The War of the Three Kingdoms

The Irish Cessation and the Solemn League and Covenant, 1643

By late 1643 both sides had secured outside help, further complicating the politics of mobilization and the difficulty of negotiating an eventual peace. The King sought a truce in Ireland to release troops for service in England; Parliament sought military help from the Covenanters. The English civil war had been a consequence of crises in the other kingdoms; England was now to become the cockpit of a war of all three kingdoms.

There were three armies in Ireland. The confederated Catholics, the original rebels, had risen against the government, having been frustrated in their hopes of securing concessions from Wentworth in return for financial support for the crown. They were now seeking freedom of worship and security of their estates and religion. Given the climate in England freedom of worship was unthinkable, but security of estates and religion were, potentially, negotiable. The Confederates had been sensitive to the realities of English politics-for example, they did not refer to their assembly in Kilkenny (which met two days after the battle of Edgehill) as a parliament because the oath of confederacy had bound them to acknowledge the King’s rights, among which was the sole authority to summon parliaments. They also recognized the authority of English common law and statute, so long as they did not infringe the liberties of the Irish people or the free exercise of their religion. There were of course divisions over what these demands meant in practice, and it is significant that they were the confederated Catholics. rather than the united Catholics, or simply the Catholics. It was a loose coalition, formed in the months after the rising, in the light of military needs. Its politics are best understood in terms of a tension between a peace party, anxious for a rapid settlement with the King, and a clericalist wing, seeking to extract maximal religious concessions from the King now that a rising was underway. There was also a middle group, negotiating between these positions, led by Nicholas Plunkett, a distinguished Dublin lawyer. Plunkett had acted against Wentworth on a number of occasions during the 1630s. Initially opposed to the rising he had risen rapidly in the ranks of the Confederacy once he had committed himself to its cause. He was one of the most prominent Catholic politicians of the mid seventeenth century, but his politics were not dogmatically confessional-his was a campaign for the rights of Catholics under the crown. His sense of what kind of peace would suffice was at odds with that of other influential figures in the Confederacy. Nonetheless, and despite their internal differences, the Confederates were surely correct in thinking that the King was a more likely friend than the English parliament and in October 1642 they had petitioned the King in these terms, ‘which granted, we will convert our forces upon any design your majesty may appoint’.1

English forces in Ireland were based in Dublin under the command of James Butler, Earl of Ormond. The son of a prominent family (he was the 12th earl), he is normally commended above all for his loyalty. The Butlers had remained Catholic at the Reformation and so, despite a long record of crown service, had become subjects of suspicion. James was taken into royal wardship in 1614, however, and educated under the austerely Calvinist eye of George Abbot. Although his education was otherwise rather neglected, this created a breach with the Catholic past of the family and opened the door to service of the crown, something essential to the interests of ambitious landowners and something that Ormond pursued enthusiastically ever after. Sympathetic to the royalist cause in England, and serving under a royal commission, he was securely royalist. But this was less true of other figures in the Dublin government. Fear of popery and (Catholic) rebellion, such a prominent part of the English parliamentarian case, played powerfully among Ireland’s Protestant elite. In October 1642, the month of the assembly at Kilkenny and of the battle of Edgehill, Parliament sent commissioners to Dublin hoping to get this army to renounce its loyalty to the King.2

A third army had been sent by the Covenanters in April 1642 to make Ulster safe for Presbyterianism, under the command of Robert Monro, and partly funded by the English parliament. A veteran of French, Danish and Swedish service, Monro had shown no hesitation in throwing in his lot with the Covenanters, and when he took up the commission of Major-General of the Covenanting army in Ireland he was probably in his mid-forties. The proposal for a Scottish army to preserve Protestantism in Ireland had initially come from both Parliament and the King, but by the time that the army was sent the King was no longer behind it. This army was obviously more likely to fight for Parliament than for the King, should it become interested in joining the English war. There were also a number of regiments raised in England, the Adventurers, on the promise of reward from confiscated lands, whose loyalties were clearly far more likely to be parliamentarian.3

