Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross


The tide of the King's fortune was not yet at the ebb, for success in the South balanced disaster in the North. A victory at Cropredy Bridge in Oxfordshire (June 1644) had dispersed Waller's forces. In Cornwall a greater disaster had befallen the Parliamentary army under Essex. He had hoped to conquer that county but had miscalculated his chances. His army was penned between Lostwithiel and the sea, and, since it was hopeless to attack, he had fled to Plymouth, leaving his army to surrender. Parliament accepted. news of the disaster 'with Roman fortitude.' To Cromwell it was but an additional evidence of Essex's unfitness for supreme command. He had noticed, too, that Manchester was half-hearted in his attempts to effect a settlement by' arms. "We do with grief of heart," he writes to Colonel Walton, "resent the sad condition of our Army in the West, and of affairs there. . . . We have some among us slow in action: if we could all intend our own ends less, and our ease too, our business in this army would go on wheels for expedition!"

Cromwell was right. Manchester was weary of the struggle, and, worse still, he doubted his own cause. "If we beat the King ninety-and-nine times, yet he is King still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once we shall all be hanged and our posterity made slaves."

If these words were repeated to Charles they must have cheered him with the prospect of once more returning to his capital. He decided to march on London. For the second time in the Civil War, Newbury in Berkshire was the scene of an engagement. Here he met the Roundheads out to bar his progress, and an indecisive battle took place. The King retreated without loss and Manchester refused to ride in pursuit. Such indifference was but fuel to the flame of Cromwell's indignation with his chief. They had additional cause for quarrel in their religious differences, for Manchester was a leading Presbyterian and Cromwell was gradually becoming the representative Independent. He knew that if peace were to be restored to the distracted country complete success in arms was essential.

On November 25, 1644, he openly attacked Manchester in the House of Commons, bringing against him the black charge that he had always been indisposed and backward to engagements and the ending of the war by the sword, and always "for such a Peace as a thorough victory would be a disadvantage to." He accused him, too, of giving the enemy every advantage. Manchester defended himself in the House of Lords and replied by a counter-charge against Cromwell. It was reported that he had said "there would never be a good time in England till we had done with the Lords," and that he had expressed his contempt for the monarch by declaring that if he met him in battle he would as willingly fire at him as at any other man. Then, too, he had spoken disparagingly of the Scots, and the sensitive national pride had been wounded. The Scottish commissioners even proposed drastic measures of retaliation and held a meeting at Essex House to discuss the matter. "You ken vary weele," said their spokesman, "that Lieutenant-General Cromwell is no friend of ours, and since the advance of our army into England, he hath used all underhand and cunning means to take off from our honour and merit of this kingdom. . . . You ken vary weele the accord 'twixt the twa kingdoms, and the' union by the Solemn League and Covenant, and if any be an Incendiary between the twa nations how he is to be proceeded against." It was, however, decided to await further developments in Cromwell's career, since he was 'a gentleman of quick and subtle parts' and not without friends in both Houses.

Cromwell delivered a stirring speech in the House of Commons on December 9. "It is now time to speak," he said, "or forever hold the tongue. The important occasion now is no less than to save a nation, out of a bleeding nay almost dying condition: which the long continuance of the war hath already brought it into." He saw clearly that unless the war were speedily brought to an end people would hate the very name of Parliament and would enforce a dishonourable peace. What were they saying even now?"That the Members of both Houses have got great places and commands, and the sword into their hands; and, what by interest in Parliament, what by power in the Army, will perpetually continue themselves in grandeur, and not permit the war speedily to end, lest their own power should determine with it."

What was the remedy? A Self-Denying Ordinance by which the members of both Houses should resign all military command until the end of the war. This passed through the House of Commons but was unfavorably received by the Upper House, since from earliest times the lords had been leaders in warfare. A more drastic measure still was now proposed the entire reconstruction of the Army on the lines of Cromwell's Ironsides. The New Model Army was to consist of 22,000 men (14,400 foot and 7600 horse and dragoons); the soldiers were to receive regular pay and to be used in any part of the country where they were required. It had been found that troops raised for the purpose of protecting one county or group of counties could scarcely be induced to leave their own neighborhood. Sir Thomas Fairfax was placed in chief command, Skippon was appointed Major-General in place of Manchester, and the office of Lieutenant-General was left open for the time being.

