Prof: The great
political philosopher Thomas Hobbes–
who, if you haven’t read you will be learning something about
in the section reading this week–
Thomas Hobbes formulated his theory of the state and his
ideas on political obligation in the context of the civil wars
which tore apart all three of the constituent kingdoms of
Britain in the 1640s. And when it was all over
Hobbes, who had returned from exile in the 1650s,
wrote a history of the conflict which he called Behemoth,
published in 1662. The title’s up here.
And he began it with this
wonderful sentence, the first sentence of
Behemoth: “If in time,
as in place, there were degrees of high and
low, I verily believe that the
highest of times would be that which passed betwixt 1640 and
1660.” And what Hobbes meant by that
striking sentence was that the events of those two decades
unleashed consequences of an enormously far-reaching nature:
in politics of course, in religion,
and also in the realm of ideas. Things would never be quite the
same again. But if that’s how it looked to
Hobbes at the end of the whole process, in the beginning,
in 1637, none of that could really be foreseen.
In 1637, Charles I’s experiment
in personal rule was going well and he had just succeeded in
winning legal backing, albeit narrowly,
for the continued collection of Ship Money,
an annual non-parliamentary tax. But Charles’ relative success
depended upon two things. First of all,
he needed to avoid unnecessary expense, especially the kind of
expenditure necessitated by war. Part of the reason for his
success in the 1630s was that he had kept the kingdom at peace.
Secondly, he needed to avoid
calling a parliament. He needed to avoid a parliament
which would be a forum for deeply alienated elements of the
political nation who loathed his fiscal expedients on the one
hand, and on the other hand his
Arminian policy in the church. He needed time for such
opposition to die down; if it would.
And in 1638 to ’40 all of this
collapsed. As I mentioned at the end of
the last lecture, in 1637 Charles and Archbishop
William Laud overreached themselves by attempting to
impose uniformity on religion throughout not only England but
also Charles’ other kingdom of Scotland.
They attempted to impose
episcopacy and an Anglican-style prayer book upon the Church of
Scotland. In 1638, the Scots,
led by many of their leading nobility and backed by the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,
formed in Edinburgh a National Covenant taken by all the
leaders of the movement and many others to resist innovations in
religion and they proceeded to raise an army.
In 1639, Charles proved
incapable of finding the resources to put an effective
army in the field to stop the Scottish rebellion and the
Covenanters effectively overran the whole of southern Scotland.
It was completely in their
control. In desperate need of funds,
the King was forced to call a parliament,
and in 1640 the writs went out for what came to be known as the
Short Parliament. The elections which were held
in that year were unusually fraught.
Customarily,
in most counties or urban constituencies election contests
were relatively rare. Usually, people somehow by
consensus managed to decide who would represent them in
parliament. In the elections for the Short
Parliament research has shown that in fact there were contests
in no fewer than a quarter of the constituencies,
a very high number for this period,
contests between candidates who were regarded by the electorate
as, on the one hand,
‘courtiers’ and candidates who were regarded as having
‘country’ values, that is to say staunch
traditional Protestants, adherents to the rule of law,
supporters for parliament’s continued place in the political
process. When the Short Parliament met
late in April 1640 it immediately took up the old
tactic from the 1620s of agreeing that they would vote
the King money, but only if their grievances
were first remedied, and indeed the very first
speech made in the Short Parliament in the House of
Commons declared that the Scottish rebels were less of a
threat to the kingdom than the threat which was posed by the
King’s government to the liberties of the subject.
Charles responded by dissolving
parliament after roughly three weeks: hence its name,
the Short Parliament. Charles then attempted to
prepare to invade Scotland with the very inadequate resources at
his disposal. Troops were raised.
They proceeded north amidst
great disorders. They were of low quality and
poorly trained. And they were rapidly defeated
by a pre-emptive strike on the part of the Scots who crossed
the border, drove back the royal troops,
and occupied the whole of the northeast of England including
the crucial strategic center of Newcastle,
center of the coal trade which supplied the fuel on which
London depended. So the whole of the northeast
of England was under Scottish occupation.
