Hello, and welcome to Revolutions,
After the New Model Army crushed the Scots at Preston and brought the curtain down on the Second Civil War, the question still remained: what to do with the King?
As I mentioned last week, a Parliament had put its uncertainty on display by simultaneously voting back in January 1648 to not depose Charles, but also to not negotiate with him anymore. Some of that indecisiveness remained nine months later, but the experience of the Second Civil War pushed a lot of fence sitters firmly in the direction of the King has to go. It also pushed a lot of men who already thought the King had to go in the direction of and we don’t mean put him on a boat to France.
But there was still a large faction in Parliament, a majority, in fact, ready to repeal the vote of No Addresses and start negotiating with the King again. Surely now he’s learned his lesson. Surely now he’ll come to his senses. So in September 1648, Parliament sent 15 commissioners down to the city of Newport on the Isle of Wight to see if maybe this time Lucy wouldn’t pull the football away at the last minute.
Amazingly, the negotiations at Newport seemed to be going kind of okay. Sure, the Parliamentary commissioners were split between those who were tough on religion and soft on the Constitution and those who were soft on religion and tough on the Constitution. But as the weeks passed, progress was made. Charles gave control of the armed forces to Parliament for 20 years, gave up the right to name his own officers, and pretty much ceded Ireland to their jurisdiction. The negotiators also agreed to the same kind of three year trial run on Presbyterianism that had been the basis of the engagement. And really, the only big sticking point left is that Charles refused to give up on his beloved Bishops permanently. By mid November, it was starting to look like King Charles was about to be brought back to London and life would go on, which is when the New Model Army sprang into action.
Parliament may have still been willing to dicker with the King, but the New Model Army was done with him. As we saw during the Putney debates, there were already a lot of Leveler inclined soldiers ready to dispose of the Man of Blood. And that was before Charles had schemed to start the Second Civil War. The renewal of hostilities convinced even the Grandees that the King had to be removed from power. The only question is how far they were willing to go to scuttle the Newport treaty.
Fairfax opposed negotiations, but didn’t think it was his place to try and stop it. On the other hand, Henry Ireton thought that the army had a moral duty to prevent the King from returning to power and nearly resigned when Fairfax refused to get involved. Oliver Cromwell, meanwhile, was still up in the north, mopping up Royalist dead-enders, and his absence from London was starting to get conspicuous. A lot of people both then and now, believe he was intentionally staying away, so he didn’t have to come down one way or the other.
But by mid November, the political mood in the army shifted decisively toward action, and on November 20, the Henry Ireton composed army remonstrance was presented to Parliament. It demanded that the Newport treaty cease, that the King be brought to trial, and if found guilty, well, God’s will be done. The Commons accepted the remonstrance and then promptly tabled discussion of it for a week, ticking off the army even further. The next day, Fairfax recalled the governor of the Isle of Wight after he refused a direct order to put Charles under a close guard. More radical officers were put in charge of the King, and on December 1, they transferred him back to the mainland. Oliver Cromwell was then ordered back to London.
As he traveled south, Parliament resolved to only take up the army remonstrance after they had considered the most recent reply from the King, and Fairfax decided to remind the Commons what the score actually was when he ordered the new model army to remuster in London.
On December 2, Parliament officially rejected the remonstrance, but by then Fairfax had 7,000 soldiers marching through Hyde Park. On December 3, the Commons met for 24 straight hours, debating what to do with the King on the one hand and the army on the other. In the end, they voted to continue treating with the King, fully aware that it was political suicide. The army was going to dissolve Parliament, just as it had been threatening to do for more than a year.
But then a group of friendly MPs went to meet with Ireton and convinced him not to dissolve the body, but to simply purge it of its wayward members. So on December 6, 1648, Colonel Thomas Pride, who had led the final charge at Winnick Pass, took up a post outside the entrance to Westminster with a list of names. As members approached, he checked their names against the list, and if they were on it, they were simply prevented from entering. This routine played out daily until December 12, but by then everyone had gotten the message. In all, 45 members were actually arrested, though most were quickly released. Everyone else on the list just stayed away.