Of these armies in Ireland the Confederates were most likely to be royalist, but an alliance with Irish Catholics would cost Charles support everywhere else. Monro, of course, was unlikely to be anything but pro-parliamentarian, but the allegiance of the English forces under the command of Ormond might be contested. Viewed strictly as a matter of military policy the King’s best option was to seek peace with the Confederates, hoping thereby to release Ormond’s forces for service in England. Early in 1643 Charles ordered the expulsion of the parliamentary delegation from Dublin, and sent a commission to Ormond and others to hear the grievances of the Catholics. This process went ahead despite a military initiative from Dublin, and despite the demands of the Confederates, which were too far-reaching to be granted. By April, a ceasefire seemed plausible, but not a full settlement, and over the summer of 1643 this is what was negotiated. On 15 September, after a year of military failure, Ormond managed to secure a twelve-month cessation of arms in Ireland, leaving only very limited royal outposts on the east coast and around Cork in the South-west, and some fortresses in the north and west. Ormond’s misgivings were shared by other influential figures such as Murrough O’Brien, Earl of Inchiquin (a Protestant of distinguished parentage and commander of the government’s forces in Munster), and Barnabas O’Brien, Earl of Thomond (governor of County Clare). But the larger logic of the arrangement was plain. Ormond’s hesitations fed doubts about this peace party strategy among the Confederates: that the bargaining position was being given up too easily or to someone who could not be fully trusted.4

The Cessation was (to put it no more strongly) unlikely to be well-received in England and Scotland, particularly since its purpose was to allow troops to be brought back and used against the English parliament. It brought an end to Sir Edward Dering’s flirtation with royalism, for example. Returning from Oxford he was examined at Westminster, and said ‘that since the cessation in Ireland, and seeing so many papists and Irish rebels in the king’s army and the anti-parliament set up at Oxford, and the King’s counsels wholly governed by the popish party, his conscience would not permit him to stay longer with them’. He was allowed to compound for his delinquency, his treatment to be a model ‘for all others that would come in after him who was the first’.5 Perhaps more damagingly, the Cessation made Charles’s hopes of getting Scottish support seem even more remote. The truce left Monro with a choice: to enjoy the benefits of the Cessation or to face the Confederate army without support from Ormond. Ormond’s diplomacy therefore also aimed at preventing Monro fighting for Parliament, if possible. By early November the arrival of Irish troops had been negotiated and on 15 September a cessation was agreed, to last twelve months.6

While backing the plan for the Cessation in Ireland, Charles had also sought support in Scotland, hoping to exploit cracks in the Covenanting coalition, but these were more or less contradictory policies. He did not seem concerned that his Irish policy would upset others among his allies, or that Sir Edward Hyde (supporter of the policy of winning the war by subverting London through such means as the Waller plot) was not aware of these plans for Ireland. Hyde had been knighted as recently as February, joining the Privy Council and being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer shortly afterwards-he was apparently a rising man in Charles’s counsels, but he was in the dark about the Irish policy. Hamilton, the leading Scot at the English court and long-suffering adviser to Charles, who currently enjoyed Charles’s confidence, thought that by normal means of aristocratic intrigue he would be able to generate support for the King in Scotland. In particular, the leading role played by the Earl of Argyll in the Covenanting movement was generating hostility in Scotland, particularly among his rivals, and this might form the basis for a royalist party without the necessity of making war in Scotland. The price of such a deal was likely to be a secure Presbyterian settlement, but making such guarantees appear convincing would be even harder than before as a result of his Irish policy.7 Charles clearly saw his government in a ‘three kingdoms’ perspective, and was alert to the implications of dissent in one kingdom for the good order of the other two. It is hard to credit, therefore, how relaxed he was about the obvious difficulties of promoting a royalist alliance in three kingdoms, or at least one that was not obnoxious to many of his subjects.

An alternative vision for Scotland was the more militant one proposed by the Earl of Montrose. He was keen to create a royalist force in Scotland, and met Henrietta Maria soon after her landing in Bridlington, hoping to get the King’s support for a rising in Scotland. Later in the year he met Charles in person outside Gloucester during the siege, to discuss this plan, which was less palatable than more moderate advice but probably more realistic. As early as 1640, when the Covenanters had been divided about the wisdom of crossing into England, Montrose had been able to gain support for an anti-Argyll covenant and hostility to Argyll remained significant. Another potential ally was the Earl of Antrim, anxious to regain his lands in Ulster from occupation by Monro, and also hostile to Argyll’s domination of the west coast of Scotland. In the late summer of 1641 the Earl of Antrim had received orders from Charles I to raise troops in Ireland for deployment in Scotland. Now Montrose backed a plan (the ‘Antrim plot’) to use 2,000 Irish Catholic troops under Antrim to invade Argyll’s estates in western Scotland, while Antrim was also commissioned to send 10,000 men to England to fight for the royalists.8

Hamilton’s hope was that a moderate royalist cause could be built in Scotland without resort to war, but the Irish policy certainly made this uphill work. Montrose’s militancy, while not necessarily the best thing for Scotland, was the better pair for the policy of Cessation in Ireland. However, further to Hamilton’s policy a convention of estates was summoned in April 1643, but when it eventually met in June 1643 it was solidly pro-parliamentarian. This was perhaps predictable given that the English parliament had been seen as the guarantee of the Covenanting revolution in 1641, and the prospects of a cessation can only really have reinforced this view. Revelation of the Antrim plot was certainly the nail in the coffin of the moderate alliance. Its effect in London was also dramatic: according to Simonds D’Ewes, ‘The discovery of this plot did more work on most men than anything that had happened during these miserable calamities and civil wars of England, because it seemed now that there was a fixed resolution in the Popish party utterly to extirpate the true Protestant religion in England, Scotland, and Ireland’.9

