The Slide into War
Speaking in July 1642, in the course of a Commons debate about whether Parliament should raise an army in its own defence, Bulstrode Whitelocke reflected on how Parliament had
insensibly slipped into this beginning of a civil war by one unexpected accident after another, as waves of the sea which have brought us thus far; and we scarce know how, but from paper combats by declarations, remonstrances, protestations, votes, messages, answers and replies we are now come to the question of raising forces.1
As fear drove partisanship beyond the bounds of accepted convention, institutions of local government became sites of partisan conflict: institutions intended to give voice to the local community, and to represent and reproduce its social order, became the focus for explicit political conflict. Like Parliament these institutions were no longer acting as the embodiment of an organic political community and for some people resistance to this process became the primary concern, overriding the issues which had spilled out of Parliament. Such men forged neutrality agreements, seeking to protect county government from the spirits and afflictions which had eroded parliamentary government. But they did not succeed: there were always activists who could see religious and political debates clearly, and were willing to subvert political decencies in order to defend their corner. As this battle for military control of the provinces got under way, local people were able, or were forced, to take sides. Not only were national political issues of the most fundamental concern now being discussed before the public, but ordinary people were making active choices based on their understanding of the issues.
Central to this was a slow-motion battle for military resources, justified as a necessary security measure. In January measures to take control of stores of arms and strongpoints and to disarm papists had been easily carried. This had been followed by the Militia Ordinance, eventually passed on 5 March. In early June, as musters began to take place under its authority and following the exchanges over the Nineteen Propositions, the King issued Commissions of Array so that in the late summer local communities were choosing not just whether to obey an ordinance for the militia, but whether to obey it in preference to a commission from the King. The Commissions of Array were also more warlike than simply implementing the muster, allowing individuals to raise troops under their command.
A further key escalation came on 12 July. Parliament voted to raise an army, and appointed the Earl of Essex its general – this was also going beyond taking control of the musters. A failure as a courtier, Essex had significant military experience (like his father the Elizabethan traitor); in fact there was no aristocrat of his rank who could match it. He was an assiduous parliamentarian, often associated with anti-court positions, and a man with an acute sense of personal honour, who felt his political disappointments keenly. When Charles raised forces Essex’s military experience had initially suggested that he would be second-in-command, but he lost out to Henrietta Maria’s favourite, the Earl of Holland. By 1640 he was almost certainly in sympathetic contact with the Covenanters, and with John Pym was fully involved in the petition of the twelve peers calling for a parliament and presented to Charles on the day the armies clashed at Newburn. He was, in short, one of a number of leading aristocratic figures with a record of resistance to Charles’s misgovernment, and the one with the most impressive military experience.2
It was at the point of Essex’s commission to lead the army that, Whitelocke felt, through paper combats Englishmen had brought themselves to a real clash of arms. By then there had been a tussle over the command of the navy, in March, with the outcome confirmed in a further argument in late June. In early August the Commons accepted a declaration of the case for arms which claimed that the King had started a war and declared that those who assisted him were guilty of treason. On 22 August the King raised his standard at Nottingham, summoning his loyal subjects to join him in fighting Essex’s rebellion, and declaring Essex a traitor.3
Mobilization was leading to polarization: the dispute about military resources meant that confused political discussion had to be resolved in concrete, and simple, choices. In particular the controversy over the Militia Ordinance produced clear statements of constitutional theory, some of them quite novel and of lasting significance, probably for the very reason that it was the moment at which a painful choice became necessary. In the process, the local role of the militia and other governing institutions was transformed.
Parliament’s attempt to take control of the militia was significant to every town and village in England, and was a struggle for a much larger prize. There had been some jostling over the King’s attempt to raise a lifeguard in late May, and there was some flapping in Parliament about an assembly of Yorkshire gentry called by the King on Heyworth Moor on 3 June. Whatever the King intended there, he found the gentry sympathetic but not particularly warlike. Parliament responded with measures to prevent the movement of arms, to enforce the Militia Ordinance in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Cheshire, and to raise money by loans – the Propositions. To the King, not unreasonably, these things looked like aggressive moves and he responded, on 12 June, by beginning to issue Commissions of Array. The commissions, issued in Latin under the Great Seal, were directed to each county and major borough, naming those whom the King expected to raise troops on his behalf. The instrument rested on an unrepealed statute of Henry IV and had been obsolete since 1557. It was, therefore, something of a legal anachronism, and there was some suspicion that the use of Latin served to bedazzle the unlettered. Commissions were accompanied by a letter detailing how to proceed which was tailored to local circumstances, and a signed warrant for a muster, with the time and place left blank.4
The existence of these rival authorities posed a potentially agonizing choice for those who received demands for compliance with both commands and raised questions about the legality of the use of local arms for these purposes. Thomas Knyvett described vividly how on receipt of his commission under the Militia Ordinance he had avoided argument and said that he needed time to think about it. Only a few hours later he received the declaration ‘point blank against it by the King’. His obedience to Parliament was limited from thenceforward by his concern to ensure that it ‘trenches not upon my obedience against the King’. In similar circumstances Henry Oxinden complained that he was caught between Scylla and Charybdis.5
At the same time Charles began a fairly concerted attempt to tune quarter sessions and assizes. These bodies, and the Grand Juries within them, had played a key role in many petitioning campaigns, and the Kentish petition of the summer of 1642 had been mobilized in part by virtue of sound management of the assizes.6 Starting two days before the first Commissions of Array, surely not coincidentally, a series of changes were made in the Commissions of the Peace around the country. Between 10 June and 7 August 177 men were purged from fourteen county benches, and 154 added. These changes were quite clearly politically motivated – all of the Deputy Lieutenants named in the Militia Ordinance for Northamptonshire were dismissed from their office as JP, for example, and the bench in Monmouthshire was packed with dependants of the Earl of Worcester, who was very reliable from Charles’s point of view. Parliament took this seriously enough to appoint a commission to investigate on 23 August, but the King had achieved another coup which rather limited its effectiveness. In mid-May the Lord Keeper had sent the Great Seal to York and followed himself a few days later, giving the King control of the issue of Commissions of the Peace. The practical effect of these moves is hard to gauge: it caused complaint from a Grand Jury of Hampshire, and from other local officers, and there are few correlations between purged counties and those which successfully implemented Commissions of Array.7 Perhaps the interference was counter-productive: it was certainly a manifestation of the same process that was causing disquiet across the country.
