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Towards Civile Warre I


In his public declarations Charles was guided by moderate, constitutional royalists, like Edward Hyde, later the Earl of Clarendon, who aimed to undercut the political and constitutional radicalism of Parliament’s position. An opponent of abuses of the prerogative, he supported episcopacy and the Church of England, but without an insistence on enforcing ceremonial issues that were ‘indifferent’. His trajectory from the ‘opposition’ of 1640 to royalism in 1642 is fairly clear, and similar to that of others. By the summer of 1641 Hyde had been working informally to achieve a full settlement in co-operation with Sir John Colepeper and Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, the latter two parliamentary critics of the Personal Rule who, as defenders of the rule of law and religious decency, drew back as the measures of reform pressed further. Together they co-ordinated court attempts to influence the Commons in late 1641 and were widely suspected of being the authors of Charles’s propaganda. On concrete policy, however, Charles seems to have been heavily reliant on the forthright advice of Henrietta Maria, who had consistently counselled him to settle matters by force, foreign force if necessary. Disappointed by the rather lukewarm reception in York, Charles decided on two inflammatory courses of action – to go to Ireland personally to settle the political conflict there, and to wrest control of the arsenal in Hull from Sir John Hotham. Both suggestions were provocative in a situation where the King was thought to be in the hands of an armed papistical conspiracy, and was known previously to have considered bringing Irish forces into England in order to exert a bit of discipline on his behalf.

The journey to Ireland did not materialize, but the attempt on Hull did, and it resulted in one of the most famous confrontations of the decade. The King’s second son, the Duke of York, and Charles’s brother-in-law, the Elector Palatine, had visited Hull on 22 April and been well entertained, but when the King made the journey there in person the following day the reception was much cooler. Four miles from town he sent ahead a letter saying that he had come to inspect the arsenal and that if his request was refused he would make his way into town ‘according to the laws of the land’. Forewarned Hotham decided to stick by his orders from Parliament. Aware that around forty-five strangers had arrived the previous day in the train of the princes, and that the King was accompanied by 300 horsemen, he shut the gates of the town and sent a message ahead to the King telling him ‘with all humble submissions’ that he would not break his trust to Parliament. In the rain, outside the walls, Charles’s supporters called on the garrison to kill Hotham and throw his body over the wall, but they did not; and Hotham refused Charles’s request to enter with just twenty of his men. Charles called on the heralds to proclaim Hotham a traitor, and rode away. He had given such ample notice of his arrival that it is hard to believe that he simply wanted to take control of the arsenal – arriving unannounced he would almost certainly have been able to do it. It seems likely that this was intended to be the symbolic moment that it subsequently became – demonstrating that Hotham was in rebellion against his king.

Hotham’s position had not been an enviable one. His defence against the charge of rebellion rested on a well-established (though now rather incredible) line of argument. In January, when Parliament had sent him to take control of Hull, the order had been not to deliver it without ‘the King’s authority signified unto him by the Lords and Commons now assembled in Parliament’. The King, and some Members of Parliament, could not believe that this stretched to refusing entry to the King himself, and he rather cleverly put Hotham in the position of arguing that it did. The justification was that the authority of the King was separate from his physical body, that his authority could be present where his private person was not. For example, when a judge gave a judgement in court, it was considered to be the King’s judgement, underpinned by royal authority, even if the King did not agree with it. The argument went, therefore, that Parliament could express itself with the King’s authority in ways with which the King as an individual disagreed. All very clever, but rather cleverly nailed by Charles in a subsequent proclamation: ‘these persons have gone about subtly to distinguish betwixt our person and our authority, as if, because our authority may be where our person is not, that therefore our person may be where our authority is not’. For him the case was clear – these people were in open rebellion against him.

Although he scored a fundamental political point, Charles had lost the arsenal. He had also by this time lost Portsmouth, the other great provincial arsenal, and the navy. After his initial departure from London in January it seems fairly clear that Charles was manoeuvring to take control of Portsmouth but it was for the time being under the command of George Goring on behalf of Parliament. Parliamentary attempts to influence the choice of naval commanders had been going on since 1640. In March 1642 the Lord High Admiral, Lord Northumberland, declared himself too unwell to go to sea and was persuaded by the House of Lords to nominate the Earl of Warwick in his stead. Warwick’s naval credentials were good, but his political and religious views persuaded the King to resist this nomination. He sought instead to secure the appointment of Sir John Pennington, a man who had commanded the fleet since 1639. Parliament launched an investigation of his conduct as a means of subverting this appointment, and persuaded Northumberland to confirm Warwick’s appointment on 4 April. The King, faced with a fait accompli, even failed to accept by way of consolation the appointment of Sir George Carteret, a man trusted by him, as vice-admiral. The military effects of this were soon to be felt, for Warwick, acting under Parliament’s orders, had sent warships to lie in the Humber before the King’s confrontation with Hotham. Their presence there had strengthened Hotham’s position, of course, and in May the fleet brought the arms to London. Having ignored direct orders from the King the commanders of the fleet were thanked for their fidelity by the House of Lords. The military benefits of parliamentary command of the navy were significant in the coming years.

In the aftermath of these events the constitutional struggle and attendant pamphlet war reached new heights. In this round of argument the intention seems even more clearly to have been to appeal for support rather than to achieve reconciliation. On 5 May, Parliament ordered that the Militia Ordinance be put into execution, provoking an immediate printed answer from the King and, on 27 May, a formal proclamation against the ordinance and those who obeyed it. On 6 May a parliamentary declaration had put the Great Council argument particularly pungently:

The High Court of Parliament is not only a court of judicature, enabled by the laws to adjudge and determine the rights and liberties of the kingdom, against such patents and grants of His Majesty as are prejudicial thereunto… but is likewise a council, to provide for the necessities, prevent the imminent dangers, and preserve the public peace and safety of the kingdom, and to declare the King’s pleasure in those things as are requisite thereunto; and what they do herein hath the stamp of the royal authority, although His Majesty, seduced by evil counsel, do in his own person oppose or interrupt the same; for the King’s supreme and royal pleasure is exercised and declared by this High Court of law and council, after a more eminent and obligatory manner than it can be by personal act or resolution of his own.

In January measures to take control of stores of arms and strongpoints and to disarm papists had been easily carried. This had been followed by the Militia Ordinance, eventually passed on 5 March. In early June, as musters began to take place under its authority and following the exchanges over the Nineteen Propositions, the King issued Commissions of Array so that in the late summer local communities were choosing not just whether to obey an ordinance for the militia, but whether to obey it in preference to a commission from the King. The Commissions of Array were also more warlike than simply implementing the muster, allowing individuals to raise troops under their command.

The Slide into War

A further key escalation came on 12 July. Parliament voted to raise an army, and appointed the Earl of Essex its general – this was also going beyond taking control of the musters. A failure as a courtier, Essex had significant military experience (like his father the Elizabethan traitor); in fact there was no aristocrat of his rank who could match it. He was an assiduous parliamentarian, often associated with anti-court positions, and a man with an acute sense of personal honour, who felt his political disappointments keenly. When Charles raised forces Essex’s military experience had initially suggested that he would be second-in-command, but he lost out to Henrietta Maria’s favourite, the Earl of Holland. By 1640 he was almost certainly in sympathetic contact with the Covenanters, and with John Pym was fully involved in the petition of the twelve peers calling for a parliament and presented to Charles on the day the armies clashed at Newburn. He was, in short, one of a number of leading aristocratic figures with a record of resistance to Charles’s misgovernment, and the one with the most impressive military experience.

It was at the point of Essex’s commission to lead the army that, Whitelocke felt, through paper combats Englishmen had brought themselves to a real clash of arms. By then there had been a tussle over the command of the navy, in March, with the outcome confirmed in a further argument in late June. In early August the Commons accepted a declaration of the case for arms which claimed that the King had started a war and declared that those who assisted him were guilty of treason. On 22 August the King raised his standard at Nottingham, summoning his loyal subjects to join him in fighting Essex’s rebellion, and declaring Essex a traitor.

