Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Battle (almost) of Newburn Ford

Rarely can a single idea have had such a startling effect on the outcome of a battle as did Alexander Leslie’s bright idea at Newburn Ford in 1640. So simple and devastating was Leslie’s manoeuvre that Newburn Ford is rarely cited as a battle, for the enemy fled before any real fighting took place. Well, almost.

After 1603 England and Scotland shared the same monarch, but they kept their respective armies, parliaments, legal systems and churches. It was the latter that was to cause the outbreak of war in 1639 and again in 1640. King Charles I was more inclined to Catholic doctrine in Church matters than were his Scottish subjects. When he attempted to impose his ideas, the Scottish Kirk refused to accept them and the mass of the Scottish people, being staunch Protestants, rallied to its defence. In 1639 some early skirmishes led to deadlock and war resumed in 1640.

Scotland managed to muster an army of 25,000 men who had signed the Covenant supporting the Kirk and were known as Covenanters. Led by Sir Alexander Leslie, an experienced mercenary who had risen to be a general in the Swedish army, the Scots headed for Newcastle upon Tyne. Knowing that the northern defences of the city were more formidable than those to the south, Leslie decided to cross the Tyne upstream of Newcastle and attack from the south.

The first crossing point practicable for an army upstream of Newcastle was the ford at the village of Newburn. Leslie reached Newburn late on the 27th August. He saw, on the other side of the ford, a series of earthwork entrenchments and an English army well dug in and supported by artillery. The English army appeared to be small, but its defensive works were formidable and Leslie could not be certain how many English troops lurked in the wooded ridge beyond the defences. He decided to wait until his scouts had spied out the land. One of these scouts was dramatically shot dead in front of the Scots army at dusk.

The English, meanwhile, eyed the Scots with apprehension. The English were led by Lord Conway, a cavalry officer with more experience of the parade ground than the battlefield. And though the Scots were uncertain how strong the English army was, the English were painfully aware that they numbered just 6,000 men and were outnumbered 4 to 1 one by the Scots.

from England vs Scotland by Rupert Matthews
buy your copy HERE

Book Description

6 Jun 2002 Great British Battles
Today the rivalry between St Andrew and St George may be fierce but at least it is limited to the sporting field. This was by no means the case before the Act of Settlement in the eighteenth century. Rupert Matthews has researched more than twenty major battles between these two countries, over a period of 1,000 years. Each battle forms a chapter, explaining the causes of the conflict, the forces involved, the battle itself and a brief guide to the battlefield as it is today. The outcome of each was as unpredictable and hotly contested as the clashes at Murrayfield, Wembley and Cardiff are.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.