On 4 August the King sent an open letter to the assize judges, setting out four key elements of his position and calling on Grand Juries to petition in response, so long as it was ‘in a humble and fitting way’. Charles proclaimed a commitment to the defence of Protestantism from the threats of both popery and sectarianism; a determination to govern by law and not arbitrarily; to uphold the privileges of Parliament and the honour of the crown.8 The Grand Jury in Worcester seems to have obliged, more or less parroting the letter. They declared a commitment:
to defend and maintain the true protestant religion, by law established, against popish recusants, Anabaptists, and all other separatists. And that the laws of the land shall be the rule of his Majesty’s government, whereby the Subject’s liberty and property is defended: And that his Majesty will preserve the freedom, and just privilege of parliament.9
The gap between this language and that of the proto-Parliamentarians was not very great. For example, earlier in the summer the knights, gentry and freeholders of Lincolnshire had declared themselves willing:
to spend our lives and estates, in defence of his Majesty’s person, the true Protestant religion, the peace of the realm, the maintenance of the rights and privileges of Parliament, the law of the land, and the lawful liberty of the subject according to our late Protestation against all such as shall attempt to separate his Majesty from his great and faithful counsel of parliament.
Many would presumably have signed up for both, or all, positions, but were increasingly unable to. However, one key issue in distinguishing the positions was trust of the King: in Worcester they declared that ‘we do not any way distrust His Majesty’s constancy in these resolutions’. While it was difficult to say that you did not trust the King, it was possible to say, as they had in Lincoln, that they were concerned about ‘the malicious practice of a malignant party, labouring to breed jealousies between the King and his People’. Once again, significantly, these local resolutions were published and became part of the national public debate.10
Declarations and resolutions of local bodies broadcast to a national audience
Grand Juries, Commissions of the Peace and the assizes, like the militias, were being drawn into partisan political conflicts. Declarations in court about political propriety might do much to advance or hinder the battle for local forces. Parliament responded to the King’s assize letter by asking the judges to read the Commons order declaring the Commission of Array to be illegal. Most contemporary observers felt that Parliament had come off worse in this particular exchange, and in Worcester and Cornwall the subsequent successful implementation of the commission was attributed in part to the attitude of the assizes.11
The launch of the Commission of Array was a prelude to open tussles over control of local militias. Muster under the authority of the Militia Ordinance had started in May, and gathered pace in June. By the middle of July fourteen English counties had put the ordinance into effect, although in Cheshire and Lancashire it had proved so divisive that the process was never completed. Although much depended on firm action by Lords Lieutenant and MPs, in the counties where it was most effective this seems to have reflected genuine support. Volunteers proved easy to find in many places and at musters in some places further petitioning campaigns were launched.12 In these cases a defensive muster, against a danger perceived to be very real, provides something of a contrast with the atmosphere at musters for the Bishops” Wars.
By mid-July, however, implementation of the Militia Ordinance represented not just obedience to a parliamentary order of dubious legality, but a failure to turn out for the King’s Commission of Array. From August another nine counties saw musters under the authority of the ordinance, the last two in September and October.13 Ten English counties saw attempts to implement the Commission of Array, too, but in Cheshire and Lancashire this was very divisive, and in a further twelve counties the attempt collapsed because strongpoints had already been taken, or because of local antipathy. In Leicestershire and Warwickshire, both counties that had seen the Militia Ordinance implemented early, there was a fierce contest later in the summer.14
Alongside these rival mustering campaigns ran an intensified struggle over the control of other military resources. The King attempted decisive action on the navy in June. The Earl of Northumberland, who had named Warwick his deputy in defiance of the King’s preference for Sir John Pennington, was now dismissed. At the same time the King informed Warwick that his authority as deputy to Northumberland was therefore void, Pennington was appointed in his stead and letters were sent to all captains apprising them of this fact. In the ensuing show of strength in the fleet Pennington and the King lost: Warwick’s warrant was the one with practical effect.15
On land such manoeuvres might make local musters redundant. In Kent, for example, promising signs of the formation of a royalist party were cut off by brisk action by Edwin Sandys. Dover Castle was seized on 21 August and this was followed by raids on stores of arms and potential royalist strongholds. Arms and munitions stored in the Deanery in Canterbury were captured and soldiers were said to have been involved in the breaking of images, or perhaps desecration. The effect was decisive: despite local divisions, Kent was secured for Parliament and remained so throughout the first civil war.16
Slowly, but perceptibly, a civil war was breaking out and a crucial third element of this descent was the raising of field armies. In addition to the Commissions of Array, which gave power to muster the Trained Bands and to secure local strongpoints, Charles issued commissions to individuals to raise troops on his behalf. This was the seed of a field army with which to fight a war, rather than a defensive force designed to thwart the machinations of an opponent. Technically distinct, these diverse elements often intersected with the execution of the Commission of Array. The experiences of the Earl of Hertford illustrate this process. He was appointed by Charles to execute the Commission of Array in the western counties (Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall) and to secure Portsmouth for the King. He started his work in Wells, in the centre of Somerset. This was considered friendly territory for the King and a number of men (including Lunsford) were already at work on the King’s behalf. But on 1 August rival musters almost came to blows at Shepton Mallet, where 1,200 parliamentarians faced Ralph Hopton’s men, who had been sent by Hertford to prevent the muster. Three days later, at Marshall’s Elm in Somerset, eighty royalists under the command of Lunsford outfaced 600 parliamentarians, using only forty rounds of musket fire. They had lined up in a way that gave an exaggerated impression of their numbers. Despite this setback, however, the parliamentarian mobilization was to prove more successful. On 5 August 12,000 people assembled to resist Hertford, fearing that he was going to break the peace of the shire, and motivated by resentment of key gentry figures, vivid anti-Catholicism and Puritan enthusiasm. According to royalist estimates 10,000-12,000 men were mobilized in east Somerset by the late summer and Hertford decided to withdraw to Sherborne Castle. There, on 2 September, his forces were confronted by those of the Earl of Bedford – 7,000 men drawn from Devon and Dorset as well as from Somerset. Once again the royalists showed themselves more cunning, and the 600 defenders secured the withdrawal of 7,000 parliamentarians, to Yeovil, on 6 September.17
But this was too late to help Portsmouth. The second most important provincial magazine, after Hull, Portsmouth was also in parliamentarian hands, but the commander, George Goring, was considering a change of sides by the summer of 1642. Hertford had intended to strengthen Goring’s hand, but the imminent arrival of parliamentary reinforcements from London under William Waller had forced Goring to declare his intentions early. By the time Bedford’s men had withdrawn from Sherborne, Portsmouth was securely in Waller’s hands.18
Following the fall of Portsmouth, Hertford withdrew northwards, towards Bristol, before deciding to cross to Wales, via Minehead, in order to gather troops to join the main royalist field army. Ralph Hopton was sent westwards to raise forces in Cornwall, a mission which Bedford did little to prevent. Despite the later reputation for royalism, the balance of forces in Cornwall was quite even in the summer of 1642. Only 180 men had attended musters at Bodmin, calling on the authority of the Commission of Array, but now the value of a friendly reception at the assizes became clear. Hopton submitted to a trial at Truro assizes for bringing armed men into the county, in what turned out to be a successful political manoeuvre. Not only did the Grand Jury acquit him, but it thanked him for coming to their aid and by early October he had secured the loyalty of the Cornish Trained Bands. He also raised a force of volunteers willing to leave the county, and managed to lay siege (albeit unsuccessfully) to Portsmouth.19
These tussles for control of local military resources – magazines, the loyalty of the Trained Bands and strongpoints like Sherborne Castle – were common across England in the summer of 1642. Inevitably, given that in some localities activists were mobilizing for both sides, tensions increased. In Manchester, on 15 July, an affray had broken our when Lord Strange, the Earl of Derby, was being feasted by the chief townsmen. Tensions were clearly running high, since on his way into town Strange had apparently instructed those with him ‘not to shoot any pistol or offer any violence, nor to light off their horses while they stayed in the town’. While he was dining one of his servants came in to say that a drum was being beaten and soldiers were being assembled: apparently three deputy lieutenants had called out the militia in protest.20
In a subsequent statement sympathetic to Strange, leading figures in Manchester were at pains to say that they were amazed at this, and that they had tried to get Strange and his men safely away. The sheriff called on Mr Holcroft, one of those who had summoned the militia, to keep the peace and lay down his arms as Strange, against the advice of some of those around him, stood alongside. Holcroft and his company withdrew ‘with many curses and great shouting’. In confused scenes Strange’s company found their path blocked by a company under the command of Captain Birch, and Sir Thomas Stanley, another of the local men, fired a pistol from a window. It was later said that as Birch’s company closed on them, Birch was heard to give a command to fire. Birch himself was disarmed and ran for cover under a cart, where he might have been killed but for the intervention of Strange. Thinking that the trouble had been averted Strange and his men then made their way towards Sir Alexander Ratcliffe’s, where they had planned further entertainment, but turning around they saw that fighting had started and that four men had been knocked from their horses. In all the confusion a militia man had been killed.
