The New Model Army
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
As the autumn of 1644 was passing into winter the critical moment of the war, though not the critical engagement, was immediately at hand. Although the biggest battle of the war had been fought and won by the Roundheads, with decisive effect so far as the North was concerned, only one fact of importance favourable to the parliament had emerged; they had found a cavalry leader who was more than a match for Rupert and troopers who were more than a match for Rupert's gentlemen.
But the second battle of Newbury had shown that under the existing system there was no prospect that the chiefs of the army would realise that it was their business to strike home and win. Again, Scots and English together had won the victory of Marston Moor, but it had not united them. The honours of the day had been divided between the Scottish pikemen and the Ironsides, and the Scots angrily resented the assumption of all the credit to Cromwell and his troopers. Nor was jealousy alone responsible for the rupture. The Solemn League and Covenant was interpreted by the Scots as a pledge that the English Parliament would establish the Presbyterian system on Scottish lines, to the exclusion of all sectaries, who were to them an abomination. But Cromwell had stepped into the front rank; half his troopers were sectaries, and he himself notoriously cared nothing for Presbyterian orthodoxy. His men might be Anabaptists, Baptists, Independents, anything, provided that the "root of the matter" was in them and they knew how to fight. But the Scottish cause in England was the cause not of parliament but of Presbyterianism; it was on that understanding that the Scots had crossed the Border.
If Cromwell and the men of his kind won the victory for parliament, the Presbyterian ideal was not likely to be realised. Thus cordial co-operation between the Scots and Cromwell was not to be looked for. Moreover, as time passed on it began to be doubtful how long the Scots army would be ready to remain in England — whether it would not have to return across the Tweed to deal with Montrose, with whom Argyle was proving himself quite unable to cope.
Cromwell was not the only man who saw that there could be no decisive success without reorganisation; a reorganisation which meant the substitution of a new type for the present army chiefs, and for the present rules of discipline — the Cromwellian type in both cases. As matters stood, the best that the parliament could hope for was to say to the king, "You cannot beat us; let us come to terms "; and under such conditions satisfactory terms were not to be expected. In Cromwell's view, parliament could be and must be placed in a position to dictate terms. Hitherto he had not been prominent as a debater, though the force of the man had made itself felt on the rare occasions when he intervened.
But now it was in parliament itself that the immediate battle must be fought; and Cromwell opened the campaign by a direct attack upon Manchester for neglecting his duty as a commander to crush the enemy when in his power. But it was the principle, not the man, which mattered; he had no vindictive feeling towards Manchester, and readily dropped the attack on him when the way was cleared for a more effective procedure.
The parliament itself had degenerated since its first meeting in 1640. Of its abler and nobler members not a few had taken their stand on the king's side; Since the outbreak of the war, the greatest statesman among its members, John Pym, had. died, and Hampden, the most honoured and respected of all, had fallen on Chalgrove Field. Others, like Waller; Cromwell, had been drawn away to active duty, and those who remained lost tone.
There were politicians at Westminster, but few men of statesmanship. The politicians, however, were capable of realising that the war was being conducted on wrong principles, that an efficient army under efficient commanders would give it a new aspect. Cromwell the man of the moment, must have his way for the moment; the turn of the politicians would come afterwards.
The first step, then, was the Self-denying Ordinance, under which every member of parliament in either House resigned his own command. It is usually said, that an exception was made in favour of Cromwell; but technically, at least, this is inaccurate. The object of the Ordinance was the removal of incompetent commanders, but it did not preclude the reappointment of any one who was conspicuously fit. Not to have reappointed the one man who was obviously not only fit but necessary would have been an absurdity, although in the circumstances it would no less obviously have been out of the question to place him in chief command. For that office Sir Thomas Fairfax was chosen, a man who enjoyed the confidence of every one with whom he had been associated, welcome not only to Cromwell himself, who had fought beside him at Marston Moor, but on all hands, on account both of his military ability and his personal character.
The New Model Army
To Cromwell was presently given the post of Lieutenant-General, or second in command, which included the command of the horse. Promotion was in the hands of the General-in-Chief, who could be trusted to bestow it where it was deserved, regardless of other considerations than military ability. The next step was to construct the New Model Army, a compact group of regiments entirely under the control of the Commander-in-Chief, regularly paid; a standing army,, in short, very different from the miscellaneous local levies controlled by miscellaneous local committees, irregularly paid and under no systematic discipline.
The pick of the veterans were promptly enrolled in the new regiments, comprising something over twenty thousand men, though the numbers were not made up without compulsory impressment. And the best of these troops, who soon set the tone for their comrades, were Independents or Sectaries of the type whom Cromwell had enlisted and promoted, regardless of Presbyterian orthodoxy.