The English War Efforts in 1643
On a ‘calm, clear and fair’ day a little over two weeks after the failure of the Oxford treaty a gang of workmen set about the demolition of Cheapside Cross in the commercial heart of London. Over the next three days, as they went about their work, they were watched by a large crowd, whose response was divided: ‘the majority blessing the deed but others, although of the same religion, detesting and deploring it’. A troop of horse and a troop of foot were on hand in case of trouble.1
The destruction of Cheapside Cross, May 1643
This was the final act of a long drama. The cross, standing twelve yards high, was richly decorated with images of the saints and the Virgin Mary, and was surmounted with a crucifix. It was a focal point for commercial life and both civic and royal pageantry. Under the Tudors and Stuarts it had been refurbished a number of times, but periodically since the Reformation it had also been attacked, verbally and sometimes physically. Attempts to deface it in 1581 and 1595 had forced the authorities to the expense of repairs, and in 1601, when refurbishment was being considered, George Abbot had been asked for his religious opinion of the cross. The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford and future archbishop had supported the case for repairing it, but had suggested changes to the imagery. In particular he had suggested that the crucifix should be replaced with a pyramid in the hope that people would stop calling it ‘the Cross in the Cheap’. While acknowledging the case for iconoclasm, he had been committed to lawful reform – only the magistrate was empowered ‘to redress such enormities’. His advice on reformed refurbishment was ignored, however, and following its restoration in 1601 it was attacked once again. Attacked in print in 1641, and physically in January 1642, the cross nonetheless survived until 1643, despite active hostility and the qualms of the more moderate. The Venetian ambassador described it at that point as ‘a most beautiful pyramidal cross surrounded with figures of saints of exquisite workmanship’.2 But then he was a papist.
From 1581 onwards it had been regularly claimed that the cross was a comfort to papists and even that they surreptitiously nodded when they approached it. Hotter Protestants had for years attacked the cross as an idol, while others, convinced of its harmlessness, beauty and civic value, had satirized them for their painful consciences. The cross, among many other things, was a symbol of the divisions within English Protestantism. In the tense atmosphere of January 1642, when London’s streets were alive with fear of armed popery, the cross was physically attacked and as a result a protective guard had been posted around it. There remained, nonetheless, a strong current of opinion that the cross was ‘an offence and grief of heart to the strong Christian, a stumbling block to the weak, and a very downfall to the stubborn and wilful’.3
In throwing their weight behind this view, Parliament and the City authorities were making a clear statement. The troops previously there to protect the cross were, in April, changing sides to protect those charged with its destruction. Armed with an order from the Common Council and prompted by a parliamentary initiative to purge London of such idols, the workmen set about their task on 2 May: maypole season, a part of the old ritual calendar particularly offensive to godly sensibilities. Superstition was being abolished by authority, but in line with the hopes of many ordinary Londoners. Such purgation did not represent a consensus within English Protestantism, but was one of the actions through which its identity was contested: as our eyewitness noted, the destruction of the cross in 1643 elicited a divided response from a crowd ‘of the same religion’.
Cheapside Cross was in one sense a victim of a desire to cement the parliamentary cause. As the Oxford negotiations meandered towards oblivion the fighting had favoured the royalists, and this gave strength to those promoting administrative and ideological radicalization. Hopton had continued to prosper in the West Country in the first months of 1643, turning back a parliamentary advance under Stamford and drawing Ruthin into battle at Braddock Down. There, on 19 January, the royalists won a decisive victory, forcing Ruthin to flee Saltash on 22 January, where the royalists captured arms and ammunition. Attempts at further advances into Devon in February were repelled, however, and after a skirmish at Chagford and a more substantial battle at Modbury, a local cessation was agreed.4
Royalist advances in the north were impressive and Henrietta Maria was able to land at Bridlington on 22 February, bringing with her money and supplies assembled in the Netherlands. Unable to prevent her landing, the only parliamentary resistance was an ineffective barrage from ships off the coast while her ships were unloading. According to Clarendon, the hundred-cannon bombardment was primarily a threat to her lodging, ‘whereupon she was forced out of her bed, some of the shot making way through her own chamber; and to shelter herself under a bank in the open fields’.5 Newark resisted a concerted parliamentary assault at the same time, and Scarborough was handed over to the royalists by Sir Hugh Cholmley, who had experienced a change of heart. It was in resistance to further southward advances that Oliver Cromwell began to establish a reputation as a cavalry commander, and a major relief for Parliament was the victory at Grantham on 13 May. Two days later, however, Henrietta Maria’s convoy of arms arrived in Oxford and the Queen herself, the ‘she-generalissima’, was able to move fairly freely from York to Newark and then to Oxford, eventually joining forces with the King on 13 July.6
The only encouragement for Parliament in the north came from Lancashire. The Earl of Derby had taken Lancaster for the royalists, but then burnt it, thereby grasping a political defeat from the jaws of military victory. Local opinion, which was by no means uniformly parliamentarian, turned against him and, following a defeat at Whalley Abbey on 20 April, he fled into exile on the Isle of Man. He returned in early 1644, when the arrival of Prince Rupert’s troops in Lancashire made it safe for him, but in the meantime the Stanley (and Stuart) interest in Lancashire was defended by his wife. The Countess of Derby held out at Lathom House in one of the more celebrated acts of heroism from this period of the war. This was of larger military significance too, since it tied down parliamentarian forces that might otherwise have been engaged elsewhere.7
The Earl of Essex was based at the eastern end of the Thames Valley, and Waller to the south and west of the main royalist forces, centred in Oxford. Waller became something of a darling of the parliamentary side in these early months of the war. Between January and March he won a string of victories at Winchester, Farnham Castle, Arundel Castle and Chichester. Although these were relatively minor victories, they earned him the title ‘William the Conqueror’ from the London press, not least perhaps because the picture elsewhere was so discouraging for Parliament. In central England the balance of advantage swung quite rapidly. Royalist control of Banbury and Brill gave solidity to the position in Oxford, while Waller’s victories had given Parliament secure control of the areas south of the Thames as far west as Devon. In the late spring he won victories against Herbert’s forces in Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire, but his advances were halted by Prince Maurice at Ripple Field, north of Tewkesbury (13 April). In the north Midlands, Brereton held much of Cheshire, but not Chester, for Parliament, and Sir John Gell held much of Derbyshire. But in Lichfield local royalists seized control of the cathedral close and in the course of the ensuing siege Lord Brooke was killed by a single shot from the roof of the cathedral. At Hopton Heath (19 March) royalist forces under Compton and Hastings won an important battle over Gell and Brereton, although the loss of the Earl of Northampton was a blow to the royalists. That, and the successful defence of Lichfield by parliamentary forces, prevented a significant follow-up to the victory. Rupert took and sacked Birmingham on 3 April, but, on 21 April, Lichfield Cathedral was captured by Parliament, albeit briefly.8
It has been widely accepted that the King had a consistent concern to capture London, and that during 1643 this involved a three-pronged advance from the west, centre and north. In fact, it is not clear that there was a general strategy, or at least one that could be executed. Command structures were rather confused, and communications imperfect, so much of the war had the quality of separate, reactive and tactical skirmishing. At the same time, Parliament’s strategy was probably clearer than was once argued – seeking to push back the regional armies sufficiently to allow Essex to move on Oxford from the lower end of the Thames Valley. In either case, it seems that Parliament had little to be cheerful about in strategic terms by late spring 1643 (see map 1).9 Before the cessation in the west the advantage had clearly been with Hopton, and in the north the war had gone badly for parliamentary forces everywhere except in Lancashire. In the Midlands the picture was more confused, but it is hard to make a case that the parliamentary cause was thriving. The death of Lord Brooke and the victory at Hopton Heath certainly seemed to give the advantage to the royalists.
Told as a series of regional stories, some order can be imposed on the campaign history, but as a week-by-week account, as it might have been heard in Oxford or London, the war made much less sense. In these circumstances rumour and news about particular triumphs or failures had a great impact on morale. Waller’s campaign was a huge boost to parliamentarian spirits, for example, although its effect on the outcome of the war is difficult to chart; so too individual setbacks such as the surrender of Scarborough or the death of Lord Brooke. For this reason it was important to try to impose a meaning on events. The death of Brooke, for example, was reported by royalists as a divine judgement on a rebel: an amazing shot that clearly reflected the divine hand. It was reported in the parliamentary paper Mercurius Britannicus, on the other hand, as evidence that the cathedral was a ‘Monster’ with ‘bloody Anthems’ and ‘murdering Organ-Pipes’.10 It was not only the meaning of the news that was disputed, however, but also its accuracy – the royalist press reported with some glee that ‘Sir Jacob Astley, lately slain at Gloucester, desires to know was he slain with a musket or a cannon bullet’.11 These minor paper skirmishes were probably as significant to morale at any particular point as the realities of the broader strategic position. Nonetheless it is hard to make a case that Parliament’s military or political position had been improving between January and April.
In late March, as the Oxford treaty failed and Parliament’s military campaigns failed to thrive, there are clear signs of a desire to stiffen the sinews of the parliamentary war effort. However, this administrative problem was inextricably entwined with a desire to define the cause, while at the same time seeming to some people to transform it. Behind the noise of the day-to-day news it was possible to perceive larger trends and deeper problems – the reluctance of armies to move, the difficulties of securing an effective strategic control of particular commanders, the problems of co-ordinating effort, and of supplying the armies. At various points, both sides had experienced these handicaps, but they seemed more urgent for the parliamentarians by the spring of 1643.
