|Alfred the Great|
Many of the changes introduced during England’s Dark Age military development are said to be directly attributable to the Anglo Saxon warriors who first sailed to Britain in the early 5th and 6th centuries, intent on conquering and settling the lands that lay across the English Channel. According to a number of sources, the Germanic Anglo Saxons of Western Europe were a highly disciplined martial society, whose fighting forces were typically divided into individual war bands, often comprising some thirty to forty men, who could fight and raid on their own, or as part of a much larger combined army. Each of these bands was thought to have been led by a war chief, who in turn was supported by a small cadre of full time warriors, who would serve, protect and die for that particular leader, much the same as the later Anglo Saxon Earls or Lords who maintained their own staff of knights or men at arms who served that individual nobleman alone.
It was said to be these professional soldiers who were thought to have made up the vanguard of any Anglo Saxon army, with the younger, part time and older warriors making up the remainder of the fighting force that followed close behind. As the shock troops of the Anglo Saxon war band, the full time professional soldiers were reported to have been the most heavily armed, generally carrying a spear, shield, long sword, dagger and any other weapon that they could comfortably wield in battle, whilst at the same time being protected by a full metal helmet and chain-mail body armour. Supporting troops were thought to have been less well armed and protected than those who went into battle first, although most would have carried a shield, spear and double edged short sword that could be used during close quarter fighting. It has also been suggested that in common with the Spartan, Greek and Roman armies of earlier times, Anglo Saxon troops were regularly drilled in fighting formations, so that both small war bands and much larger military units could combine together, not only for their mutual defence, but also as part of a tactical offensive strategy. When a number of these individual war bands combined together to form a much bigger army unit, it has been suggested that this larger force was put under the command of the most senior leader, the Althing, who all of the other war chiefs would defer to in matters relating to military operations or strategies. Although it has been speculated that many Anglo Saxon armies may well have been relatively small contingents of men, as few as a couple of hundred at a time, it seems unlikely that such small numbers would have been able to play a significant role in conquering, let alone holding new territories, which suggests that larger numbers of Anglo Saxon warriors could and would be gathered together as and when the need arose.
As Britain became increasingly settled in the post-Roman period, with a new Anglo-Saxon society beginning to be created throughout much of England, so many parts of the country began to be governed and protected by a new class of feudal Earls, who held individual territories for and on behalf of the English king. As part of their duties, each of these English noblemen was reported to have been responsible for the appointment of the local Sheriffs, Magistrates and Tax Collectors, who not only maintained the Earldom’s legal and financial systems, but also ensured that their own area of the country was able to enjoy the King’s Peace. These new Anglo Saxon Earls were also held to be responsible for ensuring the military security and defence of their individual regions through the creation of a local field force known as the “Fyrd”, a local militia that could be called upon to take up arms and defend the country from any outside threat.
|Anglo Saxon Soldier|
The idea of regional armies had first been proposed and initiated by the Anglo Saxon king of Wessex, Alfred the Great, during the late 9th century, when he introduced the concept of the defensive “Burh” or “Burg”, heavily defended towns and cities, which not only provided a safe haven for the local population, but also acted as military bases for the areas own Anglo Saxon defence forces. Typically, each of these burgs and their surrounding regions would be protected by the Earls own professional troops, as well as male members of the local population, many of whom were thought to have been granted lands in exchange for a given number of days of military service. According to some sources, service within the local militia, or Fyrd, was a highly regulated affair, which not only ensured that a sizeable local fighting force was available throughout the year, but that each man had sufficient time to work on his own lands, growing the crops and supplies that the country needed to survive. It has also been suggested that when members of the local Fyrd, were not engaged in military operations, then they would be used to defend the regions borders, strategic targets, or were undergoing additional military training, to improve their fighting capabilities with the shield, sword and spear that they would commonly carry into battle. A significant feature of the Fyrd was thought to have been its composition, most notably, the widely accepted view that it was a lightweight field army, one that consisted almost entirely of lightly armed infantrymen and archers, rather than a traditional mixture of light cavalry and heavily armed foot soldiers, as had often been the case with other historic armies, such as the Romans.