Before Pride’s Purge, which is what this infamous little piece of historical theater is called, the Commons, listed 471 members. When it was over, the Commons was down to just 200 members. From here on out, we will stop calling the Long Parliament the Long Parliament and start calling it the Rump Parliament. Rump, meaning a small or inferior remnant or offshoot, which pretty much sums up the Rump Parliament.
After the purge, events began to move very quickly. But oddly enough, there was still equivocation among the Grandees about where exactly this was all headed. Sir Thomas Fairfax was already growing disillusioned with the politicization of the army and claimed that Henry Ireton had orchestrated Pride’s Purge without his knowledge. Cromwell, meanwhile, was now back in London, but we still don’t know exactly where he came down on the issue. Historians John Morrel and Philip Baker wrote a paper a few years ago based on Cromwell’s private correspondence that argued Cromwell had been convinced Charles needed to be removed from power from at least the end of the Putney debates. Now the only hang up for him was the political timing. But now that the political timing was right, Cromwell appears to have still held out hope that the King could be persuaded to abdicate in favor of his third son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who was young enough not to have been tainted by his father’s absolutism or his mother’s Catholicism, and who was also conveniently in the Army’s custody.
But Charles would not even consider the idea, and when it was rejected, Cromwell seems to have settled on the final cruel necessity by Christmas 1648.
On January 1, 1649, the Rump Parliament, with a push from Cromwell, voted to create a High Court of Justice to put King Charles on trial for treason. The court was supposed to be composed of 150 members and chaired by the Baron of the Exchequer, the Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench, and the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, the recently appointed Oliver St. John, by the way. But all three refused to take up the appointment, and the Rump had to run through a list of alternate candidates until finally the Chief Justice of Chester agreed to lead the proceedings.
Then the Rump had trouble rounding up men to serve as commissioners, and during the course of the trial only about 80 ever showed up, and even these guys started dropping out as things progressed. Commissioner Algernon Sidney, a staunch Republican who would wind up executed himself for plotting to assassinate Charles II in 1683, said of the trial that first, the King could be tried by no court. Secondly, that no man could be tried by that court. He left and never came back. Late night talks about putting the King on trial was one thing, actually doing it was quite another, even to these most radical of radicals.
On January 23, the King was finally brought forward. He had dressed in black for the occasion and refused to remove his cap. Though the list of charges was long, the meat of it was that the King had taken his constitutionally limited Kingly powers and attempted to make them absolutely, and that when he had been finally called out on it, he had traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people therein represented.
When Charles was allowed to speak, he literally laughed in all their faces and asked what the authority was for this farce, a question no one ever could answer, though if Cornett Joyce was around, I’m sure he could have come up with something.
The King then refused to enter a plea, which tripped everything up because witnesses couldn’t be heard until the accused had formally entered his plea.
Charles would appear before the Court of High Justice three times between January 20 and January 27. He refused to enter a plea each time, and he super refused to do what everyone was desperately hoping he would do: agreed to abdicate. But by now, Charles had himself settled on the final, cruel necessity. In his mind, the deed was already done and he was already a martyr.
Eventually, the commissioners had the witnesses against Charles questioned by a subcommittee, and then their depositions were read in open court, which apparently skirted the whole he refuses to enter a plea, sir. On January 27, having considered all the evidence and very likely wanting to wind up this show trial before it got any more ridiculous than it already was, the now just 67 present commissioners verbally confirmed a sentence of death. But only 59 would actually sign the death warrant, including Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and Colonel Thomas Pride.
So that’s what it finally came down to. The long Parliament had convened in November 1640 with 450 odd MPs, half of whom withdrew in the run up to the First Civil War. These Royalists were replaced by strong Parliamentary men who then saw more than half their number removed during Pride’s Purge. The minority Rump then set up a High Court of Justice that never saw more than half of its members even show up. Then 67 men voted for death, but only 59 would sign their names. 59 guys in a nation of 3 million. They spoke of the present Parliament and the people there and represented. King Charles I was an obnoxious brat, but can you blame him for laughing in their faces?
On January 30, 1649, King Charles I, ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland, stood atop a black draped scaffold that had been hastily constructed in the yard of the Palace of Whitehall. Soldiers ring the platform, keeping the assembled crowd well clear of the proceedings. The Minister said a prayer. The King gave a short speech. His words were lost to the wind. Then Charles knelt down, placed his head on the block and signaled that he was ready. Then the executioner chopped off his head. Charles was 48 years old and had been King for just shy of 24 years.
