Military Defeat and Political Survival

Attempts at Settlement from Newcastle to Newmarket

Charles had surrendered to the Covenanters at Southwell in May 1646 and from there he was taken to Newcastle, arriving on 13 May. It was not until 13 July, fully two months later, that formal peace proposals were sent north from Parliament, and when they arrived there was more than an air of familiarity about them. Charles was to swear the Solemn League and Covenant, accept reformation according to its provisions and seek ‘the nearest conjunction and uniformity in matters of religion between England and Scotland’. On secular matters, the terms were also stringent. For twenty years the militia was to be in the hands of men approved by both Houses. During the same period the Houses were to have absolute control over all armed forces, and the power to suppress any forces raised against them. Subject to the assent of the Scottish parliament, the same provisions would apply there, and the forces of the two kingdoms would act together, when necessary. New arrangements would be devised at the end of the twenty years and, if necessary, implemented against the King’s will. This twenty-year limitation was therefore a compromise only in one sense, since it was a fairly clear statement of distrust of this particular monarch – in twenty years” time, all being well, Charles would be six feet under. In the unhappy event that he was not, or that his heirs were no more reliable, then the Houses had reserved to themselves the right to make the crown submit once more. While his posterity might be kings in the sense which he understood, he never would be again. Charles had gone to war, effectively, to avoid relinquishing control of the militia and the form of reformation in his kingdoms and was now, following defeat, being asked to submit on both issues.1

On the issues arising since 1642 the terms were equally stringent. There was to be a general pardon for those who had fought for the King, but there were eleven qualifying clauses which exempted, in all, fifty-eight royalists from the pardon. One third of the lands of the bishops and clergy were to be sold and the number of offices of state to be nominated by Parliament now expanded to include the Mastership of the Rolls. All grants made under the King’s Great Seal since 22 May 1642 were declared invalid.2 The men carrying the propositions were not empowered to negotiate; they were simply to report Charles’s answer: as Charles contemptuously put it, ‘an honest trumpeter might have done as much’. Their orders had been to secure consent within ten days, or to return.3

Behind these uncompromising terms, however, lay serious potential divisions among the victors, particularly of course over church government. English Presbyterians saw in the Covenanters potential allies, even if they did not want a completely ‘Scottified’ English church. They tended also to be rather suspicious of the New Model, which had won the war but not on behalf of Presbyterianism, and had in any case been created partly as a means of ousting the earls of Essex and Manchester. Many others saw in this Presbyterianism the threat of a new intolerance, and were anxious to secure freedoms alongside any future Presbyterian settlement. There was also resentment at Scottish influence in England: it seemed worthwhile on 14 August, for example, to pass an ordinance imposing punishment on libellers of the Scots kingdom or army, but significantly, perhaps, it passed only by a majority of 130 to 102. For those thinking this way the New Model was more likely to seem an ally than a threat: it was not Scottish, and not Presbyterian. There were differences on secular issues too, or at least the extent to which Charles’s hands should be tied or the powers of monarchs in general restrained, and whether or not it was worth pushing these issues once the future of the church had been decided. The costs of the war, and the new forms of authority and the institutions of government that it had spawned, were also unpopular – the excise, the committeemen and, above all, the expensive armies. These issues were not yet being addressed: indeed, in October it was agreed without any division that the New Model Army should stay in being for another six months.4

It was for his perceptiveness about these divisions that Jacob Astley is best remembered. A senior royalist commander, with a distinguished military record, both in the European wars and in the English civil war, such fame as he enjoys comes instead from his surrender in the last months of the war. On 21 March he was on the move from the Welsh borders with 3,000 men, with the rather desperate hope of meeting French troops arriving on the east coast. Near Stow-on-the-Wold he was met by parliamentary forces and defeated. His soldiers surrendered in crowds and Astley, recognizing the finality of the defeat, said to the parliamentarian victors, ‘You have now done your work and may go play, unless you will fall out among yourselves’.5 In 1640 Charles’s problem in England had been the plurality of responses to the Scottish crisis. In 1646 the much more marked and explicit plurality of responses to the civil war was his opportunity.

Faith in the division of his enemies was a central plank of Charles’s response to the Newcastle Propositions: on the whole he waited for something better to turn up. His private correspondence reveals that royalist counsels were divided about how much of the Newcastle Propositions could safely be accepted, and also that Charles personally hated the whole package. On the other hand, he did not want to antagonize the Covenanters to the extent that they might retire to Scotland and hand him over to Parliament. Before he officially received the propositions, he knew enough of their contents to know that he would not accept them, but that delay was the key to eventual success. On 1 July he wrote to Henrietta Maria that ‘a flat denial’ was to be ‘delayed as long as may be’. Nonetheless, over the summer the balance of forces seemed to be pushing him towards a concession, although Henrietta Maria continued to advise against it, and he continued to write letters reassuring her on that point. He could never have agreed to the propositions with conviction, however, and as long as other possibilities presented themselves there was little hope of his submitting.6

Charles was strongly opposed to a Presbyterian settlement, believing it to be as destructive of monarchical government as resignation of control of the militia. The previous September he had challenged Colepeper, Ashburnham and Jermyn to ‘show me any precedent where ever a Presbyterial government and regal was together without perpetual rebellions… the ground of their doctrine is anti-monarchical.7 There was some possibility of an alliance with Independents against this pressure for a Presbyterian settlement. In the autumn he proposed settling for Presbyterianism for three years, in which time an assembly consisting of 20 Presbyterians, 20 Independents and 20 of his own nominees should discuss a permanent settlement. But this concession was difficult to square with his conscience: on 21 September, in rejecting advice to make more-permanent concessions on Presbyterianism in order to woo the Covenanters, he had argued that it was a lesser evil to submit to one pope than to many. He thus made a connection with the rhetoric of Independents like Cheney Culpeper, and he was, indeed, receiving fresh approaches from Independents at that time.8 But Independency was hardly more attractive to the King than Presbyterianism. Both the Directory of Worship and the threat of sectarian chaos were unpopular with many people and there were large numbers of Protestants who were attached to the Prayer Book, not least as a bulwark against sectarianism.9 This was the most plausible ground on which to stand.

Charles was advised by some counsellors (including Henrietta Maria, who did not make strong distinctions among the various Protestant heresies) to make concessions on the church in order to save the militia. Hyde was not among them, though, since he thought a Presbyterian settlement completely unacceptable. In July he wrote:

It is not the change of Church Government which is chiefly aimed at (though that were too much) but it is by that pretext to take away the dependency of the Church from the Crown, which, let me tell you, I hold to be of equal consequence to that of the Militia, for people are governed by pulpits more than the sword, in times of peace.

In the end both the militia and the church were non-negotiable for Charles, as they had been in 1642, in fact. Counsellors who advised compromise on one in order to save the other made no headway; instead, it was another line of advice from Henrietta Maria that won out – to be resolved and constant until they could ‘again be masters’.10

For Charles, of course, this was not simply an English matter, and while he waited and hoped for the dissolution of the English parliamentary alliance he continued to look for allies outside his metropolitan kingdom. In fact, the thread of consistency running through his actions from 1637 onwards may have been an unwillingness to ‘deal’ with rebels, and his preferred option in 1646 was probably to renew the war so that he could punish them. He was also consistently willing to make tactical concessions to draw people into negotiation which he had no intention of conceding in the end – he had a clear sense of ‘grounds’, fundamentals of his view of kingship, which could and should be protected by whatever ‘means’ were effective.11

In any case, throughout these treaty negotiations he pursued covert diplomacy which made and makes him appear shifty. The possibility of renewing the war with French help had been actively considered as the last strongholds of English royalism fell, and in the first months of his captivity he cast around for help in Ireland and Scotland too. In Ireland things did not look particularly good for him. There the Confederation of Catholic forces formed in the rising of 1641 was fighting on several fronts, while in more or less continuous negotiation for a peace with the King. They faced an army raised by the Dublin administration, under the command of the Marquess of Ormond, and a force sent from Scotland under Monro. Ormond was the King’s representative – his appointment to the Dublin administration was no business of the English parliament – and remained loyal to Charles, but was also committed to the defence of Irish Protestantism. These Protestant armies, including Ormond’s, enjoyed considerable support in England and Scotland. But it was not easy for Ormond to hold the ring in Confederate circles, as both a royalist and a Protestant. At several critical moments in the complex and protracted negotiations he stood out against crucial concessions to Irish Catholics. This fed opposition to him on the clericalist wing of the Confederate coalition, which began to make a common cause with opposition to the leadership, which seemed both high-handed and ineffective at securing an acceptable peace.12

This situation was made more complicated by the arrival in 1645 of the Earl of Glamorgan, a Catholic who arrived directly from the King’s side and who, in the aftermath of Naseby and the deteriorating royalist position in England, was able to offer more-substantial concessions. He had been negotiating directly with the Confederates on the King’s behalf for military aid, a reflection of the pressing military needs in England, but something which undermined the authority of the King’s official representative, Ormond. In August 1645 Glamorgan signed a treaty promising dramatic concessions – more than Ormond would have been comfortable to offer – in return for further military aid. It is not clear whether or not the King had approved these concessions, although Glamorgan did sign a defeasance exempting the King from anything that he did not like – this probably tells the story it seems to. Distrust in Ireland delayed agreement, and when the nature of the negotiations became public late in 1645 Glamorgan’s efforts collapsed.13

This left Ormond unrivalled as the King’s representative in Ireland, and he negotiated a peace with the Confederates which was signed at the end of March 1646. In return for important concessions on religion, he secured the promise of troops to support Chester: too late, however, since it had fallen on 3 February. Not only did this fail to produce military aid, but it also divided the Irish Confederates. The clericalist wing, now led by a papal nuncio called Rinuccini, rejected the terms as too soft. Rinuccini had arrived in October 1645, with money and arms, intent on securing freedom of worship for Catholics in Ireland and willing to exploit divisions among the Confederates to avoid a peace that fell short of that. By comparison, he was relatively casual about the need to restore Charles’s authority: an alliance with the royalists was not his priority. The Ormond peace offered almost no guarantees about the future of Catholicism and was not acceptable to an important slice of Confederate opinion. In the meantime, the war with Monro’s army continued, and through June and July 1646 the Confederate army enjoyed considerable military success, including a significant victory at Benburb (5 June) and the capture of castles at Roscommon and Bunratty in the first half of July. This allowed preparations for an attack on Dublin.14

