403 No Mere Mercenary Army


With the king under their control, the determination of Fairfax’s Army made Presbyterian parliamentarians buckle. And when Ireton presented the carefully worked Heads of Proposals to the Officers and Agitators at the Army General Council at Reading, it seemed that at last a peace agreement was within grasp. Once agreed, Fairfax and the Army could march into London with King Charles at its head, and a new world could begin. All that was needed was the king to agree to the best peace proposals he will ever receive, so good surely it’ll be in the bag.

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It is the late in the night of 2nd June at the very grand Holdenby House in Northampton. King Charles Stuart, king of England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland,  and indeed a mess of little islands scattered around the place here and there, had already retired to bed, worn out by another hard, full day playing bowls at nearby Althorp house. He laid his soon to be redundant head on his pillow, and was already snoring away in a suitably regal manner when he was woken by a commotion below. There were angry raised male voices down below. He recognised as the commander of his guard – General Browne. But not the other – young demanding, not to be denied.

He reached out and rang the little silver bed he always kept by his bed in case of emergency or well, just because he could really, and his servant James Maxwell, panicky, burst in – a young Roundhead officer was demanding access. Charles figured he was light on choices, and so in charged a Roundhead ensign, with sword unsheathed and pistol and Charles said calmly

You may take away my life if you will, having your sword in your hand

Charles had long ago accepted that his destination might be martyrdom. Was this its arrival?


Hello everyone and welcome to the history of England, episode ***

Last time we heard about how the defeat of the enemy without, in the form of the king, had freed parliament to turn on the enemy within. The Presbyterians were now fully engaged on their attempt to eradicate their Independent religious opponents by destroying the institution where they were strongest – the New Model Army. And they remained thoroughly confident of their ground; of course they were only doing what the country wanted and needed, removing a crushing financial weight from the bowed shoulders of their people. We have come to the moment of truth then . Will the new model disband meekly, the Presbyterians in parliament agree a soft deal with the king, restoring his place and imposing a national uniform church ? Will the leaders of the New Model, Fairfax and Cromwell, side with the legally constituted parliament for whose right they took up arms; or stand by the comrades and brothers in arms with whom they have fought?

Plus of course you’ll be wanting to know about the young man with sword and pistol and what he has come to do.

Well the young man in question is Cornet George Joyce, for ‘tis he. And to explain his presence and his ends, let me take you to Drury Lane in Holborn, a few before, and, to the home of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, like Fairfax, was  facing an agonising dilemma; trying to reconcile his loyalty to parliament and his loyalty to the army. What he knew was that things were coming to a head.

The Cromwell household in Drury Lane had become something of a centre for Army Officers based in London, probably including his son in law, Henry Ireton, and favourite army chaplain Hugh Peter. Usually they met in the house while Elizabeth Cromwell served them small beer and bread and butter, no muffins, or other times they went out to Coleman Street to the Star Tavern. There they debated the king, the army the Commons and argued back and forth about what they should do. News of their worries obviously got back to John Lilburne in prison because he confided to a fellow inmate, Lewis Dyve that Cromwell thought he could no longer keep his feet in both camps, parliament and army. He must choose. Lewis it turns out was a royalist and sent the news straight on to the king.

Om 31st May, Cromwell had a new visitor, the aforesaid George Joyce. George was a tailor’s son from London, and by the age of 29 he had achieved the lowest rank for a commissioned officer in the Cavalry, that of Cornet. Cornet Joyce was already effectively involved in a mutiny. Members of the self-appointed agitators council had arranged for him to raise a substantial troop of 500 horse and help another rebel regiment seize the artillery train at Oxford before the Presbyterians could grab it. There he’d heard the rumour that Parliament meant to seize the king, agree a quick deal leaving the army out in the cold, force it to disband, and impose Presbyterianism on all everyone. This would be a disaster; the Agitators in the army had a plan to stop that dead in its track – but needed the support of their generals.

On that night of 1st June, then, Joyce emerged, sent orders to his troop to join him at Holdenby House and set out at a gallop to meet them. The following day, On 2nd June 1647 they clattered into the court at Holdenby and faced Colonels Richard Graves and General Browne who stood in their way with the King’s guard. It could have been bloody, but it was instead, breezey. The guardsmen greeted the troopers like long lost buddies. Browne and Graves were powerless.