Although the English king was reported to have had his own personal military retinue, made up of armed retainers, full-time men at arms and members of the royal household, in order to put a large English army into the field against a foreign enemy, he continued to rely on the support of the new English nobility and their regional militia’s to grant him their services. However, such support was not always guaranteed and on more than one occasion an English king was forced to rally his own military forces against those of an insubordinate nobleman who was either unwilling or unable to comply with the monarch’s royal wishes. Such was thought to be the case in the middle of the 11th century, when the reigning English monarch, Edward the Confessor, either by accident or by design, was said to have caused dissention throughout the country, by reportedly nominating two entirely different men to be his legitimate heir, Harold Godwinsson and Duke William of Normandy, whilst at the same time, a third candidate, King Harald Hardrada of Norway, insisted on pursuing his own claim to the English throne.
Consequently, when Edward died in 1066, all three candidates claimed to be the dead Anglo Saxon monarch’s legitimate successor and although Harold Godwinsson found support amongst the majority of the English nobility and was subsequently crowned King of England, both Duke William and Harald Hardrada were reported to have received significant levels of support from a number of other leading nobles within the country. It was said to be as a result of such divisions that when the Norwegian army of Harald Hardrada landed on the east coast of England in 1066 in order to pursue Hardrada’s claim against the English throne, Harold Godwinsson was forced to bring a fairly limited Fyrd, or field army with him to confront the foreign invaders, some of his nobles having previously switched their allegiances to Hardrada, whilst others simply chose to await the outcome of the Battle at Stamford Bridge, before deciding which side to support.
However, despite the many obstacles that might well have prevented him from overcoming the Norwegian army, ultimately Harold Godwinsson and his Anglo Saxon Fyrd were said to have gained a victory over the invaders, whose leader, Harald Hardrada, was reported to be the most notable victim of the bitter and bloody engagement. Unfortunately for King Harold of England and his generally exhausted troops, almost as soon as they had overcome the Norwegian invaders, reports began to arrive, informing them that the Norman leader, Duke William had subsequently landed at Pevensey with yet another invasion army, forcing Harold and his limited field force to march some two hundred and fifty miles south to confront this new military threat to their Anglo Saxon kingdom.
For many historians, the two armies that faced one another at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 were not that different to one another, save for the mounted Norman cavalry and the previously unseen motte and bailey castle, which would subsequently become such a regular feature in the British landscape. However, despite these advantages, ultimately the victory of William the Conqueror’s Norman army over Harold Godwinsson’s Anglo Saxon Fyrd was as much the result of extreme good fortune as much as anything else, with the misfortune of the Anglo Saxon’s helping to hand victory to their Norman adversaries. Although no independent records from the time of Hastings are thought to exist, other than those produced by the two protagonists, who both have largely biased views on the course and outcome of the battle, for many historians the two sides were very evenly matched and it was only the ill-timed death of Harold Godwinsson that finally swung the engagement in Duke William’ favour.
With no clear royal successor, or prominent military commander to look to for leadership, the till then undefeated ranks of the Anglo Saxon Fyrd were thought to have dissipated through the actions of its men, rather than the attacks of William’s cavalry and infantry. However, as their protective interlocked shields began to fragment, so the individual Anglo Saxon warriors became increasing susceptible to the lances of the Norman knights, the spears of the Norman foot soldiers and the arrows of the Norman archers, who quickly began to shatter the defensive lines, which the Fyrd relied upon for its protection. Even though William the Conqueror and his troops eventually managed to overcome this first English army and having fought their way to London, subsequently taking the Crown of England, within the wider country there were still thought to be sufficient fighting men to meet and defeat the Norman Lord, had they had an effective political and military commander who was popular enough to lead them. Unfortunately, rather than form a national alliance, which might confront the Norman invaders, many Anglo Saxon Earls and noblemen were thought to have sworn fealty to the new foreign monarch, whilst other chose to defend their territories independently, thereby guaranteeing their own demise and the end of Britain as an entirely Anglo Saxon kingdom.