Ormond faced other difficulties too. On 4 July, Digby had arrived in Ireland with the news that, during the King’s captivity, Ormond was to take instructions from Henrietta Maria and the Prince of Wales. At the end of the month, however, Digby told the Irish privy council that his own authority was sufficient for him to act in the King’s name, and that the Ormond peace should be published. This was duly done the following day, 30 July. Not only did this breach a confidentiality agreement, but it prompted Rinuccini into open opposition. He convened a meeting of the Irish clergy at Waterford, which denounced the peace on 12 August. They then threatened an interdiction on any town that proclaimed the peace, and the effect seems to have been fatal to Ormond’s authority. He summoned a meeting of the Irish nobility at Cashel, but was refused admission to the town and by mid-September his ruin was complete. Leading figures of the Supreme Council of the Confederacy were arrested when Rinuccini arrived at Kilkenny at the head of an armed force, and the Ormond peace was denounced. A purged Confederate leadership was in place, with Owen Roe O’Neill at the head of its forces, and was very unfriendly to a peace in Ireland that was no more than a capitulation. Faced with the triumph of this wing of the Confederacy, Ormond decided to surrender Dublin to the English parliament rather than risk a Catholic capture. In response Rinuccini recognized the Earl of Glamorgan as the King’s lieutenant, in place of Ormond. Parliament accepted Ormond’s resignation in the middle of October.15 By September 1646, then, the King could at least be clear that the Irish were not his salvation. The Irish Confederates were, like the English parliamentarians, seeking to extract concessions at this moment of weakness and concessions to the English parliament and the Irish Confederates were likely to be mutually unacceptable.

In Scotland the prospects for Charles looked no less bleak. It had been clear for some time that the English parliament was not necessarily reliable from the point of view of the Covenanters, and they had been negotiating with the King directly since the middle of 1645, although they denied it publicly. Early in 1646 papers presented by the Covenanters to the English parliament were published, prefaced by an outline of how the terms for negotiation had been softened since the Uxbridge negotiations. The Commons ordered that they should be burnt, although the Lords modified the measure to mean that only the preface, not official papers produced by formal allies, would be publicly burnt.16 Clearly there were possibilities here for Charles.

But what the Covenanters wanted from the English parliament – chiefly a strict Presbyterian settlement – was no more acceptable to Charles. Henrietta Maria and the French consistently urged compromise on the church settlement in order to secure military help, but Charles was never willing to pursue this line, and French help never arrived. In April the Covenanter terms for a settlement became clear and Charles soon discovered, following his surrender, that there was little room for manoeuvre. He agreed to receive instruction on Presbyterian government (no easy thing to agree to, one might think) and that encouraged hopes that he might throw in his lot with them. At Newcastle, however, it quickly became clear that he was not really learning from Alexander Henderson’s instruction. His hopes rested on divisions in Scotland, between the relative hardliners like Argyll and a group led by Hamilton which sought security both for the kirk and for monarchical authority, and which might be persuaded to help restore Charles to effective rule with weaker demands about the church settlement in England. But the Hamiltonians had little leverage in these months.17

In the late summer of 1645, Charles received a special envoy from France, Jean de Montreuil, who had been sent to broker a deal between Charles and the Covenanters. This would allow for an invasion of England, with French support; one of the final schemes of the first war. Behind this lay a French plan to annexe the Spanish Netherlands. They now offered Charles the prospect of military support in the hope that it would ensure there was no English intervention in the Netherlands. The French remained interested (at least apparently) in pursuing this following Charles’s surrender in 1646 and the scheme was picked up again the following spring.18

Charles then had many options, and that was bound to make him seem flirtatious to the many parties with which he was apparently willing to deal. It was quite reasonable for a man of his convictions to play the field in this way – the most important thing was to preserve the monarchy, not pander to the opinions of his subjects. On the other hand, to those with whom he was dealing he must have seemed actively deceitful, rather than open to offers from any potentially helpful source. For example, on 11 June he wrote a letter to the long-suffering Ormond telling him to treat no further with the Irish, and allowed the Scots around him to see the letter. This was clearly intended to foster the impression that his dealings with the Confederates were over and that the Covenanters could be reassured about dealing with him. In a letter to the Queen, however, he explained that he meant no further negotiation – what had already been agreed was not to be undone. An unfortunate feature of this minor conceit was that Ormond did not understand this distinction. Later in the year Charles offered to Parliament management of the war in Ireland, boasting to the Queen that it was the management that was offered – if he chose to make peace then his engagement with Parliament would be ended. Most of us would think, perhaps, that Charles should have backed only one of these horses – opted for a deal with Covenanters and English Presbyterians or with English Independents, and probably not (for domestic reasons) a deal with the Irish Catholics or the French. But instead he was always interested by all options, and in November toyed with encouraging a general rising against the English parliament.19

For all these reasons, nothing much happened in relation to the English peace treaty between July and December. Charles’s initial response to the Newcastle Propositions was to play for time. His first reply, on 1 August, asked for the opportunity to come to London personally to ‘raise a mutual confidence between him and his people’ and satisfy his conscience in full discussion since the propositions ‘do import so great alterations’ in church and state.20 This call for a return to London had recurred throughout the 1640s, but was completely unacceptable to the Westminster leadership, who feared that it would lead to an unravelling of their position. William Sancroft, writing in May 1646, said that the dominant Westminster faction ‘fear nothing more than’ the King’s arrival in London: ‘they know not what to do with him if he comes… his presence will attract hearts and animate many of the members to appear for him with open face who now mask under a visor’.21 It was probably a well-grounded fear, which Charles played on again, in his second formal response to the propositions in late December. It was only the following May that he gave a substantive answer to the specific proposals, and then the purpose was largely disruptive.22

From the late summer onwards the Covenanters had been preparing to go home. Charles’s intransigence made it seem that there was little hope of reaching a deal with him, while the revelation of their negotiations with him made the English parliament increasingly hostile. Open trading had started in mid-August, when the Commons voted £100,000 to cover the Scots” costs. In retaliation they estimated those costs at £2,000,000, but said that they were willing to accept £500,000. Two weeks of haggling produced a settlement at £400,000, half to be paid before they left and the rest to be paid in instalments thereafter. The security for the loans raised in the City was the sale of bishops” lands and the excise. The quid pro quo was that the English parliament claimed power over the King’s person and this became the deal – payment of reparations to the Covenanters in return for control of the King. The details were worked out by the end of December: this was the context of Charles’s second plea to come to London and be heard (‘the which if refused to a subject by a King, he would be thought a tyrant for it’). Parliament again felt unmoved by the attractions of this plan and it was decided to hold the King at Holmby, Northamptonshire. The alternative had been Newmarket – a favourite royal stamping ground before the war but in the now-Presbyterian Eastern Association. In January the Committee of Both Kingdoms was superseded as the crucial political body by the Committee for Irish Affairs at Derby House. Payments to the Covenanters began and at the end of January parliamentary commissioners arrived in Newcastle to take the King south. The Covenanters marched north on 30 January, having received the first £100,000, and the second instalment arrived a few days later: to many royalists then and since this has looked rather like the Scots selling their king. Charles himself embellished the story by noting that it was ‘at too cheap a rate’.23

A fixed point in these negotiations was the centrality of the King to any settlement. The surrender of Charles had not settled much and had clearly not ruled out the possibility of renewed fighting. The idea of deposition, or of some kind of ‘temporary abdication’, was in the air, but this was plainly hampered by the fact that none of the alternative claimants to the throne was willing to deal with Parliament. The heir, in fact, had prudently been sent abroad. Martyrdom was in any case preferable for Charles, as he was keen to let everyone know.24 The military defeat of the King was by no means a political defeat for monarchy since there was every prospect of a dissolution of the parliamentary coalition. Prevarication worked in his favour because of this essential fact, which reflected the cultural prestige of monarchy. Charles I and his policies were in general less popular than the idea of monarchy, and he was at his most effective when he presented himself as the embodiment of the latter. From 1647 onwards he increasingly presented himself as such, and as a monarch suffering in the service of that sacred office. In a way he was preparing himself for the martyrdom which he did indeed ultimately embrace – it was certainly a turn away from the austere image of a distant figure, seeking the welfare but not the approval of his people, that had been presented by Van Dyke in the 1630s.

En route from Newcastle to Holmby, Charles was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, which provide vivid testimony to the continuing cultural power not just of the idea of monarchy, but even the appeal of this particular monarch. Many of those who attended hoped to be healed by the royal touch. At Ripon on 7 February he touched for the King’s Evil.25 The King’s Evil was scrofula, a tubercular infection which manifested itself in swellings in the neck and in skin conditions. It was claimed that by his sacred touch an English king could cure this disease, and there is plenty of contemporary testimony that it worked. Richard Wiseman, the royalist surgeon, devoted a whole book of his Chirurgicall Treatises to medical treatments of the disease but noted in advance that the royal touch was the most effective cure, as testified in ‘our chronicles’ and by ‘the personal experiences of many thousands now living’.26 Given the symbolic force of the royal touch, and his own immediate interests, Wiseman could hardly have been expected to say anything else, of course. His book was dedicated ‘To the most sacred majesty of Charles II’: the royal touch was a crucial demonstration of that sacred majesty which attached to kings.27 Wiseman’s professional and political interests could be resolved, however: those unable or unwilling to attend the King were missing the simplest and most effective cure, but there were medical alternatives ‘since it is not necessary that a disease which is cured by miracle, should be remediable by no rules of art’.28 Wiseman was certainly not alone in thinking that the royal cure worked. Those who came to be touched were issued with ‘touch-pieces’ and these too acquired supernatural qualities.29

Charles had touched for the Evil throughout the 1630s, although, characteristically, he had also issued numerous proclamations attempting to bring order to the procedure.30 The 1635 edition of the Prayer Book had been bound with directions for the touching ceremony: this came close to integrating the enactment of sacred monarchy into the liturgy of the national church, of which, of course, he was head.31 In that sense, touching was a powerful demonstration of exactly the image of monarchy and church that Charles had consistently defended. It is, perhaps, no surprise that he had touched at Edinburgh during his coronation visit in 1633 and at York on the eve of his ill-fated campaign in the second Bishops” War.32 He was certainly assiduous about touching in the spring of 1647 and afterwards: it made his point that someone with these powers could not reasonably be asked to submit to the terms of the Newcastle Propositions and suggested that there were many others who might agree.33

Only the French and English kings claimed the power to touch, the English claiming that since the time of Edward the Confessor their monarchs had been endowed with this power. In fact, it seems, the ceremony was of more recent origin and some of the evidence cited that there was an unbroken tradition from the time of the Confessor comes from seventeenth-century claims to that effect.34 Indeed, Charles and his son seem to have been among the most enthusiastic touchers in English history,35 and it may be their propaganda that fooled historians subsequently.

