The Civil War: Weaknesses of the Royalists Essay

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The Civil War: Weaknesses of the Royalists

Was it the weaknesses of the Royalists or the strength of their opponents which best explains the outcome of the First Civil by 1646There are several key factors determining why the royalists lost the English civil war in the years 1642 – 1646. The factors that caused their defeat were Cromwell’s talent for warfare and how he displayed it on the battlefield. The factions of the royalist command structure tearing the royalist campaign in two. The formation of the New Model Army. King Charles alienating many possible supporters of him with his decisions leading up to and including the civil war. Propaganda helping the parliamentarian cause during the English civil war. The affect of dual roles as King and Commander in Chief of Royalist forces upon King CharlesThe Formation of the New Model ArmyNeither side really had an advantage when it came to experienced soldiers in the country and both sides were initially commanded by men who gained their rank to their status in society rather than military ability.

The New model army was now well organised on a sound basis, drilled, disciplined and administrated in uniform fashion, in complete contrast of a few years ago to the ‘Ad Hoc’ (before the English Civil war the army was formed when a problem arose then immediately disbanded when the problem dissolved) arrangements that English armies had before the New Model Armies creation. Throughout March and April 1645 at Windsor the work began on training, preparing and equipping this new and improved Parliamentarian army. At the beginning of May 1645 the army left Windsor to meet the king’s forces in battle. The training had paid off as parliament crushed the king’s forces at Naseby. It differed from other armies in the same conflict in that it was intended as an army capable of deployment anywhere in the country, rather than being tied to a single area or garrison.

As such, its soldiers became full-time professionals, rather than part-time militia. Furthermore, its officers were also intended to be professional soldiers, not having seats in either House of Parliament and therefore not linked to any political or religious faction among the Parliamentarians. The New Model Army was raised partly from among veteran soldiers who already had deeply-held Puritan religious convictions, and partly from conscripts who brought with them many commonly-held beliefs about religion or society. Its common soldiers therefore held and expressed dissenting or radical views unique to any English army. Ultimately, the Army’s Generals (particularly Oliver Cromwell) could rely both on the Army’s internal discipline and innate support for the “Good Old Cause” to maintain an essentially dictatorial rule.

The factions of the royalist command structure tearing the royalist campaign in twoDuring the civil war the royalist side was weakened by a major feud which slowly developed throughout the civil war years. This was between the king’s two highest ranking generals, Lord George Digby and the king’s own nephew Prince Rupert.

By 1642 King Charles had appointed Prince Rupert as head of the royalist cavalry at the age 23. It was during the Battle of Edgehill that the two men’s feud began. During the battle Rupert and his cavalry charged a group of parliament’s infantry off the field and chased after them for at least two miles. With the royalist’s cavalry off the battlefield Parliaments cavalry (known as the Ironsides later in the war) directly under Cromwell’s control took their chance and struck into the flanks of the royalist infantry causing mass casualties on the royalist side. It was this point that Lord Digby demanded that command of the cavalry be given to him as Rupert proved in capable of their command. This started the rift between Rupert and Digby that started to tear the royalist side in two. Each other tried their best to undermine the others position.

One point in the war that illustrates this is just after the Battle of Edgehill where Rupert tries to persuade the king to allow him to swiftly attack London with his cavalry whilst the Earl of Essex’s troops were out of the city and its defences unmanned. But Digby had managed to persuade the king to abandon this idea and instead march on London with the army as a whole. But by the time the army was organized and marched out to London the cities defences were already and prepared to defend London. Now the royalists had lost their best chance to win the war quickly with minimal causalities.

Digby again quarrelled with the King’s nephew Prince Rupert at the siege of Lichfield in April 1643. Digby’s enmity towards Prince Rupert ultimately proved fatal to the Royalist cause. Against Rupert’s advice, he urged the King to engage the New Model Army in battle at Naseby in June 1645, which resulted in the destruction of the main Royalist field army. While Rupert recognised the hopelessness of the King’s position after Naseby and urged a treaty with Parliament, Digby continued to insist that the war could still be won. He convinced King Charles that Rupert had become untrustworthy and succeeded in having the Prince and his supporters removed from their commands in September 1645.

