In discussions about early-modern cavalry tactics, some people have asked me how many horses were killed in battles. This is the answer. Actually only a partial answer, but it’s the best one I’ve got. Narratives of English Civil War battles are usually very vague about casualties, if they mention them at all. Financial records are usually a better source for numbers. For a few parliamentary cavalry units, I’ve found detailed lists of horses lost in service. In 1644, Parliament set up the Committee for Taking Accounts of the Whole Kingdom to audit the war effort (you can read the ordinance for appointing the committee at British History Online). One of the committee’s jobs was to certify arrears of pay due to soldiers and officers (Ian Gentles estimated that these ran into millions of pounds). If the commanding officer of a unit couldn’t satisfactorily account for money, horses and equipment he had received, the value would be knocked off his arrears. Losses by enemy action during a battle were usually allowed, giving officers a strong incentive to exaggerate battle casualties in their accounts. This is obviously a problem because the figures they give could be too high, but it also pretty much guarantees that they won’t be too low. The committee concluded that Lionel Copley, a captain of horse in the Earl of Essex’s army, had defrauded the state of lots of money and horses, and overstated his losses at First Newbury to cover it up, but some members of his troop testified against him. I haven’t included his accounts here because they’re incredibly complicated as well as unreliable. Below I’ve put extracts from three other officers’ accounts that give details of horse losses. Doing this made me realise how bad the transcripts I made for my PhD were, but it also shows that I’ve got much better at palaeography. The quoted text is all in Crown Copyright and released under Open Government Licence. Click the links in the document references to see page images on Flickr (non-commercial use only).
Sir Samuel Luke
TNA: PRO, SP 28/127, part 2, f. 26.
This account is for Luke’s horse troop in the Earl of Essex’s army. He was also scoutmaster general of the army and governor of Newport Pagnell, where he had another cavalry troop in his name.
A Discharge for [th]e horse p[er] Contra
- At the Ram in Smithfeild died before the Marching forth 4
- Lost at Edghill fight 30
- Lost in the March to Winchester 12
- Lost at the Seidge of Reading 12
- Lost at Padbury Bridge and dureing the stay at Tame 12
- Lost at Nubury the first 18
- Run unto the King from St Albons 2 troopers with 2
- Lost in Anno: 1644: in the March to and from Cornwell, and at [th]e last Newbury fight 26
- Delivered to my Lord Cofeild 40
This shows the problems with high losses. Did he really lose 30 horses at Edgehill, or did he commit fraud that wasn’t discovered? It’s not clear what he means by ‘lost’. We can’t assume that they were killed in action. Maybe they were captured by the enemy, taken by deserters who ran away from the battle, or just wandered off after losing their riders. There’s no record of where on the battlefield Luke’s troop was deployed, or what part it played in the fighting. This detail is crucial because some of Essex’s cavalry ran off almost immediately while other charged the King’s infantry.
The account gives the impression that losses on the march could be quite high, but mostly doesn’t clearly distinguish this from battle casualties. It’s fairly safe to assume that the four horses that died before leaving London were diseased although the account doesn’t say so. The final 40 were delivered to Lord Caulfield when the troop was merged into the New Model Army in 1645.
TNA: PRO, SP 28/266, part 1, f. 32.
Griffin commanded a troop in the Earl of Manchester’s regiment in the Eastern Association army. The troop fought at Marston Moor in 1644, as the account shows. The troopers’ names at the end of each line seem to have been added later, but in the same hand.
A true Account of horse w[hi]ch have beene lost out of Capt. Richard Griffins Troope since the sixth of March 1643[/4]
- Impr[im]is 1 A horse & Armes carried away by Quart[e]rm[aste]r Hustler
- It[e]m 2 A white gelding att Cambridge spoyled and lame Robert Balam
- It[e]m 3 A bay gelding 3 miles beyond Lincolne shoulder shott Phillip Sponer
- It[e]m 4 A bay stone horse att Massam More dead Tho[ma]s Waddington
- It[e]m 5 A blacke stone horse att Massam More dead Hatlye
- It[e]m 6: A white gelding att Massam More dead Jackson
- It[e]m 7 A white gelding twoe myles from Rippon left lame Godwyn
- It[e]m 8 A white gelding shott & dead 2 miles from Knasburrough R: Welton
- It[e]m 9 A bay gelding left lame & spoyled att Maxburrough in yorkeshire W[illia]m Smith
- It[e]m 10 A blacke gelding att Foule Sutton in yorkeshire dyed Tho[mas] Meares
- It[e]m 11 A browne bay gelding lame & spoyled att Tadcaster in yorkeshire
- It[e]m 16 [sic] five horses lost 2 myles from Newberrye
- It[e]m 17 A bay horse taken by [th]e Enemy at Dennington John Nicholson
- It[e]m 18 A gray horse died twoe miles from Basing Browne
- It[e]m 19 Another gray horse dyed twoe miles from Basing: Kilby
- It[e]m 20 A bay horse dyed att Wickham Gardner
- It[e]m 21 A gray gelding left lame hard by Slowe neare Windsor Whitchurch
- It[e]m 22 A bay nagg dyed att Wotton in Bedd Hen[ry] Tadlowe
- It[e]m 23 A white geldding died att Wotton in Bedd Jo[hn] J[...]n
- It[e]m 24 A gray gelding left lame att Wotton in Bedd
- It[e]m 25 A white gelding lost negligently by Phillipp Spooner w[hi]ch he is to make good
- It[e]m 26 A bay gelding carried away by Mr Hearne to [th]e Enemy w[i]th his Armes
- It[e]m 27 A browne bay gelding carried away by Mr Leveridge to [th]e Enemyes
- It[e]m 28 A sorrill nagg carried away by one Standard to [th]e Enemy
- It[e]m 29 A horse & Armes carried away by John Gullson
- It[e]m 30 A gray gelding dyed 2 miles from Sheffeild in yorkshire Tho[mas] [Ul...ton?]
