Cavalry Operations: Why horse supply matters

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 13 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: Peter Gaunt cited this blog post in his review of my book in War in History to show how my thinking had changed, which was nice.]

Over the last three posts, I’ve shown that early modern armies couldn’t move without an adequate cavalry screen, that what was adequate depended on objectives and balance of forces, and that the balance between cavalry in field armies could be affected by small-scale raids. Now I’ll bring it all together, in a post that could be titled ‘how horses won the English Civil War’. (more…)

Oliver Cromwell: An Adventure From History

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 12:11 pm, 25 July 2009]

[Edit May 2016: I later removed the images because I got more (over?)sensitive about copyright. The words are still entertaining enough.]

I could have been writing a serious post for the horse history blog, working on my book proposal, planning an article, sorting out my Zotero collections, uploading PRO documents to Flickr, or lots of other things. But the other day my brother took me on an expedition into the attic to look for old toys and books. We found the Ladybird book Oliver Cromwell: An Adventure from History by the fantastically named L. du Garde Peach (scan of cover here). This must surely have been a formative influence on me, and was quite possibly my first ever encounter with the English Civil War. But I can’t remember it at all. That might be just as well because it turned out to be completely insane. Maybe it isn’t fair to laugh at a children’s book first published in 1963 (it wouldn’t have been new when I got it – I’m not that old!), but I’m going to do it anyway. And there’s a serious point here: too many people assume that children are stupid and unimportant, and that therefore it’s OK to give them all sorts of patronising rubbish. (more…)

Am I a proper historian now?

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:34 am, 14 April 2008]

[Edit May 2016: As I’ve probably said in another of these notes, I never did finish the Difficult Second Article, but bits of it fed into my book. One of the arguments in the War in History article mentioned here – that the finances of Essex’s army improved in the spring of 1644 – has been conclusively disproved by Tom Crawshaw’s meticulous PhD work, which is good because we know more than we did before, and it helped to think of some new ideas. You can now download an Open Acces PDF of my first article, with a new preface explaining in more detail what has changed since it came out.]

Anyone with online access to War In History can now download my debut article which is about horses and the New Model Army. I haven’t got my hands on a hard copy yet, but it’s quite exciting to see it on the website. Now I just need to finish the Difficult Second Article…

  1. Gavin Robinson, ‘Horse Supply and the Development of the New Model Army, 1642-1646’, War In History, 15 (April 2008), pp. 121-140.

Soldiers and Strangers

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 6:27 pm, 11 September 2007]

Mark Stoyle’s Soldiers and Strangers: An Ethnic History of the English Civil War (2005) offers a very new and different perspective of the war in England between 1646. Stoyle shows how the separateness of Welsh and Cornish identities, and the involvement of soldiers from Scotland, Ireland and many other European countries makes the name “English Civil War” potentially misleading, but also argues that the New Model Army’s reconquest of England was a reassertion of Englishness. This work has important implications for my current project, as it offers a new interpretation of allegiance and the outbreak of war in 1642 (the question of whether there was a revolution is completely outside its scope, but Stoyle dates the outbreak of war roughly to the spring and summer of 1642). While Stoyle doesn’t claim that ethnic divisions or nationalism were long term causes of the civil war, he argues that along with the anti-Scottish sentiment identified by Conrad Russell, Welsh and Cornish concern to protect their own traditions from an aggressively English parliament made a major contribution to the emergence of a royalist party which made it possible for the king to fight in 1642.

