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On the clay after he had led one wing of the parliamentary army to victory in one of the largest, probably the bloodiest and in many ways the most important and decisive battle of the English civil wars, Oliver Cromwell wrote to his brother-in-law, Valentine Walton. Justifiably famous and unquestionably moving, Cromwell's letter conveyed both good news and bad: 'It's our duty to sympathise in all mercies; that we may praise the Lord together in chastisements or trials, that so we may sorrow together.' In euphoric and breathless phrases, Cromwell recounted the 'great victory given unto us, such as the like never was since this war began'. The battle appeared 'an absolute victory'. 'We never charged but we routed the enemy ... God made them as stubble to our swords ... of twenty-thousand the Prince hath not four-thousand left.' But Cromwell also had to break the news to Walton that his son had perished on the battlefield: 'God hath taken away your eldest son by a cannon-shot. It brake his leg. We were necessitated to have it cut off, whereof he died.' Throughout the letter, Cromwell's deep religious faith was clear, in his unswerving belief that the military victory was due to God's support for His cause - 'a great favour from the Lord', 'Give glory, all the glory, to God' - and in his assurances that Walton's son, 'a precious young man, fit for God', had shared this faith and had drawn comfort from it as he lay dying. 'You have cause to bless the Lord,' he told Walton, for 'there is your precious child full of glory, to know sin nor sorrow any more', 'a glorious saint in Heaven'.

Cromwell's letter highlights many aspects of the English civil wars - their scale, involving tens of thousands of combatants; the extent of the suffering, with large

'Cromwell after the battle of Marston Moor', by Ernest Crofts. Crofts was one of several Victorian artists who specialised in civil war scenes, a very popular genre during the 19th century, though the images often owe more to a romantic and dramatic licence than to strict historical accuracy. (Bridgeman Art Library)


numbers dead, dying or injured; the horrors and brutality, with the unsuccessful battlefield amputation and the attempt to console a father who had lost his eldest son in action; and a glimpse of the deep convictions, matters of faith or principle, that drove so many forward into and through a brutal civil war, and which led them to take up arms and to kill and maim fellow countrymen, in many cases neighbours, friends and relations. These are now the predominant images of the civil wars. Earlier generations of historians sometimes played down their nature, arguing that the bulk of the population were little affected by them, portraying the conflict as limited and dignified, a civilised and almost genteel affair, and emphasising the elements of lordly disdain and aversion to the war found, for example, in Sir William Waller's oft-quoted letter to Sir Ralph llopton of summer 1643, with its description of 'this war without an enemy' and its hope that they should both 'in a way of honour, and without personal animosities' act out 'those parts that are assigned us in this tragedy'.

Recent work has demonstrated that the F.nglish civil wars were nothing like this. A large proportion of the population was directly involved in the fighting: during each of the campaigning seasons of 1643, 1644 and 1645 it is estimated that more than one in 10 of the male population aged between 16 and 60 was in arms and that during the civil wars as a whole perhaps one in four of the adult male population of England and Wales took up arms at some stage. Many more civilians were caught up in the conflict, in the 150 or so towns that suffered attack or substantial war-related damage, in the enforced billeting, plundering, violence and disease which a civil war army on the move brought with it, and in meeting the very heavy, repeated and quite unprecedented financial and material demands imposed by both sides to sustain their war efforts. In the course of the war, especially as the tide turned in parliament's favour, many royalists, neutrals and Catholics were deprived of some or all of their property. Fatalities in the hundreds of battles, skirmishes and raids that took place in England and Wales, together with the increased mortality through the spread of disease, caused something approaching 200,000 deaths - an overall death-rate in terms of the proportion of the population slightly higher than that suffered in the First World War and significantly higher than that in the Second. Landscapes of all sorts were destroyed, overthrown or remodelled - not only the physical landscape, with destruction to towns and villages, castles, churches and manor houses, but also other landmarks which had shaped people's lives, as the fundamentals of central government and local administration, of church, religion and faith, of justice and the peaceful possession of property, of society, ideas and culture, were overthrown, profoundly shaken or substantially remoulded. The English civil wars were bloody, brutal and at times barbaric, and although in some ways they proved to be a catalyst for change and innovation, they also caused death, destruction and deprivation on a huge scale.

This study concentrates on the civil wars in England and Wales, particularly the main civil war fought from summer 1642 until summer 1646, though the later conflicts of 1648 and 1651 are briefly examined in the closing chapters. Scottish and Irish developments are covered only where they directly impinged on the conflict in England and Wales. This account is primarily military, though other issues and developments are sketched in to provide a more rounded context. It explores the roles, actions and experiences of the elites who directed the wars but also, where sources permit, of some of the ordinary people, soldiers and civilians, who participated or were caught up in the conflict. We should never forget that we are dealing with real people, individuals with their own hopes and fears, pleasures and pains, every bit as alive and animated as ourselves, whose lives were often changed, improved, cruelly shattered or violently ended by the civil wars.

As an old man writing in the first decade of the 18th century Richard Gough had a

Myddle Castle Old

Moreton Corbet Castle in Shropshire housed a small royalist garrison for much of the war On the far left is the ruin of the medieval castle, in the centre the gutted shell of a domestic range added during the reign of Elizabeth I. (Author's collection)

clear recollection of the conflict as it affected his home parish of Myddle in northern Shropshire. He recalled as a schoolboy being taken into the church when a royalist raiding party from Shrawardine Castle ran into some parliamentarians from Moreton Corbet. The royalist commander, Cornet Collins, was shot 'through the body with a carbine shot' outside the village smithy and was carried into the smith's house. The following day young Gough accompanied the vicar, who prayed with the dying royalist, and 60 years later he still recalled the sight of 'the cornet lying on the bed, and much blood running along the floor'. Richard Cough's experience of the English civil wars, though very limited, was dramatic and vivid, and the blood-red image of a

Moreton Corbet Castle in Shropshire housed a small royalist garrison for much of the war On the far left is the ruin of the medieval castle, in the centre the gutted shell of a domestic range added during the reign of Elizabeth I. (Author's collection)

dying soldier stayed with him into old age; he never forgot his civil war. Gough was just one of over five million English and Welsh men, women and children who, directly or indirectly, willingly or unwillingly, were caught up in the unprecedented conflict of the mid-17th century and whose lives and emotions were touched by it. For all but a few, their stories died with them and are now lost to us, but doubtless each would have had a unique tale to tell of their own experience of the English civil wars.

England and Wales 1642-51

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Bury St Edmunds

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