IRONSIDES NEW AND OLD
By THE RT. HON. ISAAC FOOT
Ts Cromwell there? " inquired Prince Rupert of a Parlia- 1. mentary prisoner on the eve of Marston Moor. " Will they fight?—if they will, they shall have fighting enough." " And," said Cromwell, when it was reported to him, " if it please God, so shall he." By the close of the following day Rupert had had fighting enough. That was his first clash with the man, nearly twice his own age, whose rivalry with himself was to be the main military factor of the Civil War. That was his first experience of the troops trained by this Cambridgeshire farmer, who, up to two years before, had never heard a gun fired in action or set a squadron in the field. By the time night settled down on the Moors outside York on the second of July, 1644, Rupert had learned a great deal. It was his ill fortune to meet in conflict the man who was to be reckoned, in later years, one of the greatest soldiers in all history, and he had seen in action an army such as has never appeared before or since upon any battlefield.
It was after this experience that Rupert gave Cromwell the nickname " Ironside " or " Ironsides," the title being derived, says a contemporary, " from the impenetrable strength of his troops, which could by no means be broken or divided." Later the term was applied to the soldiers themselves. Ironside sometimes meant Cromwell, sometimes his troopers." This did not matter, as Cromwell was the army and the army was Cromwell. His regiment was his own creation. He looked for the man " that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows." " You must get men of spirit," he told his cousin, John Hampden, and many years afterwards he claimed, " I raised such men as had the fear of God before them, and made some conscience of what they did ; and from that day forward they were never beaten, and wherever they were engaged against the enemy they beat them continually." " What he aimed at," says John Buchan, " was a body like Gideon's Three Hundred, inspired by a common discipline, sensitive like an instrument of music to the spirit of its commander. . . . His regiment was his family, their prowess was his, his honour was theirs, he had no interest beyond their welfare. With such a spirit in their commander small wonder that a new type of fighting force was born in England." David Leslie said that Europe had no better soldiers. Probably he remembered this tribute when later he saw these men charge and scatter his army at Dunbar.
These Ironsides were the heart and core of the New Model Army which later was to make history at Naseby, Preston, Dunbar, and Worcester. Some of them were to give a taste of their quality on the sand hills around Dunkirk when Turenne had his chance to admire the Ironsides' intrepidity and courage. " What is the meaning of that shout? " he asked Morgan, their commander, and was told, " It was the usual custom of the redcoats to rejoice when they saw the enemy."
These men had caught much of the spirit of their leader, of whom Dryden wrote upon his death: " Swift and resistless thro' the land he passed,
Like that bold Greek who did the East subdue, And made to battles such heroic haste, • As if on wings of victory he flew."
No doubt General Ironside had these records in mind when he decided that the Home Defence Corps were to be known as the " Ironsides."
Cromwell's troops were not professional soldiers. They were largely " freeholders and freeholders' sons," who like Cromwell had taken up the sword reluctantly and laid it down with relief. " We serve you," wrote Cromwell to the Parliament from Ire- land ; " we are willing to be out of this trade of war ; and shall hasten, by God's assistance and grace, to the end of our work, as the labourer cloth to be at rest." The claim of the army was that in becoming soldiers they had not ceased to be citizens. John Morley delighted to study the character of these men after the First Civil War when they had settled down to the dis- cussion of democratic rights and national reconstruction. " In temper, habit of mind, plain sense, and even in words and speech the English soldier of the New Model, two and a half centuries ago, must have been very much like the sober and respectable miner, ploughman or carter of today."
The fame of these men went throughout the world. The New York Times welcomed the recent appointment of General Ironside in these words: " The British could have found no better symbol of their fighting prowess than the General who bears the name of Ironside.' The name itself appeals to every Englishman with a drop of spirit in his blood." In America today the name of Cromwell probably counts for more than that of any other Englishman.
" We too arc heirs of Runnymede, And Shakespeare's fame and Cromwell's deed Are not alone our mother's."
So wrote Whittier. John Buchan in his Memoirs says " I had long shared Lord Rosebery's view of him that he was the greatest of Englishmen." That view is more largely taken in America than in Cromwell's own land. Americans know that if the Grand Remonstrance had been defeated in November, 1641, Cromwell would have been one of themselves. " So near," sighed Clarendon, " was this poor kingdom at that time to its deliverance." In the United States today Cromwell generally ranks with Abraham Lincoln. Between these two men there was a great deal in common, and if their letters and speeches were printed side by side the parallels would be found to be most striking. John Drinkwater wrote a poem on the common interests of America and England, and his line on the Ironside sympathies of the American people has behind ft much of the early history of the seventeenth century.
" America., you were in Shakespeare's word And Milton's, half a prophecy ; you were An Ironside when Cromwell took the field Drake fared for you, and Nelson is your blood."
Today the most authoritative books on Cromwell and the Ironsides come from America, and Professor Abbott's edition of Cronzwell's Writings and Speeches is at once an example and rebuke to our English world of letters. General Ironside builded better than he knew in giving this title to his Home Defence forces, and has made a splendid challenge to American sympathy and sentiment. Long ago, James Russell Lowell spoke of Cromwell as " a name earth wears for ever next her heart." It is symbolic that today the statues of Lincoln and Cromwell stand almost side by side near Westminster Abbey. I like sometimes to pass from the one statue to the other. I like to think that these two men, when night falls on the great city, hold high colloquy. I noticed recently that neither statue was protected. Whether one or both will remain standing after the present cataclysm is perhaps a small matter. Whatever the vicissitudes of our generation, Lincoln has his place for ever in the heart of the British people, and, as for Oliver, one need only recall the words of Swinburne:
There needs no witness graven in stone or steel For one whose work bids Fame bow down and kneel Our man of men, whose time-commanding name Speaks England, and proclaims the common weal."