Marston Moor

The Victory of the Covenant?

By the time of John Pym’s death from disease in early December 1643 much of the architecture of Parliament’s eventual victory was in place, and he must take a large share of the credit for that. A military alliance with the Covenanters, in the service of yet another covenant, this time between the two kingdoms, was underpinned by novel forms of taxation which would provide the basis for public revenues for over a century (assessment, excise and customs). These were reinforced by penal taxation and seizure from those who opposed the aims of the Covenant. Parliamentary committees, proliferating like mushrooms, allowed Parliament to act as an executive body, albeit a rather poorly co-ordinated one.

Pym’s contribution to sustaining the political will to implement these measures was considerable, but not necessarily popular, even among those who had been riveted by his compelling speeches in May and November 1640.1 Although his influence grew out of those influential speeches, what he had in the end championed was quite different from a defence of parliamentary liberties and the Church of England. A week or so before Pym’s death, Parliament took a further highly significant step. In early November, Parliament had authorized the use of a new Great Seal, the highest symbol of sovereignty, and on 30 November it was entrusted to six parliamentary commissioners. It represented an escalation of the argument that the King enjoyed his powers in trusteeship, exercised in partnership with Parliament. When the King was absent or in danger of wrecking the kingdom, so the argument had gone, then Parliament could assume trust in his place. Now, it was said, those using the Great Seal were enemies of the state, which was not currently entrusted to the King. The new seal made the implications of this plain: it did not include the King’s image but that of the House of Commons, and the arms of England and Ireland. As one commentator put it, there was consternation among ‘all the People’ who had ‘reason to believe that, at last, the divisions between the King and Parliament would become irreparable, and that there would be no hopes left of their being reconciled to one another, the breach made in his Majesty’s authority being so great, that it portended nothing less than the ruin of the state and the dissolution of the monarchy’.2 In all these ways, defence of parliamentary liberty was clearly no longer the same as defence of the ancient constitution.

Pym’s death also coincided with a reorganization of parliamentary military command. The formal alliance with the Covenanters called into being the Committee of Both Kingdoms, which took over from the Committee of Safety in February 1644. It was the first body to have responsibilities in both kingdoms. In one sense it filled the gap of a single executive body, acting as a kind of parliamentary Privy Council. But it was also a highly political body, on which opponents of the Earl of Essex were prominent, men anxious for a clearer military victory in order to secure a peace on demanding terms. Holles, for example, was not on the committee, but Cromwell was, and its terms of reference compromised the powers granted to Essex in his commission. Pym, man of the moment in 1640, died at a point when the parliamentary cause had plainly moved a long way from the aims set out at the meeting of the Long Parliament – it was now a military alliance with the Covenanters, more or less on condition that the English church be reformed along the lines of the kirk, in the hands of a parliamentary committee acting as an independent executive and likely to seek a decisive military victory over their King.3 National subscription to the Solemn League and Covenant was promoted from 5 February, underpinning these aims.4

In this context, the fate of William Laud has an obvious significance – putting the issues of 1640 back in the forefront of people’s minds, and paying an easy price to the Covenanters for their military support. Laud had been impeached on 19 October 1643, the first step on what proved a long path to his execution, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this was a narrowly calculating political act, another way of promoting Protestant unity without raising difficulties about church government, and an easy way to curry favour with the Covenanters. It also perhaps reflected how Laud was the personification of the dangers of Catholic conspiracy, all too evident following the Cessation. One newsbook argued that ‘the sparing of him hath been a provocation to Heaven, for it is a sign that we have not been so careful to give the Church a sacrifice as the State’. Strafford had died for the latter, but now revenge was sought on Canterbury in the cause of God: ‘he having corrupted our religion, banished the godly, introduced superstitions, and embrewed both kingdoms at first in tincture of blood’. But there was a more prosaic reason – while he lived on as Archbishop of Canterbury he had to approve ecclesiastical appointments and, though he did his best to comply, some appointments made demands on him that he could not in conscience approve. In any case there can have been little to justify the prosecution of an ageing bishop, or the ‘rancorous hatred’ with which his prison cell was searched for incriminating evidence.5 The hostility perhaps bears testimony as much to the difficulties of 1643 as to the certainties of 1640. It offered the same comforts as the bonfire of ‘pictures and popish trinkets’ staged on the site of Cheapside Cross in January 1644 to mark the defeat of the Brooke plot.6 Even so, it was another year before the trial was concluded.

Pym had died at more or less the pivotal moment in the fighting. By not losing in 1643, when military fortunes had favoured the royalists, Parliament had put its armies in a position to win, particularly in alliance with the Covenanters. This was not simply because of the intervention of the Covenanters, since the royalist momentum had already been halted, particularly by the victories at Newbury and Winceby. The first major engagement of the spring was at Cheriton (29 March), on the approaches to Winchester. A decisive victory that owed nothing to the Covenanters, it led to a royalist withdrawal and the recapture of Winchester. This not only halted royalist advances in the west but signalled, like Winceby, that the parliamentary cavalry was becoming a match for the royalists. It was followed within ten days by the fall of Salisbury, Andover and Christchurch (although Winchester Castle held out) and, by early April, Waller was on the verges of Dorset. Clarendon felt that the impact of the defeat at Cheriton on the royalist cause was ‘doleful’.7

When the Covenanters arrived, then, it can plausibly be argued that the momentum was already with Parliament and that some of the further progress of parliamentary arms did not depend on their presence. On the other hand, this was also partly an illusion caused by royalist strategy. The King’s forces now dispersed, seeking to re-establish control in the regions, a necessary preliminary to building strength for a renewed offensive, and that continued to be a reasonably hopeful strategy.8 In any case, the Covenanters” army was undoubtedly significant in shifting the balance further in favour of Parliament, opening a new front in the north and introducing a new field army. In late spring there were five parliamentary armies in England. The Covenanters and the Fairfaxes in the north put pressure on Newcastle’s position, Manchester was besieging Lincoln, Waller was the dominant force in the west and Essex was preparing to take the field. Against this, Rupert’s army was in the north-west and potentially able to offer some support to Newcastle, but Charles had sustained a presence in the centre only by amalgamating his army with the remnants of Hopton’s. Prince Maurice was laying siege to Lyme, with a small force, and there was no army available to confront Manchester.9 The Covenanters did not turn the tide, but they did contribute significantly to the problem of over-stretch faced by the royalist forces.

Commitment to dispersal, and the demands of the overall situation, undoubtedly affected the movements of Rupert’s army during the spring. He had left Oxford for Chester in March, where he was lobbied to pursue the relief of Lathom House, but the chief priority was the relief of Newark, which was achieved on 21 March. It was a significant victory, not least because the besieging forces surrendered siege artillery, 3,000-4,000 muskets and large numbers of pikes. But there was an immediate demand for Rupert’s aid in the south. Many of his troops came from Wales and he set off there for replenishment and supply, but was recalled to Oxford on 3 April. The order was countermanded the following day, but it is evidence of the stretch that was now felt in the royalist ranks. Newcastle’s pleas for support in Yorkshire continued to go unheard and the royalists had also been defeated at Nantwich. On 11 April, Selby fell to the Fairfaxes and Newcastle withdrew to York. This allowed the Covenanters and the Fairfaxes to join forces at Tadcaster a week later, threatening the extinction of the royal cause in the north.10