Charles’s strategy, of pursuing all options at once-peace in Ireland, armed intervention in Scotland using Catholic troops, the capture of London from within and negotiated support in Scotland-was under- standable, but untenable.10 The Scottish convention of estates was dominated by Argyll and his supporters. Argyll was a supporter of the parliamentary cause and on good terms with Pym, and after the Antrim plot the game was up for moderate royalism in Scotland. Antrim, whose capture had led to revelation of the plot, was imprisoned in Carrick-fergus, from where a dramatic escape allowed him to join the Confederates in Waterford. Meanwhile commissioners were sent from England to Scotland to negotiate a civil league and a religious covenant, arriving in August: what had seemed to be the likely outcome was indeed the eventual result-that Parliament would secure the help of the Covenanters. This produced a substantial army the following spring.11 Charles, by negotiating a truce in Ireland, would be able to deploy the Dublin government’s troops in England.

The Covenanters wanted the same thing from Parliament that they wanted from the King-security for a Presbyterian settlement. Here was one group who could certainly tell everyone what the war was about. But although there was much common ground about the preaching of the Word and purification of the church and liturgy, it was not clear that Parliament had been fighting to establish Presbyterian church government in England. The Westminster Assembly had been convened in order to discuss the form of a church settlement in England and so, in a fundamental sense, the divines were debating war aims. These discussions were therefore crucial to the military alliance with the Covenanters, and might offer the means to make common ground ideologically. Certainly its composition pointed that way-no Episcopalians sat, for obvious reasons-and it is also clear that the temper of the assembly owed something to Scottish influence. The task in front of it was both very difficult and of fundamental importance, and the assembly showed every sign of wanting to move at a pace appropriate to that task. From its first meeting, on 1 July, it proceeded slowly over issues of procedure and the rules for debate. From mid-July onwards a painstaking discussion of the Articles began. But it was undertaking that task in conditions of civil war, and with the urgent need to foster unity not only within England but also between the parliamentarians and Covenanters.12

When parliamentary commissioners had arrived in Scotland on 7 August, their priority was to secure troops. The Covenanters, however, were more concerned with securing closer union of the churches, or were at least more concerned with extracting that as the price of military support. A precondition of the military alliance became, for the Covenanters, a joint band or covenant to pursue shared religious objectives. In other words, where the parliamentarians were seeking a civil alliance, the Covenanters wanted a covenant; and for reasons internal to England that meant that the English commissioners had to try to restrain the influence of strict adherence to Presbyterian discipline on the shape of the covenant.13 The weakness of Parliament’s military position in England did not allow for robust negotiation.

This was the context in which the Solemn League and Covenant was produced. It was the document that the Covenanters wanted, not a straightforward statement of the parliamentary cause as seen by its English adherents. It was intended that the covenant would be sworn by all the inhabitants of the three kingdoms and would commit them to the promotion of a common religious practice. Significantly that entailed the preservation of the kirk, but the reform of the English and Irish churches. This reform was to be undertaken according to the example of the best reformed churches, and since no reform was proposed of the kirk, it is pretty clear which churches the drafters had in mind. Henry Vane, the chief parliamentary negotiator, is credited with securing a little wriggle room for those uncomfortable with Scottish presbytery: a clause was changed in Westminster so that reform should be pursued ‘according to the word of God’ rather than by the ‘same holy word’ that governed the kirk. It was not simply a religious covenant, since subscribers were also bound to preserve both Houses of Parliament and the King’s person and authority, and to seek the punishment of malignants as well as opponents of religion. In fact only two of the six clauses were purely religious.14 Nonetheless, the religious bond was close to the heart of the military alliance, and like all religious commitments it posed potentially very serious problems of conscience.15

There can be little doubt that this religious programme was closer to the mainstream of Scottish opinion than of English, or even the centre ground of the parliamentary coalition. For the Covenanters the best security for the gains they had made in 1640 and 1641 lay in the export of their church settlement, and that was in hand here, but many of those who fought for Parliament in England had not taken up arms for that. Moreover, the covenant pledged to extirpate heresy and schism. Sectarians could hope for little sympathy here, and respectable Congregationalists might look askance too. The pay-off for the English parliament was priceless, however: alongside this mutual covenant to pursue reformation the Covenanters demanded £30,000 per month from the English parliament in return for sending 21,000 men to bolster Parliament’s ailing cause.16

