The Battle of Boldon Hill

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dave mcmahon
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The Battle of Boldon Hill

Post by dave mcmahon » 24/10/2013, 20:22


A pre cursor to the English Civil Wars of which there were three was The Bishops Wars which took place in 1639 and 1640. At the heart of The Bishops Wars was the then King, Charles I, intention to impose Anglican reforms on the Scottish Church, something that was rejected out of hand by the Scots. Angered by this rejection the King sent an expeditionary force northwards to bring the Scots to heel, but due to financial constraints and a lack of faith in his rabble army they returned to England without a shot being fired.

Despite being chastened as a result of this Charles I turned to Parliament for support, however the simmering rivalry between the monarchy and parliament was such that the latter rejected the Kings pleas for funds to build an army capable of mounting a proper challenge to the Scots. As a result Charles dismissed parliament, marched on Scotland and much to his surprise the English forces were routed by the Scots.

Charles I attempted to make peace with Parliament; however any trust between the parties evaporated on 4 January 1642 when the Kings’ men attempted to arrest 5 members of parliament. However they were spirited away prior to the Kings Troops arrival. Charles left London and raised the Royal Standard in Nottingham in August 1642, with the Kings troops being placed under the command of the 3rd Earl of Essex. The scene was set for a Civil War; Royalists v Parliamentarians.

Most of the country was neutral at the start of the conflict and indeed fighting men on each side amounted to only about 13,000 troops. The royalist support was centred around the North, and West of England plus Wales. The Parliamentarians held the more affluent areas of the South and critically many of the Ports.

The initial battles in the first English Civil War were fought in and around London, specifically Edgehill and Turnham Green. From there conflict spread to engulf many parts of the country.

In the North East of England there was a growing animosity between the peoples of Sunderland and Newcastle. In order to keep the richer Newcastle supporting the King, Charles had consistently awarded the East of England coal trade rights to the merchants of that City. This effectively impoverished the people in Sunderland, who as a result sided with the Parliamentarians (also known as The Roundheads). Something had to give.

In 1643 the Parliamentarians enlisted the help of Scottish soldiers, known as The Covenanters, in exchange for the Scots right to religious freedom and an agreement called The Solemn League and Covenant was drawn up and agreed between the two parties. As a result on 19 January 1644 The Army of the Covenant crossed the River Tweed and into England under the command of the Earl of Leven. They headed south towards the royalist stronghold of Newcastle, intent on taking it for Parliament.

However on 2 February 1644 the Marquis of Newcastle, William Cavendish, beat them to it and entered the City from the South with his army from Yorkshire, just hours before the arrival of The Covenanters. One day later the Earl of Levens' request for the surrender of Newcastle was rejected and a subsequent skirmish took place with the Scottish forces capturing the outskirts of the City. On 6 February Scottish artillery landed in Blyth port and took two days to be dragged to Newcastle and on 8 February further skirmishes took place in and around Gateshead.

The Earl Of Leven then took stock of his situation and bypassed Newcastle, crossing the Tyne at Ovingham, Bywell and Eltringham marching his troops towards the Parliamentary sympathetic town of Sunderland from which he could rest and plan tactics. The Covenanters were welcomed with open arms. On hearing this the Marquis of Newcastle (who died in 1676 and was subsequently buried at Westminster Abbey) left the City undefended and together with his Royalist army headed towards Sunderland intent on routing The Covenanters.

At Penshaw Hill, South of Sunderland the two armies were set to meet, however the weather intervened, with Leven returning to Sunderland and the Marquis moving on to another Royalist stronghold; Durham.

In subsequent days the Scots took both South Shields and Chester le Street, the latter holding a strategically important place from which to commence a march to York, a bastion of monarchist support and the hub of the Marquis’s communication with the King.

Inevitably a North East conflict between the Royalist and Parliamentary forces would take place and on 25 March 1644 The Battle of Boldon Hill was decided. Boldon Hill, for those who don’t know the North East lies between Newcastle and Sunderland, towards the latter.