In this situation a parliamentary advance on Oxford, where morale was flagging, was quite possible. On 16 April the Oxford parliament was prorogued following an address imploring Charles to guarantee the safety of the Protestant religion; the failure of another political initiative and the death of what Charles was later known to have called his ‘mongrel parliament’. For Parliament, Oxford and York were the two key military objectives, and the royalist forces were stretched to cover both. While Charles sought to strengthen the position around Oxford with garrisons at Reading, Wallingford, Abingdon and Banbury, Rupert left once more for the north. The Committee of Both Kingdoms was also interested in both objectives, and as the Earl of Manchester took control of Lincolnshire he was sent to York rather than Oxford. Nonetheless, parliamentary advances in May put such pressure on the royalist position in Oxford that the King decided to leave. Charles left Oxford on 3 June with 7,500 men, leaving 3,500 to defend the town, armed with all his heavy artillery, and marched west via Burford, Bourton and Evesham. By the time he reached Evesham it was known that Tewkesbury had fallen to Massey and he opted to take up quarters at Worcester, arriving on 6 June. Three days later Sudeley Castle fell and he ordered a further withdrawal to Bewdley.11

These then were promising days for the parliamentary armies. The King had withdrawn from Oxford and York was under pressure. But the initiative was lost. Essex was sent to relieve Lyme rather than join Waller in a pursuit of the King. This crucial and controversial decision was taken at a council of war at Chipping Norton, at which both Waller and Essex were present. It was an odd one, perhaps intended as a prelude to moving into the west and cutting off the King’s supply. Historians have subsequently blamed Essex and Waller for a crucial error, and at the time the Committee of Both Kingdoms was shocked by the decision and ordered Essex to return, something he notoriously failed to do, on 14 June. Having decided to take this course, and to ignore a direct order from the Committee of Both Kingdoms, it was of course important for Essex to succeed, and at first he did. He lifted the siege of Lyme on 14 June and took Weymouth the next day. He now resolved to push on into the west. It is more than possible that this reflects in part personal frictions between Waller and Essex, who had been at odds before and seem to have squabbled during this campaign. But this disagreement was probably exaggerated retrospectively by Waller and his supporters – he initially supported the decision. Essex challenged Parliament to relieve him of his command and got his way – on 25 June he was ordered to move west in accordance with his wishes.12 This order allowed him to continue the march he had already commenced in defiance of his previous orders.

Meanwhile, Waller pursued the royal army, which was moving back via Woodstock and Buckingham. He found it difficult to engage the army, and its very mobility was a problem, since it might suggest a move either on York or on London. Waller therefore had to have the defence of London in mind. This rested on a small and hastily assembled force under Major-General Browne and it appeared vulnerable until Waller made it back to Brentford on 28 June. In the end the indecisive engagement at Cropredy Bridge on 29 June was the only fruit of these manoeuvrings, and this must surely count as a lost opportunity for Parliament. After the battle the royal army was able to march off in pursuit of Essex in better spirits than the parliamentarians.13

In the north, however, the parliamentary campaign was decisive. York had been under siege by Leven and Fairfax since 22 April and the only hope of relief lay with Rupert. In May and June he won a string of victories in Lancashire. These mobile campaigns were frustrating parliamentary armies in the south, but the position in York looked bleak. On 13 June the Earl of Newcastle had been invited to negotiate its surrender and it was thought that the city could only hold out for another six days.14

On 14 June, Charles wrote a fateful letter to Rupert. ‘If York be lost I shall esteem my crown little less, unless supported by your sudden march to me, and a miraculous conquest in the South, before the effects of the Northern power can be found here; but if York be relieved, and you beat the rebels” armies of both kingdoms which were before it, then, but other ways not, I may possibly make a shift upon the defensive to spin out time until you come to assist me’. The loss of York would be a catastrophe except in the very unlikely event that Rupert was able to get away and secure victories in the south before the parliamentarian armies got there. On the other hand, if York was relieved and the northern army defeated, Charles might avoid defeat long enough for Rupert to come to his aid. Relief of York and defeat of the northern army were the best hope for the royalist cause.15

This was a realistic view, but it conflated the relief of York and the defeat of the rebels: as it was to turn out it was possible to relieve York without defeating the Scottish and parliamentarian forces. Charles had not known this of course. His command to Rupert was:

all new enterprises laid aside, you immediately march according to your first intention, with all your force, to the relief of York; but if that be either lost or have freed themselves from the besiegers, or that for want of powder you cannot undertake that work, that you immediately march with your whole strength directly to Worcester, to assist me and my army, without which, or your having relieved York by beating the Scots, all the successes you can afterwards have most infallibly will be useless to me.16

Again, the possibility was not recognized here that York might be relieved without defeating the besieging army.

On 28 June it was clear that Rupert was coming. Besiegers were too exposed between the walls of a defended city and an army able to line up in one place, rather than as an encircling force, and on 1 July the siege had been broken up. The parliamentary forces withdrew to Tadcaster and York had been saved. But Rupert seems, not unreasonably, to have interpreted the letter to mean not simply that he should relieve York but that he should engage and destroy the besieging army. He therefore decided to seek battle despite the clearly expressed view of the Earl of Newcastle that it should be avoided. Most subsequent commentators have taken Newcastle’s side: with the relief of York the King’s position had been rendered more stable and there was no good reason for risking an engagement with the besieging army. In fact Rupert had received numerous letters in the weeks before Marston Moor containing more or less the same message, and urging haste, and so he was not unjustified in seeing his orders in this way. It seems that other royalist commanders feared that Rupert, left to his own devices, would have given priority to establishing full control of Lancashire. But he was also aggressive by instinct and that he interpreted his order in that way would not have surprised Colepeper: when he heard that the letter had been sent he said to Charles, ‘Before God, you are undone, for upon this peremptory order he will fight, whatever comes on’t’.17

For those interested in contingencies then, the moment at which Charles drafted that clause, or the moment when Rupert read it, was crucial to the course of the war in England. With York relieved, the King in what turned out to be a successful pursuit of Essex, and Oxford secure, honours might have been said to be even. But Rupert chose to engage numerically superior forces, with catastrophic results for the royalist cause.

Battle was joined at Marston Moor on 2 July. Rupert’s forces were considerably outnumbered, particularly the cavalry. His relieving army and the force garrisoning York numbered about 18,000. The parliamentarians, by contrast, probably had around 28,000 men, the result of the confluence of forces under the command of Leven, Sir Thomas Fairfax and Manchester. The bulk of the parliamentary forces, about 16,000, were Scottish and Leven was in overall command both as the ranking officer and as a man of formidable experience in the European wars. His forces were drawn up with the infantry in the centre, cavalry on the right under Fairfax and on the left under Cromwell and Leslie. Opposite Cromwell were Rupert’s cavalry, commanded by Byron, and Fairfax was opposed by Goring. Infantry numbers were fairly equal – around 11,000 on either side – but the parliamentary advantage in horse was considerable. This was not a guarantee of success, however, because the ground on which the battle was fought did not favour horse riders – furze, gorse, ditches and rabbit holes broke up the ground, making rapid advances difficult. Byron, in particular, was protected by rough ground.18

The initial deployment was not complete until late afternoon, and several hours of inconclusive skirmishing had achieved little by 7 p.m. At that point Rupert thought the battle would be postponed until the next day, and Newcastle was repairing to his coach to enjoy a pipe of tobacco. But as a thunderstorm broke, the parliamentary infantry began to advance. The rain interfered with the matchlocks of the royalist advance guard and the parliamentarians” infantry successfully engaged with the main body of the royalist infantry. But the royalist riposte was very successful. Goring advanced on the parliamentary cavalry ranged against him, and his men began to inflict heavy losses. Byron, perhaps encouraged by the sight, advanced on Cromwell, but in doing so had to tackle the difficult ground himself. Perhaps that contributed to the ensuing rout, in which Cromwell’s cavalry were triumphant. But with Fairfax’s cavalry now defeated and Goring’s men inflicting heavy losses on the infantry it seemed as if Rupert’s decision might be vindicated. Many Scottish troops fled and at one stage all three parliamentarian generals appeared to be in flight, thinking that a royalist victory was in the offing.

