Volume 43 (2009)
University of Virginia
On 6 August 1647 Sir Thomas Fairfax led a column of his laurel-bedecked soldiers of the New Model Army into London to the cacophonous tolling of the city’s bells. Despite the fact that they entered unarmed, the soldiers were not welcomed by many of London’s residents. The Army had not planned on investing London, only doing so in the course of political events during the summer that saw the New Model pitted against Parliament. That weekend turned out to be a propitious date both for the Army and the kingdom, as the occupation of London was a decisive factor in the radicalization of the New Model, which in turn was to have profound effects for England. Within three years the Army would forcibly purge Parliament to become the political masters of the realm, the monarchy would be abolished, and England would become a republic. All this, because Parliament repeatedly provoked the Army in a series of disputes over unpaid wages and legal indemnity, a process that would begin with calls for auditing of accounts and end with revolutionary calls for the enfranchisement of every freeborn Englishman.
The radicalization of the New Model Army has long fascinated historians because of the Army’s importance to the events called the ‘Great Rebellion’ and ‘English Revolution.’ The events of the 1640s were not only momentous and significant in the reach of their effects, but constituted one of the great revolutionary movements in early modern European history, a century and a half before the more famous French Revolution. In 1649 a crowned head of state was declared a traitor and executed through a judicial process for the first time in the history of Europe. The English Church was dissolved and her bishops dispossessed. The institutions of government were radically restructured with the abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords, and England became, if briefly, a republic. Any of the above developments could be safely described as radical on its own, but this conjunction of events during the course of a few years certainly deserves its designation as ‘revolutionary’ and an honored place amongst history’s great revolutions. Last amongst these great changes was the institution of a standing army, an event in and of itself not nearly as earth-shaking as the others, but this army, the New Model Army, was the engine that drove, either directly or indirectly, all of the great and truly innovative changes that England soon underwent.
In 1647 the largest and most successful field army in the British Isles underwent a remarkable change. The New Model Army evolved from a pure fighting force into a revolutionary vanguard over the course of the spring, summer, and autumn. But how broad, how deep, how genuine was this change? A radical Army did not spring forth fully formed: rather, a gradual and traceable development in the Army’s language presented itself to the public in pamphlets and news-sheets. These public documents emanating from the Army and its supporters are of interest because they allow us to follow the New Model’s struggle to develop a “public face,” or front they wanted to present to the kingdom. These documents express what the Army wanted the public to believe as to the Army’s own philosophies and justifications, which were evolving in reaction to the events of the summer and autumn. The New Model’s “public face,” as demonstrated in the popular press, changed from its originally limited ends of securing satisfaction of their material grievances to justifications for their intrusion into Parliamentary politics.
The Army’s goals were not the only element that can be seen evolving in these documents, as the language and tone employed change too. The early documents ooze with conventional terms such as “rights and liberties,” probably long familiar to English readers but lacking context or definition in these documents. This traditional language never disappears, but Army writers began to define what they meant by rights and liberties, which today we would probably call civil liberties, liberties that should be guaranteed by law. Both the Army and another loosely defined reforming group known as the Levellers became increasingly dissatisfied with the common law and what J.G.A. Pocock has called the “common law mind.” Where others saw an ancient constitution with its much-vaunted flexibility, the Army and Levellers saw a system open to the abuses and interpretations of judges and lawyers with no uniform standards. Yet it was the political system that came under the fiercest attack from the Levellers, and, once they had infiltrated it, the New Model Army. Parliament increasingly began to be seen by Englishmen of all stripes as an institution drunk on its own undefined powers and prerogatives, an institution bleeding the kingdom of material wealth in an orgy of mismanagement and corruption exacerbated by individuals acting for personal, not public, interest. To rein in these abuses, there were strident calls from the Army for reforming the duration, sitting, and composition of Parliament. The most radical of these reforms even challenged who had the right to vote on the composition of Parliament.
This entire development in print, from narrow demands to resounding declarations of man’s equality, demonstrates the politicization and radicalization of the New Model Army. Politicization defines the process in which the Army evolved from its original capacity as a fighting force to a political body that directly inserted itself into Parliamentary politics and attempted not only to control the composition of Parliament itself, but also to dictate public, fiscal, and legal policy. This was a tentative, uneven, and largely accidental process that culminated on the 6 August, the day that the Army occupied London and purged its eleven chief enemies from the House of Commons. 6 August was the successful completion of the Army’s politicization, after which it enjoyed a more direct say in the governance of the kingdom, but the Army’s radicalization had only just begun. For the use of force to settle a political dispute did not make the Army radical. Rather, it was what certain elements of the New Model wanted to do with this newly acquired power that radicalized its image as an institution.
Impatient with the slow progress of reform, lower ranks in the New Model began to agitate for the use of the Army’s new found authority to enact major and revolutionary social, fiscal, religious, and legal reform. To nineteenth- and twentieth-century minds these reforms looked startlingly modern and ensured the New Model’s place as a subject of study, especially since many of the proposed reforms – religious toleration, manhood suffrage, equal rights under the law – would not become reality in England for another 200 years. Yet previous scholarship has not focused on the language of this change in the popular press as a way of measuring the Army’s radicalization or politicization. The historiography generally points to the radicalization of the Army in the spring of 1647 or earlier, equating the Army’s politicization with its radicalization. Research into the contemporary pamphlets suggests that the conflation of these two processes is misleading, and that 6 August is the truly central date for the Army’s radicalization, a date much later than that usually proposed by historians of the period. After this date, Army publications in the popular press slowed from their previous torrent to a veritable trickle, a clue that other sources would not necessarily echo.
