The Continuing Conflict across the British Isles:
The king’s surrender at Newark in the early summer of 1646, while effectively ending the first civil war, did little to clarify matters in Wales or Ireland. Harlech did not surrender until March 1647 and the royalist governor of Dublin surrendered the city to parliament in July. The Scots expanded their enclave in Ulster at the expense of both the Confederates and the royalists. But the Confederates continued to control most of the countryside and royalist garrisons most of the towns. The English Parliament had more pressing problems, however, in searching for and securing a settlement with the king which would satisfy all its own political factions, the New Model Army and Scottish army, still in the field, and, of course, Charles himself. For the time being, Ireland was left to its own devices, so that conflict continued into the autumn.
Diverse Ideas and Identities in Religion & Politics:
In mainland Britain, the political divergences within the parliamentarian ranks, and the gap between the war aims of English and Scots, resulted in their jointly presenting the king with harsher terms than he could reasonably have expected to submit to, while Charles was so dominated by his conviction that God would not let rebels prosper, and that to give up any of his regal powers would be a sin, that his mind was closed to to honourable terms even when (belatedly) they were offered to him. He never gave up the the hope of somehow renewing the war and winning it. Meanwhile, the main line of political division at Westminster continued to lie between the presbyterians and independents, but since the chief plank of the independents’ platform had been to fight the war to a successful conclusion, their ascendancy was much less secure after it was won. The New Model Army, their creation, was still their ally, but it was the principal cause of continuing high taxes, and a large reduction in its size became a popular policy. It was eagerly taken up by the presbyterians, for whom it, and in particularly Cromwell, were increasingly regarded as their enemies. The popularity they enjoyed, especially in the City, as the party which sought to cut military power and expenditure, was however somewhat offset by their determination to deny of religious liberty to episcopalians, independents and sectaries alike.
The political independents were also more interested in genuine political reform, which would render the king’s rule permanently more accountable to the people’s representatives, so long as ‘the people’ were not too democratically defined. It was also something of a paradox that while the presbyterians were more anxious to see the king restored and the ‘war machine’ dismantled as soon as possible, they made strict demands regarding religion, the control of the armed forces and the appointment of the essential officers of state that were more unacceptable to Charles than those which the independents were prepared to offer. For Charles, this was a chink in his enemies’ armour that he was not slow to probe. He also knew that the Scots distrusted the independents to such an extent that they had been prepared to consider going over to his side, but it is remarkable that after all the months of Montreuil’s mission he still did not know the terms on which they would be willing to fight for him when he put themselves into his hands. They were amazed and delighted to have acquired so strong a bargaining chip as his royal person, but having demanded and obtained his order for the surrender of Newark, they took him back to Newcastle with them, where they treated him with little ceremony. He was very plainly their prisoner, and unless he would agree to impose the Westminster Assembly’s version of Presbyterianism on the enire English nation, that was how he would remain. Enduring weeks of instruction in the ‘true faith’ and much pressure to convert to it, he began to regret his surrender, and sent a request to Westminster that he be allowed to come and negotiate with parliament in person.
But the MPs were steadily uncovering for themselves the extent of the king’s intrigues with the Scots, the Irish and the French, as they went on unhurriedly preparing their own peace terms. Argyll, leading the Scots, saw a danger that the Englsh parliament might come to an agreement that left him and the Scots out in the cold, and he hastened to London to try to prevent it. Parliament’s peace propositions were ready when he got there and, though they fell short of the Covenenters’ full objectives for uniformity of religion throughout Britain, he and the Scottish commissioners accepted them without alteration. Scottish fears of a separate English peace, and English suspicions of a deal between Charles and the Scots were allayed. There was no question of inviting the king to Westminster, and the Propositions of Newcastle, as they soon became known, were carried north to him by commissioners in mid-July. The Propositions were drawn up on the assumption that, as a prisoner, defeated in war, Charles had no choice but to bow to the victors’ demands. He was asked to sign and swear to the Solemn League and Covenant, and to promise to pass acts requiring all his subjects in all three kingdoms to do the same.
In secular matters, parliament was to have sole control of the armed forces for twenty years, and the right to resume it at any point at a later time when the two Houses should declare the safety of the kingdom to be concerned. In twenty years Charles would be sixty-six, an age to which no English king had lived since Edward I. As for the king’s supporters, a long list of both English and Scots were to be excluded from pardon altogether, more were to be banned from the court and public office, and all active royalists were to lose varying proportions of their estates, from two-thirds downwards, according to the degree of their ‘deliquency’. But the radical limitations of the historic royal prerogative went far further than was necessary to prevent Charles from doing further damage to his kingdoms, and the savage penalties and prescriptions proposed for the beaten royalists might have been calculated to perpetuate divisions in the nation rather than heal them. Charles was understandably angered by the propositions, but he was warned by his advisors that if he was intransigent he might be deposed, so his formal reply was to request more time to consider them, and for a safe conduct to London so that he could negotiate in person. At the time, that was not a serious possibility, but it was the first move in a long stalling exercise from which he had much to gain. At Westminster, all the presbyterians and nearly all the independents wanted him back on his throne, and by playing them off against each other he stood a fair chance of securing easier terms. As for the Scots, the strict Covenanters were demanding a price he could never agree to pay, but Hamilton led a party of nobles and lairds who were prepared to fight for him without forcing his conscience.
In Ireland, meanwhile, Ormond’s treaty had set up a Supreme Council, which was at odds with the clerical party. There were three parties within the Confederation at this stage. Those who sought peace with the king in return for access to public office, and de facto religious toleration were mostly laymen and included most of the Old English ascendancy, though no sharp lines can be drawn between the Old English and the Old Irish nobility and gentry. They were intent on maintaining the king’s rights to his Irish kingdom, even if he went down to defeat in England, though they expected reasonable concessions in return for their loyalty. Opposed to them were the clerical party which took its cue from Rinuccini, the papal nuncio, though not all the bishops were equally willing to follow his lead, and O’Neill was not the only prominent layman to support him; others of the Old Irish interest did likewise, not only in Ulster, and so did a few ultra-catholic Old English. This party sought the full restoration of the catholic church in Ireland and an independent Irish parliament. Between these extremes was a third party whose leading figure was Nicholas Plunkett, a lawyer and third son of Lord Killeen, an Old English Lord of the Pale. A devout catholic, in the interests of unity, he and his group sought to moderate the positions assumed by the two other parties, and they held the balance of power. At first Plunkett supported the Ormond treaty, but eventually he gave his full backing to Rinuccini, seeing the greatest threat to Ireland in a total victory for the English parliament.