It was the discipline of Cromwell’s cavalry that transformed this position. Fairfax made his way behind royalist lines to tell Cromwell what had happened on the opposite flank. Cromwell was able not only to rally his cavalry but to lead them back behind the royalist lines before leading a devastating charge on Goring’s forces from the rear. This was utterly decisive – the royalist infantry were now completely exposed, and outnumbered. Most surrendered, and the parliamentary victory was total. It is likely that the royalists lost at least 4,000 men, probably many more, and a further 1,500 were captured. Rupert left York the next morning with only 6,000 men and Newcastle refused to make a fist of the defence of York, preferring exile, he said, to ‘the laughter of the court’. York surrendered two weeks later and the parliamentary forces in the field now easily outnumbered the royalists. This was the worst case that Charles’s letter had sought to avoid: the loss of both York and his field army.

Marston Moor was certainly a massive blow to royalist morale, and decisive for the war in the north, but Parliament was robbed of an outright victory in England by a combination of poor military judgement and political hesitancy. The military adventure launched by the Earl of Essex and the reluctance of the Earl of Manchester to pursue a complete victory allowed the King to recover his position in the west and enter winter quarters in Oxford in triumph.

In mid-June, having lifted the siege of Lyme and captured Weymouth, Essex set off into the west. Waller could not offer support partly because of the reluctance of the London Trained Bands to serve for long away from home. Nonetheless, supported by the navy under Warwick’s command, Essex initially enjoyed considerable success. By early to mid-July he was threatening Exeter, where Henrietta Maria was recovering from the birth of her daughter, Henrietta Anne, on 16 June. Essex refused her safe conduct to Bath and offered instead personally to escort her to London. Given what subsequently happened, this would have been a considerable boon to the parliamentary cause, but Henrietta Maria refused – as both she and Essex knew she faced impeachment in London. Instead she fled to France, on 14 July, and never saw her husband again.19

Influenced by the threat of the northern army moving south, and also perhaps by this threat to his wife’s safety, Charles moved decisively after Essex. On 26 July he reached Exeter and rendezvoused with Prince Maurice, who was at the head of 4,600 men, at Crediton the following day. Essex, meanwhile, was further west at Tavistock, where he had been received triumphantly – Plymouth had been secured. Cut off by a royal army and having secured Plymouth this might have been the moment for discretion, but instead Essex resolved to push on. On 26 July he decided to go on into Cornwall, arriving at Lostwithiel on 3 August. The King had pursued him, arriving at Liskeard the previous day.20

Now bottled up, with the King’s army behind him, Essex had put himself in a desperate position. On 30 August he prepared to withdraw. The following night his cavalry were able to ride away, itself something of a puzzle since the King had been forewarned and yet apparently failed to cover the likely route of escape. The infantry fought a retreat to Fowey but were cut off by the arrival of a force under Goring, which commanded the road. That night Essex instructed Skippon to make such terms as he could while Essex himself slipped away on 1 September. The King offered surprisingly generous terms to Skippon, given the dire position in which Skippon found himself.21

This was a massive blow to morale. Mercurius Aulicus was withering in its scorn, asking ‘why the rebels voted to live and die with the earl of Essex, since the earl of Essex hath declared he will not live and die with them’.22 According to the terms of surrender negotiated by Skippon the army was to be allowed to march out with its colours, trumpets and drums, but without any weapons, horses or baggage apart from the officers” personal effects. They were offered convoy, the sick and the wounded were to be given protection, and permission was given to fetch provisions and money for the defeated troops from Plymouth. These could be claimed as honourable terms, but they did not stick, and the defeated army was subject to humiliations amounting to atrocity. The royalist convoy could not protect the unarmed soldiers from attack and local people, men and women, joined in the assault. They were stripped by the women, and left lying in the fields. Some were forced ‘to march stark naked, and bare footed’, and pillage and assault continued. One victim was a woman three days out of child bed, stripped to her smock, pulled by her hair and thrown into the river. She died shortly after. Ten days later the survivors, perhaps 1,000 of the 6,000 who surrendered, marched into Poole, ‘insulted, stripped, beaten and starved’. Their numbers had been winnowed by desertion, but there were many who died on the road, after an honourable surrender.23 If the propaganda effect was dire, the strategic importance could not be exaggerated: ‘By that miscarriage we are brought a whole summer’s travel back’.24 Essex’s adventure, for which he was solely responsible, had gone a long way towards grabbing stalemate from the jaws of victory.

Worse was to come, at least in political terms. Fairfax, Leven and Manchester apparently felt that Marston Moor would force Charles to seek terms, and they did little to pursue an outright victory. In Manchester’s case, at least, this reflected his belief that a lasting peace would be one recognized as honourable by all parties, and could not be delivered by total military victory. War was a means to peace, and had to be treated with caution.25 This hesitancy allowed Charles to consolidate his position during September. Following his triumph over Essex, Charles moved eastwards again, arriving in Tavistock on 5 September. Having abandoned the attempt to retake Plymouth he sought to relieve garrisons further east and his forces established themselves at Chard, and both Barnstaple and Ilfracombe were retaken. His aim was to strengthen the garrisons at Basing House and Banbury to shore up the position of Oxford. This began to look like a potential threat to London and it finally spurred Manchester to bring his Eastern Association forces into the King’s way. It proved difficult to co-ordinate and supply the parliamentary armies, and the Trained Bands contingents were reluctant to move too far, so Waller was forced to pull back from the west in early October, unable to gain support for his position in Sherborne. As Charles continued to advance Parliament began to consolidate forces, calling off the siege of Donnington on 18 October. The King’s next objective was to lift the siege of Basing House, but Essex and Manchester joined forces there just in time, on 21 October, and the King was forced to withdraw to Newbury. Together with Waller’s remaining forces, and levies from the London Trained Bands, the parliamentarians were finally able to bring a large force, perhaps of 18,000 men, to bear on a royal force which on some estimates was only half as strong.26

Despite this advantage in numbers the parliamentary forces did not win the second battle of Newbury (28 October). Not winning was in these circumstances almost as bad as losing. Explanations for the failure differ, but in essence the parliamentary battle plan was complicated and was not effectively executed. When night fell the outcome was still unclear and both sides had lost about 500 men, but the following morning the royalists decided not to renew the fight. They were allowed to because the parliamentary council of war decided not to follow them, at least not until it was too late. In the heated exchanges about this issue Manchester spoke in favour of restraint, and Waller, Haselrig and Cromwell urged more vigour. Posterity has on the whole blamed Manchester in particular. Moreover, the difficulty in executing the battle plan may have lain with Manchester, who was in command of one arm of a pincer movement. He moved too late to make it work, and his hesitancy during the battle had been damaging to the parliamentary cause, at least according to some accounts.27

Over the next ten days there were further manoeuvres, particularly concerned with Donnington Castle. It was summoned to surrender on 31 October and refused to do so. Charles and Rupert set out to relieve it on 7 November and succeeded two days later. Passing through Newbury once again the parliamentary forces refused battle, a decision that again lay with Manchester and enraged a number of men under his command. At a council of war, Manchester famously made the case for limited war: ‘The king cares not how of the fights but it concerns us to be wary, for in fighting we venture all to nothing’. By this he meant: ‘If we beat the king ninety and nine times yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once we shall all be hanged, and our posterity made slaves’. Cromwell spoke equally famously on the other side: ‘My lord, if this be so, why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting ever hereafter. If so, let us make peace, be it never so base’.28

