June 14th 1645 saw a history-changing event. The English Civil War had dragged on for 3 years and neither the forces of King Charles I or those of the Parliamentarians had been able to make any significant victory. But on this day things changed.
There had been victories and defeats for both sides but the tide was beginning to turn towards Parliament. The previous month the Royalists had sacked Leicester and a Parliamentary army under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, destined to be the two most successful commanders of the war, was dispatched to finally bring the Royalist army to battle.
This was the first outing for the New Model Army, a reformed Parliamentary army which removed all forms of external influence on its actions and formation and handed control to experienced campaigners rather than the anti-Royalist members of the House of Lords. It could be seen as a model for future army constitutions.
Following Leicester, King Charles was urged to attack the Parliamentary army before it was fully formed. But it was Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Charles’ senior advisor who urged retreat. This is interesting as the reputation of Prince Rupert that comes down from the Civil War is of a reckless, fearless cavalry commander who would charge into any situation. So the Royalists retreated.
The battle went badly for the Royalists and even the small victory of Prince Rupert’s cavalry breaking through and reaching the baggage train behind Parliamentary lines turned sour when he realised that the opposition here was too strong and he would not be able to press home his attack. He returned to the main battle, which was by now going badly for the King, but having fought their way back, they were no longer in any condition to render aid to the failing royalist forces.
The aftermath of the battle was that although the King escaped, he had lost up to 15% of his army dead or wounded and another 70% surrendered or captured. The royalists were never able to put another army into the field and within a year the King was a fugitive fleeing for his life until eventually he was captured in January 1647. It really was a turning point.