Tudors and Stuarts - M. B. Synge

The Great Civil War

The Character of the War

As the Civil War is the central fact in the history of the Stuart family, it is worth while trying to understand how it was fought. A number of questions arise. Who fought for the king? Who for the Parliament? Which parts of England did each party occupy? Did the war consist of a few big battles, or was it raging everywhere at once? Was it fought by professional soldiers? What part did the ordinary citizens and peasants play?

First, then, who fought for the king? It was the attacks of the Puritans on the Church and the bishops that drove over to the king's side nearly all those who wished to preserve the Church of England. It was as the defender of the Church that Charles gained his best supporters. This is the clearest division of all. The Anglicans were, almost to a man, on the Royalist side. Of the members of the House of Commons, about 175 joined the king. The great majority, about 300, remained at Westminster, or took part in the war on the Parliamentary side.

The Catholics all joined the king, and the reason must be evident to those who have read the preceding chapters. The greater number of the peers, some eighty or more, also joined the king, and so did the bulk of the country squires, except in the Eastern and in some of the Southern counties.

Who fought for the Parliament? First, the Puritans. These were of all ranks, but chiefly from the middle classes both in town and country. There were amongst them a few peers: the Earls of Essex, Manchester, Warwick, Denbigh; Lords Brooke and Fairfax, and some others, in all about thirty. Large numbers of the most prominent citizens in London and the large towns, large numbers of freeholders and yeomen (especially in the Eastern counties), merchants and manufacturers, the corporations of Puritan towns even in the West of England: all these supported the Parliament.

How was England divided geographically between the two parties? Speaking quite generally, a line drawn from Scarborough to Southampton represents the main Geographical division. Parliament held nearly all to the east and south of this line, and so they had what was in those days by far the richer and more thickly peopled half of the country. Until after the end of the First Civil War, the Parliamentary army never got firm hold of the country north and west of that line.

English Civil War


But it must not be overlooked that there were many Royalists in the East and South, and many Puritans in the West and in Yorkshire. Even in Puritan London there was a king's party, and even in Charles's headquarters at Oxford and York there was a Puritan party. There were Puritan towns such as Plymouth, Bath, Gloucester, Dorchester, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Scarborough, and others, surrounded by districts in the Royalists' hands; and Royalist towns in Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire, surrounded by the Parliamentary forces. Parliament held nearly all the ports, and thus with its hold on the navy and its possession of the chief seat of government, it had an immense advantage.

How was the war fought? A mere list of the great battles gives little idea of what really happened. In nearly every part of England there stands some castle or manor house; which has its story of fighting in the Civil War: Basing House in Hampshire; Lathom House in Lancashire; Wardour Castle in Wiltshire; Cawood, Pontefract, and Scarborough Castles in Yorkshire; Sherborne Castle in Dorset; Pendennis Castle in Cornwall; Beeston Castle in Cheshire; Raglan Castle in Monmouth; Flint, Denbigh, Conway, Chirk, Harlech, Pembroke, and Montgomery, in Wales; these are but a few of the isolated strongholds that stood sieges and assaults in the Civil War. Again, hardly a town in England failed to witness some incident that helped to decide the issue. London, Colchester, Gloucester, Exeter, Oxford, York, Nottingham, Hull, Leicester, Manchester, Liverpool, Stockport, Bolton, Coventry, Bristol, Reading, and many others, saw active fighting, whilst some underwent regular sieges.

In most of the great battles there were from 10,000 to 20,000 engaged on each side; but at the same time, in bands and small garrisons all over the country, there were several times this number under arms. For if the Roundheads (Puritans) withdrew their forces from Lincolnshire or Wiltshire, the Royalists would step in and occupy the district; or if the Royalists relaxed their hold of Somerset or Warwickshire, the Roundheads immediately rushed in.

Defense of Wardour Castle


Alongside of the great campaigns there went on, in half the counties, hundreds of local skirmishes and assaults on houses and castles.

Battles of Edgehill, Marston Moor, and Naseby

If we take as the opening of the war the setting up of the Royal Standard at Nottingham on August 22nd, 1642, we find that the first nine weeks were spent by each side in marching and counter-marching.