They then settled down,
waiting for negotiations and taxing the counties which they’d
occupied in order to maintain their occupation.
I should just mention the
sudden success of the Scots should have been predictable.
Many Scots had served as
mercenaries in the armies particularly of Sweden and of
the Netherlands in the Thirty Years War.
They were very good experienced
soldiers. They’d come home to defend the
Covenant. They were led by David Leslie,
a general with a great deal of experience who had distinguished
himself in Swedish service. England had nothing comparable
militarily. Well, humiliated and desperate,
Charles called another parliament,
this one to meet in November 1640, and the whole country was
galvanized by this second election.
There were even more election
contests. It’s thought that about a third
of constituencies were contested in the elections for the Long
Parliament. Indeed it’s been suggested that
nationwide perhaps between a quarter and a third of all adult
males voted in the election for the Long Parliament.
The members elected arrived in
Westminster bringing with them petitions from their counties
cataloging their grievances against Charles’ government.
There was a tremendous unity of
purpose amongst them. They knew that this time the
King could not afford to dissolve parliament if it
opposed him. When parliament met,
the initiative was immediately seized by John Pym who rapidly
emerged as leader in the House of Commons.
He was a veteran of the battles
in Parliament in the 1620s and knew exactly what he was doing.
In an early speech he alleged
the existence of a plot to introduce popery and arbitrary
government emanating from some of the King’s councilors.
Early in the meeting of
parliament in its first session in November 1640 this allegation
developed into direct attacks upon the King’s leading
councilors, Archbishop Laud and Thomas
Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford.
Both of them were imprisoned on
the orders of parliament and Strafford found himself the
object of impeachment proceedings.
Then in December 1640
parliament received, graciously, from the city of
London a petition known as the Root and Branch Petition against
episcopacy in the church and calling for further reformation
in the church. It was accompanied by large
demonstrations of London citizens,
orderly demonstrations accompanying the petition to the
parliament, but it showed how well London
was organized in opposition. In February 1641,
after a brief recess, the Triennial Act was passed
and the King was reluctantly forced to agree to it.
The Triennial Act laid down
that in future parliaments must be elected every three years
and, a few months later in May 1641,
the King further agreed that the present parliament could not
be dissolved without its own consent.
The spring of 1641 also saw
Strafford’s impeachment proceedings in the House of
Lords which gradually turned into a trial of the entire
regime of the 1630s, in particular the exercise by
the King of forms of arbitrary power,
with Strafford’s backing according to the allegations.
And in May 1641 Strafford was
the object of an act of attainder, the King was
reluctantly forced to sign his death warrant,
and he was executed. Then in the summer of 1641 came
a batch of reforming statutes. The prerogative courts which
had enforced the royal will in the 1630s,
especially the Court of Star Chamber which had dealt with
dissidents, were abolished.
Ship Money was declared illegal.
The other financial expedients
which had been used by Charles in the 1630s were also declared
illegal, and to all of this the King
reluctantly gave his assent. By the high summer of 1641
then, it looked as if parliament had won.
Charles’ innovations had been
reversed. Strafford, his strongman,
was dead; Laud was in the Tower of London;
parliament had secured for itself a regular place in
government through the Triennial Act.
It appeared to have been a
bloodless, or almost bloodless, constitutional revolution,
but of course the game was not yet over.
Parliament went into recess in
the summer of 1641 and Charles took the opportunity to travel
to Scotland. There he agreed to a settlement
regarding the Church of Scotland by withdrawing his earlier
demands and this secured the withdrawal of the Scottish army
from the north of England. In early November 1641 when
parliament met again a second major event occurred.
News arrived in London of
rebellion in Ireland, a Catholic and nationalist
rebellion involving, allegedly, massacres of English
and Scottish settlers in northern Ireland.
