Monday, February 24, 2020

Sir William Balfour’s Regiment of Horse

"Look so that I might be looked at"..
..cornet of Major William Balfour
..son of Sir William a troop commander

in the regiment...
More than the other regiments I've researched so far, there was some confusion and detective work required for this regiment, as sources are slightly conflicting, and the OOB for the Parliamentarian army at Edgehill is sadly lacking a de Gomme to document their dispositions..

So what do we know?

Sir William was of Scottish descent and the son of Colonel Henry Balfour and his wife, Christian.  He entered Dutch service in the Dutch States Army during the Thirty Years' War fighting with the Scottish brigade until 1627 and rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and gaining the favour of the Duke of Buckingham.

 In October 1631 he was employed by the King on a confidential mission to the Netherlands, he also received the grant in 1633 of the right of making gold and silver money in the Tower (which was worth a lot of money) and on the death of Sir Allen Apsley in 1630, Sir William, who is described as one of the gentlemen of the king's privy chamber, had been appointed Lieutenant of the Tower of London.

Clearly a man high in royal favour at this stage of his career...

Sir William however, as you might expect from his Scottish upbringing, was a devout Presbyterian, and after the Bishops' Wars and during the Long Parliament, as sides began to form, he gravitated to that side that opposed the King - primarily for religious, rather than political reasons, as his concerns were about the pro-Catholic stance of the King.

When Strafford was sent to the Tower and entrusted to his keeping, Balfour rejected a bribe to look the other way (£2.5M in todays money!), and also turned away a column of soldiers attempting to remove the Earl by subterfuge. As a result the King persuaded, or more likely, "obliged" him to resign his post, which he did in December 1641.

In the next spring of 1642, Balfour was commissioned colonel of a cavalry regiment intended for service in Ulster, but before he embarked for Ireland civil war broke out in England. Parliament appointed Balfour a lieutenant-general to the Earl of Bedford, who was the nominal commander of cavalry in the Earl of Essex's army.

...and now the mystery...  while events on Essex's left flank are clearer, on the right flank, the position of his horse (of which Balfour's formed a part along with Fielding's and Stapleton's) are not .. most sources seem to agree Fielding's were at the extreme right of the line, but as for the other two...
  • Young puts up a (creditable) argument that they were positioned to the left of Fielding's but behind behind the infantry on the right flank (these were Meldrum's Brigade comprising Constables, Fairfax's and Meldrum's Foot) with gaps between the infantry for them to charge if needed..

  • Reid (All the Kings Men) comes up with another cunning explanation - that all three regiments were deployed in a refused line, Balfour on the right It's possible there may have been an overlap with the infantry, but he argues that the horse that the Royalists saw behind the foot was a separate composite unit formed of the detached cuirassier squadrons of Balfour's and Stapleton's.. 

  • Scott, Turton and von Arni ("Edgehill the Battle Reinterpreted") use a primary source (the account by Fiennes, himself a troop commander in Balfour's so he should know what he's on about!) that describes the three regiments as two up with Fielding's behind. They examine the roles of the various commanders in the army and (again creditably) argue Balfour was senior so must have been with his regiment. They agree the cuirassier troop was removed to bolster Essex's cavalry reserve

...take your pick..    I think on balance, for the excellence of the argument, I would probably go with the third...  and because a picture is worth a thousand words/theories... here you go

B is our boy, C is Stapleton's, D Fielding's - the cuirassier reserve is X and Y - pic courtesy and copyright the Scott/Turton/von Arni book...
So in order to support this cavalry wing that Essex already knew was on the weak side. he deployed two full regiments of dragoons amongst the broken ground in front (A in the map), he also deployed a number of his guns there.. with the cavalry standing on a steep incline there was every expectation that the wing was secure..

The man his'self..
Not so...  when the battle opened the Parliamentary dragoons were cleared by their Royalist opposite numbers (not without difficulty - this would be a cracking little skirmish within a battle scenario!) and the Royalist cavalry and infantry under Wilmot started their advance.

