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Mike Duncan (00:00):
Hello, and welcome to Revolutions. Episode 7 – The New Model Army After their great victory at Marston Moor, the momentum of the First Civil War finally seemed to be running in Parliament’s favor. But unfortunately, they failed to capitalize on the moment.
Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Leven assumed Charles would soon be suing for peace, and so were slow to remobilize their army. The Earl of Manchester, meanwhile, would neither march his Eastern Association army south, as Parliament wanted, nor would he attack Newark, as his senior officers wanted, electing instead to studiously avoid activity at all cost. And then there was the Earl of Essex. What ever happened to the Earl of Essex?
As the King was beating Waller at Cropperty Bridge, and Rupert was getting trounced at Marston Moor, the Earl of Essex was having a fine time down in the west. He relieved Lyme easily, and then embarked on a general campaign to conquer the area. In mid-June 1644, his army was threatening Exeter, where Queen Henrietta Maria had recently given birth to a daughter. Essex had dreams of capturing the Queen and holding her for ransom, but she managed to slip away to France.
The main upshot of this gambit was that it prompted Charles to come to his wife’s rescue in mid-July, not knowing that she had gotten away. Too late did Essex realize a Royalist army 16,000 strong was bearing down on his own 10,000 man army. His response was to drive further west, into Cornwall, which was basically as Royalist a territory as it gets. Charles pursued Essex through August until the parliamentary army found itself trapped at Lost Withiel. A map, as will hopefully be usual, but I make no promises, is posted at RevolutionsPodcast.com.
On the night of August 31st, Essex ordered his cavalry to escape under cover of darkness, and then he himself slipped away in a small fishing boat, leaving behind 6,000 infantry to surrender under the best terms they could get. Essex had planned to conquer the west, maybe capture the Queen along the way and then get himself appointed Lord High Constable in the post-settlement kingdom, the one where Charles is a figurehead and Essex is the real power, but that dream pretty much dies at Lost Withiel.
Charles then spent September vainly trying to retake Plymouth, before giving up and trying his luck further east. Though he was not planning to attack London just yet, by mid-October his 9,000 man army was just 50 miles from the capital, forcing the Earl of Manchester to abandon his dedicated campaign of inactivity. The Eastern Association met up with the remainder of William Waller’s army, and soon 18,000 men were marching towards the king. Is it time for the decisive blow yet? No, but it is time for the Second Battle of Newbury.
On October 26th, the royalists were dug in at Newbury, though in a different part of town than First Newbury, preparing to face an army twice their size. But then Manchester decided to overthink and underdeliver, devising a goofy strategy that involved sending Waller and 12,000 troops on a 13-mile night march. Once Waller was in place on the morning of the 27th, the two forces were supposed to launch a simultaneous pincer move, but the whole thing fell apart because Manchester himself didn’t get going fast enough. With the pincer broken, the day wound up a stalemate, and that night Charles withdrew as fast as he could.
Cromwell and Waller begged Manchester to take up pursuit, but Manchester declined. Cromwell was finally allowed to lead his cavalry out after intense pleading, but Charles was able to make it back to Oxford. The Second Battle of Newbury could have ended the war. Instead, it simply widened the rift in the parliamentary alliance.
Especially when a reinforced Charles reappeared at Newbury on November 9th, but Manchester refused to fight, telling an utterly confounded Cromwell, The King cares not how oft he fights, but it concerns us to be wary, for in fighting we venture all to nothing. If we beat the king ninety and nine times, yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him. But if the king beats us once, we shall be all hanged, and our posterity be made slaves. To which Cromwell replied, If this be so, then why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting hereafter.
But Manchester stood firm, so there is no Third Battle of Newbury. As this parliamentary division between the war camp and the peace camp widened, it also morphed into the division that will help define the parliamentary cause for the next few years, between the Presbyterians and the Independents.
Now technically, these are religious labels, but you must understand that they are not going to be applied in strictly religious ways. So let us walk through it. You will recall that the big get for the Scots in the Solomlican Covenant was an agreement that the English Church would align itself with Scottish Presbyterianism. But as it turned out, there was a growing core of MPs who wanted nothing to do with Scottish Presbyterianism, nor with any kind of forced religious unity. What they wanted was something kind of mind-blowing, religious freedom.