Ascending the English throne in December 1066, despite having received the submissions of most of the Anglo Saxon nobility shortly after the Battle of Hastings, the new King, William I of England, was thought to have remained a relatively unpopular figure with a significant portion of the population, especially amongst the remaining Anglo Saxon nobility who had much to lose to a new Norman administration. Northern England and Wales were both thought to have been major centres of resistance to the rule of the new Norman king, forcing William to travel north with his huge armed retinue to begin what became known as the “Harrying of the North”, a bloody campaign that saw numerous settlements razed, crops destroyed and thousands of innocent civilians driven from their lands. By 1070, just four years after his army had first landed in England, most of the country was thought to have been under the military control of Duke William, with only isolated pockets of resistance holding out in Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Cumbria and East Anglia, although eventually these too were either defeated or isolated by the Norman king.
In the aftermath of his successful invasion and occupation of England, the vast majority of Anglo Saxon noblemen and landowners were subsequently deprived of their lands and properties, which were then simply handed to the Norman knights, foreign mercenaries, financiers and Churches, who had either supported King William’s great venture, or whose prayers were necessary for his continued good fortune. However, despite wearing the Crown of England and heading the largest military force in the country at that time, William’s hold on his new English kingdom was thought to have remained tenuous at best, not least because of the relatively small numbers of Norman troops that were expected to guard the far reaches of his new realm. Even though fresh forces might occasionally be brought over from Normandy to supplement or replace those troops already stationed in England, King William did not have an inexhaustible supply of soldiers for his suddenly expanded territories and was therefore forced to look for alternative methods of securing his new lands. The system that he ultimately chose to employ, was virtually the same one that had worked so well in Europe, where the country was broken down into individual regions, each of which was controlled by a nobleman of the king’s choice, who would rule that particular Barony, or Earldom, for and on behalf of the Norman monarch, much the same as the Anglo Saxon king’s had done before him. In turn, these newly created Norman Barons and Earls would then be supported by their own cadre of sub-lieutenants, or knights, who would help control specific areas of the individual Baron or Earl’s territories, ensuring that they remained safe and secure, at the same time ensuring that rents were paid and taxes collected.
As an occupying army, especially one that was comparatively small, the Norman forces of William the Conqueror were forced to consider their own personal safety as a matter of some priority, leading to the widespread introduction of the Norman motte and bailey castle to the English landscape. Initially constructed as a temporary timber redoubt, which was designed as a short term defensive shelter for the Norman troops, their horses and their possessions, almost inevitably, these early structures were later replaced by the much more permanent and far larger stone built castles, which continue to litter the British countryside to the present day. Although these early fortresses offered some level of protection to the new Norman elite, ultimately these relatively small numbers of foreign aristocrats found themselves isolated amongst a predominantly Anglo Saxon population, who carried on with their lives, entirely regardless of the foreign nobility who ruled over them. According to most sources, just like the Anglo Saxons before them, these new Norman incomers, rather than fundamentally altering the language, traditions and customs of the native British people, instead found themselves and their own heritage being gradually absorbed by and added to what would eventually become the basis of the modern British character, a combination of Ancient Briton, Celtic, Viking, Anglo Saxon and Norman.
Similarly, necessity was also thought to have brought about the creation of a new English fighting force, one that was bought and paid for by individual Norman nobles, who needed to expand their own household troops, not only to protect their own extensive possessions, but also to offer military support to the English King, in regional disputes, foreign wars, or even on crusades to the Holy Land. According to some records, King William I even took some English troops with him when he returned to continental Europe after securing his hold in his new kingdom of England, suggesting that a number of Anglo Saxon troops had already transferred their allegiance to the Norman Duke, either before or shortly after the Battle of Hastings in October 1066. Whatever the case, the fact that William I was reported to have brought an estimated twenty thousand men with him from Normandy, many of whom were reported to have died from battle wounds and disease, would seem to indicate that a large number of English born Anglo Saxon troops, must have played a part in helping the Norman Duke to secure his new territories.
The practice of protecting England through local troops raised by a series of regional Barons, Earls and other noblemen, who owed their title and position to one or other English monarch, undoubtedly had its roots in the Anglo Saxon period, although similar arrangements were thought to have operated elsewhere, following the demise of the Roman Empire. However, a number of problems presented themselves with regard to such locally raised forces, not least the fact that most of these individual soldiers were linked to the local community and were therefore often loathe to operate outside of their home areas, preventing them from being used on a national, much less an international basis. Although such attitudes would change over the coming centuries, ultimately such troops remained tied and generally loyal to the particular nobleman who employed them, rather than to whichever monarch happened to be sitting on the English throne at that period of time. As a result, the military and political power of individual nobles could often outweigh the authority of a king and it was often the case that royal decisions were almost entirely dictated to and by the will of a particular Earl or Baron, who had the support of his own private army and whose wishes could not therefore be overlooked.
