AAG 1643-1645 The First Civil War


In one sense this is a Tale of Two Cities – Oxford and London, HQs of King and Parliament. But the First Civil war is a conflict that reaches into every town, village and parish. There are national armies, regional armies, local armies and countless garrisons. Even commuities that try to reject any conflict – the Clubmen. This is the story of the First Civil War as king and parliament fight over religion and their version of the Ancient Constitution.


Download Podcast - AAG 1643-1645 The First Civil War (Right Click and select Save Link As)



In the Last AAG episode, we heard about how the Three kingdoms abandoned the search for peace, and came to blows; a phoney war almost after the execution of Strafford in May 1641, where both parties talked peace but prepared for war, and laid out their views of the issues over which the war would be fought. Their own interpretation of the ancient constitution of England basically, and the form of religion. Until in August 1642 Charles raised the royal standard at Nottingham,

We then got all fighty;  the first major encounter at Edgehill, the King’s march on London and the sabre rattling at Turnham Green. Where the Oysterwomen did indeed turn ‘em green, and Charles retreated to his HQ at Oxford, and everyone got ready for the next year’s campaign. And that’s where we left it.

Now then, in this episode we will gallop through the guts of First Civil war in under an hour. You are aware that there are not only three kingdoms but three civil wars aren’t you? If not now you are and this is merely the first one. Though it’s the biggest to be fair. We are going to talk about 3 years, 1643 to 1645 by the end of which one of the two sides will be on their last legs, militarily speaking. You’ll have to wait to find out which – tense! On the way we will also find out why Phillip Skippon is just like Old Mother Hubbard.

Let’s talk about the shape of this war shall we and the participants, which  one advantage of doing an overview. This first stuff is in episodes 391 and 392 where I talk about the military, soldiering and the experience of the ordinary joe, with and without an ‘e’, during the conflict. The King is in his counting house, counting out his money, the Queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey. Or rather the king was in Christchurch college, Oxford, worrying about money, and the Queen would be in Merton College telling her husband to get on with it and whip those damned rebels good. Basically Oxford was set up like the royal court in Westminster.

Parliament were of course where they had always been in London, which has got to be the biggest single advantage of the whole shebang. Oh that and the fact that God was on their side. Apparently. Although Charles thought his cause was also just. Oh well, we’ll just have to see which way providence falls.

By and large the king’s strength is in the South west, Wales  and north; parliament in the rest, especially East Anglia. But But But, and I say again But;  this is a regional war which reaches its tentacles of discord and violence down  into every town and village. So when I say the west is royalist, well you’ve already heard that around Hereford Brilliana Harley held Brampton Bryant for parliament; in while in East Anglia, King’s Lynn was living up to its name. In some areas Loyalties often lasted only so long as the last marching army was round. Even the marching armies are regional – there are multiple commanders and armies.

Holding territory though was important; because territory meant tax. Both sides establish their methods of tax collecting; royalists tend to use the existing structure of Lords Lieutenant and JPs, whereas parliament are forced to innovate – each county has a county Committee. If you are looking for areas of agreement in these divided times, here is one. If you say ‘everyone hated the County Committees’, every historian will take a breather from hitting each other over the head with their pet theories in the pub brawl that is academia and nod furiously. Everyone hated the County Committees because they raised taxes, everyone was taxed by both sides far more than Ship money, they sequestered opponents estates, and, crucially, unlike the Lords Lieutenant & JPs, they offended the natural order of things. Because they were peopled by the middling sort, which outraged some, who believed exploiting the masses was the job of the nobility. After all they were so good at it, and had done it for so long.

So everyone set up garrisons to police, hold and tax each locality. Often Garrisons faced each other and fought over said territory, creating a nation of frontier country. And there were local armies all over the place. Here are some stats. We tend to talk about 5 or 6 of the major battles. But in fact there are 645 military actions. Do not worry, I make no effort to cover all of them – though you know, if you are in the market….anyway it’s a lot. Of those, 198 were sieges. I mean blimey O’Riley. 21,000 people lost their lives directly in sieges. So my message is – this is not a war between two neatly delineated camps – this is everywhere, coming to a village near you very soon. Which is why so many people die.




You might wonder about the level of commitment of the ordinary Jo and Joes to war and that’s a constant debate; was this about the common people or not. What’s clear is that there are a range of opinions in even the most staunch of places. Let us take London. Throughout 1643 there was a constant stream of royalist individuals leaving London making their way to the king’s court at Oxford and yet there are still there are plenty left for the king and Queen to plot rebellion in the big smoke. And furthermore in 1643 there is a massive womens’ peace petition, streaming in their thousands through London demanding peace, wearing white ribbons – and peacefully   – demanding the head of John Pym on a plate like Salome. The plague on both your houses sentiment is as strong as the partisan emotion – as we’ll learn with the Clubmen of 1645.

While we are on that, in terms of total numbers it’s reckoned that in England and Wales 190,000 people died, at 3.7% of the population -a lot, a higher percentage than the First World War; In Scotland 60,000 die which is 6% of her population. Ireland is hardest because the records are rubbish and so the subject is ripe for hyperbole, but there’s no doubt is the worst there by some distance; Charles Carlton goes for 618,000 dead which is a massive 41% of Ireland’s 1 1/2m population. On the over hand the Irish historian Padraig Lenihan comes in at the lowest with a still hideous 300,000, 20% of the population. That’s probably your range, 300-620,000.