Considering the importance of the concept of allegiance to this work, it isn’t very clearly defined (perhaps I need to go back to Stoyle’s earlier work Loyalty and Locality to get a better idea of what he means by allegiance). He seems to use the royalist and parliamentarian boxes which John Morrill complained of and doesn’t identify any neutralism in Cornwall or Wales in 1642. Maybe that’s because there genuinely wasn’t any, but I still find the claims that Welsh support for the king in 1642 was “near unanimous” (p. 13) to be a bit hyperbolic on the strength of the evidence offered. Stoyle mostly uses signing petitions and volunteering for the army as signs of allegiance. These do show that Welsh royalist sentiment was unusually strong and appeared unusually early compared to England, and that compared to the population the military participation rate was very high (the population of the whole of Wales was roughly similar to the population of London!). Stoyle acknowledges that there were pockets of parliamentarian support but gives the impression that everyone chose one side or the other. If there is strong evidence that Wales doesn’t conform to John Morrill’s model of small minorities forcing war onto a reluctant majority, that probably deserves a lot more discussion. I’m just slightly suspicious because Stoyle’s generalisation that south-eastern England was mostly parliamentarian in 1642 doesn’t agree with detailed work on Kent and Essex by the likes of Alan Everitt and John Walter.

Finally I was surprised that Stoyle didn’t make much of the relative anthropocentrism of propaganda which described foreigners as bestial, although this leaves an opportunity for further research. Also on the theme of animals the cover illustration is worth a mention. Like the cover of Carlin’s Causes of the English Civil War it shows a contemporary woodcut with interesting depictions of animals which isn’t discussed in the text and isn’t properly referenced. In this case it shows Prince Rupert, along with his horse and his dog, burning Birmingham (I think this one will be easier to track down). The horse is definitely a stallion (you can see its testicles and what might be an unrealistically small penis!), so that’s another piece of evidence for my project on war horses and gender.

  1. Norah. creator Carlin, The causes of the English Civil War (Blackwell Publishers,: Oxford :, 1999).
  2. Alan Milner Everitt, The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion, 1640-60 (Leicester UP: Leicester, 1966).
  3. Mark Stoyle, Loyalty and Locality (University of Exeter Press: Exeter, 1994).
  4. Mark Stoyle, Soldier and Strangers (Yale University Press, August 2005).
  5. John Walter, Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1999).

Horses and men again

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 4:07 pm, 28 March 2007]

[Edit May 2016: I now think the reforms of 1645 were more than an incremental improvement, since Tom Crawshaw has disproved my argument that the finances of Essex’s army improved in 1644.]

Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s an added bonus: some paragraphs that I’ve just cut from the article I’m working on. I’ve decided not to take it too far into the debate over “determinism” and the outcome of the war because it’s not entirely relevant to what the article is really about, and I needed to lose some words somewhere. It’s also not very safe territory to be on, and I’ve changed my mind about some of this stuff since I wrote it, so I don’t necessarily believe everything that’s written below.


All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 12:33 pm, 27 March 2007]

[Edit May 2016: I’m still wrestling with this problem now but I think I’ve got a better answer. See my post on why horse supply matters. As the bibliography at the bottom correctly states, A Military History of the English Civil War was actually published in 2005 and was co-authored by Frank Jones. Wanklyn has since offered a more sophisticated analysis in The Warrior Generals. The introduction of my book, Horses, People and Parliament, includes a conversion narrative of how I came round more to Wanklyn’s view after writing this post. I can now see that my attempt at a determinist explanation for Parliament’s victory was entirely conventional at the time I wrote my thesis. Jeff Hoppes got in touch with me because of this post to tell me about his PhD research on ordinary soldiers in the civil wars but I don’t know if he ever finished it.]

When I set out on my PhD I was hoping to use the supply of horses to English Civil War armies as a case study to demonstrate how logistics influenced the outcome of the war. In the end it didn’t work out like that. The biggest problem was loss of royalist records. Because they lost the war there wasn’t much reason to keep their archives, and many officers burnt their papers before surrendering. It seems like a miracle that so many parliamentarian records survived the Restoration and ended up in the Public Records Office. This means that there’s a huge disparity in surviving administrative records that makes it difficult to compare both sides. The comparisons I could make weren’t very helpful to my original hypothesis. Where there was definite evidence of how the royalists got their horses it was quite similar to the methods used by parliament at the same time. Clutching at straws, I deduced that the royalists were unlikely to have been able to buy horses on the scale that parliament did in 1644-46 because they didn’t have similar tax revenues. That wasn’t a very safe assumption, and Martyn Bennett quite rightly demolished it during the viva (although the viva was actually a pleasant experience, and I passed with minimal corrections mostly consisting of commas and apostrophes!).

