The Triumph of the New Model Army
Uncertainties about what the war was for were reflected in the politics surrounding the formation of the New Model. Negotiations over the enabling legislation had been fraught, but also pragmatic. The army was created in response to a crisis in Parliament’s southern forces – the surrender at Lostwithiel, dissensions within the Eastern Association and problems of supply and mobility in Waller’s army. Tense parliamentary consideration of reform had been closely connected with the future of Essex’s command, and the increasingly open religious conflict within the Eastern Association army. But these were not the reasons, or at least not the only reasons, for the creation of the army – although Essex, moderates and Presbyterians had the worst of the exchanges everyone had recognized the need for reform of the southern army. The New Model was not the armed wing of Independency, either in its original inception or in its actual formation.1
Pragmatism and statesmanship, as well as partisan struggle, were also evident in putting together the new army. Wherever possible, existing regiments were kept intact and some care was taken to balance commands between men of differing religious and political views. Nonetheless, there was an exodus of Scottish officers, which had an effect on the complexion of the army. The tense to-ing and fro-ing between the Houses over the officer list looks like House of Lords intervention against known radicals and in favour of a continuing role for the peers in overseeing the war effort.2
Sensitivities concerning these issues had re-emerged over the question of Fairfax’s commission and Oliver Cromwell’s eventual exemption from the Self-Denying Ordinance. There had been immediate difficulties in naming commanders for the new army since nearly all of the experienced and successful parliamentary commanders then in the field were excluded. Candidates for the overall command were therefore in short supply. Massey and Skippon were eligible since they were not MPs, but Massey’s allegiance was not completely certain. He had been a royalist in 1642 and in 1643 had been rumoured to be ready to hand Gloucester over to the King. The choice eventually fell on Sir Thomas Fairfax, only thirty-two years old but with a dashing military reputation and unaffected by Self-Denial. His appointment as Lord-General had been one way of achieving Self-Denial without getting the measure passed – simply to form a new army which did not include the existing command. It was, therefore, a not-so-oblique approach to the difficulty of displacing Essex. Fairfax was later known as a moderate Presbyterian, but he was also known to favour vigorous prosecution of the war in order to force the King to reasonable terms. A measure of the political charge these decisions carried is that the vote was passed only by 101 to 69, and that the tellers for Fairfax were Cromwell and Sir Henry Vane (a rising star who favoured vigorous prosecution of the war and liberty for the sects), those against Denzil Holles and Sir Philip Stapleton (who were to lead attempts to achieve a Presbyterian settlement in 1647).3
Such political difficulties had slowed down the formation of the new army. The New Model Ordinance had passed on 15 February and a new Self-Denying Ordinance was prepared on 25 February; the list of officers was not finally agreed until 18 March, and not without considerable to-ing and fro-ing between the Houses. Some of the consequent wounds were reopened when Fairfax’s commission was considered on 24 March. It gave him more power than Essex had enjoyed: he was to have control not just of his army but over all forts, castles, towns and garrisons within territory he controlled. More importantly, it did not commission him to preserve the safety of the King’s person, as all previous parliamentary commanders had been commissioned. This caused more resistance in the Lords, but was justified on the grounds that it would serve as too much of a military limitation and that the King was not defending ‘the true protestant religion’. The Solemn Vow and Covenant had not bound those taking it to preserve the King’s safety, but this change in the terms of service for the Lord General still amounted to a formal change in war aims. The failure of the Uxbridge treaty and the imminence of a new campaign created pressure to fall in with the more militant prosecution of the war, but these measures caused considerable unease.4
Consideration of Fairfax’s commission had begun on the same day that the Commons considered the second Self-Denying Ordinance. As eventually passed it required officers to resign their position within forty days, but re-employment was not debarred. Part of the price of the legislation was the requirement that all officers take the Solemn League and Covenant, which led John Lilburne to resign from the army. He was acting partly from sympathy with Independency – that consciences should be free from secular restraint – but also on the grounds that this oath cut across others which had previously been demanded. This was an example of parliamentarian tyranny, and he was fighting not for Parliament so much as against tyranny.5 There were others like him.
In early April, however, the measures were finally passed: Essex, Manchester and Denbigh lost their commands, and Warwick resigned his (replaced by Batten). These were all men who favoured a moderate approach to the war, and were on the whole of Presbyterian sympathies. Oliver Cromwell, on the other hand, did not lose his command and was in fact to achieve higher command in the New Model. This led to a persistent suspicion that he had successfully manipulated the process to his own advantage; an example of how his high-minded rhetoric contrasted with a deep personal hypocrisy. Modern scholarship has tended to exonerate him from this charge, both at this moment and others, but it is an example of the ambiguities that surround the biography of ‘God’s Englishman’. What we do know is that he was in active service at the time when the Self-Denying Ordinance was passed, and was therefore given short-term exemption. This allowed him to fight at Naseby, where his contribution made it all but impossible to dismiss him – two days later his command was renewed for a further three months.6
In military terms the new army was remarkably successful. Its supply and provisioning were superior and this proved an advantage in recruitment too. By late April it was nearly at full strength and the cavalry units had been filled very easily. The infantry included many conscripts, who were not always easily secured, but also attracted deserters from other, less well-supplied, armies. There was a constant problem of desertion from the infantry, but its military success clearly rested on the relative attractiveness of service in the new army.7 And while keeping the infantry at full strength required conscription, it should not be forgotten that there were many who served through choice.