Charles stayed until September 13th at Nottingham. Prince Rupert, the dashing cavalry leader, whose soldiers from the first gained a bad name for plundering and riotous behaviour, levied a contribution of £500 from Puritan Leicester. Then Charles fell back through South Derbyshire and Staffordshire to Shrewsbury, gathering troops and money. Meanwhile Essex, with the Parliamentary army, was in Northamptonshire, but he moved westward to keep a check on the king.

From Shrewsbury, Rupert made a dash on Worcester, and at Powicke Bridge, in a slight skirmish, he proved the superiority of the Royalist horsemen over the Roundheads. This had the effect of giving the Cavaliers greater confidence when they met the Roundheads a month later at Edgehill. By this time Charles had about 15,000 men round him, and thought himself strong enough to march straight for London.

On October 21st he reached Southam (in Warwickshire). Essex's army marched in the same direction to prevent the king reaching London. On the 22nd, a Saturday, Charles encamped at Edgecot. If he proceeded further in the same direction he would have to march into what was the enemy's country, with the Puritan army behind him. He therefore decided to turn round and meet Essex, who was now at Kineton (South Warwickshire). By Rupert's advice he took up a strong position at Edgehill, and about one o'clock on Sunday afternoon the battle began.

In most of the pitched battles of this war, the main body of foot-soldiers was placed in the middle, with forces of cavalry on each side. So it was here. Prince Rupert commanded the Royalist right, facing Sir Faithful Fortescue. His dashing Cavaliers carried all before them. Sir Faithful turned traitor and joined Rupert against his own side. On the left wing, too, the Royalist horse had an easy victory. The victorious cavalry rushed on in pursuit for miles, leaving the two bodies of infantry struggling in the middle. Here the slaughter was great, but the Parliament's men held their own.

Puritan soldiers


The result of the whole fighting was a doubtful gain to the king. He was able to resume his march towards London, seize Banbury Castle, and enter Oxford without a blow. But Essex's main army, strengthened by the regiments following from Worcester, was still as strong as the king's, and was following at his heels.

The excitement in the Puritan counties and London was now tremendous. If Charles should enter London all would be lost. Messengers were sent from Parliament to open negotiations with him, but he refused to receive them. Rupert tried to take Windsor Castle by storm, but failed. Already the reputation of his soldiers for plundering, and excesses of other kinds, had alarmed the Londoners, who quickly assembled in thousands to defend their beloved city.

Six thousand new recruits joined Essex, who had managed to reach London before the royal army. On November 11th Rupert was at Brentford, where on the 12th he smashed up two regiments, fell on the town, and sacked it, although many of the inhabitants were Royalists. But the prompt succour sent by the City of London saved the capital and the Parliamentary cause.

On the morning of the 13th November, 24,000 men stood under arms at Turnham Green. Had they all been trained soldiers and led by an enterprising general, the king would have been caught in a trap; for Kingston Bridge was held by 3,000 Parliamentary troops who could have attacked him in flank. But Essex acted with caution, perhaps rightly, and Charles had to withdraw, first to Reading, then to Oxford, leaving garrisons at Reading, Wallingford, and Abingdon.

It was now that Oxford became the king's headquarters, from December, 1642, until June, 1646, and the memory of that occupation is still preserved. The old walls were then complete, and earthworks were thrown up outside from the present Balliol College cricket ground and the "King's Mound" to St. Giles's Church and beyond. The citizens and scholars helped in the work. The waters of the river on the south and east sides could be turned to the defence of the city.

For nearly two years, until Marston Moor, the events of the war are difficult to follow, and we can only see any connection between the different operations if we try to understand Charles's plan. He had his own headquarters at Oxford and held most of the country round it. Another Royalist army, led by the Marquis of Newcastle, held Yorkshire and the North of England. A third under Sir Ralph Hopton occupied Cornwall and the West of England.

