Cromwell had the bulk of the English army in Fife. King Charles knew that if he were now to invade England, there would be a beneficial distance between his and Cromwell’s army. Despite the protests of Argyll, Charles got his army in motion in what would be known as ‘the Start’ on 31 July, heading southward through Lanark and passing into Lancashire by way of Carlisle. The King’s army of sixteen hundred men marched into England on 05 August. The next day, on English soil, Charles had himself crowned King of England.
The English Parliament, in session at Westminster, were understandably concerned that the Scots would arrive at London unopposed. They blamed Cromwell’s hasty decision to invade Fife as the cause of this new danger. They considered passing several acts of censure against the Lord General.
Cromwell ordered General Lambert to take after the King and to attempt to impede the Scots’ progress, and engage them if at all possible. Lambert was to:(
“follow the king immediately with ƒeven or eight hundred horƒe, and to draw as many others as he could from the country militia; and to moleƒt the king’s march as much as poƒsible, by being near, and obliging him to march cloƒe; not engaging his own party in any ƒharp actions, without a very manifeƒt advantage, but keeping himƒelf entire till he ƒhould come up to him.”
The English Parliament called out militia from most of the counties lying in the Scottish army’s path to London to assist in obstructing the Scots’ advance southward. At least six thousand troops were mustered from the counties of Staffordshire, Lancashire and Cheshire.
Oliver Cromwell’s sojourn in Fife had to be shortened. He directed General Monck to maintain a firm hold on the territories already captured in Scotland. Leaving a force of five to six thousand men under Monck, Cromwell took the rest, about six or seven thousand, and started southward after the Scottish army. On 12 August, Cromwell crossed the Tine and rested at Ryson-Haugh. The Scottish army led by the King, by that time, had passed through Lancashire.
At each town that the Scottish army passed through, the people cheered on the King and proclaimed him king of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. It would have appeared that the size of Charles’ army would have been increasing by leaps and bounds by English royalists. But that was not the case. The Scots were continually deserting the army and heading back to their homes. And though the townspeople expressed their allegiance to the King, there were few who were willing to join his army. Also, as John Grainger noted in his history of the Anglo-Scottish War, “Some of the English Royalists argued that it was a mistake for the king to lead an invasion of his own kingdom at the head of a foreign army.”(2.36)
The King received the support of about eighty men under the Earl of Derby. A troop of some fifteen hundred horse had been raised by the Earl of Derby, but before it could reach the King, the troop was attacked by an English force under the command of Colonel Lilbourn near the town of Wiggan. Derby’s men were routed and Derby was himself wounded, although he and eighty others were able to escape into Cheshire. Had Derby been successful in defeating Lilbourn, it might have provided a rallying point for other sympathisers of Charles.
The Scottish Royalist army, at the start of the campaign, was claimed by the English Council of State to be composed of eleven thousand men; as it crossed the border between Scotland and England, it was believed to have stood at about thirteen thousand men. An estimate made after the battle of Worcester placed the number at sixteen thousand. Despite the belief to the contrary, the King must have acquired some Englishmen into his army’s ranks during the campaign. A good number of any such additional troops were no doubt acquired on 26 August as a result of a muster call by the King following his arrival at Worcester. The English army under Oliver Cromwell is believed to have consisted of between twenty-six and twenty-eight thousand troops – double that of Charles.
At Warrington, on the border of Cheshire, the King’s army was momentarily halted by Lambert’s English army, who held a bridge on the Mersey River, over which the Scots had to pass. After a brief skirmish, the Scots were victorious and they moved on toward Worcester, near the Welsh border. The people of Worcester were decidedly Royalist; it had been the last city to fall to the Parliamentary forces in 1646. Prior to the arrival of Charles, the townsfolk drove out the English garrison guarding the town. The leader of the garrison of roughly five hundred troops had barred the gates against the arrival of the King and his Scottish army, but the Common Council of the city objected. And when the garrison ventured out to badger the arriving Scots, the townsfolk rose up and tormented them till they moved away from the city. Perhaps this action was more the desire to avoid having a battle fought in their midst than to welcome the King and his Scottish army. In any case, on 23 August, 1651 the Scottish army entered the city. There Charles II resolved to wait for Cromwell, and accordingly set his troops to establishing defences.
