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.
1. Parliament needed stronger military presence
If you were a Parliamentarian supporter in 1643 things were looking bleak: Royalist forces, led by Prince Rupert, were sweeping all before them. 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.
2. Cromwell had proved he was a worthy Parliamentarian soldier
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. Once war began, he had also 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.
3. Creating a whole new army seemed necessary
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.
4. The New Model Army was a watershed moment in British military history
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.
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.
5. It marked the start of a new way of fighting
Perhaps the most tangible influence of the New Model Army, however, was its impact on the way England fought. Members could not be part of the House of Lords or the House of Commons in order to avoid political factions, and unlike previous militias, the New Model Army was not tied to any one area or garrison: it was a national force.
Furthermore, it was highly organised: with around 22,000 soldiers and centralised administration, this was the first even vaguely modern army in the sense that it was much more efficient and structured than previous forces had been.
6. The New Model Army allowed for direct military rule
The New Model Army helped Cromwell, and Parliament, maintain a sense of authority throughout the Interregnum. It helped police minor insurrections and was involved with the attempted invasion of Hispaniola as part of the war on Spain.
However, it became clear that it was primarily Cromwell who was holding the army together. Following his death in 1658, the New Model Army lacked a clear leader, and factions began to develop and it was eventually disbanded.
7. Its legacy is still felt today
At the end of the Interregnum, with the return of the monarchy, the New Model Army was disbanded. Some soldiers were sent to support the Portuguese Restoration War as part of Charles II’s alliance with the Duchy of Braganza.
However, the idea of a professional standing army in peacetime proved tempting. Charles II passed various militia acts which prevented local lords summoning militias, and eventually the modern British Army as we know it found its origins in the early 18th century following the Act of Union.