Now Maybe it was a different order of magnitude to the Thirty Years’ War with its 5 millions dead, but bowl of cherries or gentlemanly engagement before tiffin it was neither. Over all the death rate may have been as high as 11%.

To give you a bit of scale of the military, at any one time during the wars there were probably about 150,000 men under arms – including garrisons mind. The size of British armies would have made a 30 Years war general snort with derision though – I think we reach a max battle of 40,000 which was the standard size for just one mid sized army in the 30 years war.

Two things about the marching armies; In Ian Gentles famous phrase they are like mushrooms; springing up over night overnight with the manure of a recruiting campaign, and disappearing in the morning after a battle when they feel they’ve done their bit for the cause, or when the militias decide they need to go back to their farms or businesses. One reason for the latter was the tradition of the county militias and trained Bands, that their job was to defend their county, No soldier though they should be required to fight outside their county – until the New Model Army changes the Old Model armies. And if made to do so, are just as likely desert as to breathe.

I was going here to say something about the formal armies, about Artillery, Cavalry, infantry and, usually ignored, the Navies. But I don’t have space so, to get the low down on the military hie thee to episodes 391 and 392.

As 1643 started then, Charles probably had his nose in front and people worried that he was planning a great pincer movement, armies from North, Midlands and South west, converging on London.  Charles had a habit of consulting far more than he needed to, and was an overly deferential commander especially toward his best commander – his famously dashing, floppy haired, talented and thuggish nephew, Rupert. So that winter he will have consulted with his privy council and council of war. Charles will have many factions around him but let us divide them into 2 with all the provisos that all of them have different shade of opinion and all that, and that labelling is disabling. Which is something I learnt from a parenting book I used to read, while snarling ‘shut the devil up, Daddy’s reading’ at the little ‘uns. On the one hand you had the constitutional royalists, like Edward Hyde; who wanted to find peace at a reasonable price, who had supported initial constraints on the king before feeling parliament had gone too far. Hyde was very influential on both councils. And then there’s the Swordsmen – principally Rupert, but also very much Henrietta. Crush them, and become the Absolute ruler you were always meant to be. Oh and there’s a third faction, George Digby. Who’s an idiot.

Anyway the big coordinated pincer movement doesn’t happen. Instead there are a series of regional wars. In the north Charles had a fabulously rich general – William Cavendish, the Earl of Newcastle, who would spend £1m on the royal cause, including kitting out his famous Whitecoats – that is £120m in todays money. NBo wonder the king had a headstart with folks like that. He had a similarly well heeled supporter in Wales. Cavendish was a very erudite, cultured, passionate and loyal man, very likeable. Probably not the top drawer of military commander, this is no Subutai, much given to staying in bed to 11 o’clock and then spending hours on his toilet; but he has his moments.





And 1643 turned out to be one of those moments. Against his relatively massive army of 10,000 was broadly arrayed the grand family of the Hothams in Hull, and the lesser gentry, the Fairfaxes, father Fernandino, and his son, the famous one – Thomas Fairfax. The Hothams did not like the Fairfaxes – as far as they were concerned they were little better than oiks and should be under command of the Hothams. It may be the influence of these social factors which tempted the Hothams into treachery – but before they could turn Hull over to the king, they were caught, jailed, and in 1645 had their heads cut off.

Which left the Fairfaxes. And for much of 1643 Thomas was making a fair fist of it. He was helped in this by a sort of clubman – a very partisan type of clubmen, in the clothing towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire, who rejected their gentry, who were royalist to a man, and declared for parliament. Sadly it was not to be; on 30th June at Adwalton Moor, Newcastle took on Fairfax and gave him a thrashing – you can hear about that in episode 388, and also about Thomas’s flight with the wife he adored, Anne de Vere, riding shotgun. Well, that was that, the North belonged to Charles, and all that remained of parliament’s hopes were stuck behind the walls ofHhull, with Newcastle siting impatiently outside.

The second major arena of 1643 was in the south west where the opposing generals were two bosum pals – the royalist Ralph Hopton and the Parliamentarian William Waller, who had fought together in Europe. They try very hard not to fight, Ralph suggests they meet up and try to sort something out, and in return he received at letter that gives expression to the tragedy of a civil war. I don’t really have the space for this, but what the hell. This is from William to his friend Ralph

The experience I have of your worth and the happiness I have enjoyed in your friendship are wounding considerations when I look at this present distance between us. Certainly, my affection to you is so unchangeable that hostility itself cannot violate my friendship, but I must be true wherein the cause I serve. That great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go about this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy; but I look upon it as the Lord’s work and that is enough to silence all passion in me. The God of peace in his good time will send us peace. In the meantime, we are upon the stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do so in a way of honour and without personal animosities.

Whatever the outcome I will never willingly relinquish the title of Your most affectionate friend.