Not only did the rite chime with Charles I’s sense of church and state, but it made a powerful political point at a moment when monarchy was being demystified. The relationship between the sacred office and the royal body was here very direct. At Hull in 1642 Sir John Hotham had refused the King entry, claiming that the King’s authority was expressed through Parliament, and that in obeying an order of Parliament he was not disobeying the King. Charles had nailed this argument of convenience with a neat debating point – he was familiar with the argument that his authority could be where his body was not, but not that his body could be where his authority was not. In 1643 some poor petitioners had sought permission from the King to go from London to Oxford to receive the touch. This miraculous cure, they noted, ‘is one of the greatest of his Majesty’s prerogatives, which no force can deprive your highness of’.36 Touching demonstrated the particular powers that resided in the King’s actual body, while at the same time demonstrating the seamlessness of his political vision.

It was not just those with scrofula who were drawn to the King. Outside Leeds the road was crowded for two miles with onlookers and everywhere he went the bells were rung. On 13 February, Fairfax rode out from Nottingham to meet him and there was an honourable exchange between the two former enemies. In Northamptonshire hundreds of gentry came to escort him and in Northampton bells were again rung and guns fired in his honour. Wherever he went, apparently, he was greeted with shouts of ‘God bless your majesty!’ and he arrived at Holmby, unsurprisingly, in very good spirits.37 In April 1647, as crowds continued to flock to Holmby for the healing touch, Henry Marten jokingly suggested in the Commons that ‘the parliament’s Great Seal might do it if there was an ordinance for it’. He was responding to preparations to send the Newcastle Propositions to the King once more, and his barb was linked to his description of the King as a ‘man’: ‘The man to whom these propositions shall be sent ought rather to come to the bar himself than to be sent to any more’. But like many of his jokes, this was uncomfortably close to the bone – neither the new Great Seal nor the recent expedient of an ordinance claimed sacred sanction dating back 600 years. Many evidently felt that a powerful and divinely sanctioned authority really was embodied in the King, that he was not a man just like any other. A week later the Commons denounced the practice of touching as superstitious,38 further evidence that Charles’s touching was a powerful demonstration of a significant political fact.

Given the cultural attractions of monarchy, the beliefs of this particular king and his negotiating habits, the best way forward in securing a settlement was probably for a single English party to achieve primacy. This would enable it to deal effectively with Charles, and force him to recognize that it was his only plausible option. From February onwards a Presbyterian party in Parliament, with allies in the City of London, sought exactly this, although probably driven more by a fear of the alternative.

Through the autumn the prospects of toleration around a Presbyterian settlement had receded, but the position of the New Model had remained strong. The abolition of the bishops was accepted by the Lords on 9 October – and the sale of their lands provided an important resource with which to pay off the Covenanters. While strides were made towards settling a Presbyterian church in England, steps were also taken to rein in more radical reformation: on 2 September an ordinance against blasphemy and heresy was proposed, including the death penalty for denial of the Trinity or incarnation. Against this, the political influence of Independents was still plain. The blasphemy ordinance did not make it onto the statute book, and when a measure was passed in February 1647 it did not inflict physical punishments for false belief but called instead for a day of public humiliation ‘for that great reproach and contempt which hath been cast upon his name and saving truths’. What those truths were, and what the falsehoods were, was not defined. Meanwhile, on 10 October, Cromwell was granted his pension from the estate of the Marquess of Winchester – a very public and generous reward for a leading Independent. At the same time, the surrender of fortresses and the departure of the Covenanters meant that the continued need for an army was questionable, but it was the forces of the Presbyterian-sympathizer Edward Massey that were disbanded, a couple of weeks after the life of the New Model had been extended for six months (a vote passed without division). The disbanded soldiers – Reformadoes – were subsequently very visible on the streets of London, petitioning for relief, a symbol of what many Presbyterians regarded as a disreputable Independent manoeuvre.39

With these tensions in the background Parliament had, in the autumn of 1646, indulged in some political theatre of its own. On 14 September the Earl of Essex died, four days after suffering a stroke while out hunting. He was buried with full chivalric honours, in a ceremony modelled on that of Charles I’s elder brother, Prince Henry. Henry’s death in 1612, at the age of eighteen, had been the occasion of massive public mourning. On this occasion £5,000 was voted by Parliament ‘towards the discharging of his debts and defraying the expenses of his funeral’: a statement of the debt owed in return for his service to the parliamentary cause. The route from Essex House, just downriver from Somerset House, was lined by five regiments of the Trained Bands. Ahead of the main procession rode the marshal of the City of London and twenty others dressed in black cassocks. The procession itself was led by sixty-eight poor men, then servants of the gentry, four regiments of the Trained Bands, the pikemen trailing their pikes. They marched from Covent Garden, via Essex House, where they were joined by fifemen, drummers and trumpeters, all wearing the Devereux arms. Five chaplains followed, then more musicians, officers of the Trained Bands, and musicians with other heraldic arms to which the earl had claim. A riderless horse, led by a groom, and an effigy of the earl preceded the coffin, which was borne by prominent Presbyterians. There followed eminent mourners, then members of both Houses, the Recorder and Aldermen of London, the Assembly of Divines and fifty or sixty cavalrymen. In all, over 1,000 processed, and up to 10,000 soldiers had either processed or guarded the route. As a result there was a problem of fitting everyone into Westminster Abbey, even though the Lords had ordered that the multitude and all women ‘of whatsoever quality’ were barred (chivalric funerals were in any case, by custom, all-male affairs). An eloquent sermon by Richard Vines was heard by those fortunate enough to cram in, before they processed back to Essex House for a funeral banquet. That evening, five hours after the procession had begun, the bell at St Margaret’s, Westminster, tolled twice. A signal was then given to the Stone Fort at Southwark to fire its great cannon, and each of the forts around the eleven-mile defences fired its great cannon in turn. This was done three times.40

But this was a more ambiguous affair than this ritual suggested. Controversially, it had been ordered that those who had been in arms for the King should not attend and almost all the chief mourners were prominent Presbyterians: Fairfax, Cromwell and Ireton were all absent. The effigy, which had become an important site for those wishing to reflect on the contribution of Essex to a noble cause, was attacked on the night of 26/27 November. John White, using an axe acquired from a Ludgate ironmonger, wrecked the elaborate catafalque erected in the abbey in the earl’s honour, hacked the head off the effigy, with seven or eight blows, ripped off the buff coat the earl had worn at Edgehill, slashed his breeches and boots, and stole his golden sword. In his excitement he also took the nose off an image of Sir William Camden, a relatively blameless antiquarian, whose tomb was nearby. White claimed that an angel had directed him ‘to cut all the said image, hearse and all that was about it in pieces, and to beat down the rest of the images in the said church’. In his defence he said it was a dishonour to Christ to introduce the effigy of a man into a sacred building. The repaired image was placed behind glass, and lasted to the Restoration, when the effigy was destroyed at the command of Charles II, although the corpse was left undisturbed.41

Dubbed by the press a disaffected Cavalier, White expressed a line of argument that might not have been so far from that of some members of the parliamentary coalition – there were those on Essex’s side, after all, who had smashed funerary monuments and supported his replacement at the head of the parliamentary army. Even if they would not have desecrated this particular tomb, the point can hardly have been lost on contemporaries. This appeal to a grand chivalric tradition appears elegiac – the Self-Denying Ordinance, which had ended Essex’s martial career, had also diluted the importance of baronial and aristocratic images in the promotion of the parliamentary cause; the unity it proclaimed, if it had ever existed, belonged more to the beginning than the end of Essex’s career. Certainly, if Cavaliers could turn the language of reformation against the images of parliamentary virtue then this was a more contested vision than that of Charles healing the sick.

While the politicians wrangled there had been no peace dividend and, on the evidence of the Newcastle negotiations, military victory had not produced a political breakthrough. Worse, there had been numerous disorders in the provincial armies. Anti-war and anti-army feelings were of prime political importance during 1647: to those who wanted to reduce taxation, re-establish legal and constitutional forms of politics and to set clear limits to further reformation, it seemed obvious that the armies had to be disbanded.42 At the same time, it became increasingly clear to radicals that the pursuit of their aims depended on the continued influence of the New Model and, by the same token, that if the New Model was to receive just treatment, it should seek the protection of radically minded politicians.

These intersecting political and religious concerns came together in a Presbyterian ‘counter-revolution’ as partisans on the parliamentary side battled for control of the sources of political power – the streets of London, Parliament, the City and the New Model. Those that had little hope of bringing the New Model along with them sought to abolish it as an obstacle to their will and a burden on the people which cost them support. In resisting these moves the New Model became an independent political actor, resisting elements of the Protestant coalition in Parliament and the City in defence of its own interests.