Balfour, realising his position was now more compromised withdrew his and Stapleton's behind the infantry (beginning to sound like Young's theory!)...  when the Royalist cavalry charged, for mainly terrain reasons (constricted frontage/charging uphill/boggy ground) they drifted right and missed Balfour's and Stapleton's completely, while sweeping Fielding's (and the already retreating dragoons) away and charging on.. one of the Parliamentary regiments, Fairfax's Foot, had fired in an effort to help Fielding's but being caught unloaded, were also swept away... 

....all in all it was turning out to be as much a disaster for Essex on this flank as the other, but like the other flank, the Royalist cavalry reserves, against all good practice, also charged and removed themselves from the equation...

In regimental terms things get even more confusing with Balfour's from this point - clearly the situation would have been confused to say the least, but with the regiment largely intact, it looks like Sir William moved to take command of his detached cuirassier squadron in the centre, he might well have taken a troop or two with him to bolster numbers, the rest of the regiment covered the flank where the Royalist dragoons continued to pose a threat. With his annexe to the regiment he first charged and utterly destroyed Fielding's regiment of Foot which formed part of the central brigade, and soon the rest of the brigade followed them leaving a massive hole in the Royalist front line of infantry.

Unlike the Royalist cavalry the Parliamentary cavalry remained in control and large numbers of standards and senior officers were taken prisoner - Balfour however, continued on, probably intentionally, and (successfully) charged the Royalist artillery (and incidentally, almost captured the Royal princes). To cap it all, they returned to the Parliamentary main lines just in time to assist with the destruction of the Royalist Brigade under Byron - quite a day!!

The regiment ended the day largely as they began - protecting the open flank...

Not a bad first effort...

After Edgehill the regiment went on to serve at the Relief of Gloucester and 1st Newbury (although Balfour himself was absent for health reasons). In 1644 they briefly joined Waller's Army of the Southern Association and fought at Cheriton, before returning to Essex's command later in the year and fighting at Lostwithiel, and innumerable other skirmishes. They were at 2nd Newbury, and in 1645 having refused to serve with Waller the regiment was disbanded/reduced into the New Model.

Balfour retired from military service when the New Model Army was organised,and was buried at Church of St Margaret, Westminster Abbey on 28 July 1660 - by any account a good life!

The books by Young, Wanklyn, Scott/Turton/von Arni and Reid - and the Osprey Edgehill were invaluable in trying to unravel the stupidly complicated sequance of events in a battle 380+ years ago...


  1. Nice mix of equipment and poses with the pistols there Steve.

    1. Thanks Lee... trying to make my Parliamentary cavalry regiments pistol heavy... the Royalists tend to get more swords... a small thing but it seems kind of apt.. :o) How did you enjoy Cavalier?

  2. Another fine addition accompanied but a really interesting read there.

  3. Great article Steve, its nice to understand who the commanders were and the history of their regiments, thanks.

    1. Thanks Robbie, I love the history and the research, these guys lived and breathed and were awesome in the true sense of the word.. good to remember them...

  4. Wonderful research and regiment Mr.Steve.

    1. Thanks Codsticker, to be fair I'm just a word hacker standing on the shoulders of the talented Mjr Young, Mr Reid, Messers Scott/Turton/von Arni, and others.. but it's fascinating to read about and good fun to try and make sense of...

  5. Very nice, the collection moves on ..... I am struck by the question, why did I just paint my unit of cavalry with horses all exactly the same colour - IDoh!, your mix looks very good.

  6. Thanks Norm.. I seem to be unusual among my fellow bloggers that I quite like painting horses, but I am not as good at as Lee Gramson and Nundanket... not enough white socks, or blazes on the nose in mine.. I'm trying to vary primary colour though..

  7. Very nice Steve. I do like the fact that you take the time to do a proper amount of research for each unit.

    1. Thanks Paul.. I think the research on these guys actually took longer than it did to paint them.. and if I'm honest, I enjoy the research more than the painting.. :o)

  8. Nice to see them, and a good article Steve.

  9. Nice bit of research and a lovely cavalry unit!
    Best Iain

    1. Many thanks, Iain.. I'd like to say they commended themselves on their first table top outing but that would be errrr... slightly economical with the 'you know what'.. :o)