Thursday, 15 July 2010

“Put your trust in god and keep your powder dry”

Oliver Cromwell famous advise to his troops during the invasion of Ireland.

Though probably a poetic statement not actually spoken by the man himself, If you looked him up in a dictionary these are the 10 words which I think would best define him. He believed that the hand of God was guiding his actions but had enough realism not to leave everything to providence. It is easy to see how the soldiers of England and even across Europe would have related to this sentiment with it's mix of religious fervour and cold pragmatism..

Oh by the way, welcome to my blog!

I intend to post as often as I can with the odd article and discussion on my main interest which is military history, particularly, the renaissance, thirty years war and you may have guessed, the English Civil Wars.

I read non-fiction and historical fiction and I’m also a keen wargamer so do a lot of research in to orders of battle, engagements, commanders and armies, I hope to pass this on via this blog.

My research skills are not what one would describe as perfectionist in nature and I do seem to jump to what I consider reasonable but what others may find ridiculous conclusions so please drop comments or abuse as long as it is constructive I don’t mind. Also, please send me links to other good blogs, articles and books.

Though Cromwell’s fantastic quote features in my blog he is not my favourite commander from the English Civil Wars. Black Tom Fairfax is my man and I want to open here with a battle involving him early on in the English Civil Wars in a battle close to where I live here in Leeds.

Black Tom’s Worst Defeat
The Battle of Seacroft Moor. 13th March 1643

The sight of the handful of bloodied survivors of his foot staggering back across the forbidding Yorkshire moorland must have had a significant affect on Thomas “Black Tom” Fairfax as he stood on the outer works of the city of Leeds on the evening of the 13th March 1643. After the wars he would maintain that the reverse on Sea Croft Moor was his worst defeat.

The “Battle" of Seacroft Moor was; when compared to - Naseby, Marston Moor or Edge Hill and indeed to what was going on in the rest of Europe - merely a skirmish around the outskirts of the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire. The West Riding of Yorkshire has a number of other more famous battlefields such as Marsden Moor, Adwalton Moor and from earlier centuries Stamford Bridge and of course Towton.

This particular battle is interesting as; though small scale in relation to the numbers of combatants, it did cover quite some distance and is important because of the impact it had on Fairfax and the lessons he learned on the importance of intelligence but more importantly the discipline of troops (a lesson he would apply when leading the New Model Army a few years later. It is interesting too as it was a classic sacrificial move by Parliament in the chess game of manoeuvre. Though defeated in the field, this defeat allowed them to complete their strategic objectives.

March, 1643: Lord Ferdinando Fairfax ; commander of the Parliamentary Army of the North has established himself at Selby as a link between the Parliamentary bases in the wool towns of Leeds, Bradford and Halifax and the ports of Hull and Scarborough. The Royalist army under the Earl of Newcastle controls York and the River Wharfe crossings at Tadcaster and Wetherby.

With the defection to the Royalist cause of Hugh Cholmley at Scarborough the only main port left for the Parliamentarians is under Sir John Hotham at Hull.

Hotham’s loyalties are questionable to say the least at this point. Lord Ferdinando Fairfax realises that in the event that Hortham does switch sides then to remain in Selby could leave him exposed to direct attack from the Royalist Army of Newcastle or have his lines of communication between Leeds and Selby cut.

Lord Fairfax decides to withdraw to Leeds. However in order to cover this move he needs to divert Newcastle’s attention. Lord Fairfax orders his son Sir Thomas Fairfax to make a diversionary move towards Tadcaster.

The Royalist garrison at Tadcaster withdrew towards York on Fairfax’s approach. Seeing an opportunity to make it difficult for the Royalist to re-occupy Tadcaster he set about dismantling the Defences including a bridge over the Wharf.

Newcastle; immediately dispatched 20 troops of horse under Lieutenant General George Goring towards Tadcaster to intercept Fairfax.

Sir Thomas Fairfax (Parliament)

The Eldest son of Ferdinando 2nd Lord Fairfax, Thomas (called Black Tom due to his dark hair, dark eyes and swarthy complexion) studied at Cambridge and fought with Sir Horace Vere in Holland for the Dutch Protestant’s cause where he first gained his reputation for his qualities as an officer. ( He married Sir Horace’s daughter in 1637.)

He was knighted for his service for the King in the First Bishops War (1639) where he commanded a troop of Yorkshire Dragoons.

Thomas and his father had tried in vain to help the King reach a compromise with Parliament in June 1642. They declared for Parliament in August 1642.

Thomas’ father Lord Fairfax was appointed commander of the Northern Association Army of Parliament and Thomas’ was appointed second in command.

Black Tom gained reputation for bravery and gallantry, a professional soldier he kept away from politics and this would ultimately make him the ideal choice to lead the New Model Army later in the war. However in 1643 he was still subordinate to his father and struggling to maintain control of the England’s largest County; Yorkshire.

