Battle of Muster Green
The Battle of Muster Green (also known as the Battle of Haywards Heath) was a minor battle (but of major significance) that took place during the first week of December 1642 on Muster Green in Haywards Heath during the first year of the First English Civil War of 1642 to 1646 between a Royalist army under Edward Ford, High Sheriff of Sussex, and a smaller (but more disciplined) Parliamentarian army under Herbert Morley. Owing to the fact that neither side possessed field guns, hand-to-hand combat ensued and after roughly an hour of fighting and 200 Royalists killed or wounded, the Parliamentarians emerged victorious and routed the Royalist army. The battle site of the Battle of Muster Green was the furthest a Royalist army advanced through Sussex during the First English Civil War.
|Battle of Muster Green|
|Part of the First English Civil War|
Muster Green (the site of the battle) in 2007
|Commanders and leaders|
|unknown (possibly c. 1,000)||unknown (much smaller than that of the Royalists)|
|Casualties and losses|
|200 killed or wounded||unknown|
At the beginning of the First English Civil War there was no obvious distinction by location, occupation, or social class that outlined who would declare their support for the Royalists and who would declare support for the Parliamentarians in Sussex. Although historians have tried to characterise the eastern half of the county as "staunchly Parliamentarian" and western parts as more sympathetic to the Royalist cause, this broad distinction obscures many localised variations, particularly in downland areas and some urban areas. For example, in Chichester, the church, gentry, and upper classes made clear their support was for Charles I while the merchant classes showed their sympathies lay with the Parliamentarians. It was soon clear that neither Royalists nor Parliamentarians would have control of Sussex without the use of force via a military campaign through the county. Sussex was of strategic and industrial importance to both sides during the war due to the cannon foundries and ironworks in the High Weald, which would have given a logistical advantage to the side that controlled them, and also because the Sussex coastline was one of the shortest routes to France – potentially a source of smuggled arms, gunpowder, and bullion (as well as other equipment and materials required to wage and win a civil war). The proximity to France also meant the county could be used as an escape route by the King – another factor which made Sussex "a region that Parliament needed to keep under firm control".
In wider context, when the King fled to Oxford in August 1642 after he raised his royal standard in Nottingham and officially started the First English Civil War, he held the north of England, most of the Midlands, the south west of England, and Wales. This meant that it was obvious where strong Royalist support began and ended and, with Sussex, part of this 'front line' was at the boundary with itself and Hampshire (even though Hampshire was mostly sympathetic to Parliament, the Royalists held many isolated strongholds in the county such as Portsmouth, Basing House, and Winchester). Edward Ford (the Royalist leader at the battle) had been given a colonel's commission at the outbreak of war by Charles, who also made Ford the High Sheriff of Sussex in 1642. Ford offered his majesty "a thousand men, and to undertake the conquest of Sussex, though sixty miles in length" and began to raise forces accordingly. On 18 November 1642, Ford marched his Royalist army from Hampshire across the border with, and into, Sussex, whereupon he seized Chichester for the King. Ford then set his eyes on Lewes.
Ford decided that he would lead his forces eastwards through Sussex and seize the important Sussex town of Lewes for the King. Ford marched his forces in a broad sweep of Sussex – not heading directly along the coast from Chichester to Lewes but instead heading in a north-east direction to then move on Lewes from the north. Why Ford did this is unknown but it could have been to deliberately prolong his advance through Sussex and to Lewes to allow Ford to forcibly conscript more locals along the way, with the use of threats and force if need be, in order to swell his army (albeit with untrained rural folk) for his assault on Lewes. Either way, this decision eventually led Ford and his army to Cuckfield (roughly 11 miles (18 km) to the north west of Lewes) where he and his army set up camp. During the first week of December, Ford led his army out of Cuckfield and continued eastwards (probably marching down the modern Cuckfield-Haywards Heath route consisting of Broad Street, Tylers Green, and the B2272) and towards Haywards Heath.