Crowds, particularly in London, came to play a key role in the complex politics of 1647, just as they had in 1640–42. At Holmby, Charles was playing to the gallery and thereby discomfiting his captors, who came jokingly to refer to him as ‘the stroker’. The funeral of the Earl of Essex attempted a moment of public unity celebrating a hero of the parliamentary cause, identifying it with a Presbyterian church settlement. As in 1641 there was also a battle for the control of the political and administrative institutions of the City, and the future of English and Scottish politics were once more closely entwined. But these battles were now within the parliamentary coalition, rather than between emergent royalist and parliamentary parties – the King was a (presumably rather gratified) spectator in all this. In the end it was to be an alliance between Independents and the New Model that established control of London’s streets, and of Parliament, but as this battle was fought out it is easy to see why the King’s position might appear to be strengthening.

In the autumn, a priority at Westminster was to begin to reduce public expenses. For the Presbyterians this came to focus on the New Model, which was both the largest force and one that was regarded as politically suspect. There had been previous Presbyterian campaigns which had seemed to identify enemies within as much as outside the parliamentary coalition – starting in November 1644, then in 1645 and as the war ended in 1646. But that which opened in December 1646 was the most concerted and the most confrontational. Thomas Edwards had been critical of the New Model in the first two parts of Gangraena, but the third part, published as part of this Presbyterian campaign in the City and at Westminster, devoted much of its energy to a denunciation of its role in promoting heresy. Presbyterians around Sion College co-operated with Covenanters and members of the Westminster Assembly to achieve dominance in the City and Parliament. Their aim was a Presbyterian church settlement and a rapid peace, which led them to contemplate pretty easy terms on many secular issues. Following the death of the Earl of Essex these views were championed in Parliament by the old peace-party man Denzil Holles and Sir Philip Stapleton.43

In December 1646 a petition circulated in London which called for a high-Presbyterian settlement and the disbandment of the army since it was an encouragement to heresy. The Lords took the opportunity to command Fairfax to impose the Solemn League and Covenant on all the men under his command. The petition was sufficiently inflammatory for the Commons to have the three promoters arrested, but the City accepted the petition. At Common Council elections on 21 December a large Presbyterian majority was returned, and the petition had been something of a manifesto for them. Those who resisted the petition were, on the whole, unsuccessful. Alongside a strict Presbyterian settlement the new Common Council called for disbandment of the New Model Army, elections to a free parliament, reform of county committees and dissolution of the committee of Haberdashers” Hall.44

These aims were pursued pretty consistently through 1647, on the basis of the influence of Holles and Stapleton in the Commons, and of their allies in the City. On the key issues before the King they were willing to concede a settlement that established presbytery for only three years, and control of the militia only for ten. This did not produce a breakthrough, of course, and in February more confrontational measures were taken – communion plate from the royal chapel was melted down to make a dinner service for Charles, and his household was disestablished until he came to terms with Parliament.45 Although the negotiation with Charles appeared unpromising, many MPs now swung against the Independents, more concerned with order and peace than with the more relaxed religious settlement they offered.

Pressure on Parliament in the last week of December coincided with the resurgence of crowds around the Houses, and the crowd on 31 December was particularly menacing. Street politics were not easy to control or subsume, however. If the crowds at Holmby in February reflected a resurgent royalism, this was a natural ally of those seeking to restore central elements of the pre-civil war world. These were not necessarily the Presbyterians. For example, there is evidence of increasing hostility to the new Puritan calendar. From September 1641 onwards there were measures designed to secure more godly observation of the Sabbath – a reaction against the Caroline Book of Sports and its associated indulgences. But this became connected to a more fundamental assault on the ritual calendar – Easter, Whitsun, ‘Christ’s birthday’ and saints” days – a campaign associated particularly with the Solemn League and Covenant. This had culminated in the issue of the Directory of Worship in January 1645. The Directory banned holy days, reinforcing earlier measures against May Day, and contained explicit injunctions against Shrove Tuesday rituals of misrule. In place of this ritual year stood fast days on the last Wednesday of every month, and other days of national thanksgiving from time to time. In 1644, when the monthly fast fell on Christmas Day, an ordinance had called for ‘the more solemn humiliation’ on the fast, since Christmas celebrations had turned into a ‘liberty to carnal and sensual delights’. Christmas too was abolished, and the unpopularity of that measure was evident during 1646.46

These rituals had a more than religious significance – they were moments at which local differences were submerged in a celebration of shared faith, or identity, or in which tensions were released in rituals of misrule and inversion. On the other hand, it was precisely because they had a more than religious significance that Puritans were opposed to them and favoured instead celebrations of national triumph or delivery – such as 5 November, for example.47 In this they were not necessarily in tune with the streets.

On 9 February, London apprentices petitioned Parliament for a monthly ‘playday’ to replace the lost saints” days. It may not be coincidence that this came one day after the Lords had voted that anyone not taking the Covenant should be barred from office, a measure taken in response to Presbyterian pressure from the City. Shrove Tuesday (9 March), a day traditionally associated with apprentice disorder, seems to have passed without incident, but apprentices gathered again on 20 April. This was two days after Easter and three days before St George’s Day, both important dates in the now defunct ritual year. The crowd waited patiently until 5 p.m. but eventually dispersed peacefully, without receiving an answer. On St George’s Day itself, 23 April, crowds pressed round the Houses again, awaiting a reply. This campaign, although one with resonances on the streets of London, clearly held little appeal for Presbyterians: perhaps they shared the view of the Moderate Intelligencer, that it was unwise to give scholars and apprentices too much leisure.48

Agitation against the excise also revealed a limit to Presbyterian populism. For the relatively poor, particularly in London, the early months of 1647 were very hard. The 1646 harvest was poor, signalling the start of what may have been the worst run of bad harvests between the early seventeenth century and the middle of the eighteenth.49 This pushed up the price of food grains while at the same time depressing activity in the economy, so that wage earners were doubly squeezed – steep inflation in the costs of necessities and declining opportunities to find work. Towns and industrial districts had high concentrations of wage-earners and were dependent on the market for food supplies, and so were particularly vulnerable to dearth and disorder. Grain riots in such places were not spontaneous and randomly violent responses to hunger, or the weather – they were targeted against human agents of hardship, such as profiteers or governors who failed to intervene to protect the needy. Hard times often triggered responses from governors aimed at ameliorating the difficulties – prompted no doubt by a mixture of concern for the welfare of the poor, and concern for social order. In London, in January 1647, a number of such measures were visible – a petition from the City to Parliament for relief of the poor and punishment of vagabonds, and measures to prevent the consumption of meat, exports of fish, the slaughter of calves and lambs, and the use of food grains in brewing. In February there was great relief when ‘many ships… laden with corn in great abundance’ arrived.50

High levels of taxation and, in particular, the excise did not help. The excises on meat and salt put an inflationary pressure on staple food items and served as a focus for hostility to the burdens of war, and the officials who administered them. The excise probably produced less money than the assessment, but it was more regressive (since payment was made by everyone who used salt and meat, or drank beer, regardless of their income), was not time-limited, and was in the hands of professional collectors rather than local officeholders. In November and December there were serious disorders in Norwich, Beccles (where rioters were said to have been encouraged by the failure to punish the Norwich rioters) and Worcester.51 As with the disturbance at Derby in 1645, and grain riots, these were identifiably political demonstrations, led by butchers (those best placed to understand the burdens of the excise on meat) and joined by brewers in late December. There is some suggestion that the Presbyterians who dominated Norwich at that point were in sympathy with the rioters – the excise was, after all, a principal support of the New Model Army.52 There was also a wider reaction against the burdens of war and the abuses of power associated with committee government, although what counted as an abuse was a political question – what the situation demanded appeared differently to people of different political opinions. Excise disturbances were the popular edge of what could seem a wider phenomenon and for that reason may have enjoyed some sympathy from partisan local governors.53

A week after the initial demonstration in favour of recreation days, London saw its only major excise disorder, at Smithfield. In late January the Commons heard a report dealing with ‘obstructions’ to the excise and in the first week of February this seems to have been high on the agenda. The author of London’s Account, an indictment of the entire financial edifice erected by Parliament which compared the whole lot unfavourably with ship money, was brought to the bar of the House, and the commissioners for the excise appeared in person with a petition for help in facing the difficulties of collection. When the issue was finally discussed, on 8 February, the House was unsympathetic to opponents of the excise. It ordered that an exemplary declaration should be prepared, and that abuses by minor officials and the impact on trade should be investigated. On the whole, however, the intention was, thought the Weekly Account, to ‘manifest that the House intend to continue the [excise] for a time longer for the satisfying of the public debts of the kingdom’.54

Disappointment at this outcome was probably part of the reason for the riot at Smithfield a week later. On 15 February a buyer refused to pay excise and tried to remove his livestock. When he was stopped a crowd gathered in his defence. It was dispersed but another crowd gathered later, burning down the excise house, and £80 or £100 was ‘scattered and purloined’. The later crowd was led by butchers, one of whom said that they would ‘bear down the excise by force’. There certainly was force – ‘many of the officers of the excise were beaten’ – but it was limited and focused. At least some of the money was scattered, not stolen, and it was the officers and their house that were attacked. The rioters also took the trouble to spoil the records kept by the officers. Clearly there was method in the violence.55

The official response was again unyielding – measures were taken to punish the ringleaders and to police the market more effectively. Ordinances followed and included some measures to protect the poor – the excise was not to be levied on those receiving alms, or by poll except by consent, and local officeholders were given some powers to examine sub-commissioners suspected of abuse or corruption. But the main message was clear: Parliament would listen to complaints, but in the meantime ‘expect all persons whatsoever shall duly pay all sums imposed… by way of excise’. The excise house was rebuilt as a private dwelling so that future damage could be prosecuted as a felony. Newsbooks echoed the message – the excise was unavoidable until the army was disbanded. The Moderate Intelligencer went further:

[the rioters] have made a rod for themselves; for had they been quiet, and paid excise, the soldiery might have been nulled and the cause taken away… whereas now, its probable the Parliament will be necessitated to keep an army to preserve themselves, those they employ and pay the debts of the kingdom.56

As with the recreation days, therefore, there was no initial concession. Just as the Puritan calendar was crucial to the cultural aims of the Presbyterians, the excise was no less essential to their position, and preferable to a land tax. On 4 March it was the assessment that the Lords, an assembly of landholders, refused to renew.57 The winter of 1646/7 saw a resurgent royalism, associated with an attachment to tradition and hostility to the military and the administrative measures necessary to support it. This was not necessarily territory that belonged to Presbyterians. Nonetheless, their immediate prospects looked good. On 11 March one of William Lilly’s clients wanted to know ‘If Presbytery will continue any long time’.58

The Smithfield riot may have had an indirect effect on parliamentary politics, galvanizing the campaign to disband the army. On the day of the riot a petition had been received from Suffolk calling for a Presbyterian settlement, the suppression of toleration and the disbandment of the army, and it was Presbyterians in Parliament who proposed, four days later, cuts in the number of horse and the disbandment of all infantry units not in garrisons. These moves to disband the army were quickly connected with the mobilization of new forces for service in Ireland. On 20 February a letter arrived from Dublin in which Ormond detailed his woes, including the refusal of the Dublin population to continue to support his troops. He was finally and unequivocally a discredited political force, and Dublin was now very vulnerable.59 With the Confederates in the ascendant a military response was imperative. Disbandment of the English forces became a means of releasing troops for Ireland, and easing the burdens on the English taxpayer.

