« AnteriorContinuar »
to make terms with an unbeaten King—in other words, to Independents rather than to Presbyterians. In another way Cromwell's ideas were carried out. "I had rather," he had once said, "have a plain russetcoated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed." There was no distinction of social rank amongst the officers of the New Model. Amongst them were men of old families such as Fairfax and Montague, side by side with Hewson, the cobbler, and Pride, the drayman. If ever the army should be drawn within the circle of politics, much would follow from the adoption of a system of promotion which grounded itself on military efficiency alone.
For the present the services of the new army were required solely in the field. On April 20 Cromwell, who was permitted to retain his commission forty days after the ordinance had passed, and whose allotted terrrThad not yet expired, was sent with his cavalry to sweep round the King's head-quarters at Oxford in order to break up his arrangements for sending out the artillery needed by Rupert if he was again to take the field. Cromwell's movement was completely successful. He not only scattered a Royalist force at Islig, and captured Blechington House by sheer bluff, but he swept up all the draught horses on which Charles had counted for the removal of the guns, and | thus incapacitated the enemy from immediate action.
| Rupert had to wait patiently for some time before he could leave his quarters.
It is seldom that men realise at first the necessary consequences of an important change, and, on this occasion, the Committee of Both Kingdoms and the Parliament itself were slow to discover that, if the S new army was to achieve victory, its movements must be guided, not by politicians at Westminster, but by the general in the field. The first act of the Committee was to send Fairfax with eleven thousand men to the relief of Taunton, where Blake, who not long
; before had defended Lyme against all the efforts of the Royalists to take it, was now holding out to the last with scanty protection from the fortifications he
I had improvised. The Committee's orders, necessary perhaps at first, were persisted in even after it was known that Charles had been joined at Oxford by the field army which had hitherto protected the besiegers of Taunton in the West, and that, whilst a much smaller force than eleven thousand men would be now sufficient to raise the siege, every soldier that could be spared was needed farther east. The next blunder of the Committee was even worse. Charles had marched to the North with all the force he could gather, in the hope of undoing the consequences of Marston Moor. If there was one lesson which the Committee ought to have learnt from the campaign of the preceding year it was that it is useless to besiege towns whilst the enemy's army remains unbeaten in the field. Yet when every military consideration spoke with no uncertain voice for the policy of following up Charles's army without remission till it had been defeated, the sage Committee-men at Westminster ordered Fairfax to besiege Oxford. Charles, at liberty to direct his movements where he would, had been deflected from his course, and on May 31 had stormed Leicester. The news shook the Committee's resolution to keep the direction of the army in its own feeble hands. On June 2 it directed Fairfax to break up the siege of Oxford. On the 4th a petition from the London Common Council asked that, though the forty days during which Cromwell kept his appointment under the Self-Denying Ordinance had now elapsed, he might be placed at the head of a new army to be raised in the Eastern Association. Another petition from Fairfax's officers asked that he might be placed in the vacant lieutenant-generalship. The Commons agreed, but, for the presenTat least, the Lords withheld their consent. At a later*time, when events had rendered refusal impossible, the Lords gave their consent to an appointment for which Cromwell was certainly not disqualified by anything in the Self-Denying Ordinance in the form in which they had allowed it to pass; considering that that Ordinance merely demanded the surrender of his commission, without imposing any bar to his reappointment.
When on June 14 the army under Fairfax found itself in presence of the King at Naseby, Cromwell was once more in command of the horse. As usual in those days the infantry was in the centre. On the two wings were the cavalry, that on the right under Cromwell in person, that on the left under Ireton. Ireton was driven back by Rupert, who, having learned nothing since his headlong charge at Edgehill, dashed in pursuit without a moment's thought for the fortunes of the remainder of the King's army. Cromwell, after driving off the horse opposed to him, drew rein, as he had done at Marston Moor, to watch the sway of the battle he had left behind him. Seeing his duty clear, he left three regiments to continue the pursuit, and with the remainder fell upon the Royalist infantry, and with the help of Fairfax's own foot destroyed or captured the whole body. Rupert returned too late to do anything but join Charles in his flight. Five thousand prisoners had been taken, of whom no less than five hundred were officers, while Charles's whole train of artillery remained in the hands of the victors. That Cromwell had contributed more than any other man to this crushing victory was beyond dispute.
Cromwell, as was his usual habit, ascribed this success to Divine aid. "I can say this of Naseby," he wrote, "that when I saw the enemy draw up and march in gallant order towards us, and we a company of poor ignorant men to seek to order our battle, the General having commanded me to order all the horse, I could not—riding alone about my business—but smile out to God praises in assurance of victory, because God would, by things that are not, bring to naught things that are, of which I had great assurance —and God did it." No doubt, as has been said, Cromwell omitted to mention that the Parliamentary army had numbers on its side—not much less than 14,000, opposed to 7,500. But it was not the numerical superiority of the Parliamentarians which won the day. It did not enable Ireton to withstand Rupert, and the infantry in the centre was already giving way when Cromwell returned to assist it. It was the discipline rather than the numbers of Cromwell's "horse aided by the superb generalship of their commander that gained the day. Cromwell, when he wrote of his soldiers as 'poor ignorant men,' was doubtless glancing back in thought at his own early criticism of the fugitives at Edgehill. The yeomen and peasants whom he had gathered round him owed much to discipline and leadership; but they owed much also to the belief embedded in their hearts that they were fighting in the cause of God.