One important innovation was the formation of regional armies. In 1642 troops had been mobilized through county institutions, and by custom, tradition and sentiment they identified their role with the defence of that county. Throughout the war troops proved reluctant to cross county boundaries, although this was not a universal phenomenon. The London Trained Bands were willing to march out of London to support the larger cause, and parliamentary armies at Turnham Green and Sherborne included levies from outside the county. Nonetheless, it was recognized as a problem very early on, and Hopton, for example, had raised volunteers willing to travel once he had secured control of the Cornish Trained Bands. The royalists depended more on regiments raised by particular men acting under a direct commission, and these tended to be more mobile, but on the parliamentary side part of the answer was seen to lie in the association of contiguous counties into regional bodies.12
Early parliamentary measures of defence had suggested that counties might call on neighbours for assistance in the case of a royalist attack and in October 1642 that had become a formal prescription, extended to the eastern, midland and western counties in ordinances passed between mid- December and early January.13 The measures taken in October had been associated with a move to create a political bond too, when Pym ‘with very great vehemence’ promoted a ‘covenant or association that all might enter into’ to help link ‘ourselves together in a more firm bond and union’. Parliament agreed to publish its intention to draw up a Covenant with God to defend ‘his truth… with the hazard of our lives against the King’s army’. In East Anglia, however, there was more support for the military reform than for the proposed oath or covenant. Even so, attempts in the late autumn to co-ordinate efforts in the various associated counties had limited effect and it was not until 11 January that it was agreed to put the ordinance for the Eastern Association into effect. No action was taken until 9 February, when local committee men met in Bury St Edmunds. The vision at Westminster had been of an oath of association supporting an army supplied from the voluntary contributions of those associated. Locally it was decided to proceed by imposing a rate instead – evidence of the tricky local negotiation necessary to secure consent to military mobilization.14
Despite the difficulties, both sides saw the need for regional military organizations. The royalists attempted to create associations and Parliament launched a number through 1643, in a rather uncoordinated way. Confused and ad hoc measures layered associations on one another as each ordinance failed to repeal previous measures. As a result some counties were formally associated in different ways – Shropshire, the most extreme example, was in five different associations in six months. More coherence was emerging by 1644, but there were two features of these early measures: their lack of coherence and suspicion at the county level of the new regional committees. Even in East Anglia – according to popular legend a hotbed of Puritan enthusiasm for the parliamentary cause – these measures required careful handling and caused considerable friction.15
Military measures on the parliamentary side were imposed by the power of ordinances, and some of the people who had held their noses during the crisis following the attempt on the Five Members might now be more uneasy about the long-term implications of these innovations. During February and March a loan was raised and repaid to set the navy to sea, and an ordinance passed to find sailors to man the ships.16 On 7 March the Lord Mayor and citizens of London were given the necessary powers to fortify London, allowing them to trench, stop and fortify the highways leading into the City, and to raise a local rate to pay for the work. In next to no time, in the light of the obvious military threat through the spring and summer of 1643, London was turned into a fortress. Towns elsewhere felt vulnerable – obvious targets of military action and not easily defensible – so co-operation with this project was not in itself a measure of allegiance to the parliamentary cause. If the royalists came, they would not necessarily be careful to damage only the property of committed parliamentarians. Surely one of the largest public construction projects in early modern England, the construction of London’s defences was turned into a moment of civic celebration, at least if some observers were to be believed.17 Not all the massive burdens being imposed by the war were met with such enthusiasm: not all had such an obvious and necessary function.
The most powerful demonstration of the potential of ordinances, however, was the creation of an elaborate and productive financial apparatus. In late February, Parliament had imposed a national tax, the Weekly Assessment, on the authority of an ordinance. It was a measure of fearful power, successfully circumventing the problem of local evasion which had drawn the teeth of the main parliamentary tax before 1640, the subsidy. Faced with a demand for a parliamentary subsidy local assessors had winked at or actively supported under-assessment at a staggering level, an administrative weakness which rendered the tax increasingly inadequate to the needs of the crown. In Norfolk, for example, the value of an individual subsidy had fallen by 70 per cent between 1590 and 1630, a crippling loss in a period of inflation, and this was not untypical. The assessment avoided this problem by imposing a fixed sum on the whole country, stipulating how much was to be raised in each county and borough. Local assessors then divided this burden – this system retained local discretion about relative liabilities, but not the power to determine the overall yield. The yields were phenomenal by pre-war standards. Hunstanton, Norfolk, had paid £5 18s for the subsidy of 1626. In 1640 the subsidies cost £10 12s and the poll tax £58 2s 6d. In the twelve months to December 1643 it paid £138 12s. In Hanworth, Norfolk, the assessment was imposed at an annual rate nine times higher than ship money. Examples of this kind could be multiplied endlessly. The burden never went away, either – this was the dominant form of direct taxation for the next 140 years. The financial success of the measure during the 1640s did not recommend it to many contemporaries, however, nor the fact that it was raised by ordinance.
Even more alarmingly, on 28 March, Pym proposed an excise – a tax on consumption which was regarded with deep hostility in Stuart England. There was no current means of taxing commercial wealth, since taxes fell either on the value of land or on personal goods. Taxing consumption provided a means of getting at commercial wealth, but this awful expedient was regarded with horror. In 1628, it has been said, ‘excise’ was almost a swear word. Faced with Pym’s suggestion in 1643 one speaker expressed astonishment ‘that he who pretended to stand so much for the liberty of the subject should propose such an unjust, scandalous, and destructive project’.18
Although the excise was too loathsome to be countenanced Parliament had, the previous day, found it possible to stomach the Sequestration Ordinance. To the modern eye this was hardly a less objectionable measure, and was certainly extraordinary by pre-war standards. It established local committees with remarkably wide powers to seize the estates of ‘notorious delinquents [who] have been causers or instruments of the public calamities’. The profits of the estates would thereafter be ‘applied towards the support of the great charges of the commonwealth and for the easing of the good subjects therein, who have hitherto borne the greatest share in these burdens’. The definition of ‘notorious delinquent’ was a generous one. A number of bishops were named but the act extended well beyond them to all persons ‘Ecclesiastical or Temporal’ who had raised arms, voluntarily contributed to the royalist war chest, supported the royal armies in any other way, co-operated with robbery and spoil of parliamentarian activists, taken any oath or association against Parliament, or imposed any tax or assessment on behalf of the royalist forces. Such powers were justified in the light of the ‘unnatural war raised against the Parliament’, but it is possible to imagine that such measures might begin to erode support.19
In early May the principle that the royalists should pay was taken further with the imposition of the Fifth and Twentieth Part. Those who had not contributed or lent to the parliamentary cause, or at least had not done so in proportion to their wealth, were to be subject to formal taxation of up to one fifth of the yearly value of their real estate and one twentieth of the value of their personal goods. This was placed in the hands of yet more committees.20 Here were taxes far heavier than Charles had imposed, with little better legal justification; and financial penalties with a much wider impact than the notorious fines of the Personal Rule. There was a real risk that the cure might begin to seem worse than the disease.21
Parliament was in effect improvising a system of government, since it had never previously been an executive body, and many of the functions it was now forced to undertake were therefore pretty much unprecedented. Although this gave it greatly increased powers, it did not necessarily foster efficient use of them. In military matters Parliament ended up with two parallel systems: the defensive forces mustered under the deputy lieutenants and the field armies under the command of the Earl of Essex. As other volunteer forces were raised they were subject to Essex, but the militias continued under local command. When the associations were formed Parliament nominated a major-general for each, but the commissions were formally given by Essex, who also licensed the subordinate commissions issued by regional commanders.22 Essex’s commission had been issued by the parliamentary Committee of Safety, which had been created on 4 July 1642, replacing the Committee of Defence. The liaison between the civilian and military authorities was not always smooth, however. The Committee of Safety was not regularly informed by local military bodies, and suffered from the subsequent appointment of committees with overlapping responsibilities. It was composed of members of the two Houses, served as the supreme council of war, and as an executive body, but in both respects was more reliant on parliamentary votes than the Privy Council, or previous councils of war, had been. As a form of military command it was less than perfect. There was also a Committee for the Navy and for the Mint, the Ordnance, the Posts and the Tower of London. Particular measures taken to mobilize the parliamentary war effort called forth further committees – for the Advance of Money, for Compounding (penal taxation) and for Sequestration.23 Each committee was called into existence by a particular piece of legislation – it was not a planned constitution, and arose from particular decisions rather than a coherent policy. Government by committee then supplemented the decision-making by committee which had characterized the political sclerosis in the first two years of the Long Parliament.
Central committees were mainly staffed by MPs, and struggles within Parliament over policy can be followed through the memberships of these committees. Other committees had a combined membership of MPs and others. For example, there was no central committee for assessment but there were commissions empanelled in the localities instead, and the same was true for the militia and sequestration. In these cases the system owed something to patterns of pre-war administration of the subsidy and militia, but in many counties local committees for the militia, assessment and sequestration coalesced into a single county committee, whose powers and composition came to be resented. On the other hand, these local committees might come into conflict with other arms of the parliamentary administration, and there were many local disputes over these issues. Each source of revenue had a committee responsible for raising but not spending the money, and in practice they worked through county committees nominated by Parliament, while the money was disbursed by a number of different treasuries. Not the least of the complications was that military effort was increasingly co-ordinated on a regional basis whereas the basis for finance remained the county. This was confused, giving many opportunities for jurisdictional rivalries, and more or less invited conflict between bodies with different territorial interests in view.24 Much of this was in place by the summer of 1643, and certainly the general pattern of ad hoc accretion of committees on the parliamentary side was well-established. It looked quite different from the system of government in place a year earlier, and which the parliamentary armies were supposedly defending.