In the end they will meet a couple of times in battle, to and fro it goes, until they meet on the famously hilly countryside outside Bath, Roundway Down. And there it is Hopton who triumphs, Waller’s army is smashed and he runs all the way back to London. Now, Waller up to this point had won every engagement he’d been involved in, so much so that he had been called William the Conqueror by the Newsheets. Now the royalist newsheets got their own back, and mockingly called this battle Runaway Down. So, that’s two out of two, Adwalton Moor, Roundway Down – the king is well in the lead.

Oh and by the way, you must go to episode 389 and find out about Newsheets; essentially the world discovers scurrilous journalism, started at the Mercurious Aulicus created in Oxford by John Birkenhead. They would soon be joined by by others in London, including the most famous journalist of them all, Marchamont Needom – whose name he said, rhymed with Freedom.

So London’s in a pother. Surely now the king would gather his skirts around him, or his armies at least, and advance on the big smoke to snuff out the fire of rebellion. All that stood between him and victory was the supreme parliamentary general – the Earl of Essex. Things looked even worse when in June 1643 the revolution lost one of its heroes – John Hampden, the great patriot, killed at the Battle of Chalgrove.

And indeed Charles did start to advance on London. He and Rupert had a chat; the parliamentarian garrison Gloucester stood in between them and London; should they take it first to remove a potential pain in their behind, or should they ignore it and strike for the big London prize? Rupert said let’s do this right, let’s take it,  it’ll only take a day or two. He was wrong. Gloucester was tougher than it looks. They sat there and sat there, they stuck nor breath nor motion as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. So it gave time for Essex to get his act together, and he finally turned up in August, with the London Trained Bands and their tough infantry captain Phillip Skippon. And lifted the siege.

Well Charles was not finished yet. Essex might think he could get back to London job done, but not on your nelly or anyone else’s nelly come to think of it. With some clever feints, skips and hops, Charles skipped round Essex so that when Essex came to cross the River Kennet at Newbury he found a ruddy great army in the way. He would have to fight his way back home.

Now Essex has generally been seen as a bit of a pudding as a commander. But at Newbury he took the initiative, marching early doors to take the best position on high ground facing the royalist army, right from under their noses. The stakes at the following Battle of Newbury were very high – it’s unlikely that the parliamentarians could have survived all three of their armies being wiped out. Newbury was a hard fought fight, which you can hear about in episode 389, fought in difficult, hedge covered country. Philip Skippons’ London Trained Bands proved tough and at the end of the day, earned a score draw. Disaster had been averted.

Though not for one of Charles’ advisors, the emotional Viscount Falkland. This war with out an enemy sickened him. That morning he was heard to say that

“he was weary of the times and foresaw much misery to his own Country and did believe he should be out of it ere night.

He charged the enemy in a deliberate attempt to seek out death. And death found him.

Two more things before we say fare well to 1643. As 1643 started both king and Parliament were looking for friends to help them fight the good fight; and the available sources of added might were the Irish Confederate Association and the Covenanting Scots. To be fair, parliament would never have considered the Irish Confederates. And to be fair Charles never really had a chance with the Scots, since he had given them so many examples of his double dealing. Well, he treated their commissioners with haughty disdain when they came to Oxford and then was found cooking up a plot with the Earl of Antrim and Montrose to invade the Scottish Highlands. So that was the end of Charles as far as the Covenanters were concerned.

The result was a deal negotiated in Edinburgh between Harry Vane of the English Parliament and the Covenanters. It was called the Solemn League and Covenant. You can find out more about this in episode 390, but under its terms Scotland would get pretty much all it wanted. Scotland was looking for security against a king who they did not trust, and who they believed would renege on any deal as soon as possible and use the power of England to do so. So the deal they made with him in 1641 must be made irreversible. England and Scotland would be aligned in religion under the Scottish Presbyterian model. They would have a seat in the body set up in England to review its religion – the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Plus Scots would also have a space on the governing body of the English kingdom, now to be called the Committee of Both Kingdoms. And in return they would provide an army of 21,000.

Meanwhile Charles had made a deal of his own; with the Confederate Association of Ireland. The cessation as it was called, allowed for an extended truce while a full treaty was agreed. Under it’s terms Charles would be able to take an Irish army to England

Both these deals had major consequences. The Cessation was a PR disaster – for many English here was their king dealing with Catholics, the same who had caused such slaughter of protestants in 1641. Though in point of fact, most of the troops that came to England, about 9,000 of them, would be English.

The solemn League and Covenant was even more momentous. It was blindly imposed by the Scots at a time of dire English need, and even Harry Vane hated its necessity. Vane was one of many in England who believed not in one national Presbyterian model, but that everyone should find their way to god – a group known as the Independents. The Solemn league never had a chance of succeeding without religious oppression; it would remain a constant source of friction, both between English and Scots and between the English that supported it – the Presbyterians, and those that believed in toleration, the Independents. Not to mention the Anglicans.

Last 1643 thing – was the death of the architect of the Revolution, John Pym, who died in December. This was parliament shorn of two of its best leaders, Hampden and Pym. Leadership would pass instead to the likes of Oliver St John, Saye and Sele, Harry Vane, and the committee of Both Kingdoms.








