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The Civil War in the English Revolution

I must admit that I am not a very good narrator. My purpose has been to strive for generalities which can be obtained from the specific events, rather than a faithful recount of the events. For a nice summary of the events of the English Civil War, I recommend watching a 1970 movie "Cromwell". The movie shows Cromwell as about to leave for America with his family, as England is no longer a country to bring up children in. But the leaders of the Parliament ask Cromwell to stay. Then the movie shows the injustices which the large landlords, such as lord Manchester, have inflicted upon the poor farmers and middle classes, such as was Cromwell. For these reasons, they decide to take up arms against the king and his men.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

a. How a civil war starts

1. It is rather difficult to define when civil war starts. "Peaceful" stage of revolution is peaceful only relatively. In the course of it we observe fights, arrests and even outright murders. Similarly for the end of civil war: in England we observe armed attempts to restore the Stuart dynasty up to 1745! However, let's us define start of a civil war as the moment when the two opposing sides start forming their armies aimed against each other; the end of the civil war can be the moment when the defeated party has no other means of defending itself but running away from the country.

2. One typical scenario for a start of a civil war is when the powers that be attempt to find a compromise with the revolutionary party. When that fails, a coup d'etat follows. As the powers that be are not able to repress the revolutionary party (the coup fails), both sides resort to military means.

3. The king attempted to compromise with “the commons” by calling the Parliament in session in 1640, because of the need to pay for the war against Scottish Presbyterians. The second compromise of the king was to change the cabinet; the new cabinet consisted of semi-liberal ministers. In this way Charles hoped to save the life of Stafford, arrested by the Commons. But the House of the Commons refused to compromise with the king. Acting through the Puritan preachers, they attempt to awaken the people. Hume writes: “The populace took the alarm. About six thousand men, armed with swords and cudgels flocked for the city and surrounded the houses of parliament. The names of the fifty-nine commoners, which had voted against the bill of attainder, were posted up under the title Straffordiansand betrayers of of their country. These were exposed to all the insults of the ungovernable multitude. When any of the lords passed, the cry for Justice against Strafford resounded in their ears: and such as were suspected of friendship to that obnoxious minister, were sure to meet with menaces …” As a result, Stafford was executed, and other favorites of the king had to run away.

4. Feeling that the power is slipping from his hands, the king prepares a coup d'etat. The first coup was prepared in 1641 in the army, but was not acted upon as it was betrayed by one of the officers, named Gorig. From his story, the House of the Commons finds out that the king is involved in the plot.

In January 1642 the king decides to act by himself. At the head of 200 armed men, he comes to the House of Commons to arrest the leaders of the opposition. However, the plan of the king was betrayed by countess Carlisle, a sister of one of the favorites of the king. The leaders of the opposition were able to hide themselves in the city. About this tactic Hume writes: “The punishment of leaders is ever the last triumph over a broken and routed party; but surely was never before attempted, in opposition to a faction, during the full tide of its power and success”.

5. As the House of the Commons stops its sittings, the people are agitated to act. Everywhere, the people take to arms, and so the king, together with Cavaliers, flees London on January 11, 1642. This moment we see as a beginning of civil war. All attempts at finding "a modus vivendi" between opposing parties end.

b. Forming the armies

1. After the king runs away from London, the House of Commons sends after him their demands: their people must be at the head of militia, at the head of the Tower, etc. Charles attempts to compromise: he agrees not to persecute 5 members of the House of Commons and agrees to appoint Sir John Connors as the head of the Tower. But, in the question of militia, the king doesn't compromise. In the meantime, the king starts forming an army against the Parliament.

2. The king forms the army out of provincial nobility. Immediately, contradictions appear, as some noblemen are against forming a separate king's army. The parliament forms its army as militia, basing themselves on the peasants, the craftsmen and the workers. At the head of this army are famous landowners: count Essex and lord Manchester.

3. Each party initially grabs that territory where they have more support. The parliament gets western, southern and central counties, which were more industrially developed. The king gets northern, eastern and south-western counties, where the industry was not so developed, the higher nobility had greater strength, and the catholic religion was dominant.