Using state power to enforce archbishop law and controversial innovations had pretty much gotten everyone into this mess, so wouldn’t it be better if men were just left to their own religious devices? We should find a way to accommodate dissenting sects rather than trying to prosecute them out of existence. Given that at this point in history, it was taken for granted that there could only be one religion per state, the Independent argument was pretty far out there and was an early milestone in the rise of religious toleration in Western civilization.
In more immediate terms, the rise of the Independents put the Scots on notice that uniform Presbyterianism was not just around the corner, putting them on the road to their eventual alliance with King Charles, an alliance which will define the Second English Civil War, coming soon to a podcast near you. So that nicely brings us back around to the man who started all of this. Because what the heck ever happened to Archbishop Laud? Well, I’ll tell you.
Ever since his impeachment way back in December of 1640, Archbishop Laud has been locked up in the Tower of London. It is one of those enduring mysteries of the era, at least to me. Why was this despised religious innovator so quickly pushed to the back burner? The early days of the Long Parliament would make way more sense if Laud had been the one consuming all the attention and Strafford had been the one left to rot in the Tower. But that’s just not what happened. My guess is that with Laud no longer Archbishop of Canterbury, he was basically neutralized while Strafford continued to pose a threat to the godly Puritans so long as he lived.
Compounding the mystery, though, is the fact that when Laud was impeached, Charles basically said, okay, I’m washing my hands of him, you do what you want, while simultaneously having a nervous breakdown over what was happening to Strafford. Charles and Laud had worked closely together for more than a decade on a religious project near and dear to both their hearts. Strafford, meanwhile, was never personally close to the king and spent the years of personal rule off in Ireland. The whole thing is just kind of weird.
And then it gets pitiful. Parliament finally got around to trying the ex-Archbishop in March of 1644, but the lords who were supposed to be acting as judges often failed to turn up for the trial or skipped out after lunch. So the 70-year-old Laud was left to defend his life in front of a bored, distracted, and half-empty chamber.
On top of that, the prosecution was put in the hands of William Prynne. Remember him? The guy that Laud had branded back in 1637? Well, Prynne was so hell-bent on revenge that he routinely faked evidence and suborned perjury. And even then, even then, as the autumn of 1644 rolled around, it was not at all clear that Laud was going to be found guilty. So, as they had done with Strafford, the Commons drew up a bill of attainder, simply declaring Laud’s guilt.
On January 10, 1645, William Laud was finally beheaded on Tower Hill. He was an angry, overbearing jerk who helped incite a rebellion in Scotland and spark a civil war in England. And at this point, I totally feel sorry for him. As Laud’s fate was being decided, Parliament called all of its commanders back to London in late November 1644 to figure out what had happened at Newbury. Waller and Cromwell did not mince words. Through some mixture of timidity and incompetence, Manchester had blown the operation.
This report, coupled with Essex’s embarrassing conduct in the West, left Parliament with a big problem. They needed to win the war, and quickly before the country’s patience ran out, but their commanders just didn’t seem up to it. Nor did the system of three independent armies of short-timers and local levies appear up to it either. So in December, Parliament finally came up with a better plan to win the war. On January 6, 1645, the Commons passed the New Model Ordinance, completely overhauling their military structure.
In Britain in Revolution, Austin Woolrich writes that the New Model Ordinance had three basic objectives. First, form a national army, so no more of this, okay I’d like to go home now please. Second, put this army in the hands of professional officers whose only goal will be to win the war, no more angling for political settlements. And third, this army would have first call on all available resources, so no more bickering over man and money and guns.
This reorganized parliamentary army was soon dubbed the New Model Army. Perhaps the most startling thing about the New Model Army is that peers were disbarred from leading it. Which, if I’m not mistaken, kind of flies in the face of, you know, the entire history of Britain up to that point. But as good an idea as this may have been, how do you, some commoner MP, go about telling the Earl of Essex that he’s fired?
Maybe you come up with a plan that will allow everyone to save face, and pass something called the Self-Denying Ordinance, which declared that no member of parliament could hold a military command, and that every member of parliament currently holding a military command must immediately resign. Good idea, but just so you know, that means everyone with experience commanding anything bigger than a regiment is about to vacate their post, in the middle of a war.