It was symptomatic of these tense and anxious months that there was an immediate local concern to disavow responsibility for breaking the peace.21 Sixty or eighty women from Manchester approached Strange the next morning ‘weeping and wailing and beseeching his lordship not to think any thing of them in the town for that which was done overnight’. Leading townsmen also came to excuse themselves, and were reassured that Strange believed them to have been innocent of any role in the trouble, promising he would be ‘as ready to relieve them and their town as any town in the country’. Twenty-two witnesses, including two constables, attested that Birch, Holcroft and Stanley had been the disturbers of the peace.22 Nonetheless, it was this resistance in Manchester that prevented the whole of Lancashire falling to the royalists.
As war broke out, piecemeal, the gap between the rhetoric of the two sides remained narrow. At Shrewsbury, early in the autumn, the King pledged ‘to the utmost of my power, [to] defend and maintain the true reformed protestant religion established in the Church of England… govern by the known law of the land, and that the liberty and property of the subject may be by them preserved… and I do solemnly and faithfully promise, in the sight of God, to maintain the just privileges and freedom of parliament’. The Earl of Essex’s commission from Parliament, issued earlier the same month, was ‘for the just and necessary defence of the protestant religion, of your majesty’s person, crown, and dignity, of the laws and liberties of the kingdom, and the privileges of parliament’.23
Although the rhetorical differences were slight, the consequences of disagreement were increasingly lethal. At dawn, in the rain, on 9 August, Captain John Smith led a troop of royalist cavalry into Kilsby, Northamptonshire. There they found a crowd armed with muskets and pitchforks. They stopped Thomas Wrinkles and asked him who he was for, and when he replied ‘for the king and parliament’ it was enough to identify him as an enemy. He was shot dead. Thomas Marriot protested and was hit on the head several times with swords and shot as he ran away. John White was speared with his pitchfork as the soldiers searched the village for arms, but as a crowd gathered they found it increasingly hard to move. Armed men appeared at upstairs windows and Smith ordered everyone not to shoot, but they did. Smith’s troops returned fire, killing three or four, and all the crowd ran, except an old man who ran at Smith with his pitchfork. He hit him without much effect, ignoring warnings to desist, before ‘a pistol quieted him’.24
Prior to 1640 the militia had served better as a vehicle for honourable display by the county elite than as a fighting force. In this it had much in common with other local institutions which reflected and expressed the local social order. Social and political power were closely entwined, and these institutions represented the face of that order to local society. In Tudor and Stuart England there was a horror of exposing divisions among the governing elite, but that inhibition seemed now to be giving way under the pressure of events.25 It had happened to Parliament and now it happened to the institutions of local government and in some places this dawning realization led to attempts to pull back from the brink. Although the language used was similar, the meanings attributed to it were quite different, and increasingly irreconcilable.
Fear of division was probably more significant than the reality for, despite the purges and the increasingly partisan role of quarter sessions and assizes in the conflict, the general impression seems to be that county government continued to operate reasonably normally into the autumn.26But there were reports of enclosure and other disturbances in which social insubordination seemed to be a clear threat. The rival mobilizations clearly affected village relations, and were often interpreted in the light of a popular anti-Puritanism or anti-Catholicism.27 Gentry figures remarked on the strain placed on the normal courtesies of county society by political differences. Fear of disorder and division, and of military conflict, was potent and drove some gentry to try to demilitarize their counties. In Derbyshire neither the Militia Ordinance nor the Commission of Array was implemented, as the gentry united in order to keep war out, and a similar process led to a long delay in implementing the Militia Ordinance in Suffolk and Norfolk. In Staffordshire the sheriff, Justices and Grand Jury agreed a declaration at the Sessions of the Peace on 15 November – three weeks after the first battle of the war. They made arrangements for a force ‘for the defence of the county’ motivated by ‘the many outrages, riots, routs, and unlawful assemblies that have been made and committed in divers parts of this county by certain persons in arrays and warlike manner’ to ‘the great fear of all the inhabitants in general’.28
This is usually referred to as neutralism but ‘neutralization’ is often a better term – it did not necessarily reflect the absence of local ideological conflict or dispute, but an attempt to contain its consequences. In Staffordshire, for example, Henry Bagot and Philip Jackson, both signatories of the pact in November 1642, were in arms against each other a year later.29 Neither was this ‘localism’ necessarily a reflection of a parochial view of the issues – there might be deep ideological divisions among men with well-informed views of national politics, but war might still seem worse than peace. Contrarily, allowing one set of partisans uncontested control of the county might also be better than fighting, even if there was a strong current of opinion against them. In Buckinghamshire, Essex, Herefordshire, Lancashire, Shropshire and Worcestershire the unchallenged triumph of either the Militia Ordinance or the Commission of Array seems to have been a means of preserving unity.30 Local ‘neutralism’ of these various kinds was not evidence of disengagement from the issues, or of the irrelevance of these questions to local life, but of the difficulty of reducing these questions to a choice between two sides, or fear of the consequences of settling them by force of arms.31
In Norfolk and Lincolnshire, as in Staffordshire, there were attempts to raise a third force, something that looks more like an authentic neutralism or local-mindedness, albeit in reaction to the activities of local partisans.32 In Lincolnshire, for example, there had been considerable unity of purpose behind the implementation of the Militia Ordinance in June and in July the influence of Lord Willoughby of Parham was reflected in a powerful declaration of the parliamentary position. But when the King appeared in person in the county there was also a powerful display of loyalty to him: there seems to have been a genuinely divided response in the county. It was this partisanship, and the threat of radicalizing resistance to fen drainage, which seems to have informed the development of armed neutralism:
The rein of government has been so slackened as now is cut in pieces amongst us, many men of desperate fortunes… live together without the acknowledgement of any law… They resist it in a warlike manner, accumulating all manner of insolencies, by adding to their rebellion violences upon men’s houses, goods and lands, burning, stealing and devastating of them, so as men of fortune had need to serve them against such spirits.33
