390 Leagues and Covenants

In August 1643 came one of the defining moments of the course of the Revolution – the swearing of the Solemn League and Covenant between England and Scotland. It would bring an army – and division. But for 6 months Newcaste still have a chance to take Hull and advance on London. Would he seize the opportunity?

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Last time, along with some over-enthusiastic blather about News-sheets and peace petitions, we heard about the King’s failed campaign to secure the west, advance on London and enforce peace on those darned malignant rebels. But there was not just one piece in play in the second half of 1643, more than one throw of the dice remained to Charles in this year which had gone so well up until the Summer. Newcastle had invested vast sums in the royal cause, and his victory over Fairfax in June at Adwalton Moor in June had been such a joy to Charles that William Cavendish had duly been promoted Marquess of Newcastle – which is great because they like each other too. The victory had led to the collapse of the position Thomas Fairfax and his Dad had built up, and led to the capture of the West Riding towns by Newcastle that had been so hot for Parliament. Fairfax pere et fils had fled to Hull on the East coast of Yorkshire.

However, before we get to all that fighty stuff we have two serious topics to talk about; friends and religion.  They are, as ever, a bit mixed up. Let’s talk Scotland and the drive for religious reform at the Westminster Assembly.

A bit of background; the context is that north of the wall in June 1643 a convention of estates is going on in Scotland; this is basically a form of the Scottish parliament. Charles had not wanted the Convention to go ahead and had instructed his agent, the Duke of Hamilton to withhold the required royal assent. So, now Archibald Campbell, the Marquess of Argyll was firmly in control of the Covenanter Revolution and over the last couple of years Charles and Hamilton had tried to build a party of magnates and peers to dislodge him – and failed. So Argyll just called the Convention anyway, king or no king who cares eh? Hamilton talked Charles into giving way. Hamilton was to regret that. But Hamilton felt he could restrain the covenanters; after all, the history of Scotland and its parliament, before everyone got so revolutionary in 1638, had been one of leadership and authority from the magnates of the realm.

To cut a long story short – Hamilton was wrong, dead wrong. For a time, and it is only a time really, that grip of the magnates had been broken. True there was no magnate bigger than Argyll, but the Covenant held sway and with it the lesser nobles, the Lairds, were firmly behind the revolution, as were the Burgesses of the towns. Both were fervently cheered on and encouraged by the Kirk in the form of its General Assembly. The triumph of the Covenanted State was absolute. So it turned out there was little Hamilton, Montrose and other royalists could do about it. Really, Hamilton should never have been so optimistic; as we heard a while ago, any trust in Charles in Scotland had been battered to a pulp into the shape of Voldemort’s soul. His treatment of the Scottish commissioners in Oxford at the start of the year had pretty much done it. Then wow, along came the extraordinary revelation that while pretending to talk he was plotting an invasion anyway with the help of Randal McDonnell the Duke of Antrim from Ireland. Just to double the jeopardy, Antrim was a MacDonald. Ewe from Argyll’s point of view, ewe fear and damnation. Argyll was Campbell clan – traditional and long, long – and I mean long – standing blood enemies, about whom people still weep – never trust a Campbell I am told. By a MacDonald, obs.

Hamilton’s impotence was quickly exposed in the Convention, he took the fatal decision, outvoted at every turn, to withdraw from the Convention, probably with a flounce, though history doesn’t really record, but you know that would have been in the cavalier idiom, Montrose would certainly have flounced. Anyway, the problem with this was that while Hamilton hoped it would reduce the legitimacy of the Convention, it really didn’t and left the royalist party without leaders. It basically handed Argyll a carte  as blanche as cartes can be blenched. Though Hamilton’s blues were still blue.

Meanwhile in the other room, the Scots were entertaining suitors from England, a commission from the English Committee of Safety, led by Harry Vane The younger. They were looking for an alliance. The forces of the English parliament at this time, which is before the failure of the royal Newbury campaign, was looking very bleak. They wanted the help of a Scottish army; at least 10,000 foot and 1,000 horse would be good.

Argyll and the Covenanters had two main considerations; religion and security, and the two were intimately and inextricable intertwined, like long lovers in a timeless embrace. Oo’er missus. But seriously; how could the Scots be secure that Charles, thoroughly untrustworthy as he had proved himself over the last 5 years, would not reverse all the changes that had been achieved if he regained control on England? If he won in England he’d surely impose royal absolutism, and re-impose bishops on Scotland’s perfect kirk. As indeed – plot spoiler – his son will eventually do, and in brutal fashion after 1660. Just so you know their fears were not idle.

