Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army

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Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army were instrumental in turning the tide of the English Civil War. In doing so he changed the course of history and laid the framework for the modern English Army.

Turning the tide

If you were a Parliamentarian supporter in 1643 things were looking bleak. Royalist forces were sweeping all before them led by Prince Rupert. This veteran of the 30 Years War in Europe was recognised as a military genius and it seemed no force on Parliament’s side could match him. However, in 1644 one MP from Huntington changed all that.

Oliver Cromwell had been a member of the Long and Short Parliaments, which had stood up to Charles and eventually taken the country to war. However, once war began he established a reputation as a brilliant military leader, quickly rising through the ranks until he had command of his own cavalry, which was beginning to develop a formidable reputation of its own.

In 1644, they encountered Rupert’s army at Marston Moor and shattered their aura of invincibility. Leading a charge behind the lines, Cromwell’s men snatched victory and helped to dramatically alter the balance of power in the war.

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Creating a new army

Despite success at Marston Moor, there was still discontent within Parliamentarian ranks at how the war was being fought. Although they had a clear advantage in manpower and resources they found it difficult to raise men from local militias which could move around the country.

Cromwell’s answer was to establish a full-time and professional fighting force, which would become known as the New Model Army. This initially consisted of around 20,000 men split into 11 regiments. Unlike the militias of old these would be trained fighting men able to go anywhere in the country.

The creation of the New Model Army was a watershed for many reasons. Firstly, it worked on a meritocratic system, where the best soldiers were the officers. Many of the gentlemen who had previously been officers in the army found it difficult to find a post in this new era. They were either quietly discharged or persuaded to continue serving as regular officers.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) by Samuel Cooper. Credit: National Portrait Gallery / Commons.

It was also an army in which religion played a key role. Cromwell would only accept men into his army who were firmly committed to his own Protestant ideologies. It quickly gained a reputation for being a well drilled and highly disciplined force, earning the nickname of God’s Army.

However, fears grew that it was also becoming a hotbed of independents. Many of the early generals were known to be radicals and after the first civil war disagreements about pay led to agitation within the ranks.

The troops became increasingly radicalised and opposed the restoration of Charles without democratic concessions. Their goals went much further and are outlined in their Agreement of the People, which called for the vote for all men, religious freedom, an end to imprisonment for debt and a parliament elected every two years.

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A new way of fighting

Perhaps the most tangible influence of the New Model Army, however, was its impact on the way England fought. At the end of the Interregnum, with the return of the monarchy, the New Model Army was disbanded.

Even so the new King James recognised the need for a standing army and established a full time professional army which led to the fully professional military force we know today.

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