Hello, and welcome to Revolutions,
When the New Model Army defeated King Charles at Naseby in mid June 1645, the First English Civil War basically came to an end. I say basically because the last Royalist strongholds didn’t surrender until early 1646. But after Naseby, the only question was how long these little pockets of Royalist resistance would hold out.
But just to run through it quickly. When the King was driven from the field at Naseby, he headed north, hoping that he’d be able to link up with the Marquis of Montrose, who, remember, has suddenly found himself master of Scotland. But the King soon found his path blocked and was forced to circle back around to Oxford and from Oxford race for the relative safety of Worcester.
Fairfax and the New Model Army, meanwhile, turned west to go crush Goring and his troops, who never had left Taunton. Goring ran circles around the New Model Army for a few weeks, but on July 10, Fairfax finally pinned him down and beat Goring at Langport after executing a brilliant cavalry charge that required the parliamentary troopers to ride at full speed across a narrow bridge only four abreast. Fairfax then turned north to seize the key port of Bristol, which the Royalists considered so important that Prince Rupert himself had taken over command of the city after Naseby.
The New Model Army dug in with 10,000 troops at the end of August, and on September 10, after six days of shelling, Fairfax ordered a general assault. Despite a promise to the King that he would hold the city, Rupert, with only 2,000 plague-ridden men at his disposal, had to face facts. After 6 hours of fighting, Rupert decided that further resistance was pointless. Fairfax granted him generous terms. Rupert himself was allowed to ride away, escorted the first 2 miles of his journey back to Oxford by Fairfax and Cromwell personally.
But as justified as Rupert had been in his decision, the King treated the loss of Bristol as a personal betrayal because he, like everyone else, considered the city impregnable. So he sent a curt letter to Rupert telling the Prince that he was dismissed from service and no longer welcomed to court. Goring, meanwhile, was apparently never even disciplined for all his drunken lethargy because King Charles was a master of human resources.
The King was headed north to once again try to link up with Montrose when he got the even worse news from Scotland. After the Battle of Kilsyth, most of the Highlanders who had made up Montrose’s little army deserted, and Alasdair MacColla had taken most of his Irishmen west to continue plundering the Campbells.
Two days after the fall of Bristol, Montrose was in camp with somewhere around 2,000 men near Philiphaugh when they were surprised by a Covenanter army of 4,000 men, although both those numbers are pretty soft. For the first time since he had reentered Scotland, Montrose was beaten, brutally beaten. Montrose himself got away, but when elements of his army surrendered after being offered quarter, the Covenanters just walked up and started massacring them. Montrose would spend the next year trying to raise another army, but the jig was up. The Royalist cause in Scotland, if it could really be called that, was dead.
The King holed up in Newark through October and was then back in Oxford in November. Now attended only by his lifeguard, the King watched helplessly as his remaining garrisons and detachments set down their arms. But Charles was ever the optimist. He just did not believe that it was God’s plan for him to lose. So with his English forces melting away, he turned to his other two Kingdoms and simultaneously opened negotiations with the Irish and the Covenanter Scots.
To the Irish, he floated the possibility of Catholic toleration and to the Scots, he pointed out that he could probably make them a better deal than they’d get from the increasingly powerful Independents in Parliament and the New Model Army. Never mind that these two promises were basically mutually exclusive.
But at this same moment, it became public knowledge through the Royal correspondence that had been captured at Naseby and a copy of a secret treaty found on a dead Irish Lord that the King had actually been in talks with the Irish all through 1645. Talks that had been going on behind the back of the King’s own Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, a man who was getting pretty short shrift by yours truly, the Marquis of Ormond. The revelations about the King’s dealings with the Irish lost him even more support in England, and Charles tried to stamp out the PR fiasco by disavowing the deal worked out by his secret negotiator, which immediately nullified a second treaty that had just then been arranged.
By January 1646, the Irish option looked no good. So Charles turned to the Covenanter Scots in the hopes that they would join him in a political and religious realignment that would pit them against the Independents and the New Model Army. But in the subsequent negotiations, Charles would agree only to tolerate Presbyterianism, not make it compulsory. This drove Queen Henrietta Maria nuts, and she hounded Charles in almost daily letters to get over his religious scruples and just make the deal. But he refused to compromise himself and continued to hope that maybe the Scots would bend to him rather than the other way around.
Meanwhile, down in the deep Southwest, Sir Ralph Hopton held out long enough to get the King’s eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales, the future King Charles II, out of the country in February. Then he surrendered to Fairfax on generous terms. Generous terms turning out to be the hallmark of Fairfax’s mop up policy. Because as word spread the New Model Army was being super lenient, men who might have fought to the bitter end in the face of vicious reprisals just gave up and went home. What was the point of resisting? The first English Civil War was over.