Of course, defining the Army as this or that can be treacherous, since the Army was not a single corporate whole, but a body of 21,000 men who possessed widely divergent views on religion and the reconstruction of the kingdom. What was remarkable about the New Model Army was the unity between officers and men, reinforced by the collective insults and showdown from and with Parliament. Members of the Army always tolerated each others’ religious differences, much to the disgust of various hardliners. An anonymous Army writer complained: “it is objected against us, that we would have a toleration of all sectaries, schismatiques, heretiques, blasphemies, errours, licentiousnesse, and wickednesses.” Indeed the Army does seem to have included Presbyterians, Baptists, Puritans, Brownists, and even tolerated Quakers. Differences in political opinion did not become a problem until the Presbyterian faction in Parliament introduced the ‘Declaration of Dislike’ in the House of Commons, a document which referred to the soldiers as “enemies to the State,” an intolerable insult that led to a purging of Presbyterian faction sympathizers from the Army in May-June. Even then, only 7% of the officers and 4% of the soldiers resigned or were cashiered. The Army was famous and proud of its unity, what Mark Kishlansky has called its “vaunted peace and harmony,” and this remarkable unity was crucial to the Army’s incipient politicization.
There were differences amongst Army officers and men, but these divisions were rarely made public. The commanding officers in the Army, such as Field Marshall Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lieutenant General of the Horse Oliver Cromwell, Commissary General Henry Ireton, and other high-ranking officers, often referred to as the ‘Grandees,’ occasionally disagreed with what the lower ranks were writing and saying. Yet neither did the grandees muzzle or discipline the ‘agitators,’ as the politically active members of the lower ranks were called, as would have been simple to do since they published under their own names. Opposing elements existed together in the Army and stood side by side, even if they did not see eye to eye.
Certain themes dominated the content of tracts issuing from the Army, both official and otherwise. In this paper I have divided these themes into two areas: section two deals with the Army’s material claims and section three their ideological claims. I have employed this division to tease out the dominant strands of thought, as their development is more clearly seen when disentangled from each other. An examination of these popular pamphlets suggests the importance of a date which, while always noted in the historiography, has never been seen as the focus of the Army’s radicalization: the 6thof August and the Army’s occupation of London. What had been a veritable flood of Army publications before the occupation of London suddenly dried up, and the next furious round of publishing would commence in October when the General Council of the Army conducted its famous debates at Putney.
II: Enemies to the State
This house takes well the Carriage of the Officers and Soldiers, in not engaging in the Petition; but gave Notice of their Dislike thereof:…the Sense this House has of that Petition, and the Order they have taken for stopping any further Proceedings upon the Petition in the Army.
The New Model Army’s intrusion into politics was not as unavoidable as its historiography has made it seem. Mark Kishlansky’s enormously influential Rise of the New Model Army was the first major work on the New Model in nearly a century and stood generations of accepted belief about the New Model on their heads, arguing that the Army was not an intrinsically radical organization bent on radical ends from its inception. Few historians would now challenge Kishlansky’s thesis, although, as always in the historiography of England in the 1640s, there is room for plenty of debate. The Army could have been politicized or radicalized before the spring of 1647, but if it was, then neither the soldiers nor their officers left any indication of that nascent radicalism in print. Quite simply, the New Model’s politicization was provoked in the spring and summer and kept red hot by the actions of the House of Commons. Several factors triggered the Army’s entry into politics: their material, legal, and civil concerns, and the House of Commons’ concomitant total disregard for those concerns.
All of these concerns crystallized in Parliament’s plans for Ireland, where revolt had been simmering while England was paralyzed during the Civil War. By 1647 England had effectively been ruled under droit administratif for five years, and had been bled white by incessant fiscal demands. In Warwickshire, for example, there existed an excise on essential commodities, a purchase tax, compulsory ‘loans’ to Parliament, and special taxes for both the New Model and English troops in Ireland. Additionally, Parliament’s prime tax, the wartime weekly assessment, amounted in a year to ten times King Charles I’s controversial annual Ship Money levy of the 1630s! None of these demands take into account free quarter for troops, outright plunder, or any of the other unaccounted costs of war. Besides these immense fiscal demands, cherished English civil liberties such as habeas corpus and trial by jury had been swept aside. The billeting of troops and martial law followed in the wake of both Royalist and Parliamentary armed forces, which ranged the length and breadth of England from Lostwithiel in Cornwall to Marston Moor in Yorkshire. The Civil Wars of 1642 -1653 truly were British rather than English, as no corner of the British Isles escaped the fighting. Parliament was no more to blame than the king for this state of affairs, but as John Morrill has commented, unlike the king, Parliament abandoned all pretence of respecting traditional rights. Contemporaries did not fail to notice this distinction either, as the (admittedly embittered) author of the Vox Militaris summarized, the kingdom’s condition was in “every way worse, then before this Parliament began.”
In late February and early March the House of Commons formulated a logical plan to solve several problems at the same time. They could crush the Irish revolt while easing the suffocating financial burdens of supporting the Army by shipping the core units of the never-defeated New Model to Ireland while disbanding the rest. The Parliamentary commissioners who traveled to the Army headquarters at Saffron Walden on 21 March to encourage and explain the terms of enlistment were instead surprised to be questioned by the officers, who wanted to know which units were to be disbanded and who was to command the regiments being sent to Ireland. Within days one of the earliest Army tracts appeared, heralding the storm that was about to engulf Parliament and Army and make reconciliation virtually impossible. The Apollogie of the Souldiers to all their Commission Officers in Sir Thomas Fairfax his Armie demonstrated that the rank and file already saw the legal ramifications of disbandment and were uneasy with Parliament’s handling of the matter. It was a non-confrontational piece, and the soldiers protested that they had fought for “the preservation of the Gospel, the liberty of the Subject, and the just and right privilidges of Parliament.” This barely mentioned petition, and the Commons’ reaction to it, would cause the irreconcilable split between Parliament and Army.
The lower officers and men did not dispute that a significant portion of the Army was to be disbanded, which is clearly demonstrated in the document “The humble Petition of the Officers and Souldiers of the Army” to Sir Thomas Fairfax around 20 March. The soldiers had four immediate material grievances they wanted Parliament to address. One was indemnity for actions that the “exigencie” of war made necessary “which the Law would not Warrant” in times of peace. The most notorious instance of this was horse theft, a hanging offense in seventeenth-century England. Horses were always in high demand in the Army, whose members routinely expropriated them, a situation that left the soldiers worried they could be hanged for taking horses on orders from superior officers. The second major demand was for their arrears to be audited and paid with freedom from drafting for those who had previously volunteered, and a fund for maimed soldiers and widows rounding out the list.