Now if Charles could bring these three armies towards London at the same time, he could probably defeat any army of the Parliament and capture London itself. That done, he had little more to fear. His plan, however, never succeeded because, firstly, Newcastle could never shake off the Roundheads under Lord Fairfax and his more famous son, Sir Thomas Fairfax; nor could he break through the Puritan forces of the Eastern Association (Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge, Herts, Hunts, and Lincoln), led by Cromwell, who was becoming noted as the finest cavalry leader on the Puritan side. Secondly, Hopton could not venture to leave the West whilst strong towns like Bristol, Gloucester, Plymouth, Taunton, and others remained in the hands of the Roundheads. Thirdly, because if the northern and western armies did not act with him, Charles's own forces could never be strong enough. Nevertheless, for most of the time before Marston Moor, the Parliamentary armies were acting on the defensive.

There was a skirmish at Chalgrove (June 18th, 1643), and a Royalist victory at Newbury (September 20th, 1643). Chalgrove had struck down Hampden; Newbury claimed another noble victim, this time from the king's side, the gentle and chivalrous Falkland. Weary of the strife and turmoil of the times, fearing the bigotry of the fanatic Puritans, and mistrustful of the shifty king, he rode gladly to his death, hoping to find peace in a soldier's grave.

Storming of Bristol


Between Newbury in September, 1643, and Marston Moor in July, 1644, several notable events happened. A treaty was patched up with the Irish rebels and the king got some regiments from Ireland. Pym, the great Parliamentary leader of the House of Commons, died in 1643. He was the man who had organised everything from the impeachment of Buckingham, the Petition of Right, and the Attainder of Strafford, down to the alliance with the Scots.

The Scottish Presbyterians now allied themselves to the Parliament by the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant at Westminster, on September 25th, 1643. They sent an army under Alexander Leslie (Lord Leven) and his cousin, the more famous David Leslie, to check Newcastle's forces in the North (January, 1644). Cromwell had already prevented their attack on the Eastern Counties by his victory at Winceby.

The way was shortly open for a forward movement by the Roundheads, and it soon began. The campaign that ended in the battle of Marston Moor began like a game of chess. For months the Roundheads in Lancashire, helped by Fairfax, had overpowered the Royalists everywhere except at Lathom House (near Ormskirk), defended by the Countess of Derby. Rupert had to wait until May before he could leave the Midlands for its relief, and by that time other troubles had arisen. The Royalists were shut up in York and besieged by the Roundheads.

Rupert now determined on a bold stroke, which relieved Lathom House and left him free to proceed to York. This city was reached on July 1st. The Royalist Marquis of Newcastle could now escape, and the two royal armies at once took up their quarters at Marston, six or seven miles west of York; the Scots and Fairfax, now joined by the Earl of Manchester and Cromwell, drawing off a little to the south.

It looked as if Rupert's movement had been a complete success, But he was not content with relieving the Northern army; he wished to inflict a decisive defeat on the Parliamentarians. He told the more cautious Newcastle that he had the king's most positive orders to fight at all costs. But the king was ignorant of the circumstances. Newcastle, Rupert, and Goring had not more than eighteen thousand men, whilst Manchester and Cromwell, the Fairfaxes and the Leslies mustered about twenty-seven thousand. Rupert, however, had his way. He seized a strong position with open ground in front, where his cavalry could move easily.

The Parliamentary army had also a good position on a slope or ridge between Tockwith and Long Marston. A ditch and hedge hindered their attack, and neither side wished to risk being caught there. For hours on the afternoon of July 2nd the armies lay facing one another. They were in the usual sort of order, foot-soldiers in the middle and cavalry on each side. Manchester was in chief command. Cromwell and David Leslie, with 4,000 horsemen, were on the left; next them came Manchester's foot; next the Scottish foot under Alexander Leslie; next Lord Fairfax's foot; and on the right wing Sir Thomas Fairfax's Yorkshire cavalry.

Marston Moor


Opposite them Rupert's own cavalry faced Cromwell's; Newcastle's foot faced the middle, and Goring's cavalry faced Fairfax. Cromwell was only in subordinate command, but as events turned out it was his  battle. "Is Cromwell there?" asked Rupert of a prisoner. "And will they fight? If they will, they shall have fighting enough." "If it please God," said Cromwell, "so shall he."

