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.

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