Although this was a virtuous circle it was being proposed by politicians hostile to the New Model Army. Within the New Model it was feared that arrears of pay would not be honoured, and a movement developed within the army to demand that soldiers would not be pressed to serve in Ireland without first receiving arrears for service already given, and that soldiers should be given indemnity from prosecution for actions taken in the service of Parliament. Indemnity was a serious issue – there is evidence from Yorkshire of a serious effort to bring soldiers to court after the war and that the prosecution rate for soldiers was considerably higher than for civilians. During the war many horses were taken and if this could be prosecuted as theft it might result in the death penalty – horse theft was one of the more serious crimes in rural England, and some of these cases rumbled on for years.60 Fears that indemnity and arrears would not be granted were well-grounded: the Presbyterian desire to disband, and to export, the army was at least in part politically motivated. It was certainly helpful that it achieved so many good things at once.61

Discontent in the army in March 1647 prompted direct political intervention. It is clear that by March there were petitions circulating in the army which linked its material grievances to the political conflict. One even ranked the extirpation of ungodliness and the liberty of the subject above the preservation of the privileges of Parliament. At the same time divisions were emerging in London between the Presbyterian petitioning campaign and one launched by radical Independents – prominent among them Lilburne, Walwyn and Overton. During 1646, in the course of tussles with Colonel King, the Earl of Manchester, the court of Common Pleas and the House of Lords, Lilburne had appealed in print to fundamental principles: he should be tried by his peers; the House of Lords had no jurisdiction over him. This was a form of tyranny and his struggle became, in his own eyes and in the pamphlets of his supporters, the struggle of the English people for their liberties. In pamphlets stuffed with legal citations and precedents he launched an attack on the judicial authority of the House of Lords and appealed to the Commons for protection. He was in prison from August 1646 until the autumn of 1647 by the authority of the Lords, and for much of the time his appeal to the Commons was pending. In July 1646 Overton and Walwyn’s pamphlet A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens had taken up Lilburne’s case as an example of a more general political problem, producing something resembling a political platform. It was in March 1647, however, that this process was completed, with the publication of the Large Petition. This made a strong case for popular sovereignty as a restraint on arbitrary power, the means by which Parliament could be called to account: Parliament ‘having its foundation in the free choice of the People’ and the end of all government being ‘the safety and freedom of the governed’. Contrasting the reforms of 1640–42 with recent threats to liberty, it blamed the latter on the authority of the Lords – a not very coded assertion of which House was the supreme authority. The petition was addressed to the Commons, and called on them to ‘be exceeding careful to preserve your just Authority from all prejudices of a Negative voice in any person or persons whatsoever, that may disable you, from making that happy return to your people which they justly expect’.62

Here were some of the arguments of 1642 – the supremacy of the representative of the people and the refusal to allow a Negative Voice against that representative – taken to a new, and more socially levelling, conclusion. This was not resistance of Parliament to the King, but of citizens to an aristocratic ‘interest’. Similarly, this represented an escalation of the practice of petitioning. During the period 1640–42 pressure had been applied to Parliament by people petitioning on behalf of counties, boroughs or particular interest groups. The Levellers were developing the habit of petitioning on behalf of people of a particular opinion: ‘many thousands, earnestly desiring the glory of God, the freedom of the commonwealth and the peace of all men’. Ultimately, they were to petition on behalf of ‘the people’: a significant, and radical, escalation in the rhetoric of petitions.63

Parliament was extremely hostile to the Large Petition. On 15 March, as the work of circulating and collecting signatures had begun, it was turned over to the Commons. It was voted a ‘seditious paper’ and two days later the Mayor of London asked the Lords to suppress it. In response a paper was submitted to the Committee for the Suppression of Unlicensed Printing, arguing that it was a genuine petition. As this was heard, Nicholas Tew spoke out strongly in favour of being allowed to petition, and was arrested. This resulted in a violent altercation and the committee ordered the room to be cleared. When its order was disobeyed Sir Philip Stapleton grabbed Major Tulidah by the throat and threw him out. The following day, 19 March, the House approved the committal of Tew and sent Tulidah to join him. On 20 March, Walwyn petitioned again, for the release of Tulidah and Tew, and for recognition of the right to petition Parliament as an essential freedom. Tulidah was released on bail about a week later, but Tew remained in prison. Finally, on 20 May, Walwyn submitted a third petition, this time for the release of Tew and for the right to present the Large Petition. In response Parliament ordered the burning of all three petitions.64 The possibility of an alliance therefore emerged between the increasingly politicized army and radical Independents in the City: refusal of the right to petition and a bullying response to political opposition no doubt cemented the connection.65

But the organization of the army’s campaign came from within the army – it was not a creature of any civilian movement.66 The officers massaged the initiatives within the army into a politically acceptable form and on 21 March received a parliamentary deputation at Saffron Walden. Rather than simply accede to disbandment the commanders also wanted clarification about which regiments would stay in England and so forth and, in particular, what guarantees were on offer in relation to arrears and indemnity. There were divisions – not all officers endorsed all the questions that were put to the delegation – but it was clearly an exercise in assertiveness. There were hardliners among the officers, such as Robert and Thomas Hammond, Robert Lilburne (John’s brother), John Okey, Thomas Pride and Henry Ireton. It is clear though that others in the army were more conciliatory, willing to trust Parliament, and were amenable when the parliamentary commissioners expressed concern about a petition. It is certainly true that there is very little sign of incipient mutiny in March. But the parliamentary commissioners got hold of a copy of the petition, as well as piles of an inflammatory tract (A Warning for all the Counties of England) published clandestinely in London, and they returned to London unnerved.67

Even the five moderate demands put by the army caused outrage at Westminster and on 27 March anti-army measures were taken. Money must have been part of the reason for their reluctance, but not all. In any case, refusal to pay up set them on a collision course. The revelation on 29 March of letters which showed that the agitation within the army was continuing led to parliamentary attacks on Cromwell and a declaration, sneaked through while the Independents were out of the House, which condemned the ‘mutiny’, and referred to the army as ‘enemies of the state and disturbers of the peace’. Hurriedly penned by Holles, late in the evening, this was the notorious ‘declaration of dislike’ which acted as a permanent impediment to building trust between the New Model and Parliament. Army officers were summoned to the House to explain events at Saffron Walden and denied having secured signatures to the petition by force. In the course of the arguments Holles challenged Ireton to a duel.68

By the time another parliamentary delegation was despatched to discuss disbandment on 12 April the army had been enraged by a petitioning campaign in Essex for disbandment. Promoted through the pulpits, it was the second such campaign and it prompted a printed reply. A New Found Strategem… to destroy the Army, which Thomason noted had been ‘scattered abroad in the army when the commissioners were sent from Parliament to disband them’, floated the idea that the army, not Parliament, was the safeguard of liberty and property. In this there was clearly the possibility of common cause with John Lilburne, whose prosecution and imprisonment by the Lords had led him to identify that institution as tyrannous. The pamphlet coincided with a revival of the condemned petition, at the initiative of men in Ireton’s regiment, with the intention of sending it up with two members of every troop, despite the threat of imprisonment. This initiative may be the first sign of a new, formal, political organization in the army – the election of ‘agitators’.69

Shortly afterwards eight cavalry regiments in East Anglia elected agitators to represent them in seeking redress, and a number of infantry regiments followed suit in May. There has been controversy about this term – it lacked some of its modern connotations and using that term rather than one of the contemporary alternatives (adjutator or agent) is perhaps misleading to the modern ear. In origin the agitators seem to have been representing the army’s professional concerns, not acting as the armed wing of London Independency, or the incipient Leveller movement. There was a lot of suspicion about these connections at the time, and many historians have been tempted to see it that way subsequently, but there is no direct evidence of connections between the agitators and London radicals.70 Important as it is to be clear about the limits of their role, however, it is also important to recognize the significance of this development. Formal consultation was taking place about the response of the army to its political masters. Whether it was primarily a consultation about immediate concerns rather than partisan political matters, the appointment (and recognition) of agitators was a significant step towards the creation of an independent political body. There was a risk, soon realized, that this might weaken the power of the military command, if agitators began to make decisions of their own.