George Goring (Royalist)

Goring is a wonderful character from the Civil Wars: The son of the 1st Earl of Norwich, he was a bounder of the first order! He had married the daughter of an Irish millionaire but had debauched his way through his wife’s substantial dowry

In an attempt to reign-in his son in law and rectify both his financial position and reputation, Goring’s Father-in-Law purchased for him a commission as a Colonel of English troops for the Prince of Orange in the Netherlands.

Despite his hard drinking he proved to be a capable and brave officer. He took a Musket ball to the ankle in 1637 at the siege of Breda and retired honourably in 1639 where he was given the Governorship of Portsmouth.

He was given a regiment in 1639 in the First Bishops War and a Brigade in 1640.

Goring declared for the King in 1642 but the King was unable to send him support and he was forced to surrender Portsmouth to Sir William Waller in September 1642.

This incident had a damaged his reputation and he spent the next 3 months in the Netherlands helping the Queen in purchasing arms and raising troops before sailing back to Yorkshire. Upon arrival he was appointed Lieutenant General of Horse.

There is some confusion as to the exact location of the battle. The only first hand record is Fairfax’s memoirs written some years later where he refers to “Sea Croft Moor” This could be an area in the suburbs of Leeds around Seacroft which is now mostly housing estates and a shopping centre.

However some local historians [Harold Smith- see the link below to his excellent piece] suggest that given what we know of the battle and local geography, Fairfax probably got it wrong and the battle actually took place on Whinmoor.

This seems a sensible argument in that Whinmoor is right next to Bramham Moor and extends all the way to the very edge of Seacroft.. In addition, the lay of the land would also explain how Goering managed to out flank Fairfax without being seen (see below).

The initial skirmishes took place in and around the lanes that led to Bramham Moor. This favoured the musketeers who could line the hedgerows and give fire on the cavalry who would have been forced in to columns by the narrow lanes and enclosed fields.

However once caught on the open moor the infantry were in the middle of classic cavalry terrain. Open moor grassland with little cover for the musketeers.

If we accept that the battle actually took place on Whinmoor (which I believe has merit) then Goering managed to move his cavalry along the road between Bramham and Thorner and this movement was screened by Woodland to the east of Whinmoor.

Goring arrived as Fairfax’s troops were marching back towards from Tadcaster to Leeds over Bramham Moor. Skirmishing broke out amongst the lanes that led to the moor but this was inconclusive. The Parliamentarian Infantry, predominantly musketeers were able to hold their own against Goring’s cavalry.

Goring recognised the advantage his cavalry would have in the open ground of the moor and so withdrew to a discreet distance. He then took his Cavalry on a march round to the north and then east to intercept Fairfax on the Moor.

The Parlimentary force was made up of mostly Musketeers and irregular clubmen with very few pike and only two troops of Cavalry. The Infantry were were of poor quality. The lack of discipline meant that they had become strung out on the march over the Whinmoor. Some had entered local villages and spent the afternoon drinking and Officers had real difficulty get them moving again in good order.

As Goring’s cavalry appeared on the moor forming up for attack this must have sent panic along the line of march. With very few pikemen and half the force inebriated it was virtually impossible for them to resist Goring’s charge of 20 troops of Horse across the open moorland and the Parliamentarian foot broke almost immediately. The pursuit followed and took Goring’s Cavalry on to Seacroft Moor.

Though some managed to escape into Leeds over 200 were cut down and 800 taken prisoners.

Sir Thomas Fairfax would later say that this was the worse defeat of his career and there is no doubt that it gave the Parliamentarian’s a bloody nose. Fairfax himself had managed to rally a number of officers and withdraw in some order into Leeds. The Defeat was offset by the fact that his father had managed to march his force from Selby to Leeds without incident.

Strategically, Thomas Fairfax’s feint had worked. He had drawn attention away from his father allowing Ferdinando to make his move in to Leeds. However the loss of 1000 men was a high price to pay.

Fairfax would have his revenge however when his night attack on Wakefield yielded 1500 prisoners including Goering himself and would establish Fairfax’s reputation as an outstanding officer.

Finally; the incident taught Fairfax a bitter lessen about the importance of discipline at all levels of an army, especially on the line of march. A lesson that would contribute to the tactical discipline which lay at the heart of the effectiveness of the New Model Army two years later.


The game can be approached in two ways. Firstly using a small scale such as 6mm and playing lengthways on a 6x4 gaming table. The Parliamentary forces deploy amongst the enclosure at one end together with a small contingent of royalists. Flank march rules can be used to assess where and when the main cavalry force of Goring enters the moor.

Given the unbalanced nature of the forces and the terrain, a Royalist Victory is always likely, however rather than a slugging match the game can be designed so that Parliament gain victory points for the number of units (or individuals) he/she gets off the battle field. This will lead the Royalist to adopt an aggressive naturally Cavalry approach and give the Parlimentary commander a number of challenges in trying to co-ordinate a withdrawal with minimum casualties and hamper the Royalist pursuit.


Here are some links to other sites with information on the Battle of Seacroft Moor