The Scottish Convention adjourned on 26 August, the day that the draft of the Solemn League reached Westminster, where it was forwarded to the Assembly of Divines. Amendments were added in early September but negotiations were taking place with Gloucester under siege and Parliament’s military fortunes far from thriving: nice distinctions over the precise form of the most desirable form of Protestant worship were allowed to slip notice, in the interests of political and military expediency. Scots commissioners arrived on 7 September and the covenant was finally sworn to by the Commons and the Assembly of Divines on 25 September.17

By October the assembly had returned to the business of a confession of faith for the English church, but again these careful deliberations were overtaken by the more pressing concern with the unity of the parliamentarian-Covenanter alliance. On 12 October the assembly was busy on the sixteenth of the Thirty-Nine Articles, especially ‘upon that clause of it which mentions departing from Grace’.18 At that point the Houses ordered the assembly, with some urgency, to consider the discipline and liturgy of the church instead. Although opinion on the issue of church government was poised between Presbyterians, Independents and Erastians, its deliberations took place in the light of the clear military and political significance of an alliance with the Presbyterian Scots. In this new work on discipline and liturgy, the hand of the Scottish commissioners can clearly be seen. The five Scottish commissioners had originally been chosen by the Scottish General Assembly, ‘to treat with the English parliament or Assembly for the union of England and Scotland in one form of kirk government, one confession of faith, one catechism and one directory for worship’.19 The Houses empowered the Westminster Assembly to elect a committee to treat with the Covenanters, and this standing committee came to exercise a considerable influence over the deliberations of the assembly as a whole. Initially it was a means of agreeing the Solemn League and Covenant, but on 17 October, as a result of Scottish pressure, another standing committee was formed to discuss the union of the churches – what had initially been a means of securing a political and military alliance had mutated into the instrument for the achievement of a union of the churches. 20 Robert Baillie, the leading Scottish Presbyterian minister, who was one of the commissioners, claimed that the influence of this committee was pervasive, and the records of the assembly seem to bear out that view. From the autumn onwards debate in the Westminster Assembly took a distinctly Presbyterian direction, one which was to cause significant problems within the parliamentary alliance.

Parliament was now co-ordinating a military campaign built around the call for further reformation defined ever more closely not simply in anti-episcopal but also in actively Presbyterian terms. The anti-Laudian alliance which had sustained opposition to the crown at the opening of the Long Parliament was far easier to mobilize than one in favour of this particular brand of reformation, but for the time being it was not in anyone’s interest to dwell on the potential difficulties.

There was much common ground, of course. The Solemn League and Covenant committed its signatories to the extirpation of ‘Popery, prelacy (that is, Church government by Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors and Commissaries, Deans, Deans and Chapters, Archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found to be contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness’.21 Much of this was dear to the hearts of English parliamentarians: popery, superstition and profaneness certainly; prelacy almost certainly; and heresy, subject to negotiation over definitions. Schism, however, was a much more controversial term, bearing on the nature of church government to follow from the abolition of prelacy.

As we have seen, and perhaps not coincidentally, the campaign against popery, superstition and profaneness had been stepped up during 1643. Scottish commissioners in London during the spring and summer of 1643 were witness to a more advanced process of purification than anything that had previously been undertaken as the Harley Committee, supported by the authorities in London, had started its campaign against exactly these things. Reformation of the physical space of English churches and towns, and purification of the liturgy, could be identified as pushing forward the preaching of the Word, and the right administration of the sacraments. Completion of the military alliance with the Covenanters coincided with an escalation of this second phase of iconoclasm, a campaign which was apparently more top-down than the relatively spontaneous reactions against Laudianism in 1640-42. On 26 August, the day that the Solemn League and Covenant was received at Westminster and immediately referred to the Westminster Assembly, the Lords approved an ordinance ‘for the utter demolishing, removing and taking away of all monuments of superstition or idolatry’. It had been in production since June, and the terms echoed the Commons order of 8 September 1641 and the remit of the Harley Committee. But it was also broader in scope, more detailed and conducted nationally on a legislative basis. It called for the removal of altar tables and tables of stone. Communion tables were to be moved away from the east end of the church and all rails removed; tapers, candlesticks and basins taken off the communion table and no such things to be used. Crucifixes and crosses, images and pictures of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and superstitious inscriptions were all to be removed. This was a far wider campaign than the attacks on Laudian innovations in 1640-42: Michael Herring, for example, the churchwarden of St Mary Woolchurch, London, had at that time been reprimanded for defacing superstitious inscriptions. In adding crosses, the saints and superstitious inscriptions the legislation went further than previous orders, and also embraced not just the interiors of places of worship but also churchyards and other places belonging to churches and chapels, and ‘any other open space’. The orders were not simply for removal either, but that these things should be defaced.22

