War and Radicalism: Strengths and Weaknesses of Royalists/ parliamentarians First civil war

Leadership, aims, purpose

The key Royalist strength revolved around Charles position as divine monarch. Firstly, this level of authority and status meant that there was as an unchallengeable power structure which meant Charles could make clear decisions. Furthermore, this power structure was traditional and had already been organised mostly recently in the Bishops’ War, so therefore key noble leaders retained their positions of command. Secondly, as divine monarch, the royalists had a clear aim in needing to preserve the monarchy by beating the Parliamentarians. Many royalists felt an inherent loyalty to the king, which was an age-old, traditional, long-term support, compared to the recent Parliamentarian support. Furthermore, this led to more support from experienced generals, who still adhered to Charles, meaning that overall the quality of the organisation of Charles army was initially better, even up till 1645, before Parliament passed the Self-Denying Act.

The key Royalist weaknesses were due to Charles’ ineffective man-management and ability to make decisions. Whilst indeed the command structure was unchallengeable and clear cut, Charles still wavered, too cautious to commit an obvious error. For example, at the Battle of Edgehill, he delayed entering London (to consider whether peace should be offered and a settlement made), which allowed the Earl of Essex’s army to outflank his army, to then reach London in time to head off Rupert’s advancing force at Turnham Green. After November 1642, after the Battle of Turnham Green, Charles was indecisive and overly cautious again, this weakness meant that he retreated despite having superior military resources after the battle, instead setting up headquarters in Oxford. If he had pressed on, he may have been able to convert his advantage into a favourable settlement.

Parliament’s strengths in leadership were particularly prevalent in the latter stages of the war, after the self-denying ordinance and formation of New Model army by 1645. For example, the rise to prominence of Oliver Cromwell as commander of the cavalry, but also Skippon of the trained bands and Fairfax as overall commander, shows examples of the strength of military leadership. Cromwell was especially strong in leadership, inspiring his Ironsides to victory at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645, outnumbering Charles army 14,000 to 7,500.

The key weakness in Parliament’s leadership was the initial poor state of parliamentarian army commanders. Parliament’s Captain-General, the Earl of Essex, was only selected for this role as he was one of few Parliamentarians with military experience (30 years’ war and First Bishops’ War).

Alliances (outside help)

The key weakness for the Royalists was that there was a lack of alliances and outside help. Whilst Henrietta Maria arrived on the Yorkshire coast with some troops from Holland, it made little impact. This meant that the Royalists had no reinforcements or second front to rely on. Charles tried to forge an alliance with the Irish, through a Cessation Treaty in 1643. However, this again was a weak alliance as Irish soldiers formed only a small force of 2,500 who were crushed by Fairfax at the Battle of Nantwich in January 1644. In addition, this was another weakness as it also led to increase political intrigue and rumours that Charles was employing an Irish Catholic army to take over the country. This spurred on the fear of popery and increased opposition to Charles, leaving him with even less support and chance of alliance. Another main weakness for Charles was that he did not hold the major ports and thus had little opportunity to make alliances. For example, he only held Newcastle and King’s Lynn as the major ports in 1642, which meant transporting munitions, soldiers and potential aid was limited.

Internal problems/divisions

The key weakness of the Royalists in terms of internal divisions, was the emergence of two factions within the leadership. This included Peace, who wanted moderate terms in order to avoid the war going too far. The War party however wanted complete submission from parliament caused by all out victory. This caused a weakness in Charles’ decision making, as figures such as Falkland and Clarendon clashed with Henrietta Maria and Prince Rupert, causing Charles’ policy to prevaricate, making him sometimes reluctant to pursue victory, and sometimes hesitant to make a settlement. This problem was less important later on, by 1643, as Falkland had thrown his life away in battle after the failed Oxford treaty, which isolated the Peace faction, especially as Digby (War faction) had been selected to replace him as secretary of state. This instead meant that Charles was more committed to all-out war with no compromise or settlement, which was a weakness as this meant Parliament were much less likely to give him a favourable settlement.

Attempts to reform/reorganise

Initially, the Royalists had a weakness in terms of financial and political organisation. This is because they first relied on Royal County Committees to collect taxes and manage local affairs. Overall, finance mostly consisted of personal loans, supplemented with such taxes. The key weakness here as that some JP’s wanted to keep the tax money within their county, and thus it was never raised for the Royalist cause overall. However, with the establishment of 6 military districts in 1643, ruled over by 6 grandees as Lord Lieutenants, such as the Earl of Newcastle and Earl of Derby, organisation and reform became a strength of the Royalists. Even though there were improvements, Charles was slow to keep up with Parliamentarian innovations, especially the New Model Army reform, but also in how the Parliamentarians had already levied an excise tax a year before he did, in  1644. Ultimately, it was this failure to match the speed of innovation in the Parliamentarian organisation that meant that Charles own reform and reorganisation efforts were a key weakness in his campaign overall..

 

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