New Model Army

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The New Model Army became the best known of the various Parliamentarian armies in the English Civil War. It comprised professional soldiers led by trained generals, unlike other military forces of the era, which tended to have aristocratic leaders with no guarantee of military training. Apart from their military successes, the New Model Army troops also became famous for their Puritan religious zeal and support for the "Good Old Cause".

The soldier's catechism: rules, regulations and drill procedures

Foundation

The New Model Army was formed as a result of dissatisfaction among Parliamentarians with the conduct of the Civil War in 1644. Although they had a clear advantage in manpower over the Royalists, most Parliamentarian forces were raised by local associations of counties, and could rarely be used very far from their home areas. Furthermore, many of Parliament's senior officers, mainly Presbyterians, were suspected of being inclined to favour peace with King Charles.

On November 19 1644, the Parliamentarian Eastern Association of counties announced that they could not meet the cost of maintaining their forces. In response, Parliament directed the Committee of Both Kingdoms, the cabinet-like body which oversaw the conduct of the War, to review the whole state of Parliament's forces. Also on December 9, the House of Commons passed the Self-denying Ordinance, which prevented all members of the Houses of Lords and Commons from holding any military command.

On January 6 1645, the Committee of Both Kingdoms set out the establishment of the New Model Army, and appointed Sir Thomas Fairfax as its Captain-General and Sir Philip Skippon as Sergeant-Major General of the Foot. The Self-Denying Ordinance took time to pass the House of Lords, but came into force about the same time as the New Model Army finally came into being in April. Although Oliver Cromwell handed over his command of the cavalry when it was passed, Fairfax specifically requested his services when another officer wished to emigrate, and Cromwell again became Lieutenant-General of the Horse in June.

Establishment and early Character

The New Model Army consisted of 22,000 soldiers, comprising 11 regiments of cavalry (6600 men), 12 regiments of infantry (14,400 men) and 1 regiment of 1000 dragoons. The existing Parliamentarian armies of the Earl of Essex, Sir William Waller and the Earl of Manchester were broken up to provide regiments for the new army. Although the cavalry regiments were already well up to strength and there was no shortage of volunteers for them, the regiments of foot needed 7000 reinforcements. These were impressed from Parliamentarian-held areas in the South and East.

The regiments of the new army were provided with red uniforms, and a "Soldier's catechism" dictated new regulations and drill procedures. The standard daily pay was 8 pence for infantry, 2 shillings for cavalry. The administration of the Army was more centralised and there was better guarantee of food, clothing and other provisions than before. Cavalrymen had to supply their own horses.

The original founders intended that proficiency rather than social standing or wealth should determine the Army's leadership and promotions. Many officers (often the gentlemen amateurs) of existing units merged into regiments of the New Model Army became surplus to establishment and were discharged; these reformadoes demonstrated several times in London as they sought compensation or relief.

However, Cromwell also preferred soldiers devoted, like himself, to Puritan ideals, and some of them sang psalms prior to battle. Already, the Army was viewed by some Presbyterians as a hotbed of Independents. Several prominent Presbyterian officers, mainly Scots, made this situation worse by refusing to serve in the Army.

Prince Rupert, an archetypical cavalier and a prominent general in the army of King Charles I, gave them their nickname of Ironsides. This referred more to their ability to cut through opposing forces than to their armour, as sometimes claimed; their armour extended to leather jerkins.

Battlefield tactics

The New Model Army's elite troops were its cavalry, whose tactics were based on fast hit-and-run attacks against the flanks of the enemy -usually other cavalry units. Frontal attack would have meant exposing them to the Royalist artillery. Cromwell specifically forbade his men to pursue a fleeing enemy, but demanded they hold the battlefield. This meant that the New Model cavalry could charge, break an enemy force, regroup and charge again at another objective. This made them a formidable force on the battlefield. Cavalry troopers carried pistols and carbines as well as swords. In battle they usually carried two loaded pistols, one of which was fired just before they came into contact with the enemy, the other was kept either to cover their own retreat or to fire at a fleeing enemy. At close quarters, cavalrymen would use their sabres, and the New Model cavalry were trained to charge sword in hand, using the shock of the charging horse and their swords to break up enemy formations.

The infantry of the army would generally be positioned in the centre of a formation, with pike and musket units interspersed evenly. Their role in battle was usually to engage the main body of enemy foot soldiers until the cavalry had outflanked them and broken their formation. The pikemen were supposed to project a solid front of spearheads, to protect the musketeers from cavalry while they reloaded. Musketeers were supposed to keep up a constant fire by means of the "countermarch", where units fired in volleys by ranks and then filed to the rear of the formation (usually about 6 deep). By the time they had reached the front rank again, they should have reloaded and been prepared to fire. At close quarters, there was often no time for musketeers to reload and infantry would engage each other by the "push of the pike" -i.e. the collision of two bodies of pikemen - or using their musket butts as clubs.