Mobilization was leading to polarization: the dispute about military resources meant that confused political discussion had to be resolved in concrete, and simple, choices. In particular the controversy over the Militia Ordinance produced clear statements of constitutional theory, some of them quite novel and of lasting significance, probably for the very reason that it was the moment at which a painful choice became necessary. In the process, the local role of the militia and other governing institutions was transformed.

Parliament’s attempt to take control of the militia was significant to every town and village in England, and was a struggle for a much larger prize. There had been some jostling over the King’s attempt to raise a lifeguard in late May, and there was some flapping in Parliament about an assembly of Yorkshire gentry called by the King on Heyworth Moor on 3 June. Whatever the King intended there, he found the gentry sympathetic but not particularly warlike. Parliament responded with measures to prevent the movement of arms, to enforce the Militia Ordinance in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Cheshire, and to raise money by loans – the Propositions. To the King, not unreasonably, these things looked like aggressive moves and he responded, on 12 June, by beginning to issue Commissions of Array. The commissions, issued in Latin under the Great Seal, were directed to each county and major borough, naming those whom the King expected to raise troops on his behalf. The instrument rested on an unrepealed statute of Henry IV and had been obsolete since 1557. It was, therefore, something of a legal anachronism, and there was some suspicion that the use of Latin served to bedazzle the unlettered. Commissions were accompanied by a letter detailing how to proceed which was tailored to local circumstances, and a signed warrant for a muster, with the time and place left blank.

The existence of these rival authorities posed a potentially agonizing choice for those who received demands for compliance with both commands and raised questions about the legality of the use of local arms for these purposes. Thomas Knyvett described vividly how on receipt of his commission under the Militia Ordinance he had avoided argument and said that he needed time to think about it. Only a few hours later he received the declaration ‘point blank against it by the King’. His obedience to Parliament was limited from thenceforward by his concern to ensure that it ‘trenches not upon my obedience against the King’. In similar circumstances Henry Oxinden complained that he was caught between Scylla and Charybdis.

The launch of the Commission of Array was a prelude to open tussles over control of local militias. Muster under the authority of the Militia Ordinance had started in May, and gathered pace in June. By the middle of July fourteen English counties had put the ordinance into effect, although in Cheshire and Lancashire it had proved so divisive that the process was never completed. Although much depended on firm action by Lords Lieutenant and MPs, in the counties where it was most effective this seems to have reflected genuine support. Volunteers proved easy to find in many places and at musters in some places further petitioning campaigns were launched. In these cases a defensive muster, against a danger perceived to be very real, provides something of a contrast with the atmosphere at musters for the Bishops” Wars.

By mid-July, however, implementation of the Militia Ordinance represented not just obedience to a parliamentary order of dubious legality, but a failure to turn out for the King’s Commission of Array. From August another nine counties saw musters under the authority of the ordinance, the last two in September and October.13 Ten English counties saw attempts to implement the Commission of Array, too, but in Cheshire and Lancashire this was very divisive, and in a further twelve counties the attempt collapsed because strongpoints had already been taken, or because of local antipathy. In Leicestershire and Warwickshire, both counties that had seen the Militia Ordinance implemented early, there was a fierce contest later in the summer.

Alongside these rival mustering campaigns ran an intensified struggle over the control of other military resources. The King attempted decisive action on the navy in June. The Earl of Northumberland, who had named Warwick his deputy in defiance of the King’s preference for Sir John Pennington, was now dismissed. At the same time the King informed Warwick that his authority as deputy to Northumberland was therefore void, Pennington was appointed in his stead and letters were sent to all captains apprising them of this fact. In the ensuing show of strength in the fleet Pennington and the King lost: Warwick’s warrant was the one with practical effect.

On land such manoeuvres might make local musters redundant. In Kent, for example, promising signs of the formation of a royalist party were cut off by brisk action by Edwin Sandys. Dover Castle was seized on 21 August and this was followed by raids on stores of arms and potential royalist strongholds. Arms and munitions stored in the Deanery in Canterbury were captured and soldiers were said to have been involved in the breaking of images, or perhaps desecration. The effect was decisive: despite local divisions, Kent was secured for Parliament and remained so throughout the first civil war.

Slowly, but perceptibly, a civil war was breaking out and a crucial third element of this descent was the raising of field armies. In addition to the Commissions of Array, which gave power to muster the Trained Bands and to secure local strongpoints, Charles issued commissions to individuals to raise troops on his behalf. This was the seed of a field army with which to fight a war, rather than a defensive force designed to thwart the machinations of an opponent. Technically distinct, these diverse elements often intersected with the execution of the Commission of Array. The experiences of the Earl of Hertford illustrate this process. He was appointed by Charles to execute the Commission of Array in the western counties (Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall) and to secure Portsmouth for the King. He started his work in Wells, in the centre of Somerset. This was considered friendly territory for the King and a number of men (including Lunsford) were already at work on the King’s behalf. But on 1 August rival musters almost came to blows at Shepton Mallet, where 1,200 parliamentarians faced Ralph Hopton’s men, who had been sent by Hertford to prevent the muster. Three days later, at Marshall’s Elm in Somerset, eighty royalists under the command of Lunsford outfaced 600 parliamentarians, using only forty rounds of musket fire. They had lined up in a way that gave an exaggerated impression of their numbers. Despite this setback, however, the parliamentarian mobilization was to prove more successful. On 5 August 12,000 people assembled to resist Hertford, fearing that he was going to break the peace of the shire, and motivated by resentment of key gentry figures, vivid anti-Catholicism and Puritan enthusiasm. According to royalist estimates 10,000-12,000 men were mobilized in east Somerset by the late summer and Hertford decided to withdraw to Sherborne Castle. There, on 2 September, his forces were confronted by those of the Earl of Bedford – 7,000 men drawn from Devon and Dorset as well as from Somerset. Once again the royalists showed themselves more cunning, and the 600 defenders secured the withdrawal of 7,000 parliamentarians, to Yeovil, on 6 September.

But this was too late to help Portsmouth. The second most important provincial magazine, after Hull, Portsmouth was also in parliamentarian hands, but the commander, George Goring, was considering a change of sides by the summer of 1642. Hertford had intended to strengthen Goring’s hand, but the imminent arrival of parliamentary reinforcements from London under William Waller had forced Goring to declare his intentions early. By the time Bedford’s men had withdrawn from Sherborne, Portsmouth was securely in Waller’s hands.

Following the fall of Portsmouth, Hertford withdrew northwards, towards Bristol, before deciding to cross to Wales, via Minehead, in order to gather troops to join the main royalist field army. Ralph Hopton was sent westwards to raise forces in Cornwall, a mission which Bedford did little to prevent. Despite the later reputation for royalism, the balance of forces in Cornwall was quite even in the summer of 1642. Only 180 men had attended musters at Bodmin, calling on the authority of the Commission of Array, but now the value of a friendly reception at the assizes became clear. Hopton submitted to a trial at Truro assizes for bringing armed men into the county, in what turned out to be a successful political manoeuvre. Not only did the Grand Jury acquit him, but it thanked him for coming to their aid and by early October he had secured the loyalty of the Cornish Trained Bands. He also raised a force of volunteers willing to leave the county, and managed to lay siege (albeit unsuccessfully) to Portsmouth.

These tussles for control of local military resources – magazines, the loyalty of the Trained Bands and strongpoints like Sherborne Castle – were common across England in the summer of 1642. Inevitably, given that in some localities activists were mobilizing for both sides, tensions increased. In Manchester, on 15 July, an affray had broken our when Lord Strange, the Earl of Derby, was being feasted by the chief townsmen. Tensions were clearly running high, since on his way into town Strange had apparently instructed those with him ‘not to shoot any pistol or offer any violence, nor to light off their horses while they stayed in the town’. While he was dining one of his servants came in to say that a drum was being beaten and soldiers were being assembled: apparently three deputy lieutenants had called out the militia in protest.