On the 25th, the King sent troops to destroy bridges over the Severn River at the towns of Bewdley and Upton, to the south of Worcester. The idea was to leave only one passage over the Severn – at Bridgnorth, some thirty miles from Worcester to the north.
Other troops were put to work on defensive fortifications. Earthen breastworks were constructed around the city and to enclose a star-shaped fort structure that stood to the south of the city along the road to London. The fort, although refurbished and named ‘Fort Royal’, would not have been useful in a siege. But the King felt it might come in handy to guard the Sidbury Gate, the south entrance to Worcester.
Cromwell led his army through Newcastle, Rippon, Ferry-briggs, Doncaster, Mansfield and Coventry. At Keinton he joined his troops with those of Lieutenant General Fleetwood, Major General Desborough, Major General Lambert, Major General Harrison and Lord Grey of Groby. The combined Parliamentary Army numbered about thirty thousand – twice that of King Charles. They arrived in the vicinity of Worcester by the end of August. On 28 August, Cromwell marched his army from Evesham and encamped on a ridge to the east of Worcester, about a mile from the city. The main body of the English army was deployed between Red Hill, along the base of which lay the road to London, and Perry Wood, about a mile to the north. Additional troops were placed from Red Hill southward to the River Severn.
Cromwell’s initial move was against the Scots holding Upton-Bridge, located about seven miles from Worcester. He directed a detachment of dragoons and cavalry under Lambert to secure the bridge and provide safe passage for the army across it. When the English troops arrived at the bridge, they found that the Scots had almost completely dismantled it. Only a single board provided for footing across. The English soldiers succeeded in making the crossing, though, by crossing single file over the lone plank on the night of 28 August. They came upon the Scottish troops who had retreated toward Worcester and took refuge in a nearby church. English artillery under the command of Massey began a bombardment of the church edifice. In due time, Lambert succeeded in getting enough of his troops across to be able to launch a charge against the church and its defenders. Under a furious fire, the Scots fought gallantly, but eventually were forced to retreat from the church. They headed toward Worcester with the English army at their heels. As the Scots crossed the River Teme at Powick, the bridge was rebuilt by Fleetwood’s infantry troops and the remainder of Fleetwood’s army crossed over.
The King and his Royalist / Scottish army were now hemmed in and reaching a point of great indecisiveness over what course of action to take. There were three options to consider: to launch an attack on the English line to the west of the city; to simply maintain a defensive stance against an attack launched by the enemy; or to attempt an escape from the city. The prospects of winning in an attack against the greater numbers of English soldiers seemed low. As time wore on, the possible escape routes were closing. Maintaining a defensive against an attack, allowing the English to make the first move, and then reacting to it, seemed the best strategy at the time. The soldiers in the King’s Royalist army, though outnumbered and hemmed in, were hardenned with experience and commanded by able leaders. Also, they held a very good fortified position from which they could easily watch the enemy’s activities.
Cromwell divided his army into two parts: the one, consisting of about sixteen hundred men, would remain in position at Perry Wood. The other, consisting of about twelve thousand under the command of Fleetwood, would march to mouth of the River Teme, where it emptied into the Severn, and straddle the Severn just to the south of the city. Bridges constructed over the Severn for the purpose of allowing Fleetwood’s men to cross took a bit of time to complete. As a result, the battle did not begin until the morning of 3 September, the anniversary of the Battle of Dunbar.
The battle began with the movement of Fleetwood’s and Deane’s brigades from their encampment at Upton towards Worcester. The march went slowly and the crossing of the Severn and then the Teme was not completed until the afternoon. As the English troops moved onto the peninsula formed by the Teme and Severn to the west of the city, they were fired upon by the Scottish Highlanders under Major General Pitscottie defending that portion of Worcester, and the battle began in earnest.
Cromwell led two regiments of foot soldiers against the Highlanders. His was followed by Colonel Hacker’s cavalry regiment, infantry regiments under Ingoldsby and Farfax, and then Cromwell’s own lifeguard troops. Crossing the Teme by way of a hastily constructed pontoon bridge, Major General Deane and Colonel Goffe led their infantry regiments onto the peninsula, which was, by now becoming crowded with some five or six thousand English troops and an unknown number of the Scottish Highlanders.