1644 dawned full of hope for Charles, after a pretty good 1643, with two cracking victories and a close run thing. He had lots of his most dedicated supporters to share the moment with him, because Edward Hyde persuaded him to call a parliament in Oxford. Potentially this was a great idea, an attempt to establish an alternative,  legitimate parliament rather than the rebel one without a king in Westminster, and bolster Charles’ claim to be at the head of real ancient constitution. It has been described as his most successful parliament; it voted him money, and not one fall out. But the mood would cool over the year; and at the start of 1645 Charles would be calling contemptuously as his ‘mongrel parliament’. The blessed people kept asking him to make peace with the rebels. Well he wasn’t having that. So he dissolved it. After all, that had worked pretty well before, and never change a winning formula.

But Charles optimism was misplaced, 1644 was always going to be tough year. One of the reasons for that was the Scots. Following the agreement of the Solemn League, at the start of January 1644, they streamed over the borders towards Newcastle. Suddenly Cavendish was forced to raise the siege of Hull and go north to try and hold them back; he faced a tall order, his 10,000 men against twice that number. However nice their white coats were. Actually he again made a good fist of it, despite facing a thoroughly high class general in Alexander Leslie, a Field Marshal of the Thirty Years War under Gustavus Aldolphus. Newcastle and his Whitecoats marched and counter marched, while the city of Newcastle held out with grim determination. The Scottish commissioners in London were embarrassed – they thought their army, winner of the Bishops Wars and doing God’s work of course, would polish off the king in a matter of weeks. Robert Baillie wrote

We are exceeding sad and ashamed that our army, so much talked of, has done as yet nothing at all. What can be the reason of it we cannot guess, only we think, that God, to humble our pride…had not yet been pleased to assist them

Meanwhile, before he had died, Pym had bequeathed one more gift to the parliament he served; a new army. Working day and night he had manoeuvred and cajoled parliament into establishing a massive new army from East Anglia, under the Earl of Manchester, with his second in command the cavalry commander, rising star and darling of the newsheets – Colonel Oliver Cromwell, now made Lieutenant General of Horse. Already Cromwell had won himself a scalp in defeating a detachment of Newcastle’s army at Winceby, and the unusual discipline of his men were to earn the name of Ironsides, imposed with reluctant admiration by his opponent, Prince Rupert.

Now in May 1644, Scottish numbers began to tell, and they began to force Newcastle back towards York. Manchester’s Eastern Association army also now threatened the critical royalist fortress of Newark in the Midlands. Newark connected royalist midlands to royalist north, so it’s loss would be a terrible blow.

Meanwhile, down south, Ralph Hopton invaded Hampshire, hoping to repeat the success of Roundway Down; but this time it was Waller who came out on top at the Battle of Cheriton. He then made his way north to the Oxford area as ordered to hook up with Essex and with their joint army to crush the king and besiege Oxford, and end the war so that everyone could live happily ever after. It’s a great plan, and in the Midlands at least they now outnumbered Charles.

Now, 1644 would a good year for Charles personally, as a warrior; he plays a rather nice campaign at this point. He led Essex and Waller a dance all over the Cotswolds west of Oxford, they just could not get hold of the slippery king. At the same time Essex and Waller happened to hate each other. It happens. So Essex decided that rather than stick around with Waller chasing that damned elusive king-er-nell he should really head to the south coast and rescue the fair town of Lyme Regis, being besieged by Prince Maurice. Everyone said don’ talk daft. But he went anyway. Which is when then Charles turned round and defeated Waller on 29th June 1644 at Cropredy Bridge. So it’s really all fallen to pieces for parliament in the Midlands, and Waller was sitting with half an army in Abingdon, and seriously beginning to feel he wasn’t cut out for generalling. Which means that you and I can turn our attention back to the north.

Now look, Prince Rupert has this mammoth reputation as a military God and 1644 for most of it was a good example of what made him so formidable. In March 1644, the Commander of the besieging  parliamentarian forces around crucial fortress of Newark were horrified to see a royalist army on the hill above them. Whos that? Where have they come from? It seemed to be Rupert…but it couldn’t be Rupert because he’d been in Shrewsbury a few days ago. Before they’d finished wondering if this really could be Rupert, the angry wind that was indeed Rupert, had swept on them like a wolf on the fold, and Newark was relieved. Such a relief.

But that wasn’t enough, the situation in the north was parlous. Not only were the Scots slowly forcing Cavendish into a corner, the relief of Hull had released the Fairfaxes – and they were busy reclaiming Yorkshire and Lancashire. Abd then Manchester was bringing the Eastern Association army through Lincolnshire towards York. 3 on 1 is not fair. So, it was clearly time for a second angry wind, and off Rupert went, with a small 7,000 strong army but never mind, faint heart never won fair lady and all that, the race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong, let’s see what we can do.

Up to Lancashire he swept gathering men as he went, relieved Stockport, and hooked up with the Earl of Derby. Then chased off another army and captured Liverpool, turned and attacked the army besieging the Countess of Derby’s Lathom house. Helter Skelter fled the parliamentarians into Bolton where they were caught and slaughtered. So far so impressive; though in Bolton it seems Ruperts commander the Earl of Derby may have committed the worse atrocity of the civil wars in England, with the death of 1600 including civilians. Derby would be executed in 1650 in Bolton, in recognition of this piece of horror.

