The angry historians see one side of the question. The calm historians see nothing at all, not even the question itself. — G. K. Chesterton

Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross




The Triumph of the Ironsides

During the first few months of 1643 Cromwell was working for the realization of his dream. He was wise in his selection of men; character was the test. He was, as we know, a Puritan, but that name covered as many different varieties of faith as the word Dissenter does to-day. There were many sects—Cromwell himself was an Independent—but he was tolerant to all within the Puritan fold. Other leaders were less broad-minded, and when. Major-General Crawford dismissed one of his captains for being an Anabaptist, Cromwell wrote to him in indignation:

"The State in choosing men to serve it takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing faithfully to serve it, that satisfies." He was also convinced that, though good birth was not without its advantages, other considerations were far more important. "I had rather," he declared, "have a plain russet-coated captain, that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call 'a gentleman,' and is nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed. . . . It may be it provokes some spirits to see such plain men made captains of horse. It had been well that men of honour and birth had entered into these employments but why do they not appear? But seeing it was necessary the work must go on, better plain men than none."

At the opening of the Civil War certain counties had banded together and pooled their resources for mutual defense. Thus Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge, Hertfordshire, and later on Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire, formed one group—the most famous of all—known as the Eastern Association, with Cambridge as its headquarters and Cromwell as the leading spirit.

From these counties he recruited 'a lovely company '—in all ten troops of soldiers, who were later to earn by their intrepidity in the field the honourable title of Ironsides. 'the discipline was strict; no plunder was allowed, swearing was punished by a fine of twelve pence, and drunkenness by the stocks.

In four months this trained band was ready for active service, with their leader, now Colonel Cromwell, in supreme command for the first time. He was reinforced by other soldiers inferior in character and training. He had been ordered to relieve Lincolnshire, for Newark on the borders was a Royalist stronghold, and a Parliamentary force .was besieged in Gainsborough. His ultimate object was to go North and join Lord Fairfax, who was holding his own ag. 'ngt the Earl of Newcastle with head-quarters at Hull.

Cromwell encountered the Royalist contingent at Grantham, near Newark, and he gave a good account of himself in the skirmish that ensued. It was the first of a long series of successes, and he wrote of the victory with gratitude and pride:

"It was late in the evening when we drew out: they came and faced us within two miles of the town. So soon as we had the alarm, we drew out our forces, consisting of about twelve troops—whereof some of them so poor and broken [not these of Cromwell's 'lovely company'] that you shall seldom see worse: with this handful it pleased God to cast the scale. For after we had stood a little, above musket-shot the one body from the other; and the dragooners had fired on both sides, . . . we came on with our troops a pretty round trot; they standing firm to receive us: and our men charging freely upon them, by God's providence they were immediately routed, and ran all away, and we had the execution of them two or three miles."

He now pressed on to Gainsborough, and on his way thither captured Burleigh House. It was a fifty-mile march, and when he reached the outskirts of the town he found that the Royalist forces under Cavendish occupied a strong position on a hill. His men pressed gallantly up the steep slope: "When we all recovered the top of the hill, we saw a great body of the enemy's horse facing us, at about a musket-shot or less distance; and a good reserve of a full regiment of horse behind it. We endeavoured to put our men into as good order as we could. The enemy in the meantime advanced toward us, to take us at disadvantage; but in such order as we were we charged their great body, I having the right wing; we came up horse to horse; where we disputed it with our swords and pistols a pretty time; all keeping close order, so that one could not break the other." The Royalist force was completely routed, Cavendish was killed, and Gainsborough was relieved to be taken and retaken again in the course of the war.

But a new peril was awaiting Cromwell's regiment, for Newcastle, with the main, body of the Northern Royalist army, was in the neighborhood. To risk an encounter would have been madness, for defeat would have left the way to London open to the victors. With consummate skill he managed to draw off his men. Three days later he was at Huntingdon making urgent appeals for troops to stay the march of Newcastle's army. In August he wrote to the Commissioners at Cambridge: "Raise all your bands; send them to Huntingdon; get up what volunteers you can; hasten your horses." And in another letter a day or two later he appealed for pay for his troops who were in dire need: "Gentlemen, make them able to live and subsist that are willing to spend their blood for you."