Much of this is county-minded, preoccupied with local law and order, and when a force was raised in Worcester it was justified in terms which more or less suited either side. But although the range of action was geographically limited, the ideological horizons were not. Attempts to use the institutions of the county, particularly the military institutions, for partisan purposes naturally produced attempts to stop them being used in this way – to take the Worcestershire horse beyond the county was to participate in a war. The desire to pacify was expressed through county institutions, but may have related to a much wider political consciousness. Nationally and locally the justification for mobilization was defensive, and that naturally meant that county arms were used to defend the county.34
In Yorkshire a neutrality pact was the product of deep divisions rather than of local unity. Early in October prominent Yorkshire gentlemen concluded a treaty of neutrality. Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax, who had raised forces on behalf of Parliament, and the Earl of Cumberland, the King’s commander in Yorkshire, were both signatories. Ferdinando’s father had fought in the continental wars and was a committed supporter of the military defence of international Protestantism. He had been disappointed in Ferdinando’s martial qualities after he sent him to the Netherlands in the 1630s, but Ferdinando was to prove a successful parliamentary general. His son, Sir Thomas, had been schooled in the virtues of armed Protestantism by his grandfather more than by Ferdinando, and was to rise to the very top of the parliamentarian armies in 1645. The desire to exclude the war from Yorkshire was thought by some to be improper. Fairfax had insisted that it be approved by Parliament and Sir John Hotham, an old rival of Fairfax, denounced it in print as an affront to the judgement of Parliament. His son went further, taking armed men to the walls of royalist-held York, and capturing the Archbishop’s seat at Cawood Castle on 4 October. The following spring both Hothams deserted the parliamentary cause, and their attitude to this neutrality deal may have reflected hostility to Fairfax as much as it did commitment to parliamentary authority. It also reflected how exposed the Hothams would have been by a neutrality pact – they had ventured far more than the Fairfax family at this point, not least in refusing the King entry to Hull.35
Whatever the local politics of neutrality in Yorkshire, it did not work. Parliament condemned the treaty, and a military contest for control of the county ensued. The Earl of Newcastle, a regional magnate of considerable influence, was able to bring men south, while the Fairfaxes were able to draw on considerable support in the clothing towns of the West Riding. Hull, perhaps the best-fortified town in England, was securely in parliamentary hands. The East Riding was in the control of the Hothams, on behalf of Parliament, but their relationship with the Fairfaxes was not easy.36 It seems equally true that neutrality reflected deep divisions in Lancashire and Cornwall.37
The varieties of neutralism – genuine refusal to join either side, or more prudential calculations about how to limit the impending war – were also visible in the towns. Towns were very obvious military targets, and faced the possibilities of long-term garrisoning and sieges. Although some towns were well-fortified most were not, and there was a clear incentive to submit to the nearest strong military force. Bristol, for example, seems to have been largely non-aligned prior to 1642, pursuing primarily economic grievances and allowing, rather than seeking, parliamentary occupation. Worcester’s royalism was similarly passive, York was not clearly committed and even Oxford, soon to become the royalist capital, owed that position to the University more than to the citizens.38 Nonetheless, it does seem that on balance Parliament enjoyed more support from the towns: in October 1642 all the major towns were in parliamentary hands with the exception of Chester, Shrewsbury and Newcastle. In Coventry an attempted royalist occupation led by the King himself was defeated by citizens in August, an event crucial to the course of the war in Warwickshire. This citizen activism tipped the balance between rival groups in the governing elite, a balance which had until then pointed towards neutralism.39
One particular special case was the English colonies abroad. Their legal existence depended on the prerogative and, unlike most other areas of English jurisdiction, there was a close relationship between their legal powers and their actual existence: robbed of the protection of a charter they might disintegrate, or disappear altogether. All strands of opinion were represented, but perhaps a poll of settlers in the New World might have revealed a stronger backing for further reformation than was evident in the Old World. Nonetheless, as corporate entities the colonies were not free to take sides. Thus, although New Englanders fought as individuals, either in the armies or in the pamphlet exchanges, their colonial governments tried to remain uncommitted as corporate entities. Virginia, under the governorship of Sir William Berkeley, kept the royalism of its nascent elite undeclared until after the regicide in 1649. Even after that, a formula was found for an accommodation with the King’s killers.40
By the autumn, in England, the military geography was fairly clear. Waller had taken Portsmouth on 7 September and the south of England had been secured for Parliament, with the exception of Sherborne Castle, which was in the hands of Hertford. East Anglia, subsequently notoriously parliamentarian, in fact had a more complex history in 1642. A group of gentry tried to get the support of the Grand Jury at the Suffolk assizes for a neutralist petition and both the Commission of Array and Militia Ordinance were left unenforced for much of the summer. There it may have been fear of social disorder which created this attitude among the gentry, and once parliamentarians had taken the initiative support for them posed less of a threat to local social order than contesting control. Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Norfolk also saw attempts to prevent political dislocation.41 The royalists had control of Cornwall, Wales and the north. Lancashire was disputed territory, thanks to the resistance to the royalists of districts around Manchester. Yorkshire was in parliamentary hands but the Earl of Newcastle had secure control further north. Parliament had Portsmouth, Hull, London, Bristol and many more minor, and less defensible, towns (see Map I).
Military and political control of a territory might conceal divisions in local opinion, and such control was rarely treated as unquestioned by either side. The Marches of Wales became renowned as heartlands of royalism, but there is little sign of royalism prior to the mobilizations of 1642, except perhaps in Herefordshire – it seems to have been a product of mobilization rather than a cause of it.42 In Cornwall and Kent, as we have seen, it was decisive action by Hopton and Sandys not uniform local support that underpinned military command. Even in London there were divisions of opinion. Given these histories, it is no surprise that maintaining control over territory was an important part of the military history of the war, as much so as the grand marches which form the meat of most military accounts of the war.