Towards Civile Warre II


In Yorkshire a neutrality pact was the product of deep divisions rather than of local unity. Early in October prominent Yorkshire gentlemen concluded a treaty of neutrality. Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax, who had raised forces on behalf of Parliament, and the Earl of Cumberland, the King’s commander in Yorkshire, were both signatories. Ferdinando’s father had fought in the continental wars and was a committed supporter of the military defence of international Protestantism. He had been disappointed in Ferdinando’s martial qualities after he sent him to the Netherlands in the 1630s, but Ferdinando was to prove a successful parliamentary general. His son, Sir Thomas, had been schooled in the virtues of armed Protestantism by his grandfather more than by Ferdinando, and was to rise to the very top of the parliamentarian armies in 1645. The desire to exclude the war from Yorkshire was thought by some to be improper. Fairfax had insisted that it be approved by Parliament and Sir John Hotham, an old rival of Fairfax, denounced it in print as an affront to the judgement of Parliament. His son went further, taking armed men to the walls of royalist-held York, and capturing the Archbishop’s seat at Cawood Castle on 4 October. The following spring both Hothams deserted the parliamentary cause, and their attitude to this neutrality deal may have reflected hostility to Fairfax as much as it did commitment to parliamentary authority. It also reflected how exposed the Hothams would have been by a neutrality pact – they had ventured far more than the Fairfax family at this point, not least in refusing the King entry to Hull.

Whatever the local politics of neutrality in Yorkshire, it did not work. Parliament condemned the treaty, and a military contest for control of the county ensued. The Earl of Newcastle, a regional magnate of considerable influence, was able to bring men south, while the Fairfaxes were able to draw on considerable support in the clothing towns of the West Riding. Hull, perhaps the best-fortified town in England, was securely in parliamentary hands. The East Riding was in the control of the Hothams, on behalf of Parliament, but their relationship with the Fairfaxes was not easy. It seems equally true that neutrality reflected deep divisions in Lancashire and Cornwall.

The varieties of neutralism – genuine refusal to join either side, or more prudential calculations about how to limit the impending war – were also visible in the towns. Towns were very obvious military targets, and faced the possibilities of long-term garrisoning and sieges. Although some towns were well-fortified most were not, and there was a clear incentive to submit to the nearest strong military force. Bristol, for example, seems to have been largely non-aligned prior to 1642, pursuing primarily economic grievances and allowing, rather than seeking, parliamentary occupation. Worcester’s royalism was similarly passive, York was not clearly committed and even Oxford, soon to become the royalist capital, owed that position to the University more than to the citizens. Nonetheless, it does seem that on balance Parliament enjoyed more support from the towns: in October 1642 all the major towns were in parliamentary hands with the exception of Chester, Shrewsbury and Newcastle. In Coventry an attempted royalist occupation led by the King himself was defeated by citizens in August, an event crucial to the course of the war in Warwickshire. This citizen activism tipped the balance between rival groups in the governing elite, a balance which had until then pointed towards neutralism.

One particular special case was the English colonies abroad. Their legal existence depended on the prerogative and, unlike most other areas of English jurisdiction, there was a close relationship between their legal powers and their actual existence: robbed of the protection of a charter they might disintegrate, or disappear altogether. All strands of opinion were represented, but perhaps a poll of settlers in the New World might have revealed a stronger backing for further reformation than was evident in the Old World. Nonetheless, as corporate entities the colonies were not free to take sides. Thus, although New Englanders fought as individuals, either in the armies or in the pamphlet exchanges, their colonial governments tried to remain uncommitted as corporate entities. Virginia, under the governorship of Sir William Berkeley, kept the royalism of its nascent elite undeclared until after the regicide in 1649. Even after that, a formula was found for an accommodation with the King’s killers.

By the autumn, in England, the military geography was fairly clear. Waller had taken Portsmouth on 7 September and the south of England had been secured for Parliament, with the exception of Sherborne Castle, which was in the hands of Hertford. East Anglia, subsequently notoriously parliamentarian, in fact had a more complex history in 1642. A group of gentry tried to get the support of the Grand Jury at the Suffolk assizes for a neutralist petition and both the Commission of Array and Militia Ordinance were left unenforced for much of the summer. There it may have been fear of social disorder which created this attitude among the gentry, and once parliamentarians had taken the initiative support for them posed less of a threat to local social order than contesting control. Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Norfolk also saw attempts to prevent political dislocation. The royalists had control of Cornwall, Wales and the north. Lancashire was disputed territory, thanks to the resistance to the royalists of districts around Manchester. Yorkshire was in parliamentary hands but the Earl of Newcastle had secure control further north. Parliament had Portsmouth, Hull, London, Bristol and many more minor, and less defensible, towns.

Military and political control of a territory might conceal divisions in local opinion, and such control was rarely treated as unquestioned by either side. The Marches of Wales became renowned as heartlands of royalism, but there is little sign of royalism prior to the mobilizations of 1642, except perhaps in Herefordshire – it seems to have been a product of mobilization rather than a cause of it. In Cornwall and Kent, as we have seen, it was decisive action by Hopton and Sandys not uniform local support that underpinned military command. Even in London there were divisions of opinion. Given these histories, it is no surprise that maintaining control over territory was an important part of the military history of the war, as much so as the grand marches which form the meat of most military accounts of the war.

Finally, in the late summer, the field armies gathered. When Charles raised the royal standard on Castle Hill in Nottingham on 22 August, summoning his loyal subjects to his side, few people came. The small crowd flung their caps loyally in the air and cheered ‘God save King Charles and hang up the Roundheads’, but the standard blew down in the night and, according to Hyde, ‘a general sadness covered the whole town’. It was the culmination of a disappointing peregrination of the Midlands. At Lincoln, Charles had been met by 30,000 people anxious to get a glimpse of their king and to listen to the loyal addresses, but there were few troops from Lincolnshire to see the standard on 22 August. The gentry of Yorkshire and the burgesses of Coventry seem to have been equally lacking in fighting spirit. At Nottingham Charles may have had 2,000 horse, but he had very few foot and by early September he may have had only a quarter as many troops as Parliament had managed to move to Northampton.

Disappointed, the King set off for Shrewsbury, disarming the Trained Bands as he went. He had already taken the weapons of the Lincolnshire Trained Bands on 16 August. Here too war was raising the stakes in mendacity, since he had promised that he was fighting to defend property. Equally, or even more alarmingly, local communities were being stripped of their defensive arms after fifteen months of very public anxiety about popish plots. West of the Pennines, however, his fortunes improved and an army gathered. The Earl of Derby successfully recruited in south Lancashire, perhaps coercively. Troops began to arrive from north Wales and the Marches in the last week of September and into mid-October. On 23 September he was given a heartwarming welcome at Chester and, if Strange’s recruiting methods were coercive, it seems that Sir Edward Stradling and Thomas Salusbury were able to draw on deep wells of support in Wales. The troops were also paid, of course, and this may have helped – at Myddle Hill, in Shropshire, Sir Paul Harris was offering a very generous 4s 4d per week, and he found twenty volunteers at that price. In Monmouthshire it was the prestige and power of the Earl of Worcester that delivered troops to the King. Despite these more hopeful signs Charles still felt he needed to relax the policy on Catholics. He had officially declared that ‘No papist of what degree or quality so ever shall be admitted to serve in our army’, but in a letter of 19 September to the Earl of Newcastle he took a more pragmatic line:

this rebellion is grown to such a height that I must not look of what opinion men are who at this time are willing and able to serve me. Therefore I do not only permit but command you to make use of all my loving subjects” services, without examining their consciences – more than their loyalty to us – as you shall find most to conduce to the upholding of my just legal power.