In September the members of the Supreme Council who had supported the Ormond treaty were imprisoned, and a new Supreme Council of sixteen, chosen by the snod, was set up with Rinuccini as president. O’Neill fully accepted its authority, and supported the nuncoi’s plans to conquer the whole of Ireland, beginning with Dublin, by military force. Faced with that threat, and with the likely rejection of the king’s authority over Ireland that lay behind it, Ormond’s positon became intolerable. It would have been even more so if he had been aware that Charles had written to Glamorgan on 20th July, offering virtually to pawn his Irish kingdom in return for a large sum of money, and talking of coming over and putting himself in Glamorgan’s and Rinuccini’s hands. Nor did Ormond know that Rinuccini was manoeuvring to get him replaced as Lord Lieutenant by Glamorgan, who swore an oath to Rinuccini on 28th September. What he did know was that Charles had publicly repudiated that Glamorgan had concluded on his behalf the previous year. Faced with an imminent attack on Dublin by O’Neill’s forces, it is entirely understandable that Ormond, as a protestant and the senior Irish servant of the crown, could not contemplate surrendering the city to a body of catholic rebels directed by an Italian servant of the pope, whose aims for Ireland clashed directly with the real interests of his royal master, as well as those of the Old English ascendancy that he represented.
Ormond therefore applied to the English parliament for help in defending Dublin, and it sent commissioners to negotiate with him. Before they arrived, however, the city came under siege by the Confederate forces early in November. It was late in the year for campaigning, so O’Neill took his own troops into winter quarters. The immediate threat to Dublin collapsed, and the parliamentary commissioners began a negotiation with Ormond on 14th November. But when he found them unwilling to allow the king to be a party to a peace treaty, he broke it off and they retired to Ulster. Rinuccini’s policy was not only bound to alienate a considerable part of the population of Ireland, but it was militarily unrealistic, because he grossly underestimated the power that England could bring to bear against his forces once its own civil war was over. For their part, the Scots offered Charles little better prospect of armed assistance. Argyll’s party continued to enjoy greater support than that of Hamilton among the lairds, nobles and burgesses, and it also had the Kirk behind it. Since Charles persistently refused to impose Presbyterianism on his English subjects, it continued to regard him as a bargaining chip for securing payment of England’s debts for the maintenance of a Scottish army in England, which were continuing to mount.
The King’s Prospects, the Army, Parliament & the City:
Charles came to see little prospect in his current situation beyond a possible change of gaolers, and from the early summer onward he began to plan an escape to France or Holland. To keep parliament interested in a possible negotiation, and to continue to play on its divisions, from September onwards he found ways of putting to it certain counter-proposals to those he had received in Newcastle. He would consider parting with control of the armed forces for ten years instead of of twenty, and he would confirm the Presbyterian Church of England, now being established by ordinance, for three years, after which an assembly of twenty Presbyterian divines, twenty Independents, and twenty more of his own choosing would work out a final settlement to the religious question. How seriously he intended these offers is questionable, for he was simultaneously appealing for to his wife and daughter Mary, William of Orange’s wife, to provide a means of escape and a safe haven of refuge. A Dutch ship waited for him in Newcastle harbour all through the late autumn, supposedly being cleaned, but he hesitated too long and when he did attempt a getaway on Christmas Day, it was bungled. His guards were then doubled and the seaward escape routed was patrolled by naval frigates.
Charles did not despair, however, as he had been receiving intelligence that large parts of England and Wales wanted so much to see him restored that they might be prepared to rise for him. It was not entirely a vain hope, though it would be more than a year before a mood of insurrection would come to fruition in certain key areas of the countries. The impetus behind this genuinely popular dissent was not any great resurgence of royalist sentiment, but rather a sense of nostalgia for ‘the old ways’ for which, in the people’s eyes, the monarchy stood symbolically. The ‘peace’ had brought no substantial relief from crippling taxation, and free quarter, the tyranny of county committees and the violence and plunder continually conducted by ill-paid, mutinous soldiers. The New Model’s discipline remained relatively intact, despite its pay being in considerable arrears, but Fairfax’s army accounted for less than half the men-at-arms throughout the countries, excluding the Scots. Between May and September 1646, there were mutinies in no fewer than twenty-two English counties and several Welsh ones, and it was usually the local populations who suffered most from these.
Hostility to the New Model Army remained strong in the City of London, which had long been a centre of Presbyterian puritanism, both religious and political, the latter becoming even stronger with the autumn elections to the Common Council. The corporation petitioned parliament for the disbandment of the New Model Army, complaining about the widespread disaffection within it towards the new church government, and of the usurpation of pulpits by preaching soldiers, infecting the people with ‘strange and dangerous errors’. The Lords welcomed the petition with ‘hearty thanks’ and had it printed; the Commons received it coldly. There had been an attempt by the ‘party’ of Essex and Holles to build up Massey’s western brigade into a self sufficient army, capable of counter-balancing the New Model, but in October parliament decided to disband Massey’s force and to keep the New Model intact for a further six months. While the king was still in Scottish hands and known to be angling for armed resistance from abroad, it was the only safe decision. It also showed that in such a crucial vote the independents could still command a Commons majority, parly because from August 1645 onwards a number of by-elections had been held which were conducted along ‘party’ lines. The net effect was to strengthen the power of the independents and to add substantially to their radical wing. Nearly 270 new members were elected to the House by the time of Pride’s Purge, the vast majority of them by the end of 1646. Among these ‘recruiters’, as they were called, were future republicans like Edmund Ludlow and Fifth Monarchists John Carew and Thomas Harrison. The majority of the forty-three MPs who ultimately signed the king’s death warrant.
