Taken for a Soldier – Conscript or Volunteer?


Mike Gibbs:  Martyn, how did the size of the two armies change or evolve during the years of the conflict?

Martyn Bennett: You have to remember that there aren’t two armies: there’s a whole series of armies, located in various regions around England.  There is, of course, the Great Scottish Army that appears in 1644, and of course there are several rival armies in Ireland, based in the north of Ireland and in the south and west of Ireland, as well as the Confederate forces based at Kilkenny.

In terms of size, the biggest army assembled is probably the Battle of Worcester in 1651, where Cromwell manages spectacularly to bring together an army of over 30,000. Before that, in 1644, the Battle of Marston Moor on 2 July, the largest army, of 27,000 Parliamentarians and Scots, are facing 17,000 Royalists. Now, that’s after several years of warfare.

At the beginning of the war, in 1642, the armies were smaller: at the Battle of Edgehill on 23 October that year, both armies were hovering around 13-14,000, and those armies then are broken up in many ways and spread around the country, where they become the central point of new armies created by both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians.


Mike Gibbs:  How were these armies recruited?

Martyn Bennett:  Well, initially it’s very untidy, in terms of the war in England and Wales.  Both sides seem initially to have thought that they would use the county militias. These are what were known then as the ‘trained bands’, in other words they were soldiers who were regularly trained throughout the year, and each county had a trained band. Some of it would be foot soldiers, the infantry, and others the horse, the Cavalry.

Their job was initially seen as a county defence force, and they were very locally focused, but when the King and Parliament attempted to use these forces as the basis for creating an army, that plan fell apart, and the reason that it fell apart was that the Trained Bands which they’d based their hopes on were composed not of labourers or the unemployed but people who had what was termed as an ‘interest in the country’; in other words, they rented property. This tended to mean that they were more likely to be literate than most people, and that certainly they would have an interest in paying taxation, and the politics of the country. They were able to read or to access the political news books and newspapers that were coming out fast and furiously from London and make a political decision.


Some of them would choose to be Royalists, others would choose to be Parliamentarian, and probably the majority would adopt neither side, so that meant as an armed and trained army the Trained Bands were completely useless. As a result, both sides began to create armies in different ways. The one exception to the Trained Bands being no use as a body of soldiers for either side was the regiments of the Trained Bands in London: they were perhaps more at the political and religious focus of the conflict, and were therefore more likely to be Parliamentarian, and they were associated with leading Parliamentarian officers like Sir Philip Skippon, and they did remain as a useful armed force. But both sides had had to look elsewhere, and what both sides began to do was issue commissions to trusted men, in order to raise full regiments of infantry or troops of horse, and these people would be men who had given some indication of their political inclinations, so it was felt possible to ask them, partially at least at their own expense, to raise a regiment of soldiers, and that’s how the armies came into being in the late summer of 1642, both sides collecting soldiers and drawing them towards two centres or two focuses, one being the Earl of Essex in the vicinity of London, who was a Parliamentarian Commander, and the other being the King, who began really to bring his forces together once he marched into the Midlands in August 1642 and based himself firstly at Nottingham and then moved to Shrewsbury.

Regiments and troops and companies of soldiers that were being raised tended then to gravitate to those two armies that were being put together.


Mike Gibbs: As the war progressed, how did the recruitment processes change? Was there Impressment as well as volunteering?

Martyn Bennett: Yes. Periodically the Commissions of Array, who were the Royalist administrators in each county, and the County committee, which was the Parliamentarian equivalent, would impress soldiers, in order to fill up the ranks. There were still volunteers, but increasingly volunteering began to dry up, and particularly with the creation of the New Model Army Impressment had to be undertaken on a large scale, to fill up the gaps in the foot regiments.


Mike Gibbs: How successful was that Impressment?

Martyn Bennett: It wasn’t always successful, quite often the soldiers would vanish into thin air as they were marched from wherever they were raised in the villages, towns and communities, before they reached the garrisons that they were being taken to.


Mike Gibbs: What was the role of local leaders, of landowners? If your landowner agreed, if your landowner decided to join the Royalists, did local people automatically follow him?

Martyn Bennett: Not automatically. In some areas, yes, this was true. One of the earliest regiments created in the East Midlands, in Leicestershire, was put together by Mr Henry Hastings, who was asked to be a Colonel of a regiment, but before he began to formally create a regiment he drew tenants from the Hastings family estates in north-west Leicestershire and Derbyshire, and armed them, in order to create one of the earliest local regiments, or local bodies of men, as it wasn’t technically a regiment at that point.

That was happening elsewhere: John Hampden, the famous Parliamentarian who had refused to pay Ship Money taxation, created a regiment out of his tenants, and so on, so it does happen, but it’s not automatic that all of those tenants would adopt the same political stance as their landlord.


Mike Gibbs: When Impressment took place, were there groups that were automatically exempt?

Martyn Bennett: Impressment was for people aged over 18 and under 65, so anyone outside that boundary was exempt. It was also less likely, but not at all impossible, that it would be unmarried people, unmarried men who would be recruited. Of course, women were not recruited, though that didn’t mean that there weren’t a few women fighting in the ranks of both sides, formally and informally.