By mid-April the army was alive with militancy. Troops were heard referring to their foes as tyrants and Lilburne’s books were apparently quoted ‘as statute law’. The possibility of an alliance with civilian radicals was openly mooted.71 This reinforced the attractions of an agreement between the army and the King against Parliament, and between Independents and the King against Presbyterians. Later in the summer Jeremy Taylor, a former favourite of Laud’s, published The Liberty of Prophesying, which argued for a latitudinarian church, in which there was freedom of expression for opinions which did not undermine religion or morality. Although he did not embrace sectarianism as a benefit to the discovery of truth, he believed that ‘matters spiritual should not be restrained by punishments corporal’. The King did not approve, but the line was one that might promote an alliance against Presbyterian intolerance. David Jenkins, a Welsh judge, had been thrown into prison for publishing a pamphlet which argued that the rule of law was inseparable from the rule of the King. In prison in September he was apparently able to find common ground with John Lilburne, then much exercised about the issue of parliamentary tyranny, and impressed by the possibility that the King might be a protection against it.72 In April this possible alliance lay behind an approach from the army to Charles to take refuge in its ranks so that he could be restored to his honour and power. It was repudiated at army headquarters but it had still been possible for the Earl of Pembroke to allege that the New Model contained 7,000 Cavaliers seeking to restore the King to his throne.73 These were strange days, when the New Model saw hope in the King rather than its master, when the possibility of such an alliance became a reason for disbandment and when former darlings of Laudianism spoke in favour of freedom of religious expression.

Despite the growing ferment in the army and the City, Holles and Stapleton were able to press on with disbandment at Westminster. Plans were made for a force with infantry under the command of Philip Skippon and the horse under Edward Massey. From the start arrears of pay had been used as a bargaining counter – those who agreed to disband would be paid them, those who signed up for Ireland would be paid arrears and a month in advance. There had been some difficulty in getting officers to agree to serve, and it seems that many more men would have enlisted under Fairfax and Cromwell. Fairfax, in fact, did not obstruct the work of the commissioners who came to promote disbandment and enlistment, and the initiative was really defeated by the mood within the rank and file. At root it was a matter of trust – the Covenanters had been paid their money, but Parliament was using it as a bargaining counter in the case of its own army.74

A further element in the increasingly tense political atmosphere was a Presbyterian coup in the City of London, in which control of the militia was put in reliably Presbyterian hands. London’s ‘covenant-engaged’ householders – those who held firm to a vision of a Presbyterian model for further reformation – sought to recruit the powers of government to their cause, which was best served by those trying to dissolve the armies, and this alliance lay behind a concerted attempt to take control of City institutions. In April the power to nominate to the militia was given back to the City authorities (it had been taken over by Parliament in 1643) and at the same time the militias of the relatively down-market and disorderly suburbs were integrated with the City militia. This was in return for a loan of £200,000 for the Irish expedition, but also cemented an alliance between Presbyterians in the City and Parliament, an alliance that was now, potentially, supported by 18,000 armed men. This had been an important part of the context for A New Found Strategem, and for the election of agitators.75

By late April a dangerous conjunction was approaching. The Presbyterians in Parliament were increasingly confident about denying arrears and calling men from the New Model to the bar for publishing, authoring or distributing inflammatory tracts. At the same time, within the New Model, agitators provided a ready means by which resentment at this treatment could be transformed into mobilization, and a form of mobilization that could put organized pressure on the officers. A kind of paper war was developing, akin to that in 1642. The army called for the retraction of charges made in the parliamentary declarations, not least the claim that they were ‘enemies of the state and disturbers of the public peace’, and in September compiled a Book of Declarations, rather like that assembled by Husbands in the spring of 1643.76 Control of key institutions in the City had created a power base for a party and there was a renewal of Scottish interest in English affairs. The Covenanters” army had established complete control following the defeat of Alastair McColla in the Highlands, and was remodelled under the command of David Leslie, a supporter of Argyll. Amidst growing alarm at the rise of the New Model in England the possibility of renewed Scottish intervention was mooted.77

All this was encouraging for the King. In late April, the slightly amended Newcastle Propositions were urged on him and his reply was longer and a little more hopeful than on the first two occasions. He was willing to come to London and to grant Presbyterian government for three years pending discussions in the Westminster Assembly (with his nominations added), but he reserved his position on the Solemn League and Covenant. On the militia he was willing to give up control for ten years for the sake of peace, but on condition that it thereafter returned to the control of the crown.78 His reply was voted sufficient by Parliament and the Scottish commissioners.79 Standing above the fray, the King had little to lose from this increasingly fractious argument among his former enemies.

Through May this stand-off continued, but the political prospects of the New Model seemed to deteriorate. Another meeting was held at Saffron Walden church, on 7 May, where it was decided that deals could not be done without representation of the rank and file. Accordingly, each troop or company elected agitators. After a week of consultations with the agitators the officers met the parliamentary commissioners once more, on 15 May. The result was the Declaration of the Army, which bore the signatures of 223 commissioned officers. On 17 May, Cromwell offered reassurances that the Indemnity Ordinance had already passed the Commons and that arrears in addition to the six weeks” already offered would soon be promised. The commissioners were able to report back to Westminster that they found the army to have legitimate grievances.80

The promise of settlement with the King, however, seems to have made the Presbyterians in Parliament even less inclined to generosity towards the army. Rumours circulated in the New Model of a plan to pay off the privates and take revenge on the officers and that, once demobilized, the soldiers would be vulnerable to the press or prosecutions without indemnity: unless the parliamentary declaration that they were enemies of state and disturbers of the public peace was stricken from the record they had little hope of protection under the law. Presbyterians in the Lords invited the King closer to London, to Oatlands (near Weybridge in Surrey), further fuelling distrust of Parliament’s intentions. It was on that day that the Large Petition and its two sequels were ordered to be burnt by the public hangman. On 25 May the Presbyterians decided to proceed with disbandment, not indemnity, and their scheme was adopted by the Lords two days later. They had also taken a number of measures of defence – for better securing the King and bringing arms from Oxford to London, and Sydenham Poyntz was sent to York with orders to prepare for battle with Fairfax. On 28 May, Parliament offered security for the arrears, and redress of grievances after disbandment.81 During May the City loan to pay off the arrears of the New Model was put in the hands of Presbyterian treasurers and one of their centres of operation was Christ Church, Newgate, Thomas Edwards’s church. Here they cashiered, recruited and preached – a nerve centre of a pretty comprehensive assault on the power base of their opponents.82

For the army two matters were now coming to a head – the defence of their collective interests and the control of the King. Their treatment at the hands of Parliament, and their resistance to a strict Presbyterian settlement, was increasingly cementing an alliance with radicals in the City. Against this alliance was arrayed a Presbyterian mobilization which had secured control of Parliament, had a firm base in London’s pulpits and presses, and had the possibility of military support from the London militia and even the Covenanters. Fears about these military forces prompted a move to take control of arms in Oxford and, in a related initiative, of the person of the King.

On 31 May the Presbyterian Committee for Irish Affairs ordered control to be taken of the artillery, and at a meeting at Cromwell’s house the same day Cromwell approved a plan put to him by George Joyce to replace the guards around the King with men of proven loyalty. Their intention was to block the removal of the King. Remarkably, Joyce and the agitators had already put together a force of 1,000 horse – this was a political intervention taking force from the rank and file, not dictated by the officers. These men had already ridden to Oxford on 29 May to secure the artillery. Joyce then sent a detachment north before going to London, presumably to seek Cromwell’s approval. He caught up with the rest of his troops on 1 June, and when they arrived at Holmby they were not resisted by the guards there, or the parliamentary commissioners; and Graves, the parliamentary commander, fled. After a tense day, Joyce wrote to London for further instructions – to whom is not known, although it was claimed that Cromwell or Haselrig was the intended recipient. As news of the action spread in London, Holles and Stapleton resolved to arrest Cromwell, but he fled to the New Model. Late on the evening of 2 June, Joyce decided to take the King with him to a safer location. He forced entry to the King’s chamber and told him that he would be leaving in the morning.83

At daybreak one of the more remarkable conversations of the 1640s took place. The King was acquiescent, but demanded to know by what authority Joyce was acting. If the account given above is accurate, that was a particularly tricky question. The change of guard was at the command of the army, not Parliament, and therefore of debatable propriety; but the evidence suggests that removing the King was Joyce’s idea. His rank was Cornet – hardly the level of the army at which such decisions should be made. But his response was even more interesting – he claimed the authority of ‘the soldiery of the army’. Charles then pressed him to know if he had anything in writing from Fairfax, a question which Joyce evaded. Scenting blood, perhaps, Charles pressed him again: ‘I pray Mr Joyce, deal ingeniously with me, and tell me what commission you have?’ Joyce replied, ‘Here is my commission’. ‘Where?’ said the King. ‘Behind me’, said Joyce, pointing at the mounted soldiers. The King smiled and said, ‘it is as fair a commission, and as well written as he had seen a commission in his life; and a company of handsome proper gentlemen as he had seen a great while’.84 When Charles asked where he was to be taken Joyce suggested Oxford – the nearest reliable garrison – but Charles objected and Joyce suggested Cambridge instead. They compromised on Newmarket – coincidentally or not, the site of a planned general rendezvous of the army the following day.85

Here were respectable fears made manifest – a former tailor giving orders to the King. It is not clear what Joyce meant when he gestured over his shoulder at his troops – that his authority rested in force, or in the will of the soldiers or of the common man (hence Charles’s gentle teasing about gentlemen).86 But it might be a little clearer what Charles’s smile meant – this was no commission, not even from Fairfax. If he had fears for his personal safety then he almost certainly had some pleasure at the evident desperation of his enemies. He sent a message to Parliament with the Earl of Dunfermline that he had travelled against his will and that he expected Parliament to uphold its own honour and the laws of the land.87 It is not hard to imagine a smile playing on his lips as he composed that message, either.

