At the beginning of the English Civil War, in 1642, William Cavendish of Bolsover and Welbeck Abbey who was the Earl of Newcastle at that time gave Charles I £10,00 and raised a troop of 200 horsemen. In June of that year William was sent to secure Newcastle. He was on his way to becoming the king’s general in the north and about to start a military dance with Lord Ferndinado Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas Fairfax that would only end in 1644. Not that it was all plain sailing. The slide to war met with opposition and not every local lord was keen on Cavendish’s recruitment campaign.
Cavendish summoned his tenants and the trained bands of the North. They came largely from Northumbria at the beginning of the conflict- remember he was also Earl Ogle – his mother was Catherine Ogle. He kitted them out in a new uniform – the coats were undyed because, according to Margaret Cavendish’s biography of her husband, the soldiers asked for them to be left white so that they could dye them in the blood of their enemies. They were also kitted out with caps of so-called Scots’ blue. The “whitecoats” or “lambs” had an identity that was immediately recognisable on the battle field.
In total there would be seven divisions of Whitecoats. Their first action might have been against the trained Bands of Durham who seemed to have had a falling out with the men left by Cavendish whilst he went on to Newcastle to secure it for the king. The earl went back to Durham and smoothed ruffled feathers. One of the men from the Durham trained bands stated that he liked the earl well enough but not his soldiers.
At first the Royalists dominated the war in the north. They first saw action at Tadcaster and the following year (30 June 1643) at the Battle of Adwalton Moor. The battle initially went against the royalists because of the position that Fairfax held on a ridge and because Newcastle didn’t have enough musketeers but ultimately there was a final push of pike led by the wonderfully named Colonel Posthumous Kirton – you may not have royalist sympathies but what’s not to love about the name Posthumous Kirton! Kirton’s attack ultimately caused the Parliamentary left wing to collapse. The war continued and Newcastle’s Regiment of Foot fought where it was required in the North, Yorkshire and the Midlands, but there is surprisingly little information on its exact movements.
The Whitecoats saw action at the sieges of Hull and Gainsborough as well in 1644 of York – when they were being besieged and repulsed the Parliamentarian forces when they breached the walls at St Mary’s Tower by mining it. The tide had turned against the Royalists in 1644 when the Scots became involved. This was why Newcastle was forced back into Yorkshire.
Rupert of the Rhine arrived to relieve York on the 1st July 1644 but took charge of the army and insisted on fighting the Parliamentarians. On the following morning he led his own men out onto Marston Moor between Tockwith and Long Marston. The Whitecoats joined Rupert at 4pm having spent the day looting what was left on the Parliamentarian siege line. The earl arrived in his carriage. Aside from a little skirmishing the two armies faced one another and waited. Rupert will have been able to work out that his army was smaller than that of Parliament – by some 10,000. By 7 pm the Royalists decided that there wasn’t going to be a battle that day so settled down for the evening. There was also a thunderstorm. At which point the Parliamentarian army attacked. It didn’t all go Parliament’s way. Thomas Fairfax had to make his way through the Royalist lines on his own at one point. Victory really belonged to Oliver Cromwell who turned his wing in an arc behind the Royalist force.
At the Battle of Marston Moor Newcastle’s Regiment of Foot were killed almost to a man. They remained in formation in the centre of the Royalist line and it is thought defended White Syke Close. The Parliamentarians recognising their bravery asked for their surrender but the regiment refused. By the time the Whitecoats died the battle was already lost – their deaths were futile. They were buried in mass graves where they fell. If you walk the route of the Battle of Marston Moor White Syke Close is marked on the ordinance survey map. Alternatively take advantage of a Country File walk which outlines the battle and leads you on a circular walk, https://www.countryfile.com/go-outdoors/walks/marston-moor-north-yorkshire/ The Battle Fields Trust website has information about the battle and the site today.
It is thought that William Cavendish was the last Royalist commander left on the battle field. Personally brave but not necessarily charismatic he arrived in Scarborough the following morning where he boarded a vessel bound for Hamburg. He had £90. Upon arrival he borrowed £160 and set off for Paris and Henrietta Maria. At the family seat of Welbeck Abbey his daughters would have to face a Parliamentarian force, hide the family plate and get some of their father’s art collection to safety.
The image of the Battle of Marston Moor was painted in 1819 by Abraham Cooper. He painted a second image of the battle in 1824 entitled Rupert’s Standard.
I would politely remind you that I am not a battle field historian although I can describe key moments in some of the battles of both the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War. I can also tell you that it is incredibly easy to get lost on Marston Moor even when armed with a map and book of war walks – although a couple of fully costumed re-enactors emerging out of the morning mist is certainly enough to make you sit up and pay attention.