After the Lostwithiel and Newbury campaigns Parliament’s position was far worse than would have been predicted after the great victory at Marston Moor (see Map 3). Reasons were easy to enumerate: the Essex debacle; the immobility of Parliament’s forces prior to the Newbury campaign; and also, perhaps, hesitations and misjudgements during and after the battle. Although parliamentary forces enjoyed some successes in some of the local struggles in the period after Newbury, overall strategic weaknesses had been revealed. Charles, by contrast, and despite a failed attempt to lift the siege of Basing House, was able to enter Oxford in triumph on 23 November. His position was much better than could have been hoped after Marston Moor. The royalists now set about a reconstruction of their forces, integrating the survivors of Marston Moor with the royal army under Charles’s personal command, undertaking a recruitment drive and encouraging the formation of auxiliary regiments for local defence.29

His position had been further improved by the formation of an armed royalist party in Scotland, which served as a significant distraction for the Covenanting forces in England. An obvious response to the intervention of the Covenanters was to open up a front in Scotland, and this is what Charles chose to do. In March/April he switched his support away from those who had sought to promote a moderate royalist coalition in Scotland to the more confrontational policies advocated by Montrose and Antrim. All Scots who did not support the King were now regarded as his enemies and Montrose began to plan a war against Argyll using Irish soldiers. Antrim was sent to Ireland to negotiate for the service of Irish Catholics in Scotland. Montrose’s scheme for an invasion of Scotland achieved little and on 6 May he was forced to retreat to England.30

Nonetheless, Montrose’s view of Scottish affairs was to triumph, with very bloody results, later in the year. Shortly after Marston Moor, he met Rupert to discuss the continuing difficulty of securing a commission to promote a royalist rising in Scotland. As far as Montrose knew, troops were not arriving from Ulster, but he set off regardless, to try to open up a new front in Scotland. As it turned out, two days after his meeting with Rupert, men did arrive on the west coast of Scotland, and this allowed Montrose to raise forces among the Highlanders. It was the prelude to a dramatically successful campaign in the Highlands through the autumn of 1644 and into 1645.31

Montrose arrived in Perth on 22 August in disguise, with the aim of rousing Highland opponents of the Covenanters and of Argyll. By 1 September he had mustered sufficient strength of Irish and Highland troops to win a major victory at Tippermuir against the hastily assembled Covenanting force. The campaign was bloodier than the English wars, and Highland bands fought for plunder so that each victory was followed by what would in England have been considered atrocities. It has been estimated that nearly 15,000 men died in the fighting associated with Montrose’s campaigns in 1644 and the following year: easily the lion’s share of the deaths on Scottish soil in these years (see Map 5). From Tippermuir he marched on Aberdeen, many of the Highlanders returning home but his army augmented by troops from Angus. On 13 September he arrived before Aberdeen, whose capture was preceded by the murder of a drummer boy and followed by a massacre in a town not known for its Covenanting sympathies. Over the following winter Montrose led a successful march into the Highlands, aiming at the heart of Argyll power. This campaign culminated in a victory at Inverlochy over Argyll’s army, close to his heartland. Although Leven had not removed troops from England in response to Tippermuir and Aberdeen, he was forced to now. Inverlochy offered the prospect of breaking the power of the Covenanters and, hence, of reopening the war in the north of England. When the English campaigns recommenced in the spring, Leven’s movements were influenced by the fact that he needed to remain in a position from which to go back to Scotland, if that proved necessary. In the event, Montrose was never able to find a way of keeping his Highlanders together in order to pursue a more sustained campaign outside the Highlands. The strategic significance of his campaigns was nonetheless considerable: the victory at Marston Moor had closed the northern front in England but Montrose had effectively opened a new northern front in Scotland, and that served to limit Parliament’s operations in the south.32

It is often said that the intervention of the Covenanters made Parliament’s victory inevitable, but that verdict is clearly questionable in two ways. Firstly, the best chance of catching the King in 1644 was in the early spring, and only indirectly a result of the presence of the Scots. It owed much more to the victories of Waller and the march of Essex the previous autumn. Secondly, in so far as the victory at Marston Moor was decisive, it can be said to have resulted from Rupert’s error in seeking a battle and from the intervention of Cromwell’s cavalry during the battle. The subsequent failure to take Oxford, or the King, similarly owed a lot to problems of command and, it is possible to argue, the shortcomings of Essex. Essex had launched an ultimately disastrous adventure in the west, the more damaging since it had involved him in disobeying direct orders from the Committee of Both Kingdoms. His adventure, ending in ignominy at Lostwithiel and the disappointments of the battle of Newbury, pointed up problems in the prosecution of the war. Leven and Manchester, having left the field in apparent defeat at Marston Moor, were presented with a resounding victory, but were then extremely reluctant to follow it up. These misjudgements and hesitations meant that the war was not concluded and Montrose was able to launch a fantastically successful campaign in Scotland.

Modern historians disagree about the blame for these failures and contemporaries certainly did. Since military mobilization was essentially political, it is hardly surprising that this was interpreted politically: military complaints raised political differences and the critics of Manchester and Leven, for example, tended also to be critics of their religious and political views. There was even a hint of resentment about aristocratic power in the parliamentary counsels.33 Without the benefit of hindsight, and a certainty about the structural advantages on their side, many parliamentarians saw this as a political problem: in the sense both of who should be running the war, and of what those running the war ought to be trying to achieve. As in other wars involving coalitions, credit for victory was claimed by different parties with a view to making political capital from the victory; the blame for failure was rarely accepted.

These military frustrations coincided with signs of fracture over war aims, in particular the church settlement. In 1641 leading Puritan divines in London had met at the house of Edmund Calamy, a prominent London minister. There they agreed to avoid public controversy on the issue of church government in the interests of solidarity in the face of popery.34 The shared ground of the anti-Laudian coalition was the attack on superstition, popery and idolatry, and these had been at the heart of the religious cause of the English parliament through 1643. A counter-polemic, about schism, heresy, ignorant preaching and error was mobilized by royalists, but was also important within the parliamentary alliance – these were threats recognized by all responsible Christians. Simonds D’Ewes, for example, in moving the second reading of the bill for the abolition of episcopacy had also suggested a companion bill to punish ‘tradesmen and other ignorant persons who shall presume to preach’. Similarly, the Grand Remonstrance, while stringent on popery and bishops, had also disavowed any intention to ‘loose the golden reins of discipline or government in the church’, or of allowing ‘private persons or particular congregations to take up what form of divine service they please’.35 Attacks on episcopacy posed this question of religious decency with particular clarity.

Presbyterians favoured the persistence of the parish as the basis of religious decency – membership of a congregation was to be determined by place of residence. These parochial congregations would be integrated into a national church, and the dangers of errors, schism and heresy contained. To some advanced Protestants this looked little different from episcopacy. They favoured voluntary congregations, gathered churches, of like-minded Christians. These independent congregations could still be integrated into a national church through a Presbyterian system, but they would be independent of parochial discipline. Others favoured complete congregational independence as the guarantee of freedom of conscience. These were big issues, which raised fundamental questions about the nature of Christian community and its relationship to the national political community.36

The agreement reached in Calamy’s house was respected, but it could only be temporary, and in early 1644 it came apart.37 The Solemn League and Covenant, the ongoing deliberations of the Westminster Assembly and, after 1644, the increasing likelihood of a military victory that would force the King to agree a settlement all combined to make church government an immediate and pressing issue. Independency was routinely denounced as introductive of spiritual anarchy, or as the resurgence of a proven heresy, or both. And the challenges it posed ranged far beyond the merely doctrinal – sects were denounced in terms of the behavioural consequences of their teachings, and those consequences centred around inversions of decency. The double disadvantage was the difficulty of demonstrating that congregational independence could be squared with decency in public worship, and the influence of the Covenanters in Parliament and the assembly. On the other hand Presbyterianism might come to seem rather like another form of episcopacy, or even popery: coercive and an imposition on the individual conscience.