Administrative innovation went in tandem with attempts to define and publicize the cause. On 24 March, Edward Husbands had been given copyright for an Exact collection of official declarations and messages of Parliament and the King. A careful and painstaking production, it seems, for example, to have followed the typeface of each declaration as it was originally published, black letter (a kind of Gothic used in particularly important declarations) and Roman type used as appropriate. The text, which ran to 955 pages, was followed by a chronological table of contents. It was an invaluable source of reference, was bought by local authorities, and has been drawn on extensively by historians ever since. It must have been a significant investment of time and money for a commercial printer, and that was presumably the justification for giving copyright to an individual. There is no surviving commission for the work, but the suspicion must be that Husbands was asked to enter into this financially risky enterprise, which tied up capital in a large stock of paper and relatively expensive typesetting. Penny pamphlets offered much more rapid turnover with a much smaller initial investment. This was not necessarily good business. Certainly when he produced a continuation, in August 1644, it was definitely in response to a commission.25
Husbands offered no editorial comment, but the scope of the collection is revealing. It opens not with the first ordinances (of the summer of 1641), nor with the opening of the parliamentary session in October 1641, but with the King’s first speech to Parliament following his return from Scotland, on 2 December 1641. It ends with the Assessment Ordinance and related measures in late February and early March 1643. The King’s speech had expressed disappointment that the legislation of the previous summer had not achieved settlement and attributed that to fears and jealousies about his government. There then follows an escalating dispute about the King’s interference with parliamentary privilege – he had given an opinion on a measure in Parliament before it was presented to him, something which breached the privilege of free speech. From December 1641 onwards, of course, it was easy to make a case that the privileges of Parliament were increasingly threatened by violent intervention, culminating in the attempt on the Five Members. This selection seems therefore to have silently narrated a history, in which the fears and jealousies identified by the King as the cause of the trouble were shown to be justified by the actions of those around the King. It culminates in the military measures necessary to open a new military campaign in the spring of 1643. The preamble of the Assessment Ordinance, which is reproduced in full, depends on such a history:
The Lords and Commons now assembled in Parliament, being fully satisfied and resolved in their consciences, that they have lawfully taken up arms: and may and ought to continue the same for the necessary defence of themselves and the Parliament from violence and destruction, and of this Kingdom from foreign invasion, and for the bringing of notorious offenders to condign punishment, which are the only causes for which they have raised and do continue an army and forces.26
They were forced to raise an assessment as the fairest way to support this necessary effort. It is difficult not to see this as a propaganda exercise, an attempt to define the cause which was about to make renewed financial and administrative demands. Of course, as propaganda, it was aimed at the very committed reader: perhaps those local officeholders on whom the administrative burden of the war was falling. One such committed reader was John Lilburne, who was later to use it to hold Parliament to account.27
Defence of Parliament had been closely linked to the defence of reformation, and here we come to the demise of Cheapside Cross. On 30 March, three days after the Sequestration Ordinance and two days after the proposed excise, a committee was despatched from the Houses to arrest the Capuchins, a calculated insult to Henrietta Maria, and her chapel at Somerset House was purged of images and idols. Among them was a painting by Rubens, valued at £500, which was thrown into the Thames.28 Like Cheapside this had been the focus of hostility for a long time, in this case restrained by diplomatic pressure from the French ambassador and by deference to the King. Inhibitions were lifting, however. The previous week a group of London ministers had been asked to view the windows of the Guildhall chapel, and their hostile report went further, expressing concerns about Cheapside Cross and other images in the City. On 24 April a committee was appointed under Sir Robert Harley to ‘receive information, from time to time, of any monuments of superstition or idolatry in the Abbey Church at Westminster, or the windows thereof, or in any other Church or Chapel, in or about London: and they have power to demolish the same, where any such superstitious or idolatrous monuments are informed to be’. All churchwardens and other officers were required to help in this work and the committee was to meet at 2 p.m. that day.29
Henrietta Maria charged with treason and royal houses purged of popery, May 1643
Their work began immediately – windows were smashed and idols defaced in Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s, Westminster, on 25 April and a regular team subsequently carried out an orderly and systematic purgation of the royal chapels at Whitehall, Greenwich and Hampton Court, as well as at St Paul’s. The Common Council of London took up the campaign and on 27 April ordered the destruction of Cheapside Cross, which was begun on 2 May, and, on 27 May, Temple church was purged. This was a prelude to a sustained round of iconoclasm in the capital, lasting into 1644.30
This amounted to official backing for zealous reformation which went far beyond the anti-Laudian iconoclasm of 1640-41. It embraced ‘all superstitious and idolatrous images and pictures’ which were ‘inconsistent with, and scandalous to the true Protestant reformed religion’. Purgation of St Margaret’s, Westminster, and of the Abbey, intended that ‘no Roman relics may remain to attract the simple devotions of ignorant and illiterate Popish people’. Crosses, windows and images were all now legitimate objects of attack, and there is evidence of enthusiasm for this work. Sir Robert Harley had called for the demolition of Cheapside Cross in 1626 and had confiscated and destroyed a picture of God belonging to one of his tenants in 1639. Emboldened by the Commons order of September 1641 he had championed the attack on images in his native Herefordshire during the parliamentary recess of that month. At Wigmore a church cross was not simply removed, but ‘caused to be beaten in pieces, even to dust with a sledge, and then laid… in the footpath to be trodden on in the churchyard’. At Leintwardine offensive windows were ‘broke small with a hammer’ and thrown into the River Teme, ‘in imitation of King Asa 2 Chronicles 15:16: who threw the images into the brook Kidron’.31 But this zeal was empowered, and therefore restrained, by law: radical reformation by committee.
Purgation took other forms. Since its first meeting Parliament had been flooded with complaints about scandalous clergy, charges which ranged across the board from insufficiency (a predilection for drink and adulterous or lecherous behaviour) to religious error and malignancy (hostility to Parliament). In December 1640 a committee for scandalous ministers had been established in order to try to deal with this business, but it struggled to do so. Perhaps 800 petitions were received in its first few months of business and its capacity to deal with this volume of complaint was hampered by constant interruptions. The committee was dissolved at least five times only to be revived again following revelation of some new outrage. It was not clear if the committee was intended to actually deal with all these grievances, or to propose legislation that would do so, but in either case it failed. Legislation was introduced in June 1641 but made slow progress before being forgotten in the crisis of that autumn and winter. There was no progress either on particular cases.32
After this slow start there is clear evidence of greater urgency in 1643. There was an immediate political interest in this oversight of the clergy, of course, since the pulpit was crucial to publicizing the rival causes, and this may have had something to do with it. In any case, key procedural changes speeded up the process. Initially the committee had proceeded case by case – having heard the details the committee recommended a decision to the Commons and it was then passed on to the Lords, who heard it all again. Rather than submit to this painful doubling of effort, the Commons after June 1643 proceeded by orders for sequestration rather than by ordinance of both Houses. Moreover, the criteria for starting the process were relaxed and the definition of malignancy was broadened. Initially only ministers who had joined the King needed to fear the committee, but now those who had spoken in his favour, or read his proclamations, could be charged as malignants. Ministers were accused of betraying their hostility to Parliament by reading its publications ‘with a low voice’ or confusedly, but those of the King ‘very audibly’, or ‘with great carriage and seeming joy’. In December 1642 the work had been handed over to a new Committee for Plundered Ministers – something of an Orwellian name, since much of its work consisted of ejecting ministers from their benefices. The measure was proposed by the Lords as a means to provide for ministers ousted by Cavaliers by ejecting unfit ministers from other benefices. During 1643 scores of clergy were ejected, although the Commons remained unsatisfied with the rate of progress in July 1643. Even as the definition of malignancy was being enlarged, the committee also began to authorize proceedings against popish and scandalous ministers, even if they were not malignant.33 Reformation was therefore in the hands of committees: on superstitious monuments and on scandalous or plundered ministers.
These measures gave parishioners the power to denounce their minister on political grounds and to secure his removal by Parliament, not a bishop. It had been immediately apparent that there was a local appetite for such powers. The committee had its origins in a sub-committee of the Committee of Religion, established on 12 December 1640, to investigate the scarcity of preaching ministers. On 19 December the Commons renewed the order to the committee to investigate the scarcity of preaching, but added to it the power ‘to consider of some Way of removing of scandalous Ministers, and putting others in their Places’. To this end, MPs were to report within six weeks on ‘the State and Condition of their Counties, concerning preaching Ministers, and whence it arises, that there is such a Want of preaching Ministers, through the whole Kingdom’. A pirate edition of this order was published, suggesting that the Commons would welcome certificates from the public too, of ‘persecuting, innovating or scandalous ministers, that they may be put out’. The publisher was mildly rebuked, but the pamphlet enjoyed a wide circulation.34
By 1644 the lid was completely off, and ministers around the country were being forced to defend themselves against disapproving parishioners. Maptid Violet, for example, had to answer charges about his drinking habits, and the suggestion that he was an antinomian (someone who denied the reality of ‘sin’ for those who were pure in heart). He also expressed the dangers of this new aspect of parishioners” power, asking that those hearing his case ‘would be pleased to take into their consideration in this time of distractions how easy a thing it is for men abounding in malice to find witnesses to accuse men of our profession to accomplish their own ends’.35 Fostering the parliamentary cause and further reformation here went hand in hand, but with profound implications for local social relations: the boundary between radical reformation and social levelling seemed to many contemporaries difficult to discern.