King Charles I was, let’s face it, a terrible leader, a terrible judge of character, he had terrible political instincts, almost no friends, and was so insufferably pigheaded about his alleged divine rights that he more or less forced his own subjects to behead him, even after they presented him with 72 different ways to get out of it and go back to being King, you know, like everyone wanted.
But he was also, let’s face it, not some murderous tyrant or some sadistic sociopath. There were no mass murders or gulags or genocide. He was a fairly sharp guy, loved his wife and kids, was an avid and knowledgeable art collector. But he lacked imagination and self assurance. And so when presented with the kinds of problems that wiser and better rulers dance around easily, Charles dug in his heels and fell into traps that no one had actually laid for him. I mean, it’s not like anybody tricked him into imposing the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland in 1637, knowing it would start a war and that the King would have to call a new Parliament. He did that himself. He did it all himself, to himself, to death.
For those of you who are interested, I have posted at revolutionspodcast.com a short dramatization of the final days of Charles I, which I believe is built around diary entries from a few of the men who were present during the King’s final days. It’s really great, so be sure to check it out.
Okay. So for the first time, and I don’t even want to try to work out how long, England does not have a King. In a piece of cruel legalism, Charles’ execution wound up being delayed several hours after somebody pointed out that according to the law, when the old King dies, a new one has to be immediately proclaimed, you know, the King is dead, long live the King. So the Rump had to scramble to pass a resolution nullifying the law.
As I mentioned more than a few times, no one really intended to execute King Charles until they actually did. So no one really had any idea how to proceed. It wasn’t until a week later that they finally decided to abolish the office of King in the House of Lords. And it would take a whole another month before the formal institution of monarchy was abolished, and another month after that before they declared that, oh, yeah, I guess we’re a Commonwealth now.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the regicides weren’t sitting around with some new Constitution ready to go. You know, something that distributed all the executive, legislative, and judicial powers held by the King to some new political institution. So it was only after they killed Charles that the Rump formed a committee to start organizing what was tentatively being called the Council of State, whatever that was.
Meanwhile, and down in the Dutch city of Breda, 19 year old Charles, Prince of Wales, got the news that his father had been executed, leaving him in almost as confusing a bind as the Rump Parliament. There were three options before the Prince, each being advocated by a different faction of the Royal court in exile. One faction, led by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, urged him to ally with the Scots, who offered the Scottish Crown to him on February 5 on the condition that he signed the Solemn League in Covenant. A second faction was led by Anglican constitutionalists like Edward Hyde, who I haven’t even talked about yet and he may just get a supplemental of his own. They didn’t trust the French and they hated the Scottish Presbyterians and wanted Charles to look to Ireland for support in exchange for easing anticatholic laws. Finally, there was a group of military officers surrounding Prince Rupert, who had attached himself to Charles the Younger after being tossed aside by Charles the Elder. Rupert’s group wanted the Prince to make a deal with whoever was offering the most men and the most guns.
One thing, however, was made perfectly clear to Charles: he would not be receiving any support from the Continental powers. They all sympathized with his plight and hated the heretical Republicans who had just murdered his father. But look, we just signed the Treaty of Westphalia, ending the 30 Years War like three months ago. So just good luck, but you’re on your own.
As Prince Charles, maybe King Charles II, if he played his cards right, considered his options, the post-redesigned political settlement was getting tense up in London. Just because the army had purged Parliament didn’t mean that the Rump was a puppet of the army. And just because the army had put down the Leveler mutiny, that didn’t mean the Levelers had just closed up shop. In fact, with the King dead, it was high time they made their triumphant return. And no, they were not the least bit chastened after getting stomped in the Putney debates. Nor did they seem to show much gratitude when Henry Ireton, who was by now more or less running army politics, opened dialogue with them right after Pride’s Purge to discuss drafting a modified Agreement of the People to serve as the basis of a reformed government, because Ireton, at least, may have supposed that such a thing might soon come in handy.
But talks quickly fell apart when the Leveler leaders presented Ireton with a new draft and he took it to the senior officers for consideration and revision, which offended the Levelers, who later said they thought they had been asked to write the final draft to be voted on up or down, not some rough draft to be tinkered with into oblivion.
