This battle took place, primarily, because Lord Porteous, the commander of the Royalist “Army of North Lonsdale”, overruled the objections and counsel of his senior officers, and precipitated an attack on the Parliamentarian force which opposed him. This attack is universally criticised by military historians, and the background to the action is of some interest (we hope…).
Both armies were expecting reinforcements at this time – a sizeable force sent to Porteous by the Marquis of Newcastle had arrived at Woodhouses, some 40 miles distant from Midlawton, but was resting – in accordance with agreed orders – following a remarkably rapid march from Northumberland. The intention was that these troops would be present with Porteous’s army and ready for action from around 5th April.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentarian army was about to be strengthened by the addition of a contingent of the Scottish Covenanter army, which had, also, had a long and trying march to reach the area.
Porteous, not normally noted as a decisive general, surprised his subordinates by insisting on an early march from Lowther (his chief administrative centre and garrison town) to Midlawton, some 15 miles to the south-west – his stated plan being to put that town into a decent state of defensive order before the Roundheads arrived, and place a strong garrison there.
His officers urged that such a move should be delayed until the Newcastle troops joined the army – at which point they could expect to be strong enough to defeat the Parliamentarians in open battle, which would give far better options than holding Midlawton, which was a market town, without military walls and not easily defended. Porteous had an alternative agenda here – he was concerned that the commander of the Newcastle force, Sir John Darracott, was regarded as a more able general (especially by Prince Rupert, it was said), and that a joining of the forces might result in his being demoted. His information indicated that the Scots were not yet with Aspinall’s army, and he believed that the (fairly minor) action at Hobden’s Mill the week before had caused a great deal of upset and demoralisation among the commanders of the Roundhead horse. He saw a chance to strike a decisive blow quickly (before Darracott was present to take any credit for the success…). He stuck to his argument with such vigour that his officers backed down and agreed to his plan, though Lord Sefton was said to be furious about the whole matter, and had to be persuaded by his friends not to resign his position as General of Horse.
The Parliament army reached Furnace Hill, some 20 miles from Midlawton, on 26th March, and a column brought from the south east by General Sir Henry Figge-Newton was added to the main force, under Sir Nathaniel Aspinall. Figge-Newton was the overall commander, but he placed Aspinall in command of the foot, and Lord Alwyn (discomfited by his experience at Hobden’s Mill) in command of the horse.
Figge-Newton’s sources of information in this area were not of the highest quality – the local population were traditionally loyal to the King – and his best guess was that there were Royalist troops at Midlawton, but that the main force was still at Lowther – further north.
Porteous arrived at Midlawton, also on 26th, at the head of the largest army he had yet commanded in the field, but his entry into the town was greeted with open hostility, and he and Lord Sefton were required to attend a meeting with the mayor and the Town Committee, at which Porteous was very firmly told what he could do with his army. The mayor made it very clear that a five-fold increase in the size of the town garrison, which was already causing great hardship to the citizens, was not welcome. Further, if he thought that they could fortify the place and hold out under any kind of formal siege then he could think again. Apart from the violence and suffering inflicted on the gentle townspeople by bombardment and starvation, it was general knowledge that Aspinall had a large force of savage Scottish highlanders with him, and what would happen if the place was taken by storm did not bear thinking about.
To Sefton’s horror, Porteous was obliged to sign a document agreeing that the works and walls of the town would be left alone, that it would remain an open town, and that his army would camp – and, if necessary, engage the enemy – in open country, outside the town. Sefton could not believe that a military governor could be treated like this.
Horror or not, poor Porteous did as he was told, and on the morning of the 28th he duly lined his army up to the south of Midlawton, facing west, to oppose the Army of Parliament. The old Roman road from Pacefield to Midlawton bisected the field, parallel to the lines of battle. The shallow Manning Water, which runs into the Arith near Lowther, passes by the western edge of the town, where it is crossed by an ancient stone bridge. Manning Water, however, was easily fordable at that time, and offered the Parliamentary troops little difficulty, though it did mean that the foot regiments of Lord Lambton’s brigade were a little damp and chilly as they arrived on the field.
Porteous placed some dragoons and some medium guns on the edge of the town, facing the river, and the Town Guard (the “Untrained Band”, who had received no firearms) were stationed at the bridge to help protect their nearest and dearest from the enemy. The Firelock unit of Captain Groves was placed in the gardens of a house a short distance outside the town’s Stockgate, beside the road. The rest of the army were deployed conventionally, horse on the flanks, foot in the middle, with guns between the foot brigades.
The action began with a determined artillery barrage from both sides. Concerned that his horse were outnumbered, and by the losses his foot were suffering to cannon fire, Porteous appears to have acted in something close to panic. He sent his two leading brigades of foot in to attack, across the road, completely in the open and with no support – the only cover they gained was from the powder smoke, which lay thick in the calm morning.