Finally, in the late summer, the field armies gathered. When Charles raised the royal standard on Castle Hill in Nottingham on 22 August, summoning his loyal subjects to his side, few people came. The small crowd flung their caps loyally in the air and cheered ‘God save King Charles and hang up the Roundheads’, but the standard blew down in the night and, according to Hyde, ‘a general sadness covered the whole town’. It was the culmination of a disappointing peregrination of the Midlands. At Lincoln, Charles had been met by 30,000 people anxious to get a glimpse of their king and to listen to the loyal addresses, but there were few troops from Lincolnshire to see the standard on 22 August. The gentry of Yorkshire and the burgesses of Coventry seem to have been equally lacking in fighting spirit. At Nottingham Charles may have had 2,000 horse, but he had very few foot and by early September he may have had only a quarter as many troops as Parliament had managed to move to Northampton.43
Disappointed, the King set off for Shrewsbury, disarming the Trained Bands as he went. He had already taken the weapons of the Lincolnshire Trained Bands on 16 August. Here too war was raising the stakes in mendacity, since he had promised that he was fighting to defend property. Equally, or even more alarmingly, local communities were being stripped of their defensive arms after fifteen months of very public anxiety about popish plots. West of the Pennines, however, his fortunes improved and an army gathered. The Earl of Derby successfully recruited in south Lancashire, perhaps coercively. Troops began to arrive from north Wales and the Marches in the last week of September and into mid-October. On 23 September he was given a heartwarming welcome at Chester and, if Strange’s recruiting methods were coercive, it seems that Sir Edward Stradling and Thomas Salusbury were able to draw on deep wells of support in Wales. The troops were also paid, of course, and this may have helped – at Myddle Hill, in Shropshire, Sir Paul Harris was offering a very generous 4s 4d per week, and he found twenty volunteers at that price. In Monmouthshire it was the prestige and power of the Earl of Worcester that delivered troops to the King. Despite these more hopeful signs Charles still felt he needed to relax the policy on Catholics. He had officially declared that ‘No papist of what degree or quality so ever shall be admitted to serve in our army’, but in a letter of 19 September to the Earl of Newcastle he took a more pragmatic line:
this rebellion is grown to such a height that I must not look of what opinion men are who at this time are willing and able to serve me. Therefore I do not only permit but command you to make use of all my loving subjects” services, without examining their consciences – more than their loyalty to us – as you shall find most to conduce to the upholding of my just legal power.44
Newcastle’s army was renowned as papistical through the rest of the war.
Parliament’s success was much more immediate. In May the earls of Essex, Holland and Northumberland had attended a muster of 8-10,000 men in London. Subsequent attempts to enforce the Militia Ordinance were largely successful, particularly in the south-east. A committee for printing had been re-established in June 1642 which seems to have been energetic in publicizing the cause – there were 9,000 copies of a declaration of 4 July against the Commission of Array for example. The House of Commons itself failed the test of raising money on the Propositions, but it was successful in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, funding a productive drive to recruit volunteers in London and the south-east. On 8 August six bands of foot (4,800 men) set out for Warwick, accompanied by eleven bands of horse. When the Earl of Essex left London to join the army on 9 September he was watched by the full City militia, in arms.45 When he got to Northampton he was at the head of 20,000 men. This might have threatened a quick resolution given the unimpressive response to royalist recruiting at that stage. Sir Jacob Astley, the King’s infantry commander, was said to have been worried that the King was so poorly supported that he might be ‘taken out of his bed if the rebels should make a brisk attempt to that purpose’.46
It is difficult not to think that Charles had the worst of all this. Petitions for accommodation between King and Parliament, and of loyalty to bishops, had come in from all around the country, but the King struggled to find men willing to fight for him in the Midlands. West of the Pennines he had more success, although it is difficult to see this as building on a long-term commitment to the cause, at least in most of the Marches. Elsewhere royalists manoeuvred, with mixed success, for local control. The success of individuals established the roots of regional royalist armies in the north and west but the King’s own field army was slow to build in the Midland counties. It created a federation of regiments under particular commanders as much as an integrated army.47 A map of military outcomes – strongpoints and towns held, musters achieved, armies assembled – is probably not a map of enthusiastic royalism. For both sides mobilization through print, preaching and the use of local institutions as a platform for partisan politics had been crucial. There were more musters by the authority of the ordinance than the Commission of Array, and petitions in support of Parliament were offset more by petitions for accommodation than by positive support for the King against Parliament. There were plenty of signs of reluctance to go to war, but far fewer than many people thought Parliament should concede.48
Two military parties were forming but it is by no means clear that opinion at large was dividing neatly into two camps. There was no National Covenant, but instead a series of contentious slogans – the Prayer Book or Protestation – and attempts to read in natural and supernatural events signs of God’s purposes. Amidst all the shouting it is possible to discern the formulation of coherent, and radical, constitutional theories, but they were not always officially owned, and neither did they command universal assent. Neither was there an equivalent of the Covenanters” Tables: a revolutionary body responsible for the campaign. Instead there were contests for existing institutions of national or local government – Parliament, quarter sessions and assizes. There is very little evidence of pure neutralism, in the sense of a disengagement from the political issues, but there is plenty of evidence of hesitation in committing to one ‘side’ or to resolving the conflict by force. For individuals this posed crises of conscience, in choosing between propositions which had not previously been understood as alternatives, or using established arguments in ways that must have flirted with insincerity. The apparent need to secure political and religious ends had produced a constitutional crisis, and as that crisis played out largely consensual values were presented as alternatives. Potential conflicts in a common-sense system were being forced into the open: quite different meanings were applied to an apparently shared language of politics, with increasingly lethal consequences. But it was both common and understandable to try to contain these conflicts within existing languages of honour, loyalty and legality and so forth.
How people chose was a product of circumstance as well as conviction. Explanations for patterns in these choices vary according to who was making the choice, under what circumstances, and what the question was. Signing a Root and Branch petition in December 1641 might reveal a religious sensibility most likely to lead to an affinity with Parliament, but a lot could have changed by August 1642. It was certainly a different kind of choice from acquiescing in the use of a Grand Jury to support a partisan use of the militia, or to signing up for military service against the King’s army. Different kinds of choice were being made at different moments, and there was always an element of calculation about local conditions, too. It was also the case, of course, that there were more than two sides to the arguments, and many more than two possible positions. In other words, numerous choices confronted people without a clear sense of two sides. Choosing sides in such circumstances was painful and, probably, conditional.