So for the success of the Scottish Covenanting state, proudly considered by its inhabitants the perfect expression of the two kingdoms of God and King, not only must Charles lose, but England must become also a proper Presbyterian Covenanted state, under the same National church. And Ireland actually but that’ll have to come next. And more than that, Scots must have a day to day voice in the way England is governed and run to make sure any backsliding would be quickly sat on by a covenanter backside. A seat at the table. That’s the price then – religious unity, seat at the table.

The lead English commissioner did not want to pay this price. This is Henry Vane The younger – we have spoken of him before. You might remember his Dad, Harry Vane senior secretary of State who made such a Horlicks of his testimony against Strafford. Harry Vane senior’s political influence was killed as effectively as Strafford’s by the trial; and he will die in odd circumstances that might suggest suicide in 1655, with a grim preamble to his will talking of a life ‘nothing but vanity and vexation’. Anyway, just in case you’d been wondering.

Harry Vane the younger, the only Harry Vane we’ll talk about from here on in, was a very different kettle of fish. He’s 30 years old now, we’ve heard something of his career as Governor in Massachucetts. He was quick witted, with a sharp intelligence; even his enemy Clarendon wrote of him of

‘great natural parts … quick conception … very ready, sharp and weighty expression’;

If you want a back handed compliment as pretty as you are likely to get, Charles II would pronounce him

‘too dangerous … to let live’

Vane was a brain of extraordinary range and flexibility. His biographer, Ruth Mayers used a very interesting phrase

Most politicians are not thinkers; most theorists are not actors. Vane was both.

I mean – discuss. Not sure I necessarily agree with the first part of the sentence, and of course bow to Ruth’s view on the latter. The point for here though most specifically is around Harry’s religious views. Here we come across the word ladies and gentleman Eirenical. First thing I did there in Dire Straits was head for the OED, double four time. Pacific it means, a person who seeks a peaceful solution. Should never appear in a podcast but we are at the frontiers here. Vane would spend his life pursuing the reconciliation of all under the banner of civil and Christian liberty. Like most people in the English Revolution, Vane was on a journey and so his views will develop through extraordinary times, but he’d already stood up and publicly declared that his support for the Commonwealth was to protect ‘Liberties and Religion’ from ‘oppression and violence’.

Eirenical then. Or in the nomenclature of the English Revolution, Vane was part of the religious and political groups we’ve started to call the independents – congregationalists who believed everyone must find their own path to God. Unless it involved the anti christ, otherwise known as the Pope, and indeed without the agents of conformity and oppression otherwise known as bishops. Oh, and searching for peace in religious terms that is. Not in terms of the fight against the king, since defeating the king was what was required to protect ‘Liberties and Religion’ from ‘oppression and violence’. Vane was firmly in the war party. This war must be prosecuted with all possible energy and force. The king must be forced to listen.

OK, so with that in mind, Vane was in a bind, and a poor negotiating position in Edinburgh. He needed the troops absolutely. He hated the idea of enforced religious uniformity of whatever kind. But he faced negotiators of some power, who were determined that if the English were to have their help, their incorporation within the Presbyterian church was non-negotiable. Vane twisted and turned, argued and wriggled like a ferret in a sack. To be honest, he was perfectly happy that the Scots be included in a joint Commonwealth, that their views be heard at the table of governance, that they join with them in seeking religious reform. No problem. But for Vane and the independents, the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland was as great a tyranny as any other enforced uniformity, whether that be Bishops or Pope.

The result of the discussions was the Solemn League and Covenant. It is one of the most important documents of the whole darned shebang. It was in the form of an oath to be sworn by all subject of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

‘living under one king, and being of one reformed religion

It declared. The oath was to preserve the religion of the church of Scotland, and to reform the church of England and Ireland. The only titchy, tiny, narrowest of loopholes Vane manged to get into this new whip of six strands was the phrase ‘according to the word of God.’

There’s quite a bit of controversy about that. Later on the Scots would be livid that they’d been tricked by Vane – because England will in the end, after much to-ing and fro-ing, go their own way according to their idiom, and that was not what the Scots wanted at all. But Vane didn’t hide it. He made it clear England wanted only wanted what he called a ‘civil League’, and that his loophole was designed to ‘keepe a door open in England to Independencie’ rather than giving an irrevocable commitment to divine-right Presbyterianism. At the time the Scots had England and Wales prostate over a barrel, facing the prospect of military defeat, and believed they’d delivered a spanking settlement. On 17th August the Solemn League and Covenant was sworn by all members of the Convention and of the General Assembly of the Kirk. To be fair to them, every Scot in that place felt they had indeed made a lasting commitment to a Commonwealth of peoples. They were in no way cynical. Well, Argyll was pretty much capable of anything but not in general.

