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Newbury and Donnington

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

The Parliamentarians sailed close to split after defeat at Newbury and Donnington

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By the latter part of 1644, Charles was still convinced that the war was his to win.

Despite the serious loss at Marston Moor, a combination of victories in the West Country and Montrose's triumphs in the Highlands only increased his sublime confidence. Indeed his over-confidence had allowed him to be trapped just outside Newbury in October 1644 by a much larger Roundhead force.

The second battle of Newbury (its location now concealed by the hard shoulder of the Newbury by-pass) should have been a decisive Parliamentary victory, but it wasn't. The Roundheads stared victory in the face and blinked.

Donnington Castle, focus of a Civil War battle Creative commons image Icon Michael Keen under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license
Castle Donnington, site of a fierce battle

The Earl of Manchester's heart was no longer in the fight. He was lazy, slow and ill-disciplined. He allowed the King to leave the field with his troops and munitions intact. When another commander suggested following Charles to finish him off, Manchester's response indicated the uncertainty and nervousness felt by many of the older Parliamentary leaders: 'Thou art a bloody fellow!' he exploded, 'God send us peace, for God doth never prosper us in our victories to make them clear victories.'

The humiliation was redoubled when Charles later returned to relieve Donnington Castle, and collect arms and supplies, from right under the Roundhead nose. The Parliamentary Council of War was hopelessly divided as to whether to re-engage the Cavaliers. The defeatist Manchester advised against attacking the King while Cromwell was far more bellicose.

'The King need not care how oft he fights, but it concerns us to be wary, for in fighting we venture all to nothing', warned Manchester. 'If we fight a hundred times and beat him ninety-nine times, he will be King still. But if he beat us once, or the last time, we shall be hanged, we shall lose our estates, and our posterities be undone.'

'My Lord, if this be so,' answered a furious Cromwell, 'why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting hereafter; if so let us make peace, be it ever so base.'

The Parliamentarians were facing a vital dividing line.

Ultimately, they'd have to decide between prosecuting the war to its fullest extent and chasing a decisive military victory, or engaging in a mere show of strength with the King and his allies which would ultimately result in concession and compromise. Ultimately, the path which Parliament followed would be determined by the force of personality of Cromwell and his colleagues.

 

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