Luckily for parliament, tossing aside their entire senior command structure did not prove to be their undoing. Because the man they tapped to lead the New Model Army turned out to be totally up to the job. I told you to write his name down. That’s right, it’s 32-year-old Sir Thomas Fairfax. Now Fairfax at this point doesn’t really have a super great track record. He was defeated at Aud Walton Moor, and his cavalry was routed at Marston Moor. But he was a natural leader, had displayed personal courage in battle, and most important of all, his only political interest appeared to be winning the war.
Fairfax immediately set about putting together the army parliament granted him. 16,400 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 1,000 dragoons. Putting together the cavalry was no problem, but the infantry was another matter. Forced conscription soon became the order of the day, which meant the desertion soon became a problem of epidemic proportions. Through 1645 it seemed that every man who arrived was simply replacing another who had slipped out the back door, tent flap, whatever.
As part of its enhanced professionalism, though, the New Model Army was outfitted with red and blue uniforms, the first army in English history to wear a standard uniform. Also, the pay was better and more reliable. At least, it was supposed to be. As spring approached, parliament still had a little problem on its hands. Essex and Manchester still hadn’t resigned their commands. Though Fairfax was proceeding as if the self-denying ordinance was in effect, the House of Lords hadn’t actually passed it yet.
So to get the bill moving, the commons agreed to a compromise that gave a 40-day grace period to all commanders so they could get their affairs in order and, and this is the critical bit that gets Cromwell back in the game, resigning today doesn’t mean you can’t be reappointed tomorrow. The modified self-denying ordinance was passed by both houses in the first week of April. The war was now in the hands of Sir Thomas Fairfax and the New Model Army. When Fairfax marched out in the spring of 1645, his infantry was only half full. But that was nothing compared to the thing that was really going to hobble his campaign against the king.
The committee of both kingdoms, you see, still fancied itself the ultimate executive arm of parliament, and they planned to try to run the war from London, which is every bit as bad an idea as it sounds. First they told Fairfax to go relieve the besieged city of Taunton, even though he thought that was a terrible idea. Then after his men had been marching for a while, the committee changed its mind and told Fairfax to break off six regiments and send them to Taunton. He was to take the rest to Oxford because they had become convinced the royalist governor of the king’s de facto capital was preparing to betray the city, which was of course nuts. But Fairfax was a good soldier, and so off to Oxford he went.
Meanwhile King Charles was gathering an army of 5,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry at Stowe on the Wold, and with the arrival of Sir Marmaduke Langdale’s Northern Cavalry, the king’s army now outnumbered Fairfax’s. But just as there were divisions in parliament, there were divisions in the king’s court. Prince Rupert and Langdale wanted to take the army north, but everyone else wanted to hit the new model army now while they were still raw. In the end Charles decided to split the difference. Sir George Goring, now elevated to a senior command, would take half the army and go after Fairfax while the rest would follow Rupert north, which was of course the worst of both worlds. With Rupert heading back north, the committee of both kingdoms ordered the Earl of Leven to get his Scottish troops ready. But that 20,000-man army was now scattered to the four winds. Five regiments garrisoned Newcastle, five were besieging Carlisle, while another nine had been sent home for reasons we’ll deal with in a moment.
Leven said he’d be happy to join the fight with what troops he had, but the new model army ought to come north and pick him up first. In truth, Leven and his Scots were none too eager to lift a finger for an English parliament that seemed to be reneging on the promise of the solemn league and covenant, while the independent faction of the committee of both kingdoms was not really thrilled about relying on the Scots and their rigid Presbyterianism to win the war. So the committee finally ordered Fairfax to break off another 2,500 men and send them north to help counter Rupert. So just months after being formed, Parliament’s fancy new single unified national army had been broken into thirds, which is why you don’t run a war by committee.
But it wasn’t just English politics that made Leven hesitant to commit his troops. Because back home in Scotland, our old friend the Marquess of Montrose was absolutely raising hell. Montrose had briefly retired from politics following the incident. But when the solemn league and covenant went into effect, he made his way down to Oxford to request a commission to fight on the king’s behalf in Scotland. Charles granted this commission, but unfortunately for Montrose, it did not come with a promise of any troops. So in July 1644, just after the royalist debacle at Marston Moor, Montrose headed into Scotland with just two loyal travelling companions.