Now it might be noted that Rupert carried with him at all times – and would keep it by him for evermore – a letter from his king. The letter was probably composed by George Digby, and read one way it ordered Rupert to give battle to the rebel army around York. Or read another way – did it? It was so phrased as to be extraordinarily ambiguous. Almost as though the author didn’t want to be blamed if anything went wrong. Still, Rupert interpreted it according to his idiom, and he was not a stay at home sort of bloke. But it was a tall order. Cavendish’s 10,000 troops were now trapped in York, and outside was not one, not two but three armies. Fairfax was there. Leslie and the Scots were there. Manchester’s Eastern Association were there. One big happy family. 27,000 of the blighters. Rupert had but 14,000 now; though fair dos, if he could hook up with Cavendish that would even things up.

Now At A Gallop is a crying shame because there is no time to tell you about the following battle, of Marston Moor; but of you go to episode 393 you can put that right, and I urge you in the strongest possible terms, to do yourself that favour. Because Rupert’s approach to York was brilliant – creating a diversion that drew off the opposing army from the siege allowing some at least of Cavendish’s men to come out from York to join him. It was really clever.

But at Marston Moor he was out generalled – as well as outnumbered – though it was a close run thing. Late in the day of 2nd July Leslie, the overall commander, recognised that the royalist army was standing down for the night – saw an opportunity and boldly ordered the attack, taking Rupert by surprise. Although George Goring excelled himself as the royalist Cavalry commander, and Cavendish’s white coats appeared to get the upper hand, so much so that Leslie fled – Marston Moor was Cromwell’s victory, smashing Rupert’s cavalry, and rolling up the infantry. As the royal army fled the field, only 1000 Whitecoats still stood their ground. And they with extraordinary bravery, would not surrender. And died to a man. Looking at their corpses with their white coats, someone remarked they had brought their own shrouds.

Marston Moor was an utterly crushing victory; Rupert had to hide in a beanfield to escape. With which the newsheets did have fun. It should have been the end of the war. The reason it wasn’t owed something to the earl of Essex, to Charles, and to the earl of Manchester. Let me explain. At some length.

You might remember that The Earl of Essex had taken his army to Lyme Regis. No one knew why, because Lyme Regis, though an estimable town, was not strategically important rucked away as it was on the south coast.  Though fair dos for some reason Prince Maurice, Rupert’s brother was besieging it. It seems to have been maybe Essex harboured a desire for the independence and glory he felt his status as a peer and parliament’s supreme general entitled to him. Anyway. He compounded the felony by continuing on from Lyme into the south west, once he’d shoo’d Maurice away. Then kept going to the west, all the way into Devon and to Exeter. There, incidentally he narrowly missed Henrietta Maria. She had left Oxford for safety, delivered a child after a hideous pregnancy; and then fled as Essex approached, hiding in stables and farms, finding a boat and making it over to France. Where she would stay for the duration – and never see her husband again.

Going all the way to Exeter was bad enough, but Essex still kept going, down into Cornwall, which famously, is a cul de sac. And Charles spotted this, realised it was an opportunity, and followed him. Until at last at Lostwithial, Essex realised he had doomed his army for no discernable reason. There they were trapped then. Charles just outside with a dominant army, Essex with just infantry left. Not good. One fine morning,  1st September 1644, Philip Skippon, Essex’s General of Foot, went to the cupboard of leadership to find his boss. He opened the cupboard, and just like Mother Hubbard, he found that it was bare. Because Essex had done a bunk. I mean seriously, the brown stuff had hit the whirly thing, all because of Essex, and in the middle of the night he nipped down to the town found himself a boat and went to meet Warwick’s Navy waiting off shore. Seriously in best Panto fashion – boo! And so it was left to Skippon to surrender the entire 10,000 strong army to the King -who made him a job offer as it happens. Which Philip refused, and walked home with his men.

Essex had helpfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But I said Manchester was also responsible for Marston not marking the end of the war. That’s a little harsh actually, but one thing does seem to be evident – the experience of the bloodshed at Martson had ripped away from Manchester any remaining martial spirit. He holed up in Lincoln and would not move. I mean Lincoln is undeniably lovely, but he had a job to do, to get his army to Oxford to face the king resurgent, and the CBK told him so in no uncertain terms.  And yet he stayed right where he was. Everyone was livid. And when he finally did move, he then refused to advance to Oxford to take on Charles. It was perplexing. Almost as though he didn’t want to fight the king at all.

It’s October 1644, and so we enter the second Newbury campaign. I should set this up a bit, though you can hear the full story in episode 395, Forever Newbury. There’s sort of an arena in which it takes place.  Think broadly – very broadly geographers don’t roll your eyes at me like that – of a triangle with Oxford at the apex, Donnington Castle and Nearby Newbury to the west and Basing house to the south. Both the latter two are being besieged by parliament, aiming to draw a noose around Oxford. Well, while Manchester is still noodling around near London, and Charles is in the west towards Gloucester, hesitating, a royalist commander called Gage flits into the warm hall of our story, and like Bede’s sparrow flies out again back into the cold of historical oblivion. Gage Raids – out from Oxford with a small detachment he appears at Basing House, and drives off the besieging Colonel Richard Norton  – Idle Dick Cromwell affectionately calls him. Basing House is relieved and resupplied and everyone feels more cheerful. Gage rides on, raids a Cheese market at Basingstoke and arrived back in Oxford before you can say ‘Grommit we forgot the crackers’. Everybody cheers. Except the grim-faced parliamentary commanders Essex, Manchester and Waller.

