England was now divided as seldom in known history before. London, the ports, the manufacturing towns, in general the south and the east, most of the middle class, part of the gentry, and practically all Puritans were for Parliament. Oxford and Cambridge, the west and the north, most of the aristocracy and the peasantry, and nearly all Catholics and episcopalian Anglicans stood with the King. The House of Commons was itself divided: some 300 members were on the rebel side, some 175 were Royalists. In the Lords 30 of the 110 peers sided at first with Parliament. The balance of wealth fell against the King; London had half the money of the nation and lent heavily to the revolution; Charles could not borrow anywhere; the navy was against him, and it blocked foreign aid; he had to rely upon gifts and men from the great estates, whose owners felt that their landed interest depended on his victory. Some chivalric virtues and sentiment survived in the old families; they gave their loyalty to the King without stint; they fought and died like gentlemen. The colorful Cavaliers, their hair in ringlets, their horses in gay accouterment, had all the romance of the war on their side, and all the poets but Milton. The money was with Parliament.
The gauge of blood began at Edgehill (October 23, 1642). Each army had some 14,000 men. The Royalists were led by Prince Rupert, the twenty-two-year-old son of Charles’s sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia; the “Roundheads,” by Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex. The result was indecisive, but Essex withdrew his forces, and the King marched on to make Oxford his headquarters. Nehemiah Wellington, a fervent or politic Puritan, called it a great victory for Parliament and God:
Herein we see God’s great mercy … for, as I hear, the slaughter was in all 5,517; but ten of the enemy’s side were slain to one of ours. And observe God’s wonderful works, for those that were slain of our side were mostly of them that ran away; but those that stood most valiantly to it, they were most preserved….
If I could relate how admirably the hand of Providence ordered our artillery and bullets for the destruction of the enemy! … Oh, how God did guide their bullets … that some fell down before them [of our side], some grazed along, some bullets went over their heads, and some one side of them! Oh, how seldom or never were they hurt, that stood valiant to it, by their bullets! … This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in my eyes.85
However, matters went poorly for Parliament in the ensuing spring. Queen Henrietta stole back to England with arms and ammunition and joined Charles at Oxford. Essex dallied while his army was eroded by desertion and disease. Hampden was mortally wounded in a skirmish at Chalgrove Field. A Parliamentary force was defeated at Adwalton Moor (June 30, 1643), another was destroyed at Roundway Down (July 13); Bristol fell to the King. In this nadir of its fortunes, Parliament turned to Scotland for help. On September 22 it signed with Scottish commissioners a “Solemn League and Covenant” which pledged the Scots to send an army to Parliament’s aid in return for £ 30,000 a month, on condition that Parliament establish in England and Ireland the Presbyterian form of Protestantism—church government by presbyteries free from episcopal control. In the same month Charles made peace with the Irish insurgents, and imported some of them to fight for him in England. English Catholics rejoiced, Protestants turned increasingly against the King. In January 1644 the Irish invaders were defeated at Nantwich, and the Scottish invaders advanced into England. The Civil War now involved three nations and four faiths.
On July I, 1643, the Westminster Assembly—121 English divines, thirty English laymen, and (later) eight Scottish delegates—met to define the new Presbyterian Protestantism of England. Hampered by Parliamentary domination, it dragged out its conferences through six years. A few members, favoring episcopacy, withdrew; a small group of Puritan Independents demanded that each congregation should be free from presbyteries as well as from bishops; the majority, following the pledge and the will of Parliament, favored the rule of religion in England and Ireland, as in Scotland, by presbyters, presbyteries, provincial synods, and general assemblies. Parliament abolished the Anglican episcopacy (1643), adopted and legislated the Presbyterian organization and creed (1646), but gave itself a veto power over all ecclesiastical decisions. In 1647 the Assembly issued the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, and Smaller Catechism, reaffirming the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, election, and reprobation.IThe decisions of the Westminster Assembly were set aside by the restoration of the Stuart dynasty and the Anglican Church, but the confession and the catechisms have remained in theoretical force in the Presbyterian churches of the English-speaking world.