We will never know much about what motivated common soldiers in the war, but there is evidence that ideas were significant in all the armies for at least some of the men. They marched behind colours that were protected with pride and bravery, and the messages on those colours suggest differences in what the men might have been fighting for. On the parliamentary side they emphasized the religious cause; on the royalist side there was more emphasis on personal honour and loyalty.8
Both sides produced catechisms, short pamphlets explaining how fighting for one cause or another could be reconciled with a good Christian conscience. This was by 1645 apparently a successful publishing venture, with rival versions for sale in London. Parliamentarians were, for example, armed against the ‘base and absurd objection’ that they were in arms against the King: they sought ‘to rescue the King out of the hands of his and the Kingdom’s enemies’. Royalists, by contrast, were assured that their opponents ‘were rebels, and I fear (without God’s great mercy and their own repentance) they shall be tormented by the Devil and his Angels’. Of course, they may not have been produced primarily, or only, for the edification of the rank and file, to offer guidance on matters of conscience, but for propaganda effect. The behaviour of troops was a significant factor in the political battle, and the reputation of some royalist commanders for failing to restrain their troops cost the King some support.9 Either way, this was seen as a significant exercise – an extremely plausible-looking ‘eighth edition’ of the parliamentary catechism was produced, which completely subverted the message of the real catechism. It was so inflammatory that it was ordered to be burned by the common hangman.10 Once in the New Model Army, conscripted or not, those who stayed long were given a clear message about the godliness of their calling – the army was full of hot Protestant preaching, and it seems clear that it bolstered morale.11
This was not then the Leveller army of later legend. Self-Denial had been in one sense an attack on aristocratic influence, but the officer corps was initially well-leavened with the sons of the gentry and aristocracy. Formation of the army had been a victory for those anxious for a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and a defeat for supporters of Manchester and Essex in particular. It had led to the exodus of Scottish Presbyterians, and there is some evidence that Independents were over-represented among its chaplains.12 But it was not an army of Independents. Moreover, although it was the best-equipped and best-supplied army in the field, and played a crucial role in winning the war, it accounted for only half of the parliamentary soldiers in England. Massey and Brereton retained their regional commands and the Northern Association forces were put under the command of Sydenham Poyntz, a man later known for his Presbyterian sympathies. Besides these armies there were numerous local garrisons and the London Trained Bands, all of which retained their autonomy. It is necessary to say all this because the New Model Army, having won the war, was eventually to dictate the peace, purging Parliament and underwriting the trial and execution of Charles I. This intervention was not on the horizon in the summer of 1645.13
Within months of taking the field the New Model had won the most significant single victory of the war, at Naseby in Leicestershire. As always, however, there was a measure of chance about it – both in the field and that the battle was joined at all. Indeed, it is not easy to explain what had brought the two armies together in the Midlands. For Parliament the twin objectives of the spring were Oxford and Taunton, which had become significant to the whole of the West Country. The Prince of Wales had been sent to Bristol to forge a new western command, with an obvious threat to Parliament (although, on the other hand, this new command created a power base from which Goring and others could resist Rupert’s influence and therefore further complicated royalist politics). Taunton, currently in parliamentary hands, was under siege; if it fell it would facilitate the raising of forces by this new association, which could provide the basis for a new offensive. The Committee of Both Kingdoms was also worried about a possible royalist assault on the Eastern Association, and Cromwell took up position east of Oxford from where he could prevent forces picking up artillery en route from Wales to the parliamentary heartlands of East Anglia. Fairfax had in the meantime advanced to Reading.14
In response to these deployments near Oxford and at Reading, Goring was recalled from the West Country and, after a victory at Radcot Bridge, pushed Cromwell back. This also led to a recall of Fairfax, to support Cromwell rather than Taunton. On 8 May the royalist council of war met at Stow. An advance on the Eastern Association was ruled out and it was decided to split the armies between the relief of Chester and Taunton. Rupert advocated a decisive commitment to joining Montrose’s forces in the north, with the hope then of bringing in Irish forces. Cheshire, and more particularly Chester, was crucial to both elements of this plan, providing a corridor between north and south and an entry point for troops from Ireland. On the other hand, the chance of capturing Taunton could not easily be ignored. Backing a northward march would have been a defeat for Rupert’s enemies, similarly a westward march would have offered support to his rivals. Doing both was understandable, but not perhaps the shrewdest decision.15
