AAG1641-1642 The Descent to War


Strafford’s death did not achieve the objective of clearing the path to agreement between king and subject – instead it hardened hearts, and started the clock of war ticking

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Hello everyone and welcome back to the History of England at a Gallop, ****, which covers the period from May 1641 to the end of 1642, which was dealt with in 10 episodes between 377-386. The purpose of the AAG episodes is to give to a rather more summarised coverage of the period should you have got a bit lost  in all the detail and names, or just want to go through the history of England at a faster pace. So, just a reminder you do not need to listen to this episode, you can simply stick to the numbered, detailed episodes.   But if you want a refresher or a faster gallop through the period, then this is for you.

In the Last AAG episode, we heard about the king’s wars in Scotland, the Bishops Wars as they are known, as he tried to impose the Prayer Book and Canons on the Scots. The wars led to the need for money, and for the calling of parliament – the Short parliament, Charles’ last chance it is thought for a reasonable deal from the English in retrospect, and then after the second Bishop’s war, the long parliament, when Charles’ rule stopped being just personal. We covered the period when the Junto, the leading faction of Reformers, with the likes of Warwick, Essex, John Pym and John Hampden, strove to find a peaceful compromise with Charles under the leadership of the Earl of Bedford. If Charles had ever really been prepared to make genuine concessions, they died with the deaths of two men – the Earl of Bedford from illness, and the Earl of Strafford from an unfortunate meeting with a sharp implement. Today we’re going to hear about how after the end Personal rule politics became personal.

The death of Strafford in May 1641 in retrospect forms a watershed. His removal had been demanded by all three kingdoms – Ireland, Scotland and England & Wales – and was meant to ensure that the biggest obstacle to compromise was removed. In fact it achieved exactly the opposite. Without wanting to indulge in plot spoilers, Strafford’s death killed any chance of compromise. There were now  but two options – for either party to concede defeat, or war. This sounds like a pretty decent plot spoiler I must admit, but needs must when you are on a galloping horse.

For parliament, Bedford’s death had removed the moderating force, and the strategy of moderation and compromise was thoroughly discredited by the king’s double dealing as revealed by the Army plot. It meant that John Pym had more radical members of the Junto to keep happy – Warwick, Brooke and Essex. While they now hoped and expected to complete the reformation, in fact they would face an increasingly uncooperative king, and they began to recognise the stakes now were never higher – should the king manage to re-assert control, a basket might well await the squelch of their severed Junto heads.

For Charles and HM a Rubicon had been crossed. Charles would never forgive himself for going back on his word to save Strafford’s life; he would later confide to his friend Hamilton that all the bad things that happened to him were God’s punishment for this moment of weakness – he would never compromise his conscience again. HM, having been an emolling influence was now increasingly fearful of her own safety as the most publicly visible Catholic, and gave increasingly bellicose advice as a result. She will push her husband to be more aggressive, to crush these upstart rebels.

So, Charles agreed a plan with himself; he would win. That’s a positive and ambitious plan, but admittedly high level. So to put some flesh on that plan – he would build a pro king party to defeat the Junto at their own game in parliament. He and Edward Hyde recognised that the further the Junto pressed reform in their concern to make it irreversible, the more moderates in parliament would become uncomfortable, and could be won to the king’s side. So he aimed for two things – first to split moderate MPs in the Commons away from the Junto and Reformers; and to win the Lords over to his side and thereby destroy the unity which had so far reigned between Commons and Lords.

But there’s more – incredibly Charles hoped to now win the Scots to his side, and use the resources of Scotland against the English parliament. He was encouraged in this by the appearance of a royalist party in Scotland, particularly around James Graham, Marquess of Montrose. So he called the Scots commissioners in London to meet with him – the very day Strafford died in fact – and to their utter astonishment, the arse covers they had knitted were not required;  he was all smiles, soft words and caresses, and promised to come to parliament in Edinburgh in person to confirm the agreement between them, in August. This was the treaty, and it gave away far more power than was envisioned in England thus far.

Pym and the Junto meanwhile pressed ahead with reform. They focussed on those two hated tools of oppression. They abolished the Church’s Court of High Commission, the whip with which Laud had thrashed the buttocks of the Calvinist Elizabethan church and pierced various organs of William Prynne’s organs. The Court of Star Chamber, Wolsey’s court of equity which Charles had perverted to enforce his rule and punish the likes of John Lilburne went the same way. One consequence of this by the way was that the tools of censorship were completely disabled, and the publishing of radical, political and religious print when bananas. Some stats for you; In the 1630s we have about 600 known titles published a year, and it then goes up a bit in 1640, fair dos, to 840. In 1641, after the abolition of Star Chamber and High Commission, it was 2,042. That figure will get higher. It went potty, essentially, and will be a vibrant and extraordinary feature of the revolution, and unique to England – the same never happens in Scotland or Ireland.

Thus far, so good; many moderates found this extreme, but both institutions had been clearly abused by Charles and Laud, so OK. But then Pym went further – and produced the 10 propositions, a discussion of which you’ll find in episode 377. These were a sort of manifesto really, and in addition to the reform of the church and shackling of Bishops, they proposed two enormously radical changes. The Reformers no longer trusted the king, he must be shackled and his tools of revenge spiked, the revolution must be made irreversible. So, the 10 Propositions demanded that the militia be controlled not by the king, which had been the way since time immemoral, but by parliament. Gosh. And that the king’s ministers should be appointed only once approved by parliament. Well parliament had never had a role in the executive before that was the king’s job. By ‘eck. The Italian ambassador recognised just how radical this was:

An oath to this republic – the very word is used on the bill, which contains other particulars all of which strike at the royal prerogative to the heart[1]

It didn’t escape Charles’s notice either. There was no way he would agree to this, and indeed he may have actually welcomed the 10 Propositions. Because no one could argue this was anything other than radical reform, this was no the restoration of an ancient constitution, this struck down core tenets of the royal prerogative. A lot of moderates began to shuffle king-wards, horrified at this blatant reformation and -ugh, horrors! – innovation.