At six o'clock no movement had been made. "We will charge them to-morrow morning," said Rupert, and went off to supper. In a few minutes Cromwell had begun the attack. Sending a body of dragoons to clear the way over the ditch and hedge, he followed up rapidly with some heavy cavalry. A regiment of Rupert's horse met them and were swept back. This brought, Rupert himself to the front, rallying his men. And now the stoutest and fiercest troopers on both sides charged with all their force.

"We came down the hill in the bravest order and with the greatest resolution that ever was seen," wrote one of them afterwards. "Cromwell's division of 300, in which himself was in person, charged the first division of Prince Rupert's, in which himself was in person. Cromwell's own division had a hard pull of it. They stood at the sword's point a pretty while, hacking one another, but at the last, so it pleased God, he brake through them, scattering them before him like a little dust."

David Leslie, with another body of cavalry, was now supporting Cromwell, and together they routed Rupert's horsemen completely, although Cromwell was wounded on the neck and for a time disabled.

This, however, was only part of the battle. Further along the line Manchester's foot, led by Crawford, had made a successful attack, but in the centre, the Scottish foot, led by Alexander Leslie (Lord Leven) and William Baillie, were hard pressed by Newcastle's Whitecoats, and so also were Lord Fairfax's foot; whilst on the extreme right, Sir Thomas Fairfax's cavalry were being swept off the field by Goring's horse. The bulk of Goring's men pursued Fairfax's retreating regiments for miles. On that side the Royalists believed themselves sure of victory, and already sent off messengers to Oxford to announce it; and no wonder, for many had fled as far as Tadcaster, and old Leven reached Wetherby thinking the battle was entirely lost. Meanwhile Fairfax, wounded and almost alone, managed to reach Cromwell to tell him the news of the disaster.

By this time the left wing, Cromwell's and Leslie's cavalry, were occupying the ground from which they had swept Rupert. They could thus wheel round still further and close in upon the Royalist infantry—Newcastle's—who were in a deadly struggle against Crawford and a few Scottish regiments. Crawford's foot had from the first pressed back the enemy, and with the Scottish regiments who kept their ground, he saved the situation, until Cromwell and Leslie with the victorious cavalry could come to their help.

The decisive movement was Cromwell's. First clearing the ground of the few undefeated horsemen who had not joined in the pursuit of Fairfax, he and Leslie now bore down on the mass of Newcastle's foot, and caught them between his own horsemen and Crawford and Baillie's foot. The slaughter was terrible. Newcastle's finest regiments made a gallant and desperate stand. "By mere valour, for one whole hour, they kept the troops of horse from entering amongst them at near push of pike; and when the horse did enter, they would have no quarter, but fought it out until there was not thirty of them living."

By nine o'clock all was over. Four thousand Royalists had been killed. Newcastle rode off to Scarborough and took ship to the Continent. Rupert collected the remnants of his army, 6,000 men, left York to the Roundheads, and rode off towards Chester. It was the first great and decisive victory of the Parliamentary armies, and whilst many had fought bravely, the victory was chiefly due to Cromwell's judgment and resolution and to the irresistible onslaught of his Ironsides. It was in this battle that Rupert gave Cromwell the nickname "Old Ironside," and his own soldiers accepted it. "We never charged but we routed the enemy. God made them as stubble to our swords"; so wrote Cromwell in describing the battle.

After Marston Moor, Cromwell persuaded Parliament to reorganise the army, and a fine "New Model Army" was the result; the half-hearted leaders were also got rid of.

Soon the two armies again met in the decisive battle of Naseby. Charles, with Rupert and Langdale and Astley—for Goring was unable to join in time—had only 9,000 men. Fairfax had 14,000. But the king had heard of the new army, and thought his own old soldiers would make short work of it. He despised Fairfax, the new "brutish general," as he called him. And, indeed, but for Cromwell's unerring judgment and resolution, the king's confidence might have been justified. It was, compared with some others, a simple battle.

