The second Battle of Newbury was fought on October 26th 1644. Despite the king’s loss at the Battle of Marston Moor, Parliament still feared a resurgent monarch who could threaten London.
Parliament had three armies in the field and a decision was taken to combine all three into one large army that would stand between London and any advancing Royalist army. All three were ordered to meet at Basingstoke and by October 19th, Parliament could muster one army that totalled 19,000 men.
In fact, London was not a target for Charles. He was more concerned with maintaining the safety of his own capital – Oxford. Three Royalist outposts near to Oxford were under siege – Castle Donnington, Banbury and Basing House – and Charles set out to relieve all three with 10,000 men. The proximity of the united Parliamentarian army at Basingstoke meant that helping Basing House was simply too risky as Charles would have been outnumbered by two to one. Charles therefore advanced on Banbury and relieved the town on October 25th.
His next target was Donnington Castle to the north of Newbury. Charles reached Newbury ahead of the Parliamentarians and his commanders selected their positions well. When Parliament arrived in the area they found that their opponents were in nigh impregnable positions, protected by the River Kennet to the south and the River Lambourn to the north. Cannons at the Royalist Castle Donnington gave protection to the Royalists left flank and provided Oliver Cromwell, stationed with his men to the southwest of the castle, with a major problem.
Parliament decided that Charles was too well protected and that they had little chance of succeeding in an attack. A decision was taken to remove a considerable number of Parliament’s men from their eastern position near Clay Hill (to the east of Newbury itself) and to send them to support Cromwell’s position in the east. On October 26th, out of sight of the Royalist army, a large detachment of foot and horse marched north – ostensibly away from Newbury – but swung west and then southeast to join Cromwell’s men in a march that took the best part of a day.
Royalist defenders, led by Prince Maurice, brother of Prince Rupert, seem to have suspected that something was afoot as by the time the Parliamentarian force arrived near to Donnington Castle – and in full view of the defenders – the Royalists had fully turned about and built more earthworks to protect themselves.
To the west of Newbury, a diversionary Parliamentary attack was started in an effort to concentrate the minds of the Royalists on this area. It failed to do this and Parliament was left with many casualties. To the east of Newbury, Parliament’s forces were attacked by Royalist cannons from Maurice’s position and from Castle Donnington itself. Remaining still was not an option for Cromwell and he ordered an attack.
The Royalist defenders were well dug in behind earthworks and should have been able to repel any attack. For whatever reason, the defenders quickly lost heart and retreated onto open land. Here they were cut down by Parliamentarian cavalry. The five cannons that Maurice had used against the Parliamentary forces at the start of the battle were turned against his men.
Cromwell ordered an attack on Royalist horse to the northwest of Newbury. The Royalist horse, commanded by Sir Humphrey Bennett, were in open fields while Cromwell and his men had to transverse hedges and ditches. Bennett had the time and the organisation to carry out a textbook cavalry charge on his opponent. It is possible that the Parliamentarian horse were near enough at standstill (as a result of the terrain they were crossing, which included marshland) when Bennett’s men attacked with considerable success.
A late attack by Parliament to the east of Newbury came to nothing as darkness quickly set in.
The second Battle of Newbury had no real victor. Parliament, with a two-to-one advantage in terms of manpower, should have won but did not. Charles managed to move his army away from the battlefield under the cover of darkness towards Oxford, supplying his men at Donnington Castle along the way. Parliament was unaware that Charles had left Newbury until early next morning (October 27th). The King reached Oxford on October 30th.
His men returned to Donnington Castle on November 9th to remove the cannon stationed there and to bring in more supplies. Parliament considered an attack but did nothing. This inactivity allowed Charles to supply Basing House as well. On his return to Oxford, Charles received a great reception as what he had achieved against Parliament was seen as a great triumph.
However, two things came out of the second Battle of Newbury that were to have major consequences for Charles. It was clear to the likes of Cromwell that they had the manpower to win at Newbury but that a divided leadership was the major cause of Parliament’s failure. The failure of the senior Parliamentarian commanders to cooperate with one another had to be addressed. The end result of this was the creation of the New Model Army commanded by Thomas Fairfax. Secondly, it is highly possible that Charles became emboldened by his successes between October and November 1644 and that he overestimated his ability. The Parliamentarian forces he fought in 1644 were not very well commanded and he assumed that this would be the case in 1645. Royalists mocked the New Model Army as the ‘new noddle army’. Both sides first met in anger at the Battle of Naseby, a battle that was a disaster for Charles.