The recruitment in English Civil War



In the middle of the 17th century England experienced a great convulsion of political and military violence, which quickly spread to engulf Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This was a true civil war, in which men and women at all levels of society, sometimes even within the same family, took different sides on issues of principle, and fought for them to the death.There were, in effect, three separate civil wars, and any number of outcomes seemed possible at one time or another. King Charles I was executed in 1649, and after his son, Charles II, had failed to reverse the verdict of battle in 1651, the Royalist cause began to seem increasingly hopeless.

English Civil War recruitment print

However, once the leadership of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, was ended by his death in 1658, the Parliamentary regime fell apart, and the King ‘came into his own again’ in 1660.

English Civil War:  the pikeman

At the beginning of the Civil Wars, the only formed military force in the country was that of the Trained Bands. These were infantry, composed of voluteers from the more well-to-do levels of society.

Both sides appealed for the support of the Trained Bands in the early weeks of the war. Those of London rallied to Parliament. The King Charles I was less successful in his appeal to the Nottinghamshire Trained Bands, and on the basis of this disappointment he disarmed them, and other county levies, which cost him a good deal of popularity. Only the Cornish Trained Bands showed themselves strongly favourable to the King, but even they would not serve outside their county boundaries.

English Civil War: the musketeer

Apart from the Trained Bands, infantry were raised by voluntary recruitment, either through a sense of commitment or for the wages  offered, or, and particularly after 1644, by impressment – even the infantry of the New Model Army were raised predominantly by this method.

It was even harder to recruit cavalry than infantry, since a cavalryman’s  horse and equipment cost far more than the equipment of a foot soldier, and also required much greater skill in their use. For the first 18 months of the war the Parliamentary horse troops were of very uneven quality, but this situation was transformed by the emphasis placed on discipline and fighting efficiency in the cavalry of the New Model Army, raised and organised by Lord Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell in 1645.

Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, 1st Duke of Cumberland, 1st Earl of Holderness , called Prince Rupert of the Rhine (17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682)

The Royalist cavalry, which under Prince Rupert’s leadership scored such brilliant successes in the early months of the war, really represented the followers and retainers of the noblemen and gentlemen who undertook to raise troops or even whole regiments for the King. The Earl of Northampton, for example, raised a troop of one hundred gentlemen who served at their own expense under his banner, and, in addition, paid for a further forty out of his own pocket. The resources of this method of recruitment eventually failed, however, and gave way to the publicly funded efficiency of the New Model Army.

English Civil War propaganda

For their accommodation, Civil War armies were heavily dependent on the hospitality – usually given under pressure – of the civilian population. Officially at any rate there were arrangements for paying for such lodging, and for the food consumed by the soldiers, but there is plenty of evidence that such arrangements were honoured more in the breach than the observance.

17th century English cavalry pistol

Most people in 17th century England probably thought of themselves first of all as living in and belonging to a particular place, and then secondly as English. This meant that the Civil Wars took the form, in some degree at least, of struggles for power within particular localities, and even of struggles between counties or regions.

King Charles I and Sir Edward Walker by Unknown artist

London declared itself for Parliament, and against the King, at an early stage, and Charles’ failure to overturn this commitment after the battle of Edgehill can be seen in retrospect to have been of crucial importance. Otherwise, the towns and cities of England were by no means fixed in their loyalties; even such places as Bristol and york, which withstood important sieges, veered around in their loyalties at other times. Similarly, there were few parts of the country which remained consistent in their support for either side. Perhaps the West Country was most dogged in its loyalty to the King, while the counties of the Eastern Association – East Anglia and the Fenlands – came out early for the Parliamentary side, and provided the backbone of the New Model Army when it was formed in 1645. As time went by, the Royalists drew particularly large numbers of their men from Wales; apart from considerations of loyalty, this may have had something to do with the relative poverty of the region, which could have made young men willing to adventure ‘abroad’ in return for pay and opportunities of war.

The Battle of Worcester

The foot soldiers of the Civil Wars were basically two types, musketeers and pikemen, combined in ratio of two to one. If fully equipped, both would wear buff coats and carry swords. The pikemen would be armoured in back and breast plate, and in morion or ‘pot’ helmet, and carried a pike with an 18-foot wooden shaft and a steel head about two feet long. The musketeer carried a musket, usually of the matchlock type; that is to say, one in which the charge was ignited by the application of a burning match. An early type of flintlock musket was sometimes available.

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