This was not all. On the day that the Common Council ordered the destruction of Cheapside Cross, the House of Commons ordered that Charles I’s Book of Sports should be burnt ‘in several places in the City of London by the common Hangman’.36 Such burning punctuated the life of the capital, from the reign of Henry VIII onwards, but the Stuarts seem to have elaborated on the ritual at the same time that they employed it more frequently. Prior to 1640 it had often been associated with the physical punishment of the author as well as the destruction of books, but there had always been books burned without their authors. James I ordered a dozen or so books to be burned, many of them obscure foreign publications: this was a statement of disgust rather than a coherent act of censorship.37
Under Charles I, Alexander Leighton and William Prynne suffered alongside their books. In fact Prynne suffered the revival of burnings by the public hangman, in 1634. His Histrio-Mastix had denounced stage plays, and included attacks on female actors, at just about the time that Henrietta Maria appeared in a court masque. The timing was ambiguous – the criticism might have predated knowledge of the Queen’s participation – but the implication was a damaging one. However, Histrio-Mastix was dangerous as much for its tone – highly intemperate and disrespectful – as its content and this earned it special treatment. Lord Cottington, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ordered it to be ‘burnt in the most public manner that can be. The manner in other countries is… to be burnt by the hangman, though not used in England. Yet I wish it may, in respect of the strangeness and heinousness of the matter contained in it, to have a strange manner of burning, therefore I shall desire it may be so burnt by the hand of the hangman’. It was on this occasion that Prynne lost the first parts of his ears: set in a pillory at Westminster and Cheapside, one of his ears cropped in each place and copies of his book burned before him. It was said that he nearly suffocated from the smoke.38
Burnings characteristically took place in large public spaces – Westminster, St Paul’s Churchyard (heart of the book trade), Smithfield, Cheapside. A pamphlet of 1642 describes one such ritual. Scottish texts were burned in 1640, presumably some of those that cultivated support for the Covenanters and thereby encouraged the King to issue a proclamation declaring it treason to assist them. If it was these texts, the point was reinforced with some dramatic theatre:
the common hangman,… came in great state, as if he had been to bishop or brand Bastwick or Burton again, to the palace yard (alias the prelates purgatory) with a halter in each hand and with two trumpeters before him, and two men with a few loose papers following him; where after reading of the proclamation, Gregory very ceremoniously put fire to the faggots, and so the poor innocent papers paid for it. When he had done he cried, ‘God save the king’, and flourished his ropes, [adding] ‘if any man conceal any such papers, he shall be hanged in these halters’; with which words I was so afraid, that I ran home and burnt all my papers, and so saved him a labour.39
During the 1640s book-burning took off, alongside publishing: perhaps with greater freedoms came greater anxiety and increased severity at the margins. Certainly books were burned in far greater numbers in these years: thirteen in 1642 alone, another nine during 1646. Alongside three newsbooks, sixty pamphlets, books and broadsheets were condemned between 1640 and 1660. It was now separated from the physical punishment of the author, and was much more clearly a dramatic statement of anathema. Sir Edward Dering, John Milton, Richard Overton and John Lilburne (the latter the most burned author of the period) all saw their books burned without suffering any physical mutilation themselves. This could not serve to censor, either: Dering noted that 4,500 copies of his speeches had already been printed, and more were on the way. The fires did not consume them all and, in fact, a number of contemporaries noted that a book-burning was good for sales.40 Burning the Book of Sports was political theatre as much as an act of censorship, and it made a very clear point.
Hostility to the Book of Sports was another touchstone of reformers, and another point at which concerns about religious decency intersected with questions of social order. ‘This book’, according to Certaine informations, was ‘first made and allowed in the reign of King James, and since his decease, it hath been pressed by the Bishops with such rigour, that many ministers, which refused only to read it in their Churches, have been [?] and deprived of their benefices, contrary to all laws both civil and ecclesiastical’.41
In 1635 controversy had broken out over church ales (a kind of fund-raising knees-up) in Somerset. An assize judge, motivated as much by personal animosity as religious conviction, had banned the ales on the grounds that they promoted disorder, but Charles and Laud took a different view. Enquiries made locally found evidence that they were harmless affairs, and that they encouraged attendance at church, and this led to the issue of a new Book of Sports. It defined those recreations that were lawful on the Lord’s Day but was seen as far too indulgent by advanced Protestants, among whom there were many with strict sabbatarian views. Although it appears that many ministers had been able to avoid condoning its provisions, the Caroline Book of Sports, first issued in 1634, was much disliked in certain circles. It allowed dancing, May games and archery, but not before the end of divine service, and disallowed more harmful pastimes such as bear- and bull-baiting. However, what was in one sense a measure of discipline – making it clear what forms of recreation were allowable-was in another a measure of licence, and it allied Laudian ceremonial with a relatively relaxed view of popular festive culture.42
Condemnation of the Book of Sports had been added to a Commons order on religion on the eve of the recess in 1641 by Simonds D’Ewes. While a law student D’Ewes had been disgusted by the spectacle of the Lords of Misrule – a ritual of inversion in the Christmas season in which someone was elected to preside over ‘revels’ in a great man’s house. A convinced Puritan hostile to such festive pastimes – not harmless sociability, but a celebration of sinfulness – D’Ewes was naturally opposed to the licence that the Book of Sports offered. The initiative to abolish it ran out of time before the harvest recess, however. In 1643 the Book was unrepealed, but also unenforced. Moves against it were recommenced in February, in the weeks of the crucial measures of financial and administrative reorganization. On 15 February an ordinance had been passed exhorting all good subjects in England and Wales to repent their sins, which were the cause of the war, so that ‘we may obtain a firm and happy peace both with God and Man’. Among the sins enumerated were ‘wicked prophanations of the Lord’s Day, by sports and gamings, formerly encouraged by authority’.43
Burning the Book of Sports was further testimony to the fact that the material and administrative radicalism of the parliamentary cause was in the support of a social and cultural reformation. It may have had a more immediate meaning too: one of the places at which the Book was burnt was the now empty site of Cheapside Cross. The destruction of both the cross and the Book took place in maypole season, and maypoles had become something of a rallying point for anti-Puritanism.44 What was aimed at here was an orderly but zealous reformation, the use of secular power to achieve godly aims. Iconoclasm by committee was allied to a godly reformation of manners, and the promotion of a more sober devotion. It was an assertion of the proper relationship between zeal, law and social order.
Although there seems to be a connection between these reforming impulses and military fortunes in the war, it is difficult to know exactly what the connection was. The day before the order was given for the cross to be demolished the Earl of Essex had captured Reading. To some observers there was a direct connection – reformers had been emboldened by victory. Others thought that recent successes showed God’s favour for earlier measures of purgation – for example, the purging of Henrietta Maria’s chapel and the expulsion of the Capuchins -and hoped that renewed zeal would bring more victories. Robert Harley and Isaac Pennington seem to have thought the cross and similar symbols were an active impediment to victory, and their destruction a means of propitiating and assuaging God. For others orderly reformation like this might help to assure those concerned about social order that reformation could proceed by authority, without sedition.45 These measures might also have been intended to strengthen commitment, win God’s favour or, by the summer of 1643, to woo Scottish opinion by putting the parliamentary cause at the vanguard of advanced Protestantism.46 Among advanced Protestants, ensuring the preaching of the Word by purging the ministry, improving Sabbath observance, restricting the more ungodly elements of festive culture and combating idolatry were all more or less uncontroversial issues.
The burning of the Book of Sports at the site of Cheapside Cross
In the space of a few weeks in late spring and early summer Parliament had accepted the Weekly Assessment and Sequestration ordinances, and given serious consideration to an excise. These were no longer measures to defend the country from the innovations of the Personal Rule, but measures necessary to support Parliament in defensive arms – a case made at some length by Husbands” collection of declarations. But it was also a war in defence of the Reformation, something now given clearer official licence and put in the hands of committees. This pre-empted but did not defeat the polemical counter-case, that this was an ignorant zeal, associated with religious and social disorder. This debate about discipline centred on church government, which remained a potentially divisive issue within the parliamentary coalition – defined in these terms more by anti-episcopal views than by a positive vision of the proper constitution of the church. Progress on images and the Word avoided saying anything much about what changes in church government were necessary for the promotion of reformation – for the early reformers the Word and the sacraments had been the priority. But this remained an uneasy truce. Mechanic preachers and sectarians were no more welcome to Presbyterians than bishops.
Further reformation was the justification for vigorous military action by Parliament in defensive arms. But this identified the parliamentary cause ever more clearly with religious and constitutional innovation. Neither were these things abstract questions – they resonated deeply in parish conflicts about religious practice and in the material demands the war was now making. An increasingly clear identity as ‘well-affected’ took shape amongst those raising money, purging churches and ejecting scandalous ministers, in contrast to those identified as ‘malignants’.47 The royalists picked at these problems very effectively. Early in January, Mercurius Aulicus, a royalist newsbook, had begun to appear in Oxford. Authorized by the King himself, it represented quite a change of posture since the 1630s. The first editor, Peter Heylin, was succeeded by Sir John Berkenhead, but the approach was fairly consistent. It was written in a relatively plain style, but with substantial editorial comment, much of it bitingly satirical, and it was clearly intended as a counter-blast to the parliamentary press in London. It affected a higher literary style than the ‘Puritan’ papers and was also better produced. It asserted, in other words, the literary and cultural superiority of the royalist cause.48 In May, perhaps prompted by the new wave of iconoclasm, a second and equally scabrous newsbook appeared: Mercurius Rusticus, subtitled The Countries Complaint of the barbarous Outrages committed by the sectaries of this late flourishing kingdom.49 Much of the coverage was retrospective, and the first issue opened with the Stour Valley riots of August 1642. Eventually, it gave a very full catalogue of the depredations of crowds and soldiers, and of iconoclasm. Separate editions were produced covering attacks on the cathedrals and universities. It has proved an attractive source for subsequent generations, and it is unlikely that much of it was completely invented, but there was a consistent polemical purpose.
Bruno Ryves, the editor of Mercurius Rusticus, reported on the actions of parliamentarian soldiers, crowds and religious radicals, juxtaposing their behaviour with their claim to be acting to preserve religion and liberty. The detail was often significant in these narratives: for example, soldiers were frequently said to have entered houses by the window, having failed to secure access by the door. In common law this made entry necessarily forced and therefore felonious. Servants frequently appear loyally defending their master’s interests, their loyalty and deference a sharp contrast with the fury of their attackers. Women and children too were roughly handled, as they intervened to protect the head of the household. Among goods taken were clothes, including ‘wearing apparel’, that is everyday and necessary clothes, not valuable and luxurious clothes. Ryves’s polemical purpose was plain – this felonious and furious behaviour was entirely at odds with the claimed defence of true religion and liberty. The spoil of houses included the destruction of recently fashionable adornments – windows, panelling, paintings, furnishings; in churches it included windows which commemorated noble benefactions. Such refinements were an expression of social status, which carried with it a right to rule, and to deference. Whatever the propaganda said, in other words, the destruction was wanton, and socially levelling. In the autumn, when the work of the Harley Committee was effectively extended to cover the whole country, Ryves began to publish accounts of parliamentary iconoclasm. These measures were presented as desecration, which did a similar job on parliamentarian claims to godliness. Attacks on funerary monuments in churches made this point particularly clearly.