By contrast, with the passing of Essex in September 1646, the aristocratic element in the parliamentary cause became more fragmented, and the House of Lords had a dimished role in national politics. Saye, Northumberland and Wharton still had a significant part to play, as leading independents, and Manchester remained a leading presbyterian, though with a diminshed interest in public life. But despite the strengthening of the independents, parliament was committed to the religious settlement that the Westminster Assembly was working out, and that it was slowly establishing in legislation, step by step. All puritans could at least agree on the abolition of the episcopacy, which was effected when the Lords finally passed the necessary ordinance on 9 October.
Oddly enough, in the context of the early modern British history of the relations between the two kingdoms, by the winter of 1646-7, it was England that wanted to be left alone, and parliament paid the Scots four hundred thousand pounds to go away, leaving the king behind. The Scottish commissioners then accepted, in September 1646, a down payment of half the agreed amount as the price of withdrawing Leven’s army. The Scottish parliament was given assurances from Westminster that no peace would be concluded without the consent of both kingdoms, and that meanwhile the form of government in England would not be changed. The transaction may have appeared unappealing, but the the Scots had gone to war for the Covenant, and in face of his persistent rejection of it they were entitled to say ‘no Covenant, no pikes and muskets’. In this way, Parliament secured the person of the king by paying off the Scots for their participation in the war, and opened direct negotiations with Charles for the restoration of his throne. The wielder of power within England, however, was not parliamemt but the army: a massive military machine which had never been seen before in Britain. When the fighting was more-or-less done, the men of this hungry, angry and poorly-paid army were perfectly prepared to mutiny, seize their officers, march to new quarters without permission and refuse to decamp. In the last years of the first Civil War, the New Model Army at least had also been socially transformed and with the officer corps drawn from the sections of society that were much broader and lower down the pecking order than anything thought possible before 1645. As Simon Schama has commented, … Something new had been unloosed on the English polity: a reading, debating soldiery with a burning desire to settle accounts with its parliamentary paymasters.
So the king passed into the hands of the English parliament’s commissioners at the end of 1646, and the last of Leven’s troops left England on 3 February 1647. While Parliament were debating what next to do with the royal person, an extremely important element in the army, led by Cromwell and Ireton, was becoming increasingly ‘hostile’ to the ‘Scottish’ Presbyterianism that was being imposed on England. Let the Scots have their ‘Kirk’ said the Independents, and let the godly English congregations elect their ministers according to their own understanding of faith and liturgy. In 1647, the army not only had the guns but also the idealogues, such as Ireton and Colonel Rainborough who ventured to argue that parliament was a ‘decayed’ body and that the army was a great deal more representative of the people than was the genteel body at Westminster.
Levellers and Agitators:
Rainborough provided an important link to a body of men who were soon to be known as ‘the Levellers’. They were at this time essentially a London-based movement comprised mainly of small traders, craftsmen and apprentices, though their leaders – John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Maximilian Petty and John Wildman – came of minor gentry stock. Richard Overton was of humbler origins, a Baptist who had been in exile before the war and had since been running an unlicensed printing-press. Lilburne, Overton and Walwyn had long been prolific pamphleteers, and the first two had been in the Tower since the summer of 1646 for attacking the peerage in print.There were already quite a few links between the Levellers and radical independents in the New Model. Lilburne had been a lieutenant-colonel of dragoons in pre-New Model days, and Overton’s brother, Robert, had recently been appointed colonel of foot. Edward Sexby, who soon became one of the most prominent army agitators, had visited Lilburne in the Tower. There is no evidence that the Levellers instigated the petitioning movement in the army, however, and every indication that it arose spontaneously in response to the soldiers’ grievances. The Levellers and the independents in the army may have been close in their beliefs in religious tolerance, but they had many differences in their ideas of a future social order, a became increasingly apparent during 1647 as the political debate progressed. Hewson’s regiment, formerly Pickering’s, experienced the conflict within its own ranks, as is apparent from a study of the various attitudes and actions of its senior officers.
The soldier’s petition was wholly concerned with parliament’s threatened treatment of them as soldiers, whereas the Leveller petition of March was a highly political document, provocatively addressed to the Commons as ‘the supreme authority of the nation’. Its first demand was that neither the king nor the Lords should have any veto over the what the people’s representatives decided, nor should the peers have any jurisdiction over commoners.It called for the repeal of all oaths and covenants that could lead to the persecution of law-abiding people for nonconformity in religion, and demanded that no one should be punished for preaching or publishing his religious opinions in a peaceable way, a clear condemnation of the Blasphemy Ordinance then in course of enactment. It further called for the abolition of tithes, desiring that henceforth, ‘all ministers may be paidonly by those who voluntarily choose them’. It also called for radical reform of the law, legal procedures and the prison system. It was the most radical programme yet put forward by the Levellers, a fact which was confirmed when parliament ordered that it be burnt by the common hangman from the gallows.
As the political debate intensified inside the army, some in Hewson’s regiment were clearly committed to the political agenda of the Levellers. Of the six authors of A Letter from the Army to all the honest Seamen of England (published on 21 June 1647), two were from the regiment. They were Captains Alexander Brayfield and John Carter; a third agitator had been a captain in the regiment, Azariah Husbands. Two ordinary soldiers were also among the seventeen signatories to the letter. But all this time the agitators were developing and refining their organisation. They had a kind of central council to concert policies and find printers for their pamphlets and petitions, acting in liaison with a number of junior officers. They played a large part in preparing many regiments’ statements of their grievances and desires for their next meeting with the parliamentary commissioners. Like the publications from Hewson’s regiment, some of the agitators pamplets were beginning to show signs of radical political attitudes, and the Levellers were not slow in trying to make use of their organisation as a means of politicising the army. But hostile contemporary allegations that the army was all ‘one Lilburne throughout’ and that the soldiers took his tracts as statute law were still widely off the mak at this stage. In all the surviving regimental ‘submissions’, only two or three show a distinctively Leveller ‘bias’, and they do so in only two or three articles.
