Saturday, April 27, 2013
The Royston campaign
Whilst in the south of England Lord Bedford was having mixed fortunes, having been repulsed at the battle of Twynford but now being reinforced by French regulars, in the north matters began in a much more sedate manner.
Lord Allen Ashley titled the Duke of Norfolk was gathering his forces and planning his campaign, with his usual meticulous care, his biggest issue had been not fighting the enemy but convincing his neighbour Lord Fraser into agreeing to a joint operation.
Unlike Lord Bedford who had a tendency to rush headlong into matters Lord Ashley preferred to think of himself as a patient and careful man, both in personal matters and in other small concerns like planning campaigns.
Finally however he had convinced Lord Fraser that the advantages of combining were to both their benefits, thus in early February the plans and preparations for the Northern campaign were prepared.
Initially they had argued over who should command, then they bickered over where the main thrust of their attack would come from and go too. Finally with great care and patient negotiating Lord Ashley had his way and through some deft negotiations he convinced Lord Fraser to allow him to command the main army, the army that would drive directly south from their lands into the heart of England, the capital city of London.
Naturally there was the matter of Royalist forces being between them and their objective but they had reasoned that if they had enough strength in their initial drive they could overwhelm any opposition.
Lord Ashley would lead the main Parliamentarian Army now styled the Parliamentarian Confederation Army (Confederates) directly south through the Royalist holdings of the Duchy of Nene, the County of Northampton and the County of Royston before lunging into the Royalist stronghold, the lands of the Duke of Essex, Lord Hackett.
While Lord Ashley drove south, on his right flank Lord Fraser would lead a smaller force as both a flank guard on the main drive but with eventual aim of joining for the attack on Essex. They had agreed that when both forces began their attack on Essex then they would operate under a joint command, Lord Fraser commanding one day, Lord Ashley the next.
Lord Ashley was obliged to leave 8 militia battalions and 2 artillery batteries to march behind the main army and be detached as garrisons in what was to be the conquered territories of Nene, Northampton and Royston, he didn’t want to weaken his main army by having to take regular troops out of the line as garrisons troops. These Militia forces would also deal with any hard core Royalist resistance by besieging them and allowing the main army to continue marching as quickly as possible south, the one vital aspect of their success was speed.
It was also vitally important that they engage Essex as quickly as possible before he could combine with other royalist forces to attack Lord Bedford in the south.
The order of battle that Lord Ashley march with was as follows:
Lord Ashley Commanding
General Malcolm Latimer (2IC)
2nd Brigade Stationed at Scole
4th Foot Regiment = 12th Foot, 13th Foot,
5th Foot regiment = 94th Foot, 111th Norfolk Foot
12th Light Infantry battalion
2nd Heavy Cavalry Brigade
2nd regiment of Horse (Carabineers)
3rd Regiment of Horse (Carabineers)
6th Brigade –
12th Foot Regiment =35th Foot. 39th Foot
13th Foot regiment = 40th Foot,113th Foot
14th Light Infantry Battalion
4 Companies medium artillery - 1
1 company of Heavy artillery – 1
3rd Brigade – (Attached to the Norfolk Army from Warwicks army)
6th Foot regiment = 14th Foot, 15th Foot,
7th Foot Regiment = 16th Foot, 95th Foot
13th Light Infantry Battalion
Militia units to be used as garrisons in occupied territories or if events demand it as reinforcements for the main army.
6th Militia Brigade –
4 Militia battalions
1 company of Medium Artillery
2nd Militia Brigade
4 Militia battalions
1 company of Light Artillery
Last Week of March.
The Confederation army marched from Kings Lynn in Norfolk and joined up with the 3rd Brigade from Warwick's Army near Guyhirn. The march through Nene and Northampton took just over a week and were quite uneventful., apart from an occasional sniping or a few belligerent locals one would hardly have noticed that the Confederation force was a conquering army, the march south seemed more like a royal progress.
It was of course expected that resistance would be light as neither Nene or Northampton had armies and because of this Lord Ashley had issued strict instructions that his army was to behave and not over react in retaliation to any civilian opposition. He demanded a firm but fair hand, as he saw it as being important that it appeared the Confederation Army was protecting the people of the former Royalist Counties from the ravages of war, not seeking revenge; it was a case of winning their hearts and minds.