Newcastle’s army was renowned as papistical through the rest of the war.

Parliament’s success was much more immediate. In May the earls of Essex, Holland and Northumberland had attended a muster of 8-10,000 men in London. Subsequent attempts to enforce the Militia Ordinance were largely successful, particularly in the south-east. A committee for printing had been re-established in June 1642 which seems to have been energetic in publicizing the cause – there were 9,000 copies of a declaration of 4 July against the Commission of Array for example. The House of Commons itself failed the test of raising money on the Propositions, but it was successful in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, funding a productive drive to recruit volunteers in London and the south-east. On 8 August six bands of foot (4,800 men) set out for Warwick, accompanied by eleven bands of horse. When the Earl of Essex left London to join the army on 9 September he was watched by the full City militia, in arms. When he got to Northampton he was at the head of 20,000 men. This might have threatened a quick resolution given the unimpressive response to royalist recruiting at that stage. Sir Jacob Astley, the King’s infantry commander, was said to have been worried that the King was so poorly supported that he might be ‘taken out of his bed if the rebels should make a brisk attempt to that purpose’.

It is difficult not to think that Charles had the worst of all this. Petitions for accommodation between King and Parliament, and of loyalty to bishops, had come in from all around the country, but the King struggled to find men willing to fight for him in the Midlands. West of the Pennines he had more success, although it is difficult to see this as building on a long-term commitment to the cause, at least in most of the Marches. Elsewhere royalists manoeuvred, with mixed success, for local control. The success of individuals established the roots of regional royalist armies in the north and west but the King’s own field army was slow to build in the Midland counties. It created a federation of regiments under particular commanders as much as an integrated army. A map of military outcomes – strongpoints and towns held, musters achieved, armies assembled – is probably not a map of enthusiastic royalism. For both sides mobilization through print, preaching and the use of local institutions as a platform for partisan politics had been crucial. There were more musters by the authority of the ordinance than the Commission of Array, and petitions in support of Parliament were offset more by petitions for accommodation than by positive support for the King against Parliament. There were plenty of signs of reluctance to go to war, but far fewer than many people thought Parliament should concede.

The Assassins, AD 1090–1256


14th-century painting of the assassination of Nizam al-Mulk by an assassin.


View of Alamut besieged. The last Grand Master of the Assassins at Alamut Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (1255–1256) was executed by Hulagu Khan after a devastating siege. The Assassins were eradicated by the Mongol Empire during the well-documented invasion of Khwarizm. They probably dispatched their assassins to kill Möngke Khan. Thus, a decree was handed over to the Mongol commander Kitbuqa who began to assault several Hashashin fortresses in 1253 before Hulagu’s advance in 1256. The Mongols besieged Alamut on December 15, 1256. The Assassins recaptured and held Alamut for a few months in 1275, but they were crushed and their political power was lost forever. “An Organised Terrorist Group meets an Organised Terrorist Army!” — A disciplina in praesenti!

The most successful premodern group to systematically employ terror was found, appropriately enough considering that region’s centrality to modern terrorism, in the Middle East. They were popularly known as the Assassins. More properly they were the Nizari Ismailis, a Shiite sect of the eleventh century AD that was persecuted by the rest of the Muslim world. To carve out space to practice and proselytize their religion, their first great leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, took to assassinating his foes.

A “revolutionary of genius,” he established in AD 1090 his stronghold in a fortress known as Alamut in the Elburz Mountains of northern Persia. From this remote location, reachable only by a single narrow track, he dispatched his da’is (missionaries) to win converts to the Ismaili cause. But Hasan-i Sabbah was not satisfied using nonviolent means to extend his sect. He also dispatched fedayeen (self-sacrificers) armed with daggers to slay Muslim notables—clerics, judges, teachers, administrators, soldiers—who opposed his heresies. In their eagerness to attain a spot in paradise, the fedayeen usually made little attempt to escape, thus becoming in effect suicide knifers. The term “assassin” was a corruption of “hashish-eater”—a label that was applied to the fedayeen by their enemies who assumed (erroneously) that only powerful drugs could induce these men to sacrifice their own lives in order to eliminate their enemies. In fact the fedayeen seem to have been motivated by nothing more than religious zeal; taking intoxicants would have made it hard for them to be as patient and clever as they were in carrying out plots that often required considerable dissimulation and playacting.

During the course of Hasan-i Sabbah’s thirty-year reign, his fedayeen claimed only fifty victims, all men of some standing. But, while minuscule by the scale of most “reigns of terror,” whether of the Mongols or of the French Revolution, this was sufficient to terrorize his enemies. From then on, according to an Arab chronicler, “No commander or officer dared to leave his house unprotected; they wore armor under clothes.”

During all the years that Hasan-i Sabbah directed this campaign of terror he never set foot outside his Alamut stronghold, in fact rarely even left his room. He was, like many subsequent terrorist leaders, an intellectual, and he spent countless hours deep in study in his impressive library. He was a particularly devoted student of geometry, astronomy, and arithmetic. A Byzantine envoy who met him came away impressed: “His natural dignity, his distinguished manners, his smile, which is always courteous and pleasant but never familiar or casual, the grace of his attitudes, the striking firmness of his movements, all combine to produce an undeniable superiority.”

But this civilized exterior concealed a deep strain of religious fanaticism. Early on he sent his wife and daughters away so as not to distract him; he spent the rest of his life apart from them. When he caught one of his sons drinking wine, he ordered his execution. Another son he executed for killing a man without permission, only to later discover that the charge was false. Hasan-i Sabbah’s willingness to sacrifice his own children may have cast his humanity into doubt, but it helped to inspire his followers. Making use of such dedication, he succeeded in creating a state within a state—a series of Ismaili bastions scattered around the Persian countryside that the ruling Turkish Seljuks were too weak to wipe out.

Hasan-i Sabbah died, apparently of natural causes, in 1124. His successors were not his equals. The pace of assassinations slackened as the Ismaili movement in Persia lost energy and became consumed by internal quarrels. In time the movement’s western outpost in Syria would become more dynamic. Here, too, the Ismailis managed to establish a network of fortresses defended by suicide knifers. The Syrian Assassins were led initially by Rashid al-Din Sinan, a native of what is today Iraq who became known to the Crusaders as “the Old Man of the Mountain.” Sinan tried unsuccessfully to kill Saladin, the great Muslim hero who would lead an army of holy warriors to recapture Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. He had more success in dispatching Conrad of Montferrat, king of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

In 1192, while in Tyre, Conrad was approached by two young Christian monks he had befriended over the past six months. They spoke his Frankish language perfectly and were obviously men of learning. After a minute of polite conversation, they produced daggers from their robes and “fell upon him like two mangy wolves,” in the words of an Arab chronicle. The wounded king stumbled into a church, where he was finished off by one of the assassins. Before his own death, the killer confessed that he had been sent by Sinan. The cause of this assassination remains obscure. But its impact on European minds was spectacular. A German priest was to write to a French king contemplating a further Crusade that the Assassins “are to be cursed and fled. They sell themselves, are thirsty for human blood, kill the innocent for a price, and care nothing for either life or salvation.”

In the thirteenth century the Assassins finally confronted enemies who could not be deterred by the threat of assassination. Their Persian strongholds were overrun by the Mongols, who massacred large numbers of Ismailis along with everyone else. The Syrian redoubts fell at roughly the same time to the slave soldiers known as Mamluks, who would establish a dynasty ruling Egypt and Syria. Millions of Ismailis still exist today led by the Aga Khan, but they have not been a political force to be reckoned with since the calamitous events of the thirteenth century. Nor have they undertaken acts of terrorism since then.