Nonetheless, Goring was despatched to the west once more while the rest of the royalist forces were to move northwards. Those marching northwards were shadowed by Cromwell. As they approached Chester, Brereton called off the siege and asked Leven to cross the Pennines to help him confront the royalist army. This Leven refused to do, with an eye on Scotland, preferring instead to move to the northern side of the Lake District. In Scotland, Montrose had continued to enjoy military success, associated closely with plunder and excess. On 4 April, Dundee fell to him and atrocities ensued. His forces withdrew shortly after, the closest thing to good news for Parliament from Scotland, and marked with a day of thanksgiving in the mistaken belief that this was a victory. Chased by a superior force led by William Baillie he successfully avoided battle and reached the hills by Arbroath, where the superiority of the cavalry facing him was rendered ineffective. On 9 May he had the better of the battle of Auldearn, a cavalry engagement. Montrose’s military reputation could hardly be higher following these victories and this record certainly gave Leven pause for thought in undertaking manoeuvres in England. In taking up position north of the Lakes he was covering any attempt by the royalists to join forces in Scotland. Parliament’s force shadowing the royalist march was now broken up – part moving north to support Leven and part moving south to join Fairfax in laying siege to Oxford.16
The decision to besiege Oxford has been much criticized, but again there was a clear logic. It would force a response from the royalists and bring an end to the frustrating manoeuvres of the campaign to date. It would also stop any further advance to the north. But the response was devastating for parliamentary morale. On 31 May, Leicester was stormed by the royalists, following effective resistance. The victors then ‘miserably sacked the whole town, without any distinction of persons or places’. The sack of Leicester caused consternation in London: after a month of campaigning Parliament’s military reorganization had brought no dividend at all, and now a defeat that was catastrophic for morale. It prompted decisive action though. The siege of Oxford was broken up and the parliamentary army moved into the Midlands in search of a battle.17
As a result of these manoeuvres the two sides had ended up in positions that they had not initially anticipated. In early June the King was at Leicester, with Fairfax not far off, and Goring moving back towards Oxford. Having taken Leicester the royalists abandoned their northern march, much to the chagrin of the northern contingents in the army, and moved instead towards Market Harborough – a feint intended to draw Fairfax away from Oxford. Rupert remained committed to marching northwards, thinking (probably rightly) that this would draw the parliamentary army away from Oxford without risking a battle. But after Fairfax left Oxford on 5 June, Rupert’s counsels were disregarded. The royalist army took up position at Daventry, intending to resupply Oxford with food and to receive munitions from there. It was with complete surprise that they learned of Fairfax’s advance, but once it was discovered how close Fairfax was it might have been prudent to avoid battle. However, the open country northwards was unpromising for an armed retreat and there may have been hopes that Goring would arrive. In fact, he had good reasons to stay where he was, which he had set out in a letter to the King. In any case, by the time he was summoned by the King he was too far away to have arrived in time for the battle at Naseby.18
On 14 June 1645, after this frustrating and inconclusive manoeuvring, the New Model finally engaged the main royal army at Naseby in Leicestershire. Fairfax had a significant numerical advantage: he commanded between 14,500 and 17,000 men against the 9,000 or 10,000 led by the King. Parliament also had the advantage of the ground. After jockeying that began at 3 a.m., Fairfax took up position on a small hill, behind the brow of which the army formed up in order to conceal their numbers from the royalists. Charles’s army would have to advance across wet ground and uphill.19
Despite these disadvantages, the royalists nearly won. The parliamentary infantry in the centre were commanded by Sir Philip Skippon, the cavalry on the right by Cromwell. Those on the left were commanded by Henry Ireton, a close associate of Cromwell and a rising star in the army who was soon to be a major political player, as well as being Cromwell’s son-in-law. Ireton was faced by Prince Rupert, Cromwell by Langdale and Skippon by Byron. Battle was joined at 11 a.m., following a short and largely ineffective exchange of artillery fire. Rupert charged and Ireton advanced to meet him, but Ireton’s line broke up and he also sent a detachment to protect the infantry, which appeared to be beleaguered. Rupert’s charge was decisive and Ireton was seriously wounded and captured. The parliamentary infantry were also in retreat, and Skippon also wounded – so badly that it was a year before he was fit to fight again. Although Skippon was still on the field, Parliament had lost one of its cavalry commanders and its infantry commander.
