HIST 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
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Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
HIST 251 - Lecture 20 - Constitutional Revolution and Civil War, 1640-1646
Chapter 1. Reemergence of Parliament [00:00:00]
Professor Keith Wrightson: 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.
Chapter 2. Rebellion in Ireland [00:12:12]
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.
Chapter 3. Civil War: Foundations [00:14:49]
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.
Chapter 4. War Begins [00:20:52]
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.
Chapter 5. War Continues [00:33:02]
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.
Chapter 6. Struggle Ends, for a Time [00:47:41]
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.
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