Mike Gibbs: Can you tell us about some of them?

Martyn Bennett: No!


Mike Gibbs: Right, thank you. Next case.

Martyn Bennett: Informally, women did participate in sieges – they had less of an opportunity to avoid fighting if it was in a town where they were based, so you have the famous Parliamentarian woman, Dorothy Hazard in Bristol, fighting to keep the gates shut against the Royalists; in Leicester, you have women on the frontline loading muskets, and passing them to the soldiers on the frontline, and also women are recruited as labourers, to build defences around towns, and so on. Generally speaking, in terms of fighting in the ranks, there were very few women.


Mike Gibbs: Religion played a major role in the British Civil Wars.  What role did it play in recruitment, in recruitment to the two armies, and were preachers particularly important as recruiting agents?

Martyn Bennett: Religion was incredibly important. It’s very difficult for us, in the early 21st century, to understand how religion permeated all of people’s lives, and certainly there were religious perspectives which would angle someone to choose one side or another. For instance, those who we vaguely term ‘Puritans’ – and it’s a term that is best avoided, because it becomes largely unworkable as a definition – but people who wanted the Church of England to be reformed more than it had been by the mid-17th century, would tend to support Parliament, and therefore you would find within the ranks of soldiers for Parliament people who wanted religious reform.

That didn’t mean that they all had the same idea of what religious reform would be – some of them would want to reform the Church of England to make it like a Presbyterian Church as it was in Scotland at the time, but others wanted to break down the very notion of a state church, and these are people known as ‘Independents’ or ‘Congregationalists’. For them, the centre of the church would just be their congregation, their local church. If it wished to belong to a larger body, it would unite with nearby or any other parish, on a voluntary basis, rather than being part of a structure. Those people tended to be Parliamentarian.


Royalists were less, if you like, religiously determined: they instead would be composed of people who were content with the form of the Church of England as it existed in the mid-17th century. Some of them might well have liked some extra changes, some reforms, they may not have liked what James and Charles I had done during the 1620s and ’30s to the Church of England, but they were not motivated to the same extent as Presbyterians and Congregationalists, so they tended to stick with the Royalists.

Now, it also doesn’t mean that there weren’t any Puritans, or people from Puritan backgrounds, within the Royalist forces. For example, the Hastings family, based in north-west Leicestershire, was a family with very deep and long-lasting Puritan tendencies, and they produced a man, the Earl of Huntingdon, who did nothing during the war; the eldest son and heir, Lord Hastings, who joined the Parliamentarians at the beginning of the war but for a very short period; and the second son, Mr Henry Hastings, who was a crucially important Royalist General in the Midlands during the Civil Wars.


The other group that I haven’t mentioned so far are the Roman Catholics.  Roman Catholics would find no common interest with the Parliamentarian cause, they were frightened by what would happen to them and their religious survival if Parliament won the war, and therefore they tended to gather round the Royalist cause, and again, this isn’t a universal. In the north of England, in the armies of the Earl of Newcastle, there were larger numbers of Roman Catholic soldiers and officers. In the Midlands there were fewer, far fewer, Roman Catholic officers and soldiers, and in the regiments and armies in the south, in the King’s forces, they were less likely to have Roman Catholic officers at all.

To some extent this represents the demographics of Roman Catholics in the country, but it again shows that were are no universals that we can set up in order to define what is actually going on in terms of the choices of political and religious stances and the relationship to Royalist and Parliamentarian armies.


Mike Gibbs: Did the role of religion change as the war progressed?

Martyn Bennett: I would argue that in terms of Royalist armies, no, but in terms of Parliament’s army, religion becomes incredibly important.  The division between those who want a Presbyterian state church and those who want the individual, independent or congregational structure, a divide appears, not so much in the army, but within Parliament, and that makes it difficult for the army to have a comfortable relationship with Parliament between the first and Second Civil War, because Parliament was controlled for much of that time by Presbyterians, who didn’t like, and feared, the Independents and Congregationalists, who were working against the recreation and redevelopment of a state church along Presbyterian lines.  So it does change, it does become more important within the Parliamentarian sphere, but probably within the Royalist side it doesn’t change much at all.


Mike Gibbs: How did the establishment of the New Model Army change the whole way in which armies were organised, were recruited and organised?

Martyn Bennett: The most important way that New Model Army changes all of that is the fact that it was planned and thought out first. Most armies before the New Model Army were created almost spontaneously, they were broken up like the two main armies in 1642 into smaller sections which then in turn grew into other armies.

The New Model Army was designed on paper before it was put together in the field. It was designed to be a fixed size of 22,000 men, with 11 Cavalry regiments and 12 Infantry regiments, and one large Dragoon regiment. That was far more advanced than the way other armies had been put together. Moreover, it was all to be uniformly armed, and also dressed – all the foot soldiers, for example, would be wearing a red or russetty red coat, with grey trousers. That’s the first time that you had a uniform uniform.