The difficulty and complexity of these choices are made clear for almost any individual whose thoughts about the issues have come down to us. Sir Edmund Verney famously overcame his personal political preferences and joined the King’s army, admitting as much to Hyde: ‘My conscience is only concerned in honour and gratitude to follow my master. I have eaten his bread and served him near thirty years, and will not do so base a thing as to forsake him; and I choose rather to lose my life (which I am sure I shall do) to preserve and defend those things, which are against my conscience to preserve and defend’. He was indeed to die in the first major battle of the war, bearing the King’s standard with great courage. Of his four sons three joined him in the royalist cause. His second son, another Edmund, had fought for the Protestant cause in the Low Countries, and heard the news of the army raised to fight the Scots with ‘sorrow’. But he did not hesitate to join the King’s army and castigated his parliamentarian brother Ralph for his desertion of the King. It was, he said, ‘unhandsomely done’. ‘I am tooth and nail for the king’s cause, and shall endure to the death, whatsoever his fortune be’. ‘[C]onsider that majesty is sacred; God says “touch not mine anointed”… you say you intend not to hurt the king, but can any of you warrant any one shot to say it shall not endanger his very person?’ Ralph stayed firm to the parliamentarian cause until late in 1643, but then retired to France to consult his conscience, suffering expulsion from the Commons and sequestration. Despite these sufferings, however, he did not renounce his parliamentarianism.49
Many of those who faced these choices thought long and hard about them. The godly, following the advice of casuists, prayed, read the Bible (perhaps even opening it at random to see if God guided them to a relevant chapter), discussed and reflected. Lord Paget, a moderate reformer, became a royalist general following such a period of reflection:
It may seem strange that I, who with all zeal and earnestness have prosecuted (ever since the beginning of parliament) the reformation of all disorders in Church and Commonwealth should now (in a time of great distraction) desert the cause. Most true it is that my ends were the common good, and whilst it was prosecuted I was ready to lay down both my life and fortune, but when I found a preparation of arms against the King, under shadow of loyalty, I rather resolved to obey a good conscience than particular ends.50
The dictates of a good conscience drove a wedge between old friends and fellow travellers Sir Ralph Hopton and Sir William Waller. Hopton became a successful royalist general, Waller enjoyed a period of press coverage as ‘William the Conqueror’ in Parliament’s service. On the eve of their encounter on the battlefield at Roundway Down, Waller wrote his much-quoted letter to Hopton:
That great God who is the searcher of my heart knows with what a sad sense I go on upon this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy; but I look upon it as sent from God… God… in His good time send us the blessing of peace and in the meantime assist us to receive it! We are both upon the stage, and must act such parts as are assigned us in this tragedy. Let us do it in a way of honour and without personal animosities.51
Lady Sydenham wrote in similarly civil terms to Lady Verney that her son Sir Ralph had ‘chosen the strongest part, but I cannot think the best’. ‘It staggers me’, she wrote, that he could believe that he was fighting for the liberty of the subject when his partisans ‘take all from them that are not of their mind, and… pull down their houses and… imprison them, and leave them to the mercy of the unruly multitude’. Nor could she find it is ‘in God’s law to take up arms against their lawful King to depose him; for sure they have not made his person known to all those that they have employed in this war to spare him and not to kill him’. But still, she trusted his good faith: I ‘am confident he does believe it is the best, and for that he chose it’.52
In these difficult circumstances, with allegiances to the King, friends and family cutting across political priorities, civil war allegiances are difficult to predict on the basis of previous behaviour. Attitudes in the 1630s, or even in 1641, are no clear guide to civil war allegiance, although general patterns do emerge. At the core of royalism were ideas of loyalty, but also concern for the constitution and the integrity of the national church. A group of influential figures arrived in the emerging royal camp by this route. Opponents of Laudianism, they became more concerned about the threat of religious disorder posed by the campaigns for Root and Branch, and by the ways in which Pym and his allies had overridden the law. These men – the Duke of Richmond and Lennox, the Earl of Hertford, the Earl of Dorset and his younger brother Sir Francis Seymour, the Earl of Southampton, Lord Willoughby of Eresby, Sir Edward Hyde, Viscount Falkland, Sir John Colepeper and Sir John Strangways – followed a trajectory similar to that of Sir Edward Dering. Colepeper, for example, had been quick on his feet in November 1640 with a vivid denunciation of the Personal Rule, but had co-operated with Dering to organize the controversial Kentish petition of 1642.53
Others, as we have seen, were sceptical that raising an army against Charles could be seen as a loyal act, or that it could be guaranteed that in fighting his army one was not endangering the King himself. There was also a royalist war party, keen to see opposition crushed, regality restored and the rebels brought to heel: Charles’s nephew Prince Rupert, his wife Henrietta Maria, as well as Lord George Digby and John Ashburnham.54 Prince Rupert was the son of the exiled Elector of the Palatinate. In 1637 he had done service in Germany and was captured in 1639, at the age of twenty, and held prisoner in Linz, Austria. There he studied military arts, and he joined the King’s ranks with practical and theoretical experience of war, as well as some iron in his soul. In England he established a well-deserved reputation as a hot-head and he took a firm line with rebels. Digby had credentials as a reformer in the early months of the Long Parliament, but was driven into active royalism by the attacks on episcopacy and by the attainder of Strafford. He was, throughout the war, conspicuously loyal, although embroiled in a developing rivalry with Rupert.55Catholics, like the rest of the population, were more likely to be uninvolved than to be military partisans, but they were disproportionately royalist. These were quite different registers of royalism.56
On the other hand, men like Pym could see such a clear threat to religion and liberty that qualms about the means seemed secondary to the ends. The motives for individuals in taking sides were manifold, of course, and the implications of their doing so equally varied. What is clear is that the two sides consisted of complex coalitions of allies, with varying concerns and differing degrees of conviction and commitment. Polemic and local circumstance might serve to reduce complexities to polarities – Militia Ordinance or Array, Prayer Book or Protestation, King or King and Parliament – but in reality there must often have seemed to be right on all sides.
It is relatively easy to lay out the issues, but very difficult for all these reasons to find out who identified with which arguments and even more difficult to say why. This has been at the heart of academic debate about the civil war for several generations as models have been found to relate ideological preferences to economic and social interest, religious background or age. The data is often good enough to disprove these models, but has never proved sufficient to clinch an argument in favour of any of them. Not the least of the problems, of course, is that the vast bulk of the population, even those of high status, left little direct evidence about their allegiance, still less the reasons for that allegiance. But it is also clear that what was at stake in supporting one side or another changed over time, and between places. It was one thing to have a preference for a party position, another to sign up to fight, or to refuse to.
In most places, however, the establishment of local military control was not the outcome of democratic consultation, but of opportunism. Maps of military control are not maps of popular allegiance. For example, Oliver Cromwell’s decisive action in seizing the store of arms at Cambridge for the parliamentary side is more significant for who Cromwell became than for its immediate military significance. Nonetheless, because of who he subsequently became, we can tell quite a lot about the motivation of this particular opportunist. Son of a minor gentry family, Oliver Cromwell had hit hard times during the 1630s, perhaps slipping below the level of the gentry and into the ranks of the husbandmen. Educated by the famous Puritan author Thomas Beard, Cromwell clearly grew up with a godly piety, and had considered emigration to the New World. But it was probably at some point in the late 1630s that he had what turned out to be his formative experience, something akin to the modern experience of being born again. From then on his life seems to have been driven by an intense providentialism. At difficult moments he often seemed paralysed as he searched for signs of God’s intentions for him, but once he felt sure what they were he was capable of decisive action. He had played a minor role in the Commons following his election to the Long Parliament, but did make some important interventions, perhaps at the prompting of John Pym, to whom he was related by marriage. But it was surely his convinced providentialism that allowed this minor gentleman to seize plate belonging to Cambridge colleges and intended for the King – something close to theft and treason.57 Cromwell’s politics were not despised in his local area but in the City of Cambridge, and particularly in the University, there were plenty of people who might have wanted to support the crown.58 In Kent, Cornwall, East Anglia and even the Marches of Wales, apparent military control concealed local divisions. The military geography of the country, therefore, cannot be taken to reflect the complexion of local political and religious opinions.