By the end of February, John Lilburne, the greatest and most intractable of the Levelers and who like Edward Hyde I have skimmed pass, and he too probably deserves his own supplemental, published England’s New Chains Discovered, blasting the unholy alliance forged between the Grandees and the Rump Parliament to crush freedom in England. But as I just hinted, the relationship between the New Model Army and the Rump Parliament was not so clear-cut. Being anti-Charles enough to have survived Pride’s Purge did not necessarily make you totally pro army, especially after Purged members started being invited back on a case by case basis because the Rump was having a really hard time forming a quorum these days.
As the Levelers continued to accuse the Rump of being puppets of the army, the Rump got ticked off and started locking up Leveler leaders, which sparked demonstrations in London and probably helped spark the second Leveler mutiny in the army.
The second mutiny got going after Cromwell had been appointed by the Rump to take up that eternally put off problem of the rebellion in Ireland. With Fairfax continuing to withdraw from public affairs, he did not, for example, support the trial and execution of Charles, Oliver Cromwell was finally thrust to the forefront and ordered to lead 12,000 men over to Ireland to take care of the bloody Catholics once and for all. But as he was arranging the expedition in April, drawing the names of regiments by lot, Leveler unrest swelled in the ranks. A cavalry unit in London disobeyed direct orders from their commanding officer. One of the mutineers was summarily executed, and his funeral procession turned into a Leveler demonstration 4,000 strong.
On May 1, a conspiracy of soldiers launched what was supposed to be a general mutinous uprising. But the regiments of the New Model Army were simply too scattered to make a mass uprising feasible, and only about 2,500 wound up taking part, mostly in Bristol.
On May 6, a former Corporal who had been cashiered in the wake of the last mutiny posed as a Captain, convinced 300 cavalrymen to follow him to Bristol, but they were trounced long before they got there.
By May 12, Fairfax and Cromwell were slowly marching west with 4,000 men and sending ahead all kinds of conciliatory statements to Bristol and promising, among other things, that the Rump would soon be dissolved and new elections would take place. Which, ha, ha, yeah, that’s not happening.
On May the 14th and 15th, about 900 hard core Leveler mutineers years remain defiant right up until the moment they were scattered in a quick skirmish. And that, my friends, was the end of the Levelers. Oh, they’ll go on, but never with anything close to the influence they held during the years between the First Civil War and the invasion of Ireland. They’re a little bit of a mirror image to Charles in that they probably could have gotten an awful lot of their very forward thinking program enacted if they had not been so blinded by their own self righteousness. Remember, kids, compromise! It’s the key to victory.
The Levelers suppressed, Cromwell was finally able to launch his infamous invasion of Ireland. Now, let’s see, when last we left Ireland, the King had been trying to secretly arrange an alliance with the Confederate rebels. But after those negotiations were exposed, he disavowed everything. That was back at the end of 1645. Since then, and I’ll try to simplify this as much as possible, the rebels had split into two camps, a moderate camp whose main aim was an easing of anticatholic laws and confirmation of property rights, and a more extreme clerical party led by an Italian Cardinal who’d been sent over by the Pope to see what advantage could be made of all the chaos up in Britain and Ireland.
This clerical party demanded a Catholic Ireland for Catholic Irishman Full stop. Caught in the middle was the Lord Lieutenant, the Marquis of Ormond, who, after the collapse of the King’s fortunes, had put himself under Parliament’s control, even as he himself remained personally loyal to the King. This dynamic played out until February 1649, because just as the King was killed, the clerical party was fatally outmaneuvered, and the Italian Cardinal sailed away, never to be heard from again.
Meanwhile, up in Ulster, the Scots, who had been fighting alongside the English, did not take the execution of King Charles very well at all. And just before Cromwell set sail, they switched sides and joined the moderate Irish royalists. So that’s what the New Model Army sailed into, an Ireland mostly controlled by a coalition of Irish Royalists, many of whom had recently been pitted against each other in one or more of the constantly shifting network of alliances. It’s all very confusing, especially when you add in a staunch Royalist like Lord Broghill, brother of the famous chemist Robert Boyle by the way. He switched over to Cromwell not because he had any love for Parliament, especially the redesigns of the rump Parliament, but because he had just spent the last decade or so fighting the Irish rebels and just wanted to see the thing through to the end.