The battle of Naseby
It was decisive command from Cromwell and Fairfax that turned the day. While Ireton’s cavalry had fallen before Rupert’s charge Cromwell had led a successful charge on the other side of the field, exposing the flank of the royalist infantry. Rupert, rather than come to Langdale’s aid, had gone after the parliamentary artillery train near the village of Naseby, but found unexpectedly fierce resistance. His decision was not the result of indiscipline, but a coherent choice, albeit one that has been criticized subsequently. It allowed Cromwell to cross the field and rally Ireton’s cavalry. Fairfax took command of Cromwell’s cavalry and they co-ordinated assaults on both wings of the royalist infantry. This allowed Parliament’s forces to recover their ground and regroup. By that time Rupert’s divisions were back on the field but, once in battle order and on the advance, Parliament’s superiority in numbers was decisive – the royalist infantry fled, pursued by Cromwell for thirteen or fourteen miles, nearly to the gates of Leicester. The battle was marked by one of the most notorious atrocities of the war. Hundreds of women camp followers were attacked by the triumphant parliamentarians. One hundred of them were murdered – perhaps mainly Welsh women mistakenly identified as Irish, whose long knives were to be used for food preparation rather than the human butchery of which Irish women were thought to be capable. Many others were marked as whores by having their noses slit or their faces slashed.20
Although many fewer men were involved than at Marston Moor, and fewer died, this proved to be a more decisive battle for the course of the war. Fairfax lost 150 men, the King around 1,000. But the royalist infantry were destroyed and 4,000 prisoners captured, and 2,000 horses, the artillery train, arms for 8,000 men and forty barrels of gunpowder were also taken.21 There was an immediate effect on parliamentary morale: a day of thanksgiving was appointed on 19 June, marked by a sumptuous banquet hosted by the City for the two Houses. Two days later 3,000 royalist prisoners were led through streets thronged with a triumphant multitude.22
Whatever each side had been trying to achieve, it is difficult to see why the royalists ended up fighting a pitched battle against a larger army in the Midlands. Behind the various shifts of the spring and summer lay divisions and rivalries but also distinct strategic views, and the mutually paralysing effect of successful manoeuvring by the two sides. The fall of Leicester, the culmination of a month of apparently aimless activity, was blamed on the continuing influence of the old generals who now sat on the Committee of Both Kingdoms every day (an unfair charge). Goring’s reluctance to rejoin the main royalist army has been blamed on personal rivalries and his vanity, although there were sound military reasons for him to stay, or in favour of a march northwards by a united royalist army. The campaign had been shapeless, but not purposeless, and decisions which in retrospect seem misjudged had at the time something to commend them. Moreover, if Cromwell and Fairfax had not rallied the parliamentary cavalry and turned the battle at Naseby all this would seem rather different now. However, although the battle might have gone the other way, it would have been better to have stuck to the plan – it was not really clear what the royalists had to gain from seeking an engagement in Leicestershire. Before the battle, with Montrose’s success inducing caution in Leven’s army, the New Model detained by an ill-advised siege of Oxford and a successful assault on Leicester having been carried out, Charles was in a reasonably strong position. As at Marston Moor, the decision to join in battle with numerically superior forces had been avoidable, and had backfired.
Naseby did not end the war, but it began the end of the war and had important political implications too. It was a victory for the New Model, not the Anglo-Scottish alliance, and that increased the temperature of discussions about the post-war settlement. Thomas Edwards complained that the sectaries ‘especially in this last year since the victory at Naseby [have] abused (in most insolent and unheard of manner, and that all kind of ways) all sorts and ranks of men even to the highest’.23 For the same reason it was a blow to those who hoped for a rapid settlement, strengthening the hand of those keen to extract maximum advantage from the military victory. Revelation of the King’s private calculations about his public negotiations was used to reinforce the point. It was bad news for the royalists, but also for Presbyterians and those seeking relatively limited concessions from the King. It was certainly a blow for traditionalists: a ballad of the following year complained that Naseby had killed Christmas.24
There could be no doubt that this victory belonged to the New Model, and many contemporaries assumed that it was therefore a victory for Independency and sectarianism. Whatever the truth of that, this was certainly not a victory for the Presbyterian interest. Cromwell wrote to Speaker Lenthall after the battle that ‘Honest men served you faithfully in this action. Sir, they are trusty; I beseech you, in the name of God, not to discourage them… He that ventures his life for the liberty of his country, I wish he trust God for the liberty of his conscience, and you for the liberty he fights for’. The letter, as authorized for publication by the Commons, had these sentences cut – the thought that the war might be for freedom of conscience was not at all consensual among parliamentarians. Oddly, however, the Lords authorized its publication with these sentences included.25 The royalist newsbooks simply failed to mention the defeat, but news of the victory caused frictions among rivals in the parliamentarian alliance.26