4. As the territory is divided into two parts, a legal war starts. Each party attempts to impose its will through decrees and threats. For example, Charles has forbidden to his subjects to obey the orders of parliament about the militia. But when in March 1642 the mayor of London dared to publish this decree, he was stripped of his office and sent to Tower. Alderman Pennington, a devout Puritan, becomes the new mayor. Hume writes, that as a result of this war of decrees, “in many counties, where the people were divided, mobbish combats and skirmishes ensued”.

5. Each party attempts to arm itself. The king, “not without resistance, took away weapons of the militias of several counties". The queen went abroad to buy weapons using the money obtained from selling the crown diamonds. Meanwhile: "J. Gotham, a wealthy owner in York county has gotten an order (from the Parliament) to take control immediately over Goulle, an important fortress serving as the key to northern England and containing large arsenals". So, 1) disarming the enemy, 2) seizing the arsenals, 3) buying the weapons, are the three basic ways of obtaining the arms.

A typical gun used in the English Civil War

6. Civil war is different from other kinds of war in that the struggle is first of all for the minds of the people. Guizot writes that at the beginning of this war, "the pamphlets of royalists were very successful; they were distinguished by sarcasm and haughtiness, written in the manner of graceful superiority; even among common people attacks on the leaders of the lower House found sympathy and acceptance; they laughed at the king Pym". The lower House was forced to repress the circulation of the royalist pamphlets.

7. Parliament appeals to the people for help through Puritan priests, and "results of their speeches exceeded the expectations of the most fiery patriots. In 10 days time a very large amount of silver was brought to Guildhall; there was not enough space to keep it; poor women gave away their wedding rings, gold and silver pins which they used to hold their hair; many waited for a long time for their donations to be accepted". In addition, the Parliament takes into its hands the state sources of income, such as ship taxes (long contested between the king and the Parliament). Using the money collected in this way, the Parliament is able to arm its army.

c. Characteristics of the two armies

1. As a result of corruption, the army of the old state is in shambles, the officers steal from soldiers, and the morale is very low. For example, Henry Buckle writes that before the French revolution, out of 100 ducats which the French king spent, only 40 are spent for the official purposes, while 60 are stolen or spent in vain. As result, the soldiers were paid poorly and it was not possible to maintain order. Hans Delbruck writes that "the Great French revolution, which has opened a new epoch, became possible because part of the army left the king and supported the popular movement. Foreign legions - the Swiss guard - remained loyal to the king, while the French deserted".

2. The primary motive of counter-revolutionary soldiers is robbery and marauding conquered towns and villages. For example, in the course of the Dutch revolution in XVI century, "after the battle on the Mookerk valley, the Spanish troops, 3 years without pay, refused to obey order, chose their own supreme commander, and settled in Antwerpen, until the citizens have not agreed to pay 400 thousand golden crowns... This repeated several times, and was accompanied by extreme cruelty and disorders. Often months passed until it was possible to get the army to obey orders". As opposed to this, in the revolutionary Dutch army, "During the siege of Delft, Moritz ordered two soldiers to be hanged: one for stealing a hat, and another for stealing a dagger. During the siege of Goulst, he ordered one soldier to be shot in front of the army for robbing a woman".

The story is similar for the English revolution. For example, during the siege of Glochester, in 1643, the king's army "was robbing and turning around the neighborhood; the officers themselves made soldiers arrest some rich farmer or peaceful landholder as 'a villain', and let him go only for a large ransom. With each day the discipline was weakening in the king's camp and resident's hatred towards the army increased".

3. In the king’s army there is discord and dissolution at the very top. For example, in 1643 the king asks lord Newcastle to join him in order to storm London together. But, as Guizot writes, "the nobles of the king's army were not to be ordered as simple generals; they obtained from the king their post but not their power. Ready to support the king wherever they exercised influence, they didn't want to switch localities, and hence loose their independence and means to success".

