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Mike Duncan (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to Revolutions. Episode 6 – The Solemn League and Covenant In the autumn of 1643, the course of the First Civil War was running very much in the king’s favor. Royalists controlled the north and had wiped out the parliamentary army in the west.


But the two main battles so far, at Edgehill and Newbury, had essentially been draws, so parliament was by no means begging for mercy, especially because they had an ace up their sleeve that they were about to wriggle out onto the table. But before we get into that, I want to circle back around to Ireland. When last we left it, the Old English had just joined in the rebellion launched by the Old Irish, knocking the royal administrators pretty far back on their heels. A couple thousand English troops had been sent over as Charles and parliament were getting ready to declare war on each other, but after that, men and material were obviously being diverted to the brewing conflict in England.


But the devoutly Protestant MPs left in Westminster were not just giving up on the idea of putting down the Catholic rebellion in Ireland. Plus, the Old English had joined the Old Irish on the condition that the rebels swear loyalty to the king, even as they revolted against his administrators. Which meant that parliament was now concerned Charles would be able to turn these rabid Catholics into an army he could use against them in England. I should note, though, that the king was considering no such thing. He had wanted to halt the rebellion to free up the English troops stationed in Ireland to come over and fight for him, not the Irish rebels.


Complicating this already enormously complicated picture, and giving parliament a way out of their dilemma, which was, do we either put down the Irish rebellion and lose to the king, or put down the king and lose Ireland, was the Scots. I almost talked about this in episode 1, but dropped it because I didn’t want to make things too confusing right out of the gates, but something like two-thirds to four-fifths of the settlers in Ulster were actually Scottish Presbyterians. So when the rebellion initially broke out, and the rebels started killing people, a lot of them, most of them, were Scots.


I was probably too flippant about this in the last episode because I was trying to convey how quickly tales of atrocities were exaggerated, but there is totally a thing called the Ulster massacre, where something like 4,000 people were killed right away, and another 10-12,000 died after being expelled from their homes in the winter of 1641. Anyway, as you can imagine, the Scottish Covenanters were pretty righteously pissed off about Catholics slaughtering their brethren in Northern Ireland, so over the course of 1642, as the English got their civil war going, parliament was simultaneously raising money to fund a Scottish expedition against the Irish.


The Scots wound up sending an army of 10,000 over to Ulster to protect-slash-avenge their people, and they were pretty brutal themselves when they got there. Through 1643, the rebellion in Ireland then transformed into more of a stalemate between three interconnected parties, the rebels, Catholic, Old English, and Old Irish, the English royalist garrison still holding onto their eastern strongholds like Dublin, and then this invading Scottish army.


Meanwhile, back in Britain, both the Scottish Covenanters and the English Parliament were constantly worried Charles was going to cut a deal with the rebels and bring them over en masse to fight his war for him. In September of 1643, all these threads joined together right around the time Charles and Essex were having it out at Newbury. On September the 15th, five days before Newbury, the English royal forces in Ireland signed a one-year truce with the rebels called the Cessation, which would allow the English forces to head home and fight for the king, because as I mentioned, that was Charles’ plan.


Then on September the 25th, five days after Newbury, the Covenanters and Parliament finally swore to something called the Solemn League and Covenant, which had been in negotiation since the summer. What the Scots got was a pledge from Parliament that the religions of Scotland and England would be unified under their Presbyterian system, which, let’s face it, is basically what Charles had been trying to do when this whole mess got started, only in reverse. What Parliament got was the 21,000-man army the Scots were able to dangle as an incentive to agree to set religious unification.


Some language fudging in the final draft allowed everyone to read what they wanted to into the Solemn League and Covenant, but the immediate effects were clear, the Scots were officially going to join the war against Charles. That was quite an ace for Parliament to drop on the table. However, as the parliamentary cause was being so bolstered, it was also starting to fracture internally, and no doubt a big cause of this internal fracturing was the supremely ill-timed death of John Pym.


He had been dragged down all year by cancer, and though he lived long enough to seal the deal with the Scots, he finally lost his fight with the tumor on December 8, 1643. His death compounded a problem brought on by another death that I skipped over last week, because on June 8, 1643, John Hamden died from wounds he had suffered during an insignificant skirmish at Chowgrove Field the week before.


