Between a quarter and a third of adult males up to 50 will fight in the first civil war. Most families will be affected in some way. Here is the story of those great marching armies, what kept them together, what made them effective, and how they fought
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So, last time we ended on a sort of a cusp I think. That perishin’ King Pym has perished, King Charles alive and kicking having dodged the 17th century equivalent of a Pershing missile. The boardgame of civil war has been packed away as the winter has closed in, people are camping out to avoid the perishing cold; and maybe people are getting out board games and cards to while away the hours. Both parties are looking forward to a bigger, better party next year – the king will have his army from Ireland, for parliament the perishin’ Scots will be turning up. That’s enough perishing I think now, Stephen is honour satisfied?
But while the good people of Britan and Ireland retreat to their houses and their farms to focus on dealing with the weather – which was awful in the 1640s by the way, you might even call it perishing – we are going to step outside of the story, and have a look at military matters. I feel the need to explain myself. First of all, I have always wanted to say Stardate: Supplemental – which good honest trekker does not? So I can call this episode a stardate eupplemental. More though, it’s just the right time; I had been dithering about doing it, and Jan of this parish got in touch and said ‘it’s time’ and this gave me the push I needed.
It seems like the right time because by the end of 1643 the battlelines had been drawn. Men are under arms all over the country, country committees taxing and administering away depending on where you live. There are fortified houses and billeted soldiers all over the shop. We’ve had a little over a year of warfare, and this is it; this is now the way life is. England, a nation which never wanted this war, who were basically pretty happy with the society whatever we might think, in the enormity of our condescension from posterity, but England is now at war with itself, and too committed really to draw back – though negotiations will continue.
So, I am going to give you two Stardate: Supplemental episodes on all matters military. Now I had a model for this, from my podcast Dad, Mike Duncan. That actually sounds a little creepy, sorry Mike, but you know history of Rome, inspiration, the exciting podcasting frontier lands in days of my podcasting youth – and all that. Well I have returned to Michael and Revolutions, and he did a thoroughly delightful, 15 minute supplementary episode on military matters on the English Revolution. In a glittering treasure house of podcasting, the episode, 1.5a The Armies, is a shining gem of wit and brevity, and it may be all you need, so look it up.
Mike consciously avoided all the sieges in the interests of narrative clarity, and the lad is a genius. But I am going to do differently; one purpose is that I can then largely park it and take it for read that you understand the context of all these people waving spears around, and the military nature of the world people inhabit now. And once done, get on with the narrative. We’ll still cover Marston Moor, and the siege of Basing House & stuff in that, but I won’t need to warble on again about garrison duty or muskets, pikes and lighting matches, I will stick to cabbages and kings.
I am going to divide my story into two parts, today we are going to focus on the National War. This will focus on the big Marching Armies. We are going to talk about how the leaders of both sides turned a ramshackle group of disparate individuals into effective fighting forces, the symbols, experiences and aspirations that bound them. We are going to talk turkey about the components of the army and how they worked together in battle.
In the next episode, we will talk about War in The Neighbourhood. I have tried to emphasise that the English civil wars spread unevenly but thickly through every artery of local society, not into two big blocks of territory each with a clear loyalty. So we are going to talk about the way that plays out – in sieges and garrisons. And then we are going to bring that all together and talk about the cost of the war; how all of this affects the people of England and Wales and their daily lives. And the final accounting in lives.
By the way, there are a few books I have used if you want to look in into all of this by the way, the classic is Charles Carlton’s book ‘Going to the Wars’; Ian Gentles and Bernard Capp in Kenyon and Ohlmeyer’s edited History of the Civil Wars, Nick Lipscombe’s English Civil War Atlas. Also Mike Duncan recommends ‘All the king’s Armies’ by Stuart Reid.
A broad bit of context first very briefly; I am going to major on the first civil war – you did know you have three right? Right? The first one runs from about 1642 to 1646. The other thing to mention is the New Model Army; we’ve not got there in the story so far, and I will refer to it. Essentially, strippin’ away the brushwood, the New Model is introduced in 1645 to bring an extra level of efficiency and professionalism to the parliamentary side. Which works. The New Model has its own flavour and also, fab fact for your pub quiz tomorrow night, take out Spencer Perceval and Liz Truss and put in that it’s the New Model which starts the British fetish for redcoats, on the basis that in a hundred years or so they’ll make a nice target for American snipers.