4. Each army fights with its own methods, typical for the social order it represents. At the beginning of the civil war in England, the king's army is victorious in cavalry battles, as cavalry is typical for feudal order. Meanwhile, the army of the Parliament is victorious in infantry battles. One example of this is the battle near Edgehill, on 23 October 1642. The cavalry of the king is victorious, while his infantry is in chaos, loosing up to 1/3 of its troops.

5. A war, but especially a civil war, can be understood only in conjunction with the political struggles going on in each camp. In the camp of the Parliament, there is a split. The right wing desires to find some compromise with the king. The left desires a complete change of social order. These contradictions appear after the battle of Edgehill. Count Essex, who was at the head of Parliament's army, did not attack disorganized king's army, even though he had reinforcements. Count Essex represents the "Presbyterian" party, i.e. moderate right-wing of the Parliament. The Independents, who represent the center and left-wing, arrange for obstruction of supplies to this army. Guizot writes: "In a month's time, the count's army was in shambles; there was a lack in everything - in clothes, in payment and in food; poverty and sickness stole soldiers from him, which just a month ago the City was supporting nicely. Essex told about his needs to committees, but his opponents had more influence there than his friends, they were more active and more constant". Suppression of internal enemy becomes a necessary condition for continuing the war.

6. Just like a fetus in the womb repeats the entire evolution of the human species, so does an army, from the moment of its inception, repeats all the stages of development of modern armies. Parliamentary army first was like a guerrilla army. Each division wanted to fight only in the area where it was formed and where it was supported by the residents. There was no training common for the entire army. After the battle of Edgehill, Cromwell notes that "an army consisting mostly of apprentices and city students cannot possibly defeat the army of the people of honor"; to accomplish this task, "religious people" are needed.

7. However, gradually, "a new model army" is being formed by Cromwell, at first in form of elite regiments. Characteristics of this "new model army":

1) high ideals; Hans Delbruck says that Cromwell's regiments were an army and a religious sect at the same time. Hume writes: “To the greater number of the regiments, chaplains were not appointed: The officers assumed the spiritual duty, and united it with their military functions. During the intervals of action, they occupied themselves in sermons, prayers, exhortations … Rapturous ecstasies supplied the place of study and reflection … Wherever they were quartered, they excluded the minister from his pulpit; and usurping his place, conveyed their sentiments to the audience …” 

2) Revolutionary army, at its origin, is a volunteer army. Cromwell himself was riding around the counties and levying troops for the "new model army". He is trusted by "fanatics" and they join him. 

3) Leaders of revolutionary army care about material well-being of their troops. Cromwell constantly pressed Parliament for money and ammunition for the "new model army". He and his officers care about the pensions for the wounded and for families of those who died in the field of battle.

4) In battle the commanders show personal courage. For example, during the battle of Winsby, in October 1643, Cromwell was in charge of the cavalry, when the horse under him was killed. He fell, got up, but the dying horse made him fall again. Then a reserve horse was brought to him, and he found strength to jump in the saddle and continue the battle. 

5) However, the main sphere of activity for an army commander are questions of politics and strategy. Cromwell was constantly involved in political battles raging in London. For example, he arranged for cornet Joyce and his regiment to kidnap the king. 

6) Differences between the commander and the simple soldiers are negated in a revolutionary army. For example, Cromwell loves to joke together with the soldiers. 

7) Leaders of revolutionary army are chosen for their actions, not for their connections. For example, when the aldermen of the county of Suffolk discussed one R. Margeri, who formed a cavalry regiment, and spoke against him being a captain of the regiment, Cromwell replied that he prefers a captain dressed in rough woolen jacket, and who knows what he's fighting for, to a one called gentleman and nothing else.

8) In revolutionary army, there is a Spartan discipline. The soldiers of Cromwell were "forbidden the luxury of city life and the freedom of country life. They had to take care of their horses, clean their guns and often to sleep under the open sky. Almost without rest they switched from the duties of their service to exercises in religious devotion".

