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Using these four passages and your own knowledge, assess the view that the importance of Cromwell’s military role in the Civil War has been exaggerated.
Oliver Cromwell was born in 1599 into a middle class gentry family in Huntingdon. He began his career as a Member of Parliament for Cambridge in 1628; he went on to fight in the Civil War as part of the Parliamentarian army, with a number of roles as he rose through the ranks from captain to lieutenant-general. Cromwell fought in numerous battles with great success and was seen to have had great military and leadership skills. In my opinion, I believe that Cromwell’s military role in the Civil War was not exaggerated; the further analysis and evaluation of the passages will help me to prove this view.
One view of Cromwell’s military role would agree that the importance he held was a result of his unusual military approach and his characteristics. The approaches that he used made him stand out as they were seen as ‘unique’. Interpretation C states ‘he raised such men as had the fear of God before them and made them conscience of what they did’. This relates to Cromwell’s use of religion within his cavalry as he was a devout Puritan himself. He believed that he was undertaking God’s work and saw every military victory as being won with the help of God. The use of religion would have been a strong motivation for any of the troops, which made them differ from any other cavalry at the time. Another Interpretation that shares evidence of this is Interpretation D as it states ‘he seems to have been instinctively aware that, in war, moral forces can far outweigh the physical’.
This belief in God was thought to have been the driving force behind Cromwell which gave him the determination in battle that others did not possess. This determination is apparent within the battle of Marston Moor as Interpretation A mentions that he ‘kept such control over his man and over the battle when all three of his commanding generals had given it up for lost’. The actions of Marston Moor were seen to recognise Cromwell as an ‘extraordinary character’. Interpretations A, C and D all show evidence of Cromwell’s use of religion within war and how it was successful in his cavalry. The mention of religion in these sources appear to give the impression that these religious tactics set him out from others cavalry commander at the time. Therefore, this shows the difference between him and other military leaders, proving the view that he was a unique character, which is ultimately a factor in his military success.
Cromwell also used other military approaches that were seen as unusual at the time, such as his use of discipline. He was seen to have total control over his cavalry in which they followed every order such as his ability to ‘regroup his forces into a tight formation’. There is further evidence of his disciplinary actions within Interpretation C, ‘an unusually high degree of discipline on, as well as off, the battlefield’. This discipline allowed him to carry out coordinated military manoeuvres with great success. The battle of Marston Moor in July 1644 was seen as a ‘dramatic struggle’ as the Royalists held many advantages but Cromwell’s decision to rally his cavalry after victory and aid the other side of the battlefield was the decisive tactic that won the Parliamentarians the battle.
Without the discipline that Cromwell used in his cavalry he would not have been able to rally his men the way he did. The battle of Marston Moor was prearranged which was a disadvantage to both the Parliamentarians and the Royalists. However, Cromwell’s cavalry waited until early evening in order to obtain the element of surprise. This decision was a major factor in the victory over the Royalists in this battle as they were unprepared for the attack. The actions throughout the battle were unique and cunning and from the evidence appeared to have won the Parliamentarians their victory. Therefore, Ashley’s interpretation shows he was of great importance to the military success of the Parliamentarians through his decisions on the battlefield. Therefore, confirming that his military reputation has not been exaggerated.
However, this view that Cromwell’s military role was not exaggerated is simply based on the numerous victories that he was a part of in his time of being a soldier. However, Ashley acknowledges that Cromwell held all the advantage at the Battle of Marston Moor. Yet, he does not take this into account in the interpretation. He focuses upon Cromwell’s tactics being exceptional rather than considering that all Cromwell’s advantages won the victory and not his tactics. This unbalanced interpretation is, therefore, limited and it undermines its reliability. Interpretation A recalls the events of the battle of Marston Moor and states that ‘it lacked coordinated command’, which was before the New Model Army, thus weakening the interpretation that Cromwell was such a good general. Yet, the New Model Army was created in order to control the numerous Parliamentarian armies throughout the country, the bases of the Army was to become disciplined, trained and motivated.
These characteristics were very apparent within Cromwell’s cavalry during the battle of Marston Moor and could have been the reasoning behind the structuring of the New Model Army as it was proven to be successful. However, we need to consider whether this success as a cavalry commander was equally matched by his career as a general. Interpretation C also shows evidence of further military victories such as the defeat of Rupert at the battle of Naseby in June 1645 and a following success at the battle of Langport, which gave the Parliamentarians control over the West of England. This proves evidence that he was equally successful as a general and therefore deserves his reputation. Further evidence of military success is also apparent within Interpretation D, regarding ‘the Preston campaign of 1648’, this was a battle in which Cromwell was the main commander of the force and defeated the attacking Royalists and Scottish armies.