On the whole, the tone of the petition was respectful, with no mention of political or religious issues that would antagonize Parliament. These were modest requests. The Commons initially responded by ordering the suppression of the petition, but apparently it was already too late to stunt its circulation amongst the “soldiery,” and the Commons had a collective apoplectic fit upon learning that it was still circulating, against their orders. Parliament was in no mood to negotiate with an army it nominally controlled over the terms of its future service. Denzil Holles, the leader of the Presbyterian faction in the Commons, and personal enemy of Oliver Cromwell’s Independent faction, responded immediately with the innocuously titled “March 30th Declaration,” which soon became better known as the “Declaration of Dislike” because of the volatile language it contained.
Holles crossed a personal Rubicon with the Declaration of Dislike when he referred to the New Model Army as “enemies to the State and disturbers of the public peace” in response to their rather mild petition and legitimate requests. As Austin Woolrych has commented, “seldom can ten words have done more mischief than Holles’s ‘enemies of the state and disturbers of the public peace.’” These words were a rash and intolerable insult to men who had fought so that others could sit at “full tables in peace and safety, when these poor soules have been in the field in the face of death, in frost, snow, rain, cold, heat, wet, and dirt, by day, by night, in hunger and thirst, to keep back from you, and to supresse the fury of your blood-thirsty enemies.” This public slap in the face would not be forgotten, and the Declaration of Dislike would bitterly be mentioned in virtually every pamphlet that emanated from the New Model, far more than any other single grievance or demand. The Army would hound Holles for vindication of its honor until he fled across the English Channel and the offending declaration had been stricken from the official record.
Until the Declaration of Dislike, a compromise could have been reached between Army and Parliament, albeit with significant concessions on both sides. While Holles’s language was imprudent, Parliament’s challenge to the Army was not. The apparent folly of provoking 21,000 armed and battle-hardened veterans stationed in a neighboring county is offset by the fact that the Parliamentary government was teetering dangerously close to bankruptcy, and the arrears of the New Model had climbed to the stratospheric amount of several million pounds, or roughly equal to four times the entire annual revenue. Parliament clearly could not have met the Army’s entire fiscal demands even if they had wanted to, plus Fairfax and the Army under his command had so far been obedient and pliant to their political paymasters. The printed sources gave no indication that the Army was so far radicalized or politicized as to make a rapprochement with their civilian masters impossible. For some time the pamphlets issuing from the Army would continue to employ conventional vocabulary, arguments, and goals.
Army publications of the spring, both official and otherwise, were essentially concerned with material grievances, and the occasional political statements that slip in are, as we shall see, almost wholly traditional. The common soldiers known as agitators produced a significant number of these publications. The term ‘agitator’ only later came to have pejorative connotations, and in the mid seventeenth century, agitator signified one who had been empowered to act on the behalf of others, perhaps better indicated by a cognate and synonym that sometimes replaced it, the term ‘adjutator.’ The agitators were certainly active by mid April, and by month’s end had penned their first tract, The Apologie of the Common Soldiers. The agitators were referred to as “Gentlemen Soldiers” on one broadsheet, which meant that they were soldiers or troopers without rank. It is worth remembering that these common soldiers, Edward Sexby, William Allen and Thomas Sheppherd, wrote and printed their works with the Army’s blessing. Fairfax could obviously not control what the 21,000 men under his command wrote, thought, discussed, or read, but he did have the power to control what they printed. He certainly could have punished them individually; identifying them would have been easy enough, since they did not hide behind a cloak of anonymity as so many other Army writers would do. Whether or not Fairfax agreed with the agitators he at least allowed them to work unmolested, a scenario which Holles and the Presbyterian faction in Parliament found exasperating and infuriating.
The process by which the agitators came into being is explained in republican terms in A True Declaration of the present proceedings of the Army:
The Souldiers of this Armie finding themselves so stopt in their due and regular way of making known their grievances and desires to and by their Officers, were inforced into an unusuall, (but in that case necessary) way of correspondence and agreement amongst themselves, and chuse out of the Several Troups and Companies several men, and those out of their whole number, to chuse two or more for each Regiment, to act in the names and behalfe of the whole Souldiery of the respective Troups and Companies, in the prosecution of their Rights and Desires in the said Petition.
However, the language in both The Apologie and A True Declaration failed to live up to this republican promise, and Kishlansky terms the appearance of the agitators innovative, but not radical. The Apologie itself was a call for justice, but justice couched in traditional language. The agitators brushed off Parliament’s recent half-hearted honeyed words of reconciliation, rhetorically asking if they can “be satisfied with a complement, when our fellow Soldiers suffer at every Assize, for acts meerly relating to the Warre?… Where shall wee be secured, when the meer envy of a malicious person is sufficient to destroy us?” Indemnity was increasingly a major cause for concern with the soldiery, as the end of active fighting saw the restoration of normal legal proceedings. Soldiers and Parliament’s civilian officials were now being prosecuted under common law, a difficulty the soldiers soon came to appreciate. They often complained about this jurisdiction, since it left too much up to the decisions of individual lawyers and justices, some of whom might be Royalists while others simply favored an interpretation of the law that boded ill for the soldiers. As the soldiers complained in their own words, “we cannot thinke it safe to be left to the sense or construction of a Countrey Jury concerning the exigencies of War.” As the year progressed, the soldiers would increasingly make appeals to sources of justice other than the common law.