It was this ordinance that set in train one of the more remarkable careers of the 1640s. Through the following spring an otherwise obscure man, William Dowsing, set about his own work in God’s cause with great energy. A working farmer of relatively modest means, Dowsing was clearly a godly man. He collected a serious library of religious books, the earliest acquisitions illegal imports from the Low Countries dealing with separatism. In his mid-forties by the time war broke out, he served as Provost Marshal to the Eastern Association armies from August 1643 – responsible for military discipline. In December of that year, however, he surrendered his commission in favour of appointment as commissioner for removing the monuments of idolatry and superstition from the churches of the Eastern Association. This he did, with tremendous commitment, and over the next four months he visited 200 churches. On 15 April he visited three churches near his home in Suffolk, removing fifty-six superstitious pictures. This was the end of his most vigorous phase: in the coming five months he visited barely thirty more.23 Perhaps his farm absorbed his energies over the summer, and by the autumn the Earl of Manchester’s command was no longer secure. Thereafter, this kind of purification became the responsibility of churchwardens. In a relatively brief period, however, the first third or half of 1644, a yeoman farmer had cleansed most of the churches in Cambridgeshire and, with at least eight deputies, most of those in Suffolk too. There are signs of his presence in Essex and Norfolk too.24

In all this Dowsing was careful to act within the law, interpreting the ordinances empowering him very carefully: what he took into account changed as the legislation changed, and he sometimes argued the case with local authorities. The actual work of destruction was often left in the hands of churchwardens, constables or respectable local gentlemen. Here, as in the destruction of Cheapside Cross or the activities of the Harley Committee, was iconoclasm shorn of any association with sedition or lawlessness. As with those measures too, here was an opportunity for godly solidarity. Dowsing, almost certainly an Independent by inclination, was acting under orders from Manchester, a godly man who inclined towards Presbyterianism. Manchester, although conservative on church government, was very active in promoting the ejection of scandalous ministers and his father had, in the 1630s, taken a sympathetic view of the famous iconoclast Henry Sherfield. He was one of the members of the Lords who had supported the Commons order of September 1641, suggesting a long-term commitment to this issue.25 Dowsing’s books contain annotations which reveal a loss of confidence from 1645 onwards, as divisions among the godly and anxiety about the abuses of religious liberty by sectarians sapped his confidence about the authority of the cause.26 But in 1644 these concerns lay in the future – here was a high-water mark of godly activism, in which differences over church government were marginal, or not of the essence.

The uncontroversial core of the alliance with the Covenanters was the promotion of the preaching of the Word, and the attack on idolatry and superstition.27 Although this had been an important element of the parliamentary coalition in 1642, further reformation was controversial in England. Escalation of the war effort in the first half of 1643 had been accompanied by the definition of the cause – defensive arms (Husbands) and further reformation (the Harley Committee and Cheapside Cross). The Solemn League and Covenant reinforced this latter element, of purgation, making Parliament ever more committed to reform of forms of worship and the ritual calendar. This was of real significance to every parish in the country – the demands of this alliance were considerable. The more so, too, since this effort at purgation was closely tied to the negotiation of a Presbyterian church settlement in England. As events would prove, this was highly controversial even among those committed to the other features of this further reformation.

Royalist politics were hardly straightforward, either. Charles’s diplomacy threw into sharp relief the longstanding question about his trustworthiness. The Cessation was difficult to reconcile with an attempt to woo moderate opinion in Scotland or England, and his major initiative of the final months of 1643 seems similarly instrumental. On 22 December he summoned all those who had left the Westminster parliament to attend a parliament in Oxford, along with all those who might now be willing to come. It was to meet on 22 January. This was a shrewd move, of course, raising in acute form the question of what kind of parliament was now sitting at Westminster – armed with legislation preventing dissolution without its own consent, and following the departure of the King and many members of both Houses, and the assumption of unprecedented executive powers, it was reasonably easy to question the extent to which this could still be considered a parliament. When the Oxford parliament met, 44 peers and 137 commoners were said to have attended – the majority of able-bodied peers and a substantial proportion of the Commons – which represented a considerable propaganda coup. In fact, if those willing but unable to attend are added, Charles would have had the support of 175 members of the Commons. Between the autumn of 1642 and January 1649 average attendance at the Westminster House of Lords was less than twenty, and the active membership of the Commons was below 200.28

