From Victoria: Abigail Dane, author of The Pirate and the Virgin, presents the second installment of her research notes. Welcome back, Abigail!
Battle of Worcester and its Aftermath
Part 2 of 3
Cromwell’s army took on its own grueling march—20 miles a day in extreme heat for seven days—to reach Ferrybridge on August 19th. Once again, the ever-pragmatic Worcester decided to align itself with the faction occupying it at the time. Cromwell’s New Model Army forces were, by then, 31,000 strong. Delaying the battle just long enough to build two pontoon bridges, Cromwell launched his attack against Charles on September 3rd—the one-year anniversary of the victory at Dunbar.
With a 2:1 troop advantage stretching over a four-mile-long arc toward the town of Worcester, Cromwell was able to push back the Royalist forces, despite fierce fighting. The Royalist retreat turned into a trouncing after the capture of Fort Royal, a redoubt on a small hill to the southeast of the town. Among Charles’ army, 3,000 were killed and 10,000 captured. Some leaders were executed; some prisoners were sent to fight for Cromwell in Ireland; and around 8,000 Scots were deported to the New World and made to labor as indentured workers there. By contrast, the Parliamentarian casualties were estimated at a mere 200. A clear and complete rout for Cromwell.
The Proscribed Royalist, 1651, by John Everett Millais, (1853)
After the Battle of Worcester, a young Puritan woman helps a fleeing Royalist—Charles II himself?—
to escape, by hiding him in a hollow tree.
In the next day’s report of the victory to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Cromwell famously wrote:
The dimensions of this mercy are above my thoughts. It is, for aught I know, a crowning mercy.
That last sentence, later inscribed on the plaque placed on the Sidbury Gate in Worcester, reads in full:
THE LAST BATTLE OF THE CIVIL WAR
WAS FOUGHT AT WORCESTER ON
3rd SEPTEMBER 1651
IT IS FOR AUGHT I KNOW
A CROWNING MERCY
NEAR THIS SPOT IN THE CITY WALL STOOD
THE SIDBURY GATE, WHICH WAS STORMED
BY THE PARLIAMENTARIAN TROOPS.
ERECTED BY THE CROMWELL ASSOCIATION
AND WORCESTER CITY COUNCIL
WITH THE AID OF PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION
Thus, the Royalist Army was destroyed and the bloody and costly conflict known as the “English Civil War” finally ended. As preacher Hugh Peters put it: “…at Worcester, where England’s sorrows began…they were happily ended.” Ironically, as a result of Charles II’s ill-fated decision to detour to Worcester, the final battle was fought just where the first battle had been fought on September 23, 1642—almost exactly nine years earlier.
Unable to rally his troops and realizing his cause was lost, the thoroughly defeated monarch removed his armor, found a fresh mount and escaping as darkness fell, began a harrowing six-week-long flight. At one point, he hid from the patrols in an oak tree (now referred to as the “Royal Oak”) on the grounds of Boscobel House, as depicted in Millais’ painting, The Proscribed Royalist, 1651. A fearless actor, the fugitive king sometimes hid in plain sight; on one occasion striding through a crowd of Cromwell’s soldiers; on another boldly declaring to the blacksmith who was shoeing his horse: “If that rogue Charles Stuart is taken, he deserves to be hanged more than all the rest, for bringing in the Scots.”
At a time when the average man was 5’6”, the fugitive king was 6’2” and swarthy. Being so distinctive and hard to disguise made him an exceptional target. The £1,000 reward on his head and the “death without mercy” decree for anyone found helping him made him a tempting one, as well.