The Gage raid stirs multiple stumps. Charles advanced toward Donnington Castle, intending to drive the besiegers off there as well. The parliamentary armies and commanders meet near Basingstoke and together they are formidable, 19,000 of them. And they no final look cross and have fiery pants.

Charles isn’t worried because he knows they don’t get on and can’t agree on anything, and he takes up a well defended position between two rivers under the walls and guns of the liberated Donnington Castle. The inhabitants of Newbury watch all this and roll their eyes in turn – what – wasn’t one major battle enough? Don’t worry says Charles I’ll be long gone. But he wasn’t right – though obviously you can’t accuse a king of being wrong. But definitely not 100% accurate because Parliament’s generals do agree and suddenly the rivers are a trap. Charles find himself attacked on both sides, by an army twice his size, and Skippon and his boys are there and they are really cross about Lostwithial. Day one of the battle comes to a close without a final result, largely because once more Manchester takes his time launching his second assault.  But everything is looking very dodgy for the anyone whose name begins with King. The next day, Manchester and Waller get up looking for a day of happy annihilating and look out over the two rivers – and blow me down, it’s all empty except for a few crisp wrappers. In the middle of the night quiet as a little mouse, the king and 9000 of his loving companions have done a bunk, scarpered, legged it. Very embarrassing for parliaments’ finest, very incompetent. The generals think it’s all over, reset the siege of Donnington and head back to London. But Charles isn’t done, Now reinforced by Rupert, he returns and drives off the siege once more.

Newbury is therefore another no score draw, but coming after Lostwithial it’s important. Because it sets the tone for what follows in parliament, and in the glittering metropolis that is Uxbridge. On the one hand, royal confidence has been recovered; Charles has personally played a poor military hand very well indeed. Another incident also buoys him up, and not in a good way. In London in January 1645, Laud is executed. I know Laud’s arrogance and unfeeling religious tyranny is a large part of what starts the civil wars, and it means he has blood on his hands. But the trial was despicably biased, and still failed, and so impeachment was needed. Laud was now an irrelevance, and his execution a disgrace. Charles thought it so appalling that he felt God’s vengeance must fall now on the parliamentary necks. God really really was on his side. As he’d always been, obviously, but now his hand would be seen.

On the other hand the mood in London is angry dazed and confused. All this money, pain, blood – and nothing. Incompetence. 3 years and our army and its commanders don’t seem to want to fight. When Parliament meets in January the mood is grim. And Parliament is divided. And some of them are talking to the king about peace again. Let me explain. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

We are going to talk Independents and Presbyterians. Let me start with independents. In the Westminster assembly of Divines, a very significant thing had happened; A new, Directory of worship would duly appear, a Presbyterian form of worship to be followed by everyone – a new national religion. Which would be followed in Scotland for many centuries.  But a small group withing the assembly had produced a paper with a very different view. It said that rather than one national religion, each congregation must find their own way to God. Obviously they musn’t recognise the anti Christ, also known as the pope, but with that aside – follow your conscience, lets stop all this religious coercion and idea of one uniform national religion. Their enemies call them sectarians, and dribble slightly. We are going to call them Independents, and it’s religion that is the main factor; they are becoming much more powerful and common in England, especially London.

The Independents really worry the English and Scottish Presbyterians – who firmly believe what people had believed in Europe since Christianity tipped up, that pluralism was an offence against God’s truth. There must be one national church, how could a matter of God’s conscience be otherwise – and ours is of course the right one. Such was the Christian view. So this group are now beginning to think that maybe an outright victory over the king would not be a good result. There were more and more independents in parliament; maybe a victory for parliament would simply hand power to independents. And so they approach the king to try and make peace, the so called Treaty of Uxbridge. Now this is a farce, and it will not only crash, but it will also burn. The proposals are largely shaped by the Scots and there is no way Charles would ever have agreed to them, they are lemon suckingly uncompromising. Nor did Charles anyway have any intention of engaging in good faith – God was on his side now, remember? But there will be some dodgy discussion by both the Scottish and English Presbyterians to try and get the king on board. Of which more later.

For this reason then, the Presbyterian party will also become associated as a peace party. This complicates things; because some independents will support Presbyterian MPs, because they want peace more than anything.

Conversely, many independents, and Cromwell one of those that believe in this trendy new idea of religious toleration, recognise that the king is not a man to do business with, his personal history is littered with duplicity and double dealing and he must be coerced. The war must be pursued with vigour, and won. Then we can sort out the terms of the peace because the king will have no choice but to take part in good faith. So; there were a number of Presbyterians who also agreed with that analysis. And so despite religion they support the Independents in parliament – also to be known as the war party. Complicated innit? To boil it down forget the complexities – Independents and war, Presbyterians and peace.