The deaths of Pym and Hamden were by no means the cause of the coming parliamentary division, but they were two of the most respected, most capable, and most diligent parliamentary leaders, and they stood firmly in the middle, in between what we will soon be calling the Peace Party and the War Party. These two parliamentary factions will duke it out for control of their war effort inside of the new governing body established under the Solemn League and Covenant. Superceding the Committee of Safety, which had been running under Pym’s leadership since the beginning of the war, the Committee of Both Kingdoms was composed of fourteen select MPs and four Scottish commissioners, and they took over in February 1644.


With Pym dead, the Committee of Both Kingdoms was shepherded into being by Oliver Syngin, who was basically left to tend the centrist fires all by his lonesome. Meanwhile, everyone else seemed to be lining up into the Peace Camp, led by men like Essex and Warwick and Manchester, who thought all of this fighting was simply a means to force Charles to negotiate a settlement, and the War Camp, led by men like William Waller and Oliver Cromwell, who we’ll get to in a second, who were now firmly convinced that Charles could only be dealt with after he had been beaten militarily.


While the details of the new governing committee were being worked out, the Scots crossed the River Tweed with their 20,000-plus-man army in January 1644, once again led by Alexander Leslie, who, you’ll recall, had commanded the Covenanters during the Bishop’s Wars. Unfortunately for you, Leslie has since become the Earl of Leven, so now we have to call him the Earl of Leven. I’m sorry, I didn’t make up these rules, but I am starting to regret following them. The parliamentary hope was that the arrival of Leven and the Scots would turn the tide in the north, and that’s pretty much what happened.


As spring approached, Parliament then also put the finishing touches on William Waller’s new western army, and a greatly expanded Eastern Association army commanded by the Earl of Manchester. So Parliament was feeling pretty good about their chances, and the only person who seemed put off by all of this was the Earl of Essex. Essex saw himself as practically the vice-regent of the parliamentary cause, and he had just spent the winter watching men, money, and arms that should have been his being siphoned off to Waller and Manchester, neither of whom he personally got along with, particularly Waller. But the committee of both kingdoms was adamant that Essex’s army not be the only army in the field, especially since some of them believed that Essex wasn’t really pursuing this war with exactly the right amount of zeal because he was angling for a major role in a post-settlement royal administration.


As part of the finishing touches on the Eastern Association army, Parliament gave the Earl of Manchester a new second-in-command and general of the cavalry, a man who we can put off no longer, Oliver Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell was born in April 1599. The Cromwell family owned extensive property around Huntingdon, but because his father had been a younger son, the estates that Oliver inherited in 1617 qualified him for the lesser gentry, but not much more than that.


But the Cromwells were historically connected to the Montague family, that is, the Earls of Manchester, a connection which landed Cromwell in the Parliament of 1628 as a minor backbencher, albeit one loyal to the opposition. At some point here in the late 1620s, Cromwell apparently went through a particularly dark night of the soul, manifested by depression and illness. And though it’s tough to tell exactly what effect this had on him, by the early 1630s we find him a passionate and godly Puritan.


He struggled for five years after being forced to move out of Huntingdon in 1631. But in 1636, his rich, childless uncle died, and Oliver Cromwell suddenly found himself running a pretty decent-sized estate near Cambridge. When the short and long parliaments convened, he was elected MP for Cambridge and was an outspoken, if still minor, member of the opposition. But the fact that his cousin was John Hamden strengthened his ties to the inner circle of the Puritan dissidents.


When the war broke out, he immediately started recruiting a cavalry force for Parliament, and fought at Edgehill, where he was taught a valuable lesson in the importance of well-disciplined cavalry, both from Parliament’s terrible showing, and from Rupert’s failure to turn and win the war right then and there. He then went back home and spent the summer of 1643 as governor of Ely, and a colonel in the original incarnation of the Eastern Association Army.


Any time he got the chance to fight, he proved himself as an eminently capable cavalry officer, and when it came time to name a master of the horse for the expanded Eastern Association Army in early 1644, Cromwell got the job, no doubt in part because of his connection to its new commander, the Earl of Manchester. That said, as we will see next week, that connection did not prevent Cromwell from pretty quickly growing dissatisfied, and vocally so, with his patron’s generalship.


