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Total War - Parliament

Updated Sunday 7th January 2001

Inspired by Cromwell, and in the face of possible defeat, a new approach was needed by Parliament

Battle scene Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

Oliver Cromwell is undoubtedly the most dynamic personality to emerge from the chaos of the Civil War. A gentleman farmer from Cambridgeshire, Cromwell first entered Parliament in 1628 as MP for Huntingdon. Although he liked to portray himself as a humble outsider, when he arrived in the Commons, nine full cousins were already there-he was extremely well-connected.

In the early 1630s, Cromwell experienced concurrent religious and financial crises, and from that point on, dedicated himself to what he termed 'God's work'. Joining the Parliamentary army when war broke out, Cromwell quickly established himself as a gifted cavalry commander, first at Winceby (Oct. 1643) and then, more decisively, at Marston Moor. From that point on, he profoundly influenced the course of military and political events.

Parliament experienced major splits and divisions during 1644. Having demonstrated that they had the beating of their opponents, the senior Parliamentary generals seemed strangely reluctant to push for an outright victory. In contrast, Independents such as Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton favoured a religious settlement based on liberty of conscience and a vigorous prosecution of the war effort. There was little common ground between the Independents and the Presbyterian 'old guard'.

By late 1644, the Independents had gained the upper hand and pushed through the Self-Denying Ordinance which severed the link between military command and a place in Parliament- though Cromwell was exempt from its provisions. As a result, the old guard lost their power base in the Army while the power of the Independents was correspondingly strengthened.

The Independents pushed home this advantage in early 1645 by reorganising the Parliamentary army along 'New Model' lines. From now on, soldiers in this force of 22,000 men were to be paid on time, forbidden to loot, and promoted on merit. Inspired by indomitable religious conviction, the New Model Army soon proved itself to be an invincible fighting force.

Oliver Cromwell Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

Undoubtedly the most dynamic personality to emerge from the turbulence of the wars, Oliver Cromwell was an obscure gentleman farmer until the conflict provided an outlet for his leadership skills. Cromwell became increasingly important militarily following the Royalist defeat at Marston Moor and, as Lord Protector, shaped the political landscape through the 1650s.

 

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