404 A New Model Coup


In July, England had the prospect of king, Fairfax and Army triumphantly entering London with a new, open and tolerant constitution  and a bright future. But Charles had killed that. So, in the face of the hostility of parliament, and fortified by their Solemn Engagement, the New Model Army decided to take  England’s future into their own hands.

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Now then everyone I believe in being up front, honest and forthright with you; we have been together a long time you and I, and I reckon I owe it to you not to coat the bitter pill of history with sugar. So here it is – it’s getting complicated, there are a lot of moving parts. In the blue corner is the New Model Army, who know what they fought for and love what they know; deeply hurt at their growing unpopularity, deeply worried at the efforts of the Presbyterian parliament to discard them. In the red corner we have Denzil & Co, determined to free the people from the burden of war, to establish a national, Godly church fit for the coming of the Saints. In the green corner we have the Levellers, with their visions of a new world, ruled by the people for the good of the people in a world of religious toleration. In the last corner, which from here seems to be sort of off-white or no, tope, that’s it, tope, with a rather daring paisley pattern, is Charles, seized by the Army and in their control, watching, waiting, delaying, probing, giving nothing away – seeking to exploit the divisions and faction, to divide – and re-establish the ancient constitution of King, Lords and Commons and the glorious Anglican church.

We’ve heard how the New Model’s essential unity of experience and purpose has allowed it to become extraordinarily open, subject to a general council including the Agitators or Agents of the ordinary soldiers, sitting at the same table as the generals and senior officer. And which in response to the hostility of Holles & Co, and under the creeping influence of the Levellers, has challenged parliament to satisfy its grievances and put together a remarkably generous and liberal peace proposal to the king, called the Heads of Proposals. And it seemed the evident power of the Army had at last forced parliament to back down, to accept Army demands for their grievances. Holles and the 11 members had fled the Commons. Here was the moment – Fairfax and the King could lead the Army back to London and a new England would be born with a more equitable balance between king, lords and Commons and wider religious toleration.

And then this vision came crashing down. Charles contemptuously rejected the generous Heads of Proposal, yet again chasing castles in the air – an army from Scotland, a cheap deal with Holles, an army from Ireland, fury purple lizards from the Oort Cloud – anything. In London, the Counter Revolution surged again. Hordes of angry, rootless demobbed soldiers, the Reformadoes rioted, and stormed parliament, whipped on by the London Common Council and Presbyterians MPs. The Mayor tried to call out the Militia to fight the New Model,  Holles and the 11 Members reappeared in parliament. The Speaker and many MPs fled for safety to the Army. Chaos and opposition had returned.

In this next period to 1648, we are going to hear then of a military coup, of a maelstrom of debate about the nature of a new English constitution, of radical democratic ideas driven by a Revolutionary army rank and file, a military elite willing to consider fundamental change, and the power of the radical populism of the Levellers.

For the moment though, Fairfax, the Army Council and Independent MPs determined to face down the counter revolutionary surge. A leading figure among them was the speaker of the House William Lenthall. Now we haven’t heard of Lenthall since the arrest of the Five Members, and he was no unsullied hero; his reputation suffered from a bout of trashing by Clarendon after the Restoration, rather unfairly, but there are rather too many accusations of dodgy business dealing and manipulating of parliamentary process to ignore. But nonetheless, the lad does have his moments, and this, in August 1647, is one of them. As the Reformadoes had stormed and coerced parliament he had issued a public declaration in London, on 31 July 1647. He protested that votes in the Commons had been forced by threats of violence. He declared that this made them void. In protest against continued violence, he declared it was time to withdraw when the crowd

jostle, pull and hale the Speaker all the way …down to his coach’

And Lenthall led the MPs like Haselrig and Ludlow out of parliament, out of London, and to the Army camp at Reading. For Fairfax and the Council, this was critical; it meant that now, despite the absence of the king, they could return to London and claim they were re-establishing the freedom of parliament. So this is what they did. On 6th August Fairfax drew up 15,000 of the New Model Army at Hounslow Heath to the west of London, nestling in the flight path of Heathrow airport. More MPs had kept coming in protest against the violence, and they now had about 100 MPs and 14 Peers with them. So, off they set towards London, with the soldiers throwing their hats in the air and shouting

Lords, Commons and a free Parliament

They might have been worried about what they’d meet. Would the famous lines of Communication, built with such community and revolutionary fervour in 1643, would they be manned against them? Would they need to storm and bombard and batter against the walls? But if Fairfax was so worrying, he needn’t have. Because support for the counter revolution was a knock kneed sort of thing perfectly designed to have sand kicked in its face with impunity. And in fact Fairfax had been receiving letters of support from all over southern England[1].  The Hackney and Southwark trained bands were refusing to cooperate with the Mayor, and on 2nd August a crowd had gathered at the Guildhall and persuaded the Common Council to write a letter to Fairfax offering him their submission and all the beach towels his heart could desire.