Now I should take a moment to
explain briefly the Irish situation.
In the aftermath of the
rebellion against Elizabeth by the Earl of Tyrone in the late
1590s, land had been confiscated from
the chieftains of northeastern Ireland,
the area known as Ulster, and that land had been planted
with Protestant settlements mostly peopled by settlers who
came across from Scotland, southern Scotland,
and from England. Their relations with the Irish
population were fraught from the beginning.
By 1641, some of the Irish
chieftains in Ulster, resentful of their loss of land
and of power in that area, planned to imitate the Scots by
rebelling, seizing control of the Irish
government, and then negotiating a better
settlement. Once the rebellion began,
however, they proved unable to control it.
Some of their followers began
killings of settlers and seizures of their land.
Meanwhile, the so-called Old
English aristocracy of other parts of Ireland,
most of whom were Roman Catholics–they were descended
from medieval Norman conquerors of Irish land,
known as the Old English–they joined in the rebellion,
principally motivated by the fact that as Roman Catholics
they were fearful of a Puritan-dominated parliament in
London and what it might mean for them.
With the joining together of
these two sources of discontent in Ireland the rebellion became
both a religious, a Roman Catholic,
and a nationalist rebellion fueled by bitter resentments
against the plantations in the north,
marked by massacres and evictions of settlements.
It’s estimated–the figures
keep changing as more research is done,
but perhaps 4,000 Protestant settlers were killed and some
thousands more probably died of cold and hunger during the
winter of 1641 to ‘2. So Ireland had exploded,
and news of these events, sometimes wildly
exaggerated–bad enough as it was–
confirmed, it seemed to members of parliament,
the fears that there was indeed a popish plot afoot.
But it also raised the crucial
question of what was to be done in the face of this new
rebellion? Could the King be granted an
army to suppress it? Could he be trusted with an
army? Would he not use it first
against parliament? On November the 23rd,
1641, John Pym decided to press ahead.
He introduced in to the House
of Commons the so-called Grand Remonstrance.
It was a long document,
a comprehensive indictment of Charles’ misrule ever since he
had come to the throne in 1625; all of these points set out in
order to justify the demand that henceforward parliament should
have the power to choose the King’s councilors,
thereby having control over whatever forces might be granted
to the King, and that an assembly of divines
should meet to determine the future structure of the Church
of England to satisfy the Puritan zealots amongst Pym’s
supporters. This radical action finally
split what had been hitherto a fairly unified opposition to
Charles. This seemed to confirm the
theory that there were indeed “popular spirits”
seeking to undermine the monarchy and the ancient
constitution. So both of those conspiracy
theories which I mentioned last time seemed to have been
confirmed by events. There were also some members of
parliament who, much as they opposed Laud’s
innovations in the church, did not want a Puritan assault
upon the episcopal structure of the Church of England.
That was going too far in their
view. The whole issue raised by the
Grand Remonstrance– the many issues raised by
it–were passionately debated in a session which went on until
two o’clock in the morning when it was finally passed by the
House of Commons by only 159 votes to 148,
a narrow victory for John Pym. He had the Grand Remonstrance
printed and distributed outside parliament into the country to
win support. So, with the Grand Remonstrance
what had been a virtually united opposition to the King was
dividing. And it was the fact that that
once united opposition split that made possible civil war.
It made possible the King’s
rallying of a party to his cause.
On the 23rd of December,
he rejected the Grand Remonstrance,
and then on the 4th of January 1642,
he attempted a coup by coming in person to parliament with
troops to attempt to arrest the leaders of the House of Commons.
The five leaders that he was
looking for escaped. They had been forewarned of his
arrival. They fled downriver and took
refuge in the city of London. Faced with this situation,
Charles withdrew from his capital.
Some members of parliament were
also withdrawing, quietly leaving parliament and
going back to their estates. Queen Henrietta Maria left and
went to France to consult with her brother, Louis XIII,
and to raise money if possible to buy arms for a royal army.