- It[e]m 31 A bay horse died att Sct: Mary Bourne in Wiltsh Johnson
- It[e]m 32 A horse dyed att Burckcleare in Hampshire Hodgson
- It[e]m 33 A gray Stone horse dyed att Barkhamsted in Harfordshire Tho[mas] Meares
- It[e]m 34 A gray Stone horse dyed att Broadwater in Harfordshire Lawe
- It[e]m 35 A bay gelding dyed att London Mr Ward
- It[e]m 36 A bay horse taken by [th]e Enemy att Boston & theire armes Abraham Tilman
- It[e]m 37 A sorrill nagg taken by [th]e Enemy att Boston & there Armes John Day
- It[e]m 38 A gray gelding dyed att Wingrave in Buck
This is where the incentive to exaggerate becomes really important. Griffin claims that only three horses were killed at Marston Moor. It’s very well documented that this was a long, hard fight. Cromwell commanded the Eastern Association cavalry on the left wing and charged Prince Ruperts cavalry early in the battle. Close combat between them lasted for some time, and David Leslie brought in the reserves of Scots horse, which probably tipped the balance. Once Rupert’s men had run away, Cromwell led his wing over to the other side of the battlefield and launched a second charge against Goring. It’s very unlikely that any units were uncommitted, and yet after all this, Griffin lost only three horses. He’s also more explicit than Luke about other losses, so we can see that a lot of the horses died or went lame rather than being killed or captured by the enemy.
TNA: PRO, SP 28/38, part 4, f. 318.
Noakes was a captain under Sir Thomas Middleton in the west midlands.
A p[ar]ticuler of such horses and Armes as were lost and dyed in the states service under the Com[m]and of Captaine Thomas Noakes in the Regiment of S[i]r Thomas Middleton
- 1. Aprill the 29th 1644. John Newmans blacke stoned horse fell sick at Coventry and there dyed.
- 1. May the 2d. Thomas Woodward his horse tyred, & left betweene Litchfeild and Tamworth, & taken up by Litchfeild men.
- 1. May the 7th Hugh Vaughan left his Coulers and with his horse and Armes went to [th]e king.
- 1. May the 15th John Robert[es] left his horse sick at Cosill, and from thence taken away by Dudley men.
- 1. The same day Tho[mas] Turney left his horse lame at Cosill, & there lost as the other.
- 3. The 24th. Will[ia]m Pricklove left his horse sick. Tho[mas] Broome left his black nag lame with another gray nagg lame at Wassall & from thence taken by Dudley men.
- 1. Thomas Barr had his horse & Armes stollen away at Wassall.
- 1. The 11th of June John Trott being kild at Tipton greene, his horse & armes were lost.
- 1. The same day Thomas Tyms lost his horse & Armes at Wedgborough.
- 6. The 17th. Tho[mas] Staploe Cornett, with John Fountaine, Steven Harmer, Rob[er]t Parker, Tho[mas] Childer and Henry Steele did run away from their Coulers with their horses & Armes from Wolverhampton.
- 4. June the 22th. John Clarke, Christofer Greene, John Saunders, Richard Buckley in discontent for want of money, went from Stafford with their horses and Armes, saying there was more due to them, then their horses and Armes were worth.
- 3. June the 23th. Francis Sanders, Tho[mas] Bostocke left their horses lame with another belonging to my troope at grasse in Stafford Castle ground[es], & were taken away from thence by Litchfeild men.
- 1. June the 24th. George Frith left his horse & Armes at the seige of Oswestrey.
- 7. June the last. John Eusam, Tho[mas] Hill, John Haley, Joseph Farr, Will[ia]m Whitehead, Henry Reymond & Geo[rge] Bunckley in discontent left their Colours, and some of their horses & Armes in the feild in Middle Witch, & others in the stables. I deliv[er]ed them in Charge to my troopers, & thorough Carelessenes in their march & at the fight at Oswestry they were all lost.
- 1. July the 2d Corporall Broomer lost his horse at the fight at Oswestrey.
- 2. July the 4th. Tho[mas] Lewin & Mathewe Hagger left their horses tyred within a myle & a halfe of Salop and soe were lost.
- 1. July the 9th George Jefferies, with his horse went to the king.
Again, not many battle casualties, although the fights that this troop was in were smaller than Marston Moor or Edgehill. The biggest losses at Oswestry on 30 June were spare horses that had already been abandoned by their riders. As with Luke’s account, it’s not clear what ‘lost’ means, but in this case it seems likely that they captured rather than killed. This is a bit more explicit with John Trott’s horse, as the account says that he was killed at Tipton Green but his horse and arms were only lost. There’s even more desertion here than in the other accounts. This is probably down to pay being worse in regional armies, because apart from the Eastern Association, they didn’t get their own treasuries or much money from London.
These three accounts don’t give any direct evidence of how cavalry fought in battles, but whatever they were doing didn’t necessarily get many horses killed.