So in a sense – a good thing for Charles; was the Junto over playing its hand?

However, if things were looking up for him in England, Charles’ visit to Scotland was not so good. I mean it started brightly enough – Auld Reekie welcomed him with open arms, Charles was saying yes to almost everything – no prayer book, ministerial appointments done in consultation with parliament, the full shebang. But then it seems Charles was once more playing a double game; he had a plan B, remarkably similar to the Army Plot plan B he’d had in England. And just like the Army Plot, that plan B became a plan wah-wah oops when there was a general spilling of beans, revealing of secret plans and clever tricks and on 11th October it was discovered that a royalist sympathiser had a plan to march a regiment into parliament and arrest the ringleaders of the Covenanters in the form of Argyl and, oddly, Hamilton. Now next day when Charles turned up with 500 soldiers he claimed with tears in his eyes that it wasn’t him guv’. But no one really believed him, and the attempted royal coup effectively scuppered Charles plan for an alliance with the Scots, though not yet was there an open breach. This rather startling affair has gone down in history, with delicious Scottish understatement, as ‘The Incident’.

Charles was now desperate to leave, and pick up the struggle in England where things were beginning to look up for the prospect of a king’s party taking control of parliament. Pym was a nimble politician, but the tightrope he had to walk required levels of agility Nadia Comaneci or Harry Houdini would have found difficult to manage. He had to appear suitably radical religiously to keep the London radicals and Scottish Covenanters on board; and so had passed ordinances approving puritan religious changes, without consulting the king; and the Root and Branch bill had been introduced to completely reform the church and remove the office of Bishop. On the other hand he had to reassure the moderates and House of Lords that their beloved Elizabethan church was safe in his hands – and therefore the Root and Branch bill was being quietly strangled behind the scenes.

But it was too Machievellian and wasn’t working, the circle was not being squared. Henrietta Maria was in her element, politicking behind the scenes and directing the activities of the king’s secretary Edward Nicholas – much to his annoyance actually. But it was paying dividends. Moderates were horrified at the wave of iconoclasm that followed Pym’s religious ordinances; the Queen let it be known that the king would not compromise on church reform, control of the militia, or his right to appoint ministers – and a growing number of MPs and Lords found they agreed; the House of Lords was now sitting on legislation from the Commons and refusing to process it. Parliamentary unity was under enormous strain. Meanwhile the need to raise taxes to pay off the disbanding Scottish army was losing Pym and the Junto control in its heartlands people thought reform was against things like Ship Money; and horror of horrors, even the City was flirting with the king – a Royalist mayor was elected in the teeth of the radical incumbents and candidates. As public opinion swung towards the King, Pym was increasingly unpopular and even receiving death threats, and a popular libel circulated in the City angrily sneering that

‘Pym was King Pym, and that rogue would set all the kingdoms by the ears

But as Charles set off for home from Edinburgh – all the cards were thrown in the air. On 1st November 1641 an exhausted messenger stood before the bar in parliament and brought dire news; Ireland was in flames, Dublin had been within hours of being captured by rebels, but worst of all news was coming in of horrendous atrocities perpetrated against the English and Scottish colonists in Ulster. Men, women and children were being killed, driven off the plantations, or stripped of their clothing and possessions and left to die in the cold.

Now the Irish Revolt of 1641 is a hugely significant event, and it’s a crime to summarise it – you need to listen to episode 380, really you do. But in a gallop, here’s the guts of it. The Revolt started as a noble revolt, ironically lead by some of the winners of royal policy in Ireland. They were Gaelic lords, but were willing participants in government and even in the plantations. The revolt was an attempt to take a leaf out of the Scottish play book – put themselves in a position of power and coerce the king to make concessions on religion, land rights and financial security. They did not want to overturn the basic structure of governance. But the revolt got out of hand and for several months the ordinary people took control, and took revenge for the oppression of the plantations policy, and rose up to recover their land, power and pride, and violently so. In the process, maybe 5,000 colonists were killed, and a further 12,000 many have died from exposure and cold. There were immediate reprisals; and without doubt many Catholic native Irish were also killed, but for various reasons the number is harder to know. Within a few months the rebellion had spread throughout Ireland, and all that was left to parliamentary control was the Pale and a strip along the eastern seaboard.

This is bad enough, but almost as bad is that the news was vastly, vastly exaggerated by the time it got to England and Scotland. As destitute protestant settlers streamed through the ports at Chester and Bristol, pamphleteers told stories of rape, child murder and wanton destruction, 100,000 people dead, 200,000 dead, accompanied by horrific woodcuts. And they were believed. And so a seed was planted that would yield a bitter, bitter fruit. The English and Scots were in a terrified panic; not only were they outraged at the stories of barbarity, but they feared a Catholic insurrection and that a Catholic Irish army would appear at any time and stary laying waste to their homes. Something must be done. An army must be raised. But such a sword as an Army would have two edges; no one wanted that sword at Charles’ disposal – who knew which way it would cut.