Cromwell’s talent for warfare and how he displayed it on the battlefieldOliver Cromwell led one of the earliest military actions of the war when with 200 lightly-armed volunteers he prevented the King’s men from carrying off the silver plate of the Cambridge colleges. Cromwell raised a troop of sixty horsemen and effectively secured Cambridgeshire for Parliament. In October 1642, Cromwell’s troop joined the army of the Earl of Essex. Returning to East Anglia, Cromwell was careful to recruit only “godly, honest men” as his troopers and to lead them with firm discipline. His natural skills as a cavalry commander were in evidence at the skirmishing around Gainsborough in July 1643.

Having helped to secure most of East Anglia for Parliament by the summer of 1643, Cromwell was promoted to colonel in the new Eastern Association army raised by the Earl of Manchester. Rising to prominence in the Eastern Association, Cromwell attained the rank of lieutenant-general of horse in January 1644. He played a major role in Parliament’s victory at Marston Moor, where his highly-disciplined cavalry routed both Prince Rupert’s and Lord Goring’s cavaliers. Rupert himself is said to have coined the name “Ironside” for Cromwell, which became popular with the army and was extended to his troopers. Cromwell also became increasingly critical of the leadership of Manchester himself, and denounced him before the House of Commons in November 1644 for his unwillingness to take decisive action against the Royalists.

A leading supporter of the Self Denying Ordinance Act ,1644, Cromwell was one of the few Members of Parliament exempted from resigning his commission in the army under its terms. He was officially appointed lieutenant-general of horse under Sir Thomas Fairfax in the New Model Armyjust before the decisive Parliamentarian victory at Naseby in June 1645, during which Cromwell routed Langdale’s Northern Horse and rallied the Ironsides for a charge against the Royalist infantry that decided the outcome of the battle. Despite having no military training or experience prior to 1642, Cromwell was generally regarded as the greatest soldier in England by the time he and Fairfax received the surrender of Oxford in June 1646.

On occasion Cromwell’s contribution to Parliament’s victory’s during the First Civil War were exaggerated by Parliamentarian propaganda. Not until the great battles of Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645) did he have a decisive effect on the fortunes of the war, and even in the case of Marston Moor, his importance is disputed. His great gift, alongside his own lightning powers of resolution, was his capacity to instil discipline in his men and to sustain their morale against the most daunting of odds and difficulties. There were brave soldiers on both sides of the Civil Wars, especially among the Royalists at Marston Moor. However, the sense of mission and belief and the habits of rapid obedience that Cromwell bred in his men – an aptitude evident from the early stages of the war when he raised and trained his ‘Ironsides’ in East Anglia – turned the course of the war.

Propaganda helping the Parliamentarian cause during the civil warThe parliamentarians saw the benefits of simple, direct, news leaflets in which information could be imparted, alongside comment and propaganda, in cheap formats. Weekly news books, which pioneered methods of reporting from Parliament or from the military front, competed for readership. Controversial pamphlets appeared in their thousands, debating the political, religious and social issues of the time. parliamentarian printers printed large newspaper type pieces of propaganda in which it exaggerate the truth of supposed royalist ‘atrocities’ and genius of the parliaments campaign in the war.

An extract of London parliamentarian’s propaganda went:’A young man at Leeds for refusing to beare Arms against the parliament, was hoist by the cavaliers, and great weights hung at his legs, which for hurt him that he bled and fild his boots with bloud, and is Mother weeping offered largely to take him off, but they would not, fo that within a small space he dyed.’Another segment of the same propaganda went:’In November 1642. by that cruell and devilllifh Cataline, the Lord Digby, entering the Towne of Malbrough with his cruell companion Sir Daniel Oneale, that Irish bloudy Rebell, having with grandoes fired the Towne in foure feverall places, rod furiously through the streets, and with drawne swords cut and hackt all they could meet with whether men or women.