The New Model's artillery was used to most effect in sieges, where its role was to blast breaches in fortifications for the infantry to assault. Cromwell and the other commanders of the Army were not trained in siege warfare and generally tried to take fortified towns by storm rather than go through the complex and time-consuming process of building earthworks and trenches around it so that batteries of cannon could be brought close to the walls to pound it into surrender. The Army generally performed well when storming fortifications - for example at the siege of Drogheda, but paid a heavy price at Clonmel when Cromwell ordered them to attack a well-defended breach. The New Model's dragoons - mounted infantry - were often used to assault breaches carrying flintlock carbines and grenades. The storming party were sometimes offered cash payments, as this was a very risky job. The regular infantry would then follow them into the breach, armed with their more cumbersome weapons of pikes and matchlock muskets.

Civil War Campaigns

The New Model Army won important victories at Naseby (14 June 1645, its baptism of fire) and Preston (August 1648). After the end of major civil war hostilities in England, they were in a position to dictate the future of England, which caused a great deal of tension between the political radicals in their ranks and their commanders such as Cromwell and Henry Ireton.

Revolutionary Politics and the "Agreement of the People"

Having won the Civil War, the soldiers became very discontented with the Long Parliament, for several reasons. Firstly, they had not been paid regularly and on the end of hostilities, the conservative MP's in Parliament wanted to either disband the Army or send them to fight in Ireland without receiving their back pay. Secondly, seeing that most Parliamentarians wanted to restore the King without major democratic reforms or religious freedom, many soldiers asked why they had risked their lives in the first place - a sentiment that was strongly expressed by their elected representatives. Two representatives, called Agitators, were elected from each regiment. The Agitators with two Army Offices from each regiments and the Generals formed a new body called the Army Council which after a rendezvous (meeting) near New Market on Friday 4 June 1647 issued "A Solemne Engagement of the Army, under the Command of his Excellency Sir Thomas Fairfax" to Parliament on 8 June making their concerns known and also the constitution of the Army Council so that Parliament would understand that the discontent was Army wide and had the support of offices and other ranks. This Engagement was read out to the Army at a general Army rendezvous on 5 June.

Agreement of the People (1647-1649).jpg

Having come under the influence of London radicals called the Levellers, the troops of the Army proposed a revolutionary new constitution named the Agreement of the People, which called for almost universal male suffrage, reform of electoral boundaries, power to rest with the Parliament which was to be elected every two years (not the King), religious freedom and an end to imprisonment for debt.

Increasingly concerned at the failure to pay their wages and by political maneuverings by King Charles I and by some in Parliament, the army marched slowly towards London over the next few months. In late October and early November at the Putney Debates the Army debated two different proposals. The first the Agreement of the People and the other "The Heads of the Proposals", put forward by Henry Ireton, (son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell) for the Army Council. It was a constitutional manifesto which included the preservation of property rights and maintaining the privileges of the gentry. At the Putney Debates it was agreed to hold three further rendezvous.

At the first, the Corkbush Field rendezvous, the senior officers in the army known as the Grandees gained the agreement of most regiments to accept the Army Council's The Heads of the Proposals instead of the Agreement of the People as the Army's manifesto. A mutiny by a minority of regiments was suppressed by Cromwell who had Private Richard Arnold, tried for mutiny and shot on the spot as an example. At the two other rendezvous at Ruislip Heath and Kingston the other regiments were ordered to show support for Fairfax which they all agreed to do.

Second English Civil War

The army remained under control and intact, so it was able to take the field when in July 1648 The Second English Civil War broke out. The New Model Army routed English royalist insurrections in Surrey and Kent before crushing a Scottish invasion force at the battle of Preston (1648).

Many of the Army's radicals now called for the execution of the King, whom they called, "Charles Stuart, that man of blood". The majority of the Grandees realised that they could neither negotiate a settlement with Charles I nor trust him to refrain from raising another army to attack them, so they came reluctantly to the same conclusion as the radicals: they would have to execute him. After the Long Parliament rejected the Army's Remonstrance[1] by 125 to 58, the Grandees decided to reconstitute Parliament so that it would agree with the Army's position. On 6 December 1648 Colonel Thomas Pride instituted Pride's Purge and forcibly removed from the House of Commons all those who were not supporters of the the religious independents and the Grandees in the Army. The much-reduced Rump Parliament passed the necessary legislation to try Charles I. He was found guilty of high treason by the 59 Commissioners and beheaded on 30 January 1649.

Now that the twin pressures of Royalism and those in the Long Parliament who were hostile to the Army had been defeated, the divisions in the Army which had been present in the Putney Debates resurfaced. Cromwell, Ireton, Fairfax and the other Grandees were not prepared to countenance the Army agitators' proposals for a revolutionary constitutional settlement. This eventually brought the Grandees into conflict with those elements in the New Model Army who did.

During 1649 there were three mutinies over pay and political demands. The first involved three hundred infantrymen of Colonel John Hewson's regiment, who declared that they would not serve in Ireland until the Levellers' programme had been realised. They were cashiered without arrears of pay, which was the threat that had been used to quell the mutiny at the Corkbush Field rendezvous.