These developments led five leading Independents to break cover and seek to justify their beliefs publicly. An Apologeticall Narration was acquired by Thomason on 3 January 1644. The authors – Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson, Jeremiah Burroughs and William Bridge – were respectable figures and the publication was approved by Charles Herle, one of twelve clergymen appointed by Parliament to license books.38 He too was a thoroughly respectable figure and approved the publication for its ‘peaceableness, modesty and candour’. Herle recognized the need for an explanation of the Independent position, answering claims that the Protestant party was incommunicable within itself and incompatible with magistracy and giving the lie to misrepresentations of Independency. Thus, although ‘for mine own part I have appeared on and do still incline to the Presbyterial way of Church Government, yet do I think it is every way fit for the press’.39 The authors themselves apologized for publishing, saying that they would have preferred their actions to prove their case over a long period of time, but were forced to an apology by the climate of opinion against them. They had all been exiled during the 1630s40 and were apparently willing both to gather churches and to hold livings within a liberated Church of England. In essence, they argued for congregational independence within a national framework subordinated to civil authorities: churches should gather themselves, but recognize an external discipline. As with the deliberations in Parliament in 1640–42, so with the Westminster Assembly – it proved impossible for some to resist resorting to mobilization of opinion outside the assembly, and once that had been done an escalating pamphlet war took off.


The publication of the Apologeticall Narration sparked fierce controversy in the parliamentary alliance

An Apologeticall Narration was a very respectable publication, apparently produced in a spirit of brotherhood, but this spirit of brotherhood did not last, or at least was not unanimously adhered to. Their position on church government was subtle, and to many observers incoherent, and the publicists for a Presbyterian revival were very happy to point that out. But in doing so they clearly fuelled the suspicion that the Protestant party, the parliamentary alliance, was not in communion. This was to mark the beginning of a long and increasingly fractious public debate. In that debate anti-sectarian polemic was of course attractive to royalists, but was becoming as important to the argument within the parliamentary coalition.

These exchanges took on a new and shriller edge in the aftermath of Marston Moor. It was then that Thomas Edwards’s Antapologia appeared, an intemperate response to the Apologeticall Narration. Edwards had participated in the sectarian scare in 1641, crossing swords with Henry Burton, the former martyr to Laudian persecution, and, with John Taylor, heating up the discussion of the dangers of spiritual indiscipline. He now found the times suitable to his purposes and temperament. Antapologia was ten times as long as the pamphlet that it attacked, a sprawling denunciation of sectarianism and error, championing a Presbyterian settlement as the guarantor of ‘beauty, order [and] strength’. Presbyterian ministers in London quickly established Edwards in a weekly lectureship at Christ Church, Newgate, and from that pulpit he became a notorious preacher against the sects and vociferous opponent of toleration.41

Roger Williams’s Bloudy Tenent of Persecution was also published about the time of Marston Moor, and seemed to offer a summary of where the more advanced critique of church government was leading. Williams had emigrated to Boston in 1631, probably in his mid- or late twenties, where he was invited to take up a position in the church. He declined the invitation, however, because the congregation was making a virtue of its refusal to separate from the Church of England, and had declared his opposition to the use of secular power to punish Sabbath breaking. As a result of these views Williams became perceived in Massachusetts as a threat to the New England way, of congregational independence within an overall discipline. Unable to find a teaching post in Massachusetts he moved to Plymouth plantation, but continued to attract controversy and returned to Massachusetts, only to be banished in 1636. He fled southwards and established a settlement at Providence based on the principle of the separation of civil and religious authority. There he attracted a number of other refugees, including Anne Hutchinson, and had a brief flirtation with the Baptist church. Returning to London in 1643–4, he obtained a charter for Providence and a number of settlements nearby. But he also caused uproar with his intervention in the English debate about church government.

Three pamphlets – Queries of Highest Consideration, his reply to Mr Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed and the Bloudy Tenent – ridiculed the contortions caused by the state control of religion, exposed the illogicalities of non-separating Congregationalism and defended the Baptist argument for toleration. The ‘bloody tenet’ that he attacked was the belief that governments could impose a particular form of worship, a belief that led to the mutilation and even death of men and women seeking their own way to God. It was better to bear persecution by ungodly men than to seek to persecute others. It was said that, in Providence, Williams had first fallen off from his ministry, then from church fellowship, baptism, communion and eventually from all the current ordinances of the church. He was waiting for new apostles, ready to raise a new church from among the ruins of anti-Christian apostasy. The contemporary label for this was ‘seeker’, a description which Williams explicitly rejected, but there is some truth to the claim that he became ‘what the opponents of Separatism had always prophesied would be its reductio ad absurdum, the one-man church’.42On 9 August, Parliament ordered the Bloudy Tenent to be publicly burned.

Pamphlets engaged with one another, in an escalating debate of increasing and immense vitality and creativity.43 Freedom of religious assembly was closely related to the issue of freedom of expression, and John Milton, who had introduced Williams to his publisher, also got into trouble on this issue.44 Milton married a woman half his age in May 1643 after a month of courtship. After a month of marriage he was convinced that it was a mistake: his seventeen-year-old wife was not bookish, resented the restraints of his style of life and was uninterested by his intellectual pursuits. In fact, she found his views detestable and profane. She deserted him for her parental home and Milton published The doctrine and discipline of Divorce in August 1643. It signalled a shift in Milton’s career, at least on his own retrospective gloss, from a concern with religious liberty towards ‘domestic’ liberty – marriage, freedom of speech and education. This has a half-appeal to the modern reader, or perhaps an appeal to half of modern readers: he argued that marriage should be a union of soul and intellect, and in the absence of that men had a right to divorce. To seventeenth-century readers this was less than half-acceptable, of course, and attracted criticism. In the course of 1644 this put Milton on course to an argument for freedom of expression. He published an enlarged edition in February. In July he published a pamphlet citing the respectable reformer Martin Bucer in support of his views. Shortly after, he published his important tract Of Education, which laid out an extremely demanding intellectual training for the young citizen, another signal contribution to his arguments for domestic liberty; it made no mention, however, of the training girls would receive in order to make them appreciative of the conversation of their husbands.45

The hostile response to his tracts on divorce persuaded Parliament to consider prosecution – he had not sought a licence for their publication. It was this that led him to denounce prior restraint of publications, in the justly famous Areopagitica, which appeared without licence in November. It is often glossed as advocating a free market in expression, in which bad opinions would be driven out by good ones, individuals would be free to develop their views, and knowledge would increase. In fact, as with the divorce tracts, there are ambiguities: he did not raise any objection to the suppression of royalist opinions in time of war and excluded Roman Catholics from these freedoms, for example. These exceptions reflected the purpose of free speech – the promotion of virtue in society. Milton retained an attachment to the virtue and power of an educated elite. His tract Of Education was a manual for leaders in a mixed government, of Lords and Commons, and his defence of free speech was directed primarily at them.46


John Milton’s Areopagitica argued against pre-publication censorship

Milton’s views are not quite as much our own as the more triumphant treatments suggest; but they bear testimony to the radicalizing effects of war, and the possibilities arising from the luxuriant political and religious debates. These were important domestic liberties, and not the ones at stake when Parliament had met in the aftermath of defeat in the second Bishops” War. Increasing freedom of worship and of expression offered opportunities which Williams and Milton felt were good in themselves. For others they were a temporary means to achieve other ends. For royalists these radical arguments, openly expressed in print, confirmed everything they had been saying since 1642, and this made it even more uncomfortable for those within the parliamentary alliance but worried by escalating radicalism.