The House of Commons ordered that the force should be raised to 10,000 men; Manchester was appointed Commander of the Eastern Association and Cromwell Sergeant-Major of the Associated Counties.

In spite of Cromwell's successes, things were looking black for the Parliamentary cause. The Royalists were triumphing in many parts of the country. Gainsborough was recaptured and the whole of Lincolnshire except Boston fell into their hands. Bristol, the key to the West, had been captured by Prince Rupert; Dorchester had surrendered, and practically the whole county of Dorset was in the hands of the Royalists. Cromwell's work, however, did not lie in the South, and here Parliament appointed Sir William Waller to direct operations.

Cromwell joined Manchester and then set out to recapture Lincolnshire. They came upon a Royalist force at Winceby on October 11, 1643, and Cromwell, leading the van, fell with brave resolution upon the enemy. His horse was killed under him, but he sprang to his feet

only to be knocked down by a Cavalier. It was but for an instant. He was up again, seized a trooper's horse, remounted, and was in the thick of the fight, leading his men to victory. This brought Lincolnshire once more within the Parliamentary fold, and Lord Fairfax's triumph over Newcastle outside Hull greatly strengthened the position.

Both the King and Parliament considered it wise to seek other alliances and not to rely on England alone. Charles looked to Catholic Ireland and sent an appeal to Lord Ormond for troops; several regiments were sent over. Parliament looked to Protestant Scotland, and the northern kingdom, as a price for her aid, demanded the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant by the English people. The terms were accepted and in St Margaret's Church in Westminster members of both Houses fore-gathered, and swore with uplifted hands to extirpate "popery, prelacy, superstition, schism, and profaneness." This was the last work of the fine leader John Pym—'King Pym,' as he was nicknamed by the Royalists. Ere the year closed his career was over.

The same year, 1643, marked the end of two other men, widely differing in point of view but alike in the purity of their motives. John Hampden, whose name is written in letters of gold in the annals of England, received his death-wound in a skirmish with Prince Rupert at Chalgrove Field. Lesser than he, and yet a man of great parts, Viscount Falkland, recklessly exposing himself in battle, fell fighting for the King at Newbury. Historians on both sides paid ungrudging tribute to his noble generous nature. He was able to see the good in friend as well as in foe, and his craving was for peace. He was "one of that rare band of the sons of time who find the world too vexed and rough a scene for them, but to whom history will never grudge her tenderest memories."

The early days of January 1644 were to mark the last stage of Archbishop Laud's earthly pilgrimage. He was sentenced to death by Lords and Commons and left the Tower for the scaffold. The King's heart may well have failed him on that winter day when Laud's grey hairs had not saved him from sharing Strafford's fate.

The New Year had opened well for Parliament and badly for the King, whose forces met with defeat at Nantwich and Cheriton. An army of 20,000 Scottish troops under Leslie crossed the border and marched to Durham. Newcastle, unable to bar their progress, shut himself up in York and was closely besieged by Leslie and the Fairfaxes.

Cromwell was in .London at this time and received further proofs of the trust that Parliament reposed in him by being appointed a member of the Committee of Both Kingdoms and raised to the rank of Lieutenant-General, under Manchester. In truth, if not in name, Cromwell had become the leader.

The Solemn League and Covenant was now to be generally signed, and Cromwell went down to Cambridge to force it upon the people. The rough, harsh, overbearing side of his nature was brought out by this task. That aspect of Puritanism which all lovers of beauty must ever deplore became prominent. The Puritans, in their zeal against all that savoured of Romanism, wantonly damaged beautiful churches, destroyed noble monuments to the honored dead, broke ancient stained-glass windows, and stabled their horses in cathedrals. It was an irreparable loss for all time that even their undoubted sincerity could not excuse.