At a time which can confidently be described as the wee hours, 2 O’clock, some advance contingents of the New Model approached the London gates at Southwark. They faced no fire from uinside; in fact the Trained Bands of Southwark opened up the gates and welcomed them in. It was a taste of what was to come.

The cavalry regiments of the army approached London from the west. At Hyde park they were greeted by the Lord Mayor and the Alderman who’d spent the previous evening knitting arse covers and preparing speeches of grovelling welcome. William Lenthall, the MPs and Peers were ceremoniously restored to parliament, and its first acts were to announce a day of national thanksgiving – ooh and a month’s pay for the army.

The following day all 15,000 of the New Model marched through London, wearing the Laurels of victory in their hair. Cromwell rode at the head of the Cavalry, and Fairfax, who had been ill, was in his coach in the procession, with his wife Anne and Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth.

20 Regiments marched through London, colours flying, trumpets playing, drums beating, Holles and Co leaping for cover. Down Cheapside and then they spread out flowing through the streets lined with cheering people relieved to see order restored. That’s not to say there were not many sullen Presbyterians skulking, but the point is that to most, the army was not unwelcome, and their legendary orderliness was applauded. OIne remarked that all these thousands of soldiers stole

Not so much as an apple

Well, I guess you could look at this and declare it a military coup, or at least factional infighting backed by the army, and you could be right. This display of military might however did not end resistance; Denzil and Co remained sitting in parliament which is quite hench of them, and to the fury of many in the Army continued to try to manipulate business in the Commons. But this was not just Canute on the beach stuff, this is like Canute getting up from this throne, popping on his speedos or budgy smugglers diving into the sea and swimming against the tide. They’d lost and should have known it. Parliament declared Fairfax Constable of the Tower of London; I found that exciting – any Kingmaker fans out there, little known board game? Well, if you have, you’d now that failing a peasants revolt that took the king in Ravenscar, the Constable of the Tower is always a winning position. Fairfax was a bit start struck actually; his first act as Constable was to go there and ask to see its copy of Magna Carta and when it was reverentially brought out he said – probably glancing towards the cameras as he said it –

That is what we have fought for and by God’s help we must maintain

The Lords immediately passed a resolution declaring that Magna Carta was in fact merely a peace treaty, but then voted an ordinance voiding all legislation passed since 26th July and the reformadoe riots.

Still Holles and their faction in the Commons resisted. They voted the Lord’s ordinance down. Ireton, Cromwell and others begged them to reconsider, pleaded with them, desperate no to be forced to lay violent hands on the parliament for which they’d fought. But after 5 failed votes, in the end it was Cromwell who resolved it. He angrily complained to Colonel and MP Edmund Ludlow that the 11 Members

Will never leave until the Army pulls them out by their ears

And he ordered a regiment to plonk themselves meaningfully in Hyde park, looking balefully at Westminster. And oh – the ordinance was passed. Holles and the 11 eleven members took the hint and fled. Denzil I have to say was clearly a man who understood the turn of fortune’s wheel. Some months before he’d sent his Mum, eldest son and £2,000 to Normandy, and that is where he went now. With a bit of time on his hands, he started to write his memoirs about how great he was and how rubbish everyone else had been. However, grief no gentle listeners, our Denzil will be back, back by August 1648.

Now that Parliament was brought to heel, the those Lines of Communication were all dug up. Golly the good citizens of London who built them must have been gutted. All that hard work. O come on! But they and the New Model gloomily got to work. The lord Mayor was charged with treason and replaced, and then asked to cough up the multiple monthly assessments it had not yet paid, more months unpaid than any other county in England, wherein lay the root cause of a lot of all of this kerfuffle – if London had ponied up what it owed, maybe the soldiers would have been at home now and the Levellers arrested and behind bars. It would have made history a lot duller, but I imagine if you were trying to get on a make a living, dull history is what you are looking for, whatever Podcasters demand, no one wants to live in interesting times. But they didn’t so pony, and it is surely symbolic that it’s the City of London, where Mammon holds sway, that refused to pay the ferryman of liberty. It would continue to refuse until the end of 1648.




Well there we go – a military coup I suppose, though with the support of speakers and some MPs to gloss it. And for many, it was again another chance for a bright new start. Certainly it was for the radical lawyer John Cooke, who as well as his legal work, had also taken to writing pamphlets on social issues arguing for the rights of the poor, and reform of the legal system. I think we have heard in these pages, eons ago, how he’d worked as a lawyer in Ireland, how despite his radical reforming views, he’d sent advice to Strafford as he faced trial, and he’d set up a legal practice in London. The year previously he had supported the lawyer John Bradshaw in pleading John Lilburne’s case for freedom and compensation. He now wrote a very optimistic piece, “A Union of Hearts”, arguing that only the army could secure liberty of conscience and reform the courts of justice. John Cooke would continue to write on other issues that were shared by the Levellers – proposing better support and free medical services for the poor.[2] And so the hopes for a better world flowered in the sun of free speech.