For now, the soldiers had not been forced into making novel arguments and continued printing in the traditional language. In the Second Apologie of all the private Souldiers the agitators hoped for a return of “Justice and Equitie, according to the Law of the Land… and that the meanest subject should fully enjoy his Right, Libertie, and proprieties in all things.” Exactly what this meant in practice remains unclear, although assumedly such language would have indicated to the reading public the Army’s commitment to traditional and cherished English civil liberties. In The Apologie the agitators employed the familiar language of private versus public good, an accusation they often hurled at the MPs, charging that they had “lately tasted of Soveraignity, and being lifted beyond the ordinary spheare of Servants, seek to become Masters, and degenerate into Tyrants” and wondering when the kingdom “shall we see Justice dispenced without partiality, or when shall the weal publike be singly sought after & endevoured?” The implication was that those who seek to serve themselves cannot possibly have the interests of the “weal publicke” at heart, and justice cannot be served. In such a situation the Army was not only standing firm in its opposition to the Irish service for its own grievances, but to ensure that the “just Rights and liberties of the Subjects of England” would be “vindicated and maintained.” They presented a simple binary opposition. Parliament was acting for its own private interests, while the New Model was the guardian of traditional English rights and liberties.
The only development in agitator demands was in response to the Declaration of Dislike. In addition to the usual calls for indemnity and arrears, two new demands appeared in the Second Apologie of all the private Souldiers. The first was “that the honour of this Army may be vindicated” in relation to Parliament’s insulting “enemies to the state” comment. The second was a call “that the Liberty of the Subject may be no longer inslaved, but that Justice and Judgement may be dealt to the meanest Subject of this Land, according to old Law,” which most likely referred to the lingering indignation of the common soldiers not being allowed to petition as members of the Army, while Londoners and the County of Essex were petitioning at the exact same time to have the New Model disbanded. Soldiers did not give up their rights as subjects when they enlisted.
It is instructive to compare Army documents to contemporaneous Leveller documents for an example of true contemporary radicalization. The Levellers were a loose group of reformists that seem to have emerged out of the chaos of the Civil War. Their most vocal proponents and nominal leaders were Richard Overton and the irascible John Lilburne, who attacked anyone and anything that stood in the way of his reforming vision. ‘Leveller’ was a pejorative term, coined by their opponents, because the Levellers would supposedly level society in their reforms, giving the commons of England rights and liberties at the expense of their social superiors.
These rights and liberties are outlined in their Large Petition of March. In this document the Levellers set out several sweeping reforms. They appealed to the strength and primacy of the House of Commons, as opposed to the degradations and tyranny of the House of Lords. The latter threatened the strength and independence of the Commons, the “supreme power” in Parliament, ostensibly equating the power of the House of Commons to the common people of England. Echoing Lilburne’s own treatment by the Star Chamber in 1638, the Large Petition decries the “unjust power of the Star Chamber” as exercised in compelling men and women “to answer to interrogatories tending to accuse themselves and others.” Then there was the great oppression of the High Commission, “most evident in molesting of godly, peaceable people for nonconformity” and the equally oppressive illegal monopoly of the Merchant Adventurers, who not only depress the economy of England, but impoverish tradesmen, sailors, and all who depend on the clothing and woolen industries. In the list of reforms that the Levellers suggested the House of Commons should undertake, the law is portrayed as especially oppressive to the people, being conducted in a foreign tongue with abbreviations incomprehensible to Englishmen. The fact that existing law was unjust, slow, complicated, and burdensome did not help.
As can be seen, the Large Petition lives up to its moniker, and entailed wide-ranging reforms that would touch every part of English life: societal, political, economic, legal, and religious. The breadth and depth of these reforms were especially noteworthy in comparison to the Army. Reforms encouraged by the Army were, however, remarkably unarticulated and plain when compared to the radical program of reform being advocated by the Levellers. This is not to say that lower elements of the Army would not have been sympathetic to Leveller demands, but if they were, it was not articulated in the popular press. The evidence in print gives little support to the view of the New Model Army as an organization supposedly already radical and political by the spring of 1647.
III: Rights and Liberties
By early May the so-called agitators had formally organized themselves according to a plan probably written up by the chief agitator, Edward Sexby. This plan prominently advocated appointing a “Councell for the ordering the undertakings of the Army” and establishing a “partie of able penn men at Oxford and the Army, where their presses be imployed to satisfie and undeceive the people.” But events soon overtook the Army, the reverberations of which were to produce the highpoint of Army politicization before radicalization. The Declaration of Dislike continued to haunt the soldiers. They feared that if they were disbanded before the Declaration could be repealed, being termed “enemies to the state” could leave them particularly vulnerable to prosecution. Parliament continued to drag its feet on meeting the Army’s demands. As the agitators sourly noted, Parliament was quick to condemn them as enemies to the state, but they “will be very tedious when any thing is offered that is for the good of the common-wealth.” The Lords and Commons finally passed an indemnity ordinance on 21 May, but it failed to satisfy the soldiers because of its alleged loopholes. The agitators soon were demanding the punishment and impeachment of the eleven members of Parliament who allegedly framed the Declaration of Dislike, calling them enemies to the Army and kingdom. These eleven MPs, often simply referred to as the “XI,” included the two most powerful Presbyterian leaders in the House of Commons, Denzil Holles and Sir Philip Stapleton. Holles, Stapleton, and the other nine were charged with promoting the recent Presbyterian design against the Army, which was undoubtedly true. Other charges, such as attempting to restore Charles I with the aid of the Scots, and fomenting a new civil war by raising forces to oppose the New Model may or may not have been true. The XI, and most Londoners, considered the New Model’s recent actions as bordering on rebellious, and tried to create a new army to crush the rebels.
Parliament now attempted to break the stalemate. On 25 May the Presbyterian faction successfully passed a motion in the Commons for the immediate disbandment of all of the New Model’s infantry regiments. Additionally, Parliament put money aside to entice deserters from the New Model and for London’s Presbyterian-controlled trained bands in order to create a military force in opposition to the New Model. This attempt to create a rival army in the form of London’s militias triggered the final significant purge of Presbyterians from the Army, as the New Model tenaciously stuck together to resist the threatened disbandment, either by a slow death through desertion or by obeying Parliament’s ordinance. Fairfax and his council of officers ordered a general rendezvous for the Army, gathering together the regiments that had been stationed apart to ease the burden of quartering on the counties. The Army instituted a new ‘General Council,’ formally bringing the agitators into the consultative structure of Fairfax and the higher officers, a further demonstration of the New Model’s solidarity. Events continued apace. Col. Rainborough’s regiment dealt a double blow to Parliamentary interests by seizing both the money Parliament had sent to disband several regiments and one of the kingdom’s two main magazines. To crown the entire action, Cornet George Joyce seized King Charles I from Parliamentary custody at Holmby on 1 June. Charles, always attentive to any opportunity that would possibly give him some perceived upper hand, happily exchanged his Parliamentary jailers for Army ones. The entire Army then marched on London, and by the middle of the month had spread out in an arc around the city, occupying Windsor Castle, the blockhouse at Tillbury, Kingston upon Thames, and parts of Kent.