Hopes of a quick settlement along Presbyterian lines were also dealt a blow by the capture of the King’s personal correspondence. A remarkable feature of the battle had been the discipline of the parliamentarian troops once the royalists had broken ranks and begun to flee. As the horse followed in ruthless pursuit, forbidden on pain of death to dismount for plunder, the rich pickings of the field were left to the foot. Among the prizes were arms, ammunition and more or less the entire baggage train, including the King’s own coach, which contained his correspondence. It revealed in detail the wide gap between many of his public statements and his private convictions: for parliamentarians, in other words, the depth of his untrustworthiness. The letters were read to the two Houses and then at a Common Hall in the City. Selections were published as The Kings Cabinet opened, and those anxious to verify their accuracy and genuineness were invited to examine the originals.27 Publication was justified as religious duty: ‘It were a great sin against the mercies of God, to conceal these evidences of truth, which he so graciously (and almost miraculously) by surprisal of these papers, hath put into our hands’. But it was also a means to enlighten ‘our seduced brethren… that they may see their errors, and return into the right way’. Others, of course, were wilful and beyond reason. Rather than revile them, and following the example of the Apostle St Jude, the editors merely confronted them with the truth: ‘They may see here in his private letters what affection the King bears to his people, what language and titles he bestows upon his Great Council; which we return not again, but consider with sorrow, that it comes from a Prince seduced out of his proper sphere’.28
Here, from the hand of God, was proof positive of the justice of the parliamentarian cause. Anyone ‘well affected to that cause of liberty and religion’ maintained by the English and Scottish parliaments ‘against a combination of all the Papists in Europe almost, especially the bloody tigers of Ireland, and some of the prelatical and court faction in England’ will be ‘abundantly satisfied… how the court has been Cajoled… by the Papists, and we the more believing sort of Protestants, by the Court’. ‘Cajole’ (‘To prevail upon or get one’s way with (a person) by delusive flattery, specious promises, or any false means of persuasion’) was another new word thrown up by conditions of civil war. Apparently imported from the French, it was ‘the new authentic word now amongst our Cabalistic adversaries’.29 Again it bears testimony, both in its meaning and the context of its appearance in the language, to the increasing difficulty of arriving at the truth of matters, despite the massive increase in the flow of printed information. In private spaces – the cabinet and the closet – truth resided, and could be revealed: ‘[the closet is] the most secret place in the house appropriate unto our own private studies, and wherein we repose and deliberate by deep consideration of all our weightiest affairs’. It was ‘a place where our readings of importance are shut up, a room proper and peculiar to ourselves’.30 The revelation of private letters, the breaching of closets and the opening of cabinets, was a common literary form; revelation of these private statements gave the lie to a dissembling or dextrous public front.31
The main body of the pamphlet consists of transcripts of thirty-nine letters and papers, almost all of them individually witnessed as accurate by Zouch Tate, Miles Corbett or Edmund Prideaux and one by P.W. The cumulative effect is damning, including for example a letter written to Ormond during the Uxbridge negotiations telling him to secure peace or at least a cessation in Ireland, and to offer military support against the Scottish forces and even, if necessary, the Earl of Inchiquin, a prominent and vigorous defender of the Protestant interest.32 The letters reveal a manifestly half-hearted commitment to the Uxbridge negotiations, and a complete unwillingness to give ground on episcopacy and the militia (two issues identified in the preface as core parts of the parliamentary cause from the Nineteen Propositions onwards). Many other letters demonstrate how willing he was to pursue alternative and incompatible policies at the same time as negotiating for peace. Here was vindication for those who had been reluctant to see the Uxbridge treaty go forward. As the City Alarum put it: ‘it hath unlocked the mystery of former treaties, so I hope it will lock up our minds from thoughts of future’.33
Following the transcripts were four pages of annotations which made great play of the influence of Henrietta Maria: ‘the Kings Counsels are wholly managed by the Queen, though she be of the weaker sex, born an alien, bred up in a contrary religion’; her advice had the effect of commands, and the ‘King professes to prefer her health before the exigence and importance of his own public affairs’; and she was ‘as harsh, and imperious towards the King… as she is implacable to our religion, nation, and government’.34 Examples of counsel hostile to English interest illustrated this latter point, such as suggestions for a trade embargo and the dissolution of Parliament. Fears that, like Laud and Strafford, her head might well be on the block were clearly well-founded.
But the King too was guilty, and not just of being under the thumb: ‘in many things’, in fact, he exceeded ‘the Queen for acts of hostility and covering them over with deeper and darker secrecy’.35 There followed a devastating catalogue of his ‘dextrous’ dealings against national interests, the international Protestant cause, English parliaments and religion. ‘The King will declare nothing in favour of his parliament, so long as he can find a party to maintain him in this opposition; nor perform any thing which he hath declared so long as he can find a sufficient party to excuse him from it’.36 This was a longstanding weakness, as a brief history of his reign made clear. Finally the pamphlet compared six important public statements with his private views as revealed by the correspondence. All six were juxtaposed with ‘distinctions’ that might make apparently contradictory statements reconcilable. The presentation of these letters has had a devastating effect on subsequent views of Charles.