I’m going on, I’m well aware. But look this is important everyone. Not only would the Solemn League impose significant expectations that could not reasonably met with religious peace with Parliament, it would be a mountain in the way of reaching agreement with the king, a river in flood cascading down from the heights of Scafell Pike into the southern fells in the deep of winter between the King a workable compromise. John Pym, ultimate author of this deal, was as guilty as Charles in underestimating the religious convictions of his king, which were not cynical either, which were sincere if extreme. John Pym’s were also not cynical, they were also sincere, if extreme. And sadly never the twain could meet. Only with the attitude of the likes of Vane and the independents was there a chance. Even that was a rocky path.

Closing the deal was immeasurably helped by the inclusion of the Scots in something called the Westminster Assembly, so let us talk about that. An event which will all of itself have a long running significance and impact beyond the time of revolutions.

The thing is that the state of religion in England was a bit of a dog’s breakfast by this stage. Caught up in politics, Bishops had sort of been abolished but not really yet, the Root and Branch had been sidelined then revived like yesterday’s shepherd’s pie. The last 20 years or so had been absolutely mad. When old Queen Bess had expired, there we were with a Church, Calvinist in theology, Episcopal in management, mildly ceremonial in form, BCP. Yes there were puritans who muttered and tried to reform it, but separatism was a small weedy plant in need of manure.

Now look at where we are after 40 years of manure. Laud’s reforms had exposed the church in England to conflict and debate. It had empowered and encouraged and fertilised dissent. The influence of the Dutch and Genevan reformed churches and the Scottish kirk had led to a new growing Presbyterianism to replace the old Elizabethan breed which had withered. The experience of the settlements in New England, freed from constraints to follow their own hearts, had been very different, often choosing the congregationalist approach – independency. And so we now have three strands – Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Independent.

So by ordinance of parliament – because the King would not contemplate such a thing – parliament called 121 divines to Westminster, under its control and authority, to decide what the form of worship should be; there’s a list of them, they come from all over England and Wales. There were also lay assessors to work with them, and MPs. The historian Austin Woolrych is interestingly passionate about what might have happened to balance these three strands if the situation had not ben different; maybe there would even have been some toleration because it’s difficult to see a solution without it. But it was not to be – because the imperative of the Scottish alliance would skew everything.

It might also have been different if the Scottish commissioners – authors of the National Coveant among them had possessed any scruples about imposing the settlement we have just spoken of. But the Scottish Kirk knew full well they were in possession of the truth, quite apart from their own need for security. The English and Welsh might not all appreciate that right now with their weird hybrid church but they would in time. Woolrych is quite funny about it so I might quote him, here we go

They were no more troubled about imposing an alien religious system on an unwilling nation than a group of Soviet commissares would be when delivering the pure milk of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy  to a satellite country after the Second World War.[1]

By golly strong stuff. I mean think you have to leaven that bread a bit; Presbyterianism was already a force within England, the Scots had supporters in the Assembly. So it’s a bit strong. But the point about impact is valid; the English and Welsh found themselves pushed into a religious straitjacket that would never, never, ever find general acceptance and create unity.

If there had been small, feeble mushroom of hope pushing its way through the mulch of religious tyranny, then news from Ireland provided the heavy clodhopping thump of walking boot to squish said mushroom to into a mush of nothingness. We heard last time about the defeat of Roe O’Neil at Clones; and the loss of influence of the more extreme Catholic faction cleared the way to an agreement between Charles’ Lieutenant Ormonde and the Confederacy. It was essentially an annually renewable truce, and it was called the Cessation. It will end up being renewed until 1646.

Here’s the deal and the whys and wherefores then. For the Confederates the benefits of Cessation were two fold; they hoped to agree a good deal with the King, and remember that for the Confederacy to succeed the puritan English parliament must lose. Secondly though, if they were not fighting the English, they could concentrate their fire on the New Scots in Ulster.