Predictably, this assault was driven back with very heavy loss, and the attack was badly compromised by the loss of all the infantry brigade commanders within the first 30 minutes of the action. Porteous himself took command of Col Rice’s brigade after Rice had been carried, wounded, from the field, but they took little further part in the combat. On the Royalist left, Col Broadhurst (the hero of Hobden’s Mill) led a brave attack by his brigade of horse, but found to his cost that the hills to his front concealed a greatly superior force of enemy cavalry – his brigade fought gallantly, but were routed and pursued from the field.
Around this time [as the result of a “Chaunce” card] the contractor who had supplied the draught horses for the Royalist artillery decided that it would be safest to take his animals home, thus leaving the artillery train with no means of recovering their guns. Visibly shaking with fury, Lord Sefton performed one last, wild charge with his cavalry on the Royalist right flank, and succeeded in fighting his way through to a battery of sakers, which were captured, but there was no way of moving them, so they had to be abandoned again. This was the end of the Royalist effort – Porteous’ army was streaming back up the road to Lowther, leaving all their artillery behind, and dragging their wounded as best they could.
The final indignity to the King’s cause was inflicted by the Midlawton Town Guard. Seeing that the best interests of the town might best be served by co-operating with the victors, these fine fellows seized part of Porteous’ baggage train, including a weighty treasury chest and most of the correspondence of the army, and presented the lot to General Aspinall as he entered the town, along with their request to swear loyalty to the Parliament and change sides to serve with his army. [The campaign rules include a commitment check for all militia-class troops in times of stress.]
Orders of Battle
Royalist “Army of North Lonsdale” – Lord Porteous
Horse – Lord Sefton – (Lord Sefton commanded the horse on the right flank):
Right flank (Sefton): Regts of Jenkinson, Sefton & Cressington
Left flank – Bde of Col Broadhurst: Regts of Clevedon & Broadhurst
Bde of Col Rice: Regts of Monkton, Galliard & Rice
Bde of Sir Jas Parkfield: Regts of Ullet, Maxwell & Parkfield
Bde of Col Fulwood: Regts of Davies & Fulwood
Unattached: Dingle’s Dragoons, Groves’ Firelocks & Midlawton TB
Artillery: 6 pieces
Parliament – Sir Henry Figge-Newton
Horse – Lord Alwyn:
Bde of Sir Beardsley Heron: Regts of Heron, Winstanley & Chetwynd
Bde of Sir Rowland Barkhill: Regts of Dundonald, South & Barkhill
Bde of Col Allington: Regts of Sudley & Eastham
Foot – Sir Nathaniel Aspinall:
Bde of Col Buckland: Regts of Buckland, Mossley & Grafton
Bde of Col Bryanston: Regts of Bryanston & Hawkstone
Bde of Lord Lambton: Regts of Burdett, Lambton & Nielson
Unattached: Ancaster’s Dragoons
Artillery: 6 field pieces + 1 heavy mortar
Porteous had about 6400 foot, 2400 horse and 6 guns – his loss in killed, wounded and missing appears to have been about 3300, and he was forced to abandon his entire artillery train. Of his senior officers, Sir James Parkfield and Col Fulwood both received mortal wounds and Col Rice was struck in the arm by a musket ball, from which he is expected to recover.
Figge-Newton had about 5400 foot, 3500 horse and 7 guns – his total loss was officially recorded as 1400. Casualties among the brigade commanders were light - Col Buckland had his ear removed by a sword cut, but is expected to recover.
The action took place toward the end of Week 4 of the campaign. Reports and returns for the end of that week will appear in due course.
[Some further details of the combat can be seen in the photographs – I am delighted to welcome Nick back to the camera role for this episode!]
|General view, looking south - Royalists on the left|
|Lord Alwyn, keen to make amends, with the Parliament horse on the right flank|
|View along the Roman road - not much traffic today...|
|Troops placed on the edge of the town, despite the Mayor's instruction|
|Tourist shots of Midlawton|
|The cottage with Firelocks in the garden...|
|Sir Julius Mossley's RoF [P]|
|The coloured counters indicate the brigade structure - they may look a bit cheesey,|
but they were far easier to see (and handle) than the dumb little beads I used previously
|Lord Lambton's brigade chase the Firelocks out of the garden|
|Suddenly, the Parliament right flank found they had no-one facing them|
- note the gallant Col Broadhurst waving his sword in solitary defiance...
|Another Chaunce card - believe it or not, one of the Puritan units of|
horse were hung-over!
|Brave, but too late - Sefton tries to save a little face|
|This is how confusing it looks to the poor guys in the ranks|