The plan Joyce had worked out with Cromwell had been implemented perfectly. They’d agreed that Joyce would take over the guard around the king, so that no one could remove Charles without the agreement of the army. Phew! That was easy.

But then it all changed; because the next thing Joyce saw was Colonel Richard Graves, the commander of one of the parliament’s regiments riding hell for leather out of the estate. Now that was worrying. Now Where was he off to in such a lather? Suddenly Joyce realised he was on borrowed time. Richard Graves was the super loyal commander Holles had so nearly managed to replace Fairfax earlier in the year. A pound to a penny said Graves would be back with a bigger boat before you could say ‘sovereignty of the people’. Joyce dashed off a letter – to Cromwell if he could be found, if not Ireton or Fleetwood, asking for instructions, but he knew he was on his own – a reply would come way too late to help. Jpyce and his men came to a decision – they must leave, and their king with them.

So back to the king in his jim jams. Charles’ time had not come. Joyce put away pistol and sword and politely explained, he meant no harm, but the king must leave with him in the morning. Charles figured this was the kind of choice with which Hobson would be familiar.

But the next morning, 6.00, bright and early, Charles’s viewpoint had changed, the sinews had been stiffened. It occurred to him that he really ought to check the paperwork. So he asked what commission, what orders Joyce had to remove him. Young Joyce replied earnestly that he was trying to avoid a second civil war and needless bloodshed. Just the sort of hyperbole you expect from a young ‘un. Charles Had something more specific in mind and asked again, and Joyce in desperation told him he’d already answered that, please sush now. Charles thought that wasn’t good enough

I pray you Mr Joyce, deal ingenuously with me, and tell me what commission you have

Here is my commission


Behind me,

said Joyce. Behind Joyce stood 500 fully armed troopers. Maybe some were thoughtfully feeling the edge of their swords. Or checking the sights of the Carbines.

It is as fair a commission and as well written as I have seen a commission written in my life: a company of handsome proper gentlemen as I have seen in a great while

The conversation went on; Charles asked where they were going and Joyce appears not to have thought about that. He suggested Oxford, Charles didn’t like that so they went through a few places and hit on Loughborough. Well they didn’t actually, Charles suggested Newmarket because he’d gone hunting there with his Dad back in the day, and Joyce said Hmm, OK then; it was to be a spookily helpful decision as it happens, and anyway, off they set.

Now there’s more but isn’t that the most delightful story? There are so many things I like about it. The young 29 year old Joyce, clearly full of enthusiasm and radicalised fervour, but in a situation way above his pay grade. And then the ‘ooh, where shall we go then?’ ‘who I don’t know , Loughborough is nice this time of year’ conversation is a joy. And then they go to Newmarket cos Charles liked the hunting – I mean really? Come on folks this is supposed to be a revolution for crying aloud, this won’t look good on the cover blurb.

It is also difficult to dislike a man who can make such an excellently dry gag with the ‘it is an excellent commission line.’ Cool, suave, funny dry as a bone. Generally it’s thought Joyce was indicating force when he pointed at his trooper; the more revolutionary in spirit have suggested that Joyce was pointing to his men as representatives of the people’s will. I love the second, but I’m going for the first one honestly.

As to the business end, Joyce always said the whole thing was Cromwell’s idea. When Cromwell firmly denied any such thing and accused Joyce of being economical with the truth, Charles acidly told Oliver

I’ll not believe you unless you hang him

Most historians square the circle as I have done; that Cromwell agreed Joyce should take control of the king at Holdenby, but not abduct him.

Anyway, the long and short of that is that Cromwell had made his choice, Army or Parliament. Convinced as he was that parliament was the rightful source of authority, he would not see his colleagues in arms thrown to the lions. As he would have known, Fairfax had also chosen the army. Thomas Fairfax had ordered a general muster of the whole army. Which was to be near the HQ at Bury, conveniently just outside – you guessed it – Newmarket.