For Charles, it was simply about winning the war in England. Who knows whether he had any intention to really engaging in any long term deal for Ireland. For the moment he got professions of loyalty and the promise of 10,000 soldiers to fight for the cause. He paid a heavy price though. One impact was that it confused the Protestant armies in Ireland; now you’ve got some who are happy to work with the Loyal Catholics, some who aren’t and then there’s the New Scots. So it splits Irish Protestants. But most obviously the News-sheets in England went bananas – it had happened, what the extremist and nutters had threatened. Had happened. The king was deploying an Irish Catholic army to England. Remember 1641 and the massacres of 10,000, no 100,000, no 200,000 innocent Protestants? Well now our very own king and what’s his phrase – father of the nation? That guy?  Well the father of the Nation is sending them here to do the same to us. No matter the stuff about the exaggeration of 1641, no matter that the contingents that started arriving were initially 5,000 English soldiers, we are talking visceral fear and panic here. For many that trumped everything.

So; back to the Westminster Assembly. It will take a while to deliver so we’ll come back to it. But the immediate result is that if there had been any doubt, the Cessation killed it. And all the members of Parliament in Westminster, and all the Assembly of Divines, gathered in St Margaret’s Church on 25th September 1643, and all swore to the Solemn League and Covenant. The New Covenant was sent to parishes throughout England and Wales, many signed many did not. It was this, for example, which finally separated the younger Ralph Verney from active participation in the parliamentary cause, which had given his family so much grief. He was a firm episcopalian, he could not stomach this religious radicalism. Torn in his political and religious convictions, he placed his property in trust to protect it, gained letters of protection from both sides – and he and Mary ran away from the problem to live in France. He would not return until 1653.

It would take a while for a Scottish army to arrive, but the commitment now was to send 21,000 troops which would make a massive impact. It was to be paid for by the English. Once they’d arrived, the Committee of Safety would be replaced by a new Executive committee, the Committee of Both Kingdoms, where English Scots and Welsh would work together.  It’ll become known as the Derby House committee, for that is where it sat. But that’s a few months in the future. Charles has a few months grace while soldiers from Ireland are arriving through the port at Chester, and as yet no Scots.

The hapless Duke of Hamilton, incidentally was forced to leave of course as his hopes and those of his master crashed and burned in Edinburgh, and before he was forced to sign the Solemn League and Covenant. He arrived back at Oxford seeking mercy and understanding for his tireless work. He gets a lot of grief from historians actually does the Duke of Hamilton and without doubt he fails miserably. But look his boss gave him a shocking hand to play, and not only that, kept dropping bombs – rejecting the Scottish commission in April 1643, the shockingly absurd intriguing with Antrim. Surely – Hamilton never stood a chance, and risked his life trying – I’m on team Hamilton. So he arrives at court. There he finds the undeniably beautiful, optimistic, aristocratic and dashing James Graham, Earl of Montrose who had a plan to conquer Scotland for the king. Montrose straight out accused Hamilton of treason. Charles said yes, yes, that must be right, after all can’t have been my fault. Hamilton will spend January 1644 to April 1646 in Pendennis Castle in Cornwall. It seems harsh, but that’s the price of failure I suppose.

Let’s get physical, let’s get fighty, let us return then to where the air is cleaner, to the North, and to the east, to talk of many things, among which will not be Shoes or ships, possibly sealing wax might make a passing appearance, but we will talk Fairfax, Manchester and Cromwell.

I’m going to take you back to the chaos after Adwalton moor in June 1643, and the defeat there. The parliamentarian cause was in meltdown – although fortunately John Hotham had been removed as Governor at Hull before he could turn it over to the King. It’s worth noting that Cromwell had played a part in exposing a treachery which, had it succeeded would have made any recovery in the north much, much harder. Fairfax was on the run, the West Riding towns falling to the royalist commander Earl, now Marquis of Newcastle.

Fairfax later wrote of that 40 hour ride from Bradford to Hull after defeat at Adwalton. He saw his wife Anne captured by the royalists, and had become separated from his little five year old daughter, left in a farm believed dead; they would later be reunited, Mary would become a Buckingham, but that’s another story. Thomas was bleeding, having been shot in the wrist. But the party made it to join his father Fernandino at Hull. The locals saw the desperate looking party arrive on 4th July. A local minister wrote a worried note in the parish register

War in our gates…all our lives now at the stake. Lord deliver us for his sake

Farifax like so many believed in God’s providence. He wrote

In all humility I say I was in Jobs condition when he said naked I came out of my mother’s womb and naked I shall return thither…but God, who is a God of mercy & consolation doth not always leave us in distress

Just trying to give you a proper flavour of the all the Godliness in which these events are soaked. It’s easy to forget.