Although popular myth has it that the Newcastle forces were routed this wasn’t quite the case as the Scots were driven back to the safety of Sunderland by 4,000 of the Marquis’s troops and 3,300 Royalist cavalry under the command of Sir Charles Lucas (ironically the Marquis was widely regarded as the finest horseman in Europe at that time). However the Marquis had a simple choice, continue the defence of Newcastle and lay siege to Sunderland or put his efforts into that of York, strategically more important and a location that some of the Covenanters were now marching on, opening up a second front. He chose York, situated in the County where most of his forces were from. However The Covenanters subsequently took nearby Selby just days after Boldon Hill, before the Marquis could get there and an end game was being played once he arrived in York, outnumbered and without support.

By fleeing towards York the Marquis left the City of Newcastle open to conquest and thus the Parliamentarians came out of Sunderland and gained a significant victory. The Battles of Stamford Bridge and then Marston Moor took place later that year, near York, with a Roundhead conquest utilising 17,000 troops that resulted in the Marquis of Newcastle humiliatingly fleeing to Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Paris and then on to Antwerp where he settled for a while due to his past friendship with people in the City including the family of the Flemish baroque artist Anthony Van Dyck. The Royalists had ceased to become a fighting force in the North East of England.

Not only had Sunderland assisted the Parliamentarians in capturing Newcastle they also contributed albeit unwittingly to the desertion of its Marquis.

In recognition of its loyal service to Parliament Oliver Cromwell, himself an MP, transferred many of the coal licences from Newcastle to Sunderland.

The tale however does not end there.

In 1660 what was known as The Restoration took place which effectively restored the monarchy under King Charles II (and also allowed the Marquis of Newcastle to return to England). Many of the coal licences were given back to Newcastle. What made matters worse for Sunderland was that a local coal cartel known as The Vend emerged which ensured that London received its supply from Newcastle.

However the arrival of Arthur Mowbray in 1814 fatally undermined The Vend. His attempts to modernise the local Vane-Tempest collieries led to the expansion of the North East railway network to Sunderland, with a subsequent boom in trade that led amongst other things to Sunderland being recognised as the biggest ship building town in the world.

Mowbray is acknowledged to this day with a green belt known as Mowbray Park situated near Sunderland City Centre.

For those who do not know the North East of England perhaps an explanation is necessary. The region historically has at its heart coal mining and shipbuilding, it was exceptionally industrialised. Both the River Tyne (Newcastle) and the River Wear (Sunderland) became crucial to the economic well being of the region. It’s doubtful that any family, whose roots belong in the North East, does not have a family member who at some point was either a Coal miner for the National Coal Board (NCB) or a Ship Builder for firms such as Austin & Pickersgill (Wearside) or Swan Hunter (Tyneside).

Before we move on it is worth mentioning what appears to be a reported factual inaccuracy in the historical dispute between the two communities. It is often cited that they opposed each other during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 that led eventually to The Battle Of Culloden. The confusion appears to have arisen due to the then Duke Of Newcastle siding with the Monarchy and the then Earl Of Sunderland siding with the Stuart’s (Bonnie Prince Charlie). However the Earl Of Sunderland was not from the then Town, in fact he was from Wiltshire. Furthermore there is no evidence to suggest that The Earl Of Sunderland (a subsidiary title of the Duke Of Marlborough) ever supported the Jacobite cause.

Not withstanding the confusion over the Jacobite Rebellion as it stood Sunderland had fought two conflicts against Newcastle, one political and one industrial and had eventually gained the upper hand in both. However as we shall see in this enduring battle between the two cities (Sunderland became a City in 1992) victory remains temporary and in any case Newcastle is widely and again arguably now regarded as the regions capital, so perhaps the latter had the last laugh after all.

By the time Sunderland AFC was formed the shipbuilding Town that gave birth to it was booming. The formation of Newcastle United would come later and partially owe its existence to Cricket!

A third conflict between the two cities was about to begin and would be played out on a football field rather than a battlefield.

As we know it still takes place today.
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