That night, as the soldiers began to assemble at Newmarket, Holles & Co, probably unaware of the King’s abduction at this point, decided to arrest Cromwell. But someone warned him, probably at God’s request as far as Oliver was concerned, but God’s tool was probably the Leveller William Walwyn, who later claimed he persuaded Cromwell to leave. But however it happened, Cromwell left Drury Lane along with Hugh Peters and the Muffin Man, and set off for Newmarket at the crack of dawn.

That night the Commons met in continuous session in something of panic. They’d now heard of the King’s abduction. They were also getting bad news from the London Milita who were not taking to their new Presbyterian officers at all well. At 2 in the morning they finally decided that maybe they’d been a little hasty, and they struck the Declaration of Dislike from the parliamentary record. 3 days later on 7th June, a full Indemnity ordinance for all soldiers was passed. They sent commissioners out on the road to tell the army of their general loveliness and that all was once more sweetness and light, so sorry, didn’t mean it. Would it be enough?

In Newmarket, the army were having a love-in on 4th June. Well, I say love in; before the lovin’ could start, the Presbyterian officers who had chosen to ace[t Holles & Co’s command to go Ireland took the occasion to leave the New Model. It seems there were about 57 of them, which isn’t a massive number but it’s significant; because the officers that replaced them were mainly promoted from the ranks. That meant the remaining officers of the New Model were of even more humble origins, and yet more radical and homogenous in their Independent views. Anyway, the leaving Presbyterian officers they were apparently ‘hooted off the field. Then the love-in could begin.

The Agitators of the Soldiers had put together a petition, the ‘Humble Representation of the Dissatisfactions of the Army’. It was signed by their, officers on behalf of the men. Fairfax Did not say ‘get back in line you ‘orrible little men’, instead he accepted it. He then went and visited every single one of the 13 regiments, and had the Representation read out to each and every one. His message was one of conciliation; a message of support, but urging them to be moderate in their demands and to the respect civil authority of parliament. His charm, charisma and integrity won their hearts as always. He was cheered everywhere he went. That night Cromwell arrived and joined the party.

It is at this point that Henry Ireton really begins to take centre stage in the English Revolution. He is one of those who does not have anything like the recognition he should have. He’s rather a difficult man to like, severely religious, iron willed, relentless, not many laughs on him. Clarendon and the royalists hated him, largely because he was effective and forensic. The Levellers would grow to hate him because he was one of the Army grandees with whom they’ll fall out, and was less radical than they, as he’ll show at the Putney Debates.

But he was still deeply radical for the time, and a genuine revolutionary. He was rigorous, iron willed and selfless, and lacked any Cromwellian grandstanding – though he and Cromwell were always very close, and not just because of the family ties. His fellow officers and independents loved him; John Cooke, the man who will prosecute the King,  wrote of his dedication and hard work

seldome thinking it time to eat till he had done the worke of the day at nine or ten at night, and then will sit up as long as any man had business with him’[1]

He was realistic as well as radical, and it is he who will be the architect and penmaster for the stream of petitions and agreements that come from the Army over the next couple of years, and his rigour created coherence from the mass of opinions, demands and petitions from so many parties. Ian Gentles the historian is impressed;

To Ireton as much as any individual belongs the credit for calling monarchy to account and erecting the English republic on its ruins.

This is the first time then, when Ireton produces a army document. He seems to have got together with all the agitators, talked through their desires, grievances, petitions and other matters and, and pulled together a conclusion – called the Solemn Engagement of the Army. Three big things to mention about the Solemn Engagement; firstly, it was more than a manifesto of grievances, it was a sacred Covenant. A bond, and oath in the sight of God and their comrades, a commitment presented and assented to publicly by every regiment and every soldier. The army assembled engaged that ‘We shall not willingly disband nor divide’ until their grievances were satisfied. Secondly it declared that no one in England should be subject to oppression from those who had abused parliament. That is coded for language for Holles & Co to be fired; it’s now personal, either we go or they go. And thirdly, the most remarkable of all.

