The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
THE ARMY DEBATES OF 1647

I

THE officers and Agitators met in a General Council of War at Reading on the morning of July 16, 1647.1 The temper of the Army had not been improved by a widespread rumour that Colonel Poyntz intended to betray the Northern Army into the hands of the Scots,2 and therefore the Council met in the knowledge that it must resolve its differences without delay.

The meetings of this Council set the stage for all future army debates during the interregnum. They are important for many reasons--they show us how the Army regarded itself as representative of the whole nation, and they illustrate the urgency behind the desire for a just peace;3 but for our better understanding of Cromwell their importance can hardly be over-emphasized, not only because we trace through them the growth of his political ideas, but also because they demonstrate in a most striking way the "church" relationship between him and his troops, and present us with a clear picture of ecclesiastical discipline existing side by side with military discipline in Fairfax's incredible army.

The occasion on July 164 was to discuss a Representation5 by the Agitators, urging the immediate march of the Army upon London. At the opening of the afternoon session Cromwell introduced the debate by emphasizing that their task was to prepare something which would present a reasonable chance of peaceful

____________________
1
The Agitators were admitted to this Council in order to maintain unity. Cf. Newsletter [by John Rushworth?], C.P.I., 214 f. The Clarke Papers give a full account of the Army Debates of 1647. A. S. P. Woodhouse in Puritanism and Liberty gives full accounts of the later debates at Putney and Whitehall, and gives a summary of the Reading debates in an appendix. W. C. Abbott and Mrs. Lomas report Cromwell's speeches in full, linked by the argument of the rest of the debate. For the sake of consistency, we have used Abbott's text for Cromwell's own words.
2
Poyntz was arrested by his own men, but released by order of Fairfax.
3
Cf. the utterances of officers such as Capt. Clarke and Lt.-Col. Jubbes, who cannot be placed in any group with precision. Ibid., 180; Woodhouse, 99.
4
C.P., I, 176-82; W.S., I, 475-7; L-C, III, 333 f. (Supp. 24).
5
C.P., I. 170-5.

-127-

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