As yet, there was still no trace of the outright republicanism that was to emerge in sections of the army late that autumn. At that level of debate, soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk were heard to say that they had fought the king to bring him to London, and that this was what they were determined to do. This was not the only expression of goodwill towards the king which revealed that most of the common soldiers had no personal animosity towards him. Since nobody was seriously considering a peace without the king at that stage, it was not unnatural for some in the army to speculate on whether the captive monarch might not be a better line of approach to a settlement than the presbyterian politicians. The chaplain of Hewson’s regiment, Henry Pinnell, certainly thought so, and articulated this in a pamphlet he published. Instead, the presbyterian politicians reckoned that they could dispose of enough force to take on the New Model Army if need be, and decided to disband it immediately. They had twenty thousand trained bands in London and its surroundings, under safe presbyterian commanders and Poyntz’s northern army already detached from the New Model in preparation for service in Ireland.
In May, the presbyterians in parliament tried to break the power base of the independents in the army, requiring the New Model regiments to disband or volunteer for the Irish campaign. Hewson’s regiment refused, as did many others, and it was Lieutenant-Colonel Jubbes, together with Major Axtell (above) and two other ‘agitators’ who prepared a statement, or petition, of the grievances of the regiment. On 24 May, Fairfax wrote from Bury St. Edmunds to every regiment, ordering that soldiers should stop acting independently of their officers, and in particular that that the agitators should hold no more central meetings. He was not obeyed, as is evident from the fact that the agitators were never more active than in late May and early June. On 25 May, the Commons approved orders for the disbandment of the entire New Model infantry between 1st and 15th June. Skippon protested in writing to the Speaker, and Fairfax was also riven between a deep reluctance to disobey parliament and the strong corporate loyalty he felt with his officers and men. The agitators were well supplied with intelligence from London, and young Cornet Joyce, another of their close collaborators, was already organising a cavalry force to abduct the king. Rainborough’s regiment set off without its colonel’s knowledge to secure the army’s train of artillery in Oxford, in case parliament should try to move it. Fairfax could not have known of this either, but he did receive a Humble Petition of the Soldiers of the Army, signed by the agitators of ten regiments of horse and six of foot, calling upon him to call a general rendezvous of the army, more than hinting that they would hold one anyway if he did not.
On 29 May Fairfax duly held an enlarged council of war of about a hundred officers at Bury St. Edmunds, and there the crucial decisions about the future conduct of the army were taken. After the parliament’s votes and the agitators’ petition had been read and considered, he had two questons put to each officer individually. The first was whether enough had been done to satisfy the men’s grievances for the propsed disbandment to be carried out without danger of disturbance. The answer was ‘no’ by eighty-six votes. Next they were asked if, in the light of the first vote, they favoured a general rendezvous, to which eighty-for voted affirmative, with only seven against, though a further nine left the meeting without committing themselves. Fairfax had now to decide whether to resign his generalship or to agree with the decisively expressed wishes of his army. Characteristically, he resorted to consultation, confident that this would bind his officers more closely to his preferred course of action. He ordered the general rendezvous, to be held near Newmarket on 4th and 5th June.
The Capture of the King & the Rendezvous at Newmarket:
At the beginning of June, before the New Model regiments marched to Newmarket, the quarrel over sovereignty turned literal when a detachment of Fairfax’s own soldiers, led by Cornet George Joyce, seized the king himself from Holmby House in Northamptonshire. Joyce and his force seem to have been acting under instructions from the central council of agitators, and he and they were almost certainly engaged with the men of Rainborough’s foot regiment, who had been directed from the same source in securing the artillery train in Oxford. While on that mission, Joyce received intelligence that orders were being received from Westminster to remove the king from Holmby. Fearing, as many of the army did, that Charles was being brough closer to Westminster by the presbyterians in order to strike a swift deal with him, Joyce resolved to prevent this. But it was a heavy responsibility for a young officer to carry, and he might need more help in achieving the obstruction, so he rode to London to consult Cromwell. That evening he obtained Cromwell’s approval to prevent the removal of the king, but it is doubtful that either man thought that this would involve abducting the king. Cromwell consistently denied that he had authorised, let alone instigated this. There can be no doubt about Fairfax’s shock and consternation when he learnt that the king was on his way to Newmarket; his first reaction was to have Joyce court-martialled, though when he came to appreciate the cornet’s motives he relented and promised him the captaincy of the first troop that became vacant.
After leaving Cromwell, Joyce sent orders to his troops to make their way to Holmby as fast as they could and himself set off on his seventy-mile ride there. He arrived there a few hours before them on 2nd June, to find the king away playing bowls at Althorp. When his men caught up with him late that evening, the garrison’s soldiers greeted them as comrades; Major-General Browne found himself powerless to resist, as did Charles himself. Joyce’s men were unanimous in deciding to move the king, to prevent his movement by ‘hostile’ forces. Joyce then talked his way past the parliamentary commissioners who were still in attendance at Holmby, but he entered the royal bedchamber at ten that night to warn Charles to be ready to depart early the next morning. Before they set out at six, the king asked where they were going. By his own account, Joyce suggested five destinations, including Oxford and Cambridge. Charles suggested Newmarket, as its air agreed with him, and Joyce concurred, further evidence that his abduction of the king was unpremeditated.
It was coincidental and unbeknown to Charles that, even as they set off, most of the New Model was converging on Newmarket for a general rendezvous in defiance of parliament’s orders. Cromwell was also on his way there. Since the end of the war he had been putting his parliamentary duties first, striving to to counter the policies and practices of the presbyterians on the floor of the House. But as soon as it became known that the army was resisting parliament’s orders for disbandment there was talk of impeaching him, and if he had stayed until the seizure of the king became known he could not have been safe from arrest. Moreover, he must have felt that with the rendezvous in progress, his place was at his general’s side, and as a politician that the army was a necessary safeguard against a partisan and unsafe peace. He had had nothing to do with the army’s ‘revolt’, as his meeting with Joyce had revealed, but his best service as he saw it was to provide it with statesmanlike leadership, alongside Fairfax.