In June 1642–oh,
sorry, in March 1642–parliament passed an
ordinance known as the Militia Ordinance.
An ordinance was not an act of
parliament. A full act of parliament needed
the king’s signature. They had decided to pass
ordinances with the force of law,
to legislate without the King, and they passed the Militia
Ordinance, seizing the right to raise
troops and appoint military commanders,
so they too were preparing to raise forces.
In June 1642,
they offered to the King the so-called Nineteen Propositions.
This included such terms as:
all privy councilors should in future be approved by
parliament; all major officers of state
should be approved by parliament;
the militia order allowing parliament to raise troops and
appoint commanders should be accepted;
the King should consent to whatever reform in the Church of
England parliament advised. Charles replied to this
ultimatum that if he was to accept this–
I’m quoting him–it would be “the total subversion of
the fundamental laws and excellent constitution of this
kingdom,” for,
he continued, “parliament never was
intended for any share in government or the choosing of
them that governed.” Now of course the King was
technically right, but things had passed beyond
the question of what was or what was not the excellent ancient
constitution to which both sides continually appealed.
In different ways both sides of
the dispute had now subverted the ancient constitution which
they professed to revere. And under the pressure of
events they had gradually entered completely uncharted
waters, a situation which no one had envisaged,
let alone planned. In July 1642,
parliament voted to raise an army.
In August 1642,
Charles, having rejected parliament’s terms,
raised his banner in the city of Nottingham and called on all
true subjects to come to his support.
In fact, by the time Charles
raised the royal standard at Nottingham fighting had already
broken out in the town of Manchester in the northwest
where the townspeople resisted the attempts by one of the
King’s supporters to seize the town’s magazine of arms.
The first shots were fired that
day. England was at war:
at war with its own king and at war with itself.
So, by the time civil war broke
out in July, August 1642,
the combination of a determined effort to reverse Charles I ‘s
policies in church and state and the unforeseen circumstances
provoked by the Irish rebellion had led parliament to make what
might reasonably be called revolutionary political claims.
But how far would it go and
where would it end? Those questions were now to be
settled by war, and it was a war which itself
unleashed a further dynamic of unforeseen circumstances and
unforeseen consequences. That continuing dynamic perhaps
derived ultimately from the complexity of the causes of the
war and the various meshings of motives which led people to
fight and also from the remarkable breadth of voluntary
participation in the war. The participation in the
fighting was remarkably wide socially.
It’s been estimated that
perhaps a fifth of all adult men in the kingdom fought in the
civil war. Now historians have long argued
the toss about the real causes of the war–
it’s one of the great debates of English historiography–
and usually when they do so they try to emphasize a
particular dominant variable in their own interpretation.
They frequently seek for a
single prime mover, the dominant cause.
Really I think that that’s a
foolish exercise, because the essential point it
seems to me about the civil wars is that they were about subtly
different things to different people who participated,
and indeed all of the competing modern interpretations–
be they Whig or Marxist or revisionist–
all of them can be prefigured in the views of some
contemporaries themselves. Different people at the time
thought the war was about different things.
To the Scots it was about
religion and the distinctive institutions of what was still
an independent kingdom even if it had the same king as the
kingdom of England. To the Irish it was about land
and about religion. Amongst the English some
royalists joined the King simply out of loyalty.
He was the King.
Some saw themselves as
defending the monarch’s legitimate constitutional rights
against popular spirits. Some saw themselves as
defending the Church of England against a Puritan plot to
dismantle it. Some Roman Catholics joined the
King– many of them joined the King in
fact– out of fear of what a Puritan
victory might mean and in the hope that if they supported the
King he might grant them future toleration in the exercise of
their religion. Some gentlemen joined him
because they feared social disorder.
They feared that a collapse of
regular government would lead to a breakdown of social order,
a fear which was much played upon by royalist propaganda
which stressed the plebian nature of many of those who had
shown support for the parliament,
the demonstrators in London for example.