On 4 January 1645 Parliament agreed to replace the Prayer Book with the Directory of Worship. Much of the Directory was very welcome to all parts of the parliamentary alliance – containing forms of worship free of popery, idolatry and superstition – but it was to be imposed through a national Presbyterian system. Congregational attempts to secure a different framework of church government had been derisively dismissed by the Commons (insisting that no more than 300 of their objections should be published) in December. On 6 January a proposal that voluntary congregations could exist alongside parochial ones, within a national church, was rejected by the Commons without a vote. A week later it was agreed that parochial congregations should be grouped under presbyteries, as the basis for national church government.47

Had he still had them, this would have been music to the ears of William Prynne – the former martyr to the Protestant cause. He had characterized Milton’s views on marriage as ‘divorce at pleasure’. In January 1645 he championed religious discipline in Truth Triumphing, which called for the establishment of a binding ecclesiastical discipline and the absolute suppression of all heresies and schisms, and cited tradition against novelty in favour of such discipline. This led him into conflict with John Lilburne, who had suffered alongside him in opposition to Laudianism in the 1630s. On 7 January Lilburne published his Copie of a letter… To Mr. William Prinne Esq., in which he argued that no earthly power had authority over the kingdom of God and that persecution of individual consciences was the work of the Devil.48

These principles, once stated in detail and at length, were difficult to reconcile, but in practice it continued to be possible for people who differed on these issues to co-operate in the war effort. Sir Cheney Culpeper eventually came to denounce Scottish Presbyterians and their allies as miniature popes: ‘I never shall make any difference between an imperial, national, provincial, presbyterial, parochial or congregational Pope’. In March 1648 he declared himself an ally of the Lilburnists, noting that ‘the Scottish aristocratical interest both in church and state… having… [pulled] down the power of monarchy and episcopacy, do begin to find themselves to be part also of that Babylonish rubbish which must down’. For Culpeper the conscience was God’s peculiar, a place beyond episcopal or any other jurisdiction, and all attempts to constrain conscience represented a form of bondage akin to the Babylonish captivity endured by the Israelites. But in November 1644 he admitted to having no hope ‘but in our geud brethren the Scots’.49 Many like him must have hoped that conflicts over discipline could be subordinated to the larger conflict – the form of church government was not, necessarily, one of the marks of a true church.50

It is difficult to know how many separatists there actually were in England in 1644. By then there were perhaps thirty-six Independent churches in London. They included seven congregations of Particular Baptists, who believed that the saved should undergo an adult baptism and who produced a collective confession of faith in 1644. There were also five congregations of General Baptists, who believed that all could be saved and were therefore in breach with Calvinist thinking about salvation. There were ten or so Independent churches under a learned minister, again rather diverse in their views. Around ten congregations gathered under lay ministers, many of them in 1643 and 1644, and represented no common denomination; they also tended to be ministers with a less respectable education in divinity. It was these groups, along with individual ‘mechanic preachers’, who created most anxiety. Among them were notorious mechanic men, like John Green and John Spencer, apprentices such as John Boggis and Thomas Webb, and women, such as Mrs Attaway and Katherine Chidley. Together these congregations, and the audiences for these preachers, can have represented only a tiny proportion of the London population, but this religious diversity fostered some very radical religious speculation. These forms of religious association were in themselves a threat to learned divinity and religious order, and their teaching threatened fundamentals of received doctrine – about sin, the soul, salvation, and the role of scripture in guiding Christian belief and practice. Millenarian views of the most exotic (and to many people frightening) kind were also preached.51 This ferment prompted fears out of proportion to the size of the problem – but in matters of normative threat size is not everything. Moreover, there were serious questions about the implications of this for those excluded – the parochial basis of religion had the advantage of including everyone, after all. In 1644, for example, John Goodwin had established a gathered church in St Stephen’s, Coleman Street, where he was the incumbent. Communion was refused to those considered to be ungodly, which amounted, effectively, to unchurching a large number of his parishioners.52

It is difficult to know about the numbers and size of Independent congregations outside London, although we should not dismiss the possibilities. In 1625, in much less helpful circumstances, there were five Baptist congregations, with a membership of at least 150.53 In counties like Lincoln and Cornwall, where there was no strong tradition of pre-war separatism, sects were an established feature of local life by 1660. It is difficult to know exactly when these congregations took root, although it often seems from the surviving sources to have been a later, often post-war phenomenon. Certainly the Quakers did a lot to plant dissent in provincial life during the 1650s. But Thomas Edwards, writing in 1645 and 1646, certainly saw it as a national problem, and associated in particular with the armies.54 On numerous occasions troops had been associated with iconoclasm, but that desire for purification says nothing about views on church government – Scottish Presbyterianism had a reputation for visual austerity, after all. It was easy to conflate this activism with Independency, though – preaching and worship in the army were, as in the sects, outside an established parish setting. Claims were frequently made for grossly transgressive behaviour by troopers, including the oft-repeated story of Captain Beaumont’s men baptizing a horse in their urine in June 1644, or of the baptism of a calf in Lichfield Cathedral.55

This association between the army and a lack of religious discipline meant that the fractious debate between Independents and Presbyterians posed a double question about the meaning of a parliamentary military victory. What would it mean for religious order, and advocates of which position could claim the credit for military success? Norwich, shortly to see disarray in the parliamentary coalition, marked the victory at Marston Moor with an elaborate civic procession. Elsewhere, the strains were already becoming clear. Thomas Edwards’s virulent attack on Independency in Antapologia resonated strongly with the outrage felt among his fellow travellers like Robert Baillie at the lack of credit offered to the Covenanters for the victory. Cromwell, on the other hand, no friend to Presbyterian discipline, had little doubt that the detail of the battle revealed a key role for men of his beliefs as the instruments of God’s providence.56

Disputes about strategy and tactics within the army of the Eastern Association became inflected with these larger concerns about religious order. The Earl of Manchester was thought by many to be far too reluctant to seek out action following Marston Moor. On 10 August, Manchester refused an order to go against Rupert in Chester, where a significant force seemed to be mustering, something symptomatic of his military and political caution. Not until September did Manchester agree to take cavalry to the aid of Brereton in Cheshire. On 1 September the Committee of Both Kingdoms wrote the first of fourteen letters urging the army to move south to prevent the royal army, now returning from its victory over Essex at Lostwithiel, from regaining winter quarters in Oxford. Three orders from the Commons reinforced the message, and the need for haste, but by mid-October the army was still no further west than Reading.57 Newbury and its aftermath confirmed this reluctance on Manchester’s part. This perhaps reflected revulsion at what he had seen during the siege of York, and was certainly fuelled by a growing sense of the futility of the conflict.

Cromwell, his second-in-command, on the other hand, had no such hesitations, and was becoming embroiled in partisan struggle within the army. In particular Cromwell was in open conflict with Lawrence Crawford, a Scottish major-general. Crawford accused Cromwell of packing the army with Independents, which was probably true after York but not before. Cromwell had intervened to protect Independents from hostile Presbyterian officers, but this was probably in a spirit of brotherhood that he shared with his superior, Manchester. After August 1644, though, there is evidence that he actively promoted sectarians in the army. He was motivated in this, it seems, by growing resentment of the persecuting spirit of Presbyterian officers, hostility to the increasingly obvious determination among them to impose a Presbyterian settlement on England and a feeling that victory at Marston Moor belonged to him, not them. When Cromwell became openly critical of Manchester’s generalship in the autumn of 1644 it was inevitably inflected with these religious tensions. Although Manchester remained popular in the association, his command was increasingly difficult and, to many at Westminster, increasingly ineffective.58

The military advantages of an alliance with the Covenanting Scots were therefore offset by the political and religious complications that it created: many Protestants did not see Presbyterianism as liberation; nor was it what most opponents of Charles had been seeking in 1640. Potentially at least, Covenant politics were deeply problematic even for those committed to further reformation, particularly so on the issue of church government. In the autumn of 1644 Cheney Culpeper does not seem to have found the tensions irreconcilable, and he was clearly not alone. Similarly, William Dowsing, apparently more Independent than Presbyterian on matters of church government, was very active in 1644 extirpating popery and superstition in East Anglia, acting under warrant from the Presbyterian Earl of Manchester. On the other hand, his journal finishes in October.

