Reign of Charles I. (Continued) page 2
The two armies in England now prepared to try their strength. Charles, lying at Oxford, had a considerable number of troops: the west of England was almost wholly in his interest, north and south Wales were wholly his, excepting the castles of Pembroke and Montgomery. He had still Scarborough, Carlisle, and Pontefract; but his army, though experienced in the field, was the most licentious and debauched which had appeared since that of Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War. The officers were at violent feud amongst themselves, jealous of each other, paying little regard to the commands of the king. As a measure of popularity, and to diminish the envy of prince Rupert being commander-in-chief, the king nominated the prince of Wales to that post, and Rupert, the real commander, was general under him. The prince was sent into the west of England for greater security, and Rupert and the garrisons scattered through the country, ravaged the unhappy inhabitants at pleasure. The soldiers lived at free quarters, and made themselves more terrible to their enemies. The whole army, officers and privates, prided themselves on their profligacy and debauchery, to contrast themselves against what they called the army of the saints and roundheads. Drinking, gambling, blaspheming, riot, and robbery, were fashionable, as a set off to what they deemed the demure hypocrisy of the parliamentarians. Clarendon, the royalist historian, confirms this awful account repeatedly; and lord Colepepper, writing to lord Digby, says, " Good men are so scandalised at the horrid impiety of our armies, that they will not believe that God can bless any cause in such hands."
In fact, such were the sufferings of all classes under the plunderings and harassing of the contending factions of that unhappy war, that the gentry in many counties, especially in Wilts, Dorset, Somerset, and Worcester, formed themselves into associations, and called upon their tenants and the villagers to form themselves into drilled and armed bodies under them, for the defence of their property, their homes, and their persons. They assumed the name of clubmen, from many of them being armed merely with clubs and pitchforks, and they assembled to the number of four, six, and even ten thousand men, in those quarters where the soldiery were in numbers or in march, that menaced depredations. They declared themselves perfectly neutral, that they had no object but to protect their lives and substance, and became so strong, that they began to talk of putting down the unnatural contest by force. They wore white ribbons as a distinction, and petitioned both king and parliament to cease hostilities, offering to hold the forts and castles till a satisfactory peace was concluded. Fairfax, however, reported to parliament that he found their leaders consisting chiefly of men who had been in the king's service, and had a leaning to that party much more than to the parliament. The two houses accordingly pronounced all persons appearing in arms without authority traitors to the commonwealth.
The parliamentary army, now remodelled, presented a very different spectacle to that of the king. The strictest discipline was introduced^ and the men were called upon to observe the duties of religion. The officers had been selected from those who had served under Essex, Manchester, and the other lords; but having cleared the command of the aristocratic element, a new spirit of activity and zeal was infused into it. The king's officers ridiculed the new force, which had no leaders of great name except Sir Thomas Fairfax, and was brought together in so new a shape, that it appeared a congregation of raw soldiers. The ridicule of the cavaliers even infected the adherents of the commonwealth, and there was great scepticism as to the result of such a change. May, the parliamentary historian, says, never did an army go forth who had less the confidence of their friends, or more the contempt of their enemies. But both parties were extremely deceived. Cromwell was now the real soul of the movement, and the religious enthusiasm which glowed in him was diffused through the whole army. The whole system seemed a revival of that of the pious Gustavus Adolphus - no man suffered a day to go over without religious service, and never commenced a battle without a prayer. The soldiers now employed their time in zealous military exercises and in equally zealous prayer and singing of psalms. They sang in their march, they advanced into battle with a psalm. The letters of Cromwell to the parliament, giving an account of the proceedings of the army, are full of this religious spirit, which it has been the custom to treat as cant, but which was the genuine expression of his feelings, and was shown by effects such as cant and sham never produce. Victory, which he and his soldiers ascribed only to God, success, the most rapid and wonderful, attended him.
