First battles of the Civil War
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Hence for the first year of the war the parliamentary troops were habitually on the defensive; and the Royalists were the attacking party. But at the moment when the king's standard was raised at Nottingham, neither party was ready to strike. Essex, the Roundhead General-in-Chief, was collecting his forces at Northampton to block the way of a Royalist march on London. The king shifted to Shrewsbury, a better centre for collecting his main army; Essex moved to Worcester.
When the king began his advance, Essex again moved to intercept him, and the armies met at Edgehill. The charge of the Royalist cavalry on the wings swept their opponents off the field, with the Cavalier horse in pursuit. But the Roundhead foot in the centre held their ground, two regiments of horse which had not been swept away charged upon the Royalist flank and Rupert reappeared on the field, which he supposed to have been already won, in time only to prevent a rout.
Still, the fruits of victory lay with the Royalists, who were able to continue their march to Oxford and establish headquarters there; Essex however, was able to fall back and block the way between Oxford and London. The Royalists, though they carried Brentford, did not venture to attack his position at Turnham Green, and fell back upon Oxford whence during the spring and summer, of 1643 Rupert conducted cavalry raids; but no action of importance was fought.
The parliamentary cause however, suffered a serious loss by the death of John Hampden in a skirmish at Chalgrove Field. During these months, the Royalist Association of the Northern Counties, organised by Newcastle, brought the North almost entirely under Royalist control, though the Parliamentarians. under the Fairfaxes held possession of Hull, In the south-west, which at the outset hung in the balance, the first successes of the parliamentary general, Waller, were counteracted by those of the Royalist Hopton.
In July the defeat of Waller at Roundway Down, the surrender of Bristol, secured almost the whole cf the West country for the Royalists. The parliament still sat at Westminster, and the successes of the royal arms almost induced the Houses to accept terms of peace which would have been virtual surrender.
But now there was a check. Rupert would have appeared to have designed a great converging movement upon London, the king advancing with his main army from Oxford, Hopton moving along the south, and Newcastle descending from the North through the Eastern Counties. But Newcastle and Hopton were not prepared respectively to leave Hall and Plymouth on their rear.
Charles resolved to secure the West by the capture of Gloucester; and, by attacking it, drew Essex to advance to its relief. The relieving movement was itself successful. Charles, however, intercepted Essex on his withdrawal at Newbury. A decisive victory might have brought the war to an end at once, but Essex succeeded in cutting his way through, and the opportunity was lost.
Meanwhile Pym, the head of the administration at Westminster, had been at work on the design of drawing the Scots into active alliance with the English Parliament. Religion alone was the ground on which the Scots were prepared to intervene in England, and for them religion meant the establishment of Presbyterianism in the southern country.
The Solemn League and Covenant
The parliament men adhered in general to the common view that uniformity of religion was to be enforced; they were committed to the demand for the abolition of Episcopacy, and Presbyterianism was the apparent alternative. The result of the negotiations was the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant for the common establishment of religion, reformed "according to the Word of God and the example of the best reformed churches."
The Westminster Confession
The form of the Covenant is attributed to the diplomacy of Sir Harry Vane, who by this means made the pledge sufficiently elastic to admit of the now growing demand for a much wider toleration than was contemplated by either English or Scottish Presbyterianism. The scheme itself was in some sense a development born of an Anglo-Scottish assembly at Westminster, which drew up the famous Westminster Confession, a formula for British Puritanism which corresponds to the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg.
It must be remarked, however, that the English who were already in arms, and the Scots who were about to take arms, to coerce the Crown, both in the Covenant declared their loyalty to the king's person. The Solemn League and Covenant was the last achievement of John Pym, the greatest of the parliamentary chiefs; he died before the year was out. Early in the new year a joint committee of both kingdoms was formed to control the management of the war.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.