But he would not be alone for long. At that same moment, the Irish were landing a force of 1,600 men led by Alistair McCullough on the west coast of Scotland in the hopes of opening a new theatre in their war against the Scots. Montrose and McCullough linked up in the Highlands in late August. But even combined, their strength stood at just 2,700 men and almost no cavalry. So they’re about to be wiped out by the Covenanter force numbering 7,000 foot and 700 horse marching against them, right?
Wrong. At Tippermere, Montrose’s little army, some of them armed only with stones, scattered the much larger but far less experienced Covenanters. After all, the real warriors are all down in England. Montrose then moved on to Aberdeen and brutally sacked the city after they shot one of his drummer boys in cold blood. So the Covenanters put a bounty on his head. In early 1645, Montrose and McCullough led about 1,500 men into the heart of Campbell country, stabbing directly at the heart of the Earl of Argyll. Remember him? Richest man in Scotland and Montrose’s arch enemy?
After plundering through Campbell territory to the west coast, Montrose discovered 5,000 men blocking his way north, while Argyll himself came up from the south with another 3,000. Argyll thought his quarry trapped, but Montrose executed a brilliant march through rough terrain to descend out of nowhere basically onto Argyll’s forces at Inverlochy on February 2nd. Argyll himself was not even present for the battle, having retired to an anchored ship with a dislocated shoulder.
At dawn, Montrose attacked and the Covenanters were soon overwhelmed. As this theater of the war was mostly about settling long-standing and extraordinarily bitter clan feuds, no quarter was given. Argyll pulled anchor and headed back to Edinburgh. This victory boosted Montrose’s reputation and shocked the Covenanter government. This is when they started recalling core parts of Leaven’s army from England, including one of his best commanders, William Bailey.
After Montrose plundered Dundee in April, Bailey chased him back up into the Highlands, but Montrose proved himself adept at swift maneuvering and ran circles around the Covenanters, defeating a contingent of 3,000 at Aldern in May and then defeating Bailey himself at Offord in June. Since we’re here, I may as well skip ahead a bit to August 1645, when Bailey led an army of 7,000 infantry and 800 cavalry to finally put down Montrose and McCulloch, who were now leading about 3,000 infantry and 500 cavalry. But when the two armies met at Kilsyth on August 15th, the Covenanters were once again utterly routed.
The battle at Kilsyth sent the Covenanter government into a panic and they fled across the border to Barrick. Having entered Scotland with only two guys, the Marquess of Montrose had conquered Scotland in just over a year. But he didn’t have the power to hold his conquest for long. Even now, his men were deserting back to their homes in the Highlands. Montrose needed to link up with King Charles fast and consolidate his victories in the North. Except, oh yeah, the Battle of Naseby.
So backing up a few months to mid-May 1645, Prince Rupert appears to have suddenly had an epiphany. Finally realizing that the new model army was weak and probably not going to get any weaker, he wheeled around and came back south. On the way, he ordered Sir George Goring to march east and draw Fairfax away from Oxford. But here’s the thing about Goring. He was one of the best officers in the war, when he was sober.
Because Sir George Goring was a raging alcoholic. He had decided to start his campaign by retaking Taunton, which had been duly relieved by those six regiments from the new model army. But the ongoing siege gave him an excuse to get blind drunk for days on end. So he wasn’t going anywhere. With Goring immobilized, the King and Rupert decided to lure Fairfax off Oxford themselves by striking Leicester, and on May 30th, the city was overrun and sacked.
This seemed at first to be bad news for Parliament, but then the committee of both kingdoms responded to the sack by ordering Fairfax to break off the siege of Oxford, go find the King, and from here on out, just use your best judgment. Which meant that Fairfax was now free of their meddling, and that turned out to be great news for Parliament. Just as Fairfax was being released from his shackles, the King’s army was coming apart. A combination of casualties and desertions — the spoils at Leicester had been plentiful, and maybe I should take my loot and go home now — had reduced his army down to 4,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry.
Fairfax meanwhile was now absorbing new recruits faster than he was losing them, pushing his numbers north of 10,000, and that was before getting back the 2,500 he had sent to counter Rupert’s aborted expedition. On June 8th, the senior staff of the new model army held a meeting and elected to add another key ingredient to their growing army when they unanimously voted to give the thus far vacant post of cavalry general to Oliver Cromwell.