Despite the political damage, however, and the ruthlessly effective exploitation of this windfall, there were those who felt that these letters should not have been published. The Kings Cabinet had tried to forestall objections. Enemies to ‘parliaments and reformation… made wilful in their enmity’ could be expected to ‘deny these papers to have been written by the King’s own hand, or else that we make just constructions and inferences out of them’. Or deny that, although accurately recorded and interpreted, ‘they are blameable, or unjustifiable against such rebels as we are’. In fact the replies did not contest the authenticity, but rather the construction placed on them or how reprehensible the King had been. ‘The letters are not unworthy [of] a Prince Defender of the Faith, against whom so dangerous and causeless a Rebellion was then in its height, threatening both to his government, and to the Protestant profession of the Christian religion in this Kingdom, an utter ruin’, went one response.37 Another complained that ‘They will not let him loath a rebel, nay, they will not let him love a wife; they will not let him use his sword, nay, they will not let him use his pen, but they will expose him for it’.38 A plausible line of defence was that in order to make peace in such a complex situation, Charles needed to keep his own counsels, and that concessions for that purpose were not only carefully considered, but noble. Suspending punishment of Catholics might be a good deal in order to secure the established church, for example. And why shouldn’t he bring in foreign forces, if his own subjects had deserted him?
This was a hard battle to win, not least because it required such close attention from readers. The author of A Key To the Kings cabinet, for example, did a clever job of reconciling a secret promise to abrogate the laws against popery with a public declaration to put them into execution: a promise to execute them is not a promise not to repeal them; a promise to abrogate the statutes clearly implies that he will do it with parliamentary consent.39 But really this was in many places very unpromising material for Charles’s defenders.
Others concentrated on the issue of seemliness, however: something at the heart of controversies over publication during the 1640s. As one pamphlet’s response to the speeches at Common Hall put it: ‘Men indeed, whose religion will allow them to ransack God’s cabinet, no marvel, if they quickly find reason not to spare the King’s’.40 Here was the obverse of the revelation of private truths for public purposes – a kind of violation. Bruno Ryves, in his accounts of the spoliation of parliamentary troops, made much mention of the invasion of private spaces, especially ladies” closets.41 The publication of the letters robbed the King of his dignity, something essential to the negotiation of a peace, and in revealing the depth of his dependence on Henrietta Maria they had violated his privacy.42
Reading these responses it is easy to see Charles’s point of view: he was being asked to agree to things that were, in his view, absolutely wrong; and that was a much more serious thing for a king than for one of his subjects. Moreover, he was being pushed into them by armed subjects, unable to recognize their duties to him as the anointed monarch, and to justify himself to all his subjects in a world of printed propaganda. Since these things were unacceptable, and since the war was not going his way, what option did he have but to play for time and seek other sources of support? And, in any case, Parliament routinely prepared for war while negotiating for peace – this was in the nature of the crisis since 1642. Nonetheless, after the revelation of these letters no-one who did a deal with him could be comfortable that it would stick. Their revelation did no favours to the moderates at Westminster, and they immediately scuppered proposals for a peace treaty floated in the Lords, with the support of the Covenanters, in the week after Naseby.43
By any normal standards Naseby was terrible enough: one eyewitness reported that ‘I saw the field so bestrewed with carcasses of horses and men, the bodies lay slain about four miles in length but most thick on the hill where the king stood’.44 It was politically very significant, but not immediately seen as strategically so. Most of the King’s cavalry got away and Goring’s army, by virtue of its absence, was still intact. Two further developments served to turn Naseby into the decisive battle of the war – the triumphant march of the New Model through the West Country and the defeat of Montrose.