‘The affect of dual roles as King and Commander in Chief of Royalist forces upon King CharlesCharles was constantly faced with difficult decisions through his position as King. He had to defend the norm, the church as established by law, the law itself, his people, his role, his honour, Britain’s trade and much more. His difficulties were further increased when civil war broke out in 1642 between the king and his supporters and the Parliament and theirs, who wanted more power. As a king he was responsible for all of his subjects by his divine right given to him by god, but as a commander in chief of the royalist forces in England, he had the role of directing a war effort aimed against a significant proportion of his people. The two roles crossed over each other and this plagued Charles to the end of his life. It is this difficult fact that caused many a bad decision by Charles and which stopped him winning the war outright countless times.

For Charles, the issue was clear; he was fighting to save his people from rebellion and traitors who wished to overturn the ancient laws and his position, together with the Church of England. All these things were committed to Charles’s care by his coronation oaths and by God, whom he believed appointed him, a view widely believed. So when Parliament began raising men of their own to serve them, he was left with little alternative but to follow. (It was he, though, who first formally declared war on Parliament). Yet even when war was imminent, he tried to dispel it by attempting to take control of Hull, which had most of the country’s armoury within it. He arrived under a formal visit as King, hoping to convert the Governor or stay in the town once he had gained admittance. Instead the Governor refused to let Charles in, but as Pauline Gregg says in her book (see bibliography) about Charles, ‘Charles proclaimed him a traitor and withdrew, though it is likely enough that the citizens would have followed the king against their governor if they had been given a chance.’ He also tried his best to control casualties.

At Edgehill, for instance, Charles was visibly moved by the bodies of the dead and he stayed with his men all night. After the storming of Bristol, Charles wanted to take Gloucester, but to save lives of his soldiers and subjects, he ordered his colonels to besiege Gloucester rather than storm it. With time being short, a siege would considerably impede the Royalists’ chance of success before a relieving party arrived. Sure enough, Gloucester held out and the relieving force got there in time. Again with the Battle of Lostwithiel, which Charles personally commanded, he defeated the Parliamentarians fully, yet allowed thousands of them to march away free, rather than force them to his colours or imprison them. Charles wavered easily in the direction of his side’s war effort. Managing a war fought against people who were your own subjects but who were following traitors was difficult and especially so for someone lacking self confidence. Often his reliance on stronger men meant that inept commanders had a direct hand in the running of the war effort. This reliance became one of the Commander in Chief of the Royalist forces and the King of Great Britain major predicaments.

In my opinion all of the above points helped in the victory of the parliamentarians during the civil war. But no single factor can be said that was the main point for the way in which the civil war turned out. An example of this is in saying that if it was not for Cromwell the parliamentarians would have lost the civil war; I believe this to be untrue as the parliamentarian side would have found another person to take his place who would have been as successful as Cromwell was if not more. The same can be said for the factors causing the defeat of the royalist side no one factor can be blamed for there defeat. In essence the defeat of the royalist side cannot be blamed on one point but more of a snow balling effect of small problems and hindrances that did not affect the royalists to much in the short term but proved fatal in the long term scheme of things during the civil war.


The Cruell Impeieties of Bloud-thirfty Royalists, and blasphemous Anti- Parliamentarians Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1646The History of British Armies 1485-1980 by James Walder, 1980The English Civil War: A Peoples History by Diane Purkiss, 2006The Civil wars 1642-49 by A Anderson, 1995The English Civil War by Robert Ashton, 1997Old Ironsides-The military biography of Oliver Cromwell by Frank Kitson, 2007Stuart England by Angus Stroud, 1999The Cavaliers: The royalist army at war 1642 – 46 by John Baratt, 2000The English Civil War 1642- 1651 an illustrated military history by Philip Haythornthwaite, 1984The Cavaliers by Jasper Ridley, 1976The Great Rebellion 1642-46 by Ivan Roots, 1966King Charles I by Pauline Gregg, 20002,302 words (not including the question or the bibliography)

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