Soldiers before had worn jackets based on the colour of the Colonel of the regiment, because it would be generally speaking the Colonels of the regiments would be landholders, they would be members of the gentry, they would have coats of arms, and the coats of arms would have a background colour, a field colour, and that was the colour that was usually used for regiments’ jackets, and sometimes trousers, but certainly jackets.


That could lead to confusion: there was only one regiment before the New Model Army that was immediately distinctive, and that was the Parliamentarian Lord Brooke’s regiment, which wore purple clothing. Others wore blue, black, grey, white, red, a real mixture of the heraldic colours of the aristocracy and gentry of the time, and it could be confusing, because in Leicestershire the two main figures – the main Parliamentarian, Lord Grey of Groby and his father, the Earl of Stamford, and the main Royalist, Henry Hastings – their background colours to their coats of arms in both cases were blue, so that sort of confusion led to the need, on a battlefield, to have code words and items of clothing such as white bands tied around their arms or round their hats, or particular bits of greenery in their hat bands, in order to distinguish people from each side.

With the New Model Army, being created in the formalised manner on paper, you got the first opportunity to create an army from scratch that followed a formal plan. Each regiment was not only clothed in red coats for the foot regiments, but they were all to be the same size, the Cavalry regiments were all to be the same size, there were over 50 artillery pieces assigned to this army so that it wasn’t pulling together resources as it moved about the country, and the one regiment of Dragoons replaced the practice whereby very small groups of Dragoons were attached to Cavalry regiments, so it was a much more formalised structure.


This was also represented in the fact that the financial support for the army was based, initially at any rate, on a secure system.  Armies had been funded on a county-by-county basis initially, by both sides, but Parliament, and to a lesser degree the Royalists, had tried to collect money to pay for its forces around the country, even in the bits that it didn’t control. The difference with the New Model Army was that it knew which counties it could dominate and set the taxation for that army on those counties alone, whilst having a ghost system of taxation that they would impose on counties that they didn’t at that point control, but expected to control at some point in the future.

The revolutionary nature of the New Model Army is that it is formed on paper before it’s put together in the field, and that the funding system is well thought-out as well.


Mike Gibbs: Where did the blueprint for this New Model Army come from? Was it originated in Parliament, or by Cromwell and others, or were they copying a blueprint that existed in Europe?

Martyn Bennett: It’s possible the idea came from Europe, but the design was put together in Parliament, largely by Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had been appointed the Commander in Chief at the beginning of 1645. It was him and his chosen group of officers, that probably didn’t include Cromwell directly, that put together this structure, using the experience they’d had of fighting with less organised armies for the previous two and a half years.


Mike Gibbs: Who were the leadership, then? You mentioned Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Martyn Bennett: The leadership of the New Model Army was created by Parliament at the beginning of 1645. Thomas Fairfax was appointed the Commander in Chief and then he was given almost free rein to name the officers for each of the regiments. He chose Sir Philip Skippon, who had been the Major General in the Earl of Essex’s army, as the Major General. Major Generals tended to command the foot regiments in an army, and would be the third in command. The second in command post was left vacant, and it was left vacant probably intentionally, that Oliver Cromwell, who had demonstrated himself to be a very good Cavalry General, would take up that role, because the Lieutenant General usually commanded the Cavalry in an army.

Now, the reason that Cromwell couldn’t be appointed earlier was because the need for a new army had arisen in late 1644. 1644, up until the autumn, had been very successful for Parliament. With their Scottish allies they had conquered the north of England, defeated the Royalist northern forces and West Midland forces at the Battle of Marston Moor, and come to dominate much of the north and large parts of the Midlands. However, the King’s army had scored a notable success in defeating the Earl of Essex in Cornwall in September 1644, and it was decided by Parliament to put its three principal armies together, that was the remains of the army of the Earl of Essex, the army of the Earl of Manchester, which was based in East Anglia – which had been involved in the Battle of Marston Moor but then marched southwards towards its home territory, and that’s the army that had Oliver Cromwell within it; and the third army, Sir William Waller’s, which was smaller than the other two, but had played an important part in the war in the south Midlands.


When they put these three armies together, none of the Generals was particularly good at working together: Manchester didn’t want to serve under Essex, and Waller and Essex had a longstanding antipathy. As a result, an attempted coordination of the three armies at the second Battle of Newbury failed completely, and they were unable to defeat the King, and unable to prevent him from ensuring the safety of the Oxford garrison by maintaining satellite garrisons around it.

In the wake of that failure, there was a massive argument in Parliament, where the Earl of Essex and Manchester were attacked by some of the other soldiers: Major General Lawrence Crawford and Oliver Cromwell from the army of the Earl of Manchester, and Waller as well joined in an attack on the two principal aristocratic Generals. As a result of an apparent compromise, it was decided in Parliament that MPs could not be Commanders in the army, you had to choose one or the other, and the same was true of the Navy, that if you were a member of Parliament you couldn’t be a Commander in the Navy. The idea was to stop people prosecuting the war or even bringing the war to an end out of any sense of self interest.