Throughout the 12th and early 13th centuries, there were thought to be numerous instances of the future of the English Crown being decided by a handful of England’s most powerful noblemen, who had the military might to insist that a particular candidate was placed on the throne, or that a king modify his behaviour, as in the case of King John and the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Even two of England’s most able and militaristic Plantagenet monarch’s Henry III and his son, the later Edward I, were said to have found themselves held hostage by a number of these powerful noblemen, whose revolt was only finally brought to an end after Henry and Edward managed to persuade or bribe some of the rebel Lords to once again support the royalist cause, thereby restoring authority to the English Crown. However, in order to gain the support of these former rebels, Henry and Edward were thought to have granted them even more titles and lands, essentially turning them into an even greater potential threat to the English monarchy, a situation that would inevitably lead to more military conflicts in later years. For the remainder of the Plantagenet period and on through the Lancastrian and Yorkist eras, England was thought to have suffered a series of royal disputes, which saw the various private armies of kings and nobles fight one another, not only for control of the country, but also for the Crown of England itself.
By the beginning of the 16th century, most of the large private armies, previously under the personal control of England’s leading Earls and Barons had not only been outlawed, but had been largely replaced by a series of militias and local forces who were under the direct control of the monarch’s representative, the Lord Lieutenant, who was responsible for the defence and security of his local region. Although the requirement for young men to defend their homeland was known to have existed since Anglo Saxon times, it was only finally placed into law in 1285 when the Statute of Winchester legally obliged any man between the ages of fifteen and sixty to take up arms as and when required to do so. The Act was reported to have taken account of the differing social and financial standings of each man, with the common worker expected to arm himself with a scythe or a knife, while the rich man was instructed to provide himself with a horse and armour.
In many towns and cities, compulsory weapons training was reported to have become the norm, with the young men of the city, town or village obliged to attend archery and drill classes, so that they were able to defend their local region, as and when the need arose. Often the Lord Lieutenant deferred the training of such militias to the local Mayor and Sheriffs, who not only knew the local population, but would have been aware of the local geography, ensuring that any strategic targets and highways would have been protected during time of conflict. Each eligible man within a town, city or parish was thought to have been recorded on a local muster roll, so that numbers could be calculated and men identified as and when required, with those called to service being expected to attend a rallying or muster point along with his comrades. However, just like with the Anglo Saxon Fyrd many centuries earlier, many of these local volunteers were thought to have been unwilling to serve outside of the own home areas, once again restricting their use to that of a regional force, rather than representing any sort of national army.
A number of England’s largest towns and cities were said to have been more fortunate than most, in that they could muster very large numbers of men who were prepared to meet and train regularly, helping to form the basis for the more established trained bands, or militias that would defend Britain’s biggest towns and cities right through to the late 19th century. As has been mentioned elsewhere, the principal defender’s of the British Isles for many centuries was the English, later the British Navy, who in nearly all circumstances would have been in the front line of defending the country from enemy invasion. The fact that the much larger English fleet of King Harold Godwinsson had been withdrawn to port for re-provisioning, just prior to the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror, perfectly illustrated the reliance placed on the nations navy and what could happen when that vitally important naval force was no longer there to protects England’s extensive coastline.
It was thought to be the inefficiencies and strategic limitations of local militias and trained bands during the early 17th century, most notably during the first months of the English Civil War that caused certain Parliamentary leaders to reconsider the efficacy of such armed forces. Although most of Parliaments troops were reported to have been raised through local Associations, as with the earlier Fyrd and Militias, most of their men were either unwilling or unable to be used far from home, making them tactically useless to the Parliamentary cause.
By the middle of 1644, the fact that these local forces were being commanded by a mixture of Parliamentary General’s who all had their own strategic, religious and political objectives, some favouring peace with the Crown, whilst others the complete removal of the monarch, Charles I, it was becoming increasingly clear to a few leaders that little would be achieved if the military situation remained the same. Eventually, Parliament was reported to have divided into two distinct factions, with the Earl of Manchester’s side demanding that Parliament should seek the best possible terms with the king, whilst hardliners such as Oliver Cromwell were determined to inflict a complete military defeat on the royalist cause, before dictating terms to the monarch.