It is in this atmosphere that in November Charles arrived back in London. The newly elected royalist mayor threw a party of massive proportions for him. For once Charles played beautifully to the galleries, as he hated to do, pressed the flesh, made speeches at the Guildhall, he and the Queen waved and revelled in the majesty of their gilt and apparently royal power. The people turned up in droves, royalists came out from their houses and cheered and waved.

The battlefield was now in the streets of London as much as in the chambers of parliament. And after his triumphant return, Charles seemed on the verge of wresting back control of those streets from the Londoners and preachers and petitioners that had so far made it the Junto’s greatest weapon. In parliament, Pym tried to seize back the initiative with a massive petition, known to history as the Grand Remonstrance. A cumbersome document with 204 clauses, a few months before it would have passed with ease. Not this time. As you can hear in episode 380, there was a fractious debate late into the night, the remonstrance squeaked by, with just 11 votes to spare. And no one even bothered to try to get the lords to agree to it; the Junto were now in a minority in the lords. When he received the Remonstrance, Edward Hyde prepared for Charles a masterly, cool and magisterial reply that made no concessions. When this royal proclamation was read in Dover there was, as they say, much rejoicing

the people crying out god bless his majesty we shall have our old religion settled again

The king had built his party. And it was winning.

London, though, throughout December was in a foment. It was packed full of reformadoes, as disbanded soldiers were known, crying out for the king; it was packed with petitioners demanding religious and political reform, and the Bishops became a key point of contention. While the bishops sat in the lords, royal power there was assured; while Bishops still ran the church with penal authority, Laudian religious repression could return at any time. Radical pamphlets reverberated with the demand for ‘No Bishops! No Bishops!’ But the more the radicals clamoured, the more terrified of social and religious chaos moderates became, and looked to the king as their rock of stability and tradition. It was going Charles’ way.

And then Charles boobed. After seeing off yet another protest and petition, on 22nd December 1641 Charles announced that he was changing the guard at Buckingham Palace – sorry, changing the Constable of the Tower, replacing the reliable and parliamentary minded William Balfour with one Thomas Lunsford. Now London knew Thomas Lunsford; Thomas Lunsford was a thug and a king’s man through and through; with him controlling the city’s arsenal, main garrison and the guns of the Tower, no one would be safe. The Guns could be turned on London’s streets.

Riots of protest erupted, the commons petitioned for his removal – though the Lords stayed aloof still, ominously. The militia was turned out to quell the riots, but the crowds kept coming back, again and again, surrounding the palace of Westminster, parliament and even the king’s palace at Whitehall, and filling the air with their complaints and cries: No Bishops, No Bishops!

On 2nd January 1642, Charles called a meeting in Whitehall palace with his closest advisors, replaced key ministers with loyalists, and drew up a plan. He was convinced that the rebels and the people of London had gone too far; he would act firmly now, and

All the world might see what ambitious malice and sedition had been hid under the vizard of conscience and religion [2]

The tradition is that it was HM that steeled him to be bold, that he needed to stop the mayhem here and now and that people would respect and support his authority

Go you coward and pull these rogues out by their ears or never see my face more

She is reported to have said. Whether she did or not, on 4th January,  as the commons was in session, they were interrupted by the tramp of 400 marching boots, and the jingle of military tackle. And then 80 soldiers stormed into Westminster palace, and ripped open the door of the St Stephens chapel and stared threateningly inside; Some of them leant nonchalantly and threateningly against the door jam, gun in hand. And in front of everyone’s eyes, Charles himself stalked into the chamber.

Now look this is a moment of high drama in English history and you simply must hear all about it in episode 381. Charles had come to arrest 5 members of parliament, his arch enemies. They were John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, William Strode, and Arthur Haselrig. But as he sat in the Speaker’s chair and looked around – he saw they were not there, all had been warned, possibly by the Queen’s courtier Lucy Hay. And they had fled, helter skelter down the parliament steps to the Thames and into hiding. ‘I see all the birds have flown’ said Charles and beat a humiliating retreat as the MPs cried out in triumph and outrage behind him.

With the Affair of the Five Members, all Charles’ good work was destroyed, and his party with it. This was tyranny clear and simple. Through his blundering, failed coup, Charles succeeded in reuniting the factions and houses of parliament against him. He tried again the following day, but all of London came out onto the streets, surrounded the Guildhall, strung chains across the streets to bring down any royalist cavalry. Eventually on 10th January, Charles and Henrietta Maria realised they had failed, and they fled the capital, to Hampden Court and then Windsor. There at Windsor he and his Queen contemplated their next move in desolation; though he tried to call his courtiers to his side, almost none came; one who did, wrote that he

Found a desolate court, saw not one nobleman and scarce three gentlemen.

Charles would not return to London in liberty again.

Well, good golly, we should draw a bit of breath. A couple of reflections. Charles had demonstrated that he did have something of a talent as a party leader. He and Edward Hyde had correctly identified that for many, the reformers were going too far; that there was a deep reverence for the king and his prerogative, and that the king promised social stability. That although they had rejected Laudianism, yet the reformers were themselves in danger of reforming the church too far the other way. Charles had appealed to tradition, order and stability. He would do so again.

But there is equally a pattern emerging. Good at leading followers prepared to be of his mind, or a parlement as sa mode as the French ambassador had once remarked, he was too inflexible and obsessed with the purity of his conscience to use compromise to create unity. Not just that, but he had demonstrated at least three times that he could not be trusted; while apparently talking and negotiating he had thrice planned and sprung a military solution of force; the Army Plot in March, the Incident in Scotland in October, and now in January 1642 the arrest of the Five Members. An agreement with such a man would be hard indeed to trust.