While these extraordinary scenes were unfolding, the main body of the New Model came into open conflict with Parliament and in the process articulated an independent political vision. On 31 May commissioners arrived at Chelmsford to begin the disbandment of Fairfax’s regiment but they faced mutiny. The troops marched off to Newmarket, the place appointed for the general rendezvous. Addressed again at Braintree they were disrespectful and marched off again, and on 2 June the parliamentary commissioners were recalled. Fairfax arrived at Newmarket on 5 June, where he was met enthusiastically and received a ‘Humble Representation of the Dissatisfactions of the Army’, drawn up by the agitators. A rather more outspoken Solemn Engagement of the Army was produced that day, read and assented to by the men and officers of every regiment.88

As well as systematizing the complaints of the army the Solemn Engagement called forth the institution which became known as the General Council of the Army, empowered to accept offers made to the army. This may have been an attempt to rein in the agitators, by bringing them into contact with the officers. Although it recognized the role of agitators, it did not necessarily recognize the agitators so far elected. Nonetheless, it institutionalized and legitimated the role of agitators in the larger political decisions facing the army. Fairfax, meanwhile, had ordered Whalley to join the King to protect him from insult and then ordered that he be returned to Holmby. The latter order was frustrated by Charles, however, now seemingly enjoying himself. He continued to his house at Newmarket by back lanes. Villagers strewed green boughs and rushes before him and an entry to Cambridge was ruled out in case he was greeted too enthusiastically by the townspeople – he did not see, therefore, the hundreds of bonfires lit for him in the city.89

As the army published its manifestos and took control of the King, Parliament seems to have tried to take control of the streets of London. A parliamentary Committee of Safety was established to operate in tandem with the City militia committee. On 6 June, Massey rode through the City calling on citizens to defend themselves against the madmen in the army whose intention was to behead the best men in Parliament and the City. On five successive days from 4 June onwards Reformadoes (recently disbanded soldiers) thronged the Houses pressing for payment of their arrears, and promises were made. It was also the pretext for granting to the City the power to raise troops of horse, although this was also pretty plainly a means to raise a Presbyterian force, which might well include Reformadoes among its recruits. Payments for service in Ireland were made to reliably Presbyterian officers and £10,000 was earmarked for the pay of officers and soldiers who deserted the New Model to join the new force.90

At the same time, measures were taken to win support among the apprentices and opponents of the excise. On 8 June, five months after the initial petition, and long after two further petitions had been ignored, an ordinance was passed appointing the second Tuesday of every month a recreation day. Apprentices were to be given as much time as their masters ‘could conveniently spare from their extraordinary and necessary services’. A subsequent ordinance sought to restrict masters” discretion on this point, and empowered JPs to investigate complaints. This was only a partially populist move, but still pretty clearly an attempt to win support since the same ordinance gave legislative force to the abolition of holy days, including Christmas – in part in response to a very widely discussed proclamation from Charles in favour of the celebration of Easter.91

This desire to curry favour on the streets, in the face of a looming confrontation with the army, seems also to have prompted the abolition of the excise duties on meat and salt three days later. These were the two most regressive excises, and the ones that had produced the most significant disorders, which were often led by butchers or salt workers. The day after it took effect the newly erected excise house was demolished and the materials given to the waiting crowd. There were bonfires of celebration this time. There do not appear to have been any significant disturbances since February, when Parliament had issued an explanation rather than an apology. Neither is there any record of prior discussion, or explanation in the legislation itself. But since nothing had happened to shift the financial position, it seems pretty clear that this was a populist, anti-army measure, passed for short-term advantage.92

This bid for control of the streets was only partially successful. In June, Presbyterian belligerence did not resonate on the streets: on 12 June the Lord Mayor summoned the Trained Bands on pain of death, but most of the men stayed at home. Those out drumming to call them out were jeered by small boys, and most shops stayed open.93 The first apprentices” playday, 13 July, however, was marked by the presentation of a petition for the suppression of conventicles, the restoration of the King and the disbandment of the army.94

From mid-June until early August a new war seemed possible. The army moved slowly on London, making increasingly political demands, while Presbyterians struggled to hold their nerve. On 13 June, Fairfax was met at St Albans by a delegation from the City. There a Declaration of the army was handed over, laying out a more political programme, and it was published the following day. They were, they said, no ‘mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a State, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of parliament to the defence of our own and the people’s just rights and liberties’. They were making their demands as Englishmen, not soldiers, and they had a right to that even though they were soldiers. Drawing explicit comparison not only with the Covenanters, but with contemporary rebels in Portugal and the Netherlands, they said they could ground their actions in the defence of the fundamental laws of the kingdom, without ‘visible form either of parliament or king to countenance them’. They called for a purge of corrupt members of the House and constitutional reforms to ensure that it remained a true representative of the people: regular but limited meetings, no dissolution without its own consent and the right of the people to petition. In line with the interests of the people, they also called for restraint of the powers of military officers in the localities, full account of all the monies raised to fight the wars and public justice on the main delinquents responsible for the bloodshed. It was with this political programme in mind that the army would now move closer to London.95 This was not a completely unanimous display. Hardly any of the soldiery left the army during the early summer, but many officers did, and this tended to further reduce the social status of the command.96

The Declaration was received on 15 June, along with charges against eleven Members of Parliament, including Holles, Stapleton and Massey. When the charges were drawn up they were detailed and difficult to prove, but revolved around negotiations with the royalists: for example, dealing with the Queen’s party in France to restore the King on their terms, enlisting forces to prepare for a new war, and inviting the Covenanters to invade England in their support. It did not take a particularly hostile witness to compare this with the King’s charges against the Five Members, although they were not yet backed up by direct force. On 23 June, Parliament refused to discuss the constitutional proposals and demanded to see the evidence about the eleven members. On that day the Humble Remonstrance was issued. As the conflict escalated Fairfax refused an order to retire forty miles from London and the Houses issued defiant declarations. In the last week of June, though, they gave way. The army withdrew to Uxbridge, from where it was in a position to cut off supplies to London, and on 26 June the eleven members withdrew from the House. Two days later the minimum demands from the army were forwarded to Parliament.97 The Presbyterians, it seems, had blinked.

With the army hovering outside London at Uxbridge and then Reading, the pressure at Westminster and in the City was intense. And things were apparently moving against the Presbyterians. The Northern Association army was under the control of Poyntz, a man of reliable Presbyterian convictions, alarmed at the subversion being fostered by the agitators and almost certainly willing to co-operate with an intervention by the Covenanters if ordered to do so. But agitators in his army were co-operating with those in the New Model. At a council of war held at York on 2 July agitators demanded that some of the colonels there should sign a representation from the army to Parliament. Poyntz decided to resign his commission, since the army was no longer under his command and a dispute ensued about the command of the York garrison and the stronghold, Clifford Tower. It culminated with Poyntz being dragged from his bed and, still in his slippers, being taken under guard to Fairfax’s headquarters.98

This military blow to Presbyterianism coincided with another shift towards conciliation. On 6 July the army presented articles of impeachment against the eleven members. No impeachment had been moved from outside the House before, and it is clear that the agitators were fully involved in the drawing up of the (unprovable) charges. Central to the final charges was the issue of the corruption of the parliamentary process – the New Model was intervening to purge Parliament of corruption. Drawing up these charges had raised a fundamental question, which the army’s internal political organization had been asked explicitly: could the army act on behalf of the nation, particularly in opposition to the will of Parliament? Put another way, the issue was whether the army could plausibly act on behalf of the people against the body which was formally considered to be the people’s representative.99 There were good reasons for feeling queasy about this. On the following day the articles against the eleven members were read. An ordinance expelling the Reformadoes was passed on 9 July. This, and very powerful rumours of an impending Scottish invasion, prompted the agitators to press for a march on London. But parliamentary events were moving in their favour – all the armies in pay in England and Wales were placed under Fairfax’s command (effectively recognizing the agitators” coup in Poyntz’s army), and all those who had deserted his army were to be disbanded (19 July).100

Military power seemed to have delivered political dominance to the army. There was a further extraordinary consequence of this: an independently generated platform for national political settlement, the Heads of Proposals, was presented to the King. The Heads arose from the first meeting of the General Council, at Reading on 16 July. The decision to convene the council was apparently a response to pressure from the agitators, increasingly impatient with the hesitation about entering London. Their ‘Humble Petition and Representation’ was discussed until midnight and on the following day the draft of the Heads of Proposals was discussed.101 They were more generous than anything previously offered to the King, concerned as much to limit parliamentary tyranny as to constrain the King. They called for the repeal of the Triennial Act, establishing biennial parliaments sitting for between 120 and 240 days, and redistributing seats to make the Commons ‘an equal representative of the whole’. Control of the militia would be relinquished only for ten years, and those in arms against Parliament would be barred from office for only five. But the terms were particularly generous on religion. Bishops and all ecclesiastical officers would be retained, albeit stripped of ‘all coercive power, authority, and jurisdiction’. Although this posed the question that Charles asked about the monarchy in relation to the militia – what kind of bishop had no coercive powers? – this was the first peace settlement which did not presume the abolition of episcopacy. Moreover, the Prayer Book could be used on a voluntary basis, no Presbyterian structures were to be imposed and the Covenant was not to be forced on anyone. With these safeguards against intolerance and parliamentary tyranny in place, the army would see the King restored to his regal powers, including his legislative veto. Finally, only five royalists would be exempt from a general Act of Oblivion.102 These proposals were put to the army council, of 100 officers and agitators, before they had been communicated to either the King or Parliament, or even the parliamentary commissioners at headquarters.103

That the army, the servant of Parliament, should act independently, propose and frame impeachments, and now generate its own peace terms demonstrated that politics had entered another completely new realm. The position of the army was a tolerant one, however, and concerned with healing and settling – religious toleration alongside a restored Anglican church and a relative forgiveness about actions during the war was clearly a less partisan position than that championed by Presbyterians. Moreover, they were outlines of proposals, not propositions – a basis for discussion rather than an ultimatum.