Now much of the Presbyterian fears in particular became rather focussed on Cromwell. For two reasons. One, because he had acquired a reputation for protecting independents within the Eastern Association Army to the fury of the Scottish Colonel Crawford – and Manchester worried too; And secondly the Newsheets loved him so he was in the public eye. The Scot Robert Bailie saw the danger, that Cromwell was seen as a

wise and active head, universally well beloved, as religious and stout; being a known Independent, the most of the soldiers who loved new ways put themselves under his command’.

There was another problem with Cromwell of course; the way he treated people seemed to put far too little weight on their social status; though you should bear in mind that Cromwell is no social radical, more in the paternalistic Elizabethan tradition. Here’s one of those famous quotes

I had rather have the plain russet coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and nothing else.

So, Independents and Presbyterians then. Traditionally we think of Whigs and Tories as the first blush of party politics; but maybe it’s earlier than that – maybe it’s now, the 1640s, with independents and Presbyterians; certainly they are publicly recognised tags, used by the Newsheets, and held recognisably different political positions.

All of this came to a head in parliament, in a debate starting in November 1644, and it’s fascinating enough for you to listen to episode 396,The New Model. Everyone expected and feared that the failures of 1644 would be swept under the carpet and we’d have interminable war and bloodshed. But when Cromwell stood up in the Commons to report, that is not what they got. Instead they listened to a direct, plain speaking, furious dissection of everything that was wrong. And although he tried not to make it personal – acknowledging that Manchester’s convictions were deeply held and principled – none the less he identified a reluctance to pursue the war with proper vigour. As part of which he related a conversation from the army command before Newbury, when Cromwell had demanded they attack the king. Manchester’s response was

“If we beat the King ninety and nine times yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once, we shall be all hanged, and our posterity be made slaves’[1]

‘If this be so’

replied Cromwell

why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting ever hereafter. If so, let us make peace, be it never so base’.

Nor was Cromwell alone; it seems pretty clear that Waller for example, in his speech, supported his junior’s point of view that fundamental change was needed; it could not be ignored.

It lead to a furore – in which the social angle can’t be ignored; Manchester was a peer of the realm being criticised by a Cambridgeshire farmer. And when his turn came he didn’t hesitate to make it personal. He refuted claims that he was reluctant to fight with reason and care; but then qent all ad hominem, at Cromwell, whom he said was a social and religious revolutionary who

hoped to live to never see a nobleman in England…his animosity against the Scots nation was such as he told me, that… he could as soon draw his sword against the Scots as any in the king’s army…and he …desired to have none in my army but such as were of the Independent judgment[2]

I mean let’s not get into the detail, but essentially parliament is as divided as it had ever been; and not just Independent/Presbyterian, but Commons and Lords. No one could find a solution, until the name Zouche Tate crosses the national story. Zouche was the leader of the committee tasked with suggesting a way forward. He came with a bit of paper containing his proposals – which Whitlocke said he held ‘like a boil on his thumb’. His proposal would, eventually, lance the boil.

The Result of all of this was the self Denying ordinance. This radical solution declared that you could now only be a member of parliament, or an army commander, not both.

It was a solution of beauty that cut across all divisions and it was radical, radical, radical.

OK, I can see you are not convinced. It is radical, for two reasons. Firstly it means there would be a professional army, organised and driven by professionals. This army would be recruited and managed by its own independent army command, though reporting to the CBK as parliament’s executive arm. England would have a standing army at last, though no one thought it would last as long as it did, to be fair.

Secondly it’s radical because – think about who has led every single military venture since time immemoral, and who would no longer be involved in any way shape or form in soldiering? That’s right – the nobility, the peers of the realm. No role. Because you can’t check out of the House of Lords. So they are completely side lined. We have instead a peoples’ army, led by the ordinary Joe. Or relatively ordinary.

Essex, Manchester and the house of Lords fought it tooth and nail. But in reply the ordinary Joes Vane, and St John in the CBK, and the peer Saye and Sele it must be said, treated them to a display of naked power politics.  They just went ahead and did it anyway; and because the House of Commons controlled the money, they could, and there was not a darned thing the blue bloods could do about it.

The Commons chose their general of the army – it was to be Thomas Fairfax. The Lords sought to exclude independents from the officer corps he chose – they tried and they failed. It was the end of Essex’s career. It took him a while to accept it, but by March 1645 he had accepted it and rather elegantly and gracefully resigned his offices. He would die hunting stags in September 1646 and be given a stonkingly well attended funeral to see him off.

Now then, the New Model Army was born with its new general Fairfax and its officer corps of commoners. There was plenty of cavalry but almost all of the infantry were raw recruits, untested. So when all this news got to Oxford there was merriment and a good time was had by all. Everything was surely going their way; they faced a divided enemy and without peers what good could it be? They faced a raw and newly structured army without noble generals so what good would that be? Prince Rupert called it the New Noddle army; Charles dubbed Fairfax the Brutish General. Plus – the Scots were having their bums burned too, about which I nee to tell you.