Attempts by individuals to mobilize for one side or the other were not always successful, however. On the day that the King raised his standard at Nottingham, Charles Lucas set out to raise forces in support of him. In stepping out of his house he was stepping almost straight into the pages of history. He was observed by a watch set by the Corporation of Colchester, who raised the alarm in town. Crowds attacked his home the next day, discovering a store of weapons and effectively thwarting his plans. Over the subsequent weeks roving crowds attacked the homes of other prominent local recusants and royalists. This popular parliamentarianism had roots in the local economy and social structure, but was also the product of local history. The local politics of the Lucas family, and their relations with the borough of Colchester, and the perceived role of local recusants and royalists in mobilizing the county, created quite clearly identified targets for crowds fired up by a commitment to Parliament as the defender of liberty and Protestantism. These ideas were mobilized among a population bound together by the cloth trade, and suffering a recession widely blamed on the failure of settlement, and on the papists in particular. They drew on parliamentary measures such as the Protestation, calls for the disarming of papists and recusants, and on the 8 September order, and were not quite disowned by Parliament either. Although local courts continued to operate, and records survive, there is little evidence of a concerted local effort to quash this insurrection.59
A later compendium of Bruno Ryves’s Mercurius Rusticus which reported the actions of the ‘Colchester plunderers’ and other parliamentarian barbarities
Such popular agency was not unique. Royalist mobilization in Somerset was halted by apparently spontaneous resistance from below, leading to a massive mobilization of the local Trained Bands. When the Earl of Bath tried to publish the Commission of Array in South Molton, Devon, in the spring of 1642, he was met by a hostile crowd, estimated to contain 1,000 people or more. An eyewitness claimed ‘the common sort of the town… fell in a great rage… and swore that if… [the royalists] did attempt any thing there, or read their Commission… they would beat them all down and kill them, aye, if they were all hanged for it; and thereupon betook themselves to arms, both men, women, and children’.60 The earl was more interested in his position in London than in the county, and that may have affected his local influence when he succeeded to the lieutenancy, but this was, nonetheless, a powerful demonstration of popular agency. When the gentry of North Devon came out in support of the Commission of Array it was observed that ‘those men will never get renown and credit again of their Country’.61 Cheshire royalists were clear that they did not enjoy unanimous popular support and when William Davenport asked his tenants for support in the King’s service they wrote that although they would not ‘harbour a disloyal thought’ against the King, ‘yet we dare not lift up our hands against that honourable assembly of parliament, whom we are confidently assured do labour both for the happiness of his Majesty and all the kingdom’. Davenport noted in his diary that the next day, a sabbath no less, ‘not staying or belike caring much for me or my answer’, they had enlisted for parliamentary service.62 In Warwickshire, the godly activist Lord Brooke appealed below the ranks of the gentry, who were disproportionately royalist. In alliance with the middling sort, some of whom can be positively shown to have been ideologically motivated, he took military control in a county where the gentry were twice as likely to be royalist as parliamentarian. In Gloucester, too, activists below the level of the gentry took the initiative as their social superiors hesitated.63
Where relatively free political choices were being made, as in the Stour Valley, they reflected local politics, local histories of economic and social change, and of religious affiliation. Putting together all the evidence for Devon, for example, creates a complex picture but one in which those below the gentry frequently had an important voice. This seems also to have been true elsewhere in the country: contemporary perceptions that particular areas were more prone to support one side or another can be mapped against their religious complexion and that, in turn, seems to have owed something to social structure and patterns of economic activity.64 To put it the other way, though, military command did not depend on ideological unanimity,65 and one universal finding of studies of allegiance is the existence of division in every locality that has been studied.66
Local political ecologies clearly did not make choices inevitable, therefore, although they did create conditions that might make them, on the whole, tend in one direction rather than another. It might be better to think in terms of the responses to particular mobilizations rather than a fixed allegiance to one of two sides. Looking back across the two years of campaigns – the elections, petitioning, promotion of the Protestation, implementation of the Militia Ordinance or the Commissions of Array, and then the raising of money and men for the field armies – it is clear that different questions were being posed at different times. At particular moments MPs, printers, local officeholders and ministers sought to galvanize support for a specific project or policy. They were presented as parts of larger visions, but it was quite possible these various projects might meet different responses in the same places, or for apparently rival mobilizations to succeed in the same localities. There were patterns in the way these things were mobilized – in the networks which promoted them and the ideological temper of the locality in question – but they also have a history, an element of contingency, calculation and mutability. For example, when the King crossed the Pennines seeking support in the summer of 1642, some Derbyshire miners signed up in return for remission of the tithe of tin. Many models of popular allegiance would suggest that these miners should be parliamentarian. They worked as independent men, had a long tradition of defending their rights at law and in demonstrations, and this sturdy individualism is usually seen as a basis for support for Parliament, as opposed to a more deferential support for Charles. But this calculating response to a specific question was just as much a product of the history and political culture of the Derbyshire tin miners as enlistment in the parliamentarian army would have been.67
In the early 1640s a large number of agrarian and industrial grievances found expression in collective action and it is always possible, of course, that they were motivated mainly, or solely, by agrarian and industrial discontents. It is tempting to see in these and other agrarian or industrial protests elements of class hostility. Clearly, however, these economic grievances could be coloured by other concerns: in the Stour Valley the politics of cloth and class intersected with godliness in the popular parliamentarianism that was so decisive. At various points throughout the 1640s it is possible to see that ‘bread and butter’ issues caused discontent, and that these discontents were not being addressed by the war: there was a potential for radical social change which was sidelined by the politicians, in other words.68
Enclosure rioters in Lincolnshire, for example, had good reason to be hostile to the crown, which had sponsored large-scale drainage and enclosure projects during the 1630s, but little subsequent reason to be grateful to Parliament, which came to support further drainage schemes. Fenlanders had enjoyed extensive common rights to benefit from the riches of the fens, but these resources disappeared with drainage and those who lost rights did not always feel adequately compensated. Drainage schemes had been an issue in elections both to the Short and Long Parliaments and hopes for redress of grievances seem to have prompted direct action. In April 1640 commoners forcibly entered drained lands, and this was a prelude to two years of disturbances. Hopes were raised when the Commons established a Committee for the Fens, but frustration with its slow progress led to direct action in the winter of 1641–2. Another wave of disturbances started in late 1641, running through the summer of 1642, by which time the local agencies of law and order seemed powerless to stop it. This seems to have galvanized gentry solidarity in these areas – a desire to limit the political damage of the incipient conflict in the interests of social order. Subsequently the commoners and their opponents took advantage of political circumstances to push their case, adjusting their language to meet the expectations of their rulers, or to call them to account. Drainers complaining about disorder identified it as a seditious conspiracy against the King in the 1620s, in the 1640s as a benighted rabble careless of the benefits to the commonwealth of agricultural improvement, then as Levellers seeking a violent change of government in the 1650s. The fenmen, for their part, shifted the emphasis of their addresses away from humble supplication for the protection of their governors towards their fundamental rights, particularly in property.69