Just to give you an idea of the scale of this; in each of the campaigning seasons there were about 150,000 men under military disciple generally; that’s about 10% of the adult male population up to 50 after which age, if my personal experience to anything to go by, it’s impossible to fight your way out of a paper bag. Overall, this probably means that a quarter or third of blokes joined up with the intention of killing someone at some point, which is a lot of killing blokes. I don’t think anything like this which affected the whole people so nearly had happened since … Billy the Conq. All those civil wars – the anarchy, wars of the roses– by comparison are just localised, posh people squabbles.
Do not think that 150,000 a year represents marching armies because it does not. Some stats for you, and a point of comparison with the Daddy of all 17th century wars, The Thirty Years’ War. In November 1632 Gustavus Adolphus alone had 183,000 under arms, in three broad groups – 11% under his command, 36% under independent armies and all the rest, 52%, were spread around in garrison duty. Because Gustavus Adolphus never quite gave 100% ladies and gentlemen, jus 99% not the 101% required of footballers.
By comparison, in June 1645 Charles I had about 40,000 under arms – 25% under his command, 27% in the West country, and the remaining 47% spread around England and Wales. Seems he only gave 99% too, no wonder he lost. The point’s I am making here are – the Civil wars armies themselves are quite titchy compared to the Thirty Years war, but most families are still affected; and that war is local as well as national have winning the war was like a marriage, to have and to hold – and tax. You do have taxes in marriage don’t you or have we been doing it wrong? So winning territory was of course a good thing, but it did also mean a drain on the size of your national marching armies because 50% of your miliary folks are spread out in garrisons.
For marching armies, there was a fighting season, although less pronounced than the Thirty Years’ war it seems. Over there, 87% of the battles were fought between April and November; in the English civil war, only 64% happened then – and although all the big ones did, there was fighting going on somewhere. I wonder if that’s Max Weber’s protestant work ethic – I mean we are a hard working bunch us English, do like to keep busy with our hobbies and all. It’s a bit surprising though because the weather was really rubbish in the 1640s – wet and cold. The global cooling period known as the Little Ice Age, from about 1550-1680, has been blamed for all sorts of stuff – colonialism, political turmoil, plague and famine just for starters – but also wet and miserable soldiers. Oh, and artillery stuck on really bad roads. The roads were really bad by the way. If there’s one thing to take away from this episode, which I hope is stuffed full of interesting things, at least remember the roads were really bad.
However, in winter, November to February there was a general if partial shut down, and marching armies went into quarters; generally that tended to be better for Royalists, since their main army was based around the city of Oxford. Parliament tended to be billeted over a wider area which of course the locals hated, I mean just hated, a bunch of smelly soldiers in your khazi, not good, to the point of being seen as unconstitutional oppression. Anyway, me remind you about the scale of desertion and armies springing up and disappearing like mushrooms. During winter desertion goes potty – reams and rivers and cascades of soldiers simply went home. And you had no idea they were coming back, and you didn’t have their email address, and another recruitment drive was needed.
So let’s say you have your recruits at last, from fresh faced to frankly heavily cynical. The job then was to create an effective fighting force. And we are going to talk now about how army commanders on both sides tried to do that. And the focus for all was pretty clear, and here I have a couple of quotes. Here is Xenophon
Not numbers or strength bring victory in war; but whichever army goes into battle stronger in their soul
Alternatively, Napoleon was no slouch in the soldiering front, and said something similar
the moral is to the physical as three is to one
So; how to achieve that? Ralph Hopton had practical Anglo Saxon attitudes towards the question
‘pay well, command well, hang well’
Money, leadership and discipline basically. But first of all, there was training. Recognition of the importance of training was marked by the plethora of manuals that came out – 35 appeared I think. Now obviously, military skills was the main objective – drilling Pikemen, for example, in techniques developed under the likes of Prince Maurice and Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty years war, to maximise rates of fire for musketeers or for pike to work with musket. Though it’s worth noting that one of the thing they don’t really do is carry out training for different disciplines like cavalry and infantry to work together.