One other observation; this revolution had been in large part made by the people of London. It is interesting to speculate – or I would contend it’s interesting to speculate – what would have happened if Charles had convened parliament in some nice out of the way place like Oxford, away from the streets of London? His son would follow this tactic most successfully. One of the many newsheets springing up would write

In all England there is but one rebel, and that is London[3]

It’s an exaggeration; parliament was scrupulous in gathering opinion from around the country, in a way Charles would not dream of doing, eliciting over 900 petitions. But London was a hot house, and the most radical city in England; Londoners had come out onto the street to fight their cause; news print and opinion had exploded, people had found their voice, and in a deeply paternalistic society women had also found a role in asserting their equality in religion at very least. It was the people who had forced Charles into the dreadful error of the attempted coup of 4th January.

Right. On with the next bit. Much of 1642 will be something of a cold war, gradually getting hotter and hotter. But early doors, Charles had another plan, and his principal adviser was probably his Queen; HM would refer to their plan in the future and comment on Charles performance against it. Her job would be to get to France; not just for her safety, but to raise money and arms on the continent by selling her jewels and pawning the Crown jewels, to pay the royal army that was now surely needed. Charles would get away from London and parliament’s centre of power, and take himself to the trusty people of the north. There he would gather his loyal nobility around him, and expose the rebels for the evil malignants they were; he would sell his message – God, social order and hierarchy, tradition and church; he would raise an army, but make sure it was parliament that broke the peace, to make an act of rebellion that would show the world Charles had no choice but to regretfully take up arms.

It took a while for HM to escape to France, and while they waited Charles pretended to negotiate with parliament; but he had no intention of reaching agreement, and anyway the physical separation between king and parliament made that almost impossible. On 23rd February, HM finally took a ship for France from Dover; rather touchingly Charles galloped along the cliffs of Dover to keep her ship in sight until it finally disappeared over the horizon. Then he set out for the capital of the North – for York.

In London, the mood was very different; when the Five Members were able to come out of hiding, they were escorted back to Westminster like heroes by the people and the London Trained bands, flags flying, drums beating pipes a piping, possibly even a few lords a leaping and some ladies dancing. Petitions continued to come in from around the country, and in London there were multiple marches, with many bearing the 1641 Protestation in their hats as a symbol of allegiance. At the end of January 400 women marched to present a petition led by the Brewster Anne Stag, with themes common to many others – majoring on demands for help for the beleaguered and desperate Irish Protestants, and removal of the Bishops from the house of lords. Parliament took into its own hands the powers that formerly lay with the king; they produced a militia ordinance giving command of the trained bands around the country to parliament, and appointing the Earl of Essex as their supreme commander.

Still there was a sense of disbelief; Bulstrode Whitelocke spoke for many when he wrote in his diary

It is strange to note how we have insensibly slid into this beginning of a civil war, by one unexpected accident after another, as waves of the sea, which hath brought us thus far, and we scarce know how, but from paper combats…we are now come to the question of raising forces and naming a General of Officers of the Army[4]

People now had to choose; and I commend unto you episodes 382 and 383 which describe how people made those painful choices. I have some brief reflections for this crude summary. Firstly, a key feature of the civil wars is that the division is incredibly local and atomised; every town village and even family was divided. This will define the progress and nature of the civil wars in England, which are constantly mobile, not like two countries slugging it out in a war. A gross generalisation is that North, west and south west tends to be held by royalists, East and South by parliament, but that hides divisions parish by parish.

Secondly there are no hard and fast rules; you might say the higher up the social scale you were the more likely you were to fight for the king; more puritans chose parliament than the king; artisans in industrial towns tend to be for parliament, but many town alderman everywhere just wanted peace and stability for trade, and so supported the king.  But the exceptions to all of these are legion.

One of the most famous examples is the Verney family, split by the conflict like so many. The son, Ralph, was an MP and parliamentarian. But he was on his own; the rest of the family might share Ralph’s view of the king’s actions, but in the end could not tear themselves away from tradition. Ralph’s father Edmund went to join the king and he wrote

I do not like the quarrel and do heartily wish the king would yield and consent to what they desire; so that my conscience is only concerned in honour and gratitude to follow my master. I have eaten his bread and served him near thirty years, and will not do so base a thing as to forsake him

Charles welcomed Verney with joy, and made him the knight marshal, responsible for the royal standard. Edmund stood tall, threw out his chest and declared

they who would take that Standard from him must first wrest his soul from his body.’

Over the next few months a war of words developed; Edward Hyde was the king’s wordsmith; and he crafted a masterly reply to the manifesto produced by Pym and parliament stating its case – the so called 19 Propositions. Hyde’s answer sold the message that the ancient constitution of King, Lords and common was in danger; the church as defined by the Book of Common Prayer stood to be destroyed by zealots – it’s deeply ironic that the man who had caused chaos with his innovation in the church, now managed to position itself as his defender. Weird. He warned that the social order and hierarchy was in danger of being overthrown by common people. It declared that

The common people [would] set themselves up for themselves, call parity and independence liberty

They would

Destroy all rights and properties, all distinctions of families and merit

Parliament’s wordsmith and philosopher on the other hand turned out not to be Pym, but one Henry Parker, of whom I bet hardly 1 in a hundred has ever heard; but it was Parker, the Observator as he became known, who articulated a philosophy that would be picked up by the Levellers, the Republic, and John Locke.