But this is difficult to interpret as a genuine commitment on Charles’s part to the virtues of parliaments. He had been reluctant to call the parliament, fearing that it would just press him to make accommodation and peace. On the other hand, it promised to rally support against a proposed invasion by the Scots, and given the balance of the political arguments, he seems to have been persuaded by the constitutional argument. He was restrained from dissolving the Westminster parliament, as advised by hardliners, on the grounds that this would be in breach of legislation he himself agreed in the summer of 1641, and would therefore both cancel the advantage he was seeking to claim, and make him appear untrustworthy, a primary charge against him.29

The force of the charge derived from his simultaneous pursuit of different and sometimes contradictory policies. Prior to the negotiation of the Cessation he had sought further help from Denmark, which had supplied arms in November 1642, but the terms demanded in May 1643 included handing over the Orkneys and Shetland, terms which would cost him dear in Scotland. From November 1643 an envoy was in Paris seeking French help. The Cessation was the best deal he could get, not necessarily the one closest to his heart. Over the winter of 1643-4, he was persuaded by the hardliners of Henrietta Maria’s circle to seek a final peace in Ireland, while at the same time he was open to ‘plots’ – a plan to secure the delivery of the garrison of Aylesbury by disgruntled separatists called the ‘Ogle plot’ and another attempt to divide the authorities of the City of London from Parliament, called the ‘Brooke plot’.30

All this has often persuaded historians that Charles was indeed untrustworthy. For many historians it has seemed easy to add a list of pejoratives – inept, calculating, instrumental, inconsistent, and so on. He was not unprincipled, however. His primary purpose was to preserve the dignity of the crown and integrity of the church, duties for which he was answerable to God. Those with whom he was dealing were rebels and traitors; they were not his equals, and did not share his obligations. Later in the 1640s this principled position was transmuted into an image of the suffering monarch – bearing burdens on behalf of his ungrateful subjects, and willing to suffer at their hands rather than surrender his sacred obligations.31 These principles were consistent and sincere, and made his behaviour internally consistent and honourable; but it made him appear slippery and untrustworthy. He was a difficult king to like. Of course, another pressure making for apparent inconsistency was division among his counsellors, and as their influence waxed and waned so did royalist policies – in this respect the royalist coalition was no more shifty than the parliamentarians. Parliament, for example, was quite capable of negotiating for peace on the basis of established rights and liberties while at the same time seeking to win the war using administrative instruments which undoubtedly violated those principles. In a peculiar way, then, Charles and his critics agree on one thing – that he should be judged by different standards.

The Cessation also introduced an ethnic dimension into the conflict in England. Irish involvement in the war was easily misrepresented, and prompted reactions which were, to the modern observer, grotesque. Newspaper reports over the coming years gave a cumulative estimate that more than 22,000 troops had arrived from Ireland, of whom the majority might have been native Irish rather than Protestant troops returned from service against the Catholics. Clearly an army of this size would have had a very substantial effect on the fighting, but this almost certainly reflected contemporary fears rather than reality. More recent estimates have put the figure much lower – most recently and most authoritatively at a little more than 9,000. It is more difficult to estimate the proportion of native Irish, but there is little evidence to support an estimate higher than 2,000. Remarkably, some of these 2,000 deserted to the parliamentary cause, along with many of their Anglo-Irish colleagues.32 With a downward revision of the estimated size of the army has come a consequent revision of the strategic benefit to the royalist cause of these soldiers.33

There is no disagreement about the propaganda effect, however, and fear of these armed papists threatened to introduce England to a fuller experience of wartime atrocity. On 23 October the first regiments arrived from Ireland and it quickly became clear that the terms of engagement with Irish troops were different. On 26 December, Byron’s royalist forces had trapped a detachment of parliamentarians in Barthomley Church and put them all to the sword. When Byron’s troops were defeated a month later at Nantwich, the parliamentary press made much of the fact that the 120 women captured had been carrying knives more than half a yard long, with a hook at the end, ‘made not only to stab, but to tear the flesh from the very bones’. One newsbook recommended that they ‘be put to the sword, or tied back to back and cast into the sea’.34 This played on more general fears about the Irish: ‘Do you imagine… the Irish rebels will be [any] more merciful to you, your wives and children than they were to the Protestants in Ireland?’35Attitudes like these informed a hostility to the Irish troops that was barely restrained. In mid-December, following the capture of a minor royalist garrison at Beoley House in Worcestershire, all troops thought to be Irish had been put to the sword. One hundred and fifty troops intercepted en route from Ireland the following April by Vice-Admiral Richard Swanley were taken to Pembroke in triumph before, on St George’s Day, being tied back to back and thrown into the sea. One newsbook reported with glee how they had been ‘caused to use their natural art, and try whether they could tread the seas as lightly as their Irish bogs’.36