Their reign of terror, which lasted two centuries, was enough to establish their reputation as one of the most successful terrorist groups in history. Thanks largely to the dark genius of Hasan-i Sabbah, they developed a highly effective organization, combining a covert hierarchy with a compelling ideology and rigorous methods of indoctrination that inspired his followers to sacrifice their lives for the cause. Those remain the essential ingredients for terrorist success down to the present day. But the Assassins also differed in crucial respects from most of their successors. As Bernard Lewis notes, “Unlike their modern equivalents, [the Assassins] attacked only the great and the powerful, and never harmed ordinary people going about the avocations.”





Map of the Akkadian Empire (brown) and the directions in which military campaigns were conducted (yellow arrows).

Mesopotamia, 2334–2005 BC

The very first empire on record and, not coincidentally, the first standing army were built by Sargon, an early-day Saddam Hussein whose capital was Akkad, a city believed to have been located near modern-day Baghdad. According to legend, his was an early rags-to-riches tale. He was said to have begun life like Moses, an orphan who was sent floating in a wicker basket on the river and was found by a farmer. He rose from being cupbearer to the king of the city-state of Kish to being king of all he surveyed. Between 2334 and 2279 BC, he subdued what is now southern Iraq along with western Iran, northern Syria, and southern Turkey. Victorious in thirty-four battles, he called himself “king of the world.”

The secret of Akkad’s military success is unclear, but it may have been its possession of a powerful composite bow tipped with bronze arrowheads, whose impact has been called “as revolutionary, in its day . . . as the discovery of gunpowder thousands of years later.” Other weapons included the lance, spear, javelin, mace, and battle-ax. Just as important was the maintenance of an extensive bureaucracy to fund and sustain Akkad’s army, providing soldiers with such essentials as “bread and beer.”

This military machine was kept fully employed not only in seizing new domains but also in holding on to those already conquered. Defeated cities constantly rose up to resist imperial control. The Akkadians responded with what a modern scholar describes as “mass slaughter, enslavement, and deportation of defeated enemies, and the total annihilation of their cities.” Calling himself a “raging lion,” Sargon was faithful to the injunction of one of his gods, Enlil, who instructed him to show “mercy to no one.” One city after another was left, in the words of the ancient tablets, a “ruin heap.”

Sargon did not entirely neglect the need to win over his subjects, especially the Sumerians, who lived in Mesopotamia. He spread the Akkadian language and offered patronage to the arts. His daughter, Enheduanna, a princess, poet, and priestess who is often considered the world’s first author, wrote cuneiform verse celebrating the unity of Sumerian and Akkadian gods. This was intended to buttress Sargon’s legitimacy as a Semite to rule over Sumerians.

But after Sargon’s death, revolts rippled across the empire, and they were only temporarily suppressed by Sargon’s son Rimush, who “annihilated” rebellious cities. Rimush’s older brother, Manishtushu, who may have usurped his throne and murdered him, found that “all the lands . . . which my father Sargon left had in enmity revolted against me.”

Weakened by incessant uprisings, Akkad was finally brought down around 2190 BC by neighboring mountain peoples, including the Hurrians, Lullubi, Elamites, and Amorites. The most devastating were the Gutians from the Zagros Mountains of southwestern Iran, who have been described as “fierce and lawless barbarians.” Mesopotamian inscriptions described the highlanders, who may be said to have been the first successful guerrillas on record, in terms that would be instantly familiar to Europeans or Chinese of a later age as “the fanged serpent of the mountain, who acted with violence against the gods . . . who took away the wife from the one who had a wife, who took away the child from the one who had a child, who put wickedness and evil in the land of Sumer.” Such has ever been the reaction of settled farmers ravaged by rootless “barbarians.”

After the fall of Akkad, nomads who moved on foot, not on horseback (domestication of horses and camels was just beginning), swarmed all over Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine for two hundred years. Brigands and pirates came in their wake, there being no imperial authority to keep the peace. The city dwellers of Sumeria looked with fear and loathing upon these outsiders—so capable militarily, so uncouth culturally. They were described as a “ravaging people, with the instincts of a beast, like wolves,” and they were denigrated as “men who ate not fish, men who ate not onions,” men who “stunk of camelthorn and urine.” (Camelthorn is a noxious weed native to Asia.)

In 2059 BC, the empire of Ur in southern Iraq erected a “Wall Facing the Highland” to keep nomads out of central Mesopotamia. This construction project wound up running over time and over budget because its builders were constantly harassed by Amorite nomads (“tent dwellers . . . [who] from ancient times have known no cities”), and in the end it could not provide lasting security any more than could the Great Wall of China or the Morice Line erected by the French in Algeria in the 1950s. In 2005 BC the Elamites, “the enemy from the highlands,” sacked Ur, turning the great city into a “ruined mound.” They left “corpses floating in the Euphrates” and reduced the survivors to refugees who, according to Mesopotamian tablets, were “like stampeding goats, chased by dogs.

Most ancient empires responded to the threat of guerrilla warfare, whether waged by nomads from the outside or rebels from the inside, with the same strategy. It can be boiled down to one simple word: terror. Ancient monarchs sought to inflict as much suffering as possible to put down and deter armed challenges. Since, with a few exceptions such as Athens and the Roman Republic, ancient polities were monarchies or warrior states, rather than constitutional republics, they seldom felt bound by any moral scruples or by any need to appease public opinion—neither “public opinion” nor “human rights” being concepts that they would have understood. (The former phrase was not coined until the eighteenth century, the latter not until the twentieth, although the ideas they describe have been traced back to ancient Greece.)

The Assyrians, who starting in 1100 BC conquered a domain stretching a thousand miles from Persia to Egypt, were particularly grisly in their infliction of terror. King Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 BC) had inscribed on his royal residence an account of what he did after recapturing the rebellious city of Suru:

I built a pillar over against [the] city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar; many within the border of my own land I flayed, and I spread their skins upon the walls; and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers, who had rebelled.

The Mongols would later become famous for equally grotesque displays designed to frighten adversaries into acquiescence. But even at a time when there were no human-rights lobbies and no free press, this strategy was far from invariably successful. Often it backfired by simply creating more enemies. Wracked by civil war, Assyria was helpless in the end to suppress a revolt by the Babylonians, inhabitants of a city previously sacked by the Assyrians, and the Medes, a tribe dwelling in modern-day Iran. They pooled their resources to fight their mutual oppressors. In 612 BC they managed to conquer the imperial capital and, as Herodotus put it, “to shake off the yoke of servitude, and to become a free people.”

Naval Rhodes


The island of Rhodes had been settled by Dorian Greeks some time prior to the eighth century BC. It was engulfed by the Persian Empire in the mid-sixth century BC and, as a tributary maritime province, contributed to the contingent of 100 Ionian Greek warships that formed part of the Persian fleet accompanying their invasion of Greece, that was defeated by the Greeks at the battle of Salamis in 480 BC.2 With the Persian defeat at Plataea in 479 BC, the remnant of their fleet retired to Samos, where the Greek fleet caught up with them. The Ionians revolted and the Persians were driven out. Rhodes joined the Athenian-led Delian League, contributing a nominal two penteconters to the Athenian fleet for its ill-fated expedition against Syracuse in 415 BC. Rhodes seceded from the League in 411 BC, setting up a republic and unifying the island by 407 BC. It next sided with the Peloponnesians and contributed ships and men to their fleet. This led to the use by the Spartan fleet of Rhodes’ harbours between 398 and 396 BC, amounting to a virtual occupation and led to Rhodes defecting from Spartan hegemony, backed by a Persian fleet. All of this persuaded the island that it needed to be in a league with the other Aegean island and have a navy of its own. By 390 BC, it had a fleet of at least sixteen warships, enough to thwart an eight-ship Spartan attempt against them.

