworks for his artillery. A fortnight later the Parliamentarians opened the sluice gates and flooded the royalists out just as they had done during the first siege. Even more irritatingly for Newcastle, the town was being provisioned from the sea by the navy which was in Parliament’s hands.
On 22 September a certain Colonel Cromwell crossed from Lincolnshire to Yorkshire where he offered muskets and gunpowder to the Fairfaxs. On the 26th Thomas and his men left Hull to join the soldiers of the Eastern Association Army. Ferdinando Fairfax remained in Hull until the 12 October when newcastle lifted the siege following some violent military encounters. Meanwhile the Eastern Association came to blows with the Royalists at Winceby and won.
All in all 1643, apart from the bright spot of Essex’s victory at Newbury had been a dismal one for Parliament but in Lincolnshire a certain Oliver Cromwell was beginning to make his mark. The summer of Royalist victories was over and in the north men like Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax and his son are being recognised as men who could turn the tables on the Royalists.
Binns, Jack. Yorkshire in The Civil Wars. Blackthorn Press