When Cromwell arrived on August 15, he discovered that his job had been made immeasurably easier just a few weeks before, when the Parliamentary governor of Dublin, a man named Michael Jones and one of the few allies Cromwell had on the island, launched a surprise attack on Ormond’s camp and scattered his Irish Army. Ormond’s forces had been the only field army large enough to resist Cromwell, and with them knocked out of the picture, all the New Model Army had to do was besiege a few cities. Nothing to it! Especially since they had a fat load of heavy artillery and all the time in the world.
Unfortunately for Cromwell’s reputation, however, to say nothing of the victimized Irish, all Cromwell had to do was besiege a few cities. Cromwell’s strategy was to assert control over the east coast and then move into the interior. So on September 3, he invested the key city of Drogheda. Despite being outnumbered four to one, the Irish Garrison commander refused to surrender. So on September 10, Cromwell opened up with his heavy guns and blasted two holes in the wall. On September 11, he ordered a general assault into the breaches, and despite being repulsed a few times, some of the New Model Infantry managed to push their way in, open the gate and let in the cavalry.
Now this is the moment in a siege when the garrison is supposed to surrender. But the Irish refused, prompting Cromwell to issue his infamous directive to kill everyone still under arms. So from that point on, when cornered Irish soldiers finally did surrender, they were not taken into custody. They were just killed, as were any priests or monks found scuttling about or frankly, any civilian that happened to get in the way. It is estimated that somewhere between three and four thousand died in the slaughter, though so far as I can tell, there is no evidence of mass civilian killings, nor any evidence of an order condoning mass civilian killings.
The carnage of Drogheda was repeated two weeks later at Wexford. After setting up the siege on October 2, Cromwell started blasting away on October 11, breached the walls and charged inside. This time, 2,000 were killed, including once again any priest or friar or monk who happened to be around.
By the time Cromwell got to New Ross on the 17th, though, the Irish garrisons had learned of the fates of their sister cities, New Ross surrendered immediately. By November, Cromwell was down in Waterford, one of the two or three largest cities in Ireland at the time, and the hope was that it too would capitulate. But Waterford held out. And not without good reason, because by now the New Model Army was suffering from various camp diseases, and with winter coming on, Cromwell elected to break off the siege. So far as I know, it’s the only time he ever failed to take a city after investing it.
But the winter was exceptionally mild, and Cromwell was back in action at the end of January 1650, with a much recovered army. He spent February marching around and capturing various castles and towns, and by the end of March he moved inland to Kilkenny, the capital of Confederate Ireland. The day he invested Kilkenny, however, was the same day he received orders to return to England. It seemed that Charles II, and I’m just going to start calling him that now, had elected to take his mother’s advice and was deep in talk with the Scots. The Rump got wind of this and feared yet another Scottish invasion was imminent.
Cromwell took these orders under advisement, but he didn’t want to leave the job in Ireland undone. Kilkenny fell on March 27, and at almost that same moment, the Scottish forces up in Ulster, who had so recently hopped over to the Irish Royalist side, hopped back to Parliament when they were assigned a totally out-of-his-depth commander who seemed hellbent on leading them to destruction. This unforced error essentially delivered Ulster to Parliament.
In April, Cromwell laid siege to Clonmel, one of the last major centers of resistance. But though he wound up taking the city in mid May, the Irish garrison commander had laid a clever trap, and when the New Model Infantry came charging in, they were mowed down to the tune of 1,000 men in just under an hour. It was a victory, but not a pretty one.
After Clonmel, or perhaps because of Clonmel, Cromwell finally decided it was time to return to England. He left Henry Ireton in charge of mopping up any remaining resistance, which wound up taking Ireton way longer than it should have and actually killing him in the process.
But the other good reason Cromwell had for finally breaking off his conquest of Ireland was that on May 1, the Treaty of Breda between Charles II and the Scots was officially signed. Next week, Cromwell will pivot his attention from Ireland to Scotland and not content to sit back and let the Scottish invade yet again, Cromwell will launch a preemptive invasion of his own and through showing coincidence, find himself inextricably linked to the providential date September 3rd.
Return to The English Revolution >>