In which the world may observe that these men are the sworn enemies, not only of pretended superstition but of the ensigns of nobility and gentry, that if their Diana, I mean their parity, may take effect, posterity may forget and not read the distinction of noble from ignoble in these venerable monuments of ancient nobility: there being in these windows something indeed to instruct a herald, nothing to offend the weakest Christian.50
Here Ryves was establishing the historical record in a controversial way, and that controversy went to the heart of social order. Cast in the form of reportage this was a powerful polemic, placing before the public the facts of the case and pointing towards the obvious conclusion. In a sense, therefore, by reporting the facts he was rising above the cacophony of public controversy in a way rather like Edward Husbands. It certainly undercut the claims for the necessity of defensive arms which ran throughout the Exact collection.
For those who gravitated to the royal standard in late 1642, on the other hand, little had happened to make that seem like the wrong decision. There was, of course, no fundamental difficulty for Charles in assuming an executive function. Military affairs were handled by Charles personally, with a council of war, consisting of both military men and civilians, taking the place of his Privy Council. The Earl of Lindsey was initially Lord General of the royalist forces, and following his death at Edgehill his position was taken by Patrick Ruthven, Lord Forth. Rupert commanded the horse, by virtue of a commission direct from the King, something which caused conflict with Lindsey before the battle of Edgehill. Similar tensions about Rupert’s command erupted later in the war, and with Prince Maurice, who was also commissioned directly by the King although not formally superior to other commanders. Sir Jacob Astley was in overall command of the infantry. Relations within the council of war were not always easy, and it is generally said that there was a tension between the relatively hardline royalism of the military men and more moderate counsels in the council of war and the court. The council was not always obeyed, and was not always in regular contact with the men on the ground, but at least there was a clearer executive authority. There might also be a question about the quality of advice and experience of his advisers however. Many senior figures from the 1630s had fled, or were dead or in prison, or fighting against him: Hyde, Ashburnham, Digby and Prince Rupert had not been at all significant in royal counsels three years earlier. The range of opinion available to him was relatively broad, reaching to much ground shared with the parliamentary coalition, but the loss he suffered in the quality of his advice is more difficult to measure.51
Charles also had less need for innovation in his central administration since the bulk of his officeholders had joined him in Oxford. His appointments rested on clearly established legal powers, and in local government he preferred to work through the established institutions: as commissioners in the Marcher counties put it in 1645, it was hoped ‘that during this war your Majesty will order that as near as the necessity of the times can admit, our ancient laws shall be observed in force and reputation’. In areas of royalist control there was an evident desire to work with the authority of Grand Juries, assizes and quarter sessions, whereas in many parliamentarian areas the new committees largely took over from these bodies.52
The royalists were also slower to use new forms of taxation, for example adopting an excise only in December 1643. In part this was because of their dependence on individuals to raise regiments and on contributions from particular individuals. Sixty-seven men paid £70,000 between them for baronetcies, and the Marquess of Worcester paid £318,000 in one go. The Earl of Pembroke was said eventually to have spent £1,000,000 in the royal service and Henrietta Maria’s gallant exploits during the year had yielded very significant benefits. Moreover, the King had taken most of the traditional offices and revenues with him – Chancery, Exchequer and the Court of Wards continued to act, and in the first year of the war nearly one third of the revenues came from traditional sources. The royalist equivalent of the assessment, the contribution, was not a fixed burden but a payment related to the number of troops in arms in each county, and consent was sought from the Grand Jury or an assembly of freeholders. Similarly, the sequestration policy on the royalist side was tempered by a desire to see victims indicted for treason at common law and, where that had not been done, to allow them to appeal against sequestration at the next assize. This system was sufficient until royalist control of its heartland slipped in 1645 – until then, the royalist financial administration sufficed, and gave less offence to pre-war scruples than the parliamentarian equivalents.53
On the whole, therefore, innovative committee government was more clearly a parliamentary phenomenon, and it was possible for royalists to make great play with the constitutional impropriety of the parliamentarian effort. And it was not just royalists or moderate parliamentarians, either: on 1 May, Parliament sent embassies to Scotland and Holland, but this prompted Henry Marten to ask, rather unhelpfully, whether Parliament could enter such negotiations without first claiming sovereign power.54 Once again, the more vigorous proponents of the parliamentary position were not necessarily helpful in maintaining the integrity of the alliance.
For propaganda purposes, however, this respectable royalism had an obvious Achilles heel: the behaviour of some elements of the royalist army. Rupert’s behaviour at Brentford, Marlborough and Birmingham gave him an unsavoury contemporary reputation which he has never entirely shaken off.55 The Earl of Derby’s decision to torch Lancaster lost him his war and led more or less directly to his exile on the Isle of Man.56 Such actions were defensible, or at least arguable, under the laws of war. Belligerents recognized three kinds of constraint on their actions – the laws of nature and nations (which defined what might be expected of a reasonable, moral Christian); the laws of war (an informal international code of customary expectations); and the military law which formally codified the expectations of particular armies, drawn up specifically for them. While these overlapping codes restrained violence they also of course licensed it, and there was often room for interpretation about the extent of that licence. For example, an order backed by military law might seem to contravene the laws of nature and nations, and behaviour licensed by the laws of war might also seem to breach the expectations of those laws. Sacking captured towns was a case in point here: according to the laws of war it was illegitimate to sack a town that had surrendered, but not illegitimate if the town had not surrendered. This served to encourage surrender, once it was clear that the town would fall, and therefore limited bloodshed.57 But it did not mean that it was compulsory to sack towns that had not surrendered. In their judgement of this issue the royalists, or at least Rupert and Derby, appeared more ruthless than their parliamentarian opponents.
In the long run, it is often said, this hampered the royalist war effort. As early as January 1643, at least if the London press is to be believed, the course of military events could be affected by local people in arms but not in the paid service of one side or the other. The desperate defence of Bradford against the royalists by local people in arms was celebrated in London newsbooks as a revival of club law – the use of the club to secure obedience, the triumph of force over argument – and the example was urged on the rest of the country. It was soon taken up in Rotherham.58 In April, the Earl of Derby was reported to have gone from Manchester to Whalley with 500 horse, 500 foot and about 2,000 ‘clubmen’. There they seized the town, and got into the church and steeple, but were flushed out by 200 musketeers, thirty horse and 200 clubmen. Having regained the town they were challenged by the earl to come out and fight, which they did, ‘and routed all his Army, and chased them about six miles’. Anticipating scepticism, the writer added: ‘which is firmly verified by letters from those parts’.59
As spring turned to summer, there were no active peace negotiations in train and parliamentary efforts to strengthen the war effort were offering further ammunition for their opponents in the paper war. As Parliament’s war effort escalated, the ‘cause’ was more clearly defined, but in ways that left a flank exposed to propagandists such as Ryves. The royalists did not have it all their own way, however. While they were more conservative in their demands from the civilian populations under their control, and in the ways in which they made those demands, they too were vulnerable – the relatively maximal view taken by a number of royalist commanders about honourable behaviour in war did the cause long-term damage. If the political battle was poised, however, for Parliament the military news got worse.
For much of the spring the Earl of Essex had been relatively immobile, covering the western approaches to London. On 13 April he left Windsor and laid siege to Reading, which had the effect of forcing Rupert to come south from Lichfield, but this attempted relief of Reading failed and it was surrendered on 26 April. This victory was important for parliamentary morale, but it was not followed up – Essex’s army, hampered by disease and lack of pay, did not leave Reading until 10 June.60 This lack of mobility on the part of the main army proved a problem for the overall fortunes of Parliament’s forces, something which was held against Essex.