So up to this point, Cromwell has been minor gentry, a backbench MP, and just another cavalry colonel in a war full of cavalry colonels. From this point on, however, his star is about to start blinding everyone, and in about five years, he’ll be the King of England in all but name. When the war started up again in the spring of 1644, the various campaigns collectively tilted Parliament’s way, but they almost had as many setbacks as they did victories, and by the end of the year, the growing War Party was convinced that they needed to completely overhaul their strategy if they were actually going to win this thing.


We’ll start this week out in the West, where William Waller marched off to at the head of 5,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry in March. His friend and rival Sir Ralph Hopton, now recovered from the injuries he had suffered the year before, had been reinforced but he still only commanded an inferior army of 3,200 infantry and 3,800 cavalry. This royalist army was slowly moving east to try to come up on London from the south. Waller’s job was to stop them. In late March, the two armies made contact and started maneuvering around each other, but Waller finally got sick of being spun around and decided to stand and fight at Cheriton on March 29th.


In the ensuing battle, the royalists waged a mostly defensive fight, but at a critical moment one of their infantry regiments advanced too far forward, and Sir Arthur Haselrig, one of the five members Charles had tried to arrest, exploited the whole with the help of his cavalry brigade, nicknamed the Lobsters, because they were one of the very few armored cavalry units of the war. The tide then turned decisively against the royalists. But despite the defeat, Hopton was able to withdraw his guns and keep what was left of his infantry intact.


His advance halted though, Hopton was ordered to bring his remaining royalist forces up to Oxford to reinforce the King’s main army. So the Battle of Cheriton was the first out-and-out victory for Parliament in the war. Meanwhile up in the north, things were about to go even better for Parliament. With the Scots entering the war, the Fairfaxes were able to go back on the offensive, and over the winter they routed the first contingent of forces sailing over from Ireland following the signing of the cessation. After the Scots laid siege to Newcastle for two months, Leven met up with the Fairfaxes in mid-April, and together they planned their next move.


Now on the defensive, the Earl of Newcastle, the commander of Northern Royalist forces remember, pulled 6,000 infantry and 5,000 horse together into York. But when he discovered that the plan Leven and the Fairfaxes had come up with was to besiege York, he ordered his cavalry out of the city so they wouldn’t get trapped.


As the parliamentary forces closed in on York, Prince Rupert was over in Shrewsbury, or Shrews-Bury, depending on who you talk to, with 8,000 men. In late April, he started marching north-ish, there’s a map at, gathering additional forces along the way, including eventually the Earl of Newcastle’s cavalry. But no one knew exactly what his intentions were at this point. Was he going to turn northeast and relieve York, or was he going to turn south and reinforce the King? Because at that same moment, Charles is, really, facing total destruction.


After the victory at Cheriton, the committee of both kingdoms smelled blood in the water, and decided to order all their forces, that is the armies of Waller, Essex, and Manchester, to march on Oxford and hopefully bring the King to a final battle. But with Rupert on the move, and York tantalizingly close to falling, the committee decided to break off the Eastern Association and send them up to guarantee victory in the north, which left Essex and Waller to coordinate a campaign against Charles. And as I mentioned, Essex and Waller pretty much hated each other’s guts at this point.


Charles was getting reports through May that two parliamentary armies were gunning for him, Waller from the southwest and Essex from the southeast, and he scrambled to draw in every available company he could find to reinforce his position. On May the 30th, though, the King was nearly surrounded. But then Parliament blundered away the advantage. The committee, you see, had received two pieces of information. One was that the parliamentary-held city of Lyme was under siege and near falling, which was true. The other was that Charles had finally seen the light, and was about to come to London to negotiate an end to the war.


That was total nonsense. But it was nonsense the committee was eager to believe. So they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by ordering Essex to send part of his army to relieve Lyme, while they themselves prepared to greet the King. Charles, of course, had no intention of going to London and negotiating. But that did not mean he didn’t want to get out of Oxford and fast, so at the beginning of June he marched south at the head of 2500 foot and 3000 horse, and kept marching south just long enough for Waller to buy it.