The English troops made little headway against the Scottish Highlander musketeers, who fired from the cover of every hedgerow and fence. But after being reinforced by regiments commanded by Colonels Blake, Gibbon and Marsh, Cromwell’s troops forced the Scots to retreat back over Powick-Bridge. There, they gave a good fight to English troops under Colonels Hains, Cobbet and Matthews, but were eventually forced to retire back to the relative safety of Worcester. The battle had lasted only about an hour.
The King called a council of war, the result of which that it was resolved to launch a direct attack on Cromwell’s forces still positioned on the Perry Wood heights. With nearly a third of the English army now on the peninsula to the west of the city, it was decided to launch an attack on the enemy holding the ridge to the east. According to the author of The Life Of Oliver Cromwell:(2.37)
Accordingly, they on a ƒudden ƒally’d out againƒt him with ƒo much fury, that his invincible life-guard could not contain the ƒhock, but was forced to retire in ƒome diƒorder; and his cannon likewiƒe were for ƒome time in the power of the king’s party...
The Royalist attack was made in two parts. The Duke of Hamilton led troops out through St. Martin’s Gate on the east side of the city, and headed straight for the English troops at Perry Wood. The King himself led another contingent of the southern, Sidbury Gate and struck at the troops positioned at Red Hill. The fight went slowly but steadily as the Scottish troops pushed their way up the slope against the English.
During this time, Cromwell led his own regiment, along with those of Desborough and Cobbet, back across the pontoon bridge that spanned the Severn so that they might reinforce those on Red Hill.
With the arrival on the field of battle of Cromwell’s reinforcements, the English army rallied. The fight lasted three to four hours, during which the English were able to rout the King’s army and force them back to the city. Cromwell led troops into the city through the Sidbury Gate while many of the Scottish soldiers attempted to flee through the city’s northern gate, Foregate. It is estimated that perhaps four thousand made their way to safety through Foregate.
Fort Royal was captured by the Essex Militia. It was garrisoned by Scottish troops under the command of Colonel Drummond. Drummond was offered quarter if they would surrender. They refused. The fight that ensued resulted in the English troops being victorious. They captured the fortification and put its defenders, to the number of some fifteen hundred, to the sword. The Royalists’ cannon that had been set up in the fort were repositioned to fire toward the city.
The Scottish cavalry troops headed northward, while the fleeing foot soldiers retreated back to the town of Worcester. The English cavalry chased the Scottish soldiers through the streets of the town. There were small fights in the streets and alleys and even within some of the houses. The slaughter was horrendous. Bodies of the dead men and some horses began to fill the passageways.
Just one year after the Scottish defeat at Dunbar, the 3rd of September, the Scottish army was again defeated with a great loss of life. It is believed that upwards of between two and four thousand Scots were killed. The number of Scots taken as prisoner by Cromwell’s army was listed as nearly ten thousand. The prisoners included Duke Hamilton, who died shortly thereafter of his wounds, the Earls of Derby, Lauderdale, Carnworth, Rothes and Kelley, Lord Sinclare, Sir John Packington, Sir Charles Cunningham, Sir Ralph Clare, Major General Montgomery, Major General Pitscottie and Mr. Richard Fanshaw, the secretary to the King. The King, himself, escaped capture and fled through England in disguise; he would eventually gain passage to Diepe in France, where he would wait until after Cromwell’s death in 1658. Also captured by the English were all the Scottish artillery, baggage and one hundred and fifty-eight colours, including the King’s standard.
The English lost only two hundred, according to most estimates. Only two officers were listed among the dead: Quartermaster General Moseley and Captain Jones of Cobbet’s regiment.
It should be noted that the battle of Worcester was the last in which Oliver Cromwell would personally participate.
Unbeknownst to the Scots who survived the Battle of Worcester, General Monck had, only a few days earlier, on 29 August, in the course of his final conquest of Stirling and Dundee, captured the members of the Committee of Estates and also the members of the Commission of the General Assembly. In so doing, he had effectively brought the Scottish Parliament to an end. Stirling had fallen to Monck on 14 August, and Dundee had been taken, with the deaths of hundreds of its citizens, on 01 September, the day before the battle of Worcester.