Haywards Heath would have been very different in 1642 from what it is today, as Haywards Heath as a settlement is a relatively modern development kickstarted by the arrival of the London & Brighton Railway in 1841. In 1642, Haywards Heath was an open heathland and green spaces with the mass enclosure of land only really starting around 1642. On arriving at the western outskirts of Haywards Heath, Ford and his army were met by resistance in the form of a much smaller but more disciplined Parliamentarian force led by Colonel Herbert Morley, which was waiting for them on Muster Green. Muster Green's name derives from the area's use as a muster point for militia at the time of the English Civil War.
The size of the Royalist army is unknown, however, Ford offered to fight for the King with "a thousand men, and to undertake the conquest of Sussex" so it is possible that the size of the Royalist army at Muster Green could have been circa 1,000 in size. The size of the Parliamentarian army is also unknown, although, it is known that it was much smaller (but more disciplined) than that of the Royalist army. Modern research has pointed to the fact that neither side possessed field guns at the battle and thus very fierce and bloody hand-to-hand engagements engulfed Muster Green. The fighting lasted for roughly an hour and resulted in about 200 Royalists killed or wounded, while the figure for the Parliamentarian casualties is unknown. The battle ended with the Royalists being routed and retreating from the battlefield – the Parliamentarians had won the battle and spared Lewes from a Royalist assault.
After the battle, the Royalists were routed and driven from the battlefield, the battle site of the Battle of Muster Green was the furthest a Royalist army advanced through Sussex during the First English Civil War. The forcibly conscripted locals, recruited during Fords broad sweep of Sussex, broke first and were routed and fled southwards across Ditchling Common and through Ditchling, and Hurstpierpoint. Concurrently, the defeated Ford, his officers, and the shattered remains of his original army retired onto the South Downs in disorder and withdrew back towards the previously captured city of Chichester, where they (among others) were later besieged that December during the Siege of Chichester by the Parliamentarians under Sir William Waller and taken prisoner after the Royalist resistance surrendered on 27 December 1642.
It is hypothesised by historian Philip Pavey that a group of routed Royalist stragglers retreated in a north easterly direction, while being pursued by Parliamentarians, and ended up 6 miles (9.7 km) north east of Muster Green in West Hoathly. Here, Pavey describes how the retreating Royalists fled for safety into St Margaret's Church whereupon slamming the door shut behind them, they came under fire from Parliamentarian musketeers – the lead musket balls impacted the heavy wooden door (dated 31 March 1626 in iron studs) to the church. The half a dozen semiglobular impact marks these projectiles left, "roughly about the size of Maltesers", are still visible on the upper right hand side of the door today, although smoothed and shined with age like the rest of the door, and are the basis of this hypothesis. What happened to the Royalists inside St Margaret's Church (if they were even ever there, this is still just an hypothesis) is unknown.
Battle site today
The surrounding area of the site of the battle has changed and developed significantly since the time of the battle in 1642. As a result, it would be unrecognisable compared to the area today. In 1642, Haywards Heath would have been mostly open heathland and green spaces with the enclosure of land with hedges and fences only occurring around 1642 itself. Muster Green can be made out on the 1638 Manorial Map of Great Haywards Demesne and is surrounded by fields but little development. With the coming of the London & Brighton Railway in 1841, Haywards Heath began to urbanise exponentially and Muster Green saw itself slowly encroached upon by newer and newer buildings. Today, Muster Green is completely enveloped by urban sprawl, however, its shape has not changed as historically it was a green space between two diverging roads (the B2272 in the south and Muster Green North in the north). Muster Green nowadays is a well maintained village green and has been awarded the Green Flag Award numerous times for being "one of the very best in the world". Haywards Heath war memorial is also located on the westernmost point of the green. An informative and commemorative plaque on a lectern is situated on the eastern-most point of the green describing the Battle of Muster Green. This was installed by the local council at the recommendation of historian Philip Pavey in June 2015, although, the plaque commemorates the Battle of Muster Green as the Battle of Haywards Heath.
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