The engagement set up a new body to manage the New Model; a General Council of the army. The Council would be composed of the senior officers, obviously, who currently formed the Council of War; but now there would be a General Council too, to which each regiment would send two officers and two soldiers for each regiment – called agitators, but again for Agitators think rather of the idea of an Agent. It’s at once a stroke of genius – appropriating the informal system that had arisen among the soldiers; and extraordinarily democratic. Every soldier would now have a voice in the running of the army. Is that any way to run an army I wonder? Surely officers would normally give the lippy a thrashing and told them to do that they were told?

Ok. So Solemn Engagement taken. The Army were then presented, On 10th June, with the Commissioners from parliament, and Fairfax courteously drew up the army for them, to listen to what they had to say. It didn’t go well. The Commissioners left with the shouts of Justice! Justice! Ringing in their ears – words, thought Holles bitterly, that Cromwell and Ireton had taught them[2]. I don’t think they needed any teaching as it happens. Fairfax wrote to parliament to say that the army ‘sought no alteration of civil government’; but this is the last time Fairfax will keep trying to keep the New Model away from politics. I have no doubt Fairfax and Cromwell heartily did not want this kind of confrontation, but really there was no choice; getting the army justice had become political, and no one trusted the Commons who had tried to destroy the New Model, and showed them so little respect and gratitude for their sacrifice. They were insulted. And there were ideas circulating now about what they had been fighting for all this time; ideas and thoughts that could no longer be re-bottled. Partly from the soldiers and the likes of Ireton. But partly because Leveller influence was beginning to grow; men such as Walwyin, Lilburne, Sexby, John Wildman, William Allen, Richard Overton were either part of the army, or their writings were becoming well known there.

The change came on 14th June when Fairfax and the Council of War issued the document called The Declaration from Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Army, once more Ireton’s work. It started with a proud statement of who they were:

We are not a mere mercenary army hired to serve any arbitrary power of state, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of parliament to the defence of our own, and the people’s just rights and liberties

That sense of being drawn from, and representatives of, the people was now core to the NMA’s identity. So the declaration now included politics – a demand for regular parliaments based on fairer constituencies – and called for the impeachment of 11 members of parliament. Holles & Co essentially.

The army was now on the march slowly towards London. On 21st June it issued the Remonstrance of the Representatives of the Army, and together with the 14th June declaration we are now getting to a full political programme. There should be regular parliaments based on coherent constituencies; reform of the judiciary; absolute liberty of conscience. And at last that sense of willingness to heal; recognition that the king must be part of the settlement, much gentler language about royalists and their life in the world. Even angry Honest John Lilburne  approved, thanking his old mate Cromwell for the ‘active pains’ he was taking in the path of reform.

In London the Levellers remained active, and indeed from March Richard Overton in particular launched a pamphleting campaign. This was not easy on him or his family. The Leveller movement very much involved women as radical as the men; Mary Overton, Richard’s wife, kept the presses running, and was producing copies of Richard’s latest appeal, Regal Tyrannie Discovered, stitching pamphlets together. When soldiers pushed their way into the house to destroy the press and confiscate the leaflets.

Mary was hauled off to the Lords. There the Speaker of the House of Lords demanded to know the names of those who had bought copies of the pamphlet from her. Mary refused to give up a single name. She was ordered to prison. Pregnant, clutching her 6 month old baby, she was dragged on hurdles by jeering crowds through the muddy streets to the house of Correction at Bridewell. Eventually she would be freed – but not before she had miscarried. She was furious, and wrote that the common people of England were

‘inslaved by…a lordly arbitrary vassalage and bondage…with that Norman brood of insolent dominating tyrants and usurpers, the House of Lords’

Elizabeth Lilburne was also imprisoned, as was Richard Overton. He continued to write from prison, with many ideas that would appear later in the year in the Leveller programme – criminal reform, educational provision; and the concept of natural right, rights with higher authority even than parliament was appearing. Meanwhile he, Walwyn and Lilburne all maintained their contacts n the army – like Sexby, Wildman and William Allen. The Levellers were becoming more organised, a network, in touch, planning and working together. Like a model of the modern political activists. The Storm was coming.

OK, and what of Presbyterian London? Well, resolve in parliament was weakening; several provincial MPs began to withdraw their shares from Holles & Co, as did Bulstrode Whitelocke. Our Bulstrode will be  master trimmer, by the by, none better. If you see Bulstrode sidling, it’s a good time to check the cut of your political jib because there’s stormy weather ahead.