On April 27, 1646, the King slipped out of Oxford disguised as a servant. He was now attended by only two loyal friends. He headed in the direction of Newark, where the Covenanter Scots were besieging one of the last Royalist cities. He sent a letter on a head telling them that he was still hoping to cut a deal, but all they would offer is a vague promise to fight for the King if the Independents in Parliament tried to do something insane like depose him. But other than that, they gave him no indication that an alliance was even remotely possible. Which is why they were also surprised on May 5, when the King rode into the Scottish camp at Newark and presented himself as, I don’t know, well, here I am! So they took him prisoner. King Charles would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life.
With the King in custody, the Parliamentary alliance quickly broke down into three camps, each with their own vision of what the coming political and religious settlement ought to look like. The Presbyterians wanted the King back on the throne with some pretty extensive political reforms. The Earl of Essex, somewhat recovered from the disgrace at Lostwithiel was once again leading the drive for an aristocratic led monarchy. This, of course, would be coupled with compulsory Presbyterianism. The Independents, and the New Model Army, which were almost synonymous at this point, at least, that’s what their enemies thought, wanted the King back on the throne, some mild political reforms, and general religious toleration.
The Scots who currently held Charles wanted the King back on the throne and uniform Presbyterianism. The English could do what they wanted politically, but we are for sure keeping the government that’s been running Scotland since the Bishops Wars.
You’ll notice, of course, that all three assumed Charles would continue to be King because nobody, well, except for maybe Henry Martin, thought that the First Civil War had been about abolishing monarchy or even deposing the current King. Charles, for his part, planned to play these three factions off one another to get the best deal that he could. At least that was the plan. But he just didn’t seem capable of making the compromises that each faction needed him to make to secure any deal at all, let alone the best deal.
Like, for example, after he presented himself to the Scots, Charles discovered that they weren’t kidding when they said that uniform Presbyterianism is our one core demand. The King had apparently convinced himself that even after they had been saying that for ten years that it wasn’t really a deal breaker for them. And when he steadfastly refused their terms, talks broke down because, duh King Charles!
Charles intransigence only drove the Scots into a deeper alliance with the Presbyterians, who were preparing to offer Charles terms of their own, including, yes, uniform Presbyterianism, and then disband the New Model Army, breaking the power of the Independents. But the demands the Presbyterians came up with and presented to Charles in July 1646, known as the Newcastle Propositions, were harsh. Having spent so much of the war angling for a settlement, when they finally got the chance to broker a deal, the terms the Presbyterians came up with were almost guaranteed to be rejected: Charles must swear to the Solemn League and Covenant, order all of his subjects to do the same, abolish Episcopacy, initiate uniform Presbyterianism, impose harsh penalties on Catholics, hand over control of the armed forces to Parliament for 20 years, allow them to reclaim that control any time after that, give Parliament the power to nominate all government offices, allow only new peers into the House of Lords if both Houses consented, agree to a list of Royalists who would not be offered pardons, and then consent to the confiscation of Royalist property. And then they said, this isn’t the starting point for negotiations, this is the deal!
See, the Presbyterians thought that with Charles beaten militarily and a prisoner of the Scots, that he would be forced to accept their terms. But the King said, let me think about it. And then he reopened negotiations with the Confederated Irish to come over and bail him out, at which point the Scots threw up their hands.
Charles refused to even pretend like he would accept compulsory Presbyterianism. So they decided, hey, we’re never going to get what we want out of this guy, but maybe we can sell him to Parliament in exchange for the full repayment of our war debts.
On Christmas Day 1646, King Charles, realizing that the Scots were not just going to suddenly see the light, made an absolutely feeble escape attempt. But he was busted immediately. And on January 30, 1647, the Scots finally washed their hands of the King, who refused to believe he was beaten, and handed him off to a detachment of Presbyterian aligned Parliamentary troops in exchange for £400,000. Charles was then taken to Holdenby House in Northamptonshire, where he was plopped down into a comfortable house arrest. By February the 11th, all Scottish forces were back north of the Tweed.
With the Royalist beaten and the Scots withdrawing, Parliament was finally able to turn its full attention to the ongoing rebellion in Ireland, where the Presbyterians saw first and foremost, a golden opportunity to break the power of the New Model Army. As the Committee of Both Kingdoms was coming apart back in October, a new Committee of Irish Affairs had taken over control of the armed forces. In March, it settled on a plan to bust apart the New Model Army, sending some forces to Ireland and disbanding the rest. But when the New Model soldiers caught window this plan, they wanted to get a few things straight. First, don’t even think about disbanding us without paying our wages, which are months behind. Second, we want to be indemnified for any acts committed during the war because I don’t want Farmer John tracking me down and bugging me about that chicken I stole or that Castle I bombarded, pillaged, and then destroyed. Third, anyone who remains in service is going to get paid on time. Fourth, men who volunteered to serve can’t be forced to fight outside of England, and cavalrymen can’t be forced to serve as infantrymen. Finally, we want pensions for our widows, orphans, and wounded.