Ultimately there wasn’t much evidence that the royalists were suffering from a major shortage of horses at any crucial stages of the war. It wasn’t until the very end of the war in 1646 that royalist cavalry were making do with worn out or low quality horses. That makes it look like horse shortages were a consequence, not a cause, of defeat. So the study of horse supply doesn’t provide much evidence that finance, supply, or logistics contributed to royalist defeat. Malcolm Wanklyn would say, of course not, that’s far too determinist.


The Exhibitionist

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 4:50 pm, 3 February 2007]

[Edit May 2012: the test site isn’t there now, but it wasn’t very good anyway. For a much better example of how I’ve used Exhibit, see the index of people and index of places in my digital edition of the history of 1/5th Lincolnshire Regimet]

I was going to write some more about theories of text today, but I started playing with Exhibit instead (I found out about it from Public Historian). It’s a simple web API which gives you some of the features of a database driven site without having to use a database or any PHP/MySQL code (or the Microsoft equivalent). All you need is one HTML file for the page, and one Javascript file to store the data. It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?


How to find a civil war army

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 10:45 pm, 8 November 2006]

[Edit May 2016: John Ellis’s new work on intelligence has shown that military operations were often reported quickly and accurately in the London press, which adds more weight to my argument that civilians would know where to find the armies. (Although I’ve found that some newsbook reports were pure fantasy: see this post.) Ellis has also conclusively disproved the myth that neither army in the Edgehill campaign knew where the other was.]

Feeding an early-modern army was a major logistical problem. The New Model Army had a centralised supply system to take care of most things (weapons, armour, clothing, horses, saddles) but food was a big exception. Lynette Nusbacher has noted that the quantities of food supplied through centralised purchasing were far too small to keep the army fed (see “Civil Supply in the Civil War”, English Historical Review (115, 2000, pp. 145-60), which summarises some of the most important points in her PhD thesis). Her answer to this problem is that food was mostly supplied by private victuallers who brought food from London and sold it directly to the soldiers. This makes a lot of sense, because compared to the population of London (estimates for the civil war period are usually between 200,000 and 300,000), feeding an army of 20,000 was not such a big deal. In contrast, most of the areas where the army campaigned were unlikely to have enough food supplies to support the army. Ben Coates (The impact of the English Civil War on the economy of London, 1642-50, 2004, ISBN: 0754601048, pp. 91-2) questioned this view, partly because Ian Archer pointed out that it would have been difficult for the victuallers to find the army when it was on the move. Having spent years studying military operations and logistics I would suggest the opposite: it would have been difficult to miss an English Civil War field army.


Female Saddlers

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:30 am, 18 October 2006]

[Edit May 2016: Nothing wrong with this apart from the historiographical review in the 4th paragraph. You can tell this was before I’d read Keith Jenkins because I was definitely occupying the false centre. I really don’t like the way I used the word ‘extremes’ and gave the wrong impression that Amy Erickson isn’t a feminist. Having re-read Women and Property, I can say that she definitely didn’t give the impression that being widowed was the best thing that could happen to an early-modern woman. She did stress that most widows were poor. It also seems like I was mansplaining, although I was really just reciting stuff that I’d crammed for a job interview earlier in the year. I didn’t get it. I still haven’t found out much more about these women. My saddler project deteriorated into genealogy and I couldn’t think of an argument for it, but I might go back to it one day. More on John Gower later.]

This is a brief look at some of my work in progress about women in the London saddlery trade in the English Civil War. It’s based on part of my PhD research, but I’m taking it further now. I’ve tried to make this post as accessible as possible, so it goes into background information about London history and explains some basic things. I’ve also included links to the map of early modern London where I know a saddler’s address (if you follow the link, the place will be marked by a blue star on the map). [Links now removed because the permalinks are broken.] The map dates from the 1560s, but the City inside the walls hadn’t changed too much by the 1640s.