On the day before the surrender of Reading, William Waller’s parliamentary forces had surprised Hereford, and James Chudleigh’s had fought an inconclusive engagement against Ralph Hopton at Sourton Down. These were good days for Parliament but Sourton Down was followed by an important royalist victory at Stratton (16 May). Hopton then advanced into Somerset, despite the fact that it left parliamentary strongholds (Bideford, Barnstaple, Plymouth, Dartmouth and Exeter) to his rear, and the gamble paid off. Having joined up with Prince Maurice and the Earl of Hertford in early June his advance continued. Waller had in the meantime been forced to abandon Hereford and failed to take Worcester on 29 May, and Hopton was advancing rapidly through the south-west. When Essex was eventually able to leave Reading to advance on Oxford, he met a decisive defeat at Chalgrove Field (18 June). Once again particular details were as important to morale as the overall position: John Hampden received two shots in the shoulder at Chalgrove Field and made his way painfully to Thame, where he died six days later in agony from his wounds. The plunder of Wycombe on 25 June led to panic in London and criticism of Essex’s generalship. Pym’s reaction was characteristic – recommending the tendering of a new oath, the Vow and Covenant, to Essex’s troops. On 28 June, instead, Essex tendered his resignation, though it was not accepted.61
As Hopton swept all before him he was brought into direct confrontation with Waller’s army. Battle was avoided at Chewton Mendip, 12 June, and the royalists instead swung round Waller’s army through Frome and Bradford-upon-Avon. Manoeuvring continued, leading to a skirmish at Monkton Farleigh on 3 July and to the pitched battle at Lansdown on 5 July. Victory there was hard won for the royalists, who found themselves too short of supplies to lay effective siege to Bath. Instead they moved on towards Devizes and Waller was able to meet them again at Roundway Down on 13 July. Waller’s army was destroyed in a battle more remarkable for bravery than tactical shrewdness, but the impact on the military and political landscape was no less significant for that. Waller was critical of Essex for failing to prevent the march of royalist forces from Oxford to support Hopton’s campaign: it seemed strange ‘that he, lying with his whole army within ten miles of Oxford, should suffer the chief strength of that place to march thirty [sic] miles to destroy him’. Following this catastrophic defeat Waller withdrew to Gloucester, then Evesham and finally London. The royalists now moved easily in the West Country, Bath was abandoned on 23 July and, on 26 July, Rupert stormed Bristol and the parliamentary commander, Nathaniel Fiennes, was court-martialled for surrendering too easily.62
In the meantime, Newcastle had won a significant victory at Adwalton Moor on 30 June, leading to an undignified retreat by the parliamentarians to Hull. They were only able to do that because the townspeople had prevented Sir John Hotham surrendering the town to the royalists. As the summer progressed, therefore, it was most certainly the royalists rather than the parliamentarians who had most to cheer. Although complete disaster had been averted following Adwalton Moor, when the surrender of Hull was prevented, the picture in the north was bleak indeed for the parliamentarians. The Fairfaxes had been driven out of the West Riding after that defeat, and were cut off from other parliamentary forces. As a result, all of the north was in Newcastle’s control, with the exception of Hull.63
On the day of the great victory at Roundway Down, Henrietta Maria met Charles on the field at Edgehill, bringing with her 3,000 men, eight or nine artillery pieces and 100 wagons of supplies. By late July it was feared that Hull would not be able to stand and Cromwell and Meldrum were sent to support the parliamentary position at Gainsborough. Having taken Burghley House, Cromwell’s troops were able to relieve Gainsborough on 28 July owing to disciplined and heroic cavalry action. This boosted morale, but hardly turned the tide of the war in the north. There were not enough infantry to hold Stamford and Cromwell drew back to Spalding and Peterborough. This scanty band was all that stood between Newcastle and an advance on London, and the Earl of Manchester was given a commission to command the forces of the associated counties to resist this advance. Early August saw further royalist triumph in the west, too: soon after the capture of Bristol came the capture of Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland. Erle abandoned the siege of Corfe Castle, and Dorset, with the exception of Poole and Lyme, was in the hands of the royalists. Waller was given an independent command, a reflection of the disaffection with Essex after his failure to advance from Reading: many seem to have shared Waller’s view that his defeats reflected a lack of support from Essex.64
So compelling were the royalist advances of these months that this may have been another moment when they might have won the war. Victories at Hopton Heath, Roundway Down and Adwalton Moor, the surrender or capture of Bath, Bristol and a number of more minor towns, the death of Hampden and the political vulnerability of Essex all posed a serious problem of morale to the parliamentarians, besides the obvious military advantages that had been won. Parliamentary forces were everywhere under pressure and resources to renew them not yet available, and political will among the leadership in London was clearly measured.
As it turned out, however, the royalists did not press home this advantage. The Yorkshire levies refused to move south and Newcastle was forced to besiege Hull, while Hopton’s Cornish levies similarly wanted to stay at home to protect their county from the garrison at Plymouth. Welsh troops refused to cross the Severn until Gloucester was taken. Since neither the northern nor the western armies were willing to advance further the real question was what to do with the armies in central England. With Waller beaten and back in London the way was clear for an advance on the capital, but Prince Rupert was instead sent to take Gloucester. The Parliamentary commander there, Massey, was thought to be wavering in his loyalty to Parliament, and certainly Gloucester was no more defensible than Bristol. Taking Gloucester would cement the royalist position, clearing communications between Oxford and south Wales and giving control of the Severn Valley. But posterity has blamed the royalists for failing to move decisively on London. As on the other side there was division over war aims too: between those who simply wanted to win the war and those who wanted to win the war in order to preserve the constitutional settlement of 1641, those who ‘wished to carry on the war with a view to the eventual peace’. This division erupted between Prince Rupert and the Earl of Hertford and between Prince Maurice and the Earl of Caernarvon over their conduct following victories in Bristol and Dorset. There were military arguments in favour of the more cautious strategy and it is not clear that the royalist armies were really in a position to advance at this moment. But the relatively conservative decision to move on Gloucester rather than London probably reflected the influence of moderate counsels as much as military considerations. In any case it was this decision which probably saved Parliament’s bacon: if the three royalist forces had pushed on in concert towards London victory might well have been possible.65
When Rupert arrived before Gloucester, Massey refused to surrender and this led to a second crucial decision – to lay siege to the city rather than storm it. This decision arose, it is said, from Charles’s own distaste for the human costs of the storming of Bristol, and to that extent it can be admired, but from a military point of view it was a questionable judgement. Gloucester could probably have been stormed quite quickly, whereas a siege tied down a large number of troops and gave Parliament time to levy a relieving force. On 27 August, Essex led out an army of 15,000 men, including men of the London Trained Bands, which entered Gloucestershire at Stow-on-the-Wold on 4 September. There an attack by Rupert failed and Essex reached Gloucester on 5 September. It was not a moment too soon, since Massey had only three barrels of powder left when they arrived, but their arrival had an immediate effect. Charles, unwilling to be caught between Essex’s army and the Gloucester forces, withdrew rather than risk losses and Essex was able to raise the siege on 8 September. There then began a race to prevent Essex reaching London. This relieved an appalling position, and boosted morale, but military advantage still lay with the royalists. Rupert still intended to engage Essex, but not in front of a hostile city, and further west royalist successes had continued as Barnstaple, Bideford and Exeter surrendered between 28 August and 4 September. West of Poole only Lyme, Plymouth, Dartmouth and Wardour Castle now held out for Parliament.66
Between late February and late April important measures had been taken to stiffen the parliamentary alliance, but the military tide had certainly not turned. Parliament also faced enemies within. In March, Charles encouraged the development of what became known as Waller’s plot.
The revelation of the Waller plot
He issued a commission to seventeen prominent London citizens, empowering them to lead an armed rising on his behalf. It was not activated until May, but the effort reveals the insincerity of Charles’s interest in the Oxford treaty. Edmund Waller, one of Parliament’s commissioners at Oxford, was the chief conspirator, and the list of his contacts was impressive – the Earl of Northumberland, John Selden, Bulstrode Whitelocke and Simonds D’Ewes, for example, all of them prominent Puritan critics of Charles I’s government. The plot was revealed theatrically, at the end of May, for propaganda effect: news was deliberately withheld until the fast day on 31 May, when MPs were summoned from morning worship to hear the revelations. By that point there was, of course, no danger since the chief conspirators were already under arrest, but the announcement and the precautionary mustering of the militia caused a considerable stir. Two of the chief conspirators were hanged in front of their own houses. Waller himself escaped, however, through a ‘combination of bribery and informing on his contacts’. He was fined £10,000 and banished.67
The execution of the plotters
London’s allegiance was not certain. Since January a radical caucus had been agitating for more rigorous prosecution of the war effort, their petitioning matched by practical measures to raise men and money through a committee at Salters” Hall, established in March. But the leading figures in these initiatives were new men, and their activities cut across the powers of existing bodies, such as the City’s militia committee. In July a more radical step was proposed in a scheme for a general rising – intended primarily as a means to support more thorough prosecution of the war under Waller, and independent of Essex’s command, the City would raise a volunteer army, funded directly from sources intended for that purpose. The initiative was associated too with attempts to dictate the membership of the parliamentary committee to oversee its use. These radical initiatives were a direct counterpoint to the activities of the Harley Committee and the progress of radical reformation in the City and the construction of extensive fortifications.68
But although the revelation of the Waller plot made it unwise to speak in favour of peace in London, it seems clear that the city was divided. In August the Lords prepared peace proposals which abandoned the position adopted in the Oxford negotiations, terms so soft that Essex refused to subscribe. News that they had been passed by the Lords, and that the Commons had agreed to consider them, led to consternation in the City. A co-ordinated attempt was made to exploit fears for the future of Protestantism in order to scupper what would have amounted to a capitulation. Some 5,000 men were reported to have demonstrated on 7 August in the Palace Yard against the proposed treason to the commonwealth. On 8 and 9 August, however, Parliament was surrounded by large crowds of women, wearing white ribbons, and calling for peace. The Commons was driven to publish a long explanation of their reasons for rejecting these proposals.69
The theatrical revelation of the Waller plot had been a prelude to further measures to stiffen the ideological and administrative sinews of the parliamentary war effort. On 9 June, Parliament imposed the Vow and Covenant. It was justified by the ‘popish and traitorous plot, for the subversion of the true Protestant reformed religion, and the liberty of the subject’, pursued by a popish army and manifest in the ‘treacherous and horrid design lately discovered, by the great blessing and especial providence of God’. These popish forces had been ‘raised by the King’. In view of the ‘constant experience, that many ways of force and treachery are continually attempted, to bring to utter ruin and destruction the Parliament and Kingdom, and, that which is dearest, the true Protestant religion… all who are true-hearted and lovers of their country should bind themselves each to other in a Sacred Vow and Covenant’. Subscribers were to acknowledge these distractions to be a punishment for their sins, and to promise not to lay down arms while the papists were in arms; to disavow the late plot and report any future ones; and most importantly, ‘according to my power and vocation, assist the forces raised and continued by both Houses of Parliament, against the forces raised by the King without their consent’. By declaring that ‘I do believe, in my conscience, that the forces raised by the two Houses of Parliament are raised and continued for their just defence, and for the defence of the true Protestant religion, and liberties of the subject, against the forces raised by the King’, the Vow had in effect dropped claims that the armies were fighting for the defence of the King’s honour and person. This was made the substance of a separate short declaration of ‘loyalty to the King’s person, his crown and dignity’. To some extent, or on some readings, it was in direct conflict with the Protestation, and royalist commentators were quick to say so.70 The purpose was clear enough, however: to shore up support for the continued war effort – this was the oath urged by Pym on Essex’s troops following the defeat at Chalgrove and the sacking of Wycombe.