It is the Fairfaxes’ resolution at this point that Newcastle had to deal with if he was to take the war south and east into Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and maybe on to London. Hull was a major fortress, and could not easily be left, and its new Governor, Fernandino Fairfax and his son Thomas must be winkled, they must be winkled out. Elsewhere in Yorkshire, parliament was under the cosh. Interestingly ordinary citizens and clubmen, continued to resist in the West Riding; organised around the local chapels, the people of Bradford raised 60 horse, 280 musketeers and 500 clubmen, all assembled with no Gentry involvement. They carried out a raid towards Halifax but were crushed by royalist gentry, several villages burned. But the activism there is interesting, and part of the clubman tradition we’ll explore a bit more in 1645.

So Newcastle moved to Hull to take it. He found preparations had been made; new garrison troops had been recruited, forward defensive positions constructed. Everyone had been involved in the work, women, children and men; one local wrote

We have our virgin troops, yet we can boast of our troops of virgins who showed such diligence

It was not going to be easy; and it got harder when Fairfax opened the sluice gates around the town and forced Newcastle to move his guns back. Whether Newcastle was right or wrong to pay so much attention to Hull is yet another military debate – maybe he should have just got on with it and marched south, but the Fairfaxes take a lot of credit for that; they not only held Hull, they also actively raided into Yorkshire and kept the royalists honest.

Further south, Eastern association commanders and a certain Colonel Cromwell were active; in July Cromwell was at Nottingham. And there he met a young man called Henry Ireton. Henry Ireton will be a name you hear many times in the future so let me tell you just a little about him, and something very exciting which I fear you may find less of a thrill than I. I am easily thrilled. He came from a family who would have been described as ‘gentle’, so you know not grand in anyway but local worthies. He was the eldest son of 5 so you’d expect him to have some land coming to him BUT no, ladies and gentlemen. This is the thrilling bit just so you know how to react. In this part of Nottinghamshire, Attenborough, an ancient form of inheritance survived, called ultimogeniture or ‘borough English’. This meant the youngest son inherited, NOT the eldest. Well, butter my bottom and all that. The idea was that in a merchanty kind of environment, it would have been your eldest taking the risks and wandering around the world making money, so the youngest was the one that stayed at home and kept the home fires burning, and therefore inherited. Well, who’d thunk it? So basically for the purposes of our story, our Henry was not well heeled, and had relatively few prospects. Still he got to school as a gentleman commoner, and probably practised at law a bit.

Ireton’s family were firmly radical in the religious sense, and influenced by Dutch practice. During 1643 men like Ireton and Cromwell in the Eastern Association will prepare their region for the war that was coming; Cambridge is fortified, and Cromwell made Governor of Ely, where he installs Ireton as a deputy. And Ireton was determined that the locals should have the benefit of the kind of religious freedom he espoused. Not sure all the locals, used to the greater ceremony and formality of the church of England saw it as a benefit. One of them grumbled about Ireton’s stewardship, and that he’d turned Ely into

a mere Amsterdam, for in the chiefest churches on the Sabbath day the soldiers have gone up into the pulpits both in the forenoon and the afternoon and preached to the whole parish, and our ministers have sat in their seat in the church and durst not attempt to preach, it being a common thing to preach in private houses night and day, they having got whole families of Independents into that Isle from London and other places.

There’s a bit of that with Oliver as well; there’s a story from the time of him stopping the choir singing at Ely cathedral in services and stopping use of the organ there. It appears to be true; for the puritans, polyphonic music outside communal singing of psalms was not part of church services. Not that Cromwell or puritans disliked music – Cromwell himself will have an organ installed at home as Protector. They believed it just not within the religious context.

Cromwell meanwhile was scurrying around militarily, making himself useful in the cause; he assaulted the grandeur of Burghley house in July, took it and the place was thoroughly looted. The vicar at nearby Stamford – possibly the most perfect market town in England by the way – heard of these rebels and rang the Bells. As a result 400 clubmen turned out to protect their own. It’s an interesting reminder should you need it that the allegiance of clubmen was not predictable; they could turn out for either side, often they were not motivated by a side as such – they wanted to defend their own property and community. Unlike the partisan West Riding clubmen we’ve been hearing about, this is an attempt to keep the scourge of violence away, from either side. Sadly it rarely ends as well as it absolutely should do; in this case, Cromwell sent his brother in law, John Desborough to deal with it, and they drove the locals off and about 50 were killed in the process.