In the same week of the king’s capture by the army and its rendezvous on Kentford Heath, near Newmarket, parliamentary troops also hijacked the bullion intended for their disbandment. At the rendezvous, Fairfax agreed to the unprecedented establishment of a General Council of the New Model Army to consist both of officers and men elected from each regiment. With money, force and the king all in hand, the army began to demand the impeachment of Denzil Holles and ten other MPs who had resisted the redress of the army’s grievances, in particular their arrears of pay, indemnity for conduct during the war and adequate pensions, all genuinely matters of life and death for the battle-worn soldiery. The presbyterian politicians wanted to eliminate the army as an obstacle to to their own plans for reinstating the king, while the army sought only to to avert its own destruction, secure its soldier’s rights, and prevent a partisan peace that would betray much that it thought it had fought for. The army also wanted the kind of religious establishment dear to Cromwell, one that respected the independence of congregational preference rather than one that surrendered to Presbyterian enforcement. Neither side was seeking drastic political change; they differed not as to whether the king should be restored but to his regal authority but over the constitutional terms upon which he should be allowed to resume it.
The Constitutional Crisis & the Four Countries:
This constitutional crisis was in origin very much an English crisis, through its outcome would have profound implications for both Scotland and Ireland. The Scots watched it with acute concern, and its progress would determine whether Argyll and the strict Covenanters continued to dominate the political arena or whether the threat to the king would shift the initiative to the Hamiltons and their party, who were prepared to come to his rescue on less stringent terms. For the Irish, the new breach in England postponed the nemesis that awaited the Confederates, but they were powerless to affect its outcome, more powerless than they had appeared towards the end of 1646. The factions among the Irish themselves largely neutralised the threat posed by an Irish catholic rebellion until a radically changed English government was ready to deal with it.
The peace treaty which Ormond, as the king’s Lord Lieutenant, had concluded with the delegates of the of the Confederates’ Supreme Council in March 1646 had been vehemently opposed by O’Neill, the clerical party and Rinuccini, who had engineered the establishment of a new Supreme Council dominated by his own faction. But the treaty had not yet come before a General Assembly, and, under pressure from the royalists within the Confederation, Rinuccini agreed that one should be called for January 1647, expressly to consider it. It was rejected on 2nd February, by which time the rifts in the Confederation were threatening it with dissolution. On the one hand were those who remained loyal to the crown, even in defeat, provided they could practice their faith openly, have access to office and entitlement to property. On the other there were those who wanted a total Catholic state, prepared to bid for independence under the protection of a foreign Catholic power, perhaps with their own king, perhaps O’Neill.
Following the repudiation of his treaty, Ormond felt justified in applying for redress to Westminster. He offered to surrender his office of Lord Lieutenant to parliament, which now realised that it must take full responsibility for England’s interests in Ireland and sent over a force of two thousand men under Colonel Michael Jones. They landed in Dublin in June; Ormond handed over his command to Jones and signed a treaty with the parliamentary commissioners. By the terms of this, all protestants were to be secured in their estates, loyal catholics were to be favourably treated, and all noblemen, gentlemen and officers who wished to leave Ireland with him were free to do so. He sought an interview with the king at Hampton Court as soon as he arrived back in London, and recieved full royal approval for his conduct in Ireland. Nevertheless, his capitulation divided his Old English adherents, some of them joining the army of Leinster which set out again to lay siege to Dublin. But Colonel Jones stood in his way, holding a good position on Dungan’s Hill near Trim. The Confederates could not supply the Leinster men during a protracted campaign, so they attacked on 8th August. Jones’s men were no raw recruits, and only lately disbanded from the parliamentary army, so the Irish troops were utterly routed, leaving Leinster so vulnerable that O’Neill’s dreaded Ulstermen had to be brought in to help protect the province. This led to a further worsening of relations between the Old English moderates and the ultra-Catholic militants. A full-scale civil war had broken out between the protestants in the south and the Confederates, with the former, led by Murrough O’Brien, taking one castle after another throughout the summer.
So it can be seen that by June 1647, neither party had much to fear in the short term from enemies, real or potential, in any of the four nations or from overseas, especially after Michael Jones’s important victory at Dungan’s Hill. The Commons, however, were so alarmed by the army’s defiance and its seizure of the king that they sat all through the night of 3-4 June, while the regiments were converging on Kentford Heath, and at two in the morning they voted their Declaration of Dislike out of their Journal. Later in the day a Humble Representation of the Dissatisfactions of the Army was read to each regiment at the rendezvous, signed by most of their officers and men. Much of it was couched in the now familiar language of the agitators, voicing familiar grievances. It demonstrated the failure of the army’s opponents in parliament to drive a wedge between officers and men, or between horse and foot. Fairfax was determined to keep defiance to a minimum and to maintain military discipline. In an exhausting day, he addressed each regiment in turn, urging it to show moderation and to respect the civil authority. The cheers that greeted Fairfax everywhere showed what a hero he still was to his men and how much they appreciated his sympathy and support, but he was not really a political figure, and now that the army was assuming so political a role it would need a different talent from his to guide it along constructive courses.
The Army’s Demands articulated:
Much of the initiative in this field was assumed during the next two years by Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton, the Commissary-General (pictured above). He was almost certainly the author of The Solemn Engagement of the Army, which was read to all the regiments on the second day of the rendezvous and assented to by them. It immediately gained the status of a covenant by the army. All its signatories engaged with each other, and with the parliament and kingdom, to disband cheerfully or to remain in service, as parliament should require, but only when they were given satisfaction for their stated grievances and when they received security that when disbanded neither they nor ‘other freeborn people of England’ would remain subject to oppression and injury through the countenance in power of men who had abused parliament in its past proceedings against the army. This was tantamount to a demand for a purge of the presbyterian leadership. The redress and security thus requested was expected to meet with the satisfaction of a startingly new body which came to be called the General Council of the Army, to include not only the senior commanders who normally attended the general council of war, but two officers and two ordinary soldiers from each regiment. This General Council was not to meet until mid-July, but until it was satisfied that the Solemn Engagement declaration that ‘we shall not willingly disband nor divide’, nor suffer ourselves to be disbanded or divided’ was fully accepted.
