Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

Civil War

The day after the King's departure the five members returned in triumph, and the House set to work at once to inquire into the 'state of the kingdom.' The next few months were occupied with fruitless negotiations between King and Parliament. The King was swayed by a double policy that of the Queen, who advocated resort to arms, and that of the far shrewder Hyde, who saw that the Commons, no less than the King, were bound by law. Hence, he advised his royal master to accede in all demands made upon him that were sanctioned by law, and to refuse, if convenient, every claim that was contrary to 'the known laws of the land.' This policy won him many adherents among people of moderate views, since it made him, and net the Commons, the advocate of the "ancient, equal, happy, well-poised, and never enough commended constitution."

But it did not stave .off war. The King, though vacillating in judgment, was at times trenchant in his replies to demands that were infringements of his royal prerogative. "By God, not for an hour! You have asked that of me in this was never asked of a king, and with which I will not trust my wife and children"—so he answered when asked to surrender the control of the Militia.

The Queen, as we have seen, went abroad to seek foreign alliances. As a safe landing-place for foreign troops Charles decided to obtain possession of Hull. When on April 23, 1642, he approached the town with a company of three hundred horsemen, an unwonted sight met his eyes—the drawbridge was up, and the governor, Sir John Hotham, stood on the wall and refused him admittance. These was nothing for it but to brand him as a traitor and ride away. This act of defiance was the actual beginning of hostilities. For the next few months both sides were making active preparations for war, and Cromwell was one of the most assiduous in its organization. On July 15 he obtained the permission of Parliament to allow the townsmen of Cambridge to raise two companies of volunteers, and he sent down arms for the defense of the town. On August 15 he was on the spot himself, seized the castle, and prevented the University plate, worth some 0,000, from being carried off.

A little over a month later, on August QQ, Charles raised the royal standard on the castle rock at Nottingham. As it blew free over the motley crowd of soldiers, courtiers, and onlookers, cheers rent the air for the Royalist cause. "God save King Charles and hang up the Roundheads!" cried the spectators. (Roundheads was the nickname bestowed on the close-cropped Puritans, who started the present fashion for men of wearing the hair short.) But the hearts of the crowd were heavy within them. The beat of drum and the blare of trumpet did not drown their inward misgiving. Rain drenched the royal banner as if the cause were bathed in tears, storm wrenched it from its bearings, and it fell to the ground. "An ill omen!" whispered one to another. The elders among them recalled that day some sixteen years before when the King had been crowned. Had he not worn white, the emblem of innocence, rather than the royal purple? Had not the preacher appointed for the occasion chosen for his text, "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life"?—an inauspicious message for one who stood on the threshold, not of a new life, but of a new reign!

The more strenuous of the King's followers soon put aside these forebodings. All must be ready for active service. His two nephews, Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice, both held high command; the former, a gallant young man of two and twenty, was appointed general of the horse. Some ten thousand men had flocked to the royal banner.

The Parliamentary army, under the Earl of Essex, Commander of the Forces, had chosen Northampton as the rallying-point. Hither came, about 14,000 men, and 6000 more were reckoned among their numbers, thus making their available force double that of the King's. But at the outset at least the Royalists had the superiority in discipline and experience, and to outward eye all the bravery and show were on their side. The gallant Cavaliers, the Lords and gentlemen who formed the King's Life-guards, wore plumed calques over their flowing locks, embroidered collars over their glittering cuirasses, gay scarves, golden swords, and belts. The Guards of the Earl of Essex wore buff leather coats and breeches—later the uniform of the whole Parliamentary army; Hampden's men were clad in green, and the London trained bands in scarlet.