Alliance with Athens brought security but once again, had soured by 357 BC to the extent that an Athenian fleet of sixty ships was twice defeated by a Rhodian and allied fleet, before peace in 355 BC brought formal recognition of Rhodes’ independence. Unfortunately it then fell under Carian domination and had to send warships to aid Byzantium against Macedon in 340 BC. With Alexander the Great’s march into Asia, Persian hegemony was ended and in early 332 BC, Rhodes sent ten warships to offer submission to Alexander at Tyre. Rhodes received a Macedonian garrison but with the death of Alexander in 332 BC, it was ejected and true independence established. With the waning of Athenian power and influence, Rhodes was excellently placed to take advantage and become the leading trading centre of the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. Its prominence as a seafaring nation had already been established as early as about 500 BC, when it promulgated the first law for maritime trade, which became widely accepted internationally and some principals of which have continued in use up to the present. The state expanded to include some nearby islands and a large tract of the adjacent mainland. As a trading nation with a large and growing merchant fleet, that trade had to be protected, especially against the ever-present threat of piracy, Rhodes being near to Crete and coasts on the mainland notorious for such activities, the establishment of a navy was a necessity.

Rhodian concern and attention to the maintenance and upkeep of their navy in first class condition was paramount, the success of the state depending upon it. The crews were recruited from the citizen body (the army depended on mercenaries to a large extent). The navy was of between thirty and forty warships, with a basic tactical unit of three ships, commanded by an archon. In wartime the fleet was commanded by a navarch. The fleet had a dedicated military harbour with shipbuilding yards, dockyard and facilities adjacent to Rhodes city. What they may have lacked in numbers, the Rhodian navy more than made up for in quality, as a review of its actions testifies.

The Rhodians eschewed the large Hellenistic ships and concentrated on smaller types, but which were modern, well maintained and manned by the finest, well trained crews; their skill at swift manoeuvre and ramming became famous. Lacking the numbers to be able to engage in the grappling and boarding tactics of other powers, the Rhodians relied on their superior seamanship and ship handling. They operated quadriremes as their largest type (although quinqueremes would be added later) augmented by triremes and a type of which they were particularly fond, the trihemiolia. The exact nature of this type is not clear but, meaning ‘three and a half’ perhaps it was a form of trireme with half of the thranite oars double-banked; perhaps a bireme with an added half reme at the thalamite level (would this however be a ‘two and a half’?). It has been interpreted as a trireme with the two topmost remes rowing through an oarbox and a half reme at the lowest, thalamite lavel, for a total of 120 oars, each single-manned. However, this would appear to produce an under-powered trireme with no obvious advantage. Whatever the form, the type was intended as a ramming vehicle, beamier and better protected than the trireme.

Enriched by its trade and industry, which boomed after Alexander’s demise and aided by their navy’s continuous and strenuous action in suppressing piracy, Rhodes built up the largest merchant fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. In 306 BC, the island concluded a treaty of friendship with Rome.10 This success made Rhodes a tempting target and Antigonus I (306–301 BC) who ruled much of Alexander’s Asian conquests and who sought maritime supremacy, sent his son, Demetrius Poliorcetes (‘the besieger’, 306–283 BC) to lay siege to the city. Faced by a fleet of 200 warships, joined by many pirate ships, the Rhodian fleet withdrew into its harbours but some ships slipped out to interdict Demetrius’ supply ships and take prizes.

Demetrius mounted an attack from the sea with ships roped together to provide armoured platforms for assault troops and other with four storey towers and artillery. The first assault at night secured part of the main harbour mole. The next day ships mounting catapults got into the harbour and did great damage; they were withdrawn at night, when the Rhodians came out in boats and set fire to most of them. Further attacks from seaward were eventually beaten off. In one such, fire ships were sent into the harbour; three Rhodian ships sallied out and broke through Demetrius’ boom and sank two of his artillery vessels. Unfortunately they ventured too far and were counterattacked and rammed, one being captured by the enemy. In bad weather, an attack overran the enemy troops on the mole. Reinforcements were received from Ptolemy of Egypt and the Rhodians sent three squadrons of three ships to attack Demetrius’ supply lines, which they did with great success, bringing captured supplies into the city. Demetrius’ fleet sailed as a diversion for massive land attacks, only to be beaten off with great difficulty and the help of more reinforcements from Ptolemy. Finally, in 304 BC, the siege was called off.

The third century BC, witnessed a rise in Rhodes’ prestige and power, with it intervening in Hellenistic affairs on occasion to protect or enhance its trade interests. Rhodes’ navy was kept in first class order and pursued a continuous campaign against pirates and freebooters; they were acknowledged as ‘the leaders in maritime affairs. In 228 BC, the island suffered a great earthquake and as part of the rebuilding, funds were applied to build ten quinqueremes.



Recent developments in the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) have continued to be headlined by steady progress with its aircraft carrier programme. The former Russian Project 1143.5/6 Varyag was commissioned as Liaoning on 25 September 2012 at a ceremony at the Dalian shipyard which had carried out its refurbishment, the importance of the event being marked by the presence of outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao. The ship subsequently carried out initial take-off and landing exercises during November before deploying to the PLAN’s new North Sea Fleet base at Dazhu Shan near Qingdao in February 2013. Flight operations were conducted by Shenyang J-15 jet fighters which have been reported as derivatives of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-33, an assertion criticised as being ‘… groundless and sour’ by China’s Xinhua news agency. Their successful carrier debut was marred by the demise of the head of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, Luo Yuang, who died from a heart attack after watching the exercises. China has confirmed that it plans the domestic construction of further ships to supplement Liaoning but has denied reports that further carriers are already being assembled.

Whilst China’s carrier programme has attracted most attention, it is the more rapid modernisation of the rest of the PLAN’s fleet that has most immediate relevance. Previous reliance on largely obsolescent designs is increasingly been overcome by the introduction of new construction. Major developments with respect to key ship categories are highlighted below:


Type 056 corvette

Major Surface Combatants: Recent surface-ship construction has been dominated by the mass production of the new Type 056 ‘Jiangdao’ littoral warfare corvettes. The first of these was delivered in February 2013 before being commissioned as Bengbu on 12 March. Displacing a little under 1,500 tons at full load, she has a balanced armament that includes a 76mm gun, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, anti-submarine torpedo tubes and close-in-weapons systems, as well as a flight deck to support helicopter or UAV operations. Falling between the Type 022 ‘Houbei’ class catamarans and Type 054A ‘Jiangkai II’ frigates in size and capability, the new ships are intended as replacements for the older Type 053 ‘Jianghu’ frigates and Type 037 ’Hainan’ patrol vessels and have drawn comparisons with the US Navy’s larger littoral combat ships. By mid-2013 as many as six of the class had been delivered from four different shipyards. Additionally, more than ten further vessels were under construction. Commentators have suggested that the corvettes will be used for offshore patrols in the disputed waters of the South and East China Seas, releasing the PLAN’s larger ships for true ‘blue water’ operations.

The Type 054A ‘Jiangkai II’ frigates remain in series production at both the Hudong-Zhonghua and Huangpu shipyards as the PLAN’s principal ‘blue water’ surface escort. Around fifteen of the class have now been delivered and a final total of at least twenty is expected. They increasingly appear to be the vessel of choice for China’s overseas deployments, possibly because of the range and economy offered by their CODAD propulsion. The Black Sea and Malta are just some of the new shores visited by the class over the past year.


‘High-end’ production is focused on the Type 052C ‘Luyang II’ destroyer and the improved Type 052D variant. Production of the second, four-ship batch of Type 052Cs is now drawing to a close and all should be in service by early 2014. The follow-on Type 052D is estimated to be slightly larger than its predecessor with a length of 160m (155m) and beam of 18m (17m) but features new, flatter phased array panels, a revised vertical launch system and larger gun. Two of the new ships had been launched by the end of 2012 and additional units are variously reported under construction or planned.


The uppermost picture is a conceptual illustration of the hydrodynamic third-generation Type 095 nuclear attack submarine. The bottom two pictures depict the next-generation Type 096 ballistic missile submarine (e.g. the successor to the Type 094 Jin-class SSBN).