By June 1647, and since its formation, the New Model had lost thirty-three officers at or above company commander level to death in battle or by disease, another twenty-five who had resigned earlier in the Naseby campaign, so the turnover in senior officers amounted to fifty-seven per cent by the end of that month. The greater majority of those who died or departed were replaced by promoting men already within the army, very often of humbler origin, like John Hewson (pictured above) within Pickering’s regiment, which, following Pickering’s death, now became Hewson’s; he had been a humble cobbler before the war. Others of modest birth who rose to command in the New Model Army were Harrison, Pride, Okey, Goffe and Tomlinson, and they also achieved a new prominence in the politics of the army. The social level of the officer corps was thus lowered considerably, though around half of those in more senior ranks would probably still have styled themselves as gentlemen.
The remainder of the summer of 1647 saw a highly politicised army preparing to impose religious liberty at the point of the sword. As if that were not paradoxical enough, the men they hated, the parliamentary Presbyterians, were defending the right of the elected representatives of the nation to impose a Calvinist Church on England by virtue of of their votes. When, at the end of July, a vast and heavily armed demonstration forced both houses of parliament to support the Holles Presbyterian line, bloodshed seemed inevitable. MPs and peers on the losing side, including the Earl of Manchester, although himself a political presbyterian, escaped London to Fairfax’s camp. The Lord General began a slow advance on London from Newmarket in the second week of June, to the general consternation to those at Westminster and in the City. The guards were doubled and the portcullises were lowered. On 10 June Fairfax sent an assurance that the army sought ‘no alteration to the civil government’. He paused and set up camp at St. Albans, little more than twenty miles north of London. There he and his council approved a document called A Declaration from Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Army, which purported to be a vindication clearing the New Model from all the scandals that had been cast upon it. Through it, the army staked a claim to speak and act for the whole kingdom, proudly asserting that…
… we were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of state, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of parliament to the defence of our own and the people’s just rights and liberties.
The army made it clear that it had no desire to ‘overthrow the Presbytery’ or to set up Independency as a national religion; it asked only that those who dissented from the established forms should suffer no persecution or civil disabilities. The situation remained very tense through most of June, with the agitators continuing to hold their own unauthorised meetings, and a number of officers working hand in glove with them. They kept pressing for a march on London in order to enforce the impeachment of the eleven impeached MPs, which the House was resisting. Fairfax did advance his command post to Uxbridge, only fifteen miles from Westminster, and stationed some of his troops even closer, in defiance of an order frm the Commons not to bring the army within forty miles. In response, the Lord Mayor called the Trained Bands to arms, but most of the common citizens showed a sensible reluctance to engage in heroics against the veterans of Fairfax and Cromwell. On 15 June, both Houses voted to bring the king to Westminster, but this was an empty gesture since Charles was firmly in the army’s keeping and relatively content with his new captors who treated him with civility, allowing him to entertain his friends and receive the respects of the East Anglian gentry. After his long summer sojourn in Newmarket, he was moved in stages to Hampton Court. Meanwhile, Fairfax took pains to respond positively to parliament’s conciliatory gesture by withdrawing his headquarters back to Reading. It was there, on 16th July, that the first General Council of the army took place. But Cromwell and Ireton urged strongly against the use of force to free John Lilburne and the other Leveller prisoners, finally persuading the agitators to drop their pressure for an immediate march. In return, the General Council agreed to put their other main points before parliament, especially that concerning the restoration of the City’s old militia officers and the liberation of the Leveller prisoners.
On the second day of the debates at Reading Ireton read out the the the draft of a comprehensive scheme for the settlement of the kingdom which soon became known as its Heads of the Proposals. The hope of Ireton and the rest of the generals was that they could, when perfected, be put to both king and parliament as the desires of the whole army, and provide a way out of the impasse that had existed since the Propositions of Newcastle had been presented a year or more earlier. Until recently, Ireton has always been regarded as their author, and there is still little argument that in their conception and formulation they were essentially his work. But there is also evidence that they were put together in close consultation with a group of leading independents from both Houses including Saye, Wharton, Nothumberland, Vane, St John, and Saye’s son Nathaniel Fiennes. For about ten days before the Reading debates, messages had been passing between this group and Cromwell and Ireton, and from the end of June, Wharton was a parliamentary commissioner at army headquarters. This was not, therefore, an attempt by the army to promulgate peace over the heads of parliament, but a collaboration between leading independent parliamentarians and the army generals to stand together against the presbyterian ‘party’.
The King’s Last Chance:
In addition, the queen had sent over from France the exiled former royalist commander in Devon, Sir John Berkeley, with specific directions to promote an agreement between the great officers and the king. Berkeley reached Reading on 12th July and soon established a good rapport with Cromwell and Ireton, who were clear about their hopes for a peace that would be more acceptable to both the king and the kingdom than what had been offered so far. Berkeley soon gained the impression that the whole army, agitators included, were yearning to come to terms with Charles. The king himself, however, was delighted to play off the political Presbyterians against the Independents in the army, especially when it turned out that that the Army’s terms were a lot more palatable for him than the official ones currently on the table from parliament. The king, however, would not accept Berkeley’s reading of the situation, saying that he distrusted the chief officers because they had asked him for no personal favours as rewards, providing historians with clear evidence that he had never been serious about securing an agreement.
Nevertheless, the great difference between the scheme put forward by the independents and the army, and the Newcastle Proposals of the presbyterians was that while the latter were mainly preoccupied with the disposal of power, the Heads of the Proposals were much more concerned with genuine reform and with healing old emnities. For instance, they proposed that parliaments should be elected biennially and should sit for no more than 240 days during the two years. It was regard to religion, however, that Ireton’s preferred terms differed most refreshingly from those of parliament. The use of the Book of Common Prayer was to be permitted but not imposed, and there should be no penalties for not attending the parish church, or for attending other meetings for worship. Bishops could still be appointed, though without coercive power or jurisdiction. No one was to be forced to take the covenant. The whole parliamentary settlement of church government and worship was passed over in silence. Nothing so tolerant was to come before the two Houses again for more than another forty years in England and Wales.
