The Real Victors of the Second English Civil War: How the New Model Army Devoured its Maker

The English Revolution from 1647-49 was a victory for the propertied leaders of the New Model Army more than anyone else. The First Civil War had ended mostly in a stalemate between King Charles II and Parliament, however, the second English Civil War ended in 1649 with Charles losing his head. The New Model Army that Parliament created in 1645 to provide a more organized, professional fighting force rather than relying on local militias ended up dictating the terms of the solution to Charles II and ruled at least behind the scenes during the Interregnum. This new army was unique in that its mostly came from members from the lower ranks of society rather than the gentry that had traditionally run professional armies. The infiltration of revolutionaries looking to overturn society provided challenges to men like Oliver Cromwell who sought to overturn monarchy while maintaining property rights. In the end, though, Cromwell and the gentry supporting the Roundheads turned the revolution into a religious revolution rather than a democratic revolution.
Dr. Brian Manning has argued that the role of the ‘people’ in London was a decisive factor in creating a royalist party willing to fight for the king.[1] This created a situation in which most of the common people partaking in the war supported monarchy over Parliamentary rule. Parliament’s creation of the New Model Army in 1645 changed this as more men form the lower echelons of society filled the ranks of the new army than usual. Parliament wanted a professionally-trained fighting force that could fight in all three kingdoms if necessary and would be sold to the cause and not a small portion of territory as were the militias. In order to remove the fighting force from politics, the body was careful not to include MPs in the army’s leadership. Because of this, most of the officers in the New Model Army were of a significant lower social status than their predecessors and displayed “a clear-cut difference in social status, military experience and professional ambition” compared to their counterparts in the king’s Oxford Army. Between 1645-47, there was a fifty-seven percent turnover among officers of the rank of captain or higher.[2] In fact, Army Captain George Wither asked why royalist gentry should not have to sacrifice their estates and two years later, many in the army were calling for an upper limit on property that anyone could hold.[3]
One of the results of the New Model Army was widespread ecumenicism. Cromwell wrote proudly, “Presbyterians, Independents, all have here the same spirit of faith and prayer, the same presence and answer; they agree here, have no names of difference. Pity it is it should be otherwise anywhere.”[4] The strong Calvinist beliefs of the English Church clergy who supported Parliament put them in a precarious position. They had to appeal to the unlearned and for the most part unreligious masses for support against the King. But, they did not hold most of these to be a part of the elect. In order to maintain control of this dangerous situation meant that the clergy had to remain in control lest these unregenerates upset the holy cause for which the war was being waged. The New Model Army significantly diminished the Calvinist political laity’s influence.[5] As a result, many army chaplains came from the bottom ranks of society which produced a strong reforming and anti-clerical element. Preacher and Parliamentarian William Dell preached a controversial sermon before Parliament in 1646 that upheld the controversial belief among the commoners that anyone who was indwelt with the Holy Spirit could preach the gospel. This radical doctrine challenged the very heart of the political church state that had long been upheld.[6]
A movement within the army known as the Agitators formed and reached the zenith of its power by the summer of 1647 during which they had their own yeoman cavalry regiments as well as their own printer, a Leveller by the name of John Harris. They managed to place political pressure on Cromwell and others by making petitions on how to deal with royalists. Among their demands was the abolition of monarchy.[7] Major White wrote to General Thomas Fairfax in the fall of 1647 after Fairfax had removed him for claiming that there was no power in England but the sword, “I believe the sword may justly remove the power from [the King] and settle it in its original fountain next under God – the people.” Fairfax had him removed for these sentiments.[8]
The Leveller movement was well-represented in the army and their ideas had been debated in the General Council of the Army which had been created in the spring of 1647 for the purpose of representing the rank and file as well as the officers. Cromwell and the other conservative officers soundly rejected these pleas and a small Leveller mutiny broke out in November of that year. Cromwell had no trouble putting this one down, but a more serious army revolt erupted in May 1649 as many in the army felt that reforms after the King’s execution had not gone far enough.[9] Many of the lower class that were demanding the right to vote held no property. Cromwell never forgot that he was a country gentleman and in the fall of 1647 in the Putney debates, he expressed the fear that a massive extension of the franchise would produce an attack on property rights.[10]
The Agreement of the People submitted at Putney Debates in October 1647 called for freedom of religion and conscience, indemnity for all those who participated in the revolution against the king, universal suffrage, and a Parliament that could not be dissolved by the king that would be elected for two years. This was not necessarily a Leveller manifesto as some have claimed, but demands for a remedy to what the commoners within the army saw as the problem of the Long Parliament sitting in perpetuity with no checks or balances.[11] Cromwell managed to stem this democratizing tide and gained control of the debates. On November 8, the Agitators returned to their regiments and three separate, more conservative assemblies took its place. The Radicals captured the King which seemed to give them more bargaining power, however, Charles soon escaped with what Christopher Hill suggests may have been help from the aristocratic element of the Army. The Levellers never attained as much influence in the Army as they enjoyed in 1647.[12]
            Oliver, Fairfax, and other Army and Parliamentary gentry saw more in the commoner challenge to authority than increased democracy and radical religious views. The economic situation in England contributed to the rise of democratic forces who sought to gain economically from victory in the Civil War. A horrible harvest in 1648 resulted in a fair amount of starvation, especially in London and in the North, many soldiers had to hire themselves out just to feed themselves. One pamphleteer noted in late 1648 that the “giddy multitude” would sooner support the King if he allowed them freedom of expression.[13] The intellectual leader of the communist Digger movement, Gerrard Winstanley supported communal cultivation of the land in England as the solution to the famine of 1648-49, claiming that if the unused land were fully cultivated by peasants it would make England the most prosperous nation in the world and would eliminate begging.[14] The New Model Army had become an entity that Parliament could not control and the prospect for a genuine, social revolution was very real if Leveller and Digger elements ever gained control of that army.
By 1648, the Moderates in Parliament (as opposed to the Independents) were prepared for any kind of settlement with the king in order to restore order and avoid military rule.[15] In order to remove any question on whose revolution it was, Colonel Thomas Pride, in what became known as Pride’s Purge, removed about 270 of the 470 or so members of the House of Commons on December 6, 1648, some willingly and others by force.[16] This ended the rule of the Long Parliament, paved the way for the execution of Charles, and guaranteed the Army leaders would control the post-monarchy government.
            For both Millenarians and democrats, the Army represented the will of the people of God in England. The difference was that the Millenarians put a lot more emphasis on God and were not interested in levelling anyone but Royalists. Leveller disappointment can be summed up in one petition to Parliament which stated, ‘The ground of the late war between the King and you [Parliament] was a contest whether he or you should exercise the supreme power over us.’[17] In May 1649, disgruntled veterans, unsatisfied with the democratic change since the execution of the king decided petitions were not enough. They waged an unsuccessful revolt in the town of Salisbury which Cromwell easily put down. However, by 1649, Cromwell and other Army leaders had successfully tarnished the name of ‘Leveller’ so that even democrats who supported the Salisbury revolt disavowed that levelling aristocratic estates was ever their goal. Parliamentarian soldier Roger Crab observed that after the war, even John the Baptist would have been despised had he taken on the name Leveller.[18]
The Second English Revolution finished monarchy for a decade, but it was not the Long Parliament that emerged the winner, but rather the instrument those MPs had created to help them win. In this case, the Army devoured its maker. But, despite the Long Parliament’s failure to maintain control, the lower classes of society failed to take advantage of their position in the Army as propertied elites such as Cromwell and Fairfax fended off challenges from those at the bottom who sought to challenge its supremacy. Single-chamber rule began on May 19, 1649 with England being declared ‘a Commonwealth and Free State.’ It had not come about from a military coup, but rather a military revolution.[19] In the end, it was the English army emerged the greatest political winner of both revolutions.






