FAQ: The Siege of York
For twelve weeks of summer
1644, Royalist forces in York were besieged by the joint armies
of Parliament and Scotland.
York so important?
besieging the city?
the Siege last so long?
the Siege end?
was York so important?
York was the northern
capital of England. It was also the seat of the Council of the North
and centre of the northern province of the Church of England.
Charles I had visited
York several times during the 1630s and 40s. He had visited York
in June 1633 on his way to be crowned in Scotland. He stayed at
the residence of the President of the Council of the North. The
royal arms were erected above the entrance to the residence to commemorate
the king’s visit to the city. Ever since, the building has
been known as The King’s Manor. In March 1639
the king stopped in York once again on his way to Scotland –
though this time to wage war, not to be crowned. A Maundy service
was held in York Minster. In November 1641 the king was warmly welcomed
by the city on his return from Scotland.
Charles assumed that York
and Yorkshire would be loyal to his cause. When he decided to raise
his battle standard against Parliament in 1642, he came first to
York in January 1642. On 3 June the king had hoped to gain the support
of local gentry at a rally on Heworth Moor but failed to attract
sufficient numbers. On 16 August Charles travelled south to Nottingham,
where he raised his standard on 22 August.
In December 1642 the city
became the centre of operations for Royalist forces in the north,
under the command of the Marquis of Newcastle. Yorkshire had
now become an important recruiting ground for the Royalist cause.
In September 1643, Parliament
and Scotland had made an alliance (The Solemn League and Covenant).
When the Scottish Army invaded England in January 1644, the Marquis
of Newcastle had rushed north to halt their advance. Newcastle was
forced to retreat, and his army entered York in 16 April.
were besieging the city?
The Allied Army of Parliament
The Scottish Army (c. 16000) commanded by the Earl of Leven
The Yorkshiremen (c. 5000) commanded by Lord Thomas Fairfax
The Army of the Eastern Association (c. 9000) commanded by the Earl
The Scottish Army were
positioned on the west side of the River Ouse, from Poppleton in
the north to Middlethorpe in the south.
Lord Fairfax controlled the east side of the Ouse, from Fulford
to the River Foss. His headquarters were at Heslington Hall.
The Earl of Manchester arrived at York on 3 June. They took up positions
at the north of the city, between Fairfax and the Scots, from the
Ouse to the Foss.
Why did the Siege last
There was no food shortage in the city. For the first five weeks of
the Siege, the city was not completely encircled.
From June 9-15, the Marquis of Newcastle held negotiations with the
besiegers – a stalling tactic to hold out till reinforcements
arrived. York’s wall defences were formidable.
There was only assault on the city, at St Mary’s Tower on 16
June. The attack failed.
How did the Siege end?
On 1 July, the relieving army led by Prince Rupert (Charles I’s
cousin) reached York. He managed to outmanoeuvre the Parliamentary
army, who expected him to approach the city from the west to enter
though Micklegate Bar. Instead, he outflanked the besieging forces
and approached by the north – entering through Bootham Bar.
While Parliamentary forces were in disarray, Rupert decided to press
home his advantage, and the Royalist and Allied Armies met at Marston
Moor on 2 July.
The Royalist hope was effectively extinguished at the Battle of
Marston Moor. The Battle was the largest and bloodiest – and
possibly one of the shortest – to be fought on English soil.
It is reckoned that as many as 6000 soldiers may have died in the
space of two hours. Through the poor luck and judgement of the Royalists,
and the bravery and skill of the Parliamentarians, the Royalists
were routed. The remnants of the Royalist force headed back to York
and the siege was resumed on 4 July. A lenient settlement was reached
for conditions of the surrender of York on 16 July. Sir Thomas Fairfax
ensured all the historical records and ancient buildings were preserved.
Newcastle fled the country and Rupert joined Charles I in Oxford.
The Royalists had abandoned the north.