The prospects looked good for a peace on terms that the king could in honour accept, and would have left Anglicans, Presbyterians, Independents and Separatists free to worship according to their consciences. The proposals were reported to parliament on 20th July and taken into debate immediately by the Lords, where the Saye-Northumberland group dominated the dozen or so peers still in attendance. On the same day the eleven impeached members, sensing that the game was up, requested and obtained the Commons’ leave to go into exile, and withdrew. Within the next two days, parliament restored control of City’s trained bands to the old Militia Committee, ordered the disbandment of the regiments it had detached from the New Model, and passed the desired declaration against the introduction of any foreign into the kingdom. This apparent surrender of the army, however, triggered a violent rection from those in London who saw it as their prime enemy, especially the City presbyterians and the ‘reformadoes’. Many of the latter had lost their military employment when the New Model was created, and not a few had fought for the king. On the 21st, large numbers of militiamen, reformadoes, apprentice watermen, and others gathered in Skinners’ Hall to sign a Solemn Engagement, pledging their utmost efforts to bring the king to Westminster, in order to restore him on their terms that he himself had offered.
Next evening two or three thousand reformadoes demonstrated in St James’ Field, clamouring for the City to join them in pressuring parliament to bring the king back to his capital. The Common Council was divided, but the Commons’ vote to reinstate the old City Militia Committee temporarily reunited it. It welcomed two mass petitions urging it not to yield control over its trained bands, and on the 26th it processed as a body to Westminster to present them to parliament. An angry crowd of citizens followed the City fathers, with apprentices noisily prominent, and it was bent on no mere peaceful demonstration. It forced its way into the Commons’ chamber, abusing and insulting the members until they not only confirmed the Lords’ votes but passed a resolution inviting the king to London. While under this intimidation they sent urgently to the Lord Mayor for some trained bands to protect them and restore order, but he ignored their request. Once free of the mob the Speakers of both Houses, with eight peers and fifty-seven MPs, left Westminster and took refuge with the army. The futility of this attempt at counter-revolution was soon exposed, because it met with virtually no response outside London, which itself quickly discovered that it had no defence.
In any case, London also had large numbers of Independents and Seperatists who took heart from the army’s championship of freedom of conscience, and while many apprentices, fired with civic patriotism, had rioted on 26th July, many others were drawn to Leveller movement and saw the army agitators as a means of promoting its aims. Moreover, London was home to many of the officers and men of the New Model, and the populous suburbs of Southwark and Tower Hamlets were resistant to to the City government’s attempts to extend its authority over them, and were ready to welcome the army as its liberator. Fairfax had authority as well as power on his side when he announced on the 28th that, at the request of both Speakers of Parliament and the fugitive peers and members the army would shortly march into the capital to restore it to its freedom.
The king wrote to Fairfax and Cromwell offering to treat on the basis of the Heads of the Proposals, which had been shown to him a few days earlier. Before he set off to Woburn, Cromwell authorised Ireton, Rainborough, Hammond and Rich to visit the king and bring him to agreement if they could. But Charles failed to appreciate that he was being offered a fleeting opportunity. If he had grasped it, by pledging himself there and then to accept the Heads of the Proposals, Fairfax would have escorted not only the Speakers and the independent parliamentarians back to London, but also the king himself. But Charles did not assent to the Proposals. Deeply disappointed, Cromwell and Ireton asked him urgently to write ‘a kind letter to the army’, giving it his blessing in restoring order to London and disowning the actions of the mob. When he eventually produced this, it was not very supportive and he delayed it until it was quite clear that resistance in the capital was collapsing; indeed, the City formally submitted before the letter appeared in print. In one crucial week he threw away not only his best chance of regaining the throne but the goodwill of a great part of the army.
Fairfax had already made it clear that if the city did not open its gates he would blow them open. But he did not hasten it, for he wanted no bloodshed. He drew up his forces on Hounslow Heath on 3rd August, a line stretching for a mile and a half, and escorted the two Speakers, fourteen peers and about a hundred MPs in a review of them. Not a shot was fired or a sword drawn when his regiments encircled the City next day, and when he escorted the returning to the Palace of Westminster on the 5th his men wore laurel leaves in their hats and the church bells pealed. The New Model Army was peacefully admitted. London, and therefore England, was now under military control. To complete the triumph, all twenty regiments paraded in Hyde Park on the 7th before marching to Cheapside with colours flying. They then moved through all the streets of the old City, where they were greeted enthusiastically. The people were impressed by their orderliness which was contrasted to the recent behaviour of the reformadoes. But the army still faced difficult relations with parliament and growing dissention in its own ranks. Saye and most of the other active peers were friendly, but although five of the eleven impeached MPs had gone into exile during August the co-operation of the Commons was much less certain. It took concerted pressure from Cromwell and Ireton to get it to deal with the disorder that had occured in and since the July tumults. In mid-August, Fairfax set up his headquarters at Kingston, so while the military presence remained close, apart from one regiment temporarily guarding the Tower he quartered his troops well outside the capital.
But, from here, Fairfax was having difficulty in holding the army’s discordant elements together. At the only meeting of its General Council during August, at Kingston on the 18th, a carefully worded Remonstrance was approved, and was subsequently read at the head of each regiment. It declared that we shall rejoice as much as any to see the king brought back to his parliament … on such sound terms as may render the the kingdom safe, quiet and happy. It asked parliament to take the Heads of the Proposals into speedy consideration, and to exclude all the the members who had sat on during the recent absence of the Speakers, until they had expressly disavowed the votes that had been passed under pressure from the mob. The Lords immediately approved the Remonstrance, but the Commons ignored the main requests of the army. This incensed the growing number of agitators, who were clamouring with for the total expulsion of those members who had sat on in Lenthall’s absence. Since over a hundred MPs had done so on one day or another, that would probably have united the parliament and most of the public against the army and wrecked its leaders’ plans for a settlement.
Fairfax moved his headquarters to Putney early in September, and there he instituted regular weekly meetings of the General Council, on Thursdays in the parish church. The Heads of the Proposals were further debated in three consecutive sessions; that on the 9th specifically considered the rights of the king and his heirs. Fairfax’s own senior officer of foot, Major Francis White, a committed Leveller, spoke against restoring him on any such terms as those proposed, declaring that there was now no visible authority in the kingdom other than the power of the sword. He was promptly expelled from the Council, his commander publicly reaffirming that the army upheld the fundamental authority and government of the kingdom. During the autumn, the king himself encouraged by this dissention within the Parliamentary cause, further prevaricating and then re-opening negotiations with the Scots in November.