Though, for our present purpose, we can think of England at this time only as in two different camps—Royalist and Roundhead—still, as a matter of fact, no small number of people sat on the fence to await events. In order to be on the safe side men would send one son to fight for the Parliament, another for the King. Some of the nobility, according to Clarendon, were entirely self-seeking: "Pembroke and Salisbury had rather the King and his posterity should be destroyed than that Wilton should be taken from one and Hatfield the other." Houses were divided and brother fought against brother, father against son.. And though the name of Cromwell was destined for ever to be associated with this great upheaval, the head of his house, Sir Oliver, and other of his kinsmen were ardent Royalists. Speaking generally, we may say that the flower of the nobility, the larger landowners, and a good proportion of wealthy tradesmen were for the Crown, while peers of lesser degree, the smaller gentry, and the bulk of the merchants and traders were for Parliament. This, and the geographical grouping—the North and West for the King, the Eastern and home counties and most of the manufacturing towns, including the City of London, for Parliament—is subject to modification, since many changed sides according to the fortune of war.

The Parliamentary party had the whip-hand in respect to the command of money. In spite of the heroic sacrifices of his followers, who melted down their plate and sold their jewels to fill his exchequer, the King still suffered from chronic lack of supplies.

Before turning our attention to the campaign it is as well to say a few words about the methods of warfare in the seventeenth century. The discovery of gunpowder some , three centuries before and the invention of firearms had revolutionized the art of war. Cap-a-pie armour had long disappeared from the battlefield, since, apart from its terrible weight, plate-armour was not proof against bullets. But, as we can see in portraits of the period, helmet and breastplate were still worn. Yet, since the firearms of those days were clumsy and difficult to load, too much reliance was not placed on the musketeers, and the pike-men had a full share of the work in a charge at close quarters. The foot-soldiers had to yield pride of place to the cavalry, armed with sword and pistol, for to them throughout the Civil War fell the largest share of the honors of victory.

Rupert at Edgehill


Charles's plan of campaign was to march on London, and Essex determined to intercept him on the road. The rival forces met at Edgehill in Warwickshire, where, on Sunday afternoon, October 23, the first battle was fought. Cromwell received his baptism of fire that day, and was honorably mentioned as having remained with his troop and fought to the finish. Indeed, his valor and that of other leaders of the Parliamentary army turned what might have been a Royalist victory into an indecisive encounter in which both parties claimed the honors. The practical advantages were, however, on the side of the King, who marched South, captured Banbury and reached Oxford, where, since London remained hostile, he fixed his head-quarters.

Cromwell had not missed the lesson of Edgehill. "Why was it that the Roundheads had not given a better account of themselves?" he asked. It was about this time that he had a conversation with Hampden that was to have momentous consequences, and in after years he himself spoke of that interview:

"I was a person who, from my first employment, was suddenly preferred and lifted up from lesser trusts to greater; from my first being a captain of a troop of horse. . . . I had a very worthy friend then; and he was a very noble person, and I know his memory is very grateful to all Mr. .John Hampden. At my first going out into this engagement, I saw our men were beaten at every hand. . . . 'Your troops,' said I, 'are most of them old decayed serving men, and tapsters, and such kind of fellows; and,' said I, 'their troops are gentlemen's sons, younger sons, and persons of quality: do you think that the spirits of such base mean fellows will ever be able to encounter gentlemen, that have honour and courage and resolution in them?' Truly did I represent to him in this manner conscientiously; and truly I did tell him: 'You . must get men of a spirit: and take it not ill what I say, I know you will not—of a spirit that is likely to go on as far as gentlemen will go: or else you will be beaten still.' I told him so; I did truly. He was a wise and worthy person; and he did think that I talked a good notion, but an impracticable one."

Cromwell's own training in military matters was almost wholly in practical experience, but some of his biographers assert that he availed himself of the instruction of Captain Dalbier, which stood him in good stead when he set to work to raise and to drill into efficient soldiers "such men as had the fear of God before them, as made some conscience of what they did men who are religious and godly."

The year 1642 wore to its close with no chance of settlement on either side, and the balance of advantage was on the side of the King. Early in January 1643, Cromwell was in the Eastern counties recruiting for the New Model Army.