16 FEBRUARY 1945, Page 8



THREE HUNDRED years ago, on February 17, 1645, the ordinance providing for the formation of a " New Model " army was finally passed. The germ of the idea is probably to be found in a letter written by the -Parliamentary General Waller in July of the previous year. Dissatisfied with the local levies of 'which all Parlia- mentary armies were composed, he told the Committee of both kingdoms that " an army compounded of these men will never go through with your service, and till you have an army merely your own, that you may command, it is in a manner impossible to do any- thing of importance." Frequent desertions, difficulties about pay, laxity of discipline, a general unwillingness on the part of local troops to cross the boundaries of their own shires—such were the principal defects of the Old Model armies. The intention of the new ordinance was to create a force which should be paid directly by Parliament, and should operate under Parliament's control, an army " merely its own," a permanent professional army that would " go anywhere and do anything." The " constant pay," which was to keep the new army in being, and secure its discipline, was to be charged against national taxation. The New Model Army, in fact, was to be the first national standing army.

Already, on February 4th, Sir Thomas Fairfax had been created Captain-General of the new army, with power to nominate his own officers. The "New Model " ordinance simply laid down that the new army was to be formed by uniting three existing armies, those of Essex, Manchester and Waller, into a single force of eleven regiments of horse, one of dragoons and twelve of foot—in all 22,000 men. The nominal strength of these three armies was nearly 30,000 men, but their wastage in 1644, casualties and desertions, had been so heavy that they were unable to supply half of the 14,40o infantry required for the new force. This deficiency was not dis- covered until March, and Parliament had then to fall back on the familiar method of impressment. This was a slow business, as most counties failed to fill their full quotas at first, and further levies had to be made. In the Rape of Pevensey in Sussex, three separate impressments were made in 1645, in April, July and September, yielding respectively 44, 49 and 56 men, and the like must have been true of every district in England which acknowledged the authority of Parliament. Because of these delays, although the ordinance was passed in February, it was not until April that the New Model began to assemble at Windsor, and it had to set out for its first campaign with its strength below the fixed establishment.

There was little trouble about raising the regiments of horse. While the foot-soldier got aightpence a day—much the same as the wage of an agricultural labourer—the trooper's pay was two shillings a day, although out of this he had to look after his horse ; a part of his pay, too, was retained by Parliament, principally as a security against desertion. Service in the cavalry was reckoned " a good employment for a gentleman," and there were always plenty of willing volunteers. The tone in the New Model's cavalry was set by the horse which came to it from Manchester's army, especially the Ironsides, which Cromwell had raised for the Eastern Association. Cromwell himself was soon to be appointed lieutenant-general of the new army. As such his main responsibility was the training and leadership of the horse. Armed only with swords and pistols, taught to reserve their fire until they came to close quarters with the enemy, their heavy horses charging at " a pretty round trot," the cavalry dominated the seventeenth-century battlefield ; Cromwell's advantage over Rupert's Royalist horse lay in the discipline which enabled him to rally and reform after a successful charge.

The Scottish Presbyterian observer, Robert Baillie, wrote that " the new modelled army consists for the most of raw inexperienced pressed soldiers," a judgement fair enough as far as the infantry was concerned. The first task of the Major-General, Philip Skippon, a veteran of the Low Country wars, was therefore to exercise the troops as they arrived at Windsor in the complicated drill of the period. The foot-soldiers were armed either with muskets or pikes, in the proportion of two musketeers to one pikeman. If the recruit was tall and strong, he would probably be chosen to carry a pike, for it required considerable strength to manage the sixteen-foot pike, especially on a windy day, and he had to be able to bear the weight of his defensive armour. The pike was essentially a defensive weapon, intended to protect the musketeers against cavalry attack, but there were occasions when it was used in the attack and the fighting would be " at push of pike." The musketeer wore no armour ; his dress was the red coat, regiments being distinguished from each other by facings of the colonel's colour. His weapon was the heavy matchlock. He carried powder to make his charges in his flask, a bandolier of ready-made charges over his shoulder, a touch- box for priming, bullets in a small pouch with one or two ready for use in his mouth, and about two or three feet of match or tow, which had to be lit at both ends when action was imminent. Altogether the matchlock was a clumsy weapon, often dangerous to the user, and its effect on the enemy is difficult to estimate.

It was discipline, rather than any novelty in its tactics or armament, which made the New Model Army a formidable fighting force. A severe code and the certainty of punishment, together with a greater regularity in the payment of troops, did much to prevent desertion and plundering, the besetting sins of earlier Parliamentary armies. When the army was -disbanded at the Restoration the Royalist Clarendon was able to say that its soldiers had " lived like good husbandmen in the country and good citizens in the city." Perhaps the reason was that the army was always fortunate in its commanders —Fairfax, " a person of honour and faithful to his trust " ; Cromwell, who always " did endeavour to discharge the duty of an honest man to God, and His people's interest, and to this Commonwealth "; and the conscientious Monk, an honest soldier of fortune, in the best sense of that term.

The New Model Army was created for " a more speedy, .vigorous and effectual prosecution of the war," and it is as an efficient fighting machine that we ought to think of it marching out of Windsor in the .spring of 1645. It was this army which won at Naseby, Dunbar and Worcester, which pacified Ireland, conquered Jamaica, and helped to beat the Spaniards near Dunkirk. It is only after the end of the First Civil War that the army tends to become a religious and political faction. In 1645 no test of any kind was imposed on the men, although the officers were required to subscribe to the Solemn League and Covenant. Many put interpretations of their own on this, and John Lilburne, the later Leveller leader, was the only officer selected by Fairfax to be refused a commission because he would not take the Covenant. But the seeds of the trouble which broke out when Parliament tried to disband the army in 1647 can be discerned at the time of its formation. Robert Baillie observed that many of the officers were " sectaries," or Independents, and Independent influence tended to grow in an army where the most important section was Cromwell's cavalry. Richard Baxter, the Presbyterian divine, found after Naseby that the Independents were still a small minority, although he admitted they were " the soul of the Army." In 1647 only a quarter of the officers and a few hundred soldiers left the army to support the Presbyterian Parliament ; in two years the whole had been leavened. After 1647 the New Model Army was committed to certain political views, and to the maintenance of religious tolerance by force of arms. Its achievements in this field came to nothing in the short run, although in the long run they had an important effect on the history of England, partly nega- tive, in the shape of the long-standing aversion to a standing army, partly positive, in their contribution to the growth of the ideas ofthe Rule of Law and tolerance. But the army that left Windsor for the West in 1645 knew little of these things. They were English gentle- men, citizens and countrymen—volunteers and pressed men—with their chief thought the speedy ending of the war.