Now, we are going to spend the rest of the episode walking through the sand dunes of the political ins and outs up to the end of October 1647 when we will arrive at the shoreline and lap up against the sea of the Putney Debates, which will be the focus of the next episode with the help of the Crowther Players and guests. So let us hear more about Charles and his attitudes, after all the satisfaction of sending Ireton and Rainsborough packing with their optimistic Heads.

As he came south towards London, first to Oatlands house, and then back to his old stomping ground of Hampton Court, just like Pinnochio, he at last just a like a real little king again. People came to see him and were thoroughly pleased that he was back. He was surrounded again by reverence and love, and his children. He was happily planning secret plans and clever tricks, writing and to Hamilton and the Scots, to Ormonde in Ireland and to Hyde on the continent. Hoping for any of those boats to come in with their little fishes. So it seems sensible if you agree, to just nip around the three kingdoms – just briefly – to see how things are going, and what that portended for Charles’ fortunes. Scotland first.

Now, the whispering of John Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale in the royal lug had been one of the reasons why Charles had rejected the Head of Proposals, so maybe we ought to fly north over the hills to Scotland first. As I have mentioned, the Duke of Hamilton had wearily resumed the mantle of royal service and returned to sit at the Scottish governing Council of State, the Committee of Estates. Let is remember why the Scottish Revolution had come about; firstly to defend the most perfect religion, in the form of the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland; and to institute a political structure that ensured no king could roll back that perfect Christian society. They revered the line of the Stuart kings, and the Covenant swore the whole nation to support royal rights, none the less they had perceived that the greatest threat to Scotland’s religious settlement came from this particular iteration of its own king.

But now that story needed to be modified. There was an even greater threat. Now all agreed that the greatest threat to Scotland’s security came from an England ruled by a sectarian Independent parliament, fervently opposed to the idea of imposing said perfect kirk across all three kingdoms. Argyl agreed with that, even Hamilton agreed with that. Where they disagreed – was how to deal with the threat.

So, if you were Argyll, and he had afterall dominated the political scene since pretty much 1640, you put your faith in a fortress Scotland defended by its peerless and endlessly successful army. You still held a vague hope in the concept of a federated union with England, and hoped the English Presbyterians would win and help impose said perfect kirk on the three kingdoms, but that hope was now receding.

If you were a royalist Covenanter, your hopes flowed towards the king; rather than a fortress Scotland, you wanted to engage with the king, do a deal on the best possible terms, while accepting that Charles would rather eat his own liver than swear to the Covenant. Then, once that was agreed, get the Scottish army together, give then a good meal and a pep talk, and send them knock his enemies into a cocked hat, whatever a cocked hat is, and place the cocked crown back on his head and crush the Independents. Crush them in the name of the Lord I tell you.

So – a disagreement about strategy. But what EVERYONE in Scotland agreed, was that the worse of all possible worlds, the anti Pangloss, was facing an England ruled by the Independents.

We probably need to just refresh our understanding about attitudes in Scotland to the monarchy. I just want to make it clear that at no point had anyone in Scotland proposed or even thought that Scotland without its Stuart king was a good thing, or an attractive proposition. Whereas in England the king competed with the common law and parliament as the heart of the nation, in Scotland the Stuarts were the embodiment of the people, an unbroken line of 300 years. Not even the kirk could compete with that.

So the Scots were genuinely shocked by the failure to reach agreement with the king. And they began to blame their political leaders who, let’s face it, were hardly the embodiment of compromise either. But were at least a little more trustworthy and consistent. And so Hamilton’s plan to engage with the king was gaining more and more ground, against Argyll’s fortress Scotland approach.

The argument now revolved around the army. The army was commanded by David Leslie. David Leslie was Argyll’s man and there is no way he would allow it to invade England in support of the king’s position there. So; there was frankly no point Hamilton, Lauderdale and the royalists reaching an engagement with the king, because there’d be no army to back it up.

So, here’s the Hamilton Proposal. First of all, David Leslie’s army must be disbanded. It was effectively propping up Argyll’s regime. It must go. Die. Shuffle off the mortal coil and generally cease to be.

Once that was done – of course an army was needed for the cocked hat thing, so a new army would be raised, banded under Hamilton. The excuse for doing that would be available once an agreement had been struck with Charles and they could wave it triumphantly and declare ‘Peace in our Time’. Well, war in our time. Because then they could invade England, give the New Model the kick up the arse it so richly deserved, and delete the independents in the name of the national Presbyterian church. Simple, Straightforward, bis bash and even bosh. Every soul would be saved. Well, the chosen ones, anyway.