9) Soldiers of revolutionary army strive for self-education. Hume writes that both soldiers and officers spent hours in prayers, in browsing through the Bible, in mystical gatherings and meetings. 

10) Soldiers of revolution are characterized by enthusiasm. Hume writes:  “Never was there a people less corrupted by vice, and more actuated by principle, than the English during that period: Never were there individuals who possessed more capacity, more courage, more public spirit, more public zeal.” Hume continues: “When they were marching to the battle, the whole field resounded, as well with psalms and spiritual songs adapted to the occasion, as with the instruments of military music; and every man endeavored to drown the sense of present danger, in the prospect of that crown of glory which was before him. In so holy a cause, wounds were esteemed meritorious; death, martyrdom; and the hurry and dangers of action, instead of banishing their pious visions, rather served to impress their minds more strongly with them.”

Soldier's Catechism of the New Model Army, 1644

8. On 2 June 1644 there was a battle of Marston Moore, and the cavalry of Cromwell defeated the cavalry of Prince Robert. Delbruck, analyzing reasons for defeat of the king's army, writes that there is a question of military upbringing, which the Puritans, because of their religious fervor, was able to accomplish, while the king's army was not. Such difference between the two cavalries decided the outcome of the battle of Marston Moore and others.

9. In short, summarizing the character of the two armies:

The army of the old regime is corrupt and characterized by theft: officers steal from the soldiers, who in turn rob and rape the population. The morale of the army is low. Parts of this army are ready to switch to revolutionary side. The commanders defend particular interests to the detriment of the common cause. This army is fighting in the old style and strong in those parts of the country where the old regime was strong.

The revolutionary army develops like an organism, first appearing as guerrilla forces, gradually learns from its defeats, and becomes superior to the army of the old regime. It becomes “a New Model Army”. This army is characterized by a high discipline and even self-discipline. Soldiers are not allowed to steal. This army is devoted to revolutionary ideals. Officers share in the hardships with rank-and-file soldiers. Together, they spend their free time not in drinking and playing cards, but increasing their political and spiritual consciousness. Both commanders and soldiers display high personal courage.

d. Struggle in the revolutionary camp

1. The essence of any war is in its civil character. That means fighting first of all the enemy in one's own camp. We have seen how the independents sabotage the army of count Essex because he doesn't want a complete victory over the king's army. Reason for such conduct is expressed by John Gotham, who first fought on the side of the Parliament, and then on the side of the king. He says that no man who has any stake in the state can desire victory to any side. This victory would be a great temptation to the large number of needy people in England who would immediately rebel.

2. Manchester, representing the Presbyterians, and Cromwell, representing the Independents, argue about tactics in the war. Cromwell states to parliament that Manchester is afraid of defeating the enemy since the victory at Marston Moore. Manchester accuses Cromwell of lying and insubordination.

3. In 1644 the Parliamentary army, under Essex heads for Cornwallis. Officers of Essex have their manors in that area and they hope to obtain rent. The army of Essex is followed by the army of the king. Nearby, there is another parliamentary army, nominally headed by Manchester, but in reality by Cromwell. Not a single soldier was sent from Manchester's army to help the army of Essex. The leaders of independents hoped some disaster will fall upon the leader of Presbyterian party. On 1st September 1644 the army of Essex was forced to surrender to the king's army.

4. On 9th December 1644 Cromwell says in Parliament that if the war is not going to be pursued with greater energy, the people will force them to make a shameful peace. Then an "unknown fanatic" makes a proposal about members of Parliament resigning their military and civil offices. Thus, on the one hand, they hope conflicting commanders will be removed, and, on the other hand, corruption will be moderated. Corruption was the result of members of Parliament holding other offices which allowed them to make use of their position in power for personal gain.

In February 1645 there is a consolidation of the Parliament's army: several guerrilla-style divisions are united into one entity, financed from national budget. In April 1654 Presbyterian commanders of the army - Manchester, Fairfax, and others - are forced to resign their posts. New leaders of the army come from advanced elements of peasantry, craftsmen and radical property owners.

