Imágenes de páginas
PDF

ranks a considerable number of Puritans, whether Independent or not. The army, however, was certainly not formed on the principles which had guided Cromwell in the selection of his first troopers, and indeed it was impossible to select 30,000 men on the exclusive plan which had been found possible in the enlistment of a single troop or a single regiment. What chiefly—so far as the rank and file were concerneddistinguished the New Model from preceding armies was that it was regularly paid. Hitherto the soldiers had been dependent on intermittent Parliamentary grants, or still more intermittent efforts of local committees. All this was now to bechanged. A regular taxation was assessed on the counties for the support of the new army, and the constant pay thus secured was likely to put an end to the desertions on a large scale which had afllicted former commanders, thus rendering it possible to bring the new force under rigorous discipline, a discipline which punished even more severely offences against morality than those directed against military efficiency.

The higher the state of discipline the more important is the selection of officers; and here at least Cromwell’s views had full scope. On the mere ground that it was desirable to place command in the hands of those who were most strenuous in the prosecution of the war, the preference was certain to be given to men who were least hampered by a desire 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, “ havea 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 oflicers 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 efliciency 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 term had 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 lslip, 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 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 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 present at 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

« AnteriorContinuar »