In the midst of this dramatic action an official Army pamphlet appeared that clearly demonstrated an evolution in the New Model’s political awareness. A Declaration or Representation from his Excellency Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Army under his Command: Humbly tendred to the Parliament concerning the Just and Fundamentall Rights and Liberties of themselves and the Kingdom of 14 June elucidated the Army’s larger political aims and a set of demands more far-reaching than it had hitherto advanced. The language of the demands had also changed, with the Army employing novel appeals for justification. The tract began with one of the more memorable paeans of the period to a well-governed commonwealth. The Army maintains that risking their lives has been
a price but sufficient to the purchase of so rich a blessing, that we, and all the Freeborne people of this Nation may sit downe in quiet, under our vines, and under the glorious administration of Justice and Righteousnesse, and in full possession of those fundamentall Rights and Liberties, without which we can have little hopes, (as to human considerations) to enjoy either any comforts of life, or so much as life itselfe, but at the pleasures of some men, ruling meerly according to will and power.
The argument was no longer about material items such as arrears, but fundamental rights and liberties such as equal justice, reputation, and the freedom and peace to live in safety, free from both marauding armies and tax collectors. The Army writers argued that these were things Parliament ought to have been able to secure but failed because of their own venery, pride, and lust for power. Therefore the Army would now “proceed in our owne and the Kingdoms behalfe… to the defence of our owne and the peoples just Rights and Liberties.” The Army meant to accomplish this defense by reforming Parliament against the arbitrary power, violence, and oppression inherent in “particular parties or interests.” Nor would these reforms amount to anything “not warrantable before God and men,” as the Army had been continually warned against “Arbitrarinesse and Injustice” wherever they marched by the people of the kingdom.
It was in this document that the Army swerved off in a new direction for itself. For the first time the Army appealed to a power or tradition besides vague notions of justice or the ancient law of the land. Rather, both the law of nature and nations demonstrate a proper vindication of the Army’s actions in defense of just Rights and Liberties. England needed to look no further than her northern border to discover an example, as Scotland had “justified and protected” itself on the “very same grounds and principles.” The Netherlands and Portugal provided other examples of nations “proceeding upon the same Principles of right and freedome.” It was no resisting of “Magistracy” or authority to side with the principles of nature and nation, just as soldiers could lawfully resist a general who would turn his cannon on his own men. It was natural and Godly to carry on a “Testimony against the injustice and unrighteousnesse of men, and against the miscarriage of Governments, when corrupted or declining from their Primitive and Originall glory.”
Unlike previous Army pamphlets the Declaration or Representation also advanced an actual plan of reform, which other pamphlets had failed to do. The first point in the Army’s plan was to purge Parliament in order to curb delinquency, corruption, irregularities in elections, and “abuse to the state.” Only members of moral standing would be allowed to govern. The second point proceeded from the first in that it was an extended screed against the XI, who were charged with almost plunging England into another war by arming London against the Army. In order to prevent England from being ruled by such tyrants again the “people have a right to new and successive Elections unto that great and supreme trust [i.e. the House of Commons], at certaine periods of time, which is so essentiall and fundamentall to their freedome.” Point three was the logical corollary that Parliament should only sit for a certain length of time with new elections to follow, and the current Parliament should set a date to end itself. Other points sought to protect the “right and freedome of the People, to represent to the Parliament, by way of humble Petition, their grievances,” as was denied the soldiers in the New Model Army and to defend future Parliaments from being adjourned or dissolved at the King’s whim. At the least such a program was a firm foundation for securing the common and equal rights for “all the free-born people of this land” and the Army would accept no less, these reforms being the “principall things we bottome and insist upon.” Lastly the Army made a single non-political plea for religious toleration, that those with “tender consciences” not be “debarred from the common Rights, Liberties, or Benefits belonging equally to all, as men and Members of the Commonwealth, while they live soberly, honestly, and inoffensively.” Satisfied with their proscriptions for curing the kingdom’s ills, the Army could claim “we have thus freely and clearly declared the depth and bottome of our hearts and desires in order to the Rights, Liberties and peace of the Kingdom.”
The Declaration or Representation was clearly not as radical as the earlier Leveller Large Petition, in that the Declaration or Representation did not seek a fundamental reorganization of English society through massive economic, legal, and political changes. What made the Levellers radical, but not the Army, was that the New Model was still seeking to return the kingdom to an idealized past where freeborn Englishmen enjoyed their rights and liberties while dozing in the sun under their vines. The Levellers, on the other hand, proposed novel means for righting England’s wrongs. Nevertheless, the Declaration or Representation was quite a departure from anything that anyone in the Army had previously produced, and it was signed by John Rushworth, one of the Army secretaries, for Fairfax and the “Officers and Souldiery of his Army,” an official stamp of approval. The whole tone of the document is different from anything previously published by the Army, from its choice of justification in natural and ‘national’ law to an uncharacteristically precise plan of reform. It is also worth pointing out that this first Army document of reform shares very little in common with the larger Leveller pleas for a reformation of English society, and it would be difficult to see any Leveller influence in this Army document. By mid June, at least, Army and Leveller philosophies and goals appeared to be independent of each other.