The divisions between the two political factions was said to have reached crisis point following the Second Battle of Newbury in October 1644, when the Earls of Essex and Manchester failed to destroy the kings forces, despite having the opportunity to do so. By the following month, a Parliamentary committee was formed to oversee the conduct of the war, as a result of which the Self Denying Ordinance was eventually passed by both Houses of Parliament, a statute which forbade all members of the Commons and Lords from holding any sort of military office and essentially removing the Earls of Manchester, Essex, as well as other royalist sympathisers from their commands. By January of 1645 the same committee was also reported to have laid out the basis for a New Model Army and appointed Sir Thomas Fairfax as the Captain General of this brand new military force, whilst Sir Philip Skippon was appointed as the Sergeant Major General of Foot. Although Oliver Cromwell was forbidden by the new Self Denying Ordinance from continuing to hold his military post, within a short time, Sir Thomas Fairfax was said to have made a special request for Cromwell to be allowed to hold a military command and within weeks he had been granted a temporary exception, which permitted him to take control of a cavalry regiment. Although he was given a three month allowance to hold his temporary military command, in practice this exemption was thought to have been continually renewed, allowing Cromwell and three other Members of Parliament to retain his military command throughout the entire period of the English Civil War.
Initially, Parliament’s New Model Army was said to have comprised some twenty-odd thousand troops, made up of nearly seven thousand cavalrymen, fourteen thousand foot soldiers and an additional one thousand dragoons, many of which had been taken from the earlier regiments commanded by the Earls of Manchester and Essex, who were no longer involved in the military conduct of the war. Unlike the earlier militias and associations, the New Model Army was run along new and uniform lines, so that each infantryman, dragoon and cavalryman knew his rights, duties and conditions of service, with a centralised system being put in place, to ensure that each soldier was fed, clothed and more importantly, paid for his military service. Another peculiar feature of this new English national army was thought to have been its insistence that only the ablest soldiers should be recruited and retained, regardless of their rank or indeed their financial status, recognising perhaps that in many cases that the richest men did not always make the best soldiers, something that later governments often seemed to overlook.
|Civil War Dragoon|
However, regardless of an individual soldier's social standing or wealth, according to some reports the New Model Army managed to retain rich and poor alike, as each in his turn was said to have been driven by the ideals of the Parliamentary cause, irrespective of his own particular circumstances. The elite troops of the New Model Army was said to be the cavalry regiments, whose behaviour and battlefield tactics were determined by the rules laid down by commander’s such as Oliver Cromwell, who insisted that these mounted troops should be the most highly disciplined and determined of their age. Unlike their royalist counterparts and earlier cavalry forces, Cromwell’s cavalry regiments were reported to have been trained to work alongside the New Model Army’s infantry, musketeers, Dragoons and artillery units, marking the beginning of what would inevitably become the sort of modern warfare that would be fought in future years. For their part, the thousand strong Dragoon force were often regarded and used as mounted infantry or skirmishers, which could be used to intercept any sort of enemy force, or even to assault enemy positions, holding them until reinforced by the main infantry body. But perhaps the most significant military force within the New Model Army was the infantry, which was reported to have been a mixed body, comprising two thirds musketeers and one third pike men, comparable to anything that the royalist army of Charles I had at that particular time. However, unlike earlier English armies, which had generally been made up of half-trained, poorly equipped and often dissatisfied militias, the musketeers and pike men of the new Parliamentary army were reported to have been highly trained, very well equipped and constantly motivated by their commanders, making them a far superior force to the one being fielded by the royalist cause.
The New Model Army was said to have first been used in May 1645 when elements of the new force attempted to break the royalist siege of Taunton, where the famous General-at-sea, then simply Colonel Robert Blake, was reported to have been blockaded in the town, along with his relatively small Parliamentary garrison. Unfortunately, these initial attempts to break the siege were said to have been largely unsuccessful, ostensibly because most of the New Model Army was being prepared for the forthcoming Battle of Naseby, which finally took place on the 14th June 1645.
