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Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall


 

 

THE KING'S LAST BATTLE

[54] Northamptonshire is the very middle of the Midlands. Nine counties border upon it. It is one of the best agricultural counties of England, there being hardly any waste land in it. "Northampton is an apple without core to be cut out or rind to be pared away," says an old writer.

There are no coal fields in Northampton, and in consequence few factories. The same old writer we have already mentioned says, "It is enough for Northamptonshire to sell their wool, whilst other countries make cloth thereof. I speak not this to praise Northamptonshire men for not using, but that Northamptonshire men may praise God for not needing, manufactures. However, the town of Northampton may be said to stand chiefly on other men's legs, where the most and cheapest (if not the best) boots are bought in England." That was written 300 years ago, but it is still true to-day. And not only Northampton, but Kettering, Wellingborough, Rushden, Daventry, and indeed nearly every town and village along the eastern border and in the middle of the county may be said still to stand on other men's legs, for it is the great centre of the English boot trade. There boots are made for our soldiers, and, besides supplying all the great markets of England, many are exported to other countries, [56] especially to our own colonies. Indeed, Northampton is one of the greatest boot-making centres of the world.


[Illustration]

Northamptonshire is a tableland surrounded by low plains, and forms the central watershed of England. There rise the Nen, the Welland, and the Great Ouse, all flowing by different ways to Oliver's own fen-land, and falling at last into the Wash. The Cherwell and the Avon (Shakespeare's Avon) rise there too, the one flowing to the Severn, and the other to the Thames by Oxford.

As Northamptonshire lies high, all its rivers flow out of it in different directions. None rising elsewhere flow through it as in other counties. It is upon this high ridge of Northamptonshire, almost in the middle of England, that the village of Naseby stands. And here it was that, for the last time, Charles I. faced the rebel army.

The numbers on either side were nearly even. But the King's soldiers were old and tried men, while many of the Parliamentarians had never before been in battle. For it was the first time that the "New Model" army, as it was called, had fought. The King, despising these new soldiers, made no doubt of beating them. But Oliver wrote, "I could not—riding alone about my business—but smile out to God in praises in assurance of victory."

At ten o'clock on the summer's morning, June [57] 14th, the fight began. "God and Queen Mary," shouted the Royalists. "God with us," replied the Parliamentarians.

The battle almost seemed like Marston Moor over again. Prince Rupert charged, scattering all before him. But he pursued too far, and returned too late. Cromwell, too, charged, but having scattered the foe, he turned again, and came to help Fairfax and the foot-soldiers.

For three hours the battle waged. The day went ill for the King. "One charge more, and recover the day," he cried, trying to rally his broken men.

But a Scottish lord laid his hand upon the King's bridle, and, uttering strange oaths, cried, "Will you go upon your death in an instant?" and so crying he turned the King's horse. And being turned the King fled, not resting till he reached Leicester, sixteen miles away. After him and his flying troops thundered Cromwell and his horsemen, and hideous slaughter marked their path for many a mile, "Even to the sight of Leicester whither the King fled."

At Leicester the poor King found no rest. To Ashby de la Zouche he fled, then on to Litchfield, to Bewdley in Worcestershire, and at last to Hereford, where he had some vain hope of being able to gather another army.

But although Naseby had not quite finished the war, the King's cause was lost. He was hence- [58] forth like a hunted bird or driven leaf, flying now here, now there. At last, after months of wandering, he passed one night out of Oxford in the dark. His beautiful long hair was cut short, and he was dressed like a serving-man. Thus unknown, he travelled northward, until, ten days later, he rode into the camp of the Scots army, which lay at Southwell in Nottinghamshire.

Charles was a prisoner. Yet he might still have recovered his throne had he been willing to sign the Covenant, and promise to make England Presbyterian as Scotland was. But this he would not do, so the Scots gave him back to the English Parliament. They washed their hands of him, as it were, and marched away to their own country, leaving the English to settle the quarrel as best they might. But across the border they lay watching like couching lions, ready to spring if matters went not to their liking.


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