A local commander was promoted at this point by parliament, a young aristocrat called Willoughby, and Cromwell sees action again. I am developing Cromwell’s story here quite consciously, now, I think you ought to know my tactics. Although it doesn’t do to over emphasise Cromwell’s role, at some point we are going to explain why a glorified farmer becomes one of England’s most controversial heads of state, and the only commoner ever to do so. Hopefully it’ll emerge. What’s emerging now are a few things.

He’s a big family man and relationships matter to him; he has family around him like John Desborough, he is making relationships with the likes of Ireton and Lilburne that will stay with him throughout, and one of the fascinations of the civil wars for me are these bands of people whose attitudes and relationships will change and be transformed in the light of the turbulent experience of the civil wars. At the moment they are here together, in a common enterprise. They will change and respond differently ad life gets more complicated for now – the objective is clear.

As a cavalry commander he is a man of action and learning to control the men under his command; his new commander Willoughby made a bold dash northwards into Lincolnshire and took the town of Gainsborough from under the royalist nose. Within a few days to his horror he found himself confronted by a section of Newcastle’s army on its way south. In an action there Cromwell and another cousin, Edmund Whalley managed to turn their troop of horses round, reform and return to the fight and drive off a group of dragoons. He’s disciplined and in action, decisive. Two more things; he’s imbued with the righteousness of his cause and determined to do what is required. In the action, a royalist called Lord Charles Cavendish is cut down and killed by a trooper, one trooper Berry. In his report to parliament, Cromwell records that Berry thrust Cavendish

Under the short rib

Ronald Hutton notes the relish with which he writes this, without regret for the death of a fellow Englishman, and the biblical connotations of the phrase. Cromwell will frequently write moving letters home to the parents of men who die under his command; equally he will write coldly of the enemies he defeats and kills. One more thing; he is liberal in writing of his exploits.  His light will not remain hidden under the bushel of modesty. The News-sheets pick up on this – for the first time he was the hero of a pamphlet – Colonel Cromwell’s Proceedings against the cavaliers. Not just that, but in parliament itself, people are beginning to recognise Cromwell as a talented soldier and potential leading commander.

Right enough of that, back to the big story, which is the panic in London now at the situation in the north in August 1643, just as Essex is setting out to try and meet the royal challenge at Gloucester and the west. Pym is aware that a new army is needed for the North and the Eastern Association must be properly equipped to meet the challenge. A new recruitment is needed and a new Commander.

It was never going to be Cromwell; it was in fact Edward Montagu, Earl of Manchester. He has been in our story before, as Lord Mandeville. He had come very much under the influence of Warwick and the Junto; it was he that George Digby had warned in January 1642 that Charles’ officers were on their way to arrest him, before the incident of the Five members. Manchester will have an interesting arc in our story, but at this time, a 40 year old, he is energetic in the cause. Even after all the ups and downs of the Revolution, people recognised his essentially good nature; though possibly not a stayer, not a man with the ruthlessness needed in a revolution

‘a gentleman of good parts, … and of a debonair nature, but very facile or changeable; and had the misfortune to fall into ill company’[2]

Pym worked hard with the committees behind the scenes to gain agreement with the London Common Council, parliament and the Committee of Safety that while Waller would command a London force a new army needed to be raised for the east and North, and Manchester put in command of the eastern Association. A mobile army of 10,000 was to be raised, and a reserve for the London area of a further 10,000,[3] with assessments and excise taxes raised to pay for them; to raise £22,500 a month. I imagine some thought wistfully once more of the good ‘ole days of that bauble, the Ship Money. How people laughed.

Now Manchester and Cromwell had form. Back in the day, Manchester’s family had supplanted the Cromwells and their cousins the Williams, as the local power around Huntingdon. In addition, they’d clashed over Manchester’s enclosures of common land. Cromwell had fought them in the courts, on behalf of the residents seeing their land enclosed. Manchester had not enjoyed Cromwell’s manner at the time, which seems to have lacked the suitable deference. He complained that Cromwell

did answer and reply upon him with so much indecency and rudeness, and in language so contrary and offensive, that every man would have thought, that as their natures and their manners were as opposite as it is possible, so their interest could never have been the same.

None the less both of them now appeared to unite perfectly decently in the common cause; Cromwell accepted Manchester’s leadership happily, Manchester recognised his talent and made him his lieutenant in charge of cavalry and expanded his own regiment; and Cromwell sat on the County committees in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.