5. Cromwell was forced to resign his post as well. But, this leads to revolt in the army. The soldiers of Cromwell say they will serve only under his command. So, the Parliament sends Cromwell to the army, without giving him an official post. Cromwell achieves victories, and hence it becomes absurd to recall him.

6. On 14 June 1645 a battle near Naseby takes place. Cromwell's army achieves victory over the king's army. The reason for the victory is that cavalry of the king, commanded by prince Rupert, looses time in attacking the camp of Cromwell, well protected by artillery and infantry. Their main concern is looting. Meanwhile, Cromwell's cavalry doesn't loose time in pursuing a defeated enemy, but turns back and attacks king's infantry. The king and his troops run away, leaving behind all their artillery, more than 100 flags, many prisoners and cabinet papers. This defeat ended the claims of king to power.

7. The army of king disintegrates: "the war was no longer pursued by reasonable, honorable people... some died, some left the service, some were removed due to intrigues of the court or cowardice of the king". Their place was taken by the people who didn't care about fighting but only about looting, thus further alienating the population.

Part of the army, headed by prince Rupert, leaves the king, as they are unhappy with his dismissal of one governor. Lack of provisions and general weakness leads two royal armies to surrender. Here, Parliament makes a typical mistake: they free the prisoners under oath of honor. But, within 3 days three thousand men return to the king, offering their services.

8. On 6 November 1645 the king with around 400-500 cavalry is forced to flee to Oxford. His last hope is some quarrel between Independents and Presbyterians. He hopes to ally himself with one of these parties, and then become "a true king". However, the parliamentary army advances to Oxford, and the king almost alone is forced to flee and surrender to Scottish army, headed by Presbyterians. Scottish officers exchange the king for money for the troops. Thus, the king finds himself a prisoner of Parliament. His commentary was: "I am sold and bought".

e. Struggle between the Parliament and the Army

1. At this point we want to introduce the main political parties more clearly. The royalists were headed by Charles, now in prison. This was the party of feudal aristocracy. The Presbyterians were masters of the Parliament; they were party of the gentry who wanted to find some compromise with the royal regime. The Independents were the party of the middle bourgeoisie; they were commanders of the army. The Independents would be glad to get rid of the Presbyterians, but they were afraid of another party rising on the horizon: the Levelers. These were people who stood for "equality", some understanding by this political equality, and others social equality. Guizot writes about the Levelers: "this popular movement was not founded on any firm, systematic teaching, did not have any positive or general aim; all these republicans didn't limit themselves to reform of the form of government; they wanted transformation of the society, transformation of relations, of customs, of feelings between citizens. But their views were near-sighted and confused; some spent their courage pursuing some reform, important but one-sided, such as abolishing the privileges of the lords; others limited themselves to some pious dream, such as coming of Christ and his Kingdom on Earth; some called themselves rationalists, calling for absolute rule of personal reason; still others talked about introduction of strict equality of rights and property among the people".

Hence, the main parties were: 1) the royalists, 2) the Presbyterians, 3) the Independents, 4) the Levelers.

2. After victory over the king, the Parliament decrees that the army should be partly disbanded, and parts of it sent to Ireland to fight the Irish Catholics. Disbanding the army is a political move against leaders of the Independents. At the head of the remaining army are Presbyterians. Cromwell is formally dismissed, but keeps his influence through his lieutenants.

3. The army, under influence of its Independent officers, makes a petition, according to which no soldier should be forced to go to Irish expedition against his will; the wounded soldiers, as well as the widows of the killed, should be given pensions; and that living money should be given immediately to the army which doesn't want to impose on peaceful citizens where it is quartered.