Despite the sliding backwards, despite their earlier concessions, at heart Holles and the members of the DHC committee remained committed to the Counter Revolution. Edward Massie, ex Western Association Commander, rode through the streets of London in his coach, inciting citizens to defend their city against the New Model army; double guards were posted on the City walls and the portcullises of the gates clanged shut. The Mayor called the Trained Bands to arms, and the militiamen tried to turn their enthusiasm up to 11. Most managed no more than 1 or 2, sadly for the Mayor. On 15th June Holles defiantly persuaded parliament to pass a Resolution, aimed squarely at the army, demanding the king be brought to London immediately. They also decided to define where the English Rubicon lay over which the army could not cross, and it was to lie in an arc 30 miles outside London; over that virtual brook the New Model and Fairfax must not cross. Fairfax therefore immediately moved not into Rome, but into St Albans. Which was 25 miles away. So tha went well then.

Fairfax also kept up a correspondence with the London Comon Council and William Lenthall, Speaker of the Commons; and at the start of July struck an important blow. He asked the Speaker to be placed under command of all forces in England; and to support his argument noted that order must be re-established in the Northern Army – which had rebelled against its Presbyterian commander, Poyntz. This is a rather delicious irony; the Northern Army had been a vital part of Holles’ anti NMA defence force. But the New Model Agitators had made contacts there, and won them round – and the result was a mutiny. Parliament saw they had lost this card – and went for conciliation, by agreeing to appoint Fairfax as general of all military forces. Concession was met with concession; Fairfax drew the army outside the Rubicon, to Reading. And at Reading he called a General Council of the Army on 16th July.

Now it’s the Putney debates that get all the press, and don’t you worry we’ll be covering that in episode 405. But the Reading general council was almost as remarkable. It started with a debate with the Agitators who demanded an immediate march on London. Cromwell and Ireton talked them down; Cromwell’s view was that achieving consensus and healing was critical

Whatever we get by treaty will be firm and durable…we shall avoid the great objection that we got things of parliament by force

But, he agreed that they should demand the restoration of the old officers of the London Trained Bands, and that the imprisoned Levellers, Lilburne and Overton, should be freed. Then, on the second day, Ireton produced his magnus opus; the document that was to become known as the Heads of Proposals.

This seems mainly to have been Ireton’s work; but it was also produced in consultation with key independents in parliament. In particular, the kind of triumvirate we keep mentioning – Saye & Sele from the Lords, Harry Vane and Oliver St John from the Commons – the old Independent muckers. He also seems to have corresponded with a royalist envoy from the Queen, John Berkely. So, these are the proposals Ireton put to the General Council to form the basis for an offer to the king, designed to wrest control back from the Presbyterians.

Unlike the Newcastle Propositions, which had been about power, the Heads of Proposals was an attempt to achieve genuine reform and a better world. But more than that, it was an attempt to heal old enmities and create a settlement acceptable to all; the spirit of reconciliation, at last, had ridden into town.

Under the terms of the Heads, Parliaments should be elected every two years. Rotten boroughs should be closed, and a new, rational constituency map constructed on the basis the taxation yield of each county and borough.

Parliament would control the militia; but for only 10 years after which it would be returned to the king. It appoint would ministers of state for 10 years also, but after trust had been re-established, a permanent system would be implemented whereby parliament would propose 3 names from which the king would choose his minister – government would be a partnership.

A council of state would replace the old Privy Council, with members holding office for a fixed term to reduce corruption. Royalists would be barred from public office and parliament so there is an element of retribution; but unlike earlier and later proposals, that exclusion would last for only 5 years and then that was it, no more retribution, in act of oblivion. In addition, the system of compounding would be reformed, to radically reduce the penalties.. And only 5 individuals were to be exempted from a general act of oblivion – a very important factor for a king still tortured by the memory of Strafford.

And then religion. The BCP was to be permitted. Bishops were allowed to return and continue. But, critically, would be shorn of their coercive power – they were spiritual guiders only, not tools of royal oppression. There would be no penalties any more for not going to church.

That’s the guts of the Heads of Proposals. It was the most open statement of toleration to appear for another 40 years.