Parliamentarians were early
labeled by royalist propagandists as Roundheads,
people with short haircuts, which meant common people,
not wearing the flowing locks of a gentleman.
On the other side,
some parliamentarians saw themselves as defending the
ancient constitution and the law against a king who could not be
trusted. If they had encroached on the
powers of Charles I, it was not because they were
attacking monarchy as such. The battle cry for the
parliamentarian armies was “for the King and
parliament” whereas the war cry of the
royalists was simply “for the King,”
but the parliamentarian slogan was “King and
parliament.” Others saw themselves as
defending English Protestantism against popish innovation.
Many banners of regiments
raised in the parliament’s support had religious symbols
upon them. Some saw it as the moment at
last at which they could move beyond the traditional Anglican
settlement and achieve a fuller reformation in church and
nation. Much intensive research has
been done on side taking, and it suggests that both
socially and geographically there were differences in the
composition of the two sides, but really they were just
differences of degree; they were not absolutely clear
divisions. So, for example,
two thirds of the House of Lords were for the King,
but one third of the lords fought for parliament;
the earls of Manchester, of Bedford, of Warwick,
of Northumberland, and others fought for
parliament. Most of the gentry actually
managed to stay out of it altogether,
but of the very large minority who did fight no significant
difference can be found in terms of their relative social and
economic position. Where the differences can be
discerned they seem to have been differences of principle,
sometimes religious principle, sometimes constitutional
principle. So this was a war in which many
of those who took part understood it as having a
powerful ideological element of one kind or another.
And much of this was true also
of the common people because they didn’t participate simply
as dutiful tenants or impressed men.
Of course, some did,
but many voluntarily took part. Predictably,
the loyalties of the so-called ‘middle sort of people’ counted
most, the kinds of people who were
leaders in their townships and parishes,
and they seemed to have been moved by similar motivations to
those of the gentry. Amongst them we hear most in
contemporary sources about a tendency to support parliament.
Most of them seem indeed to
have been on that side. We mustn’t forget that these
were people who also participated in local
government, albeit at a humble level.
Many of them,
if they had freehold land or were citizens of towns with a
broad franchise, had taken part in the
elections. They were people who had signed
the county and municipal petitions which had been brought
to the Long Parliament in 1640. And amongst such people,
amongst the middle sort as contemporaries called them,
one contemporary observer, Richard Baxter,
tells us there were many “Good Commonwealth’s
Men,” as he described them, concerned about law,
about taxation, about the liberties and
survival of parliament, though Baxter added that
amongst them also were many who were sensible of these things–
I’m quoting him–“sensible of these things but much more
sensible of the interests of religion.”
Again ideological issues
percolating far down in society. As with the gentry,
most of the middle sort of people did stay out of it but of
those who voluntarily participated a great many were
for the parliament, a mirror image of the
aristocracy. And the major towns and
industrial areas were all parliamentarian in sympathy.
So one could say if the
royalist propaganda of the early years of the war tended to be
aristocratic in tone, a good deal of the propaganda
of the parliament was aimed broadly in society and was
somewhat populist in its tone. So for many of the middle sort
too this was their cause also. But, be that as it may,
they didn’t call the tune. Both sides of the war were
directed by gentlemen, and in approaching the actual
events of the war it helps to consider what their war aims
were. The aims of the King and his
advisers were simple. The King intended to win and
then dictate terms to a defeated parliament.
To that end,
his basic strategy was to consolidate his control of
territory in the north and west of England where his supporters
were in the majority and then to advance upon London and take the
city. Early in the war his principal
base was established on–in–Oxford and from Oxford
he intended to advance to take London.
Simple enough.
He almost achieved it in 1642
when some of his troops arrived on the very outskirts of London
and were turned back by armed apprentices from the city who
advanced to meet them at Turnham Green.
