“A Rabble of Gentility”? – The Northern Horse, 1644-45

By John Barratt

General George Monck once described the Royalist Horse in the English Civil War as  a cav“rabble of gentility”. It  was (even in the closing stages of the war) a rather sweeping generalisation, but the men who perhaps came closest to matching his description were those who rode with the Northern Horse in the months when they served with the Royalist Oxford Army.

The Northern Horse were the elements of The Marquis of Newcastle’s Northern Army, mostly from its cavalry, who elected to fight on after the disintegration of the rest of the Northern Army following Marston Moor.

NPG D29430; Marmaduke Langdale, 1st Baron Langdale by William HumphreyThe motives of the Northern Horse and their commander, the redoubtable Sir Marmaduke Langdale (pictured left), were mixed. From the time of their decision to march South to join the main Royalist forces, it was increasingly clear that the Northerners had their own agenda. They wanted the King to make the recovery of the North (and with it their own lands and fortunes) the main thrust of Royalist strategy for 1645.

Langdale was also determined to maintain the independent position of the unit men under his command. As the Oxford Army became increasingly reliant on the support of the Northern Horse, so the need to placate the sometimes fractious Northerners exerted a sometimes malign influence. The strategy of the spring campaign of 1645 (for example) culminating in the Battle of Naseby, was greatly affected by the presence of Langdale and his men.

My talk at the English Civil War Conference in Shrewsbury – and my forthcoming book on the Northern Horse – will examine these factors, and look at the nature of the troops involved. They were an  increasingly fragmentary collection of the remains of almost 30 regiments as well as individual Northern Royalists. The Northern Horse were notable for the large numbers of Catholics in their ranks, and increasingly consisted of men of gentry origin and their immediate followers.  Some of them were members of the notorious reiver families of the Anglo-Scottish borders. They brought with them some of the violent and unruly characteristics of the “reiver” tradition.

I will look at the earlier history of the Northern Regiments, how they were trained and equipped, and their impact on soldiers and civilians on their march South. There has always been controversy (both among contemporaries and more recent historians) on how effective the Northern Horse were. Were they on balance an asset or liability to the Royalist cause, and how does their fighting record compare with the rest of the Royalist horse?

I will describe briefly in the talk (and in much greater detail in the forthcoming book) the Keirincx, Alexander, 1600-1652; Pontefract Castlecampaigns of the Northern Horse. I will highlight ‘Langdale’s Ride’ – the Relief of Pontefract (pictured right) in March 1645; one of the most remarkable cavalry operations of the Civil War, and the Northern Horse’s greatest achievement.

I will look at the decline of the Northern Horse and their eventual disintegration, and also summarise the later careers of some of its officers and men, who were to prove amongst the most intractable opponents of the Parliamentarian regime.

To listen to John Barratt’s talk, purchase your ticket to Helion’s English Civil War Conference – taking place at historic Rowley’s House in Shrewsbury on Saturday 10 September. The ticket includes lunch, unlimited drinks and a tour of Civil War Shrewsbury.

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