The Assembly and the Parliament agreed in rejecting the plea of the minor sects for religious toleration. The incorporated city of London petitioned Parliament to suppress all heresies. In 1648 the Commons passed bills punishing with life imprisonment the opponents of infant baptism, and with death those who denied the Trinity, or the Incarnation, or the divine inspiration of the Bible, or the immortality of the soul.87 Several Jesuits were executed between 1642 and 1650; and on January 10, 1645, Archbishop Laud, aged seventy-two, was led from the Tower to the block. Parliament felt that it was engaged in a war to the death and that it was no time for amenities. Cromwell, however, stood out for some measure of toleration. In 1643 he organized at Cambridge a regiment which came to be called the Ironsides—a name originally given by Prince Rupert to Cromwell himself. Into this company he welcomed men of any faith—except Catholics and Episcopalians—”who had the fear of God before them and made some conscience of what they did.”88 When a Presbyterian officer wished to cashier a lieutenant colonel as an Anabaptist, Cromwell protested, “Sir, the state, in choosing men to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing to serve it faithfully, that suffices.”89 He asked Parliament (1644) to “endeavour the finding out some way how far tender consciences, who cannot in all things submit to the common [ecclesiastical] rule … may be borne with according to the Word.”90 Parliament ignored the request, but he continued to practice a comparative toleration in his regiments, and during his ascendancy in England.
Cromwell’s development as a general was one of the surprises of the war. He shared with Lord Ferdinando Fairfax the honors of a victory at Winceby (October 11, 1643). At Marston Moor (July 2, 1644) Fairfax was routed, but Cromwell’s Ironsides saved the day. Other Parliamentary leaders, the earls of Essex and Manchester, suffered reverses or failed to follow up their successes; Manchester frankly admitted his unwillingness to overthrow the King. To get rid of these titled generals, Cromwell proposed a “Self-denying Ordinance” (December 9, 1644) by which all members of Parliament were to resign their commands. The proposal was defeated; it was revived and passed (April 3, 1645); Essex and Manchester retired; Sir Thomas Fairfax, son of Ferdinando, was made commander in chief, and he soon appointed Cromwell lieutenant general in charge of the cavalry. Parliament ordered the formation of a “New Model” army of 22,000 men. Cromwell undertook to train it.
He had had no military experience before the war, but his force of character, his steadiness of purpose and will, his skill in playing upon the religious and political feelings of men, enabled him to mold his regiments into a unique discipline and loyalty. The Puritan faith equaled the Spartan ethic in making invincible soldiers. These men did not “swear like a trooper”; on the contrary, no oaths were heard in their camp, but many sermons and prayers. They stole not, nor raped, but they invaded churches to rid them of religious images and “prelatical” or “papistical” clergymen.91 They shouted with joy or fury when they encountered the enemy. And they were never beaten. At Naseby (June 14, 1645), when the Royalists were routing Sir Thomas Fairfax’s infantry, Cromwell with his new cavalry turned the defeat into so thorough a victory that the King lost all his infantry, all his artillery, half his cavalry, and copies of his correspondence, which were published to show that he planned to bring more Irish troops into England and to repeal the laws against Catholics.
From that time Charles’s affairs rapidly worsened. The Marquis of Mont rose, his heroic general in Scotland, after many victories, was routed at Philiphaugh and fled to the Continent. On July 30, 1645, the Parliamentary army took Bath; on August 23 Rupert surrendered Bristol to Fairfax. The King turned in all directions for help, in vain. On every side and pretext his troops, feeling their cause hopeless, went over to the enemy. By separate and devious negotiations he tried to divide his foes—the Independents from the Parliament, Parliament from the Scots—and failed. He had already sent his pregnant wife across hostile country to find ship for France; now he bade Prince Charles escape from England by whatever possible means. He himself, disguised and with but two attendants, made his way to the north and surrendered to the Scots (May 5, 1646). The First Civil War was in effect at an end.