When Waller bought it and started marching east to intercept, Charles immediately wheeled around and raced northwest towards Worcester. It didn’t take long for Waller to realize he had fallen for a head fake, and he took off after the King, only one day’s march behind. Essex meanwhile was only two days behind the King. If they ran Charles down, outnumbering him as they did, June of 44, King captured, end of war. But then Essex did something super lame. On June the 6th, he and Waller met to coordinate the next move. At this meeting, Essex announced that he was breaking off pursuit to march down and relieve Lyme. Waller was dumbfounded. Essex then went on to say that Waller should keep going, but wait until he had met up with approaching reinforcements before bringing the King to battle. Waller protested, but Essex pulled rank. Then he just marched off towards Lyme.


There is a reason that Essex is accused of not really being super interested in defeating the King. Waller immediately sent an angry letter to the committee of both kingdoms outlining all of this. The committee was horrified and dashed off orders to Essex. We said a contingent of your army to Lyme, a contingent, not your whole army. But Essex ignored them and just kept marching. By now, of course, Charles had reached the temporary safety of Worcester. As all of this was unfolding, Rupert was still marching along, picking up troops, and seizing every town he passed.


As the march progressed, it took on an increasingly brutal tone. Towns that held out were sacked mercilessly, defenders who did not immediately surrender were offered no quarter. But the ultimate objective of the march was still unclear, as Rupert remained in a position to either head south and relieve the King, or head north and relieve York. When the King got to Worcester, though, he sent off orders to Rupert that York was to be the objective. But the orders were ambiguously worded, and apparently Rupert kept them in his pocket for the rest of his life so he could produce them any time someone started giving him crap about what’s about to happen at Marston Moor.


The orders commanded Rupert to march on York, and only come back down south if a.) he found York already captured, or b.) the area free of enemy troops. But what about the most likely scenario, c.) that York is still holding out and there is a big enemy army in the area? In that case, the orders clearly implied that Rupert was to attack.


So that’s what Rupert is about to do. And he’s got the orders to prove it if you want to start giving him crap about what happened at Marston Moor. Meanwhile, the King was sizing up his options, and decided that his best play would be to head back to Oxford and try to rejoin the infantry and artillery he had been forced to leave behind when he fled. With only Waller’s army now to contend with, he could risk the trip back, and if he was able to link up with his Oxford troops before Waller engaged him, the King might be able to turn the tables on his enemy.


He left Worcester heading northwest, once again head-faking Waller, who thought the King might be trying to link up with Rupert, not knowing of course that the King had ordered Rupert off to York. When Waller rushed north to block this imagined move, the King doubled back and sped for Oxford. Waller then doubled back himself, and the two armies maneuvered around each other for a few days until they finally met at Croperty Bridge on June 29th.


Both armies fielded 5,000 cavalry apiece, but Waller held a slight infantry advantage. The ensuing battle was really more of a draw in that as night fell both armies were still facing each other, but in the fighting Waller had lost 700 men and 11 guns, while the King had suffered almost no casualties at all. The Royalists though decided to withdraw that night, fearing approaching parliamentary reinforcements. But they really didn’t have much to fear, because Waller’s army was utterly demoralized by the fight, and that’s what turns Croperty Bridge from an arguable draw into a clear Royalist victory.


The next day, regiments from the Midlands and the London train bans demanded to go home. By the time Waller started releasing these increasingly mutinous troops, heavy desertions had already devastated his ranks. The parliamentary army was now half what it had been, and Waller was now firmly convinced that local militias and part-time soldiers were never going to win the war. Parliament needed a professional standing army, or it was going to lose.


Back up in the north, Rupert was approaching York. The combined parliamentary forces circling the city, that is, the Scots led by Leven, the Northern Army led by the Fairfaxes, and the Eastern Association troops led by Manchester and Cromwell, numbered some 28,000 men, the largest force we’ve seen in the war to date. But they weren’t going to be able to fight the approaching Rupert pinned against York, so on June 29th, as Charles and Waller were fighting at Croperty, the parliamentary forces re-mustered seven miles west of York, on the broad expanse of Marston Moor.