Following Naseby, Charles headed for the Welsh hills, arriving at Hereford on 19 June. On the previous day he had renewed his appeal to Ormond for Irish troops and such were his hopes of success that Langdale was made governor of north Wales in preparation for their arrival. On 27 June preparations were made to receive them in Cornwall too. Fairfax followed up the victory at Naseby first by laying siege to Leicester, which surrendered on 18 June. Further moves were made cautiously, given the presence of Goring’s force in the west, and the mustering of the King’s forces in the Marches. But from late June the New Model fought an apparently irresistible campaign in Dorset and Somerset. The siege of Taunton had been lifted on 29 June, probably in fear of Fairfax’s approach.45 But the march to relieve the siege was hampered by a ‘third force’: armed bodies of local people referred to as ‘clubmen’. It was the second significant occasion when the field armies had been confronted in this way: a similar force had severely hampered royalist operations at Hereford earlier in the spring.46
Goring’s orders were to fall back towards the Bristol Channel to await the arrival of regiments from Wales, but Fairfax managed to meet up with Goring’s forces near Crewkerne and outmanoeuvred him, bringing them to battle at Langport on 10 July. Goring had sent his baggage train on ahead to Bridgewater and was intending to manage a retreat there. At Langport, outnumbered, he took up position on a hill overlooking a stream swollen with recent rain, and posted musketeers among the hedges that lined the fields and lanes from the ford up to his position. From this position Goring apparently thought he would not be attacked. But an artillery bombardment from the parliamentarians forced Goring’s cavalry off the hillside, leaving the musketeers without support. Fairfax then sent 1,500 musketeers across the stream, under Colonel Rainborough, who advanced with considerable courage against entrenched opponents. When the moment seemed right 200 cavalrymen charged up a lane defended by Major Christopher Bethell, a charge which again required considerable courage. When they reached the top of the hill they were outnumbered perhaps six or eight to one, and there was close battle at sword point. But parliamentary support began to arrive and the royalist forces began to scatter. In the aftermath of the battle, as the royalists made for Bridgewater, Fairfax captured 1,400 prisoners, 2,000 horses, 4,000 arms, two cannon and three wagonloads of ammunition.47 The last royalist field army in England had been routed.
Siege was laid to Bridgewater on 16 July and it fell on 23 July, completing a chain of parliamentary strongpoints which cut off the west – from Lyme through Langport and Bridgewater with Taunton an advanced point.48 Rather than march into Cornwall like Essex had the previous year, Fairfax chose to operate elsewhere, knowing that royalist forces were bottled up in the peninsula. Goring’s retreat into Devon was marked by assaults by clubmen, and royalists fleeing from Langport were also hunted.49
With Goring’s army broken, the remaining objectives in the west were the main royalist garrisons, particularly at Bristol and Exeter. Fairfax’s advance on Bristol was hampered by his own difficulties with armed locals, the clubmen. Fairfax negotiated with them on 3 July, having executed a soldier for plundering. His attitude hardened, however, and he arrested their leaders at Shaftesbury on 2 August and two days later Cromwell dispersed a large assembly at Hambledon Hill in a brief and largely bloodless rout. Fairfax had continued to enjoy the advantage through July, taking the surrender of Bath on 29 July (with the support of Somerset clubmen), and laying siege to Sherborne Castle on 2 August. On 11 August the siege train arrived at Sherborne and the castle fell four days later. Bristol now became the priority and siege was laid there in late August.50
As his fortunes waned in the west, England was largely lost to Charles (see Map 4). Naseby had been decisive for the Midlands and, therefore, the north. Royalist hopes flickered briefly in Wales, where Charles Gerrard fought a successful campaign against the parliamentary commander, Rowland Laugharne. In early July, Charles was in south Wales trying to raise troops to compensate for his losses in England, but there and in Hereford he was finding it difficult to press men. These hopes were extinguished by a parliamentary victory at Colby Moor (1 August), where successful co-ordination of operations on sea and land enabled Major-General Laugharne to rout the royalists under Sir Edward Stradling. It seemed that here too the royalist cause was crumbling, and Haverfordwest Castle fell on 5 August.51
The King’s own army was now faced by both Fairfax and Leven, who had moved south during June, reassured that the King was not intending an invasion of Scotland. A week after Naseby he was at Mansfield and he was soon to lay siege to Hereford. Charles was finding it hard to get men, but he drew strength from news of Montrose’s continued successes. In May, Montrose had headed north from Blair Athol, away from the numerically superior Covenanting forces. In June fresh levies were made in the Highlands and by the end of the month he was sufficiently confident to offer battle to Baillie at Keith. This was declined but on 1 July battle was joined at Alford, where Montrose won another great, and bloody, victory. Charles now set his hopes on getting to Yorkshire, raising men there and, on the basis of garrisons at Pontefract and Scarborough, making some connection with Montrose. To join Montrose from the crumbling position in Wales was a tall order, however. Charles set off on a meandering and ultimately unsuccessful march, leaving Hereford only to return, via Doncaster, Huntingdon and Oxford, a month later. It was in Huntingdon that Charles heard of Montrose’s crushing victory over the Covenanters at Kilsyth. The most that could be said for his own march, however, was that Charles had avoided Leven’s army. The King entered Hereford on 4 September, having seen Leven’s siege of the city lifted, and spirits were a little higher.52