These atrocities invited responses, of course, and threatened that the war would lose all restraint. At Bolton in May 1644 parliamentary forces defending the town, having repulsed an attack, took a prisoner and ‘hung him up as an Irish papist’ in full view of his comrades. When the town fell many were slain out of hand in reprisal. At Lyme, Dorset, in June a royalist siege was abandoned. In the deserted royalist camp parliamentarian seamen found ‘an old Irish woman’, looking for her friends, who she had thought were still there. The seamen dragged her back to Lyme, ‘drove her through the streets to the seaside, slashed and hewed her with their swords’ before casting her corpse into the sea. Following the capture in Dorset of Irish troops, apparently native Irish who could not speak English, Essex had written to approve their execution: ‘if the Irish he [the local commander] has taken prove to be absolute Irish, he may cause them to be executed: for he would not have quarter allowed to those’.37

By the autumn of 1644 this was near to official policy. On 24 October the English parliament passed an ordinance that no quarter should be offered to Irishmen or papists born in Ireland taken in arms against Parliament. They were to be exempt from all surrender agreements and, following any surrender, parliamentary officers were ordered ‘forthwith to put every such person to death’. Officers failing to do so ‘shall be reputed a favourer of that bloody rebellion of Ireland’ and subject to such punishment as the Houses thought fit.38 A similar order followed in Scotland, on 23 December 1645, that Irish prisoners should be executed without trial.39 But the fear of reprisal seems to have restrained this escalation. Days after the execution of the Irish prisoners in Dorset twelve parliamentarian prisoners, civilians, were hanged ‘upon the same tree’ by Sir Francis Doddington. Following the passage of the ordinance of 1644 thirteen Irish prisoners had been hanged after Shrewsbury fell to the parliamentarians. Prince Rupert immediately hanged thirteen Protestant English in retaliation, explaining that ‘soldiers of [his] were barbarously murdered in cold blood, after quarter given to them’.‘[L]et the authors of that massacre know, their own men must pay the price of such acts of inhumanity, and… be used as they used their brethren… in the same manner’.40

Hostility to the Irish threatened to change the terms of engagement, reflecting the power of the fear rather than actual size, composition and importance of the Irish armies. There were other groups who attracted similar, though by no means identical, hostility. The Cornish were talked about as if they were not English by their opponents, and hostile stereotypes of the Welsh were common in cheap print – as buffoons or near pagans. So relentless was this campaign that it informed attempts to propagate the gospel in Wales during the 1650s. Parallels were frequently drawn between the royalism of Cornwall and of Wales, resting it was said on ignorance and simplicity; the bumpkins were said to be dupes of the King. Covenanters on the other hand were presented as invaders, while Highlanders who fought against the Covenanters in 1645 were presented as barbarians in both England and Scotland.41 But although these ethnic identities were clearly important to the paper battles, it was the Irish who were singled out as being beyond the reach of the laws of war, and that was related fairly specifically to the rising of 1641. Significantly, the ordinance denying them quarter in 1644 had applied the same judgement to ‘papists’, presumably independent of their ethnicity, and those who failed to kill them were deemed to be supporters of the rebellion.42 Certainly, there seems to have been a qualitative difference between satirical accounts of cowardly Welsh bumpkins and Irish barbarians deserving only of death.43

From Edgehill in October 1642 until the arrival of Irish troops a year later, the English war had been exactly that: a war between English armies albeit one fought in the context of a wider crisis of the Stuart crowns. As a result of the Solemn League and Covenant and the Irish Cessation, however, England became the cockpit of a war of all three kingdoms. Henceforth ethnic identities had an impact on the conduct of war in England, and on its representation in print. When military victory was achieved in England, it did not resolve this wider military conflict. Moreover these alliances not only made the English war part of a war of three kingdoms, but also made it easier to claim it was a religious war, since there were, it was plausibly claimed, Catholics clearly engaged on one side. Royalists paid a high price for this alliance with popery.

In the short term, what saved Parliament’s cause was not the Solemn League and Covenant, but the failure of the royalists to turn their position of strength into a decisive victory. The decision to move on Gloucester rather than London, and then to lay siege rather than storm it, had allowed Essex time to march to the relief of the city. There then followed a race as Essex sought to withdraw again to London, pursued by Rupert’s army.