The Army continued on its path of politicization and would soon thrust itself into the middle of the Kingdom’s political life. As Kishlansky has commented, the New Model’s arrival on the political stage was the harbinger of the emergence of radical politics that transformed the Civil War into revolution. Parliament continued to resist the Army’s demands, and voted that the Army should move forty miles away from Westminster and relinquish custody of the King. Neither side made any move to honor the other’s wishes, and on 23 June the Army presented its Humble Remonstrance from his Excellency Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Army under his Command, concerning the present State of affairs, complaining that Parliament was not meeting their demands: “we have yet received no Answer or resolution, nor can find any consideration at all had of them.” The Army would no longer brook Parliament’s evasion tactics and intransigence – they were given twenty-four hours to accede to the Army’s demands or else “we shall be inforced to take such courses extraordinary, as God shall inable and direct us” – small comfort to the MPs. These demands now had direct political overtones, and the material grievances of the spring were barely mentioned. They called for the removal of the XI, and for Parliament to stop encouraging and paying men to enlist in London to oppose the New Model, along with “all the things desired in our late representation in behalfe of the Kingdome may be put into some speedy way of settlement.” When 24 June came and went without any Parliamentary response, the New Model once again marched on Westminster. The Army’s full-dress political program and hostile deployment around London finally garnered the results the Army had long been pushing for: Parliament blinked.
During the next month political activity centered upon Parliament’s alternation between defiance and compliance; they would give in to Army demands when the soldiers neared London and defy them when the Army withdrew. During this daring little two-step another document appeared from an Army writer confirming the New Model’s departure from its earlier conventional demands and justifications. One noteworthy work of early July, A cleere and full Vindication of the late Proceedings of the Armie has a particularly illuminating subtitle: by Certain Positions, built upon Principles and Grounds both of Religion and sound Reason. Wherein the power of the Magistrate is stated and bounded, and the just Liberty and Priviledge of the People asserted, in point of Civill Government.The author, who does not appear to be a soldier or agitator but may perhaps be one of the “penn men” or propagandists employed by the Army, propounds “that known principle, Salus populi, Suprema Lex” – the well-being of the people is the supreme law. He expanded his argument to argue that the end and true intent of civil government is the safety and prosperity of the people it governs, and authorities have no powers that are not “consistent with and no wayes prejudiciall to the common good of men.”
While these ideas do not seem to be radical ones, they were certainly more cogent than the Army’s earlier arguments for defiance of Parliament. But while salus populi, suprema lex may be compatible with other types of law, it holds complete primacy over them. “In such cases the exigency of the Common-wealth, the Law of Nature, and the supreme Law…impose an obligation upon subordinate Powers, and men in Commission, to interpose their power and authority between the tyranicall power of Oppressors, and the people oppressed by them.” But the author of the pamphlet was more interested in vindicating the Army’s insubordination towards the legitimate authorities than making theoretically pure arguments, appealing also to religious precedents and common sense. It is “repugnant to the principles of common sense to suffer the dissolution or destruction, as of the Bodie naturall, so of the Bodie Politike.” The author also dipped into Protestant resistance theory by quoting from Calvin’s Institutes. If lower magistrates “wink at Kings willfully raging over and treading down the poor Commonalty, their dissembling is not without wicked breach of Faith, because they deceitfully betray the liberty of the people.” In such a case the lower magistrates are not forbidden to defy their masters in order to overturn the “outraging licentiousness of Kings,” or of Parliaments, in the New Model’s particular view. As a matter of fact, all types of laws may be put aside if need be: “ordinary or common rules of proceeding in a State or Kingdom may be laid aside, and such extraordinary made use of in their stead, as hold a nearer and a more immediate connexion with the…common safety, just liberty, and an equitable propriety.” Salus populi, suprema lex would seem to know no limits in the mind of this author.
Luckily for England, the kingdom did have institutional ways of bypassing the “ordinary and knowne Lawes” when need be. “Because the letter of the Statute Lawes of our Land, in many particular cases, falls short of that equity and ease, which the Law-makers by them should seeke to establish, there is a court of Chancery, or equity provided by way of supply, which is as it were for the correction of the harshnesse of the leter of other fixed and knowne Lawes.” This author was not wedded to the common law mind or seemingly any other doctrinal straitjacket. Rather, his only concern was explaining when magistrates may lawfully be defied, and he picked whatever suited him from a smorgasbord of principles and systems for arguments that conformed to his expedients. As such, the Cleere and full Vindication of the late Proceedings of the Armie does not indicate any hint of novel ideas on the behalf of the author or the Army, but only a willingness or need to pursue whatever arguments will assist in its battle of words with Parliament. Indeed, it may signify the growing political savvy of the Army and increasing sophistication in argument and language, but nothing innovative in thought.
This midsummer document shows the Army reacting directly to political events as they unfold, and then afterwards formulating arguments to justify themselves and answer their enemies. In other words, the Army was not promulgating some novel, detached, radical ideological program as much as they were picking up and using whatever argument came to hand in an effort to discredit their enemies and justify their own actions. Despite notable differences in language, tone, and content from earlier Army pamphlets, this text does not give any hint of a coherent Army ideology that contained radical elements. This pamphlet indicates that the Army’s language and goals developed as the spring and summer wore on to reflect changing political and military realities rather than having a program of political or legal reform.
While the Army moved to break the stalemate decisively in June, the next (and final) development in the summer match of wills between Parliament and Army was instigated by a mob. Parliament had been threatened with violence all summer long, and not just from the New Model Army. “Reformadoes” – discharged officers and soldiers clamoring for their arrears – and apprentices had been menacing both the Commons and Lords with their own demands. On 26 July a riot exploded in the City of London, and a mob stormed the sitting House of Lords and Commons. The Lords were terrorized into passing several ordinances at the whim of the rioters. Then the mob moved on to the Commons and held the MPs hostage until they passed the Lords’ ordinances, even eagerly joining in the voting themselves. As Woolrych has commented, “there can be no doubt that this outrage was abetted by some of the leading City officers,” and was most likely encouraged by the XI. The Army had similar suspicions, and Fairfax wrote to the mayor, aldermen, and Common Council of London a subtly threatening letter, “I cannot but look on your selves (who are in authority) as accountable to the Kingdome, for your present interruptions of that hopefull way of peace and settlement.” Members of the Independent faction and other frightened MPs fled to the Army for protection, and the perfect reason for investing London had fallen squarely into the New Model Army’s lap.