On the Parliamentary side, Skippon was in the middle with the infantry. Ireton had some cavalry on the left. Cromwell, with over 3,000 horse, had the right wing. On the opposite side Rupert faced Ireton, Astley faced Skippon, and Sir Marmaduke Langdale faced Cromwell.

Rupert swept all before him, and Ireton, with five regiments, was driven back. Ireton himself was wounded, and was for a time a prisoner. But, as usual, Rupert went too far. Whilst he was capturing the baggage train, the main action was being neglected. Astley's foot held the centre in check, and on the side where Rupert's horse had swept off Ireton, the Roundheads were exposed to a flank attack. Skippon himself was severely wounded.

It was Cromwell who, by the same tactics as he had used at Marston, once more turned the scale. He sent forward Whalley, with a regiment of Ironsides, to charge Langdale. They carried all before them, and this left Cromwell, with his reserve cavalry, free to charge the Royalist centre. Joined by Fairfax, he soon made an end of the king's foot regiments. Before Rupert could return, whole regiments had surrendered, and the rest were flying back towards Leicester. A thousand had been killed. Five thousand prisoners, the king's baggage, his artillery, and his letters, fell into the Parliament's hands.

From Naseby to the end of the first civil war, the time was spent in crushing out isolated fragments of the Royalist army, and in capturing fortified houses and castles. Goring was finally crushed at Langport, in Somerset, while Bristol, defended by Rupert, capitulated early in September. Bridgwater, Lyme, Taunton, Bath, Winchester, Devizes, Sherborne, all fell in a few weeks.

Charles I of England


Long and tedious were the attempts that Charles made to get terms from the Parliament, and meanwhile he kept up the game of trying to secure support, now from the Irish, now from the Scots. At length, at three in the morning of April 27th, 1646, disguised as a servant, with his beard and hair closely trimmed, Charles rode out of Oxford, over Magdalen Bridge, and by a roundabout route, passing through Slough, Harrow, St. Albans, Melton Mowbray, and Stamford, reached Southwell on May 7th at seven in the morning. The distinguished personage who was supposed to be his master pretended to be on the Parliament's side, and thus got through the Roundhead patrols with little difficulty. In a few hours Charles had surrendered himself a prisoner to the Scottish army encamped at Newark. The Scots had now a great prize in their hands, and moved off to Newcastle,

Bargaining between King, Parliament, Scots, and Army (March. 1646, to April, 1648)

Charles was a prisoner with the Scottish army from May to December, 1646. Long. discussions went on, and the Presbyterians tried to convert the king to their form of religion. But Charles refused to come to terms, as they asked him to give up the English Church and establish Presbyterianism, at least for ten years. The English Parliament, also largely Presbyterian, bargained with the king and with the Scots. It was arranged that the Scots should hand over the king to the English Parliament, on receiving payment of their arrears. In January, 1647, therefore, Charles was lodged under guard at Holmby House, in Northamptonshire, and the Scots went home.

And now there began a most extraordinary series of bargainings between king, Parliament, and army. The two latter quarrelled; Cromwell threw in his lot with the army and had Charles seized and brought to the army headquarters at Newmarket.

The army was now supreme, and made Charles an offer called the Heads of the Proposals. The king was to be restored, but for ten years Parliament was to control the militia, and the appointment of ministers of the Crown. These terms were refused. The quarrels between the different parties continued, Charles escaped to the Isle of Wight, and early in 1648 the second civil war broke out, after Charles had managed a treaty with the Scots.

The Royalists were besieged at Colchester, and Cromwell gained a decisive victory over the Scots at Preston, and the second civil war (April–August, 1648) was soon over.

Oliver Cromwell


After this there was little hope of mercy for the king. The army had made up its mind that Charles was responsible for all the blood shed during the second civil war. The Presbyterians still wished to treat with the king, but the army officers on December 6th sent Colonel Pride to Westminster to turn out the Presbyterians by force. Standing with a guard of soldiers at the entrance to the Parliament House, he arrested forty-five members, turned back ninety-six others, and admitted only those, about fifty or sixty, who were known to be in agreement with the wishes of the army. This action of Colonel Pride is known as "Pride's Purge."