In the late afternoon of 19 September, Essex’s quartermasters entered Newbury to arrange quarters and supplies for the main army. Not long after, however, Rupert’s horse arrived, taking a number of prisoners and securing the town for the royalist army. This put the royal army between Essex and London, and on the following day a major battle was fought between armies numbering about 14,000 men each. Although the royalists had the advantage of taking Newbury, which afforded food and more comfortable quarters, they failed to secure the high ground on what became the battlefield. Confused fighting carried on into the night, but the parliamentary army managed to retain control of the Round Hill, thanks largely to the efforts of the London Trained Bands. The result was indecisive, rather than a clear parliamentarian victory, but the royalists withdrew and had suffered the loss of prominent officers. More importantly, if Essex’s army had lost, the parliamentary cause would have been severely damaged: the north and west were secure for the royalists, Waller was in London and so, with central England under royalist domination, parliamentary armies would effectively have been confined to the immediate environs of London and East Anglia. Even with Covenanter troops promised this would have been a bleak prospect indeed. By not losing, Essex had achieved an important victory for the parliamentary cause. He was able to push on to Reading and London was again secure. The royalists, having chosen not to engage with Essex again on the day after the battle, withdrew to Oxford.44 On his return to London, Essex received the thanks of the Commons and reviewed the Trained Bands. On 28 September the troops sent out to relieve Gloucester returned, also to a warm welcome.45

Further good news for Parliament followed in September and October, as royalist forces regrouped. Following a parliamentary victory at Gains- borough in July (notable for the importance and discipline of the cavalry under the command of Oliver Cromwell), the parliamentary troops had withdrawn from the town. But in the autumn they rallied again and, drawing troops from around the region, won another engagement at Winceby (11 October). Hull remained in parliamentary hands, an important limitation on royalist domination of the north, and the position of Hull was improved when the Earl of Manchester lifted a siege of Lynn (16 September). This freed troops for action elsewhere, and on 12 October the siege of Hull was also lifted. Newport Pagnell, an important garrison on the Great North Road, was abandoned by the royalists on 28 October and occupied by Essex two days later. Skirmishing in the west followed Ralph (now Lord) Hopton’s return to the field, armed with a new commission, following recovery from wounds received when barrels of gunpowder exploded accidentally following the battle of Lansdown. Here, too, fortune no longer seemed to be so clearly favouring the royalists.46

Overall, the late summer and autumn saw a slight but significant shift in military fortune and this was of tremendous political significance. In particular, the lifting of the siege of Gloucester and the return of Essex via Newbury, bloodied but still intact, secured London for the winter and prevented an outright military victory. These victories, turning a tide of royalist success, were important for morale. On the day that Essex arrived back in London the Commons swore to the Covenant.

Over the winter there were no formal peace negotiations. Parliament had survived the campaign season, concluded its treaty with the Covenanters and put the finishing touches to its war effort. A South-Eastern Association was formed on 4 November 1643 under Waller’s command and, on 4 December 1643, steps were taken to ensure the regular payment of Essex’s troops from the receipts of the excise and assessment. This was in part a response to the difficulties that Waller faced in persuading his London levies to stick with the campaign as winter approached, and to the difficulties of supply that had hampered Essex earlier in the summer.47 On 20 January the military effectiveness of the Eastern Association was improved by giving the Earl of Manchester control over the assessment revenues from the region, in place of the constituent county committees. Moreover, the assessment was increased to a massive £33,780 per month. Using this legislation he was able to establish central treasuries and supply departments in Cambridge which supported a formidable army the following year.48 Pym had therefore masterminded a round of administrative reforms throughout 1643 designed to strengthen Parliament’s military position. With a new military alliance in place, and with a firmer administrative structure taking shape, Parliament was not, over the winter 1643/4, committed to peace negotiations.

Neither were the royalists. They too had new military allies and during the autumn of 1643, despite the reverses at Gloucester and Newbury, their prospects still looked good. Irish troops were arriving and the news from minor engagements was not all bad: the royalists took Reading (3 October), Dartmouth (6 October) and Arundel (6 December) and its castle (9 December). Foreign diplomacy and the encouragement of the Ogle and Brooke plots offered more hopeful means of securing Charles’s war aims.49

Parliament was on the defensive, but by the autumn a storm had been weathered and troops from Scotland could be expected for the campaigns of the spring. However, in seeking internal political commitment and Scottish aid, Parliament was increasingly identifying its cause as the promotion of further reformation in the English church. This had not been a consensual aim in 1642 and it was not clear now what further reformation entailed, or how much further there was to go. The royalist strategy, by contrast, seemed settled on exploiting weaknesses in the parliamentary coalition and seeking military support from any and every quarter. This had the disadvantage of trying to forge an alliance from completely incompatible religious aspirations, and that might reflect a lack of sincerity on Charles’s part in giving commitments to any or all of these partners. The involvement of Irish troops introduced a new kind of ethnic hostility into the English war, and threatened to push codes of conduct further towards the extremes of seventeenth-century behaviour. Escalation of all kinds was changing the nature and purpose of the war. By the end of 1643 the military balance was still in the King’s favour, but not decisively so; and both sides had entered military alliances which promised new strength the following year. If anything, though, it was becoming less rather than more clear what kind of political settlement could possibly satisfy the parties now involved.

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