Bibliography
Haler, William. “The Word of God in the New Model Army.” Church History 19.1 (March          1950): 15-33.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English      Revolution. London: Penguin, 1972.

Kishlansky, Mark. “The Case of the Army Truly Stated: The Creation of the New Model Army” Past and Present 81 (November, 1978): 51-74.

Smith, Alan G. R. The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England 1529-1660.             London: and New York: Longman, 1984)

Gentles, Ian. “The New Model Officer Corps in 1647: A Collective Portrait” Social History         22.2 (May, 1997): 127-144.

Klishansky, Mark. “The Army and the Levellers: The Roads to Putney.” The Historical Journal 22.4 (December, 1979): 795-824.





[1] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, (London: Penguin, 1972), 58.
[2] The new officers in the New Model Army were of a significant lower social status than their predecessors and displayed “a clear-cut difference in social status, military experience and professional ambition” compared to their counterparts in the king’s Oxford Army.
[3] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, (London: Penguin, 1972), 58.
[4] Mark Kishlansky, “The Case of the Army Truly Stated: The Creation of the New Model Army,” Past and Present 81 (November, 1978), 56.
[5] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 160.
[6] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 120.
[7] Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, 63.
[8] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 66.
[9] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 66.
[10] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 67, 68.
[11] Smith, The Emergence of a Nation State, 318.
[12] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 67, 68.
[13] Smith, The Emergence of a Nation State, 319.
[14] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 160.
[15] Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, 63.
[16] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 71.
[17] Smith, The Emergence of a Nation State, 318.
[18] Mark Klishansky, “The Army and the Levellers: The Roads to Putney,” The Historical Journal 22.4 (December, 1979), 808-810.
[19] Smith, The World Turned Upside Down, 108.

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