Now for a while there had been no question of deleting the Scottish army – there had been a royalist rebellion in the North East, there was Alastair MacColla in the highlands. But once those had been dealt with – and as after a spot of barn burning it had been, as we heard earlier, and MacColla fled to Ireland – well you know, who needs an army anymore? Come on, why not put it to the vote?

Which is exactly what happened on 15th October 1647 –  a vote in the Committee of Estates about whether or not to present David Leslie with his gold watch and a P45. The vote was going to be very very close. Argyll stood on the edge, His iron grip was no longer iron, it was no better than polystyrene. The vote was taken – and there was just one vote in it. Byone vote Leslie, and Argyll, with him, survived.

But Epirus would have known it was the kind of victory that precedes defeat. It was little more than a consolation prize, Argyll was fatally weakened and could no longer command Scotland. At Hampton Court, the Scottish commissioners were quietly and grimly discussing terms with the king. And at last they looked as though they might be prepared to compromise. OK? So that’s the Scots, interesting times. Now I suggest that before we go back to England, we hop over the Irish Sea to the Emerald Isle, and follow the fortunes of Alistair MacColla. And see how things are going on there.


PLACE GAP HERE       23:15


Let us follow MacColla to Ireland, for there his talents were much sought after. Cardinal Rinuccini made ready to implement the new strategy – to push the English and Scots into the sea. They were unable to start said pushing, however, before Ormonde had handed over Dublin to a new governor, the Parliamentarian Philip Sidney, Viscount Lisle, and the arrival of fresh British troops. On his way out Ormonde is said to have remarked that he ‘preferred English rebels to Irish ones”. It is not recorded whether he slammed the door as he left. He would have a bit of fun in London, and then by March 1648 end up at court of the Prince of Wales in Exile.

Incidentally, as a wee digression-ette, the Republican MP and wit Henry Marten, back in the Commons made an extraordinarily rare intervention at this point with the appointment of Viscount Lisle. Marten abhorred the violence and devastation visited on the Irish from both sides, and wanted Lisle’s role to be diplomatic not military. He likened those who wanted Ireland to be all Protestant to those as ‘lie buried in Palestine’ – meaning doomed to bloody failure, like the failed attempts to recover the Holy Lands. He demanded that they should instead seek peace with the rebels, ad he wrote

If not to grant them almost any terms of peace, at least to harken to their demand…[3]

If only more people had listened to the likes of Henry Marten.

Anyway, he was a pretty lone voice, and against this new influx, Rinuccini tried to bring the rebel forces of Ireland together. He managed it to a degree, but good lord was there a lot of bickering – Owen Roe O’Neill and the other main commander Preston hated each other so. Also the Confederacy was torn; for many Irish Catholics in Leinster and Munster, the prospect of domination by O’Neill’s army of Ulster was almost worse than domination by the English parliament. O’Neills activities in Ulster of scorched earth tactics, bled prestige from Rinucinni’s leadership of the Confederacy, despite his military successes and Benburb.[4] Nor was O’Neill universally popular even in Ulster – when MacColla returned, Randall McDonnell Earl of Antrim refused to allow him to join O’Neill’s army, and MacColla was instead sent to fight in Munster.

The Highlanders MacColla’d brought with him, the Redshanks as they were called from the colour of their plaids, were instead sent to fight with the Confederate commander Preston in Leinster to pursue absolutely essential component of expelling the English from Ireland – the capture of Dublin’s fair city where the cockles are so pretty or however it goes.  O’Neill and Preston had managed to combine their forces, thereby creating the largest confederate army so far seen. Though they hated each other so much they could not actually stay together and keep it going. None the less, as Thomas Preston shadowed the Parliamentary forces from Dublin, he had a substantial force of 8,000, including 1,000 cavalry.

He was shadowing a rather talented parliamentary commander, an Irishman of Welsh descent, Michael Jones. In August, Jones set out on a 32 mile charge to relieve one of the few fortresses left in parliament’s hands at Trim. Preston saw a gap in the wall and chink in the armour a breach – maybe he could take Dublin before Jones realized it and returned. He went for it.

He didn’t get there. Instead Jones intercepted him at a place called Dungan’s Hill; Despite having a smaller force, Jones’ generalship and his cavalry were better; and Preston, frankly made a bit of a Horlicks of it. The confederate army was badly mauled, losing 3,000 troops. The Redshanks, interestingly, implemented their Highland charge tactics which allowed them to escape into a bog where they could not be followed by cavalry. And so they escaped. O’Neill came south and prevented Jones’ pursuit, saving the remnants of Preston’s army but none the less Dungan’s Hill was a disaster for Rinnucini and the Confederates.