This victory was seen to be the defeat of the Royalists that lead to the end of the Civil War. These numerous military successes are evidence that Cromwell showed importance to the military cause of the Parliamentarians. We also know of another military success that took place in 1649, this was Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland where he took Wexford in a massacre of 3,500 troops and civilians with only a small number of Parliamentarian casualties in comparison. These numerous victories indicate that the use of Cromwell’s military approach through the New Model Army proved successful. However, it is difficult to make a judgement with this evidence, as it could be argued that it was possible that these victories could have been achieved without Cromwell’s role in them, if another strong leader was present. These other military victories are not mentioned within the interpretations, this implies that they were not taken into account in judging the capability of Cromwell as a military leader and could hinder the opinion presented from the interpretation.
It is also believed that Cromwell was not in fact the military success that people saw him as. Interpretation D mentions his ‘atypical Cromwellian aggression’ that came out during battles, the interpretation implies his aggression and drive was the main factors that lead him to such success. The interpretation does not see him as an outstanding tactician as interpretation A and C imply but name his as a ‘very sound and capable tactician’, which seems to offer a more convincing view of Cromwell.
The repeated use of positive language in these interpretations could be an indicator of Cromwell’s ability. However, interpretation D does not believe that Cromwell was the genius that interpretation A does, stating that he ‘never really reached the heights of a master of the strategic manoeuvre’. This shows that the evidence in interpretation D most strongly agrees with the view that the importance of Cromwell’s military role was exaggerated than any of the other interpretation. I disagree with the view that interpretation D implies, that Cromwell’s military role was exaggerated as the evidence regarding the battle of Marston Moor in both interpretation A and C outweighs the view presented in source D.
The interpretation also describes him as ‘hasty’ and ‘unsubtle’ in his tactics on the battlefield, these negative phrases emphasise that the evidence does not agree with the importance of Cromwell’s military role. This idea is contradicted within the evidence shown in interpretation A as it states ‘led them across the battlefield to the aid of his right wing, had a crucial move with the hall-mark of genius upon it’, this was relating to the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
The tactics of Marston Moor were seen this way as they were very unique at the time and no other cavalry commanders managed their cavalries in this way. Cromwell’s use of his religion and confidence in his belief were seen to be the reason behind his success as implied in interpretation D, ‘sheer force of will; he seems to have been instinctively aware’. This could be a reason for and against the exaggeration of his military role as it set him apart from other which may have made him more successful. It may prove to be for the view that the role was an exaggeration as it could be implied that Cromwell relied on his religious beliefs, as he did not hold the tactical skills of his fellow cavalry commanders.
Interpretation B shows the importance of Cromwell’s military role in a different way to the other interpretation as it only seems to concentrates on the political successes within his career as he rose to power to become Lord Protector. It explains that the major political success of Cromwell grew from the victories throughout his military career. His military success in the Civil War made him stand out and come to a spotlight within the government, allowing him to successfully work his way up politically, as interpretation B states ‘the well-deserved rise to fame, which in turn enhanced his position in the political world’. The fact that Cromwell was so success in his political career could be the reasoning to imply that his military role was also success as a result of a simple assumption.
Cromwell’s main successes that are identified in the evidence are from Cromwell’s victories as a cavalry commander rather than as a general. As a cavalry commander, he proved numerously successful in battle yet his victories in the role of a general are not mentioned within the source in the same way as the cavalry commander role. This could be because he did not reach the peak of a military career as he changed his focused himself on the political issues within England at the time. This fact could indicate that his military career was exaggerated as the evidence focuses on his success as a cavalry commander rather than a general in a higher ranked position. However, a clear judgement regarding this cannot be made, as further evidence regarding his victories as a general would need to be assessed.
In conclusion, it is possible that the importance of Cromwell’s military role was slightly exaggerated but he was important to the Parliamentarian side through the numerous victorious battles that he was a part of, which are shown in interpretation A, C and D. His unusual military approach such as the use of discipline and religion, as well as his own personality set him apart from others cavalry commanders. All these characteristics made Cromwell a success and as source B states, went on to help him in his political career, it could be said that this political career was a result of his actions in a military role. Ultimately, Cromwell’s importance in a military role was not exaggerated and he proved to be a very successful asset within the Civil War due to his numerous military victories.