Formal peace negotiations reopened at the end of 1644, with the parliamentary coalition in a strong military position but increasingly publicly divided over what kind of settlement to insist upon. There had been contacts between the two sides throughout 1644, with Essex a key figure on the parliamentarian side. The Oxford parliament had written to him in February, hoping that he could be an instrument of peace, and shortly before the surrender at Lostwithiel he had been contacted directly by Charles. On both occasions he said, as he always did, that he did not have the power to treat on his own behalf. Among the royalists there were significant divisions, and considerable personal hostility to Rupert. He secured a kind of agreement with Digby, who assured him that it was Newcastle rather than him who was held responsible for Marston Moor. But moderate royalists, in the Oxford parliament and at court, saw Rupert’s influence as a primary obstacle; indeed, he was attacked as ‘the only cause of war in this kingdom’.59 It was hardly fair, but was an indication of a significant level of hostility.

Moderate counsels were not dominant, however. Charles himself seems to have been in combative mood: ‘The settling of religion and the militia are the first to be treated on; and be confident that I will neither quit episcopacy nor that sword that God hath given into my hands’. He was also just as capable of self-righteousness as his Puritan opponents:

Nothing can be more evident than that Strafford’s innocent blood hath been one of the great causes of God’s just judgement upon this nation by a furious civil war, both sides hitherto being almost equally guilty, but now this last crying blood being totally theirs, I believe it is no presumption hereafter to hope that the hand of justice must be heavier upon them and lighter upon us, looking now upon our cause, having passed through our faults.

In pursuit of these ends his best hopes, as he well appreciated, lay in the divisions among his enemies:

I am put in very good hope – some hold it a certainty – that, if I could come to a fair treaty, the ringleading rebels could not hinder me from a good peace; first, because their own party are most weary of the war; and likewise for the great distractions which at this time most assuredly are amongst themselves, as Presbyterians against Independents in religion, and general against general in point of command.60

There was also the hope that Montrose’s success in Scotland might further strengthen Charles’s position. The Earl of Glamorgan was sent to Ireland in December to negotiate for military support, with powers to deal with the Pope to secure help from any other willing Catholic powers. Henrietta Maria was in France seeking aid from Mazarin.61 Forces were balanced in Oxford, but the moderates were able to persuade the King that he might get a good deal, given the divisions on the parliamentary side.62

Charles could be persuaded to listen, therefore, but, as it turned out, what he heard was more or less out of the question for him, and he had reasonable hopes that he would not have to listen much longer. Parliamentary commissioners arrived in Oxford on 20 November 1644. The proposals included the demand that Charles swear the Solemn League and Covenant, abolish episcopacy, assent to reformation following the recommendations of the Westminster Assembly, pursue uniformity between England and Scotland and end the saying of Mass at court. He was also to agree to a number of specific pieces of legislation, to declare the Cessation void, and leave fifty-eight named supporters to justice. On the militia the terms were equally stringent: all military officers were to be ‘persons of known integrity, and such as both kingdoms may confide in for their faithfulness to religion and peace of the kingdoms’. This was to be monitored by a joint Anglo-Scottish committee, and appointments to numerous offices of state were to be nominated by both Houses of Parliament. These were more stringent terms than had been offered in early 1643, and probably reflected the influence of the Scottish members of the Committee of Both Kingdoms.63

After some informal discussions in Oxford it was agreed that negotiations would open at Uxbridge on 30 January 1645. These Uxbridge proposals came after a year of bloody fighting and it is clear that around the country considerable hope was invested in them, at least if the reaction to their failure is anything to go by. But this was never a hopeful basis for settlement. Charles was presented with terms he would not accept and which he was actively seeking to avoid. This was suspected at the time, and publicly confirmed the next year when his private correspondence was captured and published. Along with other revelations this did unquestioned damage to his reputation, but his position was not necessarily unprincipled – he could not accept the terms offered, which were being urged on the basis of military success, and so it was reasonable enough that he should be seeking to find ways of undermining his opponents and inducing them to offer more realistic terms.

While some parliamentarians sought to get Charles to accept terms he surely would not accept, others at Westminster turned towards overcoming the strategic weaknesses of the previous campaign. In the complex recriminations that ensued it is possible to distinguish two problems. The southern army had been hampered by the reluctance of the Trained Bands to move, which contributed to Waller’s immobility, and by the destruction of Essex’s army at Lostwithiel, which was perhaps a reflection of problems in the direction of the war. The problems in the Eastern Association were more narrowly political – an escalating conflict between Independents and Presbyterians, which affected war aims. Reforms tackling the logistical problems in the southern army were made against the background of the political problems manifest in the Eastern Association army.

In late November, as what became the Uxbridge negotiations were being launched, Waller and Cromwell reported to the House of Commons on the recent campaigns, in response to an invitation from the Committee of the Army. Waller complained of Manchester’s failure to come to his support at Shaftesbury, and Cromwell joined in the criticism. Cromwell in particular exceeded the bounds of politeness in his public criticism of Manchester. Despite the fact that he was a commoner speaking of an earl, and a second-in-command speaking of his superior, he did not hesitate to blame the failures of the campaigns on Manchester, and in particular on his reluctance to fight. The earl’s response, made a week later in the other House, was withering. It was a reasonably effective defence of his military record and a clear attack on Cromwell’s politics and religion, quoting Cromwell to the effect that he would rather fight the Scots than the King and that he wanted only Independents in his own army, and reporting comments from Cromwell that implied the levelling of social distinctions between aristocracy and commoners.64

These tensions should not be underestimated. The Covenanters were hopeful that they could charge Cromwell with being an incendiary between the two kingdoms – something in breach of the Solemn League and Covenant – and Essex and Holles were apparently willing to go along with it. One night in early December some of Cromwell’s leading political opponents were invited to the Earl of Essex’s house to discuss a plan to impeach him on these grounds.65 Cromwell, it should be remembered, had only signed the Covenant when it was imposed nationally, and these events can only have confirmed the suspicions that he and others felt about that particular deal. On 4 December, Holles reported Manchester’s accusations against Cromwell to the House, to which Cromwell issued a long and forceful denial.66

It was from this debate that the proposal for Self-Denial arose. On 9 December the Committee of the Army endorsed the criticisms of Manchester. During the ensuing debate, in what was no doubt a co-ordinated move, Cromwell made a speech which included an important assertion. Parliament’s enemies, and even some of those who had initially been its friends, had become hostile to the vested interests created by the war: ‘that the members of both Houses have got great places and commands’ and ‘will perpetually continue themselves in grandeur and not permit the war to speedily end, lest their own power should determine with it’. He called for the army to be put into another method, and the war more ‘vigorously prosecuted’. The alternative, he suggested, was that ‘the people can bear the war no longer, and will enforce you to a dishonourable peace’.67

Careers and fortunes were indeed being made on the back of the war, and Cromwell was prescient too: in the spring and summer of the following year locally organized armed groups began to intervene in the war, seeking to limit its effects on their localities. For him, rapid victory was the way forward, and that required reorganization. In early July, exasperated by the refusal of local levies to march onward, Waller had written to Parliament: ‘till you have an army merely your own, that you may command, it is in a manner impossible to do anything of importance’.68 This was to become the logic of the New Model Army.