But it was also recognised that training was not just about these miliary skills, critical though that was. It was also to steel men for war, in all it’s horror. John Taylor grimly reminded his readers that
Soldiers are not for sport and joust, but for earnest. Neither is war to be accounted a May-game, or a Morris dance but as a plague and scourge
Captain Sam Jervis wrote
We that have grieved the slain, that they must die
Without method and disorderly
But now we have obtained the handsome skill
By order method and by rule to kill
I am put in mind of Harry Foster’s memory of Newbury and the effect of the cannon
The enemy cannon did play against the red regiment of the trained bands and they did some execution amongst us at first and were somewhat dreadful when men’s bowels and brains flew in our faces. But blessed be. God gave us courage
There’s that perishin’ accent accent again.
Harry mentions God, and there was of course more than drill and training to keep soldiers fighting in the face of such stuff; in brief, civil war historians seem to agree on a hierarchy of the things that kept soldiers steeling in the face of horror, in order of importance:
‘prayer, solidarity with the group, hatred for the enemy, and belief in their cause’.
The New Model Army would adopt the first in spades, and become known as the ‘Praying Army’, as they marched with extemporaneous praying aloud.
Praying and the immediate presence of God was a feature of the parliamentarian armies in particular; there was a constant rattle and hum of sermons to whip up ardour, and to fill any available gap
The Lord’s day we spent in preaching and prayer, whilst our gunners were battering
Recalled Hugh Peters at Winchester. Hugh Peters is one of those hard to comprehend figures – at once grating, misogynistic, electric, charismatic…very hard to really imagine without being there I think. But he was effective; he was Fairfax and Cromwell’s favourite preacher – sent like a bacillus into military trouble spots to energise. He was not alone; a parliamentary soldier at Marlborough recalled hoe John Sedgwick
Thrashed such a sweating sermon that he put off his doublet.
Such soldiers were constantly reading the bible – publishers are cold hearted hard eyed people, I should know, and there seemed no reason not to make a few quid out of the current crisis, which was after all a legitimate business opportunity; there was therefore a special edition of the Bible called The Shoulder’s Pocket Bible, with specific extracts dealing with battle, courage, remembering to do your laces up, trusting in God and keep your powder dry, that sort of thing. The almost ubiquitous presence of pocket bibles also had another benefit – they were good bullet stoppers. And there can be no providence more providential had having a bible save your life. It’s not just a parliamentary thing of course, though it was way strongest with the New Model; royalists knew God was on the side too – at the Battle of Cheriton the royal war cry was ‘God with us’, which felt like a bit of cultural appropriation by the parliamentary team, so they yelled back ‘Jesus with us’. Presumably the Holy Spirit was keeping score. And there I believe I may have made a trinitarian gag in communion with the Church of England, happy to be corrected. Who says Anglicans can’t share a joke or two?
Such shared values helped build esprit de corp. Ritual and banners were also very important; Parliaments often focussed on the cause on their banners – images of magna carta; other common images were of the king’s wicked advisors – bishops, monks and papists. There is even one radical one echoing the words of Henry Parker, England’s first great radical political philosopher we have heard about; it had the image of a severed head and axe dripping with blood above the Latin motto ‘The Safety of the People is the Supreme law’. Most were theological though; Philip Skippon both wrote a religious tract and created his own regimental colours, showing a sword of heaven and a bible with the Latin tag ‘Pray and Fight; Jehovah helps and he will continue to help’.
The cavaliers have the better of it though in my humble opinion, without doubt closer to the Archbishopric of Banterbury; ‘Cuckold we Come’ was a direct attack on Essex’s personal life, there was one with an erect penis and the tag ‘ready for anything’. More serious stuff, was around the king and his right – ‘Touch not mine anointed’, at random. So when you visualise armies you must imagine all this colour too.
Training and campaigning maybe created the greatest source of morale; a feeling of fellowship against everything. In this, ‘us against the world’ mentality, locally raised regiments had an extra advantage. The Scottish commander Robert Munro in Ulster spoke of
Friendship grown up with education, confirmed by familiarity, in frequenting the danger of war.
Richard Baxter remembered the men of Colonel Whalley’s regiment
Many of my dearest friends were there…whose welfare I was tender of…it was them that stuck to me and I to them…I would not forsake them…my faithful people that went through with me so many wars and dangers.
I could go on about the misery of marching in the cold and wet without cover – generally only officers had tents, enlisted men had barns or slept under the stars; the endless and continuous marching, for foraging for food. And also the travelling around the country – I mean far from it for me to suggest that in civil war campaigns lay the start of tourism, but I did laugh at this quote from Robert Harley
You should have seen the Londoners run to see what manner of things cows were
Plus ca change, eh?