According to some contemporary reports of this decisive Civil War engagement, the battle itself proved to be a baptism of fire for the new professional Parliamentary army, simply because the royalist army of Charles I was said to have contained some of the monarch’s most experienced and battle-hardened soldiers, men who would not have been concerned by the prospect of facing enemy infantry or cavalry. However, unlike Cromwell’s mounted troops, who were both well trained and highly disciplined, elements of the royalist cavalry were reported to have been in such a rush to pursue retreating Parliamentary horsemen, that they left the field, thereby handing a tactical advantage to Oliver Cromwell’s remaining mounted troops, which helped secure a Parliamentary victory over the king.
|Civil War Musketeers|
This battle was also thought to have been marked by a number of murderous incidents, where Fairfax’s and Cromwell’s troops were reported to have slaughtered several hundred royalist supporters, including a hundred or so women who were part of the captured royalist baggage train. According to some sources, the women were killed, ostensibly because they were believed to be Irish, suggesting that even at this point in time; some English troops had such a deep inbred hatred of the Irish and their perceived Roman Catholic faith that they were prepared to commit cold blooded murder to satisfy their own racial and religious intolerance. Although the Battle of Naseby did not bring an end to the First English Civil War, most historians are thought to take the view that this particular engagement did mark the beginning of the end for the royalist cause, mainly because of the loss of so many of King Charles’ highly experienced troops.
It was said to be in the aftermath of Naseby that Thomas Fairfax was subsequently able to sent troops to lift the royalist siege of Taunton and take control of most of the West Country at the same time. The last great military engagement of the First English Civil War was the Battle of Langport which took place just outside Bristol on the 10th July 1645 and which resulted in the New Model Army defeating the last remaining royalist field force in England, an action that not only forced King Charles I to surrender himself to the Scottish army, but also brought an end to hostilities between Parliament and the English Crown.
However, having won the First English Civil War, discontent and disagreements then began to spread throughout Parliament, the New Model Army’s military commanders and even amongst the rank and file members of the victorious English army, as to what should happen to the country in the aftermath of the bitter national conflict. For most of the common soldiers employed by Parliaments new army, their greatest cause of resentment was said to be the fact that they had not been paid for some time and with rumours of them being sent to Ireland to suppress royalist unrest there, many of these same English troops, were thought to be extremely angry about their treatment by Parliament.
|Civil War Pike-men|
Within the army itself there was also thought to be many social and political agitators who not only wanted to see an end to the English monarchy, but also wanted to see new democratic and religious freedoms introduced, including universal male suffrage, a redrawing of the existing electoral boundaries and a reorganisation of the country’s legal systems, much of which was proposed by a group called the Levellers. Members of a political movement, which was dedicated to the abolition of corruption in public office, the introduction of religious tolerance towards all faiths, as well as the translation of the law into the common tongue, it was reported to be members of the Levellers who proposed a new constitution for the country, which would have included many of these core demands. However, at the same time that the Levellers were trying to force their own demands on the English Parliament, many representatives, both in the Commons and the Lords, were trying to lobby for a complete restoration of the king’s constitutional position, without any sort of reforms taking place, something that was totally unacceptable to most of the soldiers who had risked their lives in order to bring about change.
In order to try and resolve these issues, in 1647 a new committee called the Army Council met for the first time, a consultative body which was reported to have drawn representatives from all of the different groups within the army, in the hope to find an agreeable solution to the many and varied demands that were being proposed. Unfortunately, even though this new council was said to have met several times in order to find a solution, ultimately it was thought to be as a result of lobbying by senior officers within individual regiments that brought about a solution, although even this was thought to have been resisted by some troops, causing Oliver Cromwell to use armed force to suppress the minor military mutiny.
