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was John Disbrowe, his brother-in-law, whilst another brother-in-law, Valentine Wauton, though not actually serving under Cromwell, rallied to his side, and became the captain of another troop in the Parliamentary army. To the end of his career Cromwell never forwarded the prospects of a kinsman or friend unless he was persuaded of his efficiency, though he never shrank from the promotion of kinsmen whom he believed himself able to trust, in order to shake off the charge of nepotism from himself.
The sobriety of Cromwell’s judgment was as fully vindicated by his choice of the cavalry arm for himself, as by the selection of his subordinates. If the result of the coming war was to be decided by superiority in cavalry, as would certainly be the case, the chances were all in favour of the royalist gentry, whose very nickname of “cavaliers” was a presage of victory, and who were not only themselves familiar with horsemanship from their youth up, but had at their disposal the grooms and the huntsmen who were attached to their service. “Your troops,” he said some weeks later to his cousin Hampden, after the failure of the Parliamentary horse had become manifest, “are most of them old decayed serving men and tapsters, and such kind of fellows ; and their troops are gentlemen’s sons and persons of quality. Do you think the spirits of such base and mean fellows will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have
honour and courage and resolution in them? . . . You must get men of
spirit, and, take it not ill what I say—I know you will not—of a spirit that is likely to go on as far as gentlemen will go, or else you will be beaten still.” The importance of a good cavalry was in those days relatively much greater than it is now. A body of infantry, composed in about equal proportions of pikemen and musketeers, the latter armed with a heavy and unwieldy weapon, only to be fired at considerable intervals, and requiring the support of a rest to steady it, needed to be placed behind hedges to resist a cavalry charge. It was a recognised axiom of war that a foot regiment marching across open country required cavalry as a convoy to ward off destructive attacks by the enemy’s horse.
So unquestioned was the inferiority of infantry, that unless the horsemen who gathered round Charles’s standard when it was displayed on the castle-hill at Nottingham could be overpowered, the resistance of the Parliamentary army could hardly be prolonged for many months. That they were overpowered was the achievement of Cromwell, and of Cromwell alone.
. It was something that Cromwell had gathered round him his sixty God-fearing men. It was more, that he did not confide, as a mere fanatic would have done, in their untried zeal. His recruits were subjected to an iron discipline. The hot fire of enthusiasm for the cause in which they had been enlisted burnt strongly within them. They had drawn their swords not for constitutional safeguards, but in the service of God Himself, and God Himself, they devoutly trusted, would shelter His servants in the day of battle against the impious men who were less their enemies than His. It was no reason—so they learnt from their captain—that they should remit any single precaution recommended by the most worldly of military experts. Cromwell almost certainly never told his soldiers—in so many words—to trust in God and keep their powder dry. Yet, apocryphal as is the anecdote, it well represents the spirit in which Cromwell’s commands were issued. The very vividness of his apprehension of the supernatural enabled him to pass rapidly without any sense of incongruity from religious exhortations to the practical satisfaction of the demands of the material world.
When on October '23, -I642, the first battle of the war was fought at Edgehill, Cromwell’s troop was one of the few not swept away by Rupert’s headlong charge. Whether he owed this distinction to his own skill in withdrawing behind the unbroken portion of the Parliamentary infantry, or to the commands of his superior officers, is unknown. At all events, he took his share in the indispensable service rendered by the little force of cavalry still remaining at Essex’s disposal, after the whole of the Royalist horse had galloped off in uncurbed pursuit. It was its co-operation which, by assailing in flank
and rear the King’s foot regiments, whilst the infantry broke them up in front, enabled the Parliamentary army to claim at least a doubtful victory in the place of the rout which would otherwise have befallen it if Rupert, on his late return, had found his master’s foot in a condition to carry on the struggle. \Vhatever else Cromwell learnt from his first experience of actual warfare, he had learnt from Rupert’s failure after early success, never to forget that headlong valour alone will accomplish little, and that a good cavalry officer requires to know when to draw rein, as well as when to charge, and to subordinate the conduct of the attack in which he is personally engaged to the needs of the army as a whole.