Zouch Tate, the chair of the committee, stood up and in response to Cromwell’s speech proposed the Self-Denying Ordinance and a reorganization of the war effort. Tate was in fact a strict Presbyterian, but he had no doubt that Cromwell was right about the need to prosecute the war vigorously, and about the kind of administrative reforms that would allow that. The northern armies could continue in alliance with the Covenanters, and measures were taken to secure more regular supply for them, but in the south there was an obvious need to rebuild and remodel.69 It was not possible, however, to reorganize the southern armies without dismissing the existing command, and that was not easy to do directly. Self-Denial was a neat political solution to this difficulty: it disbarred all Members of Parliament from all civil and military office. In effect it barred all peers (not just Essex and Manchester) from command, since they were all, of course, members of the Lords: it would bring an end to the Earl of Warwick’s command of the navy as well. There were other advantages too. It answered the charge that there were vested interests at Westminster whose profits depended on a prolongation of the conflict, and offered an expiation of the sins which had led to God’s judgements at the end of 1644. In September the Westminster Assembly had considered the causes of the military failures, finding them in the sins of the assembly, Parliament, the army and the people. Self-Denial had psychological and religious appeal for those of a Puritan outlook.70 There was an obvious disadvantage though, in that it would bring to an end a number of highly successful military careers against which no complaint was currently being raised – those of Cromwell, Fairfax senior and Waller, for example.

Self-Denial and New Modelling were closely related and considered responses to the logistical and political failures of the campaigns of 1643. Neither found an easy passage through the Lords, however. Self-Denial would remove noble influence from all civil and military office, both locally and nationally. Criticism of members of the Lords lay behind both measures and one of the obvious effects of the formation of the New Model would be to take the leading military command away from the Earl of Essex.71Resistance to the Self-Denying Ordinance could be overcome, however, by pressing on with the New Model Ordinance. This consisted of three principal proposals: the creation of a national army, free of regional loyalties and obligations; that this army would be professional, dedicated to the prosecution of the war without any allied political purpose; and that it was to have first call on parliamentary funds. The logic of all these measures was plain, and clearly reflected sensible thinking about the problems of previous campaign seasons. Pressure was applied to the Lords by including in the ordinance the names of the commanders, which achieved the same end without the need for the Self-Denying Ordinance. It was also made known that the Commons would not allow the Uxbridge negotiations to go forward without first seeing these reforms.72

As on previous occasions, then, peace negotiations ran in parallel with attempts to bolster the war effort, so that from late November until early January there were contradictory currents in parliamentary politics. At Westminster the progress of Self-Denial and New Modelling was tied to the development of the Uxbridge treaty. Through January the Lords seem to have resisted Self-Denial, and to have wanted to protect Manchester, but the pressure to create the New Model pushed them in that direction. Pressure for New Modelling, in turn, owed something to the fate of the Uxbridge negotiations.

In the event, this was the shortest formal peace negotiation of the war. Discussion opened on 30 January and was over in three weeks. The three principal topics were religion, the militia and Ireland, to be discussed for three days each in rotation. There was no progress on any of them. The prospects of agreement, of course, were nil – the bargaining position on religion was Presbyterianism, something to which Charles could not, in conscience, agree.73 Charles wrote in a private letter on 6 February: ‘I should think if in your private discourses… with the London commissioners you would put them in mind that they were arrant rebels, and that their end must be damnation, ruin, and infamy except they repented and found some way to free themselves from the damnable way they are in… it might do good’.74 At the eleventh, or perhaps thirteenth, hour, the King made an offer of places to some of the leading parliamentarians (but not at the expense of current, honest incumbents) and to come to London on condition that the armies disbanded. He may have been encouraged to play for time in this way by news of another victory for Montrose in Scotland. The suggestion that he might come to London, extremely unlikely to be accepted at Westminster, was strongly opposed by Henrietta Maria.75

The failure of the negotiations, recognized on 22 February, considerably weakened moderate royalism, and in the following years hardliners such as Digby and Henrietta Maria were very prominent in the King’s counsels, despite the latter’s exile, at least if the letters between husband and wife are to be believed. A royalist Western Association was formed to stiffen the sinews of the English war effort, to which Hyde and Sir John Colepeper were sent as advisers to the Prince of Wales in early March. This effectively exiled two principal moderates from the court without giving them much influence in the Western Association.76 As the negotiations faltered militant parliamentarianism had also prospered: on 13 February the Lords finally accepted the New Model Ordinance and it was passed two days later. There were subsequent delays over naming commands, and the Self-Denying Ordinance was not passed until April, but vigorous military action was once again in hand.77

The formation of the New Model Army and the passage of the Self-Denying Ordinance served military purposes but have been invested with a more than military significance. A national standing army had been created from which aristocratic command had been excluded. It was to be the New Model Army which carried through a coup in 1648 leading directly to the trial and execution of the King. Disappointment at the failure to follow up the victory at Marston Moor was expressed by some in criticism of aristocratic leadership. It seems clear that the greater mobility of the King’s forces and the more decisive leadership that was offered had allowed him to recover a seemingly desperate situation between July and October. These things – concern about the commitment of Essex and Manchester, the lack of mobility and co-ordination in the parliamentary forces – came together in the New Modelling of the Parliamentary army over the winter of 1644–5. But they were also, of course, connected with religious and political positions. Vigorous prosecution of the war by Parliament was not simply a matter of logistics and organization but also one of political commitment.

What these negotiations demonstrate, above all, is how politicized the war effort had become. Presbyterianism was associated with order and with a desire for an early settlement. This was partly because many prominent Presbyterians, concerned about what they perceived to be an escalating threat from Independency, did indeed want a quick settlement, but the match between Presbyterian beliefs and political moderation was not exact. It fitted with the polemical construction of the sects, however, and as the Uxbridge negotiations foundered the controversy over the war effort reinforced these incipient divisions.

In January 1645 a significant battle was won when Parliament passed the ordinance replacing the Prayer Book with the Directory of Worship – defence of the doctrine but not the discipline of the Church of England – but the controversy persisted. There was already a polemical link between Independency and anarchy, both social and religious, and a link between these things and the soldiery, encouraged not least by Bruno Ryves in his Mercurius Rusticus. It was also now clear that the New Modelling, and the vigorous prosecution of the war, was associated with Independency: with Cromwell’s politics rather than Manchester’s. It is easy to see why, therefore, the New Model was quickly reputed to be an instrument of the sectaries and a threat to religious and social order.

This was the third significant transformation of the parliamentary war effort: after the escalations of 1643 and the military alliance with the Covenanters. Each had changed the parliamentary cause, and how it was regarded. The royalists had also paid a price for escalation – particularly for the Cessation and for the behaviour of some commanders – but in the face of the ramifying threat of a parliamentary victory, that does not seem to have had such an impact on royalist solidarity in 1644 and 1645. What emerged from the Self-Denying and New Model ordinances was thought by many contemporaries to be a new social formation: an institution with massive political influence which was recruited more or less independently of social status. Modern scholarship has revealed that these perceptions were exaggerated, but the perception was very important. Moreover, although the New Model delivered military victory in the Midlands and the West Country during 1645, victories which more or less ended the war, it did so before any agreement had emerged on the parliamentary side about what an acceptable peace would look like. Escalation of warfare was not accompanied by any greater clarity as to what, precisely, the fighting was for.

You can support the site and the Armed Forces of Ukraine by following the link to Buy Me a Coffee.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!