We meet the At A Gallop speed problem again, so I have little time for James Graham, the Great Montrose, and his companion and brother in arms Alistair MacColla. Best to go to episode 395 Forever Newbury, or indeed become a member and listen to the History of Scotland – especially episode 63. It’s a great story. Essentially Montrose and MacColla go to the highlands with 45p and a second hand felt blue bonnet. And then, with an army never more than about 3,000 strong, mangle every army the Covenanters could send against them. MaColla is the man who invented the tactic of the Highland charge – which was not just a lot of men running fast and bravely, it was a well thought through and highly effective tactic involving multiple steps – see episode 395. Six straight victories they win against always bigger armies, until they seem to have Scotland in their grasp. Which meant the Scots army in England were seriously distracted, would not come south, and had to send a load of regiments home.

That brings us to the Naseby campaign, which you can hear about in episode 397, In Assurance of Victory. Rupert and Charles saw they faced a danger and an opportunity. As sure and eggs is eggs, Fairfax would focus on Oxford. He needed to be drawn away, and Rupert had a plan for that; after all his 10,000 men was much smaller than Fairfax’s 13.500. So here’s the plan; he would do the bird with a broken wing thing, have Fairfax chase him. Because there was the a great opportunity to then give him a beating; George Goring had a force around Taunton; and 3,000 foot had been recruited in Wales. They would join Rupert as he drew Fairfax on, Rupert would then have an army of say 16,000, he would turn, reduce the New Noddle to Noodle soup, and the King would enjoy his own again.

And it works! Or well the first bit works. Rupert sacks Leicester as a lure to Fairfax – one of Rupert’s several sacks that earn him the Thuggish tag – and Fairfax comes after him. Trouble is – there’s no sign of the Welsh levies, and George Goring was too drunk to move a muscle. And so we get to the night before when the armies are just 6 miles away from each other and a fateful meeting. Rupert advises that since they still only have 10,000 men discretion is the better part here, and they should retreat and wait until those reinforcements can join them. But here the factionalism of the court and the idiotic over confidence  of George Digby takes over – the courtiers around the king advise battle; and Charles himself does not wish the dishonour of running away from rebels. And so they fight, just north of a little village called Naseby.

It’s a fascinating battle, the battle at Naseby on 14th June 1645 that effectively decides the first Civil War, and I commend episode 397 to you, where you can hear how Pot, Dan, Charlotte and I walk the fields. It is surprisingly hard fought, but Fairfax’s energy and leadership, Skippon’s hard bitten stubborn resistance, and the discipline of Cromwell’s Ironsides win the day. Charles’ army is smashed, and smashed beyond repair. He runs to Wales to do a spot of hunting, as you do when your world is in ruins, Rupert runs to Bristol and the sympathetic shoulder of the Duchess of Richmond. Fairfax doesn’t wait a minute. He picks his army up, tells them to stop resting on those laurels because there’s work to do. The Western Campaign in 1645 sees the New Model march in pristine order and discipline to Langport where the last major royalist army under George Goring is given a toasting, and George legs it to Spain.

On the way, incidentally, and probably the most interesting thing about the western campaign, is that Fairfax meets several counties which are being run not by the country committees, but by the locals. Because the locals had put up with this violence for long enough – and imposed their own order, refuse to allow soldiers to fight there and make declarations that they will run things until King and Parliament sort this mess out, do their duty and restore order. The Clubmen are a fascinating phenomenon, and you can find out more in episode 398.

[1] Hutton, R: ‘The Making of Oliver Cromwell’, p223

[2] Gentles, I: ‘The New Model Army’, p5









































5 thoughts on “AAG 1643-1645 The First Civil War

  1. Thank you again for the AAG episodes…they really do help summarize what I have just listened to in the detailed episodes. I dont have familiarity with this period, so it is really so valuable. I know its extra work…but much appreciated. The pointers to specific detailed episodes for various events, are also most helpful.

  2. I enjoy these gallop epipisodes, in fact I enjoy all of your work, However, if I would offer one humble piece of advice it would be; drop the references to the the core episodes. Look; if you want a quick overview you’re not going to bother with the individual episodes, if you are interested in the details you will have listened to the core episodes and just want a refresher. This constant pointing to individual episodes comes across like some sort of american advertising (sorry Americans, just a bit of stereotyping here) “Isn’t that a beautiful sunset!? And speking of sunsets: why don’t you try our “Sunset Underwear”, guaranteed to put a smile on your bedtime…” Or summat like that…

    1. Yes I know what you mean…the reason I do it is firstly because I do indeed want to keep reminding people of the detail to try and pull them back to the main narrative and you may well be right that this is fruitless. But also because I thought people might be interested in a particuar topic and want the detailed episode just for that. PLUS I am in the process of setting the Gallop episodes up on YouTube. Apparently an insane amount of people listen to podcasts there. Which seems absurd to me but… anyway, those people may not know of the detailed podcast.

      I do take your point though, it is a bit gross; I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

    2. I disagree. The references to numbered episodes give listeners more choices, and are particularly useful in pointing them to specific episodes, rather than inviting them to rummage fruitlessly among close to a dozen. It’s like putting links to further reading in an article; maybe most readers will ignore them, but they have the choice not to, but to find out more. As long as the choice lies with the listener/reader, it’s a win-win situation.
      And new listeners may come from anywhere, and may be keen to find out more. For example, I fell across the HoE podcast by accident, back when Henry VIII was dating Anne Boleyn, and have been hopping back and forth through the archive, usually as my reading or theatre-going prompted me.

Leave a Reply