Atlas of the English Civil War

By P. R. Newman | Go to book overview

army at Turnham Green in November. Thereafter, no general strategy aimed at the reduction of the capital was promulgated in the royalist high command, unless the alleged triple advance on the city in late 1643 involving the royalist northern army as a major element had any grounding in fact, which is doubtful. Objectives were limited: the capture of a city here, a fortified place there, and the occasional but largely unproductive major battle (Marston Moor and Naseby, both victories for the Parliament, were exceptions to this) punctuating wars of manoeuvre, march and counter-march, and intermittent but bloody skirmishing and raiding. Both sides were also subject to the concept of the 'campaign season', and the relative inactivity of wintertime. Indeed, the Scottish invasion in January 1644 may have been launched to try to take advantage of the royalist northern army lying in winter-quarters, but if so, it was only partially successful, since the royalists rapidly responded.


Civil War England

Civil War England, topographically and in many other senses too, was thoroughly different from the England of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It presented, in reality, a series of major obstacles to successful military campaigning, in the nature of its countryside, its road system and its means of communication. Even synchronisation of events on the battlefield was virtually impossible, although some officers possessed pocket watches and some had telescopes (perspective glasses). If history is nothing more than a catalogue of errors and miscalculations, as some believe, then the period of the civil wars in many respects, including the military one, was a case in point. The royalists lost the battle of Marston Moor.in July 1644 largely because Prince Rupert miscalculated as to what his opponents would do, and because one of his subordinates made a fatal error in disobeying orders as battle commenced. The parliamentary New Model Army almost lost the battle of Naseby in June 1645 because they imagined victory would be an easy task. Once a general had committed his forces to action, the successful outcome of that engagement might very well turn upon decisions taken in isolation on the field by regimental or company and troop commanders. The secret of good generalship then, as now, lay in being able to foresee the limi tations of plans and in being able to capitalise upon mistakes made by the enemy. Cromwell, at Marston Moor and at Naseby, showed himself to be a good general in the field because of this. In other aspects of the period, too, the same human capacity for folly revealed itself. King Charles I, in 1647 and in 1648, chose to suppose that he could indefinitely deceive and lie to his enemies, and made his way to the block in 1649 as a consequence. The exiled royalists in the 1650s seriously believed, or some of them did, that the Republic could be overthrown by conspiracy and plot, the only outcome of which was to add further names to the lists of royalist martyrs in enterprises doomed from their inception. Thus, in dealing with the military events of 1642-51, it has to be understood that 'strategy' and 'tactics' were as often as not improvised, that no broad or coherent plans as such were ever seriously contemplated or followed through, beyond the resolution of either side that it should win the war: even that resolution was something that was not wholeheartedly endorsed by all the leaders of both sides.

The England of 1642 was a rural country reliant upon agriculture for its wealth, with trade primarily involved in the distribution of agricultural produce both internally and overseas. There were certain major cities, London far and away the largest and the richest, being the centre of the country's financial life, but none on any scale to compare with what would today be recognised as substantial. Most people lived in the countryside, in townships of varying size, or in hamlets and isolated farmsteads, these latter tending to predominate in the pastoral areas of north-western and western England and Wales. Parts of the NorthEast, the whole of the Midlands and East Anglia, were areas of mixed farming, corn-growing and animal husbandry, and although within this latter region there were areas of enclosure, of hedged and fenced fields held in severalty, it was for the most part composed of open, common fields with large tracts of waste land known as commons or moors. This type of landscape might offer suitable ground for the movement of armies, but it also offered little or no cover. There were still extensive forest regions to be met with, although not all forests were extensively planted with trees, despite the processes of disafforestation which had been going on for centuries. In the north were the great forests of Pickering and Galtres in Yorkshire, and Delamere in Cheshire. In the North Midlands were

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