The flip side of camaraderie was hatred of the enemy, and this hardened, of necessity in some ways, and as the wars go on, less and less mercy is seen on the battlefield. Cavaliers were contemptuous of parliament’s roundhead rabble , while parliamentarians were convinced the royalists were riddled with papists, Irishmen and foul mouthed debauchees. You might want to try out some of the cat calls just to get in the mood – though probably somewhere you are not going to be arrested; ‘papist Dog!’ or ‘Rebel Rogues!; or ‘Essex’s Bastards’, or advise them to ‘go preach in a crab tree’.
But to set against that were a couple of things. There was a healthy suspicion of the propaganda being thrown at them by their leaders and partisan newssheets. And a healthy respect for the bravery of men who shared their trade and lives, albeit on the other side. Sometimes that bemused them a bit; a parliament soldier wrote this after Marston Moor, a lovely quote
And as for the enemy the truth is that they behaved themselves with more valour and resolution than ever man saw coincident with a bad cause
Finally of course, commanders had an impact; morale was much better when they felt their commander had their best interest at heart, shared their values, and would hold fast when the hammer was down. This is where Cromwell and Fairfax excelled. Not only was Thomas Fairfax one of the finest soldiers of his generation, he had a strong sense of honour, of responsibility towards the well-being of his men, had great personal courage and an ability to keep his head under fire. As a result one eye witness marvelled that he
Did so animate the soldiers as is hardly to be expressed
Fairfax, like Cromwell was a stern disciplinarian, and their reputations did not suffer because of that, quite the opposite. Cromwell was a leader of frenetic energy and his soldiers knew such energy saved lives
Make haste your horses; a few hours may undo you if neglected
He wrote once. But his soldiers knew despite this urgency, Cromwell did not make careless of his men’s lives, he took care to make sure they were well equipped and provisioned; more than that he had nothing of nobles oblige; Carlton writes that ‘men followed Cromwell because he took them for what they were’. He also gave his leaders great latitude and room to take initiative.
I have a lovely company they are honest sober Christians they expect to be used as men
Cromwell himself wrote.
There is not much of this kind of vibe among royalist leaders. It is generally agreed that Charles became a warrior of some skill in manoeuvre, fighting fine campaigns against Essex and Waller in particular; brave, but cold and formal with his men, and a poor judge of character. Newcastle did seem to be loved by his men, whatever his military failings, and George Goring would show moments of brilliance. Rupert was of course the talisman, a brilliant cavalry commander, who understood the need for speed and concentration of forces, he captured the imagination of his troops and protected the interests of his cavalry remorselessly. But he like Goring, had very few qualms about the lives of people for whom he was supposed to be fighting, little or no compassion. He visited multiple atrocities on the cities of England, a brutal man. He also thoroughly antagonised many of Charles’ councillors, which would have a direct consequence at Marston Moor and Naseby, but that’s another story.
PLACE GAP HERE
OK then, let us do the marching armies then, how they were organised and stuff. We have done a bit before I should say, at Edgehill, but for completeness let’s bring it together. We have three main groups, Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery.
I think I might start with artillery, non-traditionally, just to get it out the way. Artillery was a bit of a ‘mare and some of it was of very doubtful value. There’s three types – light, heavy and then the stuff mounted in forts and costal defences. The latter was pretty immobile; heavy guns only a little bit mobile to be honest; the effort of dragging it around was astonishing. Slow and very expensive of horse and Oxen. By 1645 the New Model artillery train had 1000 horses. For sieges, there is no doubt it was required though.
Light artillery was another matter; you could move it around the battlefield, but it still took a while, and appeared to have limited practical impact, and it did produce a lot of smoke – a lot. There is a psychological thing though; once Captain John Gwynne that seen
A whole file of men six deep with their heads struck off with one cannon shot
He was likely to treat them with some respect. But it seems that only at a few battles, such as Langport in 1645, did field artillery play a really crucial role.
The thing also was the stunning array of different types of light gun and the ordinance you needed to organise – from the 1 pound Robinet, to Falconet, falcon, minion, saker, drake, Demi culverin I could go on. It seems that everyone hated the artillery train. Where have they got to, can we get moving now?
