Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Ghosts of Marston Moor

Monument and Battlefield of Marston Moor

My current "work in progress" is a ghost story set in the 1920s, in the shadow of the Great War...a very long way from the seventeenth century but as I play around with the paranormal I thought I would do a blog on the spectral fingers that still reach out from the bloody and violent times of that century. So this month I am leaving South East Asia and returning to familiar ground, the English Civil War because as I write this on the 2nd July 2011, this date marks the 367th anniversary of one of the decisive battles of the English Civil War, Marston Moor in Yorkshire. 

People either believe in ghosts or not. I tend to the former camp, having worked in two supposedly haunted buildings and collected the first hand accounts of other who have encountered the spectral presences. Fortunately I am not one of those blessed or cursed with the sensitivity to see ghosts but I am conscious of atmosphere and often found myself in buildings or places that are heavy with such an oppressive atmosphere that I felt compelled to leave.

One of these places is the battlefield of Marston Moor, a desolate stretch of fields just west of the city of York between the villages of Long Marston and Tadcaster.  There is little to see there today except a monument and a couple of worn explanation boards but there is a heavy, brooding atmosphere over the place where 4500 men lost their lives in a few short hours.


The war in the north had swayed back and forth between the Royalist commanded by the Earl of Newcastle and parliamentarian forces under the leadership of the Fairfaxes. By mid 1644 York itself was under siege by the Parliamentarians and the King, desparate to retain control, sent his formidable nephew Rupert of the Rhine north to relieve the siege of York.  

The two armies met on the field of Marston Moor and sat facing each other all day. Only as the twilight began to descend  and Rupert had sat down for supper did the Parliamentarians begin to move. The battle was fought well  into the moonlit night between two evenly matched sides and became a battle the Royalists nearly won and the Parliamentarians nearly lost.  It is probably only the presence on the battlefield of an outfit of superbly trained and disciplined cavalry under the command of a Colonel Oliver Cromwell and the ill discipline of Rupert’ s cavalry that influenced the result.  

My own hero, Sir Thomas Fairfax, commanding the Parliamentary horse on the right flank found himself trapped by the terrain and wounded and finding himself surrounded by the enemy, he removed his sash and “favour” (the mark the different sides wore in their hats to distinguish them on the battlefield) and made  his way through the royalists to reach Cromwell and bring his men over to assist the beleaguered right wing. His brother and many of his men died on the field that day.

Newcastle's "Lambs" last stand
The Earl of Newcastle’s personal troops, known as his “lambs” for the white coats they wore, made the last stand for the royalists, having sworn to “dye their coats red with the blood of their enemies”. At the end of the night, the blood that stained their coats was their own. To a man they died where they fell.  When the fighting finally stopped, 4000 royalists lay dead compared to 300 parliamentarians and the north had been lost for the King.

In a place where such powerful emotions were expended, it is hardly surprising that there are many accounts of ghostly encounters. “ The most reported type of experience of ghost at Marston Moor is that of drivers having to brake suddenly for strangely dressed figure(s) stepping across the road, only to have them disappear as suddenly has they had appeared. Because reenactments of the battle are held occasionally, some witnesses think at first that some careless participant(s) of the show are responsible for the near collision. One man even reported how after he had braked, stopping within inches of the men, he was so angry he got out of his car to ‘have it out with them’. They had vanished though, “I couldn’t work it out and it puzzles me to this day, there was three of them, all dressed up with funny hats on. The road is clear on both sides for some distance so all i can think is that maybe they were ghosts.. there’s no other explanation” (see Haunted Battlefields)

But there is nothing quite so powerful as a first hand account. Watch this and make up your own mind!



PS:  CONGRATULATIONS to fellow Hoyden (and our webmistress), Anita Davison on the release of her new novel, THE TRENCARROW SECRET . While not one of her seventeenth century stories, all of us at Hoydens and Firebrands send their good wishes!

4 comments:

Kim Murphy said...

I love a good ghost story and battlefields seem to be full of them.

Alison Stuart said...

I agree - there are too many such stories to discount them all. The expenditure of emotion and violent death in a confined space in a short time frame has to leave some sort of print on the fabric of time.

I found this vid after I had uploaded the Blog post which talks more about the battle itself.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbemrgHuVVA

Anonymous said...

I'm not one of those who sneer at the idea of ghosts, but I must say that I've spent several nights camping, both at the site of Basing House and on the battlefield of Cheriton, and found them remarkably peaceful.

Kate Bunting

Anonymous said...

Hi, i grew up living in the old farm house to the north west of the Marston moor battlefield, 1969-1980, our house existed at the time of the battle and was used as a place for the royalists to water horses, a young girl had been killed whilst opening the gates for a group of riders on horses, reputedly.
As a child this young girl was `commonplace` in mine and my sisters lives.
Late summer sunsets would often carry the sounds of metal on metal and horses and men`s screams.
For us this was usual, Marston Moor and much of the surrounding area is very active around the anniversary of the battle, fairly active the rest of time too,
Just to correct the text above, Marston Moor lies on the east edge of Tockwith not Tadcaster