Now, there’s a trick in that: the trick is that whilst MPs who wanted to remain army Commanders could give up their seats in Parliament in order to do so, members of the House of Lords couldn’t give up their seats in the House of Lords, and therefore could not be army Commanders, so the Earls of Manchester and Essex end up taking a back seat role on a strategic committee within Parliament, but no longer have battlefield commands.


Therefore, you get to Thomas Fairfax chosen, if you like, as a compromise candidate, though he’s chosen because he’s a very, very good General, and has proved himself in the north. But Oliver Cromwell is an MP, and therefore according to what is known as a self-denying ordnance, which had set up this position where you couldn’t be a soldier and a politician at the same time, Cromwell is debarred from military command.

What is going on behind the scenes is that Fairfax and others are trying to work around this, so that Cromwell might be able to join the New Model Army. He and Sir William Waller, who are both debarred from holding military commands on a permanent basis, have temporary commissions and are carrying out military work in the south-west, but only on renewable contracts, if you like.

What happens in June 1645 is that Fairfax gets his way, and Cromwell is appointed, albeit apparently temporarily, as Lieutenant General of the New Model Army, so you have the three Commanders: you have Sir Thomas Fairfax, Commander in Chief, Oliver Cromwell, second in command and Lieutenant General, Sir Philip Skippon, third in command and Major General, and then you have a Commissary General who is also responsible for part of the Cavalry, and that’s Henry Ireton, who has demonstrated a high level of ability as a Cavalry Commander, and who will become, within a year or so, Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law.


Mike Gibbs: What was the source of the men who these Generals led – how were they recruited, were they taken from existing armies, or were they new recruits?

Martyn Bennett: This is the point at which the New Model Army becomes less revolutionary, despite the fact it’s created on paper first, and logically thought out. In order to create an army that size, you have to have readily available soldiers, and those readily available soldiers have come from the three armies that failed at Newbury: Sir Williams Waller’s, the Earl of Essex’s, and the Earl of Manchester’s.

Now, in terms of the Cavalry, the vast majority of the Cavalry comes from the Earl of Manchester’s army. This is the Cavalry that has been commanded by Oliver Cromwell for months, and therefore understand and know what he wants of them. The artillery is assembled from all three of the regiments, and the Dragoons similarly are formed out of Dragoons from all three of the old armies, Essex’s, Manchester’s and Waller’s, but the infantry is the problem:  the infantry, there is simply not enough of them to fill 22 regiments.

That’s when the Impressment begins, in order to fill those up, and the army, once it begins to pull itself together as a single force, proceeds to Oxford, to try and besiege the King, and that provides it with an excellent training ground. In the vicinity of Oxford during early 1645, you have this new army training together, and a focal point for bringing new recruits together to fill up the infantry regiments, so in short, the army is created of four components: soldiers from the army of Sir William Waller, the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Manchester, and a large number of impressed soldiers in the foot regiments under Sir Philip Skippon.


Mike Gibbs: What was the social profile of these various groups of soldiers?

Martyn Bennett: They’re very much mixed.  The Cavalry, for example, could be seen as similar to the Trained Bands, that they are people who have a fixed interest in the country, and certainly right at the beginning of the war they would be expected to bring their own horse, particularly in the Royalist Army but also in the Parliamentarian Army as well, so they’re people who have some standing in their local community.  They have a horse for leisure pursuits, if you like, for hunting, because the horses that are wanted in the Cavalry were not shire horses or draft horses or plough horses, they were horses that were used for hunting, and were trained for that sort of use, so in the Cavalry, initially at first, most people are horse owners, therefore they come from that sort of class that was mentioned with regard to the Trained Bands, they were politically literate if not actually literate in terms of being able to read.

The foot soldiers were people generally drawn from the fields, and were labourers or would be unemployed labourers. The artillery gun crews would consist of mathematicians in command of guns, and labourer-type soldiers conscripted into the gun teams.


Mike Gibbs: Obviously pay was an incentive, regular food was an incentive, for the ordinary soldiers to join the armies and stay with them, what were the pay rates?

Martyn Bennett: One of the attractions of the pay rates was that it was supposed, initially at first, to be consistent, which might be better than agriculture labour wages.  However, in terms of foot soldiers the wages were about the same, about four shillings a week for a foot soldier. A dragoon would get twelve shillings and tenpence a week, and a horse soldier, cavalryman, would get seventeen and six a week, so there is clear difference in wages, obviously relating to the difference in social class referred to earlier, that the husbandmen would naturally require more money because they would also at certain times have to support their own horses’ needs as well as their own.

The problem for pay is, it’s not always paid on time, and even the New Model Army, with its much more sophisticated taxation support, the pay for the soldiers goes into arrears before the First Civil War is over. By the middle of 1646 and into 1647 some soldiers are 40 weeks in arrears, and that’s part of the problem.  Part of the wedge that’s drawn between the Army and Parliament after the First Civil War, is this attempt by the Army to get the money that it’s been promised, and Parliament’s attempts to pay it less.


Mike Gibbs: Was there great social mobility within the Army?