It is remarkable that the very man who had introduced the Self-denying Ordinance, was the only man who was never debarred by it from pursuing his military career. This has, therefore, been treated as an artifice on his part; but, on the contrary, it was the mere result of circumstances Cromwell was the great military genius of the age. Every day the success of his plans and actions was bursting more and more on the public notice, and no one was more impressed by the value of Iiis services than the new commander-in-chief, Sir Thomas Fairfax. He had sent Cromwell, Massey, and Waller, into the west, before laying down their commissions, to attack colonel Goring, who was threatening the parliamentary lines. They had driven him back towards Wells and Glastonbury, and not deeming it safe to push further with their small force into a quarter where the royal interest was so strong, and Cromwell advising parliament to send more troops to Salisbury to defend that point against Rupert, who was reported at Trowbridge, he had returned to Windsor to resign his command according to the ordinance. There, however, he found the parliament had suspended the ordinance in his instance for forty days, in order that he might execute a service of especial consequence, and which it particularly wished him to undertake. This was to attack a body of two thousand men conveying the king's artillery from Oxford to Worcester, to which place Rupert had marched, having defeated colonel Massey at Ledbury.
This was on the 22nd of April, and Cromwell took horse the next morning, and dashed rapidly into Oxfordshire and routed the enemy at Islip Bridge, consisting of four
regiments of cavalry, took many of their officers, and especially those of the queen's regiment, seizing the standard which she had presented to it with her own hands. Many of the fugitives got into Bletchington House, which Cromwell immediately assaulted and took. The king was so enraged at the surrender of Bletchington, that he ordered the commander, colonel Windebank, to be shot, and no prayers or entreaties could save him. Cromwell next sent off his cannon and stores to Abingdon, and pushed on to Radcot Bridge, or Bampton-in-the-Bush, where others of the enemy had fled, where he defeated them, and took their leaders Vaughan and Littleton. Cromwell next summoned colonel Burgess, the governor of the garrison at Farringdon, to surrender; but he was called away to join the main army, the king being on the move.
Charles, in fact, issued from Oxford, and, joined by both Rupert and Maurice, advanced to relieve Chester, then besieged by Sir William Brereton. Fairfax, instead of pursuing him, thought it a good opportunity to take Oxford and prevent his returning there; but the king's movements alarmed him for the safety of the eastern counties, to which he had despatched Cromwell to raise fresh forces and strengthen its defences. Cromwell was recalled, and Fairfax set out in pursuit of the king. Charles relieved Chester by the very news of his march. Brereton retired from before it, and the Scotch army, which was advancing southward, fell back into Westmoreland and Cumberland, to prevent a rumoured junction of the king and the army of Montrose. Whatever had been the king's intentions in this movement, he wheeled aside and directed his way through Staffordshire into Leicestershire, and took Leicester by assault. From Leicester he extended his course eastward, and took up his head-quarters at Daventry, where he amused himself with hunting, and Rupert and his horse with foraging and plundering the whole country round.
Fairfax, now apprehensive of the royal intentions being directed to the eastern counties, which had hitherto been protected from the visitations of his army, pushed forward to prevent this, and came in contact with the king's outposts on the 13th of June, near Borough Hill. Charles fired his huts, and began his march towards Harborough, intending, perhaps, to proceed to the relief of Pontefract and Scarborough; but Fairfax did not allow him to get far ahead. A council of war was called, and in the midst of it Cromwell rode into the lines at the head of six hundred horse. It was now determined to bring the king to action. Harrison and Ireton, officers of Cromwell - soon to be well known - led the way after the royal army, and Fairfax, with his whole body, was at once in full chase. The king was in Harborough, and a council being called, it was considered safer to turn and fight than to pursue their way to Leicester like an army flying from the foe. It was therefore resolved to wheel about and meet the enemy.