Independent officers have awakened the initiative of the rank-and-file of the army, which led to formation of soldiers' Councils. Hume says: “The troops themselves were formed into a kind of republic; and the plans of imaginary republics, for the settlement of the state, were, every day, the topics of conversation among these armed legislators. Royalty it was agreed to abolish: Nobility must be set aside: Even all ranks of men be levelled; and a universal equality of property, as well as power, be introduced among the citizens. The saints, they said, were the salt of the earth: An entire parity had place among the elect: And, by the same rule, that the apostles were exalted from the most ignoble professions, the meanest sentinel, if enlightened by the spirit, was entitled to equal regard with the greatest commander.” The Councils of the officers and soldiers became an alternative to Parliament.

4. Independents attempt either to suppress the Councils, or to make them manageable, to be used against parties to the right of center. Hume writes: “In order to wean the soldiers from these licentious maxims [of social equality], Cromwell had issued orders for discontinuing the meetings of the agitators…” When this doesn't help, Cromwell “seized the ringleaders before their companions: Held in the field a council of war: Shot one mutineer instantly: And struck such dread into the rest, that they presently threw down the symbols of sedition, which they had displayed, and thenceforth returned to their wanted discipline…”

5. At the same time, Cromwell struggles against Parliament's intrigues, which attempts to make a deal with the king. On 2 June 1647, Cromwell, acting through a squad of colonel Joyce consisting of 700 mounted men, kidnaps the king. Thus, from the hands of the Parliament the king passes into the hands of Independents.

In London in summer 1647, the Independents struggle against the Presbyterians over the control of the militia. Presbyterians make some economic concessions to the masses, leading some people to support the Presbyterians. Some backward elements even support the slogan: "God and king Charles!" The crowds threaten massacre of Independents, leading Cromwell and 60 members of Parliament to run away from London into the headquarters of the army. On August 6, 1647, the army enters London and establishes its dictatorship, acting as though under orders of Parliament.

Cromwell is at the head of the army. He attempts to negotiate a deal with the king; thus the king appoints him as the head of the army and royal guard, gives him the title of count of Essex, etc. Similar positions and honors are offered to other commanders of the army. At the same time, the king secretly negotiates with the Presbyterians. Cromwell seizes his letters to the queen, according to which the king will probably prefer an alliance with Presbyterians.

6. Feeling where the wind blows, royalists organize rebellions all over the country. Royalists seize territories in Wales, Scotland and northern England. Hence, Presbyterians unite with Independents to defeat the royalists. On 1 July 1648 baron Fairfax defeats a detachment of royalists at Maidstone. On 13 July, Fairfax surrounds royalists at Colchester. Cromwell fights royalists in western counties.

7. Having defeated the royalists, the Presbyterians again feel danger from the left. Hence, they invite Scottish army to invade England. At the head of the Scottish army is Hamilton, and his preparations anticipate results of this war: instead of 40 thousand troops he was hardly able to collect 14 thousand. The French king promised to send him weapons and ammunitions, but nothing was received. Artillery was not properly prepared. Most important, there are ideological arguments in his camp. Hence, on 26 August 1648, after some minor clashes with Cromwell's army, Hamilton told his people to run away or surrender. He himself prefers to surrender. This ends the second round of civil war in England.

8. The Parliament desperately attempts to come to some sort of deal with the king against Cromwell and his army, but the king maneuvers. The army prepares a list of the members of Parliament, and on 6-7 December 1648 it occupies Westminster, the seat of the Parliament. Cromwell's man, colonel Pride, stands at the doors of Parliament and admits only those people who pleased the Independents. Altogether, around 143 members of Parliament (Presbyterians) were excluded from their office. Thus, the Independents and the army have found themselves at the head of the Parliament and the army. The new Parliament became known as "the Rump".

9. Charles I was beheaded on January 30, 1649. In his speech before the execution, he said: "I shall begin first with my innocence. In truth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this, for all the world knows that I never did begin a war with the two Houses of Parliament, and I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make my account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges; they began upon me, it is the militia, they began upon, they contest that the militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me".

Trial of Charles I, January 4, 1649

The execution of the king was followed by the execution of prominent members of the royalist party: the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Holland, Lord Capel, and Colonel Poyes. House of Lords was formally abolished. Estates of royalists were sold off. England was proclaimed a republic.


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