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Artifacts from the Final Battle of the English Civil War Uncovered During Road Project

In 1651, Parliamentary forces defeated Royalist troops, forcing Charles II into exile

(Worcestershire County Council)
smithsonian.com

The English Civil War came to its bloody conclusion in 1651 at the Battle of Worcester. Though there’s tons of historical documentation of the battle, the physical evidence of the conflict—which involved close to 50,000 soldiers—is actually in short supply. That’s why archaeologists are excited about a recent discovery of artifacts from the battle.

The BBC reports that the finds come from a dig site near Powick Church where construction of a new road is underway. In total, 98 artifacts were recovered in a river valley, where hundreds of years of sediment had covered the remains of the battle. Among the finds are impacted lead shot fired from muskets, a powder container cap, the hilt of a sword, a trigger guard from a musket, pieces of a harness and belt buckles.

The discoveries place the battle a little farther south than historians previously thought. The arrangement of the finds also shows the areas where different military regiments fought. For instance, an area where lots of pistol shots were found indicate cavalry were in the area. Musket shots show where infantry held their positions. It has yet to be determined which museums or institutions will take possession of the artifacts.

“It is fantastic to be able to finally locate and map physical remains of the battle and to relate this to the historical record. We are just outside the registered battlefield area but this is still a nationally significant site,” Richard Bradley, on-site lead archaeologist, says in a press release. “The construction work has given us the opportunity to investigate the floodplain across which thousands of infantry and cavalry engaged, and to get down to the level where artifacts were deposited. Many of the lead musket and pistol balls show evidence of firing or impact and these tangible signs of the conflict offer a poignant connection to the soldiers who fought and died here.”

Worcester Musket Ball
Musket ball found at the site of the Battle of Worcester. (Worcestershire County Council)

The English Civil War arose as public sentiment turned against Charles I. In 1629, he dissolved Parliament and ruled by decree during a period dubbed by his enemies as the “Eleven-Year Tyranny.” Harsh religious and land title changes placed on Ireland and Scotland led to rebellions in those territories. Parliament was recalled in 1640 to deal with the problems, but soon the monarch and Parliament argued about who was in control of the army being mustered to put down the rebellions. The two groups raised separate armies, which began battling one another in 1642.

Over the next nine years, the Parliamentary and Royalist forces fought three wars, during which time Charles I was executed and his son and successor, Charles II, based in Scotland, took up the fight. In June, 1651, the two sides met at Powick in the Battle of Worcester. Charles II’s 16,000 Scottish troops faced 30,000 English Parliamentarian troops, 20,000 of whom were part of the professional New Model Army led by Parliamentary general Oliver Cromwell. The battle was a rout, with the English forces losing just 200 soldiers, while the Royalists lost 3,000 men and had 10,000 captured.

Charles II fled to exile in France. In 1653, due to his military victories, Cromwell assumed the title of Lord Protector, serving more or less as a monarch, though he refused to take that title. He died in 1658, leaving the title to his less capable and less popular son Richard. The younger Cromwell was forced to resign in 1659, and Charles II returned the following year to re-take his crown. Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and put on trial for high treason in 1661. Afterward, Cromwell’s corpse was hung from the gallows and decapitated at sunset. His head was displayed on a spike for 24 years before it fell to the ground during a windstorm.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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