All was not yet lost though. Let me take you to the South West of Ireland to Munster. Where  Viscount Taafe commanded a major force of 7,000 for the Confederates. He faced the Parliamentarian commander, an example of that rare beast, a Gaelic Protestant lord, Murrough O’Brien. He also had a brutal reputation; Murrough the Burner he became known after an atrocity in Cashel. Styled, Earl of Inchiquin, I  believe he traced his descent all the way back to Brian Boru of the 11th Century, which is quite an ancestry. He’d fought until 1644 with the royalist Confederates, but that had been a difficult relationship. Trust between the catholic and Protestant factions was never good, and in 1644 Inchiquin had jumped ship to parliament. He hated the Independents though with a passion; but dependence on supplies from England kept him on board for the moment.

Anyway, so there we are not far from Cork, when Taafe and Inchiquinn’s armies met at Knocknanuss in November 1647. Taafe had the larger numbers again, and they also had at their side Alasdair MacColla, commanding the right wing with the remnants of his Ulstermen, hardened by the Scottish campaign. And MacColla’s command proved true – the highland charge again worked its magic, and Inchiquinn’s left wing was routed and chased from the field. Flush with the victory MacColla and his men set to reaping the fruits of victory – from the baggage train of course, as you do.

Sadly, his celebrations were premature. While he pillaged the pillows, Inchiquinn’s cavalry were putting the rest of Taafe’s army to the sword. Once that was done, they turned their attention to MacColla. Surrounded, MacColla and his men were slaughtered, and MacColla passed into song and legend, and out of our story.

The two defeats at Dungan’s Hill and Knocknanuss knocked the stuffing out of Rinucinni’s strategy to expel the English from Ireland. It didn’t leave much stuffing left in the teddy Bear of his mastery of the Confederate Association either. At the next meeting of General Assembly of the Confederate Association, there was Rinucinni stuffing strewn all over the floor as though a dog had  got hold of the bear and had a high old time. In the end, Rinuccini survived and a new strategy devised – delegates were sent to the Queen’s royal court in exile in Paris and to the Pope in Rome. They went to offer the government of Ireland to the Prince of Wales, under a sort of Papal protectorate. Few of the Old English relished this idea. Few of them relished that all Confederate forces were in the control of O’Neill.

So, Dublin was safe and Rinuccini’s plan had failed. Munro’s New Scots army, though much depleted remained in Ulster. O’Neill’s army did what they could to survive. And Charles could expect little help from Ireland.

So that’s put little tour, back to blighty, where the story During August and September is really about attitudes in the army. Now just to hit you with a few memories of golden oldies, when I was but an tiny boy a hey hoy and a wind and rain or however it goes, there was a song Terry Wogan used to play on Radio two on the way to school. I suspect I am losing a fair proportion of you, but look it was by Mary McGregor, who was from Minnesota I believe, and it went like this…

[play clip torn between two lovers]

It’s very sweet I’m sure you’d love it, look it up on Spotify it’s still very popular. We did sing along.

Anyway, I mention Mary because the heart and soul of the New Model were rather in the same sort of dilemna, torn between two lovers. One suitor was the ‘Cabinet of Grandees’ as Lilburne scathingly called them, Fairfax, Ireton, Cromwell, St John and Harry Vane. They offered unity, and a continued focus on making peace with the king, based around the Heads of Proposals if the king could be forced to open his ears. The other suitor for the soul of the New Model were the radicals, and the Levellers; of a world turned upside down, a new constitution of the power of the common people.

This story was being played out against the backdrop of continuing Presbyterian faction in the Commons  – they were far from beaten yet, and resolutely ignored the Heads of Proposal as a route to peace and pursued the national presbyterian church and Covenant in the Newcastle Propositions; really you can see why Charles would follow a strategy of playing one off against t’other. The House of Commons’ continued refusal to fork out the necessary for the army was fed by public despair at all the taxation; and so  increasingly outraged the army, who called for the place to be purged. Radicals and Levellers played on this outrage; and the outrage was deep; they kept going back to the fact that they were no mercenary army, that they had shed their blood for their country and its freedoms – why were they now so badly treated?

On behalf of the Grandees, then, Fairfax managed this and retained control by allowing the army agitators their head in the regular meetings of the General Army Council. In August Fairfax agreed a Remonstrance with the Council and sent it to the Commons, calling for an agreement on the Heads – it was ignored. Fairfax moved his headquarters to Putney in September and the meetings continued. Sometimes in Council pretty hot words were exchanged; many soldiers were impatient of the lack of progress and use force. At one meeting Major Francis White, a convinced Leveller, stood in the Council and demanded action; he condemned even the Heads of Proposal as a basis for an agreement, he angrily thundered that parliament was making deals with the Scots behind their backs and should be purged. He declared that he saw

‘no visible authority … but the power and force of the Sword’

and a treaty must imposed on Charles; that even talking to Charles was a betrayal of the Revolution. Fairfax was firm and decisive; he expelled White from the Council and had vote on a statement that the army supported the authority and government of the kingdom as vested in the House of Commons. There was not a single dissenting voice. Fairfax, Cromwell and Ireton, at bottom, always looked for a solution based on Parliament and the ancient constitution, however radical the Heads of Proposals might be. They only saw a peaceful future based on that, and an agreement with the king.