We call to mind one scene in which Cromwell himself played the lead. The incumbent of Ely Cathedral, the Rev Mr. Hitch, was commanded by him in a letter to "forbear altogether your choir service, so unedifying and offensive." Mr. Hitch disobeyed and continued his ministrations as before. Cromwell then appeared in person in the cathedral, and without the formality of removing his hat marched up the aisle attended by a rabble, and in loud, strident tones informed the congregation: "I am a man under authority, and am commanded to dismiss this assembly." Then, turning to the clergyman who continued the service, he insolently bade him: "Leave off your fooling and come down, Sir." Mr. Hitch was obliged to comply, but the honour and dignity remained on his side.

Cromwell had more important work to do in the course of the year than to bully the episcopalian clergy and acquiesce in the mutilation of sacred 'buildings. England must be won or lost for Parliament before the country could hope for peace. Up to the present no decisive blow had been struck. He rejoined Manchester and Fairfax in the North.

In. June Prince Rupert was on the march northward to the relief of Newcastle and his 6000 men shut up in York. When the Parliamentary generals received news of his intention they raised the siege, with the intention of stopping his march. But he outwitted them, crossing by the opposite bank of the river to the one they expected and entered the town. Instead of remaining there, as would have been wise, he marched southward to attack the Parliamentary forces. The two armies met at Marston Moor, July 2, 1644. The troops on both sides, separated by a ditch, were drawn up in battle array, with infantry in, the centre, cavalry on the right and left wings. Cromwell commanded on the left with David Leslie under him and was opposed to Prince Rupert's right. The Ironsides stood to arms in the long corn through the gloomy wet afternoon, raising their voices in battle-psalms of prayer and praise. The evening shadows were creeping over the land and the Cavalier leaders, not expecting an attack that day, had retired to rest, when they were hastily summoned by the news that a movement .was taking place in the opposite camp. "God with us!" was roared from thousands of Roundhead throats; "God and the King!" shouted the Cavaliers.

At seven in the evening the battle began. Cromwell, backed by David Leslie, dashed across the ditch to engage Rupert's cavalry. He was slightly wounded, but "A miss is as good as a mile," he cried unheeding. The Ironsides immediately rallied from a temporary check, and, came into hand-to-hand conflict with the enemy. They hacked them with their swords, and, breaking through at last, scattered them like 'a little dust.' So far all was well and Cromwell took a hurried survey of the battle-field. Fairfax was in sore plight, wounded, and with the greater part of his right wing defeated and in flight. The main struggle was now in the centre, where the Scottish infantry were being attacked in front and rear. Some fled before the terrible onslaught, but the majority stood their ground. Cromwell, by one of those master-strokes which reveal the born commander, swept across the moor at the head of his men, came to their aid at the right moment of time, and snatched victory out of defeat. The Royalists had fought a stubborn fight but the day was lost, and the flying soldiers were pursued in the bright July moonlight to within three miles of York.

Cromwell won golden opinions for his share of the victory, but in a letter which he wrote a day or two afterward he neglected to pay a generous tribute to the valour of the Scots, who had so large a .share in the honors of the day. In a letter to Colonel Valentine Walton he says: "We never charged but we routed the enemy. The left wing which I commanded being our own horse, saving a few Scots in our rear beat all the Prince's horse. God made them as stubble to our swords." On the blood-soaked, trampled corn over four thousand lay dead, among them Walton's young son. . Cromwell could well understand the bitterness of such a blow, for the Civil War had taken toll of his family and his son Oliver had fallen in a skirmish. Very touching are the words of sympathy in which he tells the father of his loss: "God hath taken away your eldest son by a cannon shot . . . you know my own trials this way: but the Lord supported me with this, that the Lord took him into the happiness we all pant for and live for.. There is your precious child full of glory, never to know sin or sorrow any more. He was a gallant young man exceedingly gracious."

A few weeks after the Royalist cause had received this crushing defeat the surrender of York placed the North of England beyond the Humber in the hands of the Parliament.