City Under Siege
At Selby on April 11, 1644, the parliamentary army, led by Lord Fairfax, inflicted a heavy defeat on royalist forces from York. Their commander was captured and as many as two-thirds of the 3,000 strong army were killed or captured.
Within days, parliamentary and Scottish armies were encamped less than a mile from York’s walls on both sides of the Ouse.
The York forces had built an elaborate system of trenches, shelters and towers outside the city walls which at first allowed the garrison to continue tending livestock in outlying fields and bringing in provisions.
The Marquis of Newcastle rationed food and imposed an oath on soldiers which included a promise to resist the Scots as ‘enemies to the Crowne of England’.
On June 3 the Earl of Manchester brought his parliamentarian forces to join the siege. They took up a position to the north of the city, making a bridge by tying boats together so his army and that of the Scots were linked together.
Now stronger action was taken against York. The parliamentarians built a battery of guns on a nearby hill, Lamel Hill, to bombard the city defences. A second battery was created at St Lawrence’s churchyard, not far from Walmgate Bar. Cannons pounded the area and reached as far as St Sampson’s Church in the city centre.
On June 8, the defenders were forced to withdraw inside the walls and set fire to the suburbs in the east.
At the same time the Scots had captured two gun emplacements on the west bank of the Ouse. In the following days most of the suburbs were burnt and the bridges over the Foss at Monkgate and Layerthorpe destroyed. Yet another battery was set up to attack Skeldergate, and the besiegers seized horses and cattle.
Newcastle was playing for time, hoping that Prince Rupert’s royalist forces would arrive and relieve the city. In negotiations the besiegers offered safe passage to Newcastle’s army upon York’s surrender. The offer was rejected.
King’s Manor in York Abbey grounds was a Royalist stronghold. On June 16 the parliamentarians breached the abbey wall, and broke in before the defenders drove them out. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, and a brief truce was arranged to allow the defenders to bury their dead.
The final action of the siege took place on July 2, a few miles away at the Battle of Marston Moor where the king’s men were decisively defeated.