On the 9th May 1643 Sir William Savile, a great-grandson of George the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, was appointed governor of Sheffield Castle. He did not remain long at Sheffield as he was required elsewhere for more urgent duties, and in June 1643 Thomas Beaumont Esq. of Whitley near Huddersfield , where the family had its seat since the reign of Henry III, was appointed deputy governor of the castle and town of Sheffield under Sir William Savile, who left his pregnant wife at the castle under Beaumont’s protection.
These more urgent duties took him to the Royalist Army, and in October the same year he was in command of a force of Royalist cavalry under Sir John Henderson which set out to relieve Bolingbroke Castle, which was besieged by a Parliamentarian force under the earl of Manchester
The Earl of Manchester was besieging Bolingbroke castle and at the same time the Royalists were besieging Hull.
On the morning of Wednesday 11 October 1643, Manchester drew up his whole army (minus enough men to continue the blockade of the castle) on Kirkby Hill, overlooking Bolingbroke. It must have made an impressive sight. Some time between Noon and 2pm he set the army in motion towards Horncastle, the cavalry and dragoons soon leaving the slow moving infantry and artillery behind. Meanwhile, Sir John Henderson was advancing from the other direction. In a classic “encounter” battle, the two sides blundered into each other at Winceby 3 miles up the road from Bolingbroke and just into the rolling wolds countryside. The ground was not ideal for a battle – the field falls away into sharp gullies on one side – but it would do.
At around 1200 men each the opposing forces were roughly equal in size. All were initially mounted, both forces consisting entirely of cavalry and dragoons – the Parliamentarian infantry was still struggling up from Bolingbroke by the time the action was decided and it appears that the Royalist infantry had been left to garrison Horncastle, as sources do not mention them.
Winceby was a small battle compared with Marston Moor (approximately 45,000 combatants) or Naseby (up to 25,000), and only lasted half an hour, but was very decisive. A feigned retreat by Cromwell lured the confident Royalists from a strong position down onto flat ground, ensuring the Parliamentarians would not have to charge up hill. Then the Parliamentarian “forlorn hope” (a troop of dragoons) began the action by firing at their opposite numbers on the Royalist side, who replied. Hoping to catch the enemy before they could reload, Cromwell led his cavalry in a charge, but the enemy managed to fire off a second volley at very close range that knocked down several men and horses, including Cromwell’s. It was here that the latter’s career as a soldier nearly ended before it had truly begun – unhorsed (and probably dazed) in front of his enemies he was in mortal danger. He received a glancing blow from the sword of Sir Ingram Hopton, commander of the
Royalist dragoons, but in the confusion of battle somehow managed to find a remount and carry on the fight.
Although personally unhorsed, Cromwell’s charge had shaken the dismounted Royalist dragoons and the right wing of their forces. However, the rest of the line held and under Sir William Savile sought to counter attack as Cromwell withdrew to reform. This was defeated by a perfectly timed flanking charge by Sir Thomas Fairfax, which smashed the Royalists aside.
As Fairfax charged, the Royalists were confused by the order from Sir William Savile “faces about” (to meet his attack). Some thought it was the order to retire and vital cohesion was lost just as Fairfax’s men crashed into them. The Royalists were utterly routed and fled the field….as Parliament’s True Relation says, ”they rann for it leaving all their dragooners which were now on foot behinde them”.
Worse, as the Royalists fled back towards Horncastle many became trapped against a parish boundary gate that only opened one way (against them)….as the press of men jammed it shut, the vengeful Parliamentarians closed in and a number were killed or captured (the location is still called “slash hollow” today). The pursuit lasted many miles, with the vanquished losing about 300 men (including many apparently drowned in a gravel pit), the rest gradually straggling into Newark and other Royalist garrisons (although if you believe the Parliamentarian propaganda, more prisoners were taken than there were men in the whole Royalist force!). 35 standards were taken. Sir Ingram Hopton had been killed and other officers captured.
The Parliament Scout claimed only 10 killed and a few wounded on their side in the fight, which is very low, even allowing for a rout where most of the casualties are inflicted on fleeing men. However, it appears more were killed or wounded by their own side in the vigorous pursuit through mistakes, because they forgot or muddled up the watch word of the day (“Truth and Peace” for Parliament, “Newcastle” for the Royalists), or because battle-mad troopers did not believe they were on the same side even if they remembered to call it out. Lord Manchester later said “I cannot hear that there was killed on our side above twenty and hurt about sixty”, which would seem reasonable estimate.
The relief attempt had been totally defeated. And just to rub salt into the wound, almost at the same instant the sound of booming cannon could be heard far in the distance. By a peculiar combination of atmospheric conditions, the troops were hearing the garrison of far away Hull firing their cannon in celebration – the Marquis of Newcastle had finally abandoned the siege and was retreating.
Savile next appears at York, where he was killed in fighting on the 244th of January, 1644. In accordance with his instructions in his will, he was buried at his estate at Thornhill on the 15th of February.
His widow, Anne, who left Sheffield Castle after the siege by Parliament with her child born during the siege, later married Sir Thomas Chicheley of Whimple in Cambrideshire. She died and was buried there around 1666.