Wednesday, 15 January 2014

A month of civil war! part five

Here we go again! Last time we looked at the beginnings of the war, culminating in the Battle of Edgehill on on 23 October 1642. Following the battle, Charles spent the winter securing his position at Oxford while Essex remained at Windsor. The Earl of Newcastle, William Cavendish - a stalwart supporter of the King, who was relied upon for financial assistance in the absence of the possibility of Charles raising taxes - began to march south to Newark and Nottingham, with the aim of securing the northern ports for the arrival of Queen Henrietta Maria from the United Provinces, where her daughter Mary was married to William II of Orange and who had pledged materiel for the war effort. Lord Derby's efforts throughout Cheshire and Lancashire enabled the royalists under Lord Byron at Chester could link up with Newcastle's forces in Nottinghamshire, securing the north for the King. As a precaution, parliamentary forces began to band together in the east, headed by Oliver Cromwell.

The war of words
It was in 1643 that the journalistic war began, with the royalist propaganda machine publishing the Mercurius Aulicus from Oxford. Parliament soon responded with their own Mercurius Britanicus. These newsbooks, along with over a dozen others that sometimes only lasted for an issue or two, attempted to put their own version of events across to the general public. Broadly speaking, the Aulicus portrayed the parliamentary forces as brutal thugs who frequently engaged in destructive behaviour, even such as attacks on cathedrals (as at Peterborough), while the Britanicus engaged in snide remarks about the King's position within his country, and the popish behaviour of the royalists. Indeed, there's an excellent description of Charles bouncing around the kingdom like a tennis ball, as the war became increasingly frenetic. 

1643 began quite badly for Charles, with Essex besieging Reading successfully in April. As the most significant of the fortresses in the buffer between royalist Oxford and parliamentarian London, its loss was dangerous, but the Queen eventually arrived in May with her convoy of materiel, and the King's fortunes began to change. In July, thanks to the brilliance of Charles' nephews Maurice of Simmern and Rupert of the Rhine, Bristol was in royalist possession - Bristol of course was England's second most-important port at this time. Essex' army at Reading was forced to withdraw due to the outbreak of disease, but Charles was unable to capitalize on his successes by marching on London due to dissent in the ranks. With armies largely made up of Yorkshiremen and Devon natives, but Parliament in control of Hull and Plymouth, the generals were unwilling to risk retaliations at their homes by moving against London. 

Instead, Charles moved west, and planned to attack Gloucester. After an ineffective siege, relieved by Essex, the royalists chased off the parliamentarian army and they arrived on 20 September at Newbury. 

The Battle of Newbury
Parliamentarian intelligence had given Essex to understand that Charles had retired to Oxford, so he led a leisurely retreat to London when in actual fact Prince Rupert's cavalry were gaining on them every day. When they eventually caught up, Rupert harassed the parliamentarians enough that the royalist infantry caught up, and by 20 September, battle was imminent!

Essex' forces began early, and managed to gain the high ground that proved so decisive to the battle. Rupert led the main cavalry charge in an attempt to break the parliamentarian ranks, but their stubborn defense proved difficult to overcome. A combination of heavy artillery fire and stubborn resolve caused the royalists to over-commit, resulting in significant losses. The infantry under Lord Byron had used the most part of the royalist gunpowder to no avail, so by midnight when the two armies eventually disengaged, the royalists were in pretty poor shape. Essex expected to re-engage the following day, but Charles' men were in no state, and reluctantly moved north to Oxford, leaving the way clear for Essex to return via Reading to London. 

1643 also saw two very important agreements reached by each side, that would ensure the war would not be concluded any time soon. Firstly, Charles reached a truce with the Catholic rebellion in Ireland, where hostilities were for the time being suspended, and the Irish Catholic Confederation formed as a government in Kilkenny. This truce was interpreted as an ill omen in Parliament, for many thought an Irish alliance with Charles was on the cards - remember, many already thought he was pro-Catholic, so it wasn't entirely impossible to imagine. The fateful words of Lord Strafford uttered to Charles during the Bishops' Wars in Scotland came back to haunt the king, as well - when Charles couldn't raise an army to oppose the Scots in 1639, Strafford had told him there were men in Ireland he could use 'to reduce the kingdom'. He meant, it is now understood, to reduce Scotland, but in the volatile climate of Civil War England, Parliament decided he had meant to reduce England. 

So to guard against such an alliance, Parliament negotiated with Edinburgh a Solemn League and Covenant, which effectively brought Scotland into the war against Charles. In return, the Scottish Presbyterian Church would be adopted as the national church, which was fine with many of the Puritans in Parliament, though remained ambiguous enough in its talk of religious reform that it was agreed to by most MPs. But not all. Some MPs actually left London in protest. Mercurius Aulicus had some choice words to say on the subject, and made the most it could of portraying the cracks that were forming among the leadership in London. 

Next time, we're on our way to Marston Moor, and I'll also be looking at those cracks in some more detail!

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