The Heads of Proposals was an impressive document. It was almost equally extraordinary that the senior commanders of the army, rather than just doing it given their authority, laid it before the General council for discussion and agreement before taking it to the king or parliament. Over a 100 soldiers listened to the plan. And then one of the agitators, a noted Leveller, responded on their behalf

These are things of great weight, having relation to the settling of a kingdom, which is a great work, truly the work we all expect to have a share in

He asked for time for them all to consider it and off then went in a huddle. And the following day at the Council they gave their agreement that the Heads of Proposals was acceptable to all. The Heads of Proposals were sent to parliament on 20th July and Saye & Sele and the Lords took it up immediately – though fair dos, they were only about a dozen of them left now.

At this point it seemed the approach of the army had won; the Commons seemed to accept this was the way forward, Holles and the 11 members retired from the House, control of the London trained bands was returned once more to Fairfax. Great, unity restored, bish, bash Bosh. All that needed to happen now was for Charles to seize this generous and innovative way forward and at last we can get back to being a nation again.

That then, must take us back to Charlie-lad. What had things been like for the dear fellow since the comfort of Holdenby?

Well, I am very pleased to inform you that Charles had been charmed and delighted by the reception he received at the hands of the army. There is scarcely a trace of republicanism at this point, and Cromwell and Fairfax were full of warmth and admiration. They welcomed him with open arms, offered him every honour; and unlike at Newcastle and Holdenby, he was allowed to use the BCP and have access to his Anglican Chaplains. We know a lot of this through the memoirs of one John Berkely, the Queen’s envoy HM had been in contact with her hub, and urged him to ‘just make the damned deal’. Who cares what flavour of protestant church you have you’re all heretics damned to eternal perdition anyway. Just say yes! I paraphrase and simplify, obs; actually her sticking point was control of the army.

Anyway, Berkeley was sent over by HM to oil the wheels. He was also welcomed into the camp, and he had friendly chats with Fairfax, and with Cromwell. And in fact it seems a bit of a love in; Cromwell in particular was moved to tears at the sight of Charles with his children. The Franch Ambassador recalls Cromwell’s bemusement at a simple Gentleman famer like himself hob nobbing with the king, not something your Huntingdon Gentry Farmer would have expected. Trying to sniff out stuff for his monthly report. Monsieur l’ambassador Bellievre asked Cromwell what his aims were, and Oliver looked a bit vague, until he muttered

None rises so high as he who knows not wither he is going [3]

It’s an interesting statement; I’ve heard more than one person expand this to the whole civil war. Again, unlike the American and French Revolutions, there had as yet been no Locke, no Montesqieu, so enlightenment; there was no roadmap to follow or model to reach for; no one expected the rebellion to become revolution – no one journeys so far as those who don’t know where they are going.

Anyway, None rises so high as he who knows not wither he is going. As regards Cromwell Royalists would later spin this as ambition; that Cromwell had no boundaries or limits he would set himself. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s part of a story of Cromwell the honest man who never really wanted the power; that he’s simply expressing his astonishment at how far fate had brought him. Maybe it’s even more simple; Jim, of this parish, suggested that Cromwell was talking to the Ambassador of an international not necessarily friendly power. And he was just being vague because he had no intention of spilling any beans. Actually Jim, that is now my favourite explanation.

Other conversations tend to suggest that at this stage anyway, it’s not personal ambition that had brought Fairfax and Cromwell here. Later, for example, before presenting Charles with the best proposition he’ll ever have Cromwell said to him that

They thought no men could enjoy their lives and estates quietly without the king had his rights

And described the king he’d fought against tooth and nail for the last 5 years as

The uprightest and most conscientious man of these three kingdoms

Golly. This seems to suggest that at this stage at least both Fairfax and Cromwell just wanted to finish this, and go home. So all seems set fair for home.

And yet Berkely found his king suspicious, disbelieving yet again of the motives of these rebels.  It was now that Charles confided to a shocked Berkeley that he did not trust the commanders, because none of them had asked for personal honours or favours or rewards. Apparently that is the way that serious political operators and courtiers thought; without such motives, they could surely not be serious about their proposals.

