Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Marquis of Newcastle

Before starting work on these miniatures from Warlord Games I had a relatively limited knowledge of the English Civil War. One of the highlights of this hobby for me is uncovering details about the people involved, their life and times (reliving my childhood is a bonus). Their influence on history often still resonates through to the modern age.

The remarkable events of the English Civil War were determined by some of the extraordinary characters of the 17th century. One such individual was William Cavendish, the Marquis of Newcastle.

Newcastle was probably what we would now think of as a stereotypical Cavalier. He was born in 1593 into a wealthy northern family, being the grandson of the famous Bess of Hardwick. He could be described as a polymath as he was an outstanding swordsman, an amateur architect; he also wrote music, plays and poems to an accomplished level. During his lifetime he was known as an expert horseman and his riding school at Bolsover Castle still survives today. He knew the philosophers Hobbes and Descartes, the painter Van Dyck and was a patron and friend to Ben Jonson.

He was a man of principle but also surprisingly proud and sensitive. When the Bishops' Wars broke out in 1639, Newcastle lent the King the vast sum of £10,000 for his campaign and raised a volunteer unit known as the Prince of Wales' Troop. When he joined the army he came under the command of the Earl of Holland (this Holland is an area in south-east Lincolnshire). When these troops were deployed at the rear of the cavalry, Newcastle took offence and challenged Holland to a duel. Only the intervention of the King himself prevented any bloodshed.

Another example which gives us a helpful insight into the man is when after the battle of Adwalton Moor in June 1643, Newcastle's troops captured the wife of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Rather than use this to his advantage Newcastle had the lady escorted safely back to Hull to join her husband.

Newcastle was appointed Lord General (commander-in-chief) of the Northern Army in June 1642 mainly, I imagine, because of his contacts and money. Although generally lacking martial experience Cavendish was smart enough to surround himself with component professional military figures including Sir Marmaduke Langdale,George Goring and Lord Eythin, although his Lieutenant-General of Ordnance, William Davenant, was actually a poet.

It was Newcastle’s success in the northeast England against Lord Fairfax and his son that encouraged Parliament to form an alliance with the Scottish Covenanters. It is interesting to note that at Marston Moor he didn’t actually have any command duties. In fact during the battle Newcastle fought as a gentleman volunteer but it is thought that he was the last Royalist of high rank to leave the field.

A proper account of the battle can be found here and a few pictures of the battlefield here.

Prince Rupert partly blamed Newcastle for the defeat and there is some justification in this. It would appear that Rupert had intended to attack the numerical superior Parliament forces before they had time to organise themselves. Newcastle’s troops had arrived late because they had been looting the Parliamentarian baggage train left behind after the siege of York. Rupert’s aggressive Swedish style of fighting had previously proved effective against superior forces at Newark and it’s worth remembering that several Parliament commanders, including Fairfax himself, had left the field believing that they had lost before the tide of battle had finally turned in Parliament’s favour.

Reading about the man and considering that he had invested vast sums of money, fought for two years and had received little or no support from either the King, or indeed Prince Rupert, it is not too surprising that after the battle Newcastle decided enough was enough. This proud man could not, and would not, face the humiliation in court of losing his army so Newcastle resigned his command. Along with his family he left for the continent from Scarborough in self imposed exile with a party of 70 including Lord Eythin.

After the Restoration in 1660 Newcastle returned to England and was quickly invested as a Knight of the Garter. Later in 1665 he was created Duke of Newcastle. William Cavendish spent the last peaceful years of his life breeding horses and writing. He died, aged 84, at Welbeck Abbey on Christmas Day 1676 and was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey.

Latest Newcastle's Whitecoats countdown:
56 down, 8 to go.