As things moved against them, in mid-July, Presbyterian confidence evaporated. On 20 July, Holles and others sought permission to travel abroad for six months to prepare their defence, which they were granted. But the whiff of defeat also called forth powerful demonstrations in the city. On 20 July demonstrators swarmed around Westminster in such a tumultuous way that the Commons ordered 100 halberds be brought in for their defence. The following day, in the City, crowds of militiamen, watermen, Reformadoes and sailors assembled around Skinners” Hall. They were there to sign a ‘Solemn Engagement’ (presumably titled in imitation of the army’s own declaration) pledging to do their best to bring the King to Westminster for a personal treaty on the basis of his third reply to the Newcastle Propositions, of the previous May. It was framed as a recommitment to the Solemn League and Covenant, and of the Oath of Allegiance. The following day two or three thousand Reformadoes were at St James’s Field, intending to request the Corporation to join their petition to Parliament to bring the King home. But these City Presbyterians were on their own. The old Militia Commission was restored on 22 and 23 July, and on the 24th both Houses denounced the City’s ‘Solemn Engagement’. The previous day the Heads of Proposals had been shown to the King – there can be little doubt that the senior officers wanted to secure the basis for a negotiated settlement before any march on London. Lord Wharton had read a version in the Lords on 19 July, and there was a fear among Presbyterians that a deal was in the offing.104

This seems to have been part of the explanation for a final, counter-productive and desperate attempt at mobilization in the city. On 26 July, Holles, Clotworthy and Waller met at the Bull Tavern in Westminster Street. It seems likely that they were co-ordinating the presentation of a petition against the Militia Act. They probably did not plan a coup against Parliament, but the petition was accompanied by a crowd which subsequently invaded the Houses. Terrified members were kept sitting until 9 p.m. and in that time first the Lords and then the Commons were forced to reinstate the Presbyterian Militia Commission and to retract their denunciation of the ‘Solemn Engagement’. The Commons was also forced to issue an immediate invitation to the King. Over the next few days a reduced and intimidated Parliament passed a series of measures helpful to the Presbyterian cause, but this naked intimidation of Parliament provided a final, very good, reason for the New Model to march on London. On 30 July the Speaker and fifty-seven members fled, many of them to the army, taking the mace with them, and it seemed that Parliament might not be able to sit. However, borrowing a mace from the City, business was resumed by the small number of members still willing to sit. A letter was sent to Fairfax’s forbidding him to approach within thirty miles, and the Committee of safety was re-established. Fairfax’s control of the Trained Bands was denied and Massey placed in control of the forces directly under Parliament’s control. This firm line was initially supported by the City authorities, which issued a similar injunction to the New Model.105

In the first week of August, London seemed on the brink of serious disorder. Reformadoes were rumoured to be planning to plunder the City. On 2 August the City Militia Committee and Common Council sat in an agony of indecision, waiting on tenterhooks for news of the army’s movements. Political will was crumbling, however. The Westminster Assembly urged negotiation with the army. On 3 August the City sent a deputation to Fairfax disavowing any intention of starting a new war. Authorities in Southwark implored his help. The King also wrote, on 4 August, disavowing any attempt to make a new war (although not disowning the Presbyterian attempt to). By the time that peace protestors at the Guildhall were cut down by troops under the command of Poyntz (now returned from the north and vigorously committed to the Presbyterian cause), leaving some of the petitioners mortally wounded, the Presbyterian image problem was becoming acutely difficult.106

Fairfax was able to enter the City unopposed on 6 August, after Southwark had been delivered to an advance guard. It was a triumphant procession rather than an occupation and the warmth of the reception bears testimony to the fact that London was not solidly Presbyterian. The fugitive members and the Speakers were escorted back to the Palace of Westminster by troops with laurel leaves in their hats, and the church bells pealed out. Fairfax was made constable of the Tower. On the following day 18,000 troops marched through London. The Lifeguard and train of artillery, as well as twenty regiments, assembled in Hyde Park. Accompanied by flying colours, drums and trumpets they marched to Cheapside in the heart of the City before fanning out to walk through every street from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their behaviour was exemplary and, having made their point, Fairfax led them across London Bridge to quarters in Kent and Surrey. A force remained behind to protect the Houses from crowds. This, it was thought by Fairfax and the other officers, was but a preliminary to an accommodation with the King. Fairfax was shown the Great Charter and records of kingdom: ‘This is that which we have fought for, and by God’s help we must maintain’, he said.107

There followed a struggle for control in Parliament and on 14 August the agitators called for a purge. This seems to have convinced six of the eleven impeached members to flee two days later. On 20 August an ordinance was prepared declaring null all the actions taken by the Houses in the absence of the Speakers and those who were present while forced votes were taken were exempted from idemnity. Although Fairfax had prevented a purge these tactics ensured that many of those who would have been purged stayed away. The Independent majority was re-established. Similar measures were taken in the City, and London’s defences were ordered to be destroyed. The work was completed by the end of September.108 The defeat of political Presbyterianism seemed complete – there was no attempt to rescue the programme, or to protect its promoters. Thereafter Presbyterian ambition was limited to energizing reformation through the existing church structures, rather than the establishment of new national discipline. Thomas Edwards, spokesman for the more militant view, joined the exodus, eventually dying in a bitter and disappointed exile.109

There had been more than a little familiarity about the Newcastle Propositions. What was being offered, and refused, was similar to what had been offered and refused in 1642: the war, it seems, had not really changed the terms of the argument. Worse still, it had not really changed the balance of power. A royal military victory would have broken the deadlock, but a parliamentary one apparently had not. To that extent Manchester had been right in his famous exchange with Cromwell: ‘If we beat the king ninety and nine times yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once we shall all be hanged, and our posterity made slaves’. But it also gave continuing relevance to Cromwell’s riposte: ‘if this be so, why did we take up arms at first?’110Worst of all, perhaps, the war had not only failed to change the political negotiation very much, but it had created further difficulties. These mobilizations took place against the background of continued publicity about the details of political negotiation in newsbooks, pamphlets, declarations and leaks. The public did not have to work hard to be informed.111

For those interested in history’s ironies, there were plenty here. In 1642 Parliament had armed itself against the King and contested control of the country’s military resources. In the ensuing paper war arguments had sharpened and constitutionally radical arguments had been made. One of the triggers for the breakdown of normal politics was the attempt to exclude five members from the House. In 1647 it was the army, and it was eleven members, but the claim against Parliament was similar – it was no longer a real parliament. To some extent that was true – there does seem to have been a new ruthlessness with which Holles and Stapleton dominated the House of Commons in pretty close co-operation with the City and crowds. In the intervening five years the techniques by which support was mobilized among wider publics had also become more sophisticated – particularly in the co-ordinated use of print – and in the Large Petition a new and more radical discourse had inflected a petitioning campaign.

Alliances could form around these various appeals – for arrears of pay, religious decency, toleration, opposition to the Negative Voice of the House of Lords, for recreation days or the abolition of the excise – and there were now more players. In addition to the City, Parliament and the King, the New Model became an independent actor, with a conscious political organization. Apprentices, excise rioters, Presbyterians, Covenanters, royalists and London radicals were all mobilizing in a more sophisticated political environment and appealing to different institutions. But, as in 1642, the resulting alliances did not necessarily bind very closely. The Presbyterians took control of London’s government and militia, but their appeal to the anti-excise and pro-recreation day crowds was of more measured success. And such loose alliances did not necessarily withstand the pressure to go to war – perhaps even less so in the immediate aftermath of the one just fought. When it came to the crunch, the Presbyterians could not deliver an armed and determined capital, or a northern army, with which to defeat the New Model.

In the face of all this Charles had little reason to do anything other than look on. As these divisions widened, his prospects improved by leaps and bounds: as the Heads of Proposals seemed to demonstrate. This was a contest about whom he should deal with, and none of the parties spoke for the people as a whole, or championed a settlement that would obviously satisfy all shades of opinion. These various interests were all to some extent disposable, except perhaps the King. The Covenanters could be bought off, the army disbanded and Parliament dissolved, but few thought there could be a king other than Charles and very few, if any, thought that there need be no king at all.

Spring and summer passed as Presbyterians and Independents fought for control of Parliament, the City and military force. There were no formal peace proposals after Newcastle and before the late autumn. But there is little sign that this battle resonated strongly outside London and the armies: no record of provincial mobilization for Presbyterian or Independent reaches us, except perhaps in Norwich. Elsewhere there is plenty of evidence of anti-army and anti-sectarian feeling, but it is difficult to document a powerful Presbyterian movement and, outside London and Lancashire, there is not much evidence of concerted attempts to establish a national Presbyterian church.112

In the provinces the clearest message seems to have been a desire for settlement, and demilitarization, without much sense of commitment to the precise political measures that would allow this. In September 1647 pamphlet readers were treated to another story of monstrous birth, this one from Scotland. The child was born with two heads, one female and one male, its other features described with parallels in classical mythology: Midas, Polyphemus, Satyrs and a Gorgon. At its birth ‘nature seemed to be disquieted and troubled; in so much that the heavens proclaimed its entrance into the world with a loud peal of thunder, seconded with such frequent flashes of lightning that it was credibly believed of all… that the latter now was now come upon them’. At the height of the storm the monster announced with ‘a hoarse but loud voice… I am thus deformed for the sins of my parents’.113

The lesson was a familiar one – the repentant mother admitted how she had been ‘seduced by heretical factious fellows’, and as a result had ignored the ‘laws and ancient customs of England and Scotland’ and had ‘vehemently desire[d]… to see the utter ruin and subversion of all church and state-government’. The editorial line was also predictable: this should be a lesson not just for those labouring with similar births, but for all people ‘whose outsides though they appear not so horrid to the eye as this misshapen monster, I fear their insides are hung round with all sorts of crying sins’.114 The symbolism and the visual image echoed John Taylor’s famous pamphlet of 1647, The World turn’d upside down.115 While partisans fought for the right to deal with the King, or slugged it out in rural churchyards,116 others looked on in horror. In fact, the line taken on this Scottish birth could have been in print in 1642, as the first edition of The World turn’d upside down had been.


Images of political monstrosity

The confrontation between Presbyterian and Independent seems to have been primarily a difference among activists on one side, seeking with little success to assimilate other issues, and to take control of Parliament and the City. It is not easy to see the Presbyterians as the ‘moderates’ in the parliamentary coalition – they were more a party of religious law and order. Their support for iconoclasm, reform of the calendar and intolerance, their willingness to use force and act beyond the constitution, and their polemical bitterness all speak against the view that they were the voice of common sense. Among the activists, in any case, there was a clear winner: the New Model. Its peace terms turned out to be relatively generous, but Charles still seemed to feel he could do better. He was probably wrong, but the mistake was pardonable in the circumstances.

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