In the Bishopsgate mutiny soldiers of the regiment of Colonel Edward Whalley stationed in Bishopsgate London made demands similar to those of Hewson's regiment; they were ordered out of London. When they refused to go, fifteen soldiers were arrested and court martialled, of whom six were sentenced to death. Of this six, five were subsequently pardoned while Robert Lockier, a former Agitator, was hanged on April 27 1649.

Less than two weeks later there was a larger mutiny involving several regiments over pay and political demands. After the resolution of the pay issue the Banbury mutineers, consisting of 400 soldiers with Leveller sympathies under the command of Captain William Thompson, continued to negotiate for their political demands. They set out for Salisbury in the hope of rallying support from the regiments billeted there. Cromwell launched a night attack on 13 May in which several mutineers perished, but Captain Thompson escaped only to be killed in another skirmish near the Diggers community at Wellingborough. The rest were imprisoned in Burford Church until three were hanged on May 17. With the failure of this mutiny the Levellers' power base in the New Model Army was destroyed.

Ireland

Later that year the New Model Army landed in Ireland (15 August 1649) to start the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Many soldiers were reluctant to serve in this campaign, and regiments had to draw lots to decide who would go on the expedition.

Although the Royalist alliance they met in Ireland was no match for the New Model Army, its soldiers did suffer considerably in the campaign. About 2000 of them died in abortive assaults on a breach in the siege of Clonmel in 1650. Thousands more died of disease, particularly in the long sieges of Limerick, Waterford and Galway. In addition, they were constantly at risk of attack by Irish guerrillas or "tories", who attacked vulnerable garrisons and supply columns. By the end of the campaign in 1653, much of the Army's wages were still in arrears. About 12,000 veterans were awarded land confiscated from Irish Catholics in lieu of pay. Many soldiers sold these land grants to other Protestant settlers, but about 7,500 of them settled in Ireland. They were required to keep their weapons to act as a reserve in case of any future rebellions in the country. See also The Cromwellian Plantation.

Scotland

In 1650, while the campaign in Ireland was still ongoing, part of the New Model Army was transferred to Scotland to fight Scottish Covenanters at the start of the Third English Civil War. The Covenanters, who had been allied to the Parliament in the First English Civil War, had now crowned Charles II as King. Despite being outnumbered, Cromwell led the Army to crushing victories over the Scots at the battles of Dunbar and Inverkeithing. Following the Scottish invasion of England led by Charles II, the New Model Army and local militia forces soundly defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester, the last pitched battle of the English Civil Wars.

Interregnum

Part of the New Model Army, under George Monck occupied Scotland during the Interregnum. They were kept busy throughout the 1650s by minor Royalist uprisings in the Scottish Highlands and by endemic lawlessness by bandits known as mosstroopers.

In England the New Model was involved in numerous skirmishes with a range of opponents, but they were little more than policing actions. The largest rebellion of the Protectorate took place when the Sealed Knot instigated an insurrection in 1655. The 1655 insurrection consisted of a series of coordinated uprisings, but only the Penruddock uprising ended in armed conflict, and that was put down by one company of cavalry.

The major foreign entanglement of this period was the Anglo-Spanish War. In 1654, the English Commonwealth declared war on Spain and further regiments of the New Model Army were sent to conquer the Spanish colony of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. They failed and sustained heavy casualties due to tropical disease, however, they did take the lightly defended island of Jamaica. The English troops performed better in the European theatre of the war in Flanders. During the Battle of the Dunes (1658), as part of Turenne's army, the red-coats of the New Model Army under the leadership of Sir William Lockhart, Cromwell's ambassador at Paris, astonished both the French and Spanish armies by the stubborn fierceness of their assaults, particularly with a successful assault up a strongly defended 50-meter-high (150 feet) sandhill. The English had learnt a lot about war since two rabbles had met at the battle of Edgehill in 1642. Incidentally, some of the Spanish defences on the Dunes were manned by English Royalists, including James Stuart, later to be crowned James II of England.

After the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Protectorate died a slow death, and the New Model army died with it. For a time in 1659 it looked as if the New Model army forces loyal to different Generals might wage war on each other. But in the end the New Model Army regiments which had been garrisoning Scotland under the command of General George Monck were able to march on London, overseeing the Crowning of Charles II, without significant opposition from the regiments under other Generals, in particular those of Charles Fleetwood and John Lambert. With the exception of Monck's own regiment which became the Coldstream Guards, the New Model Army disbanded after the Restoration of 1660.

Sources

  • Ohlmeyer, Jane, Kenyon John (ed.’s) The Civil Wars, Oxford 1998.
  • Ian Gentles, The New Model Army - In England, Ireland and Scotland 1645-53, Blackwell Press, Oxford 1994.
  • Colonel H.C.B. Rodgers, Battles and Generals of the Civil Wars, Seeley Service & Co. Ltd, 1968.

Notes

  1. ^ Full title: "Remonstrance of his Excellency Thomas Lord Fairfax, Lord Generall of the Parliaments Forces. And of the Generall Councell of Officers Held at St. Albans the 16. of November, 1648"

See also