Martyn Bennett: That’s an interesting question, and it’s answerable in several ways. Down at the lower levels, in the ranks of the soldiers, the possibility of getting promoted was always there, from a private soldier to a corporal and a sergeant, and that would take their wage levels up. For example, you could get more money for being a sergeant than you could being an ordinary soldier, you could get something like five, six shillings rather than the four shillings that you would get as a private soldier, so that might be regarded as social climbing.

Also, of course, officers could get promotion.  There are three general levels of regimental officer, the lowest being the Cornet or the Ensign, those are the people who carry the troop and company flags, the Ensign in the foot, the Cornet in the horse; then there are Lieutenants and then Captains, and promotion though the ranks for those people was quite common.

Then you have the field officers – the Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels – they tend to be already high standing in their communities, members of the gentry and aristocracy, but again, you can receive promotion within those ranks, which would impinge upon your social standing if, of course, you won the war. If you were a Royalist and were defeated, then the potential for being advanced through the ranks, and getting a commensurate advance in your social position, was largely blocked.


There were people who were regarded as non-gentry, non-aristocracy, who got officer commissions and who were elevated through the social ranks, and there were those who were frowned upon, particularly by the enemy, as having low social standing at the point at which they became officers, one example being the Royalist Colonel Barnabas Scudamore, who was thought to be a low farmer – the term they actually used was a ‘cow gelder’, in order to disparage him.


Mike Gibbs: To what extent did pay maintain loyalty, what was the level of desertion and side-changing, was that frequent?

Martyn Bennett: It did happen, and pay was a major factor in that, because if you’re not getting paid you might as well go home, or you might join the other side for the opportunity, so both of those things did happen and pay was important. Pay was definitely sporadic in many cases, but we mustn’t see this as a general fault, or universal, because both sides – and this is something that has only become clear over the last 30 years – had a very well-planned logistical system to get in the material that was needed to support soldiers and garrisons.

Each side – very early on, by the end of 1642 – had set countywide taxation rates, and those taxation rates were divided by the sub-divisions of each county, the hundreds, or rapes, or wapentakes, as they were known, and within each of those organisations it was divided up between the communities within them, and the village constable – that’s one of the terms used for this sort of official, there are also headboroughs and thirdboroughs – would collect from his, and occasionally her, community all the requirements needed on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.


These collections, wisely, were not all in cash – cash would be collected, in order to pay wages and to buy things, so a garrison could buy things from elsewhere, such as guns, gunpowder, ammunition, horses and so on – but it also collected a major part of its taxation in the form of food, and other requirements – beer, cheese, meat, hides, anything that a community could produce could be bought by the garrisons, as part of taxation.

They would therefore send carts and soldiers around on a daily basis to collect this material, because it makes sense – it’s much better to take the materials than collect it as cash and then go back to each community again and buy the stuff off them. That should mean that most of the time soldiers would be able to get wages and would be fed. There was supplementary taxation like that as well: occasionally beds and bedding were collected from communities, mattresses, straw-filled mattresses, bolsters, sheets and pillowcases were collected from local communities in order to be used by the soldiers based in nearby garrisons.


Mike Gibbs: What was the reaction from the community of taxpayers to having to carry this tax burden, and before you tell us that, can you give us a sense of just what the war was costing?

Martyn Bennett: Well, in very general terms, in counties like Leicestershire, for example, the wartime taxation is possibly as high as tenfold Ship Money, and Ship Money had been a source of great political dispute during the 1630s, but the tax burden of the war was potentially ten times that. It effectively demonstrated that there was a lot more money that could be taxed in the country than had previously been thought, though it is a problem for some communities, and some fall into arrears with their taxation.

There are anti-tax riots, particularly between the first and second Civil Wars, and there are particularly interesting riots in Smithfield and in Derby in particular, where taxpayers are literally up in arms, trying to force the local tax collectors to reduce the burden on them.


There are three main forms of taxation: the one I referred to earlier, that pays the wages, is in Royalist terms known as ‘contribution’; in Parliamentarian terms it’s the ‘weekly Assessment’ and then later the ‘monthly pay’. There is also Sequestration, which is where Royalist estates that can be taken over by Parliament are taken over, and their profits used to further the Parliamentarian cause, and the Royalists do exactly the same thing; and there is also an excise tax.

An excise tax is set up by Parliament first and the Royalists copy it immediately. This starts off being on luxury goods like silk and gloves and so on, but eventually, fairly quickly, comes to be charged on any goods that are sold in the market, and excise offices are set up in each market town, in order to collect tax from the seller and the purchaser.


Mike Gibbs: You mentioned earlier that Parliament based its taxation primarily on those areas where it knew it could raise the funds, for example in East Anglia, I guess, but was there, did this promote regional conflict or regional strains, as some counties paid more than others?

Martyn Bennett: Not in that sense, and in fact, the other odd thing about taxation that became clear about 30-odd years ago was that both sides obviously knew that the other side was collecting taxes from sometimes the same area, sometimes adjacent areas, and you have two strangely outstanding phenomena whereby in areas in the Midlands, where both sides were known to each other to be collecting taxes from a community, they both seem to have reduced their tax requirement by a third.

