Saturday, 25 January 2014

A month of civil war! part seven

Part seven already! 

We left the Civil War in 1644, with the forces of parliament in the ascendant. However, things weren't all that rosy in London, as cracks began to appear. However, this was perhaps inevitable, as opposition to Charles was based on several different grievances, which made for an already split group before the war officially broke out. So following Marston Moor, when a distinct group of MPs loosely led by the Earl of Manchester began to manoeuvre for peace negotiations rather than a total victory. Cromwell actually called him up on this in parliament, exposing the fractures between the groups who commanded the army further. 

This led to the Self-Denying Ordnance, which excluded from parliament any military commander, and vice-versa. It was the first step on the road to creating the New Model Army, which would prove to be so valuable to parliament in the further prosecution of the war. 

There was also a religious aspect to these divisions. Part of the agreement with Scotland that prefaced the Solemn League and Covenant was for religious reformation in England along the lines of the Church of Scotland, whose supporters were called Presbyterians. Opponents to this idea wanted no hierarchy within the church - no bishops, no presbyteries - and instead wanted the congregation to decide its own way for itself. These were called Independents, and much in they way they opposed a hierarchy in the church, they were also much less inclined to a restoration of the monarchy as time went on.

In April 1645, the New-Model Ordnance led to the creation of a new model of army, one cohesive unit under the control of parliament, rather than separate units commanded by MPs and lords in a loose coalition. The New Model Army, as it became known, was also notable for its religious heterodoxy. Following the lapsing of censorship in 1640, there was a degree of religious freedom, with many different sects and ideologies appearing. Many of the officers, however, were staunch Independents.

The Clubmen
I said at the beginning of this series that the civil war in England was not all that enthusiastically received. There is perhaps a tendency to think, after reading all of the accounts of the wars, that the country did suddenly fall one side of an imaginary divide, with royalists on one side, and parliamentarians on another. "Cheshire declared for the king" makes it sound like the entire county was pro-Charles, staunch to the last. That just isn't true, of course - landowners in Cheshire might declare for the king, but the rest of the people who lived there wanted nothing more than to continue on with their lives in as much peace as they were allowed. I suppose the biggest idea to take away from this is that, for most of the people in any particular county, it just didn't matter

However, when the war was brought home, and stampeding ranks of soldiers were ravaging the countryside on their way to one battle or another, it did matter. While many 'ordinary' people did fight in the war as part of the militia, the dispute between king and parliament was not what motivated them. But when their own livelihood was threatened, matters were taken in hand. 

And this is where the Clubmen come in. This is, for me, a wonderful expression of that 'ordinary' sentiment, of people who want to be left out of wars, but also of common sense. Literally bands of men with clubs and other farming implements, Clubmen first gathered in Worcestershire in 1645 to protect their lands and their families from the marauding soldiers who would frequently pass through, destroying land and seizing crops and other supplies as they went.

As time went on, organization became more sophisticated, with even local gentry who had desired to stay neutral in the war setting up bands of vigilante-like men to protect their lands. A third party to the war, they often tried to force peace on the warring factions. Perhaps understandably then, they were popular with neither side, and it wasn't long before military campaigns were taking account of the potential presence of Clubmen and moving against them.

On the road to Naseby
In 1645, Rupert was sent north to attempt to re-take control there. The New Model Army, after some early successes, then went to lay siege to Oxford, despite the fact that Charles had already left his capital. When this was discovered, Parliament, a little shamefacedly, gave full command of the army to Lord Fairfax, who immediately pursued Charles throughout the midlands. Charles and Rupert, having stormed Leicester, marched first to Newark for reinforcements before heading for Oxford and Fairfax. 

On a foggy 14 June, the opposing armies at first struggled to find each other. When battle eventually broke out, the infantry was so close that after one volley of musketfire things devolved into hand-to-hand combat. The royalist cavalry were forced to charge uphill, and it didn't take much for Cromwell's flank to defeat them. The remaining parliamentarian forces were able to encircle much of the royalist army, causing many to surrender or flee, with only Rupert's own regiment left standing. The King attempted to lead a charge to relieve them, but it is said his bridle was taken by the Earl of Carnwath, who dissuaded him from riding into certain death, and in the confusion his own bodyguards retreated from the field. 

With the royalists in disarray, and the New Model Army successful in its first major engagement, parliamentarian forces appear to have then run amok among the royal baggage train, killing at least one hundred female camp followers. This atrocity against civilians was nothing compared with the PR disaster that resulted from the capture of Charles I's personal correspondence, however. 

The King's Cabinet Opened
Remember how many people were convinced, in the 1630s, that Charles was some sort of closet-Catholic, and would ruin the kingdom because of it? Well, it turns out they were half-right. Charles' personal letters captured at the battle revealed that he was in secret talks with the Irish Catholic Confederation, as well as many Catholic nations on the continent, to supply him with troops to continue the war against parliament. Of course, parliament wasted no time in publishing these letters, to the general outcry of the public, and thus tipped public opinion firmly away from Charles. 

The remainder of 1645 was one disaster after another for the royalists. Prince Rupert appears to have been significantly depressed by the course of events, and surrendered Bristol to Fairfax on 10 September. Charles was horrified, and banished Rupert from the kingdom. Charles rode to Chester, but parliamentarian forces were dogging his every step, and his forces were repelled at Rowton Heath on 24 September. 

1646: The End 
With the New Model Army overrunning the south, royalist bastions began to fall like dominoes. In February 1646 at the Battle of Torrington, the royalist army was finally defeated in the field, and the New Model Army began mopping up the remnants. Charles, in what was quite possibly utter despair, rode into the Scottish camp at Southwell on 5 May. Oxford fell to parliament in June, and peace negotiations formally began in July. It seemed like the hostilities had come to an end. 

However, it was not to be so simple! Come back soon for the next installment in A month of civil war!

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