The royalists for whatever
reason chose not to attack; they retreated and the city was
saved. (Turnham Green,
incidentally, is on the tube line as you go
in from Heathrow Airport to central London.
If you’re ever going in that
way on a visit to London, you would go right through
Turnham Green). Not all who fought for the
King, however, shared these simple war aims.
There were plenty amongst them
who had actually opposed him in 1640 but who couldn’t bring
themselves to fight against him. They would have preferred a
negotiated settlement, but although Charles
occasionally paused to engage in negotiations for tactical
reasons it’s unlikely that he ever did it seriously.
The war aims of parliament were
different. Parliament neither sought nor
expected an outright military victory.
The aim was to achieve a
strategic superiority which would then force the King to
come to terms. The idea was to hold the south
and the east and the major cities where parliamentarian
support was strongest, to contest the north and the
west in order to weaken the King,
and above all to prevent the King from taking London.
Parliamentary armies were
organized in regional associations based on
associations of counties who raised troops to operate only
within their own zone, in addition to which a field
army was raised under the command of the Earl of Essex
which had the principal duty of protecting London by shadowing
royal forces in the Midlands. So, the war consisted for the
most part of a great deal of regional skirmishing in the
provinces and local campaigning by one garrison against another
all over the north and the west and the Midlands;
and then campaigns in which the major field armies shadowed one
another mostly in the south Midlands and in the approaches
to London with occasional pitched battles when London was
seriously threatened. Such was the basic situation in
the first two years of the war from 1642 to 1644,
but as the war continued the experience of a conflict–
of the conflict–and the need to respond to the situations
that it created began to release greater passions and to create
new war aims. Militarily and politically,
the pattern was of summer military campaigns followed by
winter politics when the armies were simply encamped in winter
quarters– and the result of the summer
campaign affected the politics; the result of the winter
politics affected the next summer campaign.
That’s how it went.
In the summer of 1643,
the King came very close to winning again.
He consolidated his strength in
the north and the west and seemed poised for a victorious
strike. Politically,
parliament saw the emergence that winter of three broad
groupings. There was a peace group in
parliament who thought it would be best to negotiate with the
King now and get the best terms that could be obtained before
everything was lost. On the other hand,
there was a so-called war group.
They had become convinced that
only a more aggressive military policy would succeed in bringing
the King to terms and they’d have to defeat him militarily
first before he would talk seriously.
And between the two was a large
middle group which could be swayed either way by debates in
parliament. Late in 1643,
the war group with the backing of John Pym,
who at this time was actually dying of cancer and had died by
the end of the year, the war group decided that it
was necessary to try to bring the Scots back in,
in order to break the royalists’ hold on the north of
England. And in September they
negotiated the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scottish
Covenanters. It was agreed that the Scots
would aid parliament militarily, but the price of their support
was acceptance of reform of the Church of England
“according to the word of God and the example of the best
reformed churches.” That was the wording of the
treaty. The Scots understood that to
mean Presbyterianism. An assembly was set up at
Westminster of English divines, more than a hundred ministers,
a number of lay commissioners, and Scottish observers to
discuss a future religious settlement.
Almost simultaneously,
in the autumn of 1643, Charles agreed a cessation of
hostilities in Ireland. The Irish rebel confederation
held power there. The cessation of hostilities by
the remaining royalist garrisons was achieved in order to get aid
for the King from the Irish rebel confederation.
They would bring in
reinforcements from the west. All of this,
both the bringing in of the Scots and the bringing in of the
Irish rebels, of course, inevitably
heightened the already existing sense of the war as being in
part a religious conflict. 1644 brought another shift.
The entry of the Scots
facilitated parliament’s recovery in the north.
The Scots swept south again,
recovered Newcastle and began besieging the city of York.
Charles detached his nephew,
Prince Rupert, to relieve the threat to York
which — with–an army which proceeded
north and expected an easy victory in relieving the city.
But he got quite a surprise.