On 12 June the future of the Reformation, a core element of the cause defined by the Vow and Covenant, was put in the hands of an assembly of divines, the Westminster Assembly. This was a consistent part of the negotiation platform of course, but a highly contentious issue – arguably the one at the heart of the instability of the parliamentary coalition. There was a suggestion that this was a means of kicking the issue of church government into the long grass while drawing the Scots back into English politics. Certainly for Sir Cheney Culpeper, a Kentish gentlemen of radical views but no great political influence, this initiative was closely related to the desire for an alliance with the Covenanters and to separate the sheep from the goats. On 16 June he wrote to Samuel Hartlib, with whom he maintained a regular correspondence, commending the ‘covenant lately made for the uniting of ourselves’ but also hoping for another ‘which I hope shortly to see for the stronger union of the 2 kingdoms in their common interest of religion and liberty’. Both would benefit from a confession of faith which in turn would be the basis of ‘a better union and correspondency between all the reformed churches and states, against the civil and ecclesiastical Babylon which God will certainly bring to judgement’. Although the military support from the Covenanters was shortly to be adopted, and was associated with just such a covenant, Culpeper was disappointed in his hopes for a confession of faith. When it became clear that the Covenanters intended to impose a Presbyterian church settlement Culpeper became quite scathing about our ‘geud brethren’. Initially, however, he was hopeful that ‘the well affected in both nations being united by Covenant first with themselves and then with one another, our strength and our enemy’s may be fully known’.71 This mirrored an element of the Waller plot, which had been to take a census of royalist sympathizers in London, parish by parish.72
On 14 June there followed a renewal of press licensing, suggesting that this desire to get the message out was closely associated with a desire to suppress rival or misleading messages and to preserve decency. A Commons order of August 1642 had sought to impose a crackdown on publication by re-establishing the partnership between government and the Stationers” Company, and in March another order turned the parliamentary committee for examinations into a kind of Star Chamber for the press by giving it powers of search, seizure and imprisonment. These elements of the policy were now brought together. The officers of the Stationers” Company along with the Gentleman Usher of the House of Lords and the Sergeant of the House of Commons were given powers of search, seizure and arrest of authors and printers. It was partly in response to lobbying from the company, whose commercial interests had been damaged by the collapse of their monopoly. But there was also a clear political purpose, to suppress ‘the great late abuses and frequent disorders in printing many false, forged, scandalous, seditious, libellous, and unlicensed papers, pamphlets, and books’ which had been published ‘to the great defamation of religion and government’.73
This redefinition and restatement of the parliamentary cause called forth from Charles a declaration that Parliament was not free and anyone abetting it in its usurpations was guilty of high treason. On the other hand, with some named exceptions, those who joined him in Oxford would be pardoned. This caused more than a little unease at Westminster.74 Seven lords did indeed abandon Parliament and three of them went to Oxford, but Charles hesitated to welcome them, aware of the hostility to converts among those who had been there from the start. Henrietta Maria was prominent among those hostile to such fair-weather friends and in the end the opportunity was missed. Although only Clarendon seems to have recommended a warm welcome at the time, most royalists subsequently came to see the coldness of the reception as a mistake.75 Although military success concealed the fact, there were divisions at Oxford. Moderate counsels, associated in particular with the ‘constitutional royalists’, were competing with a much harder line taken by military men and championed by Henrietta Maria. If failure to take advantage of the military position in the high summer of 1643 in order to impose terms had reflected the continuing influence of moderates, there were signs that the position was shifting. As Henrietta Maria’s influence became increasingly important, the moderates were to find it harder to make their case.76
These noble defections from Westminster reflected the despondency of those hoping to negotiate a settlement. The revelation of Waller’s plot had led more or less directly to measures to confirm the ideological basis of Parliament’s cause, and their treatment in Oxford confirmed that opinion there was hardly more conciliatory. Charles was known to be negotiating for a cessation in Ireland in order to bring forces back to England. The continuing failure of parliamentary forces to make ground in the war and the dismal prospects of negotiation provide the context in which the inhibition about the excise was finally broken.
On 22 July, Parliament adopted the excise and thereby completed the administrative and financial revolution which underpinned its war effort. A central committee was established, co-ordinating the efforts of professional tax gatherers. Previous taxes depended on local officeholders acting voluntarily, which obviously increased the possibilities for evasion but also softened the edges of any potential confrontation. Excise men were soon widely loathed, denounced as a biblical plague in terms strongly reminiscent of the denunciation of monopolists. The tax was also regressive, raised as a flat rate and imposed on (among other things) meat, salt and beer, all of them staple elements of the diet of the poor. Butchers and saltworkers were prominent in the subsequent resistance to the tax. Despite these problems the excise survived and was, like the assessment, retained by the restored monarchy to become a staple element of public finances throughout the eighteenth century. Parliament had, between October 1642 and July 1643, created the financial instruments which supported the eighteenth-century empire.77 But it did not make them popular; nor did it make them very plausible as defenders of the ancient constitution.
Three days earlier Parliament had formally requested military aid from the Covenanters. The Westminster Assembly had begun work on a new church settlement, acting under the authority of Parliament and with the abolition of episcopacy certainly on the agenda. Parliament had become an executive body, raising taxes, seizing property, ejecting ministers, licensing the press, setting armies in the field and fleets out to sea, all on the authority of ordinances which had originally been justified as measures necessary owing to the absence of the King. A careful reading of Husbands” Exact collection revealed the case for defensive arms, in defence of religion, law and the liberty of Parliament. But iconoclasm, the burning of the Book of Sports, the (possibly malicious) ejection of parish clergy, not to mention the constitutional and administrative radicalism of the parliamentary war effort, all threatened to open a fatal gap between the rhetoric and the reality of the parliamentary cause. This was a carefully chosen and cautiously staged answer to the common concern that zealous reformation led to social disorder, but it was clearly much beyond the aims of redress in 1640. So too, the Vow and Covenant had severed the defence of the King’s person, crown and dignity from the defence of the true religion and the liberties of Parliament. Even before a military alliance with the Covenanters was ratified, these developments had put a strain on the loyalty men felt to the choices they had made in 1642. Bruno Ryves clearly recognized the potential here.
The relief of Gloucester had required the loan of fifty subsidies from London, ten times as many as had been granted at any one time during the 1620s, which was forced out of the city on 18 August. At the same time the Commons felt the need to rebuke John Saltmarsh, the increasingly radical divine, for some apparently derogatory remarks about the royal family. When the issue was discussed Henry Marten defended Saltmarsh, saying ‘it were better one family were destroyed than the whole kingdom should perish’ – a not very coded statement of conditional loyalty to the King. Challenged, he said without hesitation that he did indeed mean the royal family. He was imprisoned in the Tower and excluded from the House for three years.78 Parliamentarians trod an increasingly thin line: as the measures necessary to fight the war became more radical, the claim to be in defensive arms to protect monarchical government seemed increasingly difficult to justify. The King’s posture of respect for local offices was undermined by the behaviour of some royalist troops, but it is easy to see why those who had chosen Parliament might have begun to feel that they had chosen wrongly, or were backing a losing side.
Sir Hugh Cholmley, for one, had acted reluctantly in taking up arms for Parliament. He later claimed that he had regarded the Militia Ordinance as an act of war against Charles and the Nineteen Propositions as unjust and unreasonable. However, ties of friendship (most of his friends were parliamentarians) and hostility to Strafford’s friends and allies, who were throwing in their lot with the King, had persuaded him to accept a commission from the Earl of Essex. Acting decisively, he took control of Scarborough Castle and led 500 men in a successful action at Guisborough on 16 January 1643. Slingsby, his royalist opponent, died of his wounds three days later. Although this was a relatively minor skirmish, which figures barely at all in the military histories of the war, Cholmley was sickened by what he saw. He had refused to lead his forces into the West Riding in support of the Fairfaxes, convincing his commanders in London that this was prudent, rather than treacherous. When the Queen arrived in York from Bridlington, however, in March 1643, he changed allegiances. He claimed now to be certain that Pym, not Charles, was the warmonger; and he admitted to acting to defend his home, tenants and constituents from invasion and plunder by the royalists. He subsequently held Scarborough for the King, stubbornly in 1644 after the war in the north had turned against the royalists, and went into exile after he eventually surrendered it. He returned to England in the 1650s, but was widely distrusted, and even despised.79 Cholmley was later able to present all this as consistent and personally honourable, placing it squarely in the context of oaths of allegiance and the Protestation, which he had sworn.80 But for those who had commissioned him, or who had thought him an ally, it was clearly possible to take another view.