In March, all of this was written up in a petition addressed to their general, Sir Thomas Fairfax. When the Presbyterians heard that the New Model soldiers were getting uppity, they immediately ordered Fairfax to suppress the petition, separate the officers from the enlisted men, and then step aside as a commander the Presbyterians thought they could trust came in to organize the forces bound for Ireland, and disband the rest. It was the same kind of our way or the highway approach that was currently working so well in their negotiations with Charles.
But before we knocked the Presbyterians too much, the week before the soldiers petition came to light, they had been presented with another petition making the round that was far more political, far more radical, and far more unsettling than just about anything any Englishman had ever seen. And we’ll talk about that next week when we talk about the Levelers.
In early April, the Committee for Irish Affairs sent a delegation to the army to break the news that Parliament had officially voted to offer the troops a choice: serve in Ireland or disband. The soldiers asked who will be leading the Irish expedition, and the delegation told them it was going to be, well, it doesn’t really matter who it was going to be, because all the soldiers heard was not Fairfax and not Cromwell, at which point they got pretty upset and started chanting, Fairfax and Cromwell, and we all go.
But the last thing the Presbyterians wanted was to keep Fairfax or Cromwell, especially Cromwell, in charge of the army. When the delegation reported on the mood of the soldiers and the fact that so far only 1,000 had signed up for service in Ireland, the Committee for Irish Affairs responded by promising six weeks pay for those who disbanded peacefully, which only ticked the soldiers off even more. The pay for the cavalry was 43 weeks overdue. Six weeks was a slap in the face!
So in late April, the various regiments started electing spokesman from their own ranks called agitators, which is not what it sounds like. When you hear agitator think agent, not, you know, agitator. These agitators drew up documents outlining the grievances and demands of their comrades, and in mid May met with the senior officers and demanded the things that they had asked for in the March petition, while also pointing out that these demands were not unreasonable. And they weren’t, especially given that these are the guys who just won the war.
But Parliament maintained that disbanding the army would proceed on the terms that they had just outlined. They also started lining up support from the London train bands who were sympathetic to the Presbyterians and sending letters up to Scotland, explaining that the Independent dominated New Model Army might have to be put down by force and asking for help if it came to that.
Fairfax then called for all the regiments of the New Model Army to gather for a general meeting at New Market on June 5 to work through everything and hopefully arrange a settlement that would satisfy everyone. And the one big thing the Presbyterians had going for them through all this is that they controlled the King. He was still under house arrest at Holdenby House, but on May 31, 1647, Cornet George Joyce of the New Model Army, Cornet, being basically a second cavalry Lieutenant, rode off toward Holdenby House at the head of 500 men. Where his orders came from is still something of a mystery. Enemies of Cromwell see a conspiracy in the upper echelon of the New Model Army, giving Joyce explicit instructions to seize the King. But as far as I can tell, the historical consensus today seems to be that Coronet Joyce was acting in concert with the agitators on an initiative of their own devising to prevent the Presbyterians from moving the King to some undisclosed location. But also that there is no way Cromwell didn’t know what was going on. Cromwell knew what was going on, even if he didn’t explicitly order it or know how it was eventually going to shake out.
Cornet Joyce and his men arrived at Holdenby House on June 2 and ordered the regiments guarding the King to stand down, but one of their Colonels rode away back to London to raise the alarm. Joyce then got a report that said Colonel would soon be back at the head of a much larger force, probably with the intention of escorting the King back to London. So Joyce took a vote among his men, and they all agreed that to prevent the King from being moved, they were going to have to move the King themselves.
So at 10:00 p.m. On the night of June 3, Joyce talked his way into the Royal bedchamber to tell the King to be ready to ride out the next morning. Joyce was apparently exceedingly polite and respectful about all of this, and Charles agreed to go with him, so long as Joyce promised not to hurt him, not to make him do anything against his conscience, and to treat him with the respect due to a King. Joyce agreed.
The next morning, Charles was ready to go, but before they embarked, well, I’ll let S.R. Gardiner take it from here because I love this bit.
“At six in the morning on the fourth, Charles, according to his promise, stepped onto the lawn in front of the house, where he found himself face to face with Joyce, behind whom were troopers drawn up and ordered ranks. At his demand, the men at once shouted adherence to the promises given by their commander. The King then turned inquiringly to Joyce. What Commission, he asked, do you have to secure my person? Joyce tried hard to evade the question, but Charles fixed him to the point. Have you nothing?, he said, in writing from Sir Thomas Fairfax, your general, to do what you do? Again Joyce attempted to avoid giving a direct answer, but Charles was not to be put off. I pray you, Mr. Joyce, he again demanded, deal ingenuously with me. And tell me what Commission you have?