The House of Commons immediately granted Cromwell the necessary exemption from the self-denying ordinance, but the lords dragged their feet, so Fairfax went ahead and issued the promotion anyway. Cromwell, who was back in Ely, and 700 troopers rode off to join the new model army. They would arrive just in the nick of time.
Aside from having more troops, the big advantage Fairfax had at this point was in information. The new model army’s intelligence network was a vast improvement on anything we’ve seen thus far in the war. Fairfax’s scouts knew the strength and position of the royalist army at all times. Charles and Rupert, meanwhile, were still flying blind. On the 12th, the royalists were totally surprised when a parliamentary vanguard fell on the outskirts of their camp. Unaware that they were anywhere close to the enemy, the king was actually out for a hunt when the alarm bells started going off.
But it was too late in the day for a battle, and the royalists were able to retreat. Then, Fairfax’s agents intercepted a letter from Goring to Rupert saying, don’t attack until I get there, but also, I’ve been delayed so I’m not coming yet. This was of course a double intelligence coup, because Fairfax now knew he didn’t have to worry about Goring, while Rupert was denied the knowledge that Goring was not in fact on his way. On June 13th, with Cromwell now on the scene, the new model army continued to pursue the royalists. Charles tried the kind of feints that had worked on Waller, but Fairfax’s intelligence was just too good, and the two armies danced on parallel tracks.
At 2am on the morning of the 14th, the king and Rupert were woken up and told that Parliament was closing in at Naseby, and would soon be right on top of them. Their choice was either run for Leicester, or stand and fight. For once, Prince Rupert did not argue for battle. The royalists now commanded about 9,000 men, but the new model army had grown to 15,000. He advised making a run for it. But the civilian element of Charles’s mobile court advised the king to make a stand, because despite their numerical advantage, almost all the new model army infantry were raw recruits. So Charles decided to fight, and it would prove to be his undoing.
On the morning of June 14th, 1645, Fairfax lined up the new model army on a ridge north of Naseby. Cromwell commanded the parliamentary right, while his soon-to-be son-in-law, Henry Ireton, who we’ll have dealings with down the road, commanded the left, facing Prince Rupert. As was both their customs, Cromwell whipped the cavaliers on his side of the battle, and Prince Rupert whipped the roundheads on his side of the battle. Then, as was also both their customs, Rupert went charging off in wild pursuit, and Cromwell called a disciplined halt.
So while Cromwell was turning and diving into the royalist flank, Rupert, well, Rupert was nowhere to be found… again. Fairfax then pushed his infantry forward into the helpless royalist lines, and soon Charles was in flight, leaving behind 4,500 infantry who immediately surrendered. The king lost all his guns and all his wagons, including a wagon that contained his secret correspondence with his wife, and I can promise you those letters are not going to paint him in a very good light.
But that’s for later. For now, the king himself managed to slip away, though to what purpose no one now knew. The Battle of Nasby turned out to be that decisive battle everyone had been looking for, and it effectively ended the first civil war… more or less. Those 4,500 men Charles had abandoned were not raw recruits, they were the veteran corps of his army. With the new model army only growing stronger, Charles was basically out of military options, because there was no way he can just build another army from scratch on short notice.
So next week, we will enter the next phase of the conflict, the diplomatic wrangling between the king, the Presbyterians, the Independents, the Scots, and the Irish to figure out exactly what the first civil war had been about. When they couldn’t figure it out, everyone picked sides and started up on the second English Civil War.
- Charles I of England
- Oliver Cromwell
- William Waller
- Thomas Fairfax
- George Goring
- Henrietta Maria
- William Prynne
- William Laud
- Marmaduke Langdale, 1st Baron Langdale of Holme
- Henry Ireton
- Britain in Revolution: 1625-1660 by Austin Woolrych: https://amzn.to/3H8S4bN
After years of muddling along, Parliament created a more professional army. They finally defeated King Charles at Nasbay in June 1645.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider buying Mike Duncan's books:
- Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution: https://amzn.to/3VNqViT
- The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic: https://amzn.to/3h26YpW
- The History of Rome: The Republic: https://amzn.to/3UAvImK
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