Whether Cromwell expected to resign his commission or not is one of the secrets of history. One thing is certain he did not do it. The Self-Denying Ordinance was no sooner passed than he was summoned to action once more and granted leave of absence from Parliament for forty days. At the end of that time the limit was extended and Fairfax signified his desire to appoint Cromwell to the vacant command.

The New Model Army was to turn the tide in the affairs of the Roundheads. From this time onward the Army and not the Parliament was the leading spirit in the Revolution. Cromwell, with a body of 600 horse and dragoons, joined his chief at Guilsborough; drums were beaten and trumpets sounded as the army welcomed each contingent at the rendezvous. All was in readiness for an instant march, and the following day the army set out in pursuit of the King, who had left Oxford with 5000 cavalry and about the same number of foot soldiers. In the early morning of June 14, 1646, the Royalists discerned the Parliamentary army cresting the hills round Naseby. Hopes were high on both sides. and Cromwell was in the best of spirits. "When I saw the enemy draw up and march in gallant order toward us, and we a company of poor ignorant men, to seek how to order our battle—the General having commanded me to order all the horse—I could not, riding alone about my business, but smile out to God in praises, in assurance of victory, because God would, by things that are not, bring to naught things that are."

The chances were about equal. In numbers the Parliamentarians had the best of it, in experience the Royalists. The army was arranged in the same fashion as at Marston, with cavalry on each side and infantry in the centre. Skippon commanded the centre of the Parliamentary army, Ireton the left wing, and Cromwell the right. On the King's side Astley commanded the centre, with Rupert in charge of the left wing, and Langdale of the right. To the cry of "God our Strength!" Cromwell opened the battle by a successful charge and drove the enemy before him. Ireton's wing was broken by Rupert, and he himself was wounded and taken prisoner. Skippon was sore beset and severely wounded, and the Cavaliers were in a fair way to victory. But Cromwell repeated the tactics that had won him fame at Marston, and swooped round to attack the Royalist centre in front and rear.

They are here! They rush on! We are broken! We are gone!

Our left is borne before them like stubble on the blast.

O Lord put forth thy might. O Lord defend the right!

Stand back to back, in God's name, and fight it to the last.

Stout Skippon hath a wound; the centre hath given ground,

Hark! Hark! what means the trampling of horse.. men on our rear?

Whose banner do I see, boys? 'Tis he, thank God, 'tis he, boys!

Bear up another minute: brave Oliver is here!

Lord Macaulay, The Battle of Naseby.

The Cavaliers, though hard pressed on all sides, held on unflinchingly in face of sure defeat. The King, at the head of his Guards, commanded: "One charge more, gentlemen, and the day is ours!" But the charge was never given. "Would you go to your death?" asked an officer who led him from the field. The Cavaliers fled, pursued for fourteen miles by the victors. The spoils of war included, besides five thousand prisoners, the King's baggage and artillery, together with a haul of his private papers, which were to prove invaluable as evidence of his duplicity. He himself was a fugitive.

Naseby practically ended the first Civil War, though there was still work to do in the South in stamping out the Royalists and taking isolated strongholds. One of the most brilliant feats in Cromwell's military career was the taking of Basing House, fortified as a garrison for the King, and of great importance because it lay on the main road from London to the West. It had been besieged off and on during the last two years, but had withstood all attack until, four months after Naseby, Cromwell took it by storm in six days. The fine old fortress, some two or three hundred years old, was razed to the ground. Latham House, gallantly defended for over two years by the Countess of Derby, who valued her honour beyond her peace of mind, was now obliged to capitulate.

With the capture of Bristol the West was secured for Parliament. The daring, headstrong, impetuous Rupert, the most brilliant officer on the King's side, fought for him no more—though later on he fought for the King's son. His career in England was at an end, and he and his brother Maurice were allowed to ship overseas.