Many months were to pass away before Cromwell was to measure swords with Rupert. He remained under Essex almost to the end of the year, and was present at Turnham Green, when Essex saw Charles, after taking up a position at Brentford in the hope of forcing a passage to London, march off to Reading and Oxford without attempting to strike a blow. Towards the end of I642, or in the early part of I643, Cromwell had work found for him which was eventually to breathe a new spirit into the Parliamentary army. Enormous as was the advantage which the devotion of London conferred upon Parliament, London by no means exercised that supreme influence which was exercised by Paris in the times of the French Revolution. Both parties, therefore, put forth their efforts in organising local forces, but of all the local organisations which were brought into existence, the only one entirely successful was the Eastern Association, comprising Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge and Herts, and that mainly because Cromwell was at hand to keep it up to the mark. There was to be a common fund at the service of the Association, whilst the forces raised in the several shires of which it was composed were to be at the disposal of a common committee.
In England generally the first half of -I643 was a time of desultory fighting, alternating with efforts to make peace without the conditions
which might have brought peace within sight. It was not to be expected either that Parliament would accept Charles on his own terms, or that Charles would bow down to any terms which Parliament was likely to offer. Cromwell, at least, took no part in these futile negotiations, and did all that in him lay to clear the counties of the Eastern Association from Royalists, and to put them in a state of defence against Boyalist incursions. At some time later than January 23, and before the end of February, he was promoted to a colonelcy. In March he was fortifying Cambridge, and urgently pleading for contributions to enable him to complete the work. Again we hear of him as sending to arrest a Royalist Sheriff who attempted to collect soldiers at St. Alban's, and then hurrying to Lowestoft to crush a Boyalist movement in the town. After this no more is heard of royalism holding up its head in any corner of the Association, and to the end of the war no Boyalist in arms again set foot within it. By the end of May it was joined by Huntingdonshire, the county of Cromwell’s birth.
Cromwell’s superabundant energy was employed in other ways than in contending against armed men. Laud’s enforcement of at least external signs of respect to objects consecrated to religious usage, had provoked a reaction which influenced Puritanism on its least noble side. A certain Dowsing has left a diary, showing how he visited the Suffolk churches, pulling do\vn crosses, destroying pictures and tearing up brasses inscribed with Oran: pro animd, the usual expression of media-zval piety towards the dead. At Cambridge, Cromwell himself, finding opposition amongst those in authority in the University, sent up three of the Heads of Houses in custody to \Vestminster, and on a cold night in March shut up the Vice-Chancellor and other dignitaries without food or firing till midnight in the public schools, because they refused to pay taxes imposed by Parliament.
Nor was it only with open enemies that Cromwell and those who sympathised with him had to deal. Of all forms of war, civil strife is the most hideous, and it is no wonder that the hands of many who
had entered upon it with the expectation that a few months or even weeks would suffice to crush the King, were now slackened. \Vas it not better, they asked, to come to terms with Charles than to continue a struggle which promised to drag out for years? Negotiations opened at Oxford in the spring failed, indeed, to lead to peace, because neither party had the spirit of compromise, but they were accompanied or followed by the defection from the Parliamentary ranks of men who, at the outset, had stood up manfully against the King, such as Sir Hugh Cholmley, who hoisted the royal colours over Scarborough Castle, which had been entrusted to him by the Houses; and the Hothams, father and son, who, whilst nominally continuing to serve the Parliament, were watching for an opportunity of profitable desertion. Such tendencies were encouraged by the vigour with which the King's armies were handled, and the successes they gained in the early summer. On May I6, the Parliamentary General, the Earl of Stamford, was defeated at Stratton, with the result that Sir Ralph llopton was able to overrun the Western counties at the head of the Royalist troops, and though defeated on Lansdown by Sir William \Valler, was succoured by a Royalist army which, on July I3, crushed \Valler’s army on Roundway Down; whilst on July 26, Bristol was taken by Rupert, and the whole of the Southern counties thrown open to the assaults of the King’s partisans. Farther East, though Essex succeeded in capturing Reading, his army melted away before disease and mismanagement. On June I8 Hampden was mortally wounded at Chalgrove Field. Lord Fairfax and his son, Sir Thomas Fairfax, were with difficulty holding their own in the \Vest Riding of Yorkshire against a Royalist force under the command of the Earl of Newcastle. By the middle of the year, the Parliamentary armies were threatened with ruin on almost every side.
The one conspicuous exception to the tales of disaster was found in the news from the Eastern Association, where Cromwell’s vigour upheld the fight. Yet Cromwell had no slight difficulties against which to contend. \Vhen, by the end of April, he had cleared the shires of the