The Scots together with the
army of the Eastern Association, which was based in Cambridge
and had men from the eastern counties,
advanced north to join the Scots and fought outside York
the great battle of Marston Moor at which the royalists under
Prince Rupert were utterly defeated.
The parliamentarian victory was
in particularly due to the role of the cavalry of the Eastern
Association, under the command of a figure
who was rapidly emerging in the parliamentary forces:
Oliver Cromwell. And a brief word about
Cromwell: Cromwell was a squire of high birth but low means,
a younger son who had been MP for Cambridge in the Long
Parliament and who had left parliament in order to raise
forces for the Eastern Association at the outbreak of
war. He had gradually risen from
captain of a troop to colonel of a cavalry regiment.
He was a man who has been
described as a man of “agonies and
exultations,” passionately religious,
something of a depressive. He found himself in the war,
he found the cause he’d been looking for, and his troops were
known for their training and their discipline.
It was their conduct at Marston
Moor, in particular their capacity
after a charge to rally, re-form, and charge again,
which had done a good deal to defeat the gallant but much less
disciplined royalist cavalry. The total victory which was
achieved by the Scots and the Eastern Association at Marston
Moor was a considerable shock, the first complete
parliamentarian victory. But the momentum of that
victory was squandered by the parliament’s commanders in the
south. The indecisiveness and the
incompetence of the senior commanders of the south,
the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Manchester,
meant that the year ended once again in stalemate.
There was another indecisive
holding battle to stop the King reaching London at Newbury,
while the Earl of Essex advanced down into the west of
England, got himself cornered and had to
surrender and have his troops ignominiously transported by sea
back to the southeast having surrendered their arms to
royalist forces there. The second Battle of Newbury,
holding the King back again from reaching London,
brought to a head the growing tension over parliament’s war
aims. Cromwell, who’d hastened south
with his cavalry to join Manchester at Newbury,
pressed the Earl of Manchester to continue the battle to try to
turn it in to the– a decisive victory.
Manchester refused to do so.
It was enough for him to stop
the King from advancing further towards London.
According to their recorded
argument, Manchester declared to
Cromwell, “if we beat the King ninety and nine times,
yet he is King still, and so will his posterity be
after him, and we subjects still,
but if the King beat us once, we will all be hanged,
and our posterity be made slaves.”
In other words,
he didn’t dare risk a decisive battle.
To which Cromwell replied,
“why then, if this be so,
why did we take up arms at first?”
The recriminations continued
bitterly in parliament during the winter resulting early in
1645 in a victory for the war party in the House of Commons.
First of all,
they decided to dissolve the existing parliamentarian field
army and to form what was described as a New Model Army
which would be paid and controlled from Westminster and
would incorporate the best elements of all previously
existing parliamentarian forces and be free to operate wherever
it was needed throughout the kingdom.
Secondly, they passed a
Self-Denying Ordinance. The Self-Denying Ordinance
required the resignation of all commanders who were members of
parliament. It was a clever move to force
the resignation of the incompetent aristocratic leaders
of the parliament’s troops. But there was one exemption
from the Self-Denying Ordinance. Cromwell was exempted.
His native military genius by
now had shown itself so clearly that he simply couldn’t be
spared. He was appointed Lieutenant
General of the Horse, not commander of the entire
army. The Lord General was Sir Thomas
Fairfax, the leader of the parliament’s
cause in Yorkshire, Cromwell was his Lieutenant
General in command of the cavalry.
Meanwhile, the war conditions
were having unanticipated consequences elsewhere.
London was a city in ferment.
1640 had seen the collapse of
censorship of the press and a proliferation of pamphlets
arguing different political and religious ideas.
Something in the region of an
average of 1,000 a year were being printed in London in the
early 1640s. The first newspapers were
beginning to appear reporting on the events of the war,
ten a week by 1644. There had also been a collapse
of church discipline. Radical religious groups were
emerging from underground and meeting openly.