Clarendon believed that Cholmley had initially accepted the parliamentarian commission because of his friendship with Sir John Hotham, who had refused the King entry to Hull in April 1642. Hotham too had second thoughts. Late in 1642 he promised Lord Digby, a prisoner in his charge, that he would surrender the town to the King. When it came to it, he changed his mind and drove away the besiegers, but by April 1643 he and his son were at odds with other parliamentary commanders. Troops under the command of the younger Hotham were ill-disciplined and this had led him into conflict with the Fairfaxes, Cromwell and Hutchinson. The elder Hotham, in the course of this dispute, had referred to Cromwell and Hutchinson as ‘Anabaptists’, suggesting that he, at least, was unimpressed by the attempt to identify the parliamentary cause with more advanced reformation. By the early summer of 1643 their disaffection with the parliamentary cause had led both Hothams into correspondence with the Earl of Newcastle about changing sides. In mid-April the younger formally approached Newcastle promising to do the King good service. When their intentions became public on 18 June the younger Hotham was imprisoned in Nottingham Castle. In his defence he alleged that the strength of the parliamentary forces was restricted to defacing churches. He escaped from Nottingham and contacted Henrietta Maria, who seemed willing to welcome his defection, before going to Hull to see his father. By the time he got there, however, the Commons had ordered the traitors” appearance at Westminster, and he was arrested from his bed on the authority of the mayor. The defences were put in the hands of the citizens, and his father Sir John, hearing what was up, fled in a hurry on horseback. He was knocked off his horse at Beverley, however, and returned to Hull, whence father and son were sent to London by sea. Their court-martial was long delayed, suggesting that there was some sympathy for their position in London, but they were eventually found guilty and executed in January 1644.81
Although Henrietta Maria had seemed willing to welcome this kind of friend, many other royalists took a sterner view. Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State to Charles during the war, wrote of the father: ‘The rebels have seized him, his son, their wives and children, and sent them all prisoners to the rebellious city, London, where the justice of God will, I believe, bring him to be punished by the same usurped power that at first did encourage him in his first act of rebellion; for falser men than he and his son live not upon the earth’. Others thought him proud and covetous. There was a more charitable view, although not an entirely positive one: that he was a man of judgement, albeit one whose passion and pride overbore that judgement on occasion. Views of the son were less equivocal: Clarendon thought him full of ‘pride and stubbornness’ and Cholmley, who was after all on thin ice here, described him as ‘a very politic and cunning man, [who] looked chiefly at that which stood most with his own particular interest’.82
Fighting alongside Cholmley at Guisborough was Sir Matthew Boynton, a gentleman of sufficiently significant standing to have been knighted on 9 May 1618 and created a baronet the following week. Member of Parliament for Heydon in the 1620s, he had by 1637 become sufficiently concerned about the direction of affairs in England to have sold lands in the Tees Valley, intending to follow the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World. He pulled out at a late stage but joined the Independent church at Southwark. When war broke out he acted quickly, raising troops for Parliament, and it is easy to see the roots of this political and military history in his previous history. It was Boynton’s second son who took Sir John Hotham (his own uncle) prisoner at Beverley on 29 June 1643; and it was Sir Matthew himself who on 22 July 1645 captured Scarborough from Sir Hugh Cholmley, after an arduous and destructive siege.83 In 1648, however, the younger Boynton was to desert his parliamentary command in the hope of a royal military victory in the second civil war.84
The realities of war, and the lack of clarity in war aims, caused divisions on both sides, but on the parliamentary side the overall military situation encouraged defeatism among the less committed. The litany of military reverses, which continued more or less without interruption through the summer of 1643, was accompanied by a series of treasons and betrayals. Essentially personal decisions, by Hotham and his son and by Cholmley, had a decisive military impact, delivering secure control of the north to the royalist forces under Newcastle.85 The fall of Bristol in July was of even greater significance to the war in the west and here, too, questions were asked about military honour and loyalty. In this case, with no very good reason, treason charges were successfully made against Nathaniel Fiennes, who was sentenced to death and only reprieved at the request of the Earl of Essex. According to contemporary understandings of the laws of war to continue in a forlorn defence was to cause unnecessary loss of life and in those circumstances surrender was the honourable military decision. Most modern commentators agree that Fiennes had judged this correctly, but to contemporaries who had witnessed side-changing and plots, and whose knowledge of conditions on the ground was hazy, it was a decision that could easily be suspected.86 Fiennes was forced into a public vindication of his actions.
Honour was an elusive quality, difficult in these circumstances to define. It could be recognized in opponents, and difficult to discern in apparent friends; but sticking to an initial commitment was not necessarily what honour dictated either. It is not clear that the behaviour of Hotham and Cholmley was in any simple way less principled than that of Boynton: they might have argued, in fact, that their changing allegiances arose from a surfeit of principle. Cholmley was certainly insistent that his position was principled, and Boynton’s son clearly felt by 1648 that the cause had shifted and that he no longer wanted to support it. Given the costs of the war, and the shifting basis of the two coalitions, it is certainly possible to see a refusal to carry on fighting as an honourable position. Sir John Hotham had after all accepted a commission to take control of Hull in the face of armed popish conspiracy against Parliament; not for the cause that was now taking shape. The case of Fiennes makes it appear rather more complex: there was an honour code governing surrender, but in the heat of battle a surrender offered too easily might look quite like a change of sides. These questions were posed continuously for those in arms. In May, James Chudleigh had deserted the parliamentary cause, following his capture at the battle of Stratton Hill, and wrote to his father encouraging him to do the same. It had been widely thought among royalists that Massey would surrender Gloucester in the summer of 1643, since he seemed unwilling to resist the King in person, but his resolve was apparently strengthened by feeling within the city. Sir Alexander Carew rethought his allegiance in August, following the fall of Bristol and the deterioration of the military position in the west, and contacted Sir John Berkeley with a view to changing sides. He delayed, however, ‘so sottishly and dangerously wary of his own security… that he would not proceed till he was sufficiently assured that his pardon was passed the Great Seal of England’.87
Amidst these ambiguities it is plain that some men had a clear view about honourable conduct. Following defeat at Adwalton Moor, Sir Thomas Fairfax had stayed in Bradford until all was lost, fighting his way out and leaving behind his wife and many followers. En route to Hull he had abandoned his small daughter, who could not bear the hard ride to Hull, apparently thinking she would die. His daughter joined him a day after his arrival in Hull, revived after a night’s sleep, and his wife was ‘sent to him with all courtesy by the stately Newcastle, who was too gallant a cavalier to make war on ladies’. Similar courtesies were observed at the siege of Arundel Castle in January 1644. Once negotiations for a treaty had been opened, the parliamentary commander, Sir William Waller, invited Lady Bishop, the wife of the royalist commander, and her daughters to dine with him.88 Such things clearly mattered. On 10 August 1643, when Charles summoned Gloucester to surrender, a soldier and citizen came out to deliver the reply. The city was at His Majesty’s orders as soon as it was signified to them by the two Houses of Parliament, they said. Having delivered their message they wheeled around, turning their backs on the King; and putting on their hats in which the orange ribbons denoting their allegiance were prominently visible, they rode off. This was a gross breach of etiquette, which evoked laughter among the courtiers, but strengthened the King’s determination to press on with the siege. In July, frustrated by his failure to bring the royalists to battle, Essex had proposed to the Speaker of the House of Lords that the terms rejected by the King in Oxford should be offered again. If he refused them, then the King should be asked to withdraw and the two armies be allowed to fight a single battle to settle the quarrel. The idea was studiously ignored.89 Insistence on honourable, civil, courteous behaviour was an understandable response to the moral ambiguities confronted by those seeking to act in a principled and consistent way. Whether, in these conditions, honour had any clear meaning was less certain.
Settling into a longer campaign created new political issues, arising from the war itself. Those who were fighting to preserve legal propriety and those fighting to defend religious decency might change their mind about which side best represented their views. Clearly, there were different views among the parliamentarians about what the war was for and how the cause could be strengthened. From the spring of 1643 until the early autumn, military fortune favoured the King, and this tended to make these questions very pressing on the parliamentary side. Relative military failure, in itself, posed problems for the solidarity of the parliamentary coalition, but it did so in less direct ways too. At Edgehill and Turnham Green there had been an element of excitement, or even euphoria, about the response of the troops. During the following years the hard realities of soldiering became obvious. The horrors endured in Germany during the Thirty Years War were well-known, and fears that England might ‘turn Germany’ were common. They were quickly reinforced by Edgehill, Brentford, Marlborough, Birmingham and Lancaster. The almost forgotten skirmish at Guisborough was sufficiently appalling to shift Cholmley’s allegiance, and the agonizing death suffered by Hampden had many fellows. Charles was in the end reluctant to storm Gloucester, having seen the aftermath of the storming of Bristol, where, as one participant put it, ‘as gallant men as ever drew sword… lay upon the ground like rotten sheep’.90 Given the political uncertainties about war aims the problems raised by these terrible experiences were more complicated than simple revulsion at the experience of warfare: what was this suffering supposed to achieve, and was it doing so?
Military campaigns imposed heavy burdens on individuals and communities and continued fighting posed a problem of political and religious mobilization. But as the campaigns became more destructive, without being more decisive, and novel institutional measures were taken to support them, the war became a political issue in itself, complicating the choices made in 1642. In justifying new measures and trying to stiffen the sinews, again particularly on the parliamentary side, more radical religious and political arguments were voiced. Parliament’s war effort, increasingly closely associated with zealous reformation, was stepped up in two distinct phases: one towards the end of the Oxford negotiations and extending into late April, the other in June and July. This process too led to some revision of the choices of 1642. By late summer, Parliament’s military fortunes were at a low ebb, radical administrative measures were being taken, supported by rhetoric which would not have commanded much support a year earlier. The core of the parliamentary cause was being more clearly defined and could not easily be presented as merely defensive. The problems this posed were obvious in the defections of 1643. Domestic radicalization had benefits in fighting the war, but also costs in threatening the solidity of the coalition of 1642. This was to become still more the case in the autumn, as Parliament concluded a military alliance with the Covenanters, and Charles negotiated a cessation in Ireland in order to allow him to bring troops across the Irish Sea. Meanwhile, Parliament had not really enjoyed the fruits of this escalation either, although the relief of Gloucester had lifted spirits.
Bruno Ryves’s strategy in Mercurius Rusticus, of contrasting the actions of parliamentarians with their rhetoric, was a common one, and manifested the much larger problem posed by the contested meaning of key terms. Publicity magnified the obvious problem: conditions of necessity had made the meaning of apparently plain words (law, reformation, treason, honour) obscure. The truth in these conditions was very elusive – both in the sense of reliable accounts of what was happening and, more importantly, what it meant. Versions of the truth could not be taken on trust either, as polemics consistently undercut the authority of the other side. Meanwhile, for an uncommitted reader of the flood of pamphlets that swept from the presses, it was difficult to identify the grounds of honourable personal conduct.