By now, Charles was being moved progressively down towards Hampton Court, and had arrived at the grand house of Woburn Abbey, and it was here that copies of the Heads of Proposals appeared with his morning post.  Berkeley was excited about these proposals, he saw in them the real opportunity for peace and a new future – and he told Charles so. But to his despair and astonishment, Charles didn’t seem happy at all; at a minimum he wanted the church of England confirmed in law in its power with it’s Bishops as they had been, and none of his friends to be exempted from pardon at all. And he was very confident, chipper almost, firm in his recalcitrance. Because he knew, or though he knew, that they could get nowhere without him, without their king’s agreement. He held all the cards.

I shall see them glad ere long to accept for equal terms[4]

At that moment Jack Ashburnham appeared again, our sort of Tim nice but dim courtier, and he appeared to have as much backbone as a Jellyfish and did nothing but agree with Charles. At this point Charles’ other counsellors also fill his head with dreams. John Maitland, Lord Lauderale was there with seemingly great plans for royalist revival in Scotland; letters were around from Presbyterians in London promising their bowels were feeling firmer, and they had plans for the greatest comeback since Lazarus.

Berkey was aghast at all of this. He kept banging away that here was the most generous offer Charles was ever likely to get. In a very famous conversation he pleaded with Charles that with these proposals

never was a Crown so near lost, so cheaply recover’d, as his Majesty’s would be, if they agreed upon such terms

Well, while Charles was mulling, London erupted. The news got out that the Presbyterians had surrendered to the independents and that the Eleven members had fled. Presbyterians ministers thundered resistance from the pulpits. Angry militiamen, watermen, reformadoes gathered in Skinner’s Hall and raged against such capitulation. They swore their own great engagement, a mirror image of the army’s. Thousands of reformadoes protested in St James Field, the Common Council accepted their petitions. Holles and the eleven members came out from hiding and whipped up the passions, presenting a petition to parliament to bring the king back to London immediately. Parliament for the moment stood firm and rejected the petition.

That simply enraged the Reformadoes still more. Now there was a riot, a mob swirled and crashed into parliament, stormed into the chamber of the house of Lords itself, bullied the Lords into restoring the Milita to the City control, and there was stuff being thrown around to encourage them, and I must use the word excrement on a public podcast, because gentle listeners, such was included in the throwing. MPs and Lords asked for help from the Mayor to restore order. The mayor said he was busy, so sorry, let me get back to you on that.

Eight peers and 57 MPs fled the riots and the city and found their way to the army camp at Reading. Back in London, their flight once more re-adjusted the balance of power in the Commons in favour of Holles & Co, and for a week the 11 members returned and tried to revive the Counter Revolution. But despite the riots, it became increasingly clear that support within London and its suburbs was as thin as an after dinner mint. Outside of London there was nothing but tumbleweed for their cause, not a leaf nor twig stirred in support. The Levellers and their allies in the Army were  furiously demanding a march on London immediately – to dissolve parliament and force new, free elections. Let’s top pussy footing around.

But Fairfax and Cromwell new lasting peace lay with negotiation and reaching accommodation with the king.  At Woburn, Charles had sent to Fairfax that he was prepared to discuss the Heads of Proposals, and so it was with hope and optimism on 28th July that Fairfax’s delegation of 4 appeared at Woburn. Henry Ireton led the group, and with him were Colonels Rainsborough, Hammond and Rich. They were ushered in to see the king, with great hopes; Ireton must have been optimistic that peace was in his grasp. If they could clinch this, here was the ultimate opportunity to finally heal this dreadful rift in the nation.

Furthermore; if Charles accepted it – or anything close – Fairfax then planned for the army to march to London with Charles at its head. Surely then the last of the resistance must melt away. A new country would dawn, which would set a new standard, a constitutional monarch, reformed and refreshed parliament elected on fairer terms, a level of religious liberty unequalled anywhere in Europe except maybe the Netherlands. It was an thrilling prospect. I feel the excitement myself as I write.