Power is originally inherent in the People

Declared Parker. Nor is the argument about who is really defending the ancient constitution any more the most important thing. What really matters, he wrote, what really matter is that

The paramount law that shall give law to all human laws whatsoever is salus populi.

Salus Populi, the good of the people. These are words and ideas that will be embedding in future revolutionary movements and ideas.

Now many people simply tried not to fight at all, appalled at this violence threatening a society that prided itself on its stability, coherence and harmony; 21 of the 38 ancient counties made local agreements not to fight. None would survive. In the end the historian Mark Kishlansky summarises what people fought for rather neatly, maybe a little too neatly:

royalists fought for the traditions of religion and monarchy that their ancestors had preserved. They believed in Bishops and the divine right of kings…as the mooring of a hierarchy in church and state. Parliamentarians fought for true religion and liberty…their fundamental principle was consent – an ingrained belief in the cooperation between subject and sovereign’. [5]


Right then. Now, when I were a lad, nubbut knee height to a grasshopper, sitting on my father’s lap and listening to tales of the homeland, the wisdom of the ancients was that the king was bound to win. He had more posh blokes with cash, who knew how to fight rather than, you know, pull a plough or gather up poo in a cart, and he had prince Rupert and lots of good horses. So it was a miracle that the trusty, big hearted common man and brave English Yeoman managed to put up any resistance at all.

Now my Dad was right about a lot of things – never wear brown shoes with a black belt for example, and the importance of timeo daneos et dona ferrentum, but he was wrong here. In fact parliament held all the cards; they controlled the trained bands of London, they did a better job recruiting the trained bands around the country, they had managed to seize control of the Navy through the Earl of Warwick; and they controlled the country’s largest arsenal at the Tower. And from York Charles really struggled to raise an army; he tried to use the old medieval Commissions of Array authorising local nobles to raise their tenants, and it just looked dodgy and out of date.

But he did have one opportunity; the largest arsenal outside London was at Hull, up near him in Yorkshire. And in April 1642 he set off with his lad and heir, Charles Prince of Wales to take control of Hull. He was of course supreme military commander of all forces. When he arrived, he found to his annoyance that John Hotham, the Governor, had closed the gates against him. Outraged, Charles demanded access, but Hotham had been supported by parliament, and he refused. Steaming with humiliation and fury, Charles was forced to ride away. But the event, though humiliating, served a purpose for Charles. Hotham and parliament had refused the direct orders of the supreme Military commander. To Charles’ mind, this was the declaration of rebellion he had been looking for.

Charles went on a recruiting tour, and on 22nd August he ended up at Nottingham. And it was there that Charles, on a cold, wet and rainy day, announced he had come to suppress the rebellion, and had his knight Marshal Edmund Verney unfurl the royal standard. About 30 people watched him do it and listened to the speeches, water dripping from hats and noses. Then they left to get out of the rain. Overnight, the standard blew down into the mud. It wasn’t a great start, but the starter gun had been officially fired. They were off, on the wacky races.

While Charles made his way to Shrewsbury in the west of England, there to muster the forces he could best find, the world was not standing still, particularly in Ireland, and you might want to hie thee to episode 386 to find out more detail about what was happening there.

To cut a long story short, Pym and Parliament found a way round the conundrum of how to get an army to Ireland while not wanting to hand a sharp sword to the king, and while spending all your time and money to pay an army to fight a civil war. The answer lay north of the border. Many of the Ulster planters were Scots, and the Covenanters felt a powerful sense of responsibility to defend their people. So by July 1642, the English had agreed to share the cost of a Scottish army of 10,000 men in Ireland. In principle, they would report into the head of the government in Ireland, James Butler, the Earl of Ormonde. But in point of fact they did no such thing – the new Scots listened only to their own hearts and to the Marquis of Argyl in Edinburgh.

Elsewhere in Ireland the war had achieved some level of stalemate, march and counter March, burning fields and scorched earth, with the Irish in control of most of Ireland but without the power to seize Dublin. The war was taking a terrible toll on the population; the Irish commander in Ulster, Owen Roe O’Neill, described the land as

not only like a desert, but like hell, if hell could exist on earth

The number of factions in Ireland is fiercely complicated; the New English in Dublin, the Old English mainly in rebellion except families like Ormonde, Clanricard and Thomond, the new Scots in Ulster; the native Irish and then a new faction; people like Roe O’Neill were exiles returned from the Flight of the Earls in 1607, fired up with the idea of the counter reformation and the complete return of papal authority, supporters of what was described as the clerical party. But despite their wide patchwork of different backgrounds and objectives, for the moment the rebels sank their differences and in Kilkenny in June 1642 they established a new association, the Confederate Association of Ireland, and they declared they were

Irish united for God, King and Country

They were essentially conservative; they wanted to change the existing status, to gain toleration for their religion, confirm their land rights, but continue to live under the authority of the king. For the Confederacy it’s important to remember this big point, write it on your heart; that the defeat of King Charles in England would be a disaster; nothing could be worse for them than the establishment of an Ireland under the rule of a puritan English parliament. Charles must win the civil war for them to have any chance of a bright future, he must be in control for them to negotiate a deal with him.

