Battle of Newburn
When Charles and Archbishop Laud attempted to impose a new prayer book and bishops on the Scots in 1637, they rebelled, forcing the bishops out and forming a national covenant. A treaty drawn up in Berwick gave a short truce, but the Second Bishops’ War was inevitable. Seeking funds for the coming conflict Charles called a Parliament in 1640, known to history as the Short Parliament.
Having alienated the Scots, Charles with his usual arrogance and lack of diplomacy failed to get any substantial support from Parliament , instead facing a litany of complaints from the MPs.
With the threat of invasion by the Scots an army of sorts was assembled in Yorkshire , first at Selby , then York . This army numbered around 12,000, but with Charles having no funds it was not well equipped, and became mutinous when its pay did not materialise. To fend off the expected crossing of the River Tyne at Newcastle , and the likely seizure of that strategically important city – it supplied the bulk of London ’s coal – a force eventually totalling 4,500 was sent to occupy the river’s south bank.
The Scottish army numbered well over 20,000, and was equipped far better than the English, weapons having been shipped in from Holland. During the clash at the ford opposite the north bank village of Newburn the superiority of the Scottish artillery told in its favour – the English had four cannon placed in each of two earthwork fortifications; the Scottish possessed at least 40 artillery pieces of various types, though they had no siege weaponry.
The English General Conway was also undoubtedly less able than Leslie, his Scottish counterpart. The English defensive earthworks were on the flood plain; Leslie had his on the high ground overlooking them, with some light pieces in a church tower commanding a marvellous view of their opponents.
When early on the morning of August 28 an incident with a cheeky Scots officer watering his horse in the river opposite the English lit the fuse for the battle, the English emplacements were unable to reply effectively from their low level by the river, but were peppered with artillery fire from the Scots above. First one emplacement received a direct hit, then the other. The occupants fled, abandoning their weapons including the artillery pieces. The Scottish cavalry advanced, the English fled before them, back to seek refuge in Newcastle. Such was the brevity of the conflict that only 12 Scots attackers perished, and 60 English
Two days after the Newburn clash Newcastle surrendered to Leslie – had it not his army faced severe supply problems, the soldiers already hungry and in a poor state to fight. With Newcastle in Scottish hands, London’s coal was cut off. Charles had to accept a humiliating peace, one condition of which was paying the Scots invaders £850 a day until all the details of the peace were concluded.
Charles had been made to look foolish (not a difficult task). The Scots would remember his weakness and high handed treatment of them. Parliament bore a further grudge, English territory having been invaded by the Covenanters. And most tellingly in the long term, Charles to pay for the whole fiasco had to recall Parliament again, in what was to be The Long Parliament, wherein positions became further entrenched, leading in time to open civil war .
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