The first signs of resistance came the moment they crossed the border into Royston, here they were opposed in ambushes by civilian bands reinforced by units of Royalist cavalry. The progress slowed and was marked by the burning of farms and villages as well as bodies hanging from trees along the road or in village squares. While Lord Ashley was prepared to take a light hand where there was no opposition, however when civilians attacked his men, then he allowed his men the opportunity for full revenge This had the one advantage of immediately quelling resistance in a given area but on the other hand because of this policy the county of Royston was to become a hotbed of Royalist sympathies.
Lord Ashley was surprised that apart from the occasional glimpse of royalist dragoons he had met no real opposition from the Royalist regular army.
He was beginning to think that perhaps it was as Lord Warwick had suggested, that the Royalists had rushed south to reinforce the Lyndhurst army or were afraid to move out of London because of the arrival of the French troops at Folkstone. If that was the case in another week or so the London forces would be squeezed in a vice like grip with armies marching from all directions on them.
The Royalist Headquarters
Lord Hackett had been in London when the news of the “new” Confederation launched their attacks on
both Nene and Northampton. There had been some suggestion that the enemy may stop on taking Northampton and consolidate their gains, perhaps reinforcing their army for a later push on London. Lord Hackett however based his own judgment on knowing Lord Ashley as well as he does and he did not see the Duke of Norfolk stopping until he sat on the throne in Whitehall Palace.
Lord Hackett told the assembled Parliament that this northern attack would be a precursor to the main thrust to liberate London, that Lord Ashley would not play second fiddle to any other Parliamentarian Lord or commander. This view was based on his former close association with Fraser when they jointly commanded the Council of Nobles, it was known that Fraser greatly valued his own self sense of personal prestige and his ego would simply not allow him to play second fiddle to anyone.
The Royalist Parliament had been assembled to discuss the victory at Twynford and how they should capitalise on it, then during the session three bad pieces of news brought to the house the awareness that the war was indeed escalating and rapidly.
The first piece of News was that the French were landing at Folkstone and then the next day the news of the attacks on Nene, then on the third day of the Parliamentarian session further news arrived of Confederation encroachments into Gloucester.
The situation for the Royalists was becoming perilous, first they had a stalemate with the Lyndhurst army, General Anders had sent his report to Parliament with the assessment that should he attack the enemy at Cadman's bridge the losses could likely be very heavy, thus at this stage he was busy rebuilding his army following his victory and awaiting further instructions.
The news about the French landings were of a great concern, it caused an immediate panic in the city of London when the news was spread. However not long after the initial panic the mood quickly transformed in a surge of patriotism, men emboldened with patriotic fervour and with great indignity rushed the recruitment parties when the realisation that England’s old enemy had invaded their own lands. Men by the thousand s suddenly volunteered to join, far more men than the Royalists could arm or train.
So with impasse in the south at Cadmans bridge, the French at Folkstone and now the Confederation army pouring south through Nene and Northampton the Royalist response had to be immediate and effective.
Lord Hackett voiced his opinion that the French alone would not be strong enough to take London, that with the Royal Guard of several battalions of veteran Infantry, Guard Cavalry along with the Force under General Abercrombie which consisted of 10 regular battalions, 5 Militia battalions and 2 cavalry regiments supported by artillery would be more than adequate to hold London, perhaps even attack the French. Meanwhile his own forces under General Ernest Graham would deal with Lord Ashley to the north.
The third and final day (2nd week of March) of the Royal Parliament came with the news that yet another Confederation army under Lord Warwick had just invaded the Duke of Gloucester's lands, it was decided for now their was little they could do for Gloucester, as the Royalists first had to create some breathing space on one of the other fronts. Gloucester would have to do all he could to slow Warwick's advance, while Lord Hackett's army under General Graham dealt with Lord Ashley's force coming south through Nene.
General Graham and the Midland Royalist Army.
General Graham an old friend of Lord Hackett was a Scotsman of great military experience in Europe he had fought initially with the Russians and later with the Prussians against the French until wounded in battle, he had taken the chance to return home and recover his health. Whilst back in England the new English Civil had broken out and he had been convinced by Lord Hackett to join the Royalists and command Hackett's own forces.
General Grahams Army
5th Brigade – Stationed in Bedford
12th Foot Regiment = 10th Foot, 11th Foot
13th Foot Regiment = 93rd Foot, 33rd Foot
6th Brigade – Stationed in Oxford
14th Foot Regiment = 36th foot, 33rd Foot
15th Foot Regiment = 36th foot, 34th Foot,
2nd Light Infantry Battalion (previously 44th Foot)
4th Dragoon Brigade – Stationed in Bedford
2nd Dragoon Regiment
3rd Dragoon Regiment
3rd Light Horse Cavalry Brigade – Stationed in Oxford
1st Regiment of Horse (Blue)
18th Light Horse Regiment
3 Companies of Medium Artillery –
General Graham found that on taking command of Hackett's army that they were deployed all over Essex with some forces even as far south as London, he was just finalising his plans to unite the army when he was told of the Confederation attacks in Nene and later in Northampton.