With Newcastle still tied down at Hull, Manchester started his campaign with the kind of energy he will later not show; King’s Lynn, the only royalist outpost in East Anglia, surrendered quickly, and Manchester moved north through September; the objective now was to rescue Hull, and halt the detachments of Newcastle’s army moving south past Gainsborough and threatening and besieging Lincoln.

There are a couple of incidents on the way in terms of the Cromwell story we should note. On 22nd September he seems to have met for the first time with Thomas Fairfax near Hull; it would be a long association, wherein for much of it Fairfax would be his commanding officer, and it was a sting relationship of mutual respect formed at this time – though more of that long in the future of course. Then also Cromwell’s relationship with the future leveller John Lilburne continued; Cromwell had spoken for Lilburne in parliament back in 1641 and had him released. After being captured at Brentford as we have heard, and freed through the offices of Elizabeth Lilburne’s walk to Oxford, John had sold his brewing business at a loss to carry on the good fight. Cromwell now got in touch and suggested he take up a commission in the Eastern Association, and landed him a job as a major in a foot regiment. So Honest John and Elizabeth set themselves up in Boston in Lincolnshire, and Lilburne would rise to be a lieutenant-colonel of dragoons in Manchester’s own regiment.

Cromwell and Lilburne shared the same preference for a measure of protestant religious freedom; but this was not a standard view. So when some Bostonians and some of Cromwell’s troopers held a private religious meeting at Boston, the sort of non confirming independent meeting even Presbyterians disapproved of, the governor intervened as was pretty standard for response to an unlicensed meeting. He broke the meeting up and arrested the men. Lilburne tried to pacify the governor, and when that failed rode 20 miles to Sleaford to fetch his influential friend. Duly,  Cromwell took up the cudgels on his behalf, and was able to sort it out with the governor. Cromwell is becoming a power broker, a defender of religious freedoms, a friend to congregationalists, and a man to go to.

The business now though was to retrieve Lincoln from Newcastle which had fallen after the battle at Gainsborough. The engagement which followed was chaotic and in the end not much more than a fierce cavalry battle. Past the old castle of Bolingbroke, famous for – well you know all about Henry and Bolingbroke, don’t need to tell you lot – Manchester came on the outposts of Newcastle’s main army in the form of cavalry. That evening 10th October Manchester held a council of war, and it was decided to push forward.  And the following day they did so, marching towards the little village of Winceby.

Trouble is; Manchester let things go a bit, there was straggling. Cavalry got too far ahead of the infantry, isolated from their support. Ah ha! thought the royalists, there’s a chance for glory – charge the enemy before the two can support each other, beat them piecemeal, divide, conquer and rule.

So there we are in parliament’s army; Cromwell leading the Association forces in the van, singing psalms, as you do, with Fairfax and his northerners in the rear. Enemy Dragoons appeared – the forlorn hope I think you might call them, their job to disrupt the enemy and run away before they got caught while the main bunch then sorted out the ones you’d distracted. Cromwell saw them, ordered a charge to catch them before they could run but they were better than he hoped – and they fired a second volley. Cromwell’s horse was shot from underneath him, at that moment the main body of royalist cavalry hit Cronwell’s troopers hard, his men scattered under the weight of the attack, a royalist officer Ingram Hopton stood over Cromwell to finish him off. It was all over.
Except it wasn’t. Cromwell’s troopers did not scatter, they held, they rallied, they held Hopton off and it was Hopton that died. How different would history have been I wonder had he run him through under the short rib?

Cromwell found a new mount but it was Fairfax’s day really. He brought his regiment up at a gallop into the royalist flank. Newcastle’s men panicked, and broke and fled and were pursued for miles, the country lane strewed with bodies. Winceby was a small engagement – maybe a couple of thousand men each side, but it was a complete victory and it had a major impact. Newcastle’s advance was halted and drew back, Lincoln fell to parliament on 20th October, Bolingbroke castle on 14th November and Gainsborough was regained by parliament on 20th December. Small battle, big consequences.

The news of Winceby in October came to Newcastle besieging Hull just as Fernandino Fairfax was counter attacking from the garrison. The siege had not been going well, Newcastle’s men were wet and demoralised, and the counter attack overran many of their guns. Now here was news that a revitalised Eastern Association army was at his back; and while the hammer kept falling the Royalist wires were buzzing with the news of the Solemn League and Covenant; at any time, the Scots could appear over the horizon, in force and in fact they had already gathered in Berwick. It was time to go north, to be prepared for a new challenge. Cavendish broke camp and started the march north to Newcastle. There it was. Any dream of a march from the North and east onto London had been thwarted by that devil of the war, a long siege, and Manchester’s revitalised Eastern Association. 1643 that had started so bright was still a good-ish year for Charles, but nubbut more than that.