Once in Hereford, however, Charles received flurries of bad news. Fairfax summoned Bristol to surrender on 4 September. Whereas the King had not been able to recruit in south Wales again in early September, Fairfax’s army was reinforced by 5,000 local people. Rupert recognized the desperate straits he was in and on 5 September asked for permission to communicate with the King. This was refused and he then spun out negotiations. On 10 September Fairfax lost patience and Bristol was stormed. Rupert surrendered and on the following day Bristol was evacuated. Charles blamed Rupert and, effectively, banished him.53
Only Montrose’s campaign in Scotland offered the royalists any immediate comfort and, with his position in England deteriorating still further, Charles sought once again to join him. Marching from Hereford via Chirk he entered Chester with the intention of raising the siege. Langdale arrived to attack the besieging army from the rear, but was badly defeated at Rowton Heath. The parliamentary victory threatened the future of Chester, the only remaining port of importance for Ireland, and cut off the hope of a march northwards to Scotland through Lancashire. The final blow for this particular strategy was the catastrophic defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh on 13 September (see Map 5). On 6 September, Leslie returned to Scotland with troops and three days later prominent supporters of Montrose among the Lowland aristocracy were imprisoned. Met in battle on 13 September, Montrose’s scanty cavalry were quickly disposed of and the foot destroyed. Two hundred and fifty Irish troops were killed and fifty or more surrendered on the promise of quarter. Most of them were subsequently shot on the pretence that the offer of quarter had applied only to officers, and a notorious massacre of Irish women and other camp followers then took place, which Leslie failed to stop. Charles had retreated to Denbigh, where, on 27 September, he heard the news from Philiphaugh and that Chester could not last much longer.54
Charles had no remaining options. His field armies in Scotland and England were defeated and important garrisons were falling like dominoes. Cromwell marched triumphantly through the south, capturing Devizes (23 September) and Winchester (28 September), and arriving before Basing House a few days later. This was the seat of the Catholic Marquess of Winchester, and had successfully withstood two previous sieges, but it was to become the twentieth garrison to fall to the New Model Army since June. It had been under siege since August and Cromwell arrived on 8 October anxious to get the job done. Two great holes were blown in the walls by his heavy artillery, but still the defenders refused to surrender. As the infantry advanced in the ensuing storm they shouted, ‘Down with papists’, and many within were put to the sword despite pleas for mercy. Among the dead were six Catholic priests and a young woman who had tried to protect her father. Women were roughly handled, and partially stripped, although there were no rapes. The house was pillaged without restraint and the sudden release of food stores onto the local market temporarily depressed prices.55
Basing held considerable symbolic significance; it had been besieged three times and was emblematic of loyalty and, to the King’s opponents, popery. The marquess, standing bareheaded in defeat among the ruins of his house, responded to taunts by saying, ‘If the King had no more ground in England than Basing I would venture as I did… Basing is called loyalty’. He added, perhaps pathetically or just unnecessarily, ‘I hope that the king may have a day again’.56 Among those humiliated by the conquerors was Inigo Jones, architect of the Banqueting House and designer of the court masques of the 1630s in which the majesty of the King had served to reconcile the competing passions of his people in order to bring peace.
Just as the war had started with a series of whimpers rather than a bang, so it petered out. Abandoning his northward march, Charles went initially to Newark, one of his remaining strongholds, where he was rejoined by Rupert, who was forgiven by a council of war on 26 October, and the King set out again for Oxford. In November 1645 Goring left for France, in part because of his health and partly in hope of a high command in the continental forces expected to be mustered the following spring. His command had passed to Lord Wentworth, who suffered heavy losses to Cromwell’s forces at Bovey Tracey on 9 January. Other garrisons surrendered in quick succession. Exeter was besieged and at Torrington, on 16/17 February, Hopton’s army was destroyed. The Prince of Wales fled to the Isles of Scilly, and Hopton to Cornwall, where he surrendered on 12 March. His army was disbanded over the coming weeks. Exeter fell a month later, leaving Pendennis Castle standing alone in the west, but even after the New Model Army had swept through the west the war twitched on. Hereford fell on 17 December and by then Chester and Newark were very strictly blocked up. Hopton’s had been the last force of any size in England, and Exeter the last significant stronghold aside from Oxford and Newark. Lord Astley had 3,000 men with him in Worcester and was ordered to try to cut his way through to Oxford, but the parliamentarians caught them at Stow-on-the-Wold, and Astley was forced to surrender on 20 March. In Wales, Raglan and Harlech held out, but without waiting for the fall of Oxford Charles could not really have been expected to delay surrender much longer than he did. He left Oxford in disguise on 27 April, surrendering to the Covenanters at Southwell on 5 May. As part of his surrender terms he delivered Newark on 8 May. When Oxford surrendered on 24 June, Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice left England for France and the Netherlands respectively. The last redoubts were Pendennis, which surrendered on 16 August, Raglan, which followed suit three days later, and Harlech, which held out until March 1647.57 It was a feeble end to the military campaign, but in surrendering to the Covenanters, Charles had shown some astuteness about the coming political campaign to win the peace.