In other words, instead of paying six-thirds, that is two equally-sized tax levels to the two sides, they were paying two-thirds of their traditional burden to one side, and two-thirds of their official burden to the other side. This seems to happen right across the Midlands. There also was the case where, when the Bolsover garrison, which was re-established in 1645 by Royalists, surrendered again to Parliament late in the year, part of the surrender terms were that the Parliamentarians collected the back taxes due to the Royalist garrison for the period of the siege.


Mike Gibbs: Was that a formal agreement, or it was just negotiated on a local basis?

Martyn Bennett: It was negotiated on a local basis. We have no idea whether reducing the general taxation by a third on each side was done by agreement, or they just came up with that idea spontaneously and each of them copied it. That is the most dangerous time for any community, where they can be reached by soldiers from the rival garrisons, because it makes them incredibly vulnerable, financially and militarily.


Mike Gibbs: We’ve talked about the down sides of the economic effects of the war, in terms of taxation, but historically war is often a stimulus for economies, both regionally and nationally.  Is there any evidence that the taxation taken in kind stimulated local industries?

Martyn Bennett: It’s quite possible that it did. The economy tends to recover in the 1650s because of the increased production probably. Certainly the negative effects of taxation in the 1640s is temporary. Whether or how that actually works out in individual communities is not easy to see at the moment. The best thing we get in the evidence that shows us what soldiers are taking from communities is that we know what communities produce on a far more intimate level than we’ve ever known before, and we not only know what a community produces, in good sets of Constables’ accounts we know exactly who produces them.


Mike Gibbs: It’s a big question, but could you summarise, what was life like for the ordinary soldier in the New Model Army?

Martyn Bennett: I think generally life was hard, and boring, and then as is often said, the life of a solider is 99% boring and 1% terror. Generally, a soldier’s life would be monotonous in a garrison, in a field army it would be equally monotonous but different. The same jobs would be done each day, an awful lot of marching around the country, in various weathers, in clothing that was susceptible to bad weather, in that it wasn’t of the high quality of weatherproofing that we have now.

In a garrison there would be a series of day-to-day duties, including training, including sentry duty, including things such as cleaning out the stables of the officers’ horses and making sure that all the horses were well and properly fed. Also, when there are nearby garrisons from the other side, a lot of small-scale fighting, but a lot of managing resources to make sure that the others can’t get them – that the horses, for instance, are protected from would-be raids from the enemy, that also cattle and so on is protected from similar incursions by enemy forces.

If you read histories of the Siege of Carlisle, there is a never-ending job of managing resources and protecting resources. It’s a long day’s work, boring, hard and repetitive for many soldiers. Of course, out in the field, in the marching armies, that is susceptible to the weather, sleeping in the open, working in the open, getting soaking wet and freezing cold, and then at the end of that probably one or more days of absolute danger, when you’re on the battlefield, facing the enemy.


Mike Gibbs: To what extent were those marching armies receiving logistic support, and to what extent were they actually living off the country?

Martyn Bennett: Theoretically, they should be being paid regularly, but as they’re on the march and on the move, they do tend to take extra taxation from the areas that they’re marching through. For instance, when Prince Rupert marched to relieve the Siege of Newark in March 1644, the areas that he passed through – from Staffordshire, through Staffordshire, and Leicestershire and into Nottinghamshire – the communities that he passed through would have extra levies of taxation taken from them.

When Lord Goring is moving through the south-west, his soldiers are accused of stealing.  It’s possibly that they are stealing, but also the same thing would be done there as was done with Prince Rupert’s army, there would be extra taxation on top of the regular taxation being collected to support the forces as they moved through the region; so it’s a combination, neither of which would be popular: one, outright theft, and the other, supplementary taxes.


Mike Gibbs: What was the role of free quarter?

Martyn Bennett: Free quarter isn’t supposed to happen. You are given a receipt for any soldiers that you put up with – and this would be often round about two pence a day for a man, and two pence a day for a horse, so it adds up to a substantial amount of money. What you were given was a receipt saying what you were owed, and you would be repaid at some point in the future.

This, of course, all depends upon who had given you the receipt.  If you were given the receipt by Parliamentarians, then there’s a possibility you would get the money back, and within the Exchequer papers, in the National Archives, there are examples of that sort of bill being sent in to the Exchequer. However, if you had quartered Royalist soldiers, you were not going to get the money back at the end of the war, because the Royalist cause does not exist.

It is annoying, and it is intrusive, and it is above and beyond the taxation level – remember you’re paying taxation on a regular basis, which will include food and beer, for example, and that’s precisely what the soldiers would need when they were lodged in your premises.


Mike Gibbs: In the sources, do we actually have any direct pictures of what life was like for an individual throughout the course of the war?

Martyn Bennett: Yes, we have several diaries that are written, but of course those tend to be written by people from the gentry classes, there are far fewer examples drawn from the ranks of ordinary soldiers. Nehemiah Wharton is the best example of that I can think of, he leaves a very cogent picture of what it’s like to be a soldier.