The Levellers now thought increasingly differently. They wanted a completely new constitution and an end to this parliament; they were convinced Charles did not deserve to be part of the discussion of any solution, and his role in a new constitution should be severely restricted. The Levellers were in the full flow of a pamphleting war; in one, Richard Overton called on the nation to rise up against parliament; he also developed his theory of law further – that legitimacy derives from ‘common equity and right reason’. The idea of natural inalienable rights independent even of the representative body of the Commons.

William Walwyn had organized petitions earlier in the year supported by the Army grandees, but now a rift appeared and poisoned the leveller relationship with the Grandees, and it centred around john Lilburne and his imprisonment in the Tower. Lilburne had been imprisoned for his vicious pamphlets attacking Manchester and the House of Lords; Fairfax and Cromwell had tried in August to have him released but the Lords point blank refused. Though actually Lilburne seemed to be able to leave Newgate prison and wander around at will. Early Modern prisons were very odd. Anyway, Walwyn accused the Grandees of the Army of deserting Overton and Lilburne. Elizabeth Lilburne had been busy at army headquarters lobbying for John’s release. On September 15th, Cromwell took himself to Lilburne in prison and tried to mend fences; Come on he urged his old friend, be reasonable, we are working on it; he tried to persuade him to stop his bitter hammering at parliament, and promised that things would soon be resolved and righted if he could just be patient.

Patience was not in Honest John’s vocabulary.  A couple of weeks later he published an open a letter to the soldiers of the Army, called The Juglers Discovered. It told the soldiers they must fight tooth and nail if the terms of their Solemn Engagement of June was to be fulfilled, the Commons must be purged, tithes and monopolies abolished, free and equal justice be provided, an end made to the free quartering of the army on citizens. These were all part of the much stated Leveller programme. But at the end Lilburne threw a new piece of invective into the stew, and warned them

Not to trust your great officers at the Generals quarters no further than you can throw an ox

Since they had

Most unjustly stolen power both from your honest general and your too flexible agitators

The wording and strategy is interesting. The Levellers had come to the conclusion that the only agent of Revolution that could bring the reforms they wanted was the army. They felt the soldiers’ Agitators had proved too mild; and therefore started working hard now to build support in the military independent of the command structure. They tried to persuade regiments to appoint new Agitators – they had limited success, but they had some – 5 regiments appear to have done so, appointing these New Agitators. None the less Leveller influence was spreading; and they urged soldiers to take control away from the army command – the Leveller John Wildman, the most revolutionary of them all really, sounded pretty Jacobin when he wrote that they should seize control from their officers

With a word you can create new officers. Necessity has no law [5]

Necessity has no law. Used and misused at many times and in many places for many reasons.




Anyway, as far as ordinary soldiers were concerned, the Levellers were talking a deal of sense. The refusal of parliament to fulfil the Engagement, to pay the army, the continuing parliamentary preference for a national Presbyterian church rather than toleration. But they had two major problems with the Levellers appeal.

The first that there was a fundamental mismatch between the interests of the two groups the Levellers passionately claimed to represent – the common people and the army. The common people wanted rid of the army and the taxes that came with them. The army could not live without the monthly assessment taxes and feared retribution of they were disbanded. It was a problem.

The other problem was the respect the soldiers had for their senior officers, Fairfax and Cromwell, and their passionate belief that unless they stood together in unity across the army, they were doomed. Divide and die. The Levellers were becoming determined to split the rank and file from their commanders; Ireton in particular was their bete noire – they held him responsible for perverting Cromwell, and Cromwell they felt was betraying their cause. But nobody, nobody could possibly attack Fairfax; even more than Cromwell, he was revered by the soldiers.

So, the radicals had an uphill battle, but they pushed hard. They even began to find supporters in parliament, just a small number of MPs – based of course around Henry Marten. Marten now introduced a bill into the Commons; a bill of No Address. It demanded that no one talk any more to the king – that a constitution must be imposed on him. Marten found some supporters. One of them was Thomas Rainsborough; a man both radical and with a beef against Cromwell, who had tried to prevent his appointment as a Vice Admiral. In the commons Cromwell, Ireton, Vane, St John – Lilburne’s Cabinet of Grandees – all spoke against the Vote of No Address; and it failed; but by 84 votes to 34.  Anger towards the king was growing, and the radicals were gaining support.