Back in blighty, the transformation in Charles’ situation between raising the Standard in Nottingham and his position and outlook in October 1642 is extraordinary, I mean zero to hero level. The courtiers around him saw him go through the full gamut of moods and emotions. At the end of August, with just a few hundred men with him, he had been reported to be in agony at the thought that he would be forced to negotiate with parliament,

In so great an agony …he had not slept two hours the whole night[6]

His despair was probably not helped by the stream, of letters from HM, urging him to do better

I should never have quitted England because you will have rendered my journey ridiculous, having broken all the resolutions that you and I have taken, save going to York, and there doing nothing’[7]

But what a change by the start of October. Now it was now reported by one

I never saw the king better

In council there was a feeling now of bullishness – this was going their way; a councillor wrote to a friend

The king is of late very much averse to peace

The king had changed his recruitment strategy, and turned instead to his great men. This meant that in the North the super-rich William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle was made governor of the 4 Northern counties and he spent money like water, £10s of thousand to raise an army of 2,000 Whitecoats, against whom the parliamentary leaders the Fairfaxes and the Hothams clung on fearfully and only just. In the South West, the royalist Ralph Hopton had successfully seized control of Cornwall and would use it to build a base when he came into conflict with his old friend, the parliamentary commander William Waller.

Meanwhile in Shrewsbury the greater magnates of the realm had arrived with large contingents or armed men. The Earl of Derby brought three regiments of foot from Lancashire, landowners in Wales, Cheshire and Staffordshire recruited 11 more regiments. And many Catholics responded too. I mean it has to be said they had very little to thank the king for; in fact Charles had publicly declared that

No papist of what degree or quality soever shall be admitted to serve in our army[8]

But he fibbed, frankly, he’d take what he was given, and it would be a public relations problem, but in the short term it was bacon-saving. Catholics raised money for him too – in the counties around Shrewsbury they paid over £5000 to him as advances for recusancy fines. Which feels a little odd; sort of ‘you know I’m due to persecute you next year, could we bring that forward a bit?’

Charles now had an army – a substantial army about 14,000 strong. And now they were well equipped; because HM had come up trumps. She had strained life and limb in the low countries and France, and raised enough to send a huge shipment of supplies, armaments and artillery to the north east which then arrived at Shrewsbury. And last, but not least, Charles had been joined by one of the great names of the royalist cause – his sister Elizabeth’s son, Prince Rupert of the Rhine had joined him, bringing 2,000 men. Rupert has been described as a ‘thuggish toff’, but he had verve, was thoroughly committed, 6 feet tall and rather beautiful; there’s a lovely line from his biographer that ‘Even his mother remarked on Rupert’s angelic appearance’. Even? Even? Isn’t that what mothers do, isn’t there something about rose tinted spectacles? Any, tall athletic handsome. And more to the point, skilled in mathematics and well-read in military methods from the Thirty Years war.

It was Rupert that won the first military encounter of any size at Powick Bridge on 23rd September, and confidence was sky high when Charles and his council decided that now was the time to advance on London, take it back from the rebels and regain his kingdom. On 12th October Charles issued a proclamation to his army of 14,000 saying to each that

He shall meet no enemies but traitors…most of them Brownists, Anabaptists and atheists, such as desire to destroy both church and state

And they moved out from the city, to march the 160 miles south eastwards towards London to reclaim Charles crown. Cry Harry and all that.

What might you ask, what of parliament and their army? Well, in London, Essex had been gathering men and militia, training and doing his best to equip them at camps covering the Artillery Grounds and Tothill fields outside the city walls. He inspired confidence did our Essex; he had experience, from the 30 Year war – though he would prove a toe-curlingly cautious commander – for good reasons; he hated the death and pain he’d seen there; so the well-being of his men was important to him and they loved him for it; around the muster fields his coach was often mobbed by adoring crowds – Essex would save them all!  God Bless you Robin! they cried out. And on 9th September 1642, banners flying Essex left London and started to pursue his king with orders to rescue him from the evil counsellors surrounding the poor lamb. By October, after more well needed training, his army also of 14,000 stood between the king and his prize.  On the morning of 23rd October, Essex was camped around the village of Kineton, preparing to go to church. When breathless reports came in that just a mile or two away, at the top of a large scarp called Edgehill, stood King Charles and 14,000 of his closest friends and family. It was time.

Again, the Battle of Edgehill is a complex and thrilling piece of history, so I advise you to hear all about it in episode 384, but let me give you a version that has been trimmed and potted. The first thing of note is Charles’ rather cack handed management of his leaders. His supreme commander was the earl of Lindsey, but in  pre-match squabble, Charles instead deferred to Rupert, Lindsey got the hump, threw every toy he could find out of any prams within reach, resigned and took up  command of a foot regiment opposite Essex. There he would have his leg blown off and die of his wounds. Charles often deferred to Rupert, and generally gave his commanders too little clear direction – he was given to making suggestions rather than issuing orders. This will be a problem.

None the less, the Royalists moved down from the hill to offer battle. Generally, foot were in the centre with Pike and Musket,  artillery such as there was dispersed along the line. Cavalry was on the wings and, crucially, held in reserve. This reserve is important. We’ll come back to that.

Rupert commanded the cavalry of the royal right wing, Jacob Astley commanded the foot in the  centre, and in reserve was Lord Byron’s cavalry and the king plus, of course, Edmund Verney, knight Marshal, royal standard firmly grasped in his right hand and his soul. Also close by, the royal physician, William Harvey, circulation of the blood guy, quietly reading a book by a bush. Huh. Who’da thunk it eh?