During the time that Parliament and the army were busily debating the subject of soldiers pay, future constitutions and the use of English troops in Ireland, the English king, Charles I was said to have been busy negotiating with any party that might help restore him to the English throne. With four major power blocks operating in the country, the royalists, the New Model Army, the English Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, Charles hoped to be able to make some form of alliance with one or more of these parties which might allow him to seize back the political and military initiative, which would then allow him to dictate terms to the other sides in the ongoing dispute.
|Sir Thomas Fairfax|
Having first surrendered himself to the Scots, Charles was subsequently handed over to the English Parliament, many of whose members were keen to see the monarch restored to the throne, but on their own terms, rather than those of the king or indeed the army. However, before long, the monarch was said to have been snatched away from Parliamentary custody by a young army officer who served under the army’s military commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, causing both English and Scottish Parliaments to begin making preparation for a fresh civil war, this time against the English legislatures own creation, the New Model Army. In the first instance though, the English Parliament was said to have tried other methods to undermine the army’s position, firstly by attempting to disband it, then trying to send it abroad on foreign service, before finally threatening to withhold its pay, all of which simply hardened the army’s attitude and made them even more determined to bring about some sort of political change. As relations between Parliament and the army leadership became increasingly fraught, so Charles I was thought to have played his own part in ensuring that the divisions grew deeper and deeper, to the point that the Parliament made the fateful decision to ally itself with the remaining royalist factions in the country, along with supporters of the Scottish Parliament, resulting in the outbreak of the Second English Civil War in February 1648.
Fortunately for Cromwell and the other leading New Model Army officers, the constitution that had been imposed by Fairfax, which dealt with many of the English soldiers political, social and religious grievances, had ensured that the New Model Army remained a viable fighting force, even up to and beyond the outbreak of the second civil conflict. However, the uncertainty that had arisen after the First English Civil War, as to the future of the king himself and the possible introduction of new social, political and religious freedoms was thought to have caused some Parliamentary commanders to reconsider their positions, causing some of them to switch sides on the outbreak of the Second English Civil War, much to the alarm and annoyance of Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell.
Although not all royalists supported the king’s second military campaign against Parliament, ultimately the Second English Civil War proved to a much more one-sided affair, simply because the English Parliament very quickly withdrew from the conflict, as their tacit support for the king’s cause made such representatives highly unpopular with the general public, a fact that commanders such as Cromwell exploited to great effect. With limited resources of their own and with no outside military aid available to their cause, the royalist forces that participated in this Second English Civil War very quickly came under increasing pressure from the better armed, equipped and much more professional New Model Army, which during the first half of 1648 effectively crushed King Charles’ remaining military support in England. By June of the same year, it was a Scottish Engager Army, a force fielded by the Scottish Parliament and led by the Duke of Hamilton which was said to have crossed the border to pursue Charles’ royal ambitions in England, although the fact that it was comprised mostly of raw recruits and largely inexperienced officers meant that it posed little threat to the New Model Army and its battle hardened troops.
|King Charles I|
The defining military engagement in the north of England was said to have taken place at Preston, between the 17th and 19th August 1648, when a twenty thousand strong Scottish army was met and defeated by Oliver Cromwell’s force of around eight thousand seasoned soldiers, during which, some two thousand Engagers were reported to have been killed, as against the hundred or so members of the New Model Army who were said to have perished. Although there were thought to have been several more attempts to revive the royalist cause in England and Wales, ultimately all of them came to nothing and by the end of August 1648 the fighting had come to an end once again. However, for King Charles himself, his failure to overturn the outcome of the First English Civil War and his later decision to initiate yet another conflict in his kingdom, ensured that the calls for him to be removed permanently would become increasingly loud, leading to him later being charged, tried, sentenced and executed as a tyrant and traitor on the 30th January 1649.
In August 1649, elements of the New Model Army were reported to have been landed in Ireland to help suppress a combined Royalist-Roman Catholic insurrection that was taking place in the country, beginning a campaign which would not only heighten the divisions between the various faith communities there, but also create a legacy of hatred towards the English commander of those forces, Oliver Cromwell. The various military campaigns of Cromwell’s forces in Ireland have been dealt with in an entirely separate chapter of this book, but suffice to say the New Model Army’s campaigns in Ireland ultimately proved to be extremely costly affairs, both in terms of national unity and for the tens of thousands of people, military and civilian who were reported to have perished as a result of them.