At five o'clock the next morning, the 14th of June, the advanced guards of each army approached each other on the low hills a little more than a mile from the village of Naseby, in Northamptonshire, nearly midway betwixt Market Harborough and Daventry. The parliament army ranged itself on a hill called yet the Mill Hill, and the king's on a parallel hill, with its back to Harborough. The right wing was led by Cromwell, consisting of six regiments of horse, and the left consisting of nearly as many, was, at his request, committed to his friend, colonel Ireton, a Nottinghamshire man. Fairfax and Skippon took charge of the main body, and colonels Pride, Rainsborough, and Hammond, brought up the reserves. Rupert and his brother Maurice led on the right wing of Charles's army, Sir Marmaduke Langdale the left, Charles himself the main body, and Sir Jacob Astley, the earl of Lindsay, the lord Baird, and Sir George Lisle, the reserves. The word for the day of the royalists, was " God and queen Mary!" that of the parliamentarians, " God our strength!" A wide moorland, called Broad Moor, lay between them. The cavaliers made themselves very merry at the new modelled army of roundheads, for which they had the utmost contempt, having nothing aristocratic about it, and its head being farmer Cromwell, or the brewer of Huntingdon, as they pleased to call him. They expected to sweep them away like dust, and Rupert, making one of his headlong charges, seemed to realise their anticipations, for he drove the left wing of the roundheads into instant confusion and flight, took Ireton prisoner, his horse being killed under him, and himself wounded severely in two places; and, in his regular way, Rupert galloped after the fugitives, thinking no more of the main battle. But the scattered horse, who had been diligently taught to rally, collected behind him, returned to the defence of their guns, and were soon again ready for action. On the other hand, Cromwell had driven the left wing of the king's army off the field, but took care not to pursue them too far. He sent a few companies of horse to drive them beyond the battle, and with his main body he fell on the king's flank, where at first the royal foot was gaining the advantage. This unexpected assault threw them into confusion, and the soldiers of Fairfax's front which had given way, rallying and falling in again with the reserve as they came to the rear, were brought up by their officers, and completed the route. Rupert, who was now returning from the chase, rode up to the wagon-train of the parliamentary army, and, ignorant of the state of affairs, offered quarter to the troops guarding the stores. The reply was a smart volley of musketry, and, filling back and riding forward to the field, he found, as usual, a regular defeat. His followers stood stupefied at the sight, when Charles, riding up to them in despair, cried frantically, "One charge more, and the victory is ours yet!" But it was in vain, the main body was broken, that of Fairfax was complete; the artillery was seized, and the roundheads were taking prisoners as fast as they could promise them quarter. Fairfax and Cromwell the next moment charged the confounded horse, and the whole fled at full gallop on the road towards Leicester, pursued almost to the gates of the town by Cromwell's troopers.
The slaughter at this battle was not so great as might have been expected. May, the historian, says that the slain did not exceed four hundred men, three hundred of the royalists and one hundred of the parliamentarians; but five thousand prisoners were taken, including a great number of officers, and a considerable number of ladies in carriages. All the king's baggage and artillery, with nine thousand
stand of arms, were taken, and amongst the carriages that of the king containing his private papers: a fatal loss, for it contained the most damning evidences of the king's double- dealing and mental reservations, which the parliament took care to publish, to Charles's irreparable damage. Clarendon accuses the roundheads of killing above a hundred women, many of them of quality, but other evidence proves that this was false, the only women who were rudely treated were a number of wild Irish ones, who were armed with skeans, knives a foot long, and who used them like so many maniacs.
Cromwell, it seems, had been desired to inform the commons of what took place, and in his letter to Lenthal, the speaker, after relating the defeat and the particulars of the capture of prisoners and baggage, he adds characteristically, " Sir, this is none other but the hand of God, and to Him alone belongs the glory, wherein none are to share with Him. The general served you with all faithfulness and honour; and the best commendation I can give him is that I dare say he attributes all to God, and would rather perish than assume to himself. Which is an honest and a thriving way; and yet as much for bravery may be given to him in this action as to a man. Honest men served you faithfully in this action. Sir, they are all trusty, and I beseech you in the name of God not to discourage them. I wish this action may beget thankfulness and humility in all that are concerned in it. He that ventures his life for the liberty of his country, I wish he trust God for the liberty of his conscience, and you for the liberty he fights for."
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