So Rupert’s royalist cavalry swept the parliamentarian cavalry from the field, and the same happened on the other wing. The way I was taught, these unruly toffs then spent all their time sacking the baggage train looking to pick themselves out a nice pair of silk knickers rather than getting back to the battle. The story is wild uncontrolled Rupert sort of thing. But I now learn, this was standard; re-assembling cavalry was pretty much impossible they were all over the places and the horse were probably blown – so defending the foot and making good use of any offensive subsequent offensive opportunities was the job of the reserve cavalry, that’s what they were there. But at Edgehill they weren’t. Because Lord Byron, seeing all the fun, gaily took the Life Guards and joined in, tails up, cheering and whooping, heading for the silk knickers of life. And so they were not where they should have been for later.

Anyway, sensing blood and victory, Sir Jacob Astley the commander of the royalist infantry in the centre drew a deep breath and bowed his head momentarily

Oh lord thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget you, do not thou forget me

And so another famous quote of the civil wars was born. ‘March on boys!’ he then yelled, and so they advanced – 10,000 against 6,000 parliamentarian foot. It was push of pike, and continual raking musket fire. Blood, mud, screams and howls. At this point Essex, playing it by the book with his reserve cavalry still by his side, note bene Lord Byron, counter attacked and saved his own infantry from defeat and put Astley’s under serious pressure. At this point, exhausted, the fighting paused, and Essex withdrew northwards.

It was too late for Edmund Verney though. He had been caught up in vicious hand to hand fighting in the chaos caused by the cavalry charge, and lefty exposed by Byron’s absence. He fought doughtily the old fella and wielded the standard as a pike. His manservant was killed beside him, but he cut his killer down, then embedded the standard in the guts of another soldier – but was overwhelmed, and went down and the royal standard fell with him. This was a coup. A parliamentary ensign, Arthur Young, seeing the royal standard fall, and over joyed at this stroke of luck, leapt forward to take the standard back as a trophy to Essex. But try as he might, he could not tear it from the dead, cold, relentlessly loyal grip of the dead Verney. So – he hacked off the hand, and took the standard back in triumph and presented it to Essex. The rest of Verney’s body was never found by his family after the battle; and before long over the battle field and in the woods at his home at Claydon, was seen the ghostly figure of Edmund Verney, searching eternally for his lost hand.

But, more immediately. Although in many ways a draw, Charles held the field of battle and so really felt he had a win. Essex had withdrawn northwards towards Warwick; he had lost 1,500 men and seems to have been pretty mauled and needed time to recover before moving off once more – so, the road to London lay clear. Charles had a chance now to make a dash for London, undefended by Essex’s main army, and maybe end the war early.

And that is precisely what the young blood, Rupert of the Rhine suggested; Unc, he says, Unc, let me take a flying column of cavalry and catch them unawares. Very oddly, with hindsight, or maybe impressively wisely, there was a faction including Edward Hyde that urged this would be wrong – a peace would be hard to build if the king returned as a conqueror; No, he should instead use this opportunity to negotiate from a position of strength. Charles cogitated, as kings do, and said nope, not going to do either of those. Instead, we are going to dawdle, we are going to take the strategically insignificant castle of Broughton on the way south, then we are going to set up shop in Oxford which will be our capital while this bit of unpleasantness lasts, and we’ll get on to London When we get round to it. When the time is right. What do we want? Victory! When do we want it? In due course! That sort of thing.

The consequence of this is that when Essex picked up his skirts, and those of his remaining 12,000 men, and legged it, he was able to outstrip Charles. And on 7th November 1642 London went potty – because their hero and saviour Robin rode into town. By the time he arrived, it might be noted, his army was but 7,000. It is an interesting feature of civil war armies is that, in the words of historian Ian Gentles

‘the armies of both sides were like mushrooms, shooting up almost overnight, then disappearing even more quickly’. [9]

Desertion, fear, lack of money, DIY work back home calling – all sorts of reasons for that.

Essex came back to a town that looked rather different – because London had already heard of a massive defeat and immediately ignored the big friendly button saying ‘Don’t panic’. Instead they ran round like chickens running backwards.  The House of Lords immediately proposed a peace delegation to go to Charles with a truce while talks happened; the Commons were also sitting in the closet of funk and so agreed. Better safe than sorry though – what London needed was walls. And so walls they must have, before the king came to call.

And so we have one of the most remarkable events of the Civil wars – that’s a personal view, no one else seems to think it – the building of London’s new walls, or the Lines of Communication as they were called I think is amazing. You can find out about this and about the battle of Turnham Green in episode 385, and even hear a few lines from Samuel Butler. Now, you might point out that London already had walls, and yes you are right, but they were thin walls, medieval walls not designed for artillery – there’d been no proper fightiness in blighty for like ever so no one had thought to build new walls, a common story around the country. Plus they were too short, London had grown.

And so basically all London turned out and started building nice thick earthen walls that would swallow cannon balls, plus strategic Towers at various points. 11 miles long it would be when done. Trade organisations organised days off work and rosters, and men, women and children traipsed out to the lines drawn out. bearing shovel and barrow. The Venetian ambassador watched it all happening, and wrote home with amazement

“at the approaches to London, they are putting up trenches and small forts of earthwork, at which a great numbers of people are at work, including the women and … children

All sorts of people and rank joined in; 3,000 porters for example, all pushing their wheel barrows out to the walls, and Oysterwomen came to help, as one observer wrote, a thousand of them

All alone, with drums and flying colours…their goddess Bellona leading them in a martial way

By the time Charles arrived, there was a serviceable defence built; not the finished thing, that would be completed the following year, with stone towers added – but all done in pretty much the same way – the community pulled together not to do their best, but to do what was required.