At the same time that English troops were involved in bitter fighting with the Royalists and Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, other units of the New Model Army were reported to have been involved in what has been called the Third English Civil War, fighting Scottish Covenanters, who had allied themselves to the royalist cause of the late English king’s son and heir, King Charles II. Agreeing to support Charles II claim to the English, Scottish and Irish thrones, which had been usurped by the Parliamentary cause, the Covenanters were thought to have been an alliance of Presbyterian’s who were happy to lend their military support to Charles Stuart’s campaign, in return for guaranteeing future religious reforms, both in Scotland and England. Unfortunately for the new Charles II and his Scottish allies, despite outnumbering the New Model Army units sent to suppress their activities, the English forces under the command of Oliver Cromwell ultimately proved to be far superior to the Covenanter’s forces, defeating them first at the Battle of Dunbar and later at the Battle of Inverkeithing. Despite these reversals, the ousted Stuart monarch, Charles II, still managed to lead a Scottish army into England, before being met and defeated at the Battle of Worcester, on the 3rd September 1651, which proved to be the final battle of the three English Civil Wars.
|King Charles II|
In the aftermath of the Scottish royalist rebellion, the English army was reported to have maintained a significant presence in the north of the country, not only to guard against any future royalist revolts, but also to offer some degree of protection against highland raiders who were thought to have become more troublesome during the same period. Elsewhere on the British mainland, units of the New Model Army were also thought to have been used to suppress various outbreaks of violence and insurrection in the country, although no serious threat to their authority was thought to have occurred following the royalist uprisings in Scotland, save for the ongoing disputes that were said to have continued in Ireland.
Internationally, in 1654 the new English Commonwealth was said to have declared war on the formidable Spanish Empire, as a result of which units of the English army were despatched to the Caribbean, to try and take control of Spanish possessions there, including the island of Hispaniola, now marked by the modern states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately for the Parliamentarian forces sent to accomplish this task, tropical diseases, inclement weather and large numbers of highly experienced Spanish troops were all thought to have contrived to thwart the planned invasion of Hispaniola, although these same English forces did eventually manage to invade and maintain control of the island of Jamaica, which ultimately became one of Britain’s most prized overseas assets.
The New Model Army was reported to have thrived during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, who held the unique constitutional position of Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658, after which the army’s very existence began to be questioned by a newly resurgent Parliament and the many royalist representatives who held power there. Although Oliver Cromwell had initially been succeeded to the office of Lord Protector by his son Richard, unlike his father, the younger Cromwell was seemingly unable to cope with the increasing political and constitutional pressures that the office brought with it and was reported to have resigned the post in May 1659. With the army apparently fragmented under the leadership of various popular military commanders, for the new English Parliament there was a real fear that the country might well descend into yet another round of civil wars, as each military grouping sought to place themselves and their own local commanders in the most advantageous position. However, for other army leaders, including those who recognised the need to a central figure at the heart of the British constitution, the most obvious solution was for the English monarchy to be restored, something that they would not dared to have suggested during the lifetime of Oliver Cromwell.
One such military leader though, General George Monck, who had been put in charge of the New Model Army units in Scotland, was thought to have recognised the dangers of the country fragmenting under different military leaders and as a result brought his forces south to London, to help support the restoration of the Stuart family, in the person of Charles II, who was officially crowned King of England on the 29th May 1660. Perhaps mindful of the risks posed by having a large standing army at home that might well be exploited by the new monarch, Parliament, or by some or other party, following the succession of Charles II to the English throne, most of the New Model Army regiments were subsequently disbanded, save for General Moncks own troops which subsequently evolved into the Coldstream Guards and the Regiment of Cuirassiers, which eventually became the Royal Horse Guards, both of which are reported to be two of the oldest serving regiments in the British Army.
The Coldstream Guards were said to have been formally founded at Coldstream in Scotland in 1650, by their then commander General George Monck and now form part of the Household Division, being only one of two English regiments that can trace its ancestry all the way back to the New Model Army. The second British military unit that shares that particular history is the Royal Horse Guards, which has since been renamed as the Blues and Royals, but which was originally founded as the Royal Cuirassiers by Sir Arthur Haselrig at Newcastle upon Tyne in August 1650, on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the unit was renamed as the Earl of Oxford’s Regiment and was reported to have been attired in a blue tunic, giving rise to the nickname the “Oxford Blues”, leading to their later identification simply as “The Blues”. It was only in 1969 that this earlier corp. was amalgamated with the Royal Dragoons, helping to create the regiment that is much more familiar today as the “Blues and Royals”.