They thought they were blocking Rupert’s path, but the prince doubled back and swung above them, coming into York from the north, allowing him to link up with the Earl of Newcastle and his York Garrison, which was critical because even with the addition of the York Garrison, Rupert was only going to have 18,000 troops at his disposal to face 28,000 roundheads. When he went off to fight the battle, he thought he had been ordered to fight. The parliamentary commanders, for their part, were actually convinced Rupert’s plan was to continue sweeping south, and thus relieve York by forcing them to chase after him.


But as the parliamentary army started to march on July 2nd to prevent Rupert’s plunge into the Midlands, someone looked up and noticed that the prince was actually gathering up his whole army on Marston Moor, and was looking for all the world like he wanted a battle. Even though Rupert was lined up with his men by 9am, the all-important York Garrison didn’t actually show up until mid-afternoon, because their infantry commander, get this, held a grudge against Rupert for something that had happened years earlier on the continent, and was actually trying to obstruct the prince’s war effort. But the parliamentary forces couldn’t take advantage of this delay, because their lines were strung out across 8 miles, and they were scrambling to get back into fighting position.


So it wasn’t until evening that everyone was actually in place, and even then, they just stared at each other over a shallow valley for a few hours. Neither side wanted to move first, because it meant that they would soon be marching uphill at the enemy, and that is just a bad way to fight a battle. As 7 o’clock neared and a storm approached, Rupert huddled with Newcastle and they decided battle would wait until the morning. Newcastle retired to his coach for a smoke, it started to rain, and that’s when the parliamentary army started to move.


Cromwell commanded the parliamentary horse on the left, and immediately dominated his side of the battle, at least until Rupert rode in with his own regiment and steadied the line. On the other side of the battle, though, Sir Thomas Fairfax’s cavalry was being routed by Sir George Goring’s royalist horse. With Fairfax in retreat, Goring was able to then turn and take a devastating plunge into the flank of the Scottish infantry. At this point, all three of the parliamentary generals thought that they had made a huge mistake by ordering an attack.


But when Cromwell re-beat the royalist cavalry on his side of the battle, he did not go chasing after his defeated opponents. Instead, he held up and took stock of the situation. And that’s when Thomas Fairfax came riding around the back of the royalist line. When his cavalry had broken, Fairfax wound up charging forward rather than retreating, and then had swung around the battle to warn Cromwell that parliament was losing badly on the right flank. So, together, they led Cromwell’s cavalry the way Fairfax had just come, around the back of the royalist lines to see if they couldn’t turn the tide.


Sir George Goring was still having his way with the Scottish infantry when Cromwell and Fairfax came charging in from the direction of his own lines, which is not at all where he was expecting any attack to come from. Blindsided, Goring’s cavalry was driven off, and the parliamentary infantry was able to regroup. With both royalist cavalry wings now gone, the already outnumbered royalist infantry just started getting annihilated.


Most of them tried to surrender, but the Earl of Newcastle’s personal regiment, the famous Whitecoats, refused quarter and kept fighting for a whole other hour until there were only like 30 of them left. In all, upwards of 5,000 royalist troops now lay dead. The Battle of Marston Moor, the biggest battle of the war so far, turned out to be a smashing parliamentary victory. The next morning, Prince Rupert blasted out of York with his 6,000 remaining troops, telling the Earl of Newcastle to raise another garrison and try to hold the city.


But for Newcastle, the war was over. Claiming he couldn’t stand the idea of being a laughing stock back at court, he slipped away and sailed for the continent. Two weeks later, the remaining troops in York surrendered under generous terms offered by Lord Fairfax. Parliament now controlled the North, and they would never give it up. Marston Moor closed that theater of the war.


But down south, things were about to follow a different course. And next week, we will see the Earl of Essex completely screw things up in the West, and the Earl of Manchester refuse to vigorously prosecute a campaign against Charles in the middle, leading the increasingly vocal War Party in Parliament to demand the wholesale reorganization of the parliamentary military structure, which led to the formation of the new model army.


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Episode Info

In late 1643, Parliament sealed a military alliance with the Scots. Their combined force defeated the Royalists at Marston Moor. 

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