He had issued orders for an immediate concentration of the army on the Royston - Essex border at Aylesbury, this concentration was in progress when reports came in to his headquarters that the Confederation army was moving much faster than expected and were now preparing to invade Royston.
General Graham realised that without delaying the Confederate army they would be upon him before his own concentration was complete, so he had sent out his two Dragoon regiments and the 6th Infantry brigade to slow the enemy down. The command of this advance guard was given to Major General Albert Preston a protege of Lord Hackett's and though young he was already a veteran of the Indian wars in America, thus the ideal man to command a force that was required to fight by ambuscade and use delaying tactics.
His orders were relatively simple, “Slow the enemy down and avoid a pitched battle”, he was to gain time so General Graham could complete his concentration and join him in a little over a week or so.
On his arrival in Royston Maj General Preston learnt of Confederation reprisals on the some of the smaller farming communities where Royalist sympathisers had ambushed several patrols of Confederate troops, in retaliation the Confederates had burnt farms, destroyed crops and executed several people. These acts of reprisals gained General Preston two advantages, first there was now an abundance of intelligence on the movements of the enemy, secondly and more importantly the enemy had halted just south of Luton to hunt down “Royalist murdering bands”.
Using bands of Royalist irregulars supported by his regular cavalry General Preston had set down to a routine of ambushing and raiding, a policy that was militarily succesfully but the price for that success was paid in the blood of Royalist civilian sympathisers.
As a result of recent executions which had taken place in Luton, scores of Royalist patriots and sympathisers had been rounded up and killed, their homes razed to the ground. When the Confederate Commander Lord Ashley learnt of these reprisals and the delay they had incurred he was beside himself with fury, he immediately sacked his advance guard commander and ordered the new commander Major General Simon Marks to assume the advance and do not stop for retaliations, the need for retaliation can be dealt with by the following Militia forces.
However on renewing the advance the Confederate forces were opposed by a new enemy, the advance was being opposed by Royalist regular troops and whoever was commanding them was displaying considerable skill in the art of ambush and delay.
General Preston was quite happy with the efforts of his small command, in fact most of the fighting had been done simply using the dragoons who would lay in ambush in the lanes and side roads firing on the enemy advance and then withdrawing, then at night raiding the baggage train to the rear or attacking pickets and guards around the army along the route of advance. Combined with this was the increasing animosity of the local people against the Confederates and many formed themselves into new irregular bands to make their own attacks and raids. General Preston had tried to convince them to leave the military matters to his own command, but following the massacres of Patriots and sympathisers in Luton there was no convincing the local population that they should simply act as informers and spies; they demanded blood and nightly they achieved the goals, again the price was the death of more civilians.
The new Confederate advance command commander was being hampered by the same issues the previous commander had suffered from, despite his urgings and orders all too frequently the Confederate patrols would drag some local individual and execute them in reprisal for a previous night raid. His advance was now down to a matter of a few miles a day, often he would receive reports of a royalist army ahead, but patrols sent out returned with no information or had been ambushed along the way.
General Marks decided the best policy was simply to push his advance guard force down the Luton – London road, keeping the patrols close enough for support but far enough out to warn of ambushes.
It seemed to the General that this new Policy was working, the advance guard started moving, and despite isolated skirmishes the enemy irregulars were becoming fewer, even Lord Ashley had sent along a word of encouragement now that his army was finally gaining speed at a much more acceptable rate once again, but of course all that came to nought when the advance guard force stumbled onto the Royalist Force under General Preston, the contact came in a area of farms, light woods, rivers and of course hedgerows.
General Preston knew the Confederates were coming, he was however rather surprised just how quickly they had reached his position near Beasley Farm. General Preston had been ordered by General Graham to assume a defensive position that offered his out-numbered force a reasonable chance of success, to young General Preston, this area was not only the best available, but given the two distances between Lord Ashley's Confederation main army and General Graham's Royalist force, it placed General Preston and his advance guard squarely in the middle, with little or no room to move.
The Battle of Luton as it was to become known was in fact fought twenty miles or so south of Luton.
It would begin as a clash between two advance guards but would escalate as the two armies marched onto the scene.
The above map is the general area of the battle, to follow in the next few postings will be the AAR and maps for this very important clash.