And then Charles did arrive. The peace delegation had met him at Reading, but been sent away with a flee in their ears – Charles was on a roll, on top of the world, in control, not for him Hyde’s namby pamby negotiation idea. Everyone in London knew he was coming because they heard the gunfire from Brentford on the outskirts; and those names we’ve heard before in parliament or in debate now appears as captains – Denzil Holles and John Hampden were at Brentford, their regiments mauled and sent helter skelter by Rupert’s advance, as Rupert’s men sacked Brentford, as Rupert’s men were wont to do. John Lilburne was captured in the fight and taken to Oxford to be executed as a traitor. As it happens, just so you know, his wife Elizabeth Lilburne in just one of the many occasions she pulled her husband irons out of the fire, talked parliament into offering a prisoner exchange, got a letter, walked the 60 miles to Oxford, and got Honest John out of prison, and making him Freeborn John again.

But at the village of Turnham Green, now an unremarkable west London ‘burb, the people of London were gathering. London was not defence less; anymore; in fact at Turnham Green it was a carnival, the common land between Chiswick and Acton was stuffed – with Essex’s remaining experienced soldiers, the militia of the London Trained bands, militia men who had come from the surrounding counties, Hertfordshire, Essex  and Surrey, and a mass of green barely trained Apprentices who had signed up in the previous few days. So there were 20,000 people or so in total, of various flavours of readiness and resolution.

This was the sight facing Charles’ army when they arrived. As they deployed, Essex and the Commander of the trained bands, Philip Skippon, rode up and down the lines, and Skippon steeled his men for the coming fight

Come my boys my brave boys! Let us pray heartily and fight heartily. I will run the same fortunes and hazards with you. Remember the cause is for God and for the defence of yourselves, your wives and children. Come my honest brave boys, pray heartily and fight heartily and God will bless us

For hours they stared at each other. The odd cannon roared from time to time. As time passed it came to lunch and over a hundred wagons arrived from the city laden with drink and hot food. Bulstrode Whitelocke recalled

The city goodwives and others, mindful of their husbands and friends, sent many cartloads of provisions, and wines, and good things to Turnham Green, with which soldiers were refreshed, and made merry[10]

A crowd of spectators had gathered behind the Apprentice boys, two or three hundred of them. Every time any part of the royalist army advanced or deployed, they panicked, and

Would gallop away towards London as fast as they could ride to the discouragement of the parliament’s army, and divers of men would steal away from their colours towards their home and city[11]

And then, at last, there was movement on the royalist side. But it was not towards London – they were leaving. There were too many Londoners facing them down. Charles had missed his big chance, and Londoners had stood shoulder to shoulder in the face of danger, and turned him aside. Within a few weeks, Charles and his court was back in Oxford, preparing for the campaigning season of 1643 that would bring parliament to heel. In London, despite the victory at Turnham Green, there remained a fear of the bloodshed that now clearly beckoned and which they had seen at Edgehill; a march of 3,000 people presented a petition of peace to parliament, which was sent to Charles; in parliament a Peace Party was emerging among Lords and MPs, and they set about preparing a list of concessions as part of a new offer of peace.

And we’ll hear about Charles’ response to those pleas and whether or not further bloodshed can be avoided on the next At a Gallop episode or indeed you can simply segue straight to episode 387 and find out about it there, in glorious detail.

Before I leave let me remind you of the core episodes, but also that you can listen to all my podcasts free of adverts, and access over 100 hours of extra Shedcasts by becoming a member at thehistoryofengland.co.uk. Also, you would thereby support my work and make me happy, which is surely a Good Thing, capital G capital T.  That’s thehistoryofengland.co.uk

[1] Adamson, J: ‘Noble Revolt’, P336

[2] Cust, R: ‘Charles I: A Political Life’, p5

[3] Jackson, C: Devil-Land’, p257

[4] Jackson, C: ‘Devil-land’, p258

[5] Hunt, T: The English Civil War at first hand’, pp95-6

[6] Cust, R: Charles I: A political Biography’, p359

[7] De Lisle, L: Henrietta Maria’, p225

[8] Woolrych, A: ‘Britain in Revolution’, p237

[9] Kenyon, J: ‘The Civil Wars’, p 104

[10] Purkiss, D: ‘The Civil Watrs’, p193

[11] Hunt, T: ‘The English Civil War at first Hand’, p110





5 thoughts on “AAG1641-1642 The Descent to War

  1. Aha, I think I’ve finally got it: the reason why there’s so much chaos and civil war starts although so many wish for peace. The political system is broken – the fulcrum at the top (KC) doesn’t work – and nobody can yet imagine another system.
    Great episode, by the way, quite a stirring and thrilling gallop.
    And I fully agree that HOE membership is a great gift to give to oneself.

    1. Yes that makes sense; I suppose it’s almost analagous to Henry VI in a way, although they were very different people; but the system just couldn’t cope. It was quite long wasn’t it though? I’m beginning to worry that AAG epsiodes will simply become 10 episodes strung together!

  2. Even though I’m all caught up with the regular episodes, I really enjoy these AAG episodes. They give me an opportunity to mentally recap the highlights of the preceding episodes. In listening to this AAG, it reinforced an idea that the preceding episodes suggested — that the relationship between Charles an Henrietta Maria somewhat foreshadow the relationship between Nicholas and Alexandra on the eve of the Russian revolution.

    1. Thanks Jerry. I am quite enjoying the story of Henrietta Maria – she’s quite a player. But I do not know enolugh about the Tsarina – very interesting, I must look it up.

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