For my last item, I might remind you that I think two or even three episodes ago I talked about losing three major figures of the early revolution, and I only talked about two; there was Lord Brooke, who may anyway have passed you by, and there was John Hampden. Where then, I hear you ask, where was number three?

Well, it’s John Pym as it happens. John Pym becomes a bit less visible after the war starts; as I think Conrad Russell wrote, war was in a sense the defeat of Pym’s strategy to coerce the king into good sense by constitutional means. Essentially Pym goes into the background, because he works the parliamentary committees. becomes the administrator, enabler, organiser; as the peace marches demonstrated though, he’s still the face of the Revolution to many in London. Though 1642 and 1643 it is much due to Pym’s genius that the mechanism and sinews of war had been created; parliament was forced to innovate much more than the King, who simply reinstituted the same mechanisms and people that existed pre-war. So to Pym the network of committees in the houses, the County committees; to him the drive to implement the kind of taxation which was hated, but of course, required.

He’s also largely instrumental in the strategy of hitching the Revolutionary wagon to the Scottish horses. He died before the Scots arrived, and before the impact of that decision really becomes clear, and the division between Presbyterian and Independent begins to bite; probably he would have stuck with the Scots and Covenant, but it’s not entirely clear.

Despite his influence on the English revolution he’s a curiously unknown figure, his early death, and another problem with the way Cromwell dominates the narrative maybe – a crime I see I am now committing myself in this episode! He has to be seen as the midwife of the revolution, albeit recently it’s been recognised just how important was the influence of the peers like Warwick in the early stages. Pym was unusual in holding no offices of state, and not having a clear patron who directed his activities – he’s been described therefore as the first career politician. His commitment to the cause, his control of politics, his mastery of detail was absolute – at his funeral oration the minister remarked that mastery of his papers was achieved by regularly beginning work at three in the morning. He was a hard working servant of reform.

From the middle of 1643 he’d been feeling increasingly ill, racked by a painful stomach cancer; royalist pamphlets celebrated and declared he was being eaten alive by lice – which apparently was the traditional fate of a usurping tyrant – did not know that, take note any usurping tyrants out there. He died on 8th December 1643, at Derby House. He did not die rich, too busy working for the cause and he seems to have lacked the traditional sticky fingers of great men. So Parliament agreed to pay off his debts. He was buried in Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey. When Charles II arrived back it was decided well, that’s not the thing at all, he was dug up and chucked into a common pit at St Margaret’s.

Pym never considered a future without the king; and maybe his greatest failure was not to recognise that Charles’ commitment to religion was as great as his, and he failed to take account of that. But he worked constantly for peaceful change and made compromises to try and make that possible along the way, but Charles could never quite meet him half way – though got very close in 1642. If you are going to push the boat out, you could make the whiggish declaration that John Pym can stake a claim as a founder of parliamentary democracy.

So there we go, another epic so sorry. The situation at the end of 1643; Charles started well, faded in the second half, and England and Wales are forming into two armed camps, still on the west and north royalist, east and South Parliament model. But the Irish are entering the war through Chester and the West; and the Scots are due to appear like avenging angels in the north. We will begin to see the impact of that intervention – both on the battlefield, but also on the unity of the English parliamentary cause, which will not survive the pressure to submit to the dictates of the Scottish Kirk.

[1] Woolrych, A: ‘Britain in Revolution’, pp270-273

[2] Gentles, Ian ‘Edward Montagu’, ODNB

[3] Hutton, R: ‘The Making of Cromwell’, pp129-151


2 thoughts on “390 Leagues and Covenants

  1. David, I know that this is early in your discussion of Oliver Cromwell’s career, and you may be getting to this later, but one thing I’ve wondered about OC over the years. I know that OC was directly descended from Thomas Cromwell’s sister, so not a direct descendent of TC. But during OC’s career, was his indirect connection to TC ever remarked upon by contemporaries? And If so, how? Regards, Jerry.

    1. Hi Jerry; I’ll have another look but I have read three biographies and one of them indicate that the relationship figured highly in their proud dynastic boasts! Also, I wonder how Thomas Cromwell was viewed back then; his reputation may have been a little shady, after all he had been publicly executed by a king that was revered. I think very few people held Henry VIII inn the modern idiom in 1630! So I think not, but could not swear to it.

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