Levellers, Lords and Generals:
Meanwhile, the Levellers were stepping up their efforts to influence and infiltrate the agitators and the soldiery in general, and with the active support or sympathy of a number of officers, including some on the General Council, including the Rainborough brothers, Major William and Colonel Thomas. The army being so close to London, it recruited to vacancies in its ranks during the late summer and autumn, and a number of Levellers enlisted with the purpose of spreading the word in it. The Leveller leaders were thoroughly disillusioned by now with the present parliament, and bent on an altogether radical programme of reform than the Heads of the Proposals offered. John Lilburne bore a grudge against Cromwell for not securing his release from the Tower, but now that a sympathetic colonel was in charge, he was allowed to go about London by day almost as he pleased. He also blamed the independent leaders of the Lords, Saye and Wharton, for his imprisonment and viewed their close rapport with the army leaders with suspicion and resentment. Early in September he asked to see Cromwell, who readily visited him and urged him in as cordial way as he could to drop his attacks on parliament. If he would just be patient, Cromwell promised, he would receive satisfaction for the wrongs he had suffered and gain honourable employment in the army. Lilburne, however, would not promise to keep quiet, demanding instead a public vindication and reparations.
True to his word, soon after meeting Cromwell, ‘honest John’ wrote and published an open letter to the army in which he urged its soldiery to trust your your great officers at the general’s quarters no further than you can throw an ox. For by their cunning, he wrote, they had most unjustly stolen the power from your honest general, and your too flexible agitators. Ireton was the Levellers béte noire; they held him responsible for perverting Cromwell, claiming that he had, through the General Council, turned the army into a corporation independent of the state. During September and most of October the General Council strived to contain the discontent in the army’s ranks and to provide a forum for its material grievances, though from the news that leaked out from its debates it seems that the agitators were showing increasing opposition to the seniors officers’ dealings with the king. In the Commons on 22nd September, Marten and Colonel Rainsborough moved that no further addresses should be made to him, but Cromwell, Ireton, Vane, St John, and Nathaniel Fiennes strongly opposed them, and the motion was defeated by eighty-four votes to thirty-four. In practical terms, the army had more to lose than to gain by quarrelling with parliament, which in the course of September approved a new establishment for the home forces under Fairfax’s command. They were to total 26,400, which was an advance of over twenty thousand on what parliament had proposed only six months earlier. In October the soldiers even got an extra month’s pay. For all their professions, the Levellers were dubious friends to the army. When they came to publish their comprehensive plan for a democratic commonwealth it found no place for a standing army at all.
Lilburne and his associates were so disappointed with the performance of the existing agitators that towards the end of September they set about engineering the emergence of new ones. These appeared in five cavalry regiments, to which Fairfax’s horse should probably be added since Edward Sexby was its senior agitator. For more than a month they spread no further, and it is not clear whether they were actually elected by the men they claimed to represent. In some regiments they received some form of assent, but they did not displace the original agitators or gain a place on the General Council. They were commonly referred to as ‘the agents of the five regiments’ and they met regularly in London, daily in the early stages. They were essentially propagandists for the Leveller movement, organised mainly by John Wildman, a man of radical temperament and gentry background who had some knowledge of the law. They were probably acting already as a caucus before they sought any mandate from their fellow soldiers. Their publication of a paper entitled The Case of the Army Truly Stated threatened to give a revolutionary turn to national politics. It was signed by all five of them and presented to Fairfax by two of them on 18th October. Its main author was probably Wildman, with passages added by Sexby and the others. It repeated their earlier claim that, since the meeting at Newmarket in June, the the senior offices had been perverting the whole intention of the Solemn Engagement. The ‘London agents’ also claimed that the officers were proposing to restore the king’s veto, and were allowing his ‘evil counsellors’ free access to him, even though this had already been stopped some days earlier.
Fairfax (pictured above, c. 1650, by an unknown artist), no doubt exasperated and exhausted by the Levellers and sensing the danger of the document produced by them, put it in front of the General Council on 21st October. The day before, Cromwell had delivered a very long speech in the Commons, totally disassociating himself and Fairfax from the the proposals in The Case of the Army and reaffirming their commitment to the historic monarchy and to the restoration of the king. The General Council gave the manifesto a cool reception, not relishing the allegations that they had been the generals’ ‘poodle’. The regular agitators of the five regiments for which it purported to speak repudiated it. Probably because of the presence of the signatures of Sexby, Lockyer and Allen on the document, the committee appointed to investigate its authorship took a softer line and sent these three to the agents’ meeting with a cordial invitation to send representatives to explain their positions to the next General Council.
Re-enter the Scots & the English take the ‘Road’ to Revolution:
But it was not a time for the army to weaken itself by internal dissension. In Scotland (see the map below), the convention of estates had just voted to keep its army in the field until at least March 1648, and Hamilton’s party was now in almost even balance with Argyll’s. Hamilton’s brother Lanark travelled south to see the king: they visited him at Hampton Court on 22nd October and raised his hopes of getting armed support from Scotland without having to accept the Covenant himself. Two days later, they even urged him to escape with them, then and there. He was not ready for that, but the option made him less responsive to any propositions that either the parliament or the army might have to offer. In the Commons, it was getting harder for Cromwell and the ‘royal’ independents to keep their peace process afloat in face of of the growing minority who already regarded Charles as unfit to treat with.
Such was the background to the most famous extra-parliamentary debates in British history, those held at Putney from late October into early November. With the first civil war over, but the question of its monarchy and constitution unresolved, Britain was entering a revolutionary phase in the winter of 1646-47.
(to be continued…)
Austin Woolrych (2004), Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Glenn Foard (1994), Colonel John Pickering’s Regiment of Foot, 1644-45. Whitstable: Pryor Publications.
Simon Schama (2001), A History of Britain: The British Wars, 1603-1776. London: BBC Worldwide.