Given this growing movement, Cromwell and Ireton’s reputation also suffered because of their determination that a lasting agreement must include Charles. They were therefore constant visitors to Hampton Court. Charles had been flooded with visitors, which neither Fairfax nor Cromwell tried to stem, including though as it did foreign diplomats and various Scottish commissioners. And Charles wined and dined Cromwell the Grandees as well. On one famous occasion Oliver and Elizabeth Cromwell, Henry and Bridget Ireton, Edward and Mary Whalley had all been royally entertained.

It wasn’t a good look. The royalist press had a field day with rumours of all kind of stitch ups. The more radical soldiers thought they were way too deferential to the king. In fact Cromwell and Ireton were loading the pressure on Charles; towards the end of September they threatened to withdraw the Heads and proceed only on the basis of the Newcastle Propositions. And it produced a rather panicky letter from Charles to parliament confirming that the Heads of Proposal formed his preferred basis for discussion. None the less, it didn’t look good.

Fairfax seemed to be pretty immune to all the pressure from the agitators, radicals and levellers; but Cromwell felt it. He wrote to Michael Jones in Dublin of his upset at the accusations and that

We doubt not but God will clear our integrity and innocence  from any other ends we aim at, but his glory and the public good.

Anyway, so you get the picture, hopefully. Parliament stubbornly trying to pursue the Presbyterian solution and defy an army dominated by Independents. The Levellers seeking to divide the rank and file from their officers and bring them into a popular movement for radical and democratic reform. Fairfax, Cromwell and Ireton trying to hold the unity and discipline of the army together, moderate the radicals demands, and force the king to reasonable terms based on the Heads of Proposal.

So into this delicate situation on 18th October came a challenge that shook the army to the core and threatened to turn an increasingly politicised army – into a Revolutionary one. It came in the form of a paper addressed and presented to Thomas Fairfax, called The Case of the Armie Truly Stated. It was signed by the Five New Leveller Agitators of the army regiments, and was probably written by two soldiers, mainly by a 25 year old Leveller  called John Wildman, son of a Norfolk yeoman, with the help of Edward Sexby, a grocer from Suffolk.

The Case of the Army accused the army generals of treachery, of perverting the Solemn Engagement and the cause of reform. It advanced a political agenda even more radical than those before it – including universal manhood suffrage, liberty of conscience, codification of all English law, and restating previous demands for the abolition of tithes, a purge of parliament and fresh elections.

Fairfax kept his cool, and indeed in many ways his response, and that of Cromwell, is remarkable. It was referred to the general council of the army to talk it through, which is rather delightful. You can imagine the agenda. Item one, new badges. Item two, officer role call. Item three, universal manhood suffrage and a new constitution and legal system. Item four, graffiti found on the walls of the officers urinals. I mean surely, the normal army response would be to have been to extract the Wildman and Sexby guts, use them for garters, and string up every other soldier found within 100 yards of them. But no. It was OK, let’s have a chat and talk it over. It is one of the aspects of the English Revolution I think is important; at this stage, what the Levellers could no get by is that these were brothers in arms, who respected each other irrespective of station in life or army command. The truth is that the Levellers would never manage to overcome this basic truth.

Anyway, the result would be that this petition indeed would be discussed at the army headquarters. There would be over a hundred people there; because just to make the politics of this ludicrously open – Cromwell even invited some civilian Levellers along also. And just to make sure it wasn’t dull and boring, Thomas Rainsborough too, even though he was in the Navy now. With over a hundred people, it would take place in St Mary’s church in Putney. All welcome. Don’t bring a bottle because we are all puritans.

The Putney Debates would open on 28th October, and I don’t know whether or not you have heard of them, but you jolly well ought to have done. Because they are an honest attempt by a group of people to design a better political system. And we will hear about it next week.

Just before I go, I’d like to take you back to the sight of Thomas Fairfax in the Coach in the army procession through London; I didn’t want to break the narrative, but just to pause a little here to talk a bit about Anne Fairfax. Her presence in the coach next to her husband was important, because tongues were wagging about the relationship between them. Anne Fairfax was strongly Presbyterian; so much so that Lucy Hutchinson would claim it drove a wedge between her and Thomas; though really, Thomas’ precise religious affiliations are difficult to know, and Thomas always stoutly defended Anne and their relationship.