So back to the meeting. As Charles faced these four men, not a drop of blue blood amongst them, he spoke the language not of reconciliation, but of division and contempt, or in the words of Berkeley himself,

entertain’d them with very tart and bitter Discour∣ses

He insisted on an established church, and brought up Strafford again

The meeting went on for three hours; repeatedly Charles made the same point, displaying again and again the bottomless sea of his over confidence. He insisted that in the end everyone must bend to his will. Because no agreement was possible without the king. He looked then in the eye and told them so straight

You cannot be without me; You will fall to ruin if I do not sustain you.

All this talk was so much blarney in his view; in the end, you know you’ll have to come back cap in hand. No one could quite believe what they were hearing. At one stage Berkeley could bear it no longer and he whispered in the king’s ear

Sir, your Majesty speaks as if you had some secret strength and power that I do not know of; and since your Majesty hath concealed from me, I wish you had concealed it from these men too.

Charles had his personal certainty from God; he also had Lauderdale’s promises that the Scots were fixing to bring an army south; there was all the chaos in London. And anyway Charles did not want to heal. He wanted to win. He wanted his party triumphant and the rebels put in their place. Nothing less would satisfy his sense of honour. So neither Berkeley nor Ireton could shift him, though they kept trying. Colonel Thomas Rainsborough has less regard and patience; while the debate was going on, he got up and left. I always think not enough is made of this, one does not simply leave the presence of the king any more than one simply walks into Mordor. Rainsborough was a man of action, he held radical views which would lead him increasingly towards the Levellers. It feels like he’d just crossed a mental line somewhere – he was done with this. This king was incorrigible, had no spirit of compromise and must be forced not conciliated.

In the end the rest gave up also, and the best chance for peace and healing died at Woburn Abbey in July 1647. The army as a whole were of course well aware of what was going on through their agitators, and the king’s contempt outraged them. Feelings towards the king had been remarkably positive in the army towards the man they’d been fighting. That now began to change.

So, what to do? Chaos in London, an uncooperative king? Time for Fairfax and the Army to take matters in hand.

And we will talk about those matters and indeed those hands in the next episode. Until then everyone, I hope you do not grieve too much that a great opportunity for peace truth and light has been so callously thrown aside, I would like to thank you all for your patience and interest; and do let me know what you think at the history of England.co.uk, or facebook, or email me, or pin ballads and libels on the door of the local in the 17th century idiom. Until next time then, thank you for listening, good luck, and have a great week.

[1] Gentles, I: ‘Henry Ireton’, ODNB

[2] Fraser, A: ‘Cromwell’, p186

[3] Fraser, A: Cromwell’, p206

[4] Fraser, A: ‘’Cromwell’, p204






4 thoughts on “403 No Mere Mercenary Army

  1. The lack of a common framework of ideas for revolution explains so much, particularly the political and social fragmentation, as well as the slow pace of events. Everyone is feeling their way forward, except Charles, for whom fomenting chaos and the accompanying violence is a central tactic. While it’s very sad to see ideas such as constitutional monarchy and religious toleration so bravely put forward while knowing they will take decades and much additional turmoil, suffering and bloodshed to establish, the fact remains that societies change their organizing concepts very slowly.
    Charles frames his aims as monarchy or martyrdom. Lincoln’s (much) later description of slaveholders fits better: he wants to “rule or ruin”. Skipping ahead, I’m already calling him “that man of blood”, so you know which side I’m on.
    Thanks for a particularly good mix of the personal details that give history life with a more birds-eye view of trends.

    1. Yes, I’ve come to that too – ‘rule or ruin’ is a good one. Though I’m sure Charles wouldn’t see it that way.
      I think you could take the view that the English Revolution happened too early, without the Englightenment to provide a framnwork and wider acceptance of new political thought; and with religion playing too great a role. On the other hand, you could argue it came at exactly the right time, so as to allow a gradual evolution from here on without the screaming blood bath of the French revolution, and a centre of recurring violent revolutions across Europe in the 19th Century

  2. David, i love you so much. I am truly fortunate to have you account this lively and continuous story. I always come back to the podcast and re-listen to various periods in sections. Even the theme song transports me to a land I’ve never been and scents i can only imagine. Your podcast is beautiful. I wish you fair winds and pleasant tidings.

    1. Thank you, you are very kind. It is a joy to do, especially when I get comments like yours!

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