Between 1640 and 1642 the House of Lords heard many such complaints, as its legal jurisdiction opened up new possibilities of redress. The resulting flood of petitions is a goldmine for social historians and the peak of disputes over economic and social grievances has been interpreted as evidence of an actual peak in a rising trend in economic conflict.70 Perhaps, though, these things reflect the legal awareness of people whose interests were closely entwined with the law. When enclosure rioters in Waltham Forest in May 1642 claimed that there was ‘no law settled’ and that killing deer was therefore outside sanction, they may have been making a claim more limited than that anarchy was engulfing the country. Rights of access to the forest, or rights to build fences there, were regulated by courts whose jurisdiction had now been thrown into doubt. During the 1630s Waltham had seen the revival of a regime hostile to the common rights of local people, taking an aggressive view of the limits of the forest. In 1642, with the legal basis of those policies removed, local people went into the forest to kill deer. Threatened by the keeper of the forest, they joked that ‘if they complained of offenders, to complain of a good store of them, that if they went to prison they might be merry together’.71 ‘Riot’, here, was a kind of festive expression of a new, but quite specific liberty, and an adjunct to litigation. It seems clear that in breaking open deer parks, and killing deer, there was something more than the politics of hunger at work: opportunities were being taken up. At Corse Lawn, Gloucestershire, in October 1642, 600 deer were not eaten, but rather slaughtered in ‘a riotous, devilish way’. Deer hunting was central to ideals of gentility, and venison was widely used as a gift, circulating not in markets but as tokens of mutual respect and honour. The massacre of the deer at Corse Lawn was a direct, festive transgression of the ideals of gentility, a slap in the face for the aristocratic landlord, the Earl of Middlesex. His unpopular administration of the forest during the 1630s had made use of Star Chamber and was regarded locally as unjust, ignoble and unneighbourly. The massacre of his deer, a kind of desecration, was a political act, a response to the change of the times.72 A leading figure in the renewed attacks on enclosures on Berkhamsted Common in Hertfordshire in 1641 and 1642 was William Edlyn. He was also the first man in the neighbouring settlements of Berkhamsted, Great Gaddesden and Northchurch to make a voluntary contribution to support the Scottish army when it joined the parliamentary alliance in January 1644. Attacks on Wortley Park, in Yorkshire, seem also to have a partisan context.73
Such engagements with the national crisis, like the examples of gentry feuding, can appear instrumental or tactical, but they might not be so different, in their way, from Pym and Bedford’s deployment of the popish plot as a means of securing the bridge appointments to major offices of state in early 1641. They were certainly part of a longer tradition of riot, petition and demonstration, in which supplicants represented their grievances in terms of the larger ideals of government, or larger concerns of the nation’s rulers. Grain rioters, and those seeking poor relief or redress of some other material grievances, had demonstrated this capacity to take advantage of the rhetoric of their governors over previous generations, trying to persuade or embarrass them into acting on their behalf. This might be said too of the London petitions of the previous winter, or of City interests in the rest of the decade.74 It is unlikely that the allegiance of many people was simply determined by the preferences of their social superiors: that the gentry were more powerful than their neighbours did not mean that they were all-powerful. Fear of this popular agency – termed riot and disorder by hostile contemporaries – fed into the decisions about allegiance. Pamphleteers were quick to publicize these events, placing them in the context of a longer history of peasant insurrection stretching back to the Peasants” Revolt of 1381. There is plenty of evidence from around the country that this fear played well for the royalists.75
Drawing a line between instrumental and sincere appeal to these issues is difficult of course, and misses a more fundamental point – that the political argument was available throughout the provinces and down the social scale, and that creative use could be made of this opportunity. Local and popular allegiance may have had an impact on the military geography of the war then, at least in limiting what activists might achieve. Much of the war was fought in these local arenas: a series of essentially local struggles for control of garrisons and territory. This was an ongoing process as war, and politics, moved on. Mobilizations entailed continuous coalition-building.
As political negotiation foundered and the resort to arms appeared more likely, people of all ranks were confronted with the practical consequences of failed negotiation. Rents were appearing in the fabric of political authority and conflicts which in normal times could only have been expressed in the expectation of exemplary punishment were publicly voiced. But with a division in national government increasingly obvious it was possible for these languages and disputes to be appropriated to local conditions and in those local conflicts a voice was given to those normally excluded from the counsels of government. This was not simply a matter of the people being given a voice by the revolution, however, for the people were also in some circumstances making it: the Stour Valley riots helped to shape national political action. Print created reciprocal relationships between national and local issues, connecting parochial battles with conflicts of national significance and advertising local examples of general threats.
Some kind of strategic position emerged from these local battles but the complexities of allegiance are liable to be flattened out in maps of that position. It would certainly be a mistake to conclude from the military geography either that people did not have opinions, or that areas under the military command of one side or the other were homogenously and unequivocally in favour of that cause. All the evidence suggests that the nation was divided from top to bottom, and that every village had its royalists and parliamentarians. Nonetheless, we can discern geographies of allegiance, starting with broad national distinctions and leading to more subtle anatomies of particular areas. Clearly local political cultures were significant in moulding these choices, but so too were local political contingencies.
The war was starting with a series of whimpers rather than a bang, but it was starting nonetheless. In the arguments urged in favour of these mobilizations two fears stand out: for the future of reformation and the security of the gains already made; and for the security of the social, religious and political order in the face of ignorant zeal. Religious conflicts were increasingly expressed as a choice between Protestation and Prayer Book; between defence of the doctrine of the church, or both the doctrine and the discipline. Fear of popery was juxtaposed to fear of religious and social anarchy. The really pernicious thing about these concerns was, of course, that it was possible to be equally worried by them all: the real political failure of the Long Parliament lay in the fact that they came to be seen as alternatives. Similarly, the ‘just’ prerogatives of the King were juxtaposed with the ‘just’ rights and privileges of Parliament: who was there who didn’t believe in both? But as activists sought to take control of military resources, it became harder to sustain a complex attitude – the Hull magazine was either with Parliament or with the King, and it was difficult to find a third way, particularly after the King disavowed the authority of the King-in-Parliament as superior to his own personal word.
As war erupted a third anxiety came to lie alongside these fears for religion and the balance of rights, powers and privileges: that this was not worth a war. Awareness of the costs of war, already evident in the Covenanters” occupation of the north-east or the apparent spiral of social disorder that was being unleashed, informed attempts to pull back from the brink, or to stay out of the fighting. In the first eight months of 1642 all but two English counties generated petitions which used the language of accommodation, but even this was a language used for partisan purposes.76Caught between these competing concerns ‘choosing sides’ was not an easy or once-and-for-all thing. An important strand of opinion was bewilderment at a world out of joint, at a body politic so diseased as to be monstrous. Above all, though, among those activists driving events, fear was triumphing over hope. For most active participants this was to be a defensive war, defined by what it was intended to prevent rather than what it was hoped it would achieve.