Submarines: News flow on the PLAN’s submarine force has continued to remain limited. The US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military provides little information not already in the public domain on the nuclear-powered attack (Type 093 ‘Shang’) and strategic (Type 094 ‘Jin’) submarines, although it does support previous contentions that there may be a transition to new Type 095 and Type 096 designs. There have certainly been few reports of new construction, suggesting previous rumours of difficulties with existing designs, both conventional and nuclear-powered, may have some foundation. Recent suggestions that China may be negotiating the acquisition of Russian ‘Lada’ type AIP-equipped submarines lend credence to this thesis with respect to the current generation of diesel-electric boats, as a major reason for the purchase would be the access to new technology it would provide. It is also worth noting that the PLAN’s flotillas of conventional submarines have already seen significant upgrades over the past decade, perhaps allowing other construction to be prioritised. It is also apparent that China is paying particular attention to the logistic, maintenance and training facilities required to support effective ‘blue water’ submarine operations, attempting to learn lessons from Russian Cold War failures in this regard.

Other Warships: Modernisation of China’s front-line surface forces is being balanced by further investment in secondary vessels. The increasing tempo of international deployments has put particular pressure on the small fleet of replenishment vessels and two additional Type 903 auxiliary supply vessels were close to completion by mid-year to supplement the earlier pair. The pace of development of indigenous amphibious vessels has been less marked, with construction of the Type 071 ‘Yuzhao’ amphibious transport docks seemingly suspended after completion of the third ship in September 2012. This might possibly indicate a transition to fabrication of a long-rumoured amphibious assault ship class. In the interim, amphibious capabilities are being strengthened by the introduction of giant Ukrainian Zubr hovercraft, with four being acquired under a reported US$315m contract. The latter pair will be built in China under Ukrainian supervision, opening up the possibility of further domestic production in due course.

A key feature of recent territorial confrontations has been the active role taken by ships belonging to China’s various paramilitary maritime agencies as opposed to front-line PLAN warships. Significant investment is being made in such constabulary assets and steps have recently been taken to adapt their command structure to a more homogenous model. In March 2013, it was announced that an enlarged National Oceanic Administration overseen by the Ministry of Land and Resources would add the China Coast Guard forces of the Public Security Ministry; the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command; and the maritime anti-smuggling police of the General Administration of Customs to its existing responsibility for China Marine Surveillance. The new unified Coast Guard will have over 50,000 personnel and is likely to assume a similar role to that carried out by counterparts in the United States, Japan and elsewhere. In addition to providing improved efficiency, the new structure is reported to be intended to enhance the protection of China’s maritime rights and interests. As such, it is likely to continue playing a key role in China’s pursuit of its various territorial claims.

The Norwegians in the RAF I

The arrival of the Polish, Czechoslovak and French air crews received plenty of public attention. The Times and the Daily Mirror, for example, both ran a series of short articles highlighting the splendid nature of many individual escapes, and spoke in glowing terms of the immediate and effective contribution each contingent would make to the war effort. This was propaganda, designed to impress the political leaderships as much as the average Briton. These three countries all had special places in the hierarchy of allied forces: the Poles because they were the people in whose defence Britain had supposedly gone to war in the first place; the Czechoslovaks because people of all political persuasions recognised that something distasteful and decidedly un-British had been done to them in 1938; and the French because they were our stout and faithful allies. The press and the BBC, by emphasising the unshakeable esprits de corps and the relentless courage of each group, helped to reassure and inspire the British people, who were still wrestling with the twin horrors of the awesome prospect of imminent invasion and mass infiltration by enemy agents.

Less fanfare greeted the military evacuees from Norway, Belgium and Holland. This was not because they were in any way inferior, but simply because they came in smaller groups and did not command as much political attention as the other three. Even so, this did not mean that serious questions were not asked about their morale and commitment. In each case, pre-war political relations played a major part in the British assessment of the new allies, and the behaviour of their countrymen and national leaders during the short but devastating western war also deeply conditioned the attitudes with which they were initially received.

The first to arrive were the Norwegians. The fate of their nation, which had contributed so much to the eventual downfall of Neville Chamberlain, meant that they were in need of refuge much earlier than any of the other national groups. The battle for Norway had begun in April 1940, though the Norwegians themselves had not thought it likely that they would have been dragged into the war at all. In effect, the Germans and the allies conducted part of their war on Norwegian territory, and eventually the country had been overrun while bringing this sideshow to a conclusion. The Norwegian forces fought hard and valiantly, scoring some notable victories over the German invaders, but neither they nor the allies could prevail. Vidkun Quisling, with Hitler’s tacit support, assumed control of Norway on 8 April while the official Norwegian government was still technically in existence, but by 9 June all effective resistance was at an end. Two days earlier, King Haakon VII had set sail for England on HMS Devonshire with most of his ministers and the remnants of the Norwegian armed forces, which had, with great credit, fought to the last moment.

Churchill had already nailed his colours to the Norwegian mast. After all, he had taken the premiership in the midst of the crisis, and on 23 May had promised the War Cabinet that the King and his entourage would be given refuge in Britain if the campaign ended in defeat. What had begun as an attempt by Chamberlain to stamp his name on the war had finished with Churchill accepting some of the responsibility for its failure, therefore the Norwegians expected, with good reason, every political and military consideration by the British government. This they were not given, at least not entirely, but still the Anglo– Norwegian liaison during the latter’s time in exile remains probably the smoothest of all such relationships during the war.

From the outset, the major problem facing the Norwegian government was similar to that of the Free French: how to establish and retain credibility as a sovereign administration in the face of hostile propaganda issued from the home territory. Indeed, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Halvdan Koht, warned his countrymen against getting too close to a formal alliance with Britain, for any binding commitments made by his government could possibly have rebounded disastrously had Britain lost the war and a negotiated settlement with the Germans been forced upon them. This was practical politics, for the outlook in the late spring of 1940 was truly ghastly as far as the allies were concerned. One factor was in the Norwegians’ favour, however. King Haakon had demonstrated that he had acted at all times in the best interests of his country, and Norway being a placid, democratic monarchy, he became a natural rallying point for the resistance. By contrast, de Gaulle had to overcome the tendency of many of his countrymen to reject him as an alternative leader, hence he was fighting two political battles at once, whereas the Norwegians were fighting only one. Yet this caution was not one-sided traffic, for in early April a meeting of the Allied Military Committee decided that Norway had ‘retreated into a form of jealous neutrality’, and though it is not clear exactly of whom the Norwegians were supposed to be jealous, the report concluded that they were more likely to be hostile to the allies if forced to make a choice. Thus, on both sides of this new alliance, there was room for reflection and perhaps even distrust.

Norway also had another useful asset in her merchant fleet. Despite substantial losses in the battle of April–June, no less than 1,876 merchant vessels of all sizes reached allied ports. Apart from rendering a significant contribution to the Atlantic supply chain, the income generated by this fleet also enabled the Norwegian government to finance its allied war effort without assistance from Britain, and this had a small but direct impact on the air policies which emerged. Nevertheless, the Norwegians still felt excluded from the high table during their time in Britain. As Olav Riste has shown, the Norwegians were presented with a novel experience when it came to negotiating allied agreements, for their long-standing principles of neutrality were inevitably compromised by the new situation. Even though the British kept effective control of the merchant fleet, and persistently refused to grant access to matters of strategic policy, the Norwegians stoically accepted their position and pledged full co-operation for the duration of the war.