There are constables’ accounts that have survived through the war period, which give you an idea of what is being charged and what is being collected from individual communities. Yes, we can put it together from a wide variety of sources from different parts of the country and different types of people.


Mike Gibbs: What do Wharton’s diaries reveal?

Martyn Bennett: Well, they reveal that the soldier’s life is quite dull. He talks about marching in all sorts of weathers, but he also, interestingly, talks about people he meets, because he’s a man who has travelled about very little in many ways before the war, but during the war travels around rather a lot, and sees parts of the country he probably never expected to see, and that’s true of many people in this period. We mustn’t underestimate the amount of long-distance travel that certain individuals, particularly those involved in trade, like the carrier trade and market traders do, but a lot of people do stay in a fairly small region of the country.

Going to the higher end, for example, Oliver Cromwell’s life before the Civil War was confined to his home town of Huntingdon, St Ives in Cambridgeshire, Ely in Cambridgeshire, Cambridge itself and London, which is a very small corner of the country; yet when he becomes a Colonel, then particularly as a General, he sees the north of England, Wales, the south-west of England, Scotland, and eventually Ireland as well, opening his mind to differences between culture, society and individuals.


Mike Gibbs: Were there differences in the levels of pay in the Royalist Army and in the Parliamentary Army?

Martyn Bennett: No, the pay rates were more or less the same, within a few pence of each other, so there was no financial incentive to choosing a side, other than you might have believed that one side was more likely to pay you regularly than the other. The pay rates were about the same for both.


Mike Gibbs: And the regularity of pay was equivalent in both armies?

Martyn Bennett: That could vary from region to region and army to army. For example, the New Model Army’s falling heavily into arrears by 1646, but in the last days of the First Civil War in Lichfield, for example, they were paying about eight-tenths of the wages to the garrison, so even in the darkest days in Lichfield you had a better chance of being paid than in the New Model Army, and Lichfield is a Royalist garrison.



Mike Gibbs: One of the major changes that came with the conditions of service with the New Model Army, compared with previous armies, as I understand it, is that you were contracted to serve anywhere in the United Kingdom.  What was the impact of that?

Martyn Bennett: That’s quite true in a way, but then we remember that the New Model Army actually in the First Civil War doesn’t go very far.  It goes to Oxford to be formed, it then goes northwards to fight the Battle of Naseby, but then spends much of the rest of the war confined to the south-west of England. It’s also true that other armies tended to move around more than we might think.

For instance, the army that Henry Hastings, who is later called Lord Loughborough, forms in the Midlands in 1642, actually comes from a range of places between Oxford and Ashby-de-la Zouch. He recruits through the South Midlands and into Staffordshire on his way back from Oxford. That army then fights largely in the Midlands for much of its existence, but at the beginning of January 1644 a large section of it is sent into the north of England to fight the Scots in Northumberland, and later another large section of it is sent over the help Prince Rupert in his campaign to relieve the Siege of York, and is therefore involved in the Battle of Marston Moor.  So you do get a lot of mobility within regions, and even the Eastern Association – the army is very much associated with the area from which if comes – fights in the north of England in the middle of 1644 at Marston Moor, it then moves into the south Midlands and then into the south of England later that month.

There is a lot of mobility, the armies aren’t restricted to local regions all the time, though there are elements of them that rarely move.


Mike Gibbs: What was the reaction of soldiers who were sent to Scotland, or latterly to Ireland?

Martyn Bennett: In the latter case, a lot of soldiers didn’t want to go, not because they didn’t want to go to Ireland per se, but they didn’t feel that this was what they had signed up for. They felt that the war they were fighting was in England and Wales, not in either Scotland or Ireland, but particularly Ireland, and there was a lot of resistance in 1648/49 to undertaking service in Ireland. Scotland, there’s far less of that, and there seems to be far less of a problem for soldiers going into Scotland.


Mike Gibbs: Can I ask you – sorry!   Finally, can I put you on the spot, and ask you, how did the New Model Army change Britain, and how did it change the way wars would be fought after the British Civil Wars?

Martyn Bennett: I think there are several answers to that.  One is, at the beginning, and in the First Civil War, though the New Model Army was revolutionary in its formation, its structure, its uniforms, and so on, it still in the year and a half that it existed in the First Civil War was only one of the armies available to Parliament.  There was still, for example, the Western Army under Edward Massey, based round Gloucester, there was still the army led by Sir William Brereton in the north-west, there was still an army led by Lord Fairfax – that’s Lord Fairfax, the father of Sir Thomas Fairfax, who is based at York – and of course a large Scottish army which remains in the country until the beginning of 1647.

I think its main impact therefore comes after the war, when it demonstrates that a significant section of it is politicised, and has fallen for the propaganda that Parliament put out about, to its soldiers that Parliament’s cause was their cause, and the New Model Army took that literally and began to demonstrate political awareness. Partially that political awareness starts initially with its own needs, its need for back pay, its need for protection for soldiers from prosecution by Royalists who re-established their position in local governments and local courts, and also protection for the widows and orphans of their fallen comrades.