A London militia officer by the name of Juxon noted in his diary that the headquarters, “upon the news of these things, sent out orders for the army with all speed…to march” on London. The effect on the City was remarkable, with “all the reformadoes and grand incendiaries were in a moment slunk away and not to be found.” The New Model’s occupation of London on 6 August was a complete success, without a shot fired or sword drawn. Juxon noted that “whereas they were reported to be a plundering army, it should appear to the contrary.” The soldiers entered the City “in so great order and civility that ’twas not heard of so much as an apple took by any of them – to the great admiration of all that beheld them.” Fairfax was free to escort the members of both houses of Parliament back to Westminster Palace, symbolically restoring the House of Commons and Lords to its full strength, despite the fact that eleven of its chief Presbyterians had in turn fled, many to the Continent. After this date Army pamphlets that had been appearing all summer dried up to a trickle, and only a few more documents would materialize in the month of August. The New Model Army had defeated its opponents in Parliament, without spilling a drop of blood. The politicization of the Army was complete, but the radicalization of certain parts of it was only beginning.
IV: Radicalization and its Limits
When I heare men speake of laying aside all Engagements to consider only that wild or vast notion of what in every man’s conception is just or unjust, I am afraid and doe tremble att the boundlesse and endlesse consequences of itt.
The occupation of London had a profound effect on the New Model Army. Their proximity to the capital made the Army susceptible to Leveller propaganda and recent success made the Army a magnet to radical recruits. Leveller leaders Lilburne, Overton and John Wildman led a full-front lobbying assault on the New Model, made easier by the enlistment of radical soldiers who could influence the Army’s political agenda from inside the New Model. Before 6 August there did not seem to be any exchange of Army and Leveller ideas, at least not in print. But in the autumn, radical ideas indicative of Leveller influence begin to appear in Army documents, causing a split between the Grandees and the lower ranks, and rightly or wrongly, the Army came to be associated with radical ideas, both by contemporaries and later generations.
However, as was warned in the preface, calling the Army “radical” at this or any other point is anachronistic, as only a small part of the Army adopted these radical ideas, which were strenuously opposed by the Grandees. The soldiers sympathetic to the Levellers and campaigning for reform were known as the ‘agents,’ distinct from the agitators and what they represented. As such, the New Model Army as a whole never became “radical,” only certain elements were radicalized by the relative freedom they gained as being soldiers in close proximity to London. Whatever “radicalization” took place should be traced not to the spring and the Army’s intrusion into politics, but rather the late summer and autumn. It was in August and September that something truly revolutionary was brewing in the Army, as shown in the Clarke Papers and manifested in print with The Case of the Army Truly Stated.
The result of occupying London did not match up to the initial expectation of the Army’s demands being met and the nation’s wounds being healed. If anything, it made matters worse, and the agents and more militantly radical elements might have never had the opportunity to spread their message. Besides the intrusion of radical elements into the Army through Leveller propaganda and enlistment, another major source for the reforming impetus becomes clear from reading the popular pamphlets: failed expectations. As the summer waned and autumn began without the Army’s material and philosophical grievances being addressed, the soldiery became restless. The New Model’s political goals had been reached, in that the XI had been purged from Parliament and its honor vindicated, but little else of substance had come to fruition.
This sense of failure becomes clear in the final document to be considered, The Case of the Army Truly Stated, the mid October ideological symbol-in-print of Army progressivism. The agents complain “the Army hath waited with much patience,” yet nothing has been done “either for the Army or the poore oppressed people of the nation, but we also conceive, that there is little probabillitie of any good, without some more speedy and vigorous actings.” This final clause seems to be essential, as the whole tone of the pamphlet is one of impatience. The soldiers felt that now was the perfect opportunity not just to repair the kingdom, but to reform it as well, to curb the abuses and inequalities that initially plunged England into civil war. The soldiers often return to the point that because so much has been sacrificed in lives, treasure, and blood to defeat various tyrannies that they cannot return to the status quo, it must have been for something greater. As Edward Sexby, the most prominent of the agitators termed it, “wee have engaged in this Kingdome and ventur’d our lives, and itt was all for this: to recover our birthrights and privilidges as Englishmen.” The specific “birthrights and privilidges” the Levellers wanted was a social and political reform of the nation.
None of the publique burthens, or oppressions, by arbitrary Committees, injustice in the Law, Tythes, Monopolies, and restraint of free trade, burthensome oaths, inequalitie of Assessments, Excize, and otherwise are removed or lightned.
As much as anything, this list demonstrated the new Leveller influence on the Army, as soldiers had raised their sights much higher than reform of Parliament or the general rights and liberties language that characterized so much of their earlier output.
There was another reason for the agents’ keenness to effect immediate reform: the Army was becoming a focal point of popular complaint. “The love and affection of the people to the Armie, (which is an armies greatest strength) is decayed, cooled, and neere lost.” The agents claimed it was because the Army had done little to better their condition or engineer social change: are the commons of England “more free than before?” But the agents highlight a more pragmatic reason too: “more taxes are imposed for pay for the Army.” Yet the reforms outlined in The Case of the Army Truly Stated were not going to be casually or quickly implemented; they advocated a full reform platform. Their first demands reiterated the principal demands made in the Army declaration of 14 June, which was a reform of Parliament. They called for Parliament’s immediate purging of corrupt members, to be followed by its long overdue dissolution. Future elections were to be held regularly, and Parliament was to sit for a set period of time. The Case of the Army went on to make some startling proclamations on the source of power and its future application in Westminster. “All power is originally and essentially in the whole body of the people,” and their free choice is “the only originall or foundation of all just governement.”