Here, replied Joyce in desperation, is my Commission. Where? Said Charles, puzzled for the time. Then Joyce turned into saddle and pointed to the disciplined ranks who had fought at Naseby. It is behind me! Was all the explanation he had to give. Charles could no longer misunderstand him. It is a fair Commission, he said doubtless with a smile, and as well written as I have seen a Commission written in my life.”
Now Cornett Joyce, back to me, was kind of making this up as he went along, and even after the King was saddled up, he still had no idea where he was going. So Joyce started offering suggestions: Oxford? Cambridge? But the King wasn’t keen on either of those. So Joyce asked Charles where he wanted to go, and the King suggested New Market. Not knowing, of course, that the entire New Model Army was currently descending on New Market, Joyce agreed.
It was an increasingly radical New Model Army that rendezvous at New Market on June 5. Presbyterian inclined officers had been retiring, and promotions to fill the gaps had been made from within the ranks, leaving the army not just more independent minded but also closer knit than ever before. At least a quarter of the officers were now ex-enlisted men, and they fully sympathize with the demands of their comrades.
Fairfax spent the 5th and 6th working his way from regiment to regiment, making sure his men were heard in turn, but also impressing upon them that discipline was going to be maintained. The fruit of these meetings was the Solemn Engagement of the Army, a pledge not to disband until Parliament met their demands. With the engagement signed and disciplined maintained, Fairfax led the army out of New Market on a slow march towards London. And in case anyone missed that the army was delving deeper into political waters, on June 14 they presented the House of Commons with articles of impeachment against eleven MPs who had been particularly hostile to the army, including Denzel Halls, one of the five members Charles had tried to arrest, and Sir William Waller, formerly commander of Parliament’s western armies.
By mid July, the army was in Reading and working on another angle to secure their demands, drawing up their own peace agreement with the King. After spending a delightful few weeks in New Market, thoroughly enjoying the comfortable and tolerant treatment he was receiving from the New Model Army, Charles was moved on to Hampton Court for an even more comfortable house arrest that even included getting to see his daughter Elizabeth, and younger son, James, the future King James II. Deciding it was time to treat with the King directly the senior officers of the army, and by that I mean Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s now son in law, who appears to have been the main author of all the official army manifestos, drew up the Heads of Proposals, which laid out the basis for negotiations with the King.
The Heads of Proposals were far more lenient than the Newcastle propositions and required only modest constitutional reforms be coupled with broad religious tolerance, clearing out that sticky demand for strict Presbyterianism that Charles had been so unwilling to grant.
When the Presbyterians in London got a copy of the Heads of Proposals, they, of course, went bonkers, and the eleven impeached MPs set to work, not only mobilizing the trained bands, but also stirring up the mobs of London to intimidate Independents in Parliament to repudiate the army. On July 26, a mob actually forced their way into the House of Commons Chamber. Once this mob dispersed, 57 MPs, eight peers, and the speakers of both houses left London and joined the army. When they arrived in camp, Fairfax announced that at the behest of the speakers, he was going to enter London and restore order.
The King, of course, was loving all of this, and when he heard about the MP’s fleeing London, he immediately sent word to Fairfax that he’d be happy to negotiate under the Heads of Proposals, knowing that this would keep his enemies divided and put him in position to get the best possible deal. But then he just straight up blew it!
Henry Ireton led a small group of negotiators to Hampton Court, but when they got there, the King acted as if he was in a way stronger position than he actually was. Ireton was prepared to make all kinds of concessions just to get the King to sign a settlement, any settlement that would allow the army to lead not just the speakers of Parliament, but the King himself back into London. But Charles, as always, continued to believe that compromise was a sin and persisted in the belief that if he just held out a little longer, he’d get everything he wanted without having to give up anything.
Ireton left disappointed, and the King probably missed his last, best chance to ever really be King again. Oh, also, the New Model Army is now totally pissed at him.
On August 3, Fairfax drew up 15,000 troops on Hounslow Heath. The eleven impeached members fled London. On August 4, Fairfax encircled the city. The London train band didn’t even pretend like they could stop him. On August 5, he personally escorted the speaker of Parliament back to Westminster, and on August 7, 1647, the New Model Army paraded through Hyde Park. It was all very orderly, very disciplined, and very impressive, but there was no mistaking what had just happened. The New Model Army had just seized London. The question on everyone’s mind, what were they going to do with it.
Next week we will watch them try to figure that out for themselves as they struggle through the constitutional implications of the civil war in the famous Putney debates. We will also watch as the Scots who had so recently washed their hands of the whole business decide that the new Model Army running England was just too much to bear and finally forged an alliance with the King, sparking the Second English Civil war.
Oh, wait, I ended on second civil war last week, didn’t I? Okay, let’s see finally forge an alliance with the King and once again invade England.
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