Out of that comes an association with radical politics, and while the radical politicians, the Levellers, and so on work closely with the army and the army with it, there is the most chance of a political revolution. That that doesn’t happen shows the limitations of radicalism within the army.


I think probably there are two main answers, one military and one political. Without the New Model Army and without its victories in the battlefield there would not have been the republic, there would not have been the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, there would not have been the execution of the King, and there would not have been a declaration that England, Wales and Ireland were a free state and republic. That is crucially important for all our histories.

The second is that the construction, maintenance, supply and design of the New Model Army effectively modernises warfare in the country and can be and should be seen as part of the wider scale of the military revolution in the west during this century.


Mike Gibbs: Could the Parliamentarians have won the first and second English Civil Wars without the New Model Army?

Martyn Bennett: It’s possible. Even before the creation of the New Model Army, and certainly before its venture into the field, the Royalist cause is declining in its ability to support itself. It’s lost the entire north of England as a result of the Battle of Marston Moor, there are a few scattered garrisons there, it’s lost much of the northern Midland counties that it had controlled since 1643, and that has a knock-on effect.  The less territory you control, the less taxation you can gather, the less taxation you can gather, the less you can pay your soldiers.

Recruitment is becoming increasingly difficult in England, and in Wales almost impossible. By 1645 the Welsh area is failing to provide the numbers of soldiers that it once did, and so you could argue the Royalist cause is in decline. Also, there are victories obtained over it by armies that are not the New Model Army.  Lord Fairfax’s Northern army, based in York, defeats the King at Chester in September 1645, the Scottish army, associated with the same Northern Army, eventually captures the important town of Newark after it’s obliged to surrender by the King, and the last field battle of the Civil War, in March 1646, is won largely by Sir William Brereton’s army.

So other armies, as well as the New Model Army, are responsible for defeating the King’s cause, and it is possible that the King faced defeat in the First Civil War anyway. As for what would happen in the Second Civil War without the New Model Army, it’s very difficult to speculate, because the New Model Army is part of the causes of the Second Civil War, as well as part of the conclusion of it.


Mike Gibbs: What role, if any, did the New Model Army play in the Restoration of Charles II?

Martyn Bennett: It’s not so much the New Model Army, it’s the part of the New Model Army that is in Scotland with George Monck. The New Model Army is quite divided in 1659/60. It’s again involved in a political battle with Parliament and it’s also fed up with the chaos at central government level, but part of it adopts a radical stance, and another part of it doesn’t.

When George Monck leads the section of the New Model down from Scotland, some of the units in England, and its former Commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, now himself Lord Fairfax, side with him and support him, and thus support the Restoration of the monarchy. I think it’s the political chaos and power vacuum in 1659/60 which leads sections, but not all by any means, the New Model Army, to support the Restoration.


Mike Gibbs: In many ways the New Model Army became, has become emblematic of the British Civil Wars.  Do you think that its importance as that icon has been over-played by historians and non-historians?

Martyn Bennett: I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the New Model Army.  Within it there are political radicals, and they are vocal, and they are influential, but not all the Army by any extent was a radical body. The foot soldiers tended to play a lot less a role than the Cavalry soldiers in the radical politics of the late 1640s.  On the other hand, it is militarily successful, particularly in the Second Civil War and in Ireland and in Scotland in the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Its uniformity and therefore its important place in the history and development of a British army, is difficult to over-estimate, it is incredibly important in that. So, it is important, it can be seen as emblematic or iconic, and it does in the end bring the fighting to a conclusion by overwhelming victory at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651.


Mike Gibbs: Martyn, thanks very much for what has been a fascinating discussion. I’ve learnt a lot, and I’m sure many people who will listen to this podcast have learnt a lot.  Is there -?  Which of your books do you think listeners to this programme should get hold of and learn more?

Martyn Bennett: I’ve covered a lot of things in my books over the past 30-odd years. I think if readers want to get a sense of the fact that this is not the English Civil War, this is Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland, and all four nations – Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland – were not only involved, but impacted upon each other, my book, The Civil Wars of Britain and Ireland, written in the 1990s, would act as a good introduction to that. It looks at the way the war is fought, and it looks at the way the war impacts on everybody across the four nations.

I think the biography of Oliver Cromwell, which was published in 2006, will set him into a realistic context, because we still tend to see the Civil War as an interpersonal conflict between Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.  It was no such thing – the Civil Wars enabled Cromwell to rise to the position that he did, but he did so from a very low base point.

Then if people are interested in Cromwell, and want to understand why a 43-year old man manages to become such an excellent General, with absolutely no military experience at all before the Civil War begins, then Cromwell at War will give them that information.


Mike Gibbs: Martyn, that’s great, and there will be links to all of those publications in the accompanying programme notes, and I sincerely hope that you will come back and talk to us about Cromwell in a subsequent podcast, so thank you very much indeed.

Martyn Bennett: Well, thank you for inviting me, I’ve enjoyed the conversation, it’s always good to talk about the Civil Wars and to be given questions that make you think on the spot, as well as questions that you are able to prepare in advance and answer too.