However, the point is that religion was the most common and acceptable way women had in engaging with politics; and we’ve already seen this with Catherine Chidley. So Anne publicly promoted Presbyterian preachers while she was with the army, as she was constantly, and particularly so after the siege of Oxford. At Nottingham in early 1647, Lucy Hutchinson wrote that she caused a stir by promoting the presbyterian minister there; because that could be interpreted as a political statement, given the split between independents and presbyterian. She continued to seek out Presbyterian ministers, as you would if that was your set of beliefs. So, given these rumors and mutterings, her presence in the coach was probably intended as a public display of unity by the Fairfaxes. Sadly, it may have had the opposite effect; royalist writers were quick to mock the couple, and crow that Lady Ann wore the trousers and was subverting the rightful patriarchal order. Independents in the army worried that Anne would use her influence to sway Thomas from their cause. It’s particularly significant here, because Anne does indeed share many of the Presbyterian views among which was an absolute opposition to putting the king on trial. [6]

Anyway, just a wrinkle for you. So back to it – thank you everyone for listening so patiently. The story so far – the king is talking to the Scots and holding our still from parliament, the army are in a foment, the Levellers trying to create a rift between soldiers and generals, and promote a radical democratic future and written constitution. They have their big opportunity, at the next army council – will they succeed? Well, I will see you next time in St Mary’s Church, on the banks of the river Thames in Putney. Until then, thank you for listening, good luck everyone, and have a great week.

[1] Gentles, I: ‘The New Model Army’, p89

[2] Preset, W: John Cooke’, ODNB

[3] Barber, S: ’Henry Marten’

[4] Scott, D: ‘Politics and Wat in the Three Stuart Kingdoms’, p154

[5] Robertson, G: ‘The Putney Debates’, pxix

[6] Hoppe, A: ‘Black Tom’, p194





8 thoughts on “404 A New Model Coup

  1. Wondering if you are dictating rather than typing; as I’m so bad at typing, I certainly would if I could. Taupe is a color; tope means to drink too much. And I think Pyrrhic victories are named after Pyrrhus not Epirus. But nitpicking used to be my day job; think of it as a work-related disability.
    Episode is a fine set-up for the Putney debates and subsequent scrambling around, many thanks.
    Reading of MacColla’s end, I finally understand that “wrong but romantic” means “too much getting distracted by plundering”. Were Cavaliers underdisciplined or underpaid or both?

    1. No I’m not dictating…and thank you! I did dither about the Tope thing and then didn’t check. Dar about Epirus, I was so sure I didn’tcheck. Might have to go back and change those, don’t want to sound like an idiot for eternity!!

      For MacCollaI suspect it was embedded in Highland culture for hundreds of years of clan battles, a tradition beginning to fade by ther 17th century. For the rest soldiers just saw plundering as their right – which is why the New Model was so remarkable. Ronald Hutton did wrote that re-forming a cavalry charge wasvery hard because the horses were knackers;which doesn’t explain why the Ironsides managed it…

  2. Cracking episode. It’s like a glimpse into the future, over a hundred years before the Enlightenment gives everyone the mental furniture to figure it all out. It’s just so exciting.

    It’s also in this phase of the story that Cromwell is at his most attractive: he’s desperately trying to find a route to a stable settlement that balances everyone’s demands. This is why I can’t help but like Crommers, despite his poor modern reputation! He’s a deal maker at heart, and he came damn close several times to finding a compromise.
    My feeling is that the Levellers demands were far too extreme for the 17th century. The very structure of society probably couldn’t have supported universal suffrage without massively empowering large landowners who would have commanded their allegiance through economic ties. Nevertheless, Cromwell takes their views seriously and is equally engaging with the king in good faith. For a supposed fundamentalist, he is surprisingly pragmatic.

    1. Thank you Sam,and I have come to believe that the problem with Cromwell is that there are multiple versions of him. This Cromnwell I like a lot. He’s a bit Godly for my taste, but hey, this is the 17th century, and actiually in his home life and habits he was never a zealot, and I agree with you. But then we’ll have Ireland, and the rule of the Major Generals, and I don’t like that Cromwell one little bit.

      And yes! While we might regret th fall of the Levellers – was the world ready for them? I’m not sure they were

      1. Are you considering doing an episode on the historiography of Cromwell?

        I’m bracing myself for the Ireland episodes. It won’t be enjoyable, but then again Irish history rarely is and a lot of the bad stuff is unfortunately down to English mismanagement/brutality. Mind you, I think the Scots’ involvement in Ireland, from Robert the Bruce onwards, is too often ignored. Alastair McColla is a thug, no matter how dashing he is. He makes Rupert look like a puppy.

        1. I’m not sure. I probably should do, but it’s a question of when really, and he will be increasingly front and foremost. I intended to, but I feel the chance slipping byy…And yes, doing te Irish episodes are never fun!

  3. David,
    You’re going scientific-y on us! “fury purple lizards from the Oort Cloud ” I had to look them up, not furry purple lizards, Oort Cloud, I mean.

    1. A misspent youth reading Sci Fi novels, Megan. But I do love the idea of you looking up furry purple lizards in the dictionary!

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