Thus the truly radical element in both The Case of the Army and Leveller reforms was in their argument over who should be able to elect MPs. “All the freeborn [men] at the age of 21 yeares and upwards, be the electors, excepting those that have or shall deprive themselves of that their freedome.” The notion of manhood suffrage was an outrageously ambitious one, and two centuries would pass before it neared reality. When the matter was debated in the Army’s General Council at Putney Church on 28 October, the Grandees could not fathom such a reform, and Commissary General Henry Ireton demonstrated how he worked himself into an early grave with his single-minded inability to abandon the topic, refuting it at each and every opportunity. Ireton, son-in-law and comrade-in-arms of Oliver Cromwell, was the foremost thinker of the Grandees, and he followed the idea to what seemed to be its logical conclusion. In manhood suffrage, he saw nothing less than the ruin of England, and the destruction of its ancient constitution. “Give mee leave to tell you, that if you make this rule I thinke you must flie for refuge to an absolute naturall Right, and you must deny Civill Right…By a man’s being borne heere hee shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here, and of all thinges heere, I doe not thinke itt a sufficient ground.” Ireton imagined a tyranny of democracy voting and enacting what it pleased, which must inevitably lead to a sort of communism. This absolute “right of nature” will result in the dissolution of the notion of personal property.
By that same right of nature [manhood suffrage], hee hath an equal right in any goods he sees: meate, drinke, cloathes, to take and use them for his sustenance. Hee hath a freedome to the land, to take the ground, to exercise itt, till itt; he hath the same freedome to any thinge that any one doth account himself to have any propriety in.
In short, the existence of the 40-shilling freehold vote was the “most fundamentall parte of the Constitution of the Kingdome, which if you take away, you take away all by that.” The civil constitution could not just be reformed by manhood suffrage; manhood suffrage would turn the entire world upside down. Thus the preservation of the ancient laws of the kingdom were not a defense of tradition or vested interests, but the entire English way of life, and these radical reforms could not be allowed.
It is not difficult to see the allure of The Case of the Army Truly Stated and the Putney debates for nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians. Lines such as Colonel Rainborough’s “the poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest hee”
are justly famous in their ringing demands for individual liberty and collective justice. The temptation to dig backwards and search for the precise origins of such revolutionary theories is often too much for an historian to overcome. But as Mark Kishlansky showed us twenty-five years ago, in the case of the New Model Army, such temptations are best resisted. The overwhelming majority of historiography on the New Model Army still highlights its early politicization and radicalization. Yet an examination of printed pamphlets emanating from the Army in the summer of 1647 suggests something else. While printed materials alone, even in a subject so avidly followed by contemporaries as the New Model Army, cannot possibly tell the whole story, they do hint that such assertions of the New Model’s early radicalism are nothing more than popular myths. An independent Army philosophy or point of view existed prior to the autumn intrusion of Leveller ideology. It is, however, the more famous and better-defined Leveller ideology that has come to surpass and signify Army ideology, especially in the popular imagination. But with good cause, for the New Model Army was not a radical body, and if certain elements in the Army were radical then they were submerged in the personal beliefs of a marching mass of humanity.
Army philosophy before June was disjointed at best, only reacting to events as they occurred with no ideological cohesion to make a consistent philosophy. There simply was no clearly-defined political consciousness in print before the Declaration of 14 June. If Parliament had not provoked the Army by dismissing its grievances out of hand, the political and radical development of the Army may never have taken place. It was the denouement of the Army’s conflict with Parliament, the 6 August investing of London, with its resulting intrusion of Leveller men and philosophy, which led to the radicalization of certain parts of the Army. While there was an internal discrepancy as to what the Grandees, agents, or agitators believed, there can be little doubt that the Army became an instrument for progressive change, and served as the vanguard for one of the great revolutions of the early modern western world.
 Vox Militaris: Or an Apologetical Declaration Concerning the Officers and Souldiers of the Armie, under the Command of his Excellency Sr. Thomas Fairfax, (London: 11 August [Thomason]), 11. I and j, u and v, vv and w and the “long S” in the original sources have been modernized in this paper for the convenience of the reader. Since chronology is crucial in this paper, and events moved quickly in the summer of 1647, exact dates of the pamphlets are given if known. The date that appears on the pamphlet is given primacy, followed by dates supplied by Thomason, which will be indicated in the note. Thomason’s dates appear to be the day he purchased the pamphlet, and can safely be assumed to be the latest possible date for a pamphlet to have appeared. All dates are from 1647 (New Style) unless otherwise noted.
 The historiography concerning the New Model Army is considerably less byzantine than that of the English Civil War, but can still be confusing. The three main studies used in this paper are Mark Kishlansky, The Rise of the New Model Army (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Ian Gentles, The New Model Army in England, Ireland and Scotland, 1645-1653 (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1992); and Austin Woolrych’s, Soldiers and Statesmen: The General Council of the Army and its Debates, 1647-1648 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1987). Gentles sees the radicalization of the Army significantly earlier than Kishlansky does, commenting that “radical ideas and practices were in fact common currency in the army” as early as March 1646, months before the first Civil War ended with the June capitulation of the Royalist capital of Oxford (Gentles, 141). He continues on to comment that the Army was already politicized by March 1647, rather than the process beginning in March, as Kishlansky and my own readings would suggest (Gentles, 149). Woolrych’s study focuses, as the title implies, on the politicization and radicalization of the Army. Woolrych comes to the same conclusion as Gentles that the Army was already politicized by spring 1647, contra Kishlanksy, whose chronology for a late radicalization he finds “surely implausible” (Woolrych, 19).
 A Declaration of the Engagements, Remonstrances, Representations, Proposals, Desires and Resolutions from His Excellency Sir Tho: Fairfax, and the generall Councel of the Army (London, 27 September), 2. More commonly known as ‘The Army Book of Declarations,’ this remarkable document is a collection of the spring and summer’s papers and pamphlets issued by the Army, and as such is the best source for ‘official’ documents, or at least ones that were vetted by Fairfax and his council.
 C.H. Firth, ed. The Clarke Papers, Vol. 1 (London: The Camden Society, 1891), 22. It is the eminent historian Firth who suggests the authorship of Sexby, based on its close resemblance to Sexby’s other writings.
 The term “Presbyterian” in these instances does not refer to “a” or “the” Presbyterian Church, but a political and religious faction centered around a shared faith, usually sympathetic to or in league with the Scots.