The composition of the Norwegian air forces at the outbreak of war was reflected in their eventual deployment during their time in Britain. Both their Army and Navy had their own air forces, but modernisation had been put on hold for some time before the outbreak of war. François Kersaudy noted that the military had ordered a batch of Caproni aircraft from Italy, ‘not because they were the best, but simply because they could be paid for in dried cod’. The British were also aware of the limitations, and the abilities, of the Norwegian air services. In a report supplied to the Chief of the Air Staff in February 1940, Norwegian pilots and ground crew were described as disciplined and well-trained, but the equipment was ‘largely obsolescent and in some cases unsafe.’ In fact, the reserve officers’ association had petitioned the parliamentary military committee in the spring of 1939 and bluntly informed it that the aircraft of the Naval Air Arm were ‘wholly unserviceable’.

At the time of the German assault on Norway, a long overdue order for new aircraft from America was still in crates awaiting delivery. On 11 May Porri (then still with the Directorate of Intelligence) wrote to various administrators noting that nine officers and five other ranks of the Royal Norwegian Naval Air Service (RNNAS) had arrived in the country and were seeking immediate training. He had been informed by the Norwegian Legation in London that there were plans to evacuate a further twenty to thirty pilots from Norway to form a unit in Britain supplied with British aircraft and maintained by British mechanics, which could then be posted back to Norway for active operations. In his view, however, this was an unlikely event; therefore he suggested that the detachment should be split between the Royal Navy base at Calshot and the Army depot at Aston Down. This would allow the men ‘to absorb a certain amount of atmosphere, technique and language which would facilitate any further arrangements made’. He received a reply two days later which amended the proposal in favour of sending the men to Coastal Command for initial assessment.

The Chief of the Air Staff in Norway was Col Thomas Gulliksen. He informed Porri that the men had engineered their escape from Fornebo aerodrome on 9 April, proceeded to Lillehammer, where they destroyed some other aircraft to prevent their capture, and then boarded SS Sjogutten to arrive at Lerwick in Scotland. In Gulliksen’s opinion, the men were all fully trained and capable of flying Gladiators, but the Air Ministry replied that insufficient aircraft of this type existed to form a separate flight, though it was content to begin training on British planes. It was also noted by Porri that Gulliksen was already manoeuvring himself to be the senior officer in a reconstituted Norwegian air force in Britain.

Things then moved quickly for the Norwegians. On 17 May, the Air Ministry hosted an inter-departmental conference to discuss the position of the air force personnel then in England. The C-in-C of the Royal Norwegian Army Air Service (RNAAS), Capt Bjarne Øen, informed the delegates that 10 Army and 6 Navy pilots, plus 4 or 5 skilled mechanics, were then in England awaiting orders. He added that the maximum number likely to arrive from Norway would be 100, though a possibility existed that more might arrive from America. As for aircraft, 5 Curtiss Hawk P36s were in crates at Kirkwall, but another 36 were due from America plus a further 36 Northrop float-planes. All in all, suggested Øen, this was more than enough to form a solid core of a Norwegian air force in Britain.

But this proved to be only the first hurdle, not the end of the race. Porri and Wg Cdr Garraway (attached to the Directorate of Plans) rejected the idea on the premise that maintaining Curtiss aircraft in Britain would be impossible due to lack of spares and the unpredictability of the supply routes from America. Porri suggested sending the men for training in Canada, thereby solving the spares problem and making use of the incoming aircraft from America. Garraway added that it would be of little use to create a new squadron in Britain which used different planes from the RAF, and since they had no aircraft to spare at that moment, he suggested drafting the men into the RAFVR for training in RAF squadrons; once competent, they would then be posted back to Norway for service. This would go some way towards solving the language problem, and it might therefore be possible to consider the formation of a Norwegian squadron once the situation in Norway had been resolved. Øen accepted this proposal, with the added caveat that RAFVR enlistment should not prejudice the formation of a truly independent unit composed entirely of Norwegian personnel, should the opportunity arise. The meeting then heard that the Norwegian government was prepared to pay all expenses connected with the training scheme, and in a later minute of 18 May, all relevant departments were brought up to date. Most of the personnel spoke English ‘reasonably well’, and it was accepted in principle that a full Norwegian squadron would be formed as and when the men became available, but in the mean time every effort would be made to get their aircraft out of America and into service. The scheme was commended to the Foreign Office, which swiftly replied on 27 May, raising no points of objection.

The minutes of the May meeting give rise to a small controversy. According to Gen Wilhelm Mohr, the proposal to send the men to Canada for training was a suggestion made by the Norwegians themselves, but the documents clearly indicate that it was Porri and not Øen who tabled the scheme. Indeed, Mohr goes as far as to state that the British were ‘reluctant’ to go along with the idea, citing the urgency of using trained pilots in the Battle of Britain as his evidence, but we can see here that the RAF was making its decisions on a realistic basis, and despite the enthusiasm of the allied pilots to go into action in their own national squadron, insurmountable problems of supply and maintenance meant that their ambition would have to be postponed. Mohr’s error was to rely on documents dated June and July 1940 – a different case altogether so far as the air war was concerned – but these papers merely confirmed the arrangements made at the earlier time. Sholto Douglas stated in a short note to the DAAC in July 1940 that he had not been a supporter of the training scheme when it had first been suggested, ‘but I did not pursue the matter [because] on security and political grounds it was highly desirable to let the Norwegians go’. Unfortunately, his reasons are not recorded, but it is likely that his views were those which gave rise to Mohr’s interpretation of reluctant acquiescence.

By early July, the Norwegian ministry of defence had reorganised itself in London. The army wing contained thirty-five fully trained pilots, and the Air Force had thirteen pilots in various stages of training, and a handful of other ranks. The land forces and the navy were much better off. As well as a submarine, a couple of MTBs and various patrol vessels, the destroyer Sleipner lay alongside at Portsmouth, while at Rosyth the destroyer Draug was waiting for orders. Also in Scotland, at Dumfries, about forty officers and a thousand other ranks had regrouped at a camp vacated by the British Army. Compared to some other allied exiles, therefore, the Norwegians had arrived with the nucleus of a credible force.

The proposal to train Norwegian crews in Canada was swiftly executed. By mid-August 1940, Medhurst was informing the Air Council that all the selected personnel had left British territory. Uppermost in the minds of his superiors, however, was the importance of maintaining healthy relations with the Canadian government, and Medhurst was told that the situation would require ‘careful handling’, and that the Canadians ‘should not be requested to take on any additional commitments’. This was a euphemistic way of saying that they should not be expected to foot the bill, but there would never be any worries for the British on that score. The income generated by their extensive merchant fleet promised a steady flow of resources for the Norwegian war effort, and besides paying for their training in Canada, they bought their own planes as well.

Training continued at a furious pace in ‘Little Norway’ near Toronto. Recruits continued to stream in from the Continent, and by September 1940 the Norwegian Legation informed the Air Ministry that it could list 70 trained pilots, 100 partly trained, and 100 more awaiting basic instruction. To this it could add radio operators, navigators and about eighty mechanics, but even all of this expertise could not fulfil the basic establishments of the three independent squadrons it had asked the RAF to form when the time was right. Yet again, the aspirations of an allied force broke down because of the shortage of ground crew, but unlike some other exiled groups the Norwegians were pragmatic enough to accept this, and scaled down their proposals accordingly.

In fact, by the summer of 1941, all the indications were that the Anglo–Norwegian relationship promised to be a stable, mutually beneficial alliance considerably lacking in the tensions which had marred air arrangements with other exiled groups. This might have been because of the blunt yet important fact that they could pay their own way; or because of clear political objectives of either side which had no strings attached fore or aft, or because of the Norwegians’ attitude to the alliance itself, whereby they recognised the seniority of the British but felt in no way inferior themselves. These were all powerful factors, and though it is scarcely possible to pinpoint one as being definitive, it remains true that the files contain very little which is critical of the Norwegian air forces during their time in Britain. Even the Canadians informed the Air Ministry in January 1941 that their Scandinavian guests had acquitted themselves with honour and impeccable behaviour. In short, this was an alliance which needed the barest minimum of political or military maintenance – a gift for the British, and a relief for the Norwegians.