New groups were forming in the
debate over future religious settlement.
The city was highly politicized
and awash with all kinds of heterodox ideas.
In 1646, a Presbyterian
minister, Thomas Edwards, was so shocked by the ideas
that were circulating in London that he wrote his work
Gangraena, which was a three-volume
catalog of heterodox opinions circulating in the city.
Edwards was an orthodox
Calvinist utterly horrified at what had broken forth and he was
not alone. Many more conservatively minded
members of parliament in matters of religion began to favor a
Scottish-style Presbyterian settlement which would at least
restore order and orthodoxy in matters of religion.
And a group of parliamentarian
Presbyterians were able to push through acceptance of a
Directory of Worship which would replace the Anglican prayer book
and to vote in favor of a Presbyterian church structure to
be imposed when the war was over.
Others, however,
including Oliver Cromwell, were not alarmed by what seemed
to be a new age of the spirit in matters of religion.
They favored independency:
congregationalism in church government.
They were opposed to the
imposition of any form of coercion in matters of
conscience. So in these debates going on in
London and in parliament religious liberty was emerging
as an issue– and for some people another aim
of the conflict– which had not been previously
foreseen. It was in 1644 that pamphlets
advocating religious toleration were quite widely printed and it
saw the printing of John Milton’s great
Areopagitica, his wonderful statement in
favor of freedom of speech and thought.
Equally worrying to the more
conservative members of parliament was the situation in
the parliament’s army. Like the city,
the army was a concentration of tens of thousands of people in a
mass situation, a most unusual social
situation. The army was full of volunteers.
They were disproportionately
men of Puritan inclination in religion.
Many of them were from London
or East Anglia or the godlier areas of the north and the
Midlands. By 1644, Oliver Cromwell was
already well known to favor such godly men and to have a
preference for promoting them on merit,
a shocking idea to seventeenth-century
sensibilities. Famously he declared in one
argument over the promotion of a junior officer,
“I had rather have a plain,
russet-coated captain who loves what he fights for–
who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows,
than that you call a gentleman who is nothing else.”
With the formation of the New
Model Army in 1645, all of these elements were
brought together and it took on a very distinctive character.
The New Model,
especially amongst its junior officers,
was full of Cromwell’s russet-coated captains,
who knew what they fought for and loved what they knew,
promoted on merit. It was a praying army,
a preaching army, a godly army,
a surprisingly well-disciplined army by the standards of the
day. And in 1645 that spirit both
contributed to and was enhanced by victory–
to seventeenth-century sensibilities the proof of God’s
favor– and with victory came quite
exceptional morale. In June 1645,
Fairfax and Cromwell brought to battle and decisively defeated
Charles’ main battle army at Naseby in the central Midlands.
They then rapidly moved west,
cornered the army of the–the royalist army of the west at
Langport in Somerset, and roundly defeated them.
By late 1645 and early 1646,
it had become largely a matter of the army bottling up what
remained of the King’s forces in Oxford,
seizing and capturing the city of Bristol,
and then mopping up the last royalist opposition.
By May of 1646,
the King, seeing that there was no possibility of military
recovery, left Oxford in disguise,
traveled north and gave himself up to the Scots at Newark near
Nottingham. He thought he’d get better
terms from them. So against all initial
expectations parliament had won an outright victory.
Achieving that victory,
however, had released forces which could not easily be
contained or pushed back into the bottle.
After one of the last
skirmishes of 1646, the royalist commander,
Sir Alan Apsley, surrendered his sword to his
parliamentarian opponent, then sat down on a drum and is
said to have said to the parliamentarian officers,
“well, boys, you have done your work:
now you may go and play, unless perhaps you will fall
out amongst yourselves.” And that was a very prescient
remark, because the business of
establishing the terms of settlement,
with the victory achieved, gradually turned in the next
year into a struggle over what was the meaning of the
parliament’s cause. And we’ll turn to that next
time.