The infantry were divided into regiments of 1,200 men, theoretically, commanded by Colonels, and divided into 10 companies each broadly with Captains. They were in practice continually understrength. Each had chaplains, drum masters, fifers that sort of thing; apparently by now the English had fallen out of love with that king of instruments, the bagpipes which is a shame, but there you go. The Infantry were divided into two – Pike and Musket.
Apparently, waving a very long 18 foot spear was way more prestigious than shooting someone with a musket, which is interesting; maybe something to do with the honour of personal combat, I am not sure. The idea of the pike was not really to have your opponent’s eye out with the long pointy thing though that would be a bonus. The thing is armour tended to glance the blow of a long stick off to the side. So, most deadly injuries came not from the pike square, they came from musket fire and during the running away stage.
Nope, the normal thing was push of pike -two bodies of men trying to make the other back off and move away please. It took quite a lot to get these two to get it on; quite often they get very close, but push does not in fact come to shove, and they just wave their sticks at each other. It is worth noting that carrying a very long heavy stick around with you for mile after muddy mile is a pain in the bum; I think the expression for fighting as a pikeman was to ‘trail the pike’, so obviously like soldiering is supposed to be, I am told, 99% boredom and general inconvenience and schlepp, 1% abject terror, blood, mayhem and a grisly death in pain, agony and mud. So often the poor folk turned the very long stick into a not quite such a long but easier to carry stick. There would come a time in their professional lives when they would regret this decision. However, you can see why they’d want something more manageable; they were rocking a lot of kit, heavy armour – helmet, breastplate and leg guards. On the march with their kit we are talking 50-6olbs, though of course that’s much lighter in kilos, only 27 kilos. Metric is so lightweight.
Pikemen were supported by flanking musket; the pike’s job was also to protect these musketeers from the narty horses. The accepted rule of thumb was that you needed 2 units of pike to every musket, but it turned out that pikemen despite their armour, were very vulnerable to musket fire, and so they kept dying, which was annoying. Plus they were pricey; you could equip two musketeers for one piketeer. So by the end of the war in the New Model there were as many as 3 or 4 musketeers for every pikeman.
Musketeers marched in ranks 3 or 6 deep, and fired into the infantry ahead of them, marching and counter marching to keep up a continuous body of fire. They kept a bandolier filled with shot, and usually the Musket was lit by a burning match carried with them. The maintenance of the match was a big thing. You don’t want to run out, that’s bad, you don’t want it wet, that’s bad. It was complicated. Standing with your musket and no match would be like standing over a firework at the parish bonfire night display, with no port fire to light it and an expectant crowd, and just as bad for your health and reputation.
A musket could hit and kill a person at up to 300 yards but was inaccurate at anything over 50 yards, hence musketeers being gathered together to fire in massed volleys to create a hail of lead that was bound to something somewhere along the line. Still, it seems that the recipient of such fire stood a good chance of survival – about 10-15% were hit. There were also ‘firelocks’ – flintlocks – much quicker, bit unreliable, much, much less smoke which was a thing. There is smoke all over the place on the battlefield by the way. Quite difficult to see much. Flintlocks were mainly used by scouts and dragoons. If you are trying not to be seen, clouds of smoke over your head are a bad thing.
The Pikes were there to protect them, from cavalry. Sometimes musket fought within the pike unit, the pikemen standing in open order so musket could march and counter march within the unit. More usually they were separate, flanking the pike companies, and when a musket man shouted ‘bloody hell there are some horse coming to kill us’ they’d scuttle into the pikes where they’d be warm, safe and toasty, spit insults and bullets at the men on horses. Which seems cowardly – ‘come out and fight you coward’ – but essentially sound thinking. The pike phalanx was a solid and scary thing. Lord Saye and Sele at Marston Moor described them as
Standing like an iron wall, so they were not easily broken.
Musketeers had a second weapon – the other end of the musket. When they ran out of balls they had the balls to run at the enemy and try to brain them with the butt of the musket basically, unsophisticated but effective in the right circumstances. There are as yet no bayonets; I think there may be a mench of something that sounds like it in France in 1647. But not yet.
So a couple of examples of Infantry meeting. First Walter Slingsby at Cheriton
The foot, keeping their ground in close body, not firing ‘til within two pikes length and then three ranks at a time, after turning the butt end of their muskets, charging the pikes, and standing close, preserved themselves, and slew many of the enemy
Infantry battles, if the men kept their disciple, could be long and hard. We heard from Harry Foster and his Trained Bands and that all sounded very hard. Here’s William Brereton at Rowton Heath.
They fought so long and so fiercely until all their powder and bullet was spent. Afterwards they joined and fell to it pell mell, one upon the other, with the stocks of their muskets
Pell mell, incidentally is a phrase that appears at the end of the 16th century, usually military as in this context, borrowed from the French root to mix. It is also the root of words like meddle.
There is one other infantry tactic which seems much more innovative and decisive, invented by Alasdair MacColla in Ireland and adopted with enthusiasm in the Highlands of Scotland. But that is not for now, we will deal with the Highland Charge with Montrose I think. Unless we’ve already done so, in which you may get in touch and say ‘sush, haven’t we suffered enough from your prating sirrah and short term memory loss’. Or words to that effect.
There is one specialist group of infantry, called the Dragoons. They are infantry mounted, on small nimble cobs, lightly armed and armoured, with shorter more portable musket or firelock, and sword They were sent nipping around the place to cause trouble in inconvenient places, dogsbodies of all trades by and large, around to just mess things up. I am put in mind of head to head poker sessions in the wee hours in the days of my youth when I should have been sucking instead at the teat of knowledge, if you can bear a swift anecdote. Despite the advice of Kenny Rogers, I used to keep my pile of chips neatly stacked, to inform my investment decisions. Dave would on occasion lead forward and gently knock all the piles over and mix them up. Irritating. His pile of chips was always a mess, but then by and large 2 times out of three time he’d win so there’s a message there. Usually came second at backgammon though. If you have analysis of what this research of behavioural data demonstrates, do get in touch. Probably that we should both have been better off asleep.
Anyway, that’s the spirit of Dragoons. They might be used as pickets, holding forward key points like bridges, lining hedges or enclosures, or to provide fire to support formal cavalry, messing up a neat oncoming cavalry formation, thinning them out with a bit of lead shot. They might carry out scouting duties, or advanced skirmishing. Knocking over the chips to mess things up.
Cavalry then. Cavalry was very popular in the English Civil wars. The advantages to being a horse soldier were quite obvious; you were better paid, there was a bit of social cachet, foraging was easier, and every soldier likes a chicken or two. Being on a horse had advantages over someone on the ground – though horses were very vulnerable. But the big one was that it was much easier to run away. Running away was when people died, and on a horse you could be out of there. It’s interesting to note that officers died at a much higher rate than their men – because they fought at the front. But equally, officers of foot died at a rate of 4:1 to Cavalry officers. I think that tells you all you need to know really when selecting your fighting career decision.
This did not go unnoticed by the foot regiments as they laboured after their nifty companions
The horse knew well how to save themselves, though not their honour
The result was that the ratio of horse to foot was way out of whack. The idea was to have something like 3 foot regiments to every one of cavalry; but the ratio was very rarely that. The royalists were particularly bad; in 27 of 57 battles, they actually had more horse than foot. At the same time incidentally, since initial recruitment was so much organised through individuals raising troops, there gets to be way too many officers knocking about – the ratio between officers and their men is also way out of whack, and troops, companies and regiments are usually therefore very under strength. The number of horses in the wars was clearly enormous, especially bearing in mind artillery trains; and yet there doesn’t seem to have been a problem getting hold of them. One of the more upsetting things I learned was that there was almost no tradition that shows any great bond between man and horse, no ‘I love you Horse’ poetry; they were just cars, basically there to do a job, and they’d probably soon be dead so no point getting to know them and their quirky little ways.
There were two types supposedly of cavalry; heavy with lots of armour and light with just light stuff up top. Honestly, there was just one; heavy cavalry was expensive and slow, and soon didn’t exist; there was one regiment that lasted a while. They were under the command of Arthur Haselrige, and were known as the London Lobsters because of all their heavy armour. They didn’t do badly – but they weren’t the future.
It took a while for parliamentary cavalry to catch up with the quality of the royalists, though you can over do that story. The way cavalry battles worked traditionally was that you attacked in a wedge or diamond shaped formation, knee to knee with your fellow riders if you could, but that would be difficult to maintain. You had a pistol or carbine in your hand, other hand holding the reins under the pommel of the saddle. Gently you’d go forward at a walk to keep formation, until a hundred yards away from the people you hope shortly to call losers, then get as fast as you can – probably no more than a hurried trot or canter. When you got there you’d fire your pistol at your man, and then maybe throw the thing at his head if you missed, reach for another pistol if you had time, or if not straight to the sword, and start hacking. The horsemen facing them would have stood in close formation, stationary, knees locked, waiting to fire until the very last moment. If they held formation they would win. If their formation was broken, they were toast and would turn and flee. Cavalry battles then turned into to man to man melee; and lord save you if you were unhorsed. That was potential checking out time.
Of course, the traditional prey of cavalry were the foot. But the struggle was far from unequal there. Basically a horse would not charge into an obstacle, how ever well trained. And so as long as you were in formation you were comparatively safe in a foot regiment. Plus; remember that thing about having 10-15% chance of being hit by musket fire if attacked by a regiment of musketeers? Well the chances were much better if attacked by horse. Because they had guns with a light ball, and they were wobbling around on a horse when they shot. They probably had a 5% chance of hitting a footman, while the rate of fire against them from the infantry regiment they were trying to total was far higher. Really resolute infantry was only in trouble when exhausted or caught by surprise with an attack from the rear – which is the reason for the success of Cromwell’s Ironsides at Naseby and Marston Moor.
We are almost finished but there is one more national military force to be reckoned with, which has in previous ages been referred to as England’s Garland and all that flowery stuff. I speak of course of the Navy. We’ve heard how Parliament and the Earl of Warwick won the battle for the Navy’s hearts and minds in 1642, to Charles’ amazement and horror, and it will broadly stay that way, and Navy men on more than one occasion march through the streets of London in support for the Revolution; although there are defections of some ships over time, which matters.
One of the features of the war on land was the increasingly diverse nature of officers in the Parliamentary armies; as time goes by, the number of officers lower down the social scale increases. It causes intense sniffyness, it’s the world turned upside down thing; it is one of the charges royalists throw at parliament, they are led by a bunch of ne’er do wells and down beats and ooof, tradesmen dahling.
Anyway, that’s as maybe, the point is that this happens in the Navy too, after Charles loses control to Warwick. Parliament prefers sea captains that knew – what’s the expression? Oh yes, knew what they were doing. This was such a thing, had been from Tudor times, that even they had names – Tarpaulin Captains were commoners from the trade of the sea, and Gentlemen Captains were just born to it, naturals you know. There was great snobbiness about it again, social awkwardness and envy. Clarenden’s social chin wobbled with outrage at these tarpaulin’s being appointed just because they were competent, the cheek of it. One of them, William Batten, particularly tweaked the Clarendonian nipple
A man of rough nature and no breeding by that of a common mariner
The merchant William Rainsborough will become a Vice Admiral, as will his son the political radical Thomas Rainsborough; although the man often referred to as the ‘Father of the Royal Navy’, Robert Blake, must be called a Gentleman Captain.
Most of the naval campaigns under Warwick were about supporting war on land, or trying to police the Irish seas, to stop those royalist soldiers coming over from Ireland. But in 1643 with the royalist success in capturing the ports of Bristol and Chester, and Hopton and Maurices’ victories in the South West, gave Charles ports. And he was able to establish his own navy of sorts. He makes a creditable job of it; he has a couple of naval defections, persuades some Bristol merchantmen to come over, and manages to build a navy of about 18 ships. In addition, these were joined by Irish privateers out of Wexford and Waterford, and naval captains running ships for the Confederate Association of Ireland.
There’s no doubt though that Parliament had the best of it at sea. The navy played a crucial role in protecting London’s trade and operating against pirates in the channel. If things had been different, if Charles had kept control of the navy, London would have been blockaded from international trade. Think about what an immense difference that would have had – I am even prepared to tread on the sacred ground of popular history and officially declare it One of the Great What-Ifs of History. A GWIH. Think about how London’s merchants would have reacted to having trade strangled, the packed in inhabitants losing supplies; already the lack of coals from Newcastle meant most of London’s woods were being cut down for firewood. Support for parliament in London would almost certainly have been much harder to maintain.
So that didn’t happen, and the Navy is a significant advantage for parliament. But from 1643 they didn’t have it all their own way, and when the fighting of the first civil war is done, Prince Rupert and his younger bro Maurice will play a fascinating cameo on the high seas to prove it, where they will buckle and swash in the most dashing